Category Archives: Kate Grenville

Just a Little Smile is All it Takes*

nonverbalsWhen most people think of communication, they think of language. But there are plenty of ways in which we communicate non-verbally. Winks, smiles, and of course, that famous one/two-fingered wave, are all examples of the way people send messages without using words. And research shows that we tend to be quite attuned to those non-verbals. In fact, we pay more attention to them than we do to the words people use, or the signs they use, in signed languages.

The police and other investigators know the value of paying attention to non-verbals. That’s how they often get clues as to whether a person is lying. It’s also how they pick up on whether someone is afraid, would like to say more but doesn’t want to, and so on. It’s no wonder, then, that we see those all-important non-verbals in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John Cavendish invites his old friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, for a visit to his (Cavendish’s) home, Styles Court, in the village of Styles St. Mary. Hastings accepts, happy to renew his acquaintance with Cavendish, his brother Lawrence, and their stepmother, Emily Inglethrop. All is not well with that family, though. Neither Cavendish brother can tolerate Emily’s new husband, Alfred. There are other tensions, too. Still, all goes smoothly enough until the night that Emily is poisoned. There are several suspects with different sorts of motives, but neither Cavendish wants the investigation to be made public. So, when Hastings learns that another old friend, Hercule Poirot, is living in the area, it seems like a very good solution to have him look into the crime. Poirot agrees; Emily Inglethorp was his benefactor, so he feels a sense of obligation. Hastings, of course, tells Poirot everything that he knows about the night of the victim’s death. And one thing he mentions is the ‘ghastly expression’ one the face of one of the characters. Without knowing it, that character has revealed something, and it’s interesting to see how Poirot uses that one non-verbal communication to put one of the pieces of the puzzle in place.

Very often, facial expressions and other non-verbals are important forms of communication when people don’t speak the same language. That can be risky, though, because different cultures have different ways of using non-verbals. For example, in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, we are introduced to the Thornhill family. In 1806, bargeman William Thornhill is convicted of taking a load of wood. From his perspective, he needed to sell the wood in order to feed his family. There is a certain amount of sympathy for him, so instead of being executed, he is sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. He, his wife, Sal, and their children make the long voyage and start life again in Australia. But it’s not going to be easy. There’ve been people in Australia for many thousands of years, so one major challenge is going to be interacting with them. The Thornhills, and many of the other immigrants, speak English. The Aboriginal people have their own languages. So, verbal communication is limited at best. In fact, Thornhill sees their words as,
 

‘between them like a wall.’
 

When Thornhill does encounter Aborigines, there is an attempt to communicate non-verbally. Pointing, pictures drawn in dust, and holding things out with a hand are some of the ways both sides try to communicate. And in some ways, they’re successful. But that doesn’t prevent tragedy. There’s already been bloodshed as the two groups have clashed. Thornhill himself has no desire for butchery, unlike some of the other settlers. But, he’s expected to support his own. Besides, he’s found a piece of land he truly loves, that’s perfect for him and his family. He soon learns that he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too, if he’s going to keep that land.  

As I mentioned, most non-verbals are culturally contextual. One of those is the wai, which is a Thai greeting. Like the Japanese bow, the wai is nuanced, and, among other things, reflects the relative social status of the people involved in the interaction. It’s got several meanings, too, besides greeting. It’s used in thanks, in apology, in farewells, and in other situations, too. It is a very useful gesture, and communicates quite a lot without a lot of fanfare. To see the wai in action, may I recommend Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney, PI, novels. Keeney is an Australian ex-pat who’s now based in Bangkok. She’s been there long enough that she’s fluent in Thai, and that includes the non-verbals that are used in that culture. In more than one situation, Keeney finds that that simple-but-nuanced gesture is very helpful in easing tensions and in getting her out of difficult situations. John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels, and Timothy Hallinan’s ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels also include this simple gesture that can mean so much. A note is in order, too, about the ‘Thai smile,’ which is also woven into these authors’ books. There are dozens of situations in which a smile is used in the Thai culture, and the context often determines what the person who is smiling is communicating. The smile can mean many different things, including, ‘Hello,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘No harm done,’ and ‘I’m embarrassed.’

As this is posted, pitchers and catchers are reporting to their training camps to get ready for this year’s Major League Baseball season. It won’t be long now, baseball fans! So, as we’re thinking about non-verbals, and what they mean, it’s also worth mentioning Alison Gordon’s series featuring sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry, who works for the Toronto Planet. She follows baseball most especially, and Gordon’s novels often feature scenes from games, where pitchers, catchers, coaches and batters often communicate without using any words at all. Henry is thoroughly familiar with what those non-verbals mean, as was her creator, and it’s interesting to see how that knowledge comes through in Henry’s writing and in the stories.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we do communicate a great deal through facial expressions, eye contact (or lack of it) and other non-verbal means. When detectives pay attention to those messages, they can learn a lot. And it’s always interesting to see how people use non-verbals, especially when they can’t, or don’t choose to, use spoken language.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of Raymond Teller, one half of the famous illusionist duo, Penn and Teller. If you’ve seen these guys in action, you’ll know that Teller doesn’t speak during the show. Instead, he uses non-verbals to get his meaning across, and he’s quite good at it, too. If you’re reading this, Mr. Teller, Happy Birthday!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Everybody Loves You Now.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Angela Savage, John Burdett, Kate Grenville, Timothy Hallinan

In The Spotlight: Kate Grenville’s The Secret River

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, plenty of novels don’t fit squarely into only one genre category. And there are many literary novels that can easily be considered crime novels (and vice versa). This may make it harder to classify novels for marketing and other purposes. But it certainly can add to the richness and diversity of what’s available. Let’s take a look at one such novel today, and turn the spotlight on Kate Grenville’s The Secret River.

The real action in the story begins in 1806. William Thornhill is a poor bargeman who can barely feed his family. One day, he succumbs to temptation when he gets the opportunity to take a load of wood – cargo that he can sell. He’s caught, and at first, it’s assumed that he’ll be executed. Instead, he’s sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and their children board the Alexander and are taken to Sydney Harbour. The Thornhills arrive, and right away, have to find ways to make a living. Thornhill soon finds work with Alexander King, who hires him to transport casks filled with liquid refreshment out of Sydney Cove and into a nearby bay, where they will escape the attention of customs inspectors. For her part, Sal opens a makeshift pub, and the family manages to make a living.

Of course, there’ve been people living on this land for many thousands of years. So, it’s not long before there’s tension between the new arrivals and the Aborigines. Still, things generally seem calm. Before long, Thornhill gets a job delivering goods for a man named Thomas Blackwell, who owns the River Queen. He learns to navigate the Hawkesbury River, and as he does, he begins to see some of the ugly side of interactions between the colonists and the people who’ve always been there. He tries to stay out of it all, but that’s well nigh impossible.

Then, Thornhill finds exactly the piece of land he’s been dreaming of, right by the river. Sal’s not eager to leave Sydney, where she’s gotten settled in. But she agrees to go along with the plan. This, of course, will bring the family into direct conflict with the Aborigines. As settlement continues, there are, indeed, confrontations between the new arrivals and the Aborigines, and some terrible crimes are committed. As a white man, Thornhill is expected to support his fellow colonists. But he has no desire for butchery. Still, he’s found the land he wants more than anything else. As he, Sal, and their children begin to build their new home, Thornhill sees that, if he’s going to hold onto the land he’s come to love, he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too. In the end, the Thornhills claim their land and build their home – but at a terrible cost.

This novel is historical fiction. The action takes place in the first decades of the 19th Century, and Grenville places the reader in that era. There are marked differences among the social classes, and this story’s focus is mostly those who are in the lower social strata. Life in London is a struggle for survival if one doesn’t have money, and it’s not really any easier in Sydney. Still, the Thornhills discover that in Australia, a person can get land, build a good house, and have what most people call success even without an expensive education or the ‘right’ family name. In essence, Grenville shows, through one family’s experience (rather than through ‘information dump’) what colonial life was like in Australia. Grenville also places the reader geographically. The story takes place in both London and New South Wales, and Grenville uses the details of each to contrast them.

One of the most important elements in the novel is the vast set of differences between the Aboriginal people and the Europeans. The two groups have very different cultures, traditions, ways of looking at land use, and so on. So, right from the beginning of the novel, there’s a foretaste of the ugliness that will arise. And, as the novel moves on, the suspense builds as the two sides encounter each other.  There are serious crimes committed, and Grenville doesn’t gloss over them. Readers who dislike violence will notice this.

The relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines are complicated, and Grenville acknowledges that, too. And because of this complexity, there is some moral ambiguity in the novel. Thornhill, for instance, is not a mindless brute. He has no desire for bloodshed. And he’s not the only one. Plenty of people on both sides would like to work out some reasonable way for the two groups to co-exist. But there are also many people on both sides who are willing to go to extremes, including real brutality. And even people, such as Thornhill, who would just as soon avoid bloodshed, find that they are drawn into it anyway. In this way, Grenville shows how violence can spiral out of control.

Another, related, aspect of the novel has to do with law enforcement. This is the early 1800s, and there isn’t really a regular police force in New South Wales. There’s much more of what people often call ‘frontier justice.’ It’s vigilantism, but it stands in for the professional police forces of some other places. This is important, because it impacts the way the characters behave. One can’t call the police when there’s a perceived threat, so people defend themselves. They also band together when there’s trouble. On the one hand, that has tragic consequences. On the other, people help one another, and that creates a sense of community.

The Secret River is the story of one family whose history reflects some of the larger events of the day. It features complex issues of cultural contact and confrontation that leads to crime, as well as moral dilemmas. And it takes place in distinct London and colonial New South Wales settings. But what’s your view? Have you read The Secret River? What elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 5 December/Tuesday, 6 December – The Rim of the Pit  – Hake Talbot

Monday, 12 December/Tuesday, 13 December – Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

Monday, 19 December/Tuesday, 20 December – We Are the Hanged Man – Douglas Lindsay

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Filed under Kate Grenville, The Secret River

To Make Two Things One, You’ve Got to Mix Them*

genre-mixingAn interesting comment exchange with Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about books that cross genre lines. Cleo suggested that there may be more of those sorts of books and series than there were, and that’s certainly a good possibility.

Of course, there’s an argument that there’s always been literature in several genres that could ‘count’ as crime fiction. Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, contain many of the elements of a crime story. There’s murder, greed, theft, betrayal, and a lot more. The same goes for lots of other classic reading, too.

But Cleo’s right that there are plenty of examples of contemporary novels and series that cross genre lines. For instance, Jane Casey is perhaps best known for her Maeve Kerrigan crime series. But she is also the author of a YA series featuring Jess Tennant. The series begins with How to Fall, in which Jess and her mother move from London to her mother’s home town of Port Sentinel after a difficult divorce from Jess’ father. On the one hand, this is a YA series, and it’s marketed towards that audience. On the other hand, it’s also a crime series. In How to Fall, Jess uncovers the truth about her cousin’s death a year earlier. At the time, it was put down to suicide, but Jess soon learns that there’s another explanation. There are plenty of other YA series, too, that are also crime fiction. I know that you could name more than I could.

Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman is the first in a trilogy that follows police officer Hank Palace. In the story, he investigates a murder that looks like a suicide (but isn’t). So, in that sense, it’s very much a crime novel. There’s a murder, there’s an investigation, and so on. But as fans of these books know, this is also considered science fiction. The context for the novel is that an asteroid will strike the earth in the next few months. As scientists study the event to try to determine its severity, the world’s social and economic structures start to fall apart. This plays a role, too, in the plot. For that reason, plenty of people consider this dystopia fiction. It’s an interesting blend of the traditions of different genres.

So is Charles Stross’ Rule 34. On one level, it’s a crime novel. Edinburgh DI Liz Kavanaugh and her team investigate when the body of ex-convict and Internet spammer Michael Blair is discovered. Eventually, this murder is linked to other murders of Internet spammers in different locations in the world. But this is also a speculative/science fiction novel. It takes place in the relatively near future, but in a sort of alternate future, where there’s some technologies that we don’t currently have. There are other differences, too, between Kavanaugh’s world and the one we know. And the solution to the mystery is more characteristic of a speculative novel than it is of a traditional detective novel. Does that make it less of a crime novel? Speaking strictly for me, I don’t think so. It’s more of a blend of those genres.

There are also plenty of historical novels that cross the line between history and crime fiction. For instance, Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of the Thornhill family, who move from London to Sydney in the early 1800s, after William Thornhill is sentenced to transportation. The novel follows the Thornhills as they arrive in the new land, find ways to make a living, and get accustomed to the many differences between London and New South Wales. In that sense, it’s very much historical fiction. So are The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill, the other novels in Grenville’s trilogy about life in colonial Australia. But these novels also have elements of crime fiction in them. There are violent deaths, dark secrets from the past, and intrigue, among other things. The same sort of thing might be said for Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and the forthcoming The Mirror and the Light. They are historical novels, but they also arguably cross genre lines, so that they can also be considered crime fiction.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a long tradition of literary work that also has elements of crime fiction. There’s plenty of contemporary literary fiction like that, too. For instance, John Hart’s The Last Child concerns the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon, who was twelve years old when she went missing. No trace of her was ever found, and it’s devastated the family. Detective Clyde Hunt was assigned to the case, and is haunted by the fact that he hasn’t been able to get the answers that the Merrimon family needs in order to move on. Alyssa’s twin, Johnny, hasn’t given up on finding out the truth. And he’s got a map and a plan. As you can see, the novel has the elements of crime fiction. But it’s also a literary novel. There’s deep character exploration, a focus on the relationships involved, and a strong sense of the small-town North Caroline setting. Certainly, many people consider this a literary novel as well as a crime novel. The same might be said for books such as William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. That’s literary coming-of-age novel that also has a crime story woven through it.

It’s not easy to blend genres. The author has to manipulate the traditions of more than one genre, as well as keep the focus on the plot and characters. It can be tricky to do that and create a cohesive story. But genre-blended stories can also be innovative, and can enhance more than one genre.  Which have you enjoyed?

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, treat yourselves to a visit to Cleo’s excellent blog. You’ll find fine reviews and interesting crime-fictional discussion there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cornelius Grant and Smokey Robinson’s You’ve Got to Earn It 

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Filed under Ben Winters, Charles Stross, Hilary Mantel, Jane Casey, John Hart, Kate Grenville, William Kent Krueger

Here Am I, Your Special Island*

pacific-crime-fictionAs this is posted, it would have been the 288th birthday of Captain James Cook. As you’ll no doubt know, James Cook made three voyages through the Pacific Ocean, and gave the Western world a treasure trove of information and insights about that ocean and the people who always lived there.

Cook’s explorations had a major impact on world history, and certainly on the history of the Pacific. So, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at some crime fiction from places that he visited.

One of the first places Cook stopped on his voyages was Tahiti. As beautiful as it is, Tahiti can also be dangerous. For instance, in Lloyd Shephard’s historical (1812) thriller The Poisoned Island, Thames River Police Chief Charles Horton is faced with a difficult mystery. A research vessel, the Solander, in from Tahiti, has just docked in the Thames. Aboard it is a cargo of rare plants destined for the King’s Gardens in Kew. At first, all goes as expected. Then, the Solander’s crew begins to die, one by one. There’s no sign of suicide, and no indication that these are murders, either. To make matters more complicated, the surviving crew members do nothing to support the investigation – in fact, quite the opposite. Still, Horton traces the disturbing events to the ship’s cargo, and finds that one of the plants is starting to behave strangely. It turns out that this mystery has its roots in Tahiti, more than forty years earlier.

After Tahiti, Cook explored New Zealand quite extensively. If you’d like to do the same, there are several Kiwi authors, from the Golden Age’s Ngaio Marsh, to today’s Paddy Richardson, Paul Cleave, Jane Woodham and Ray Berard, who can show you around. As you’ll know, the Māori had already lived in Aotearoa/New Zealand for quite some time before Cook’s arrival. For more insights into the modern Māori way of life, you may want to try Paul Thomas’ Tito Ihaka novels. Ihaka is a Māori Auckland police detective who has his own way of doing things. Berard’s Inside the Black Horse also gives some insight into modern Māori life. There are plenty of other examples, too.  Crime Watch is an excellent resource for all things Kiwi-crime-fictional.

Cook’s travels also took him to Botany Bay, in what is now Sydney. In fact, Botany Bay was the site of his first landing in Australia. Later, the place became the landing site for those sentenced to transportation to Australia. That experience is captured in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, which takes place in the early 19th Century. That novel begins in London, as William Thornhill ekes out a living as a bargeman. When he’s caught stealing a load of wood, he’s faced with execution. But in a turn of events, he’s sentenced instead to transportation. So, he, his wife, Sal, and their children go to Sydney. Sal sets up a makeshift pub, and William hires out to Thomas Blackwood, owner of The River Queen. When William discovers the beautiful Hawkesbury River, he finds the perfect piece of land that he wants for his own. He convinces Sal to pull up stakes and move, and the family starts over again on their new land. Or is it? Aboriginal people have been there for a very long time, and conflict between them and the settlers becomes more and more likely. While this isn’t a traditional crime novel, there are some terrible crimes committed, and the more time goes on, the more William sees that there isn’t going to be a peaceful way to resolve the situation.

There are far, far too many other talented Australian writers for me to even come close to mentioning them all. But have no fear: Fair Dinkum Crime is the site for exploring Australian crime fiction, and I strongly encourage you do to just that.

Cook’s voyages also took him to the North Pacific, including Vancouver Island. Vancouver features in several fine examples of Canadian crime fiction. For example, Seán Haldane’s historical (1868-1869) The Devil’s Making tells the story of Chad Hobbes, who’s recently completed his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford. Now, armed with a letter of introduction, he lands in Vancouver, ready to make a new life there. The letter helps him get a job as a constable – at the time, not very demanding work. It’s mostly a matter of breaking up drunken quarrels and occasionally ‘clearing out’ places of prostitution. Then, there’s a murder. A group of Tsimshian Indians has discovered the mutilated body of an American immigrant, Richard McCrory. The word is that he was having a relationship with Luskwaas, one of the Tsimshians. Her partner, Wiladzap, is the leader of that group, and had a very good motive for murder, so he is soon arrested. He claims to be innocent, though, and Hobbes wants to conduct an appropriate investigation. As he begins to ask questions, he finds that plenty of other people also had a reason to want McCrory dead.

Today’s Canadian crime fiction is as varied and diverse as the country is. There is no possible way for me to do justice to it in one post – not even in one book. If you want to explore Canadian crime fiction in more depth, look no further than Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, which is your source for thoughtful, interesting posts and reviews about what’s happening in crime-fictional Canada.

Cook’s luck ran out, as the saying goes, in Hawai’i. It’s a gorgeous place, but it didn’t end up being peaceful for Cook or his crew. And crime fiction shows just how dangerous those islands can be. Earl Der Biggers’ Charlie Chan mysteries mostly take place in Hawai’i, and fans of that series can tell you that all sorts of things can go terribly wrong there. More recently, there’s the work of R. Barri Flowers, whose novels include several Hawai’i-based novels such as Murder in Maui. There’s other crime fiction set in Hawai’i, too.

You see? Captain Cook wasn’t the only one for whom trips through the Pacific proved fatal…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Bali Ha’i.

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Filed under Earl Der Biggers, Jane Woodham, Kate Grenville, Lloyd Shephard, Ngaio Marsh, Paddy Richardson, Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, R. Barri Flowers, Ray Berard, Seán Haldane

Looking For the New World*

ColonialismOne of the factors that’s shaped our lives in profound ways has been what I’ll call cultural domination. It’s also been called empire-building, imperialism, and expansionism, among other things. Whatever you call it, it’s had a lasting impact on both/all cultures involved. And, interestingly, just about every culture has been a colony at some point in time; many have also created colonies of their own.

The process has been going on for millennia, and we see its effects in crime fiction, just as we do in real life. There are so many instances that it would be impossible for me to mention them all. But here are a few examples; I know that you’ll think of others.

Many people think of England as an empire-builder, and it certainly has been (more on that shortly). But of course, it’s also been a colony, During the Roman Empire, what we now think of as England was the Roman province of Britannia. To the north was Caledonia (today’s Scotland), and to the west was Hibernia (today’s Northern Ireland and Irish Republic). Lindsey Davis’ A Body in the Bathhouse gives readers a look at the UK and Ireland of that time. In that novel, her sleuth, Marcus Didius Falco, travels to Britannia with his family. He’s there on commission from Emperor Vespasian, with orders to investigate a building project that’s been running late, and over budget. The project involved building a granary and supply station for the Roman army, as well as a home and bathhouse for the local British chieftain, Togidumnus. It seems clear that there’s corruption involved, and Falco’s mission is to get to its source. He finds himself involved in a case of murder, though, when Pomponius, the chief architect on the project, is found murdered in the newly-built bathhouse. You can still see Roman palaces, baths, roads and so on in Fishbourne, Bath, and other places in England.

England went on to become an empire-builder, too, and that impact is still felt today. In Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, for instance, readers follow the lives of London bargeman William Thornhill and his family. In 1806, he’s caught stealing a load of wood and is sentenced to transportation to Australia. Thornhill, his wife Sal, and their children arrive at Sydney Cove and try to start life again. Sal opens a makeshift pub, while Thornhill earns a living working for Thomas Blackwood on Blackwood’s boat The River Queen. When Thornhill finds the perfect piece of land by the Hawkesbury River, he persuades a reluctant Sal to relocate. There’ve been people in that area for many thousands of years, and Thornhill and other settlers are going to have to deal with the fact that the indigenous people were there first. Not all of them are willing to do that; and of course, the indigenous people are none too pleased at the newcomers who are claiming the land and making no effort to acknowledge those who already live there. As you can imagine, this leads to some brutal crime.

The impact of this cultural domination is still felt, as we see in Nicole Watson’s The Boundary, which takes place in contemporary Brisbane. One plot thread of that novel concerns a land dispute between the Corrowa people and a development company, both of which lay claim to Meston Park. Judge Bruce Brosnan rules against the Corrowa people, and not many hours later, he’s killed. Then there are other murders, each of someone involved in the case against the claim. Police officers Jason Matthews and Andrew Higgins investigate; as they do, we see the influence both of empire-building and of the Aboriginal people.

Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making takes place in 1868/69 Victoria, British Columbia. Chad Hobbes has recently finished his studies at Oxford, and has come to Victoria armed with a letter of introduction to the Governor. That letter results in his appointment to the position of police constable. For the most part, the job consists of such things as settling drunken quarrels and, sometimes, removing prostitutes from the area. Then, the body of Richard McCrory is discovered. At first, it looks to be an easy case. The victim had been involved with Lukswaas, a member of the Tsimshian people. Her partner, Wiladzap, is a leader among the Tsimshian, and it’s assumed he murdered McCrory both as an act of vengeance and as a means of asserting his leadership. Wiladzap says he’s innocent and, as a matter of form, the police have to make a superficial attempt to seem fair. So Hobbes is given the task of asking questions of people who knew McCrory. The more he does so, the more he begins to believe that Wiladzap is telling the truth. In this novel, we see the impact of colonialism in several ways. There’s the British influence, of course. And there’s the influence of the Tsimshian people who were in the area first. There’s also the American influence, and the strong hint of American expansionism.

Tony Hillerman’s novels show clearly the impact of American colonialism on the Native Americans who were in the country first. In those novels, we see the way in which the dominant culture has impacted education, infrastructure and much, much more. But we also see the influence of the indigenous people on the dominant culture. Stan Jones’ Nathan Active novels, which take place in Alaska, show that mutual influence as well.

As you’ll already know, the British Empire also included, for many years, India. And there are lots of Golden Age crime fiction novels that include characters who served in the military in India. Sometimes they’re the subject of gentle ridicule; sometimes not. Either way, you can see how their experience there impacted them. And there’s plenty of Indian influence today in England. Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu novels capture that colonial experience in India. They take place in 1920’s Madras (today’s Chennai), where Le Fanu works among the various groups of people who live there. In his life, we see the influence of his own British background and the local culture within which he works. On the one hand, there are certain very English customs he retains. On the other, though, he’s adopted the local customs in other ways. He enjoys the local food, he’s adapted his schedule to accommodate the sometimes-intense heat, and so on.

Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper novels take place in 1950’s South Africa, a place with a long history of colonialism. Cooper himself is English. But in his work, he interacts quite a lot with the Afrikaners, who are, of course, descendants of Dutch colonists. He also works with the indigenous people. As he does, we see the strong influence in language, food, and other ways of colonialism. And what’s fascinating is that that influence doesn’t just work in one direction.

And that’s the thing about colonialism. Empire-building has, of course, deep and lasting effects on colonies. But those who build those empires are also heavily influenced by the places and cultures they encounter. I know there are many, many examples of colonialism in crime fiction that I haven’t mentioned here. Space doesn’t come near to acknowledging all of them. Over to you.

ps. The ‘photo is of John Hall’s engraving of Benjamin West’s painting, The Treaty of Penn With the Indians.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer.

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Filed under Brian Stoddart, Kate Grenville, Lindsey Davis, Malla Nunn, Nicole Watson, Seán Haldane, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman