Category Archives: Kerry Greenwood

But I’ve Found a Driver and That’s a Start*

Drivers and ChauffeursMost of us haven’t had the experience of having our own chauffeur/driver. More likely, we’ve taken on that role for our children and grandchildren. But there was a time when families who could afford to do so had a chauffeur, or at least someone whose duties included driving people where they wanted to go. And there are still plenty of people who consider it a real status symbol to have a driver. There is also a big market for professional car services; they, too, employ drivers.

Drivers and chauffeurs can play interesting roles in a crime novel. They see a lot, and they know a lot about their employers’ personal business. This makes them both potentially powerful (because of what they know) and vulnerable (for the same reason). There are lots of examples of drivers and chauffeurs in crime fiction. Here are just a few.

In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, General Guy Sternwood hires PI Philip Marlowe to help him out of a difficult situation. Local book dealer Arthur Geiger has sent Sternwood an extortion letter that makes reference to Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. Marlowe’s task is to find Geiger and stop him; this Marlowe agrees to do. By the time he tracks the book dealer down though, it’s too late: Geiger’s been murdered. Carmen Sternwood is a witness, but she’s having a mental breakdown (or perhaps has been drugged) and can’t be of much help. Marlowe gets her out of the way before the police find her and in doing so, thinks he’s done with the Sternwoods. Then he gets a call from LAPD cop Bernie Ohls, who tells Marlowe that the Sternwoods’ Buick, and the body of their chauffeur, have been dredged from the water off the Lido pier. It looks on the surface like a case of suicide, but soon enough it’s proven to be murder. Now, each in a different way, Ohls and Marlowe work to link that death to Geiger’s death and to other events in the story.

Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary introduces readers to Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from San Quentin and is looking for work. It’s not easy, as you can imagine, because of his record. But he finds one opening that seems right: chauffeur/bodyguard for Eileen Scofield. Her very wealthy husband Victor is disabled and cannot leave his room. But, as he tells Hadlock, he doesn’t want his wife to be trapped in the house; hence, the need for an escort/chauffeur. The pay is excellent, the working conditions quite good, and Eileen Scofield is pleasant company, so Hadlock eagerly accepts the position when it’s offered. The only stipulation is that Hadlock’s relationship with his employer’s wife must be strictly professional. Anything else will have dire consequences. Hadlock has no problem with that job requirement, so at first, all goes well. But slowly, he learns that this position will be a lot more dangerous than he thought.

One of the ‘Charles Todd’ writing duo’s series features World War I nurse Bess Crawford. Unlike many fictional sleuths, she has a loving family whom she visits when she can. The Crawfords’ driver Simon Brandon is virtually a member of the family, although he is an employee. He served with Bess’ father in the military, and has remained loyal. Besides being the family chauffeur, he also conducts certain family business and travels on behalf of the Crawfords at times. Although it’s not really a job requirement, he also looks out for Bess, and does his best to keep her safe (not that that’s a particularly easy job…).

And then there’s Handbrake, whom we first meet in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant. He serves as the driver for Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri (hence, his nickname). Handbrake is highly skilled at negotiating Delhi traffic, which is no mean feat. And although Puri treats him professionally and respects him, Handbrake also serves as a kind of status symbol. Here’s what Puri thinks about it (from The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing). In this scene, he’s waiting for a client who’s very late for a ‘sting’ operation they’re conducting:
 

‘He cursed under his breath for not having anticipated his client’s poor driving skills. But then what sort of fellow didn’t employ a driver?’
 

Among members of Puri’s class and culture, a driver is a ‘minimum requirement.’

And then there’s George Pelecanos’ The Night Gardener. In that novel, Washington D.C. police detective Gus Ramone is faced with a particularly difficult case. The body of a teenage boy Asa Johnson has been found in a local community garden. This case eerily resembles a case Ramone worked with his former partner Don ‘Doc’ Holiday twenty years earlier: a series of unsolved murders. Holiday has since left the force and now works as a chauffeur/bodyguard. He’s drawn back into working with Ramone and with retired detective T.C. Cook by this new case, which brings back an old case that haunts all of them.

Fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series will know that she often gets help in her cases from wharfie taxi drivers Bert and Cec. Technically speaking, of course, they are not her employees. But more than once, they put aside their own business concerns to lend a hand in an investigation.

There’s also an Agatha Christie novel in which a driver plays an important role in a case. Nope – no more details. Never let it be said that I spoil novels for those who haven’t read them. But fans who have read this one will know which story I mean.

There are, of course, many other crime plots that are at least partly driven by chauffeurs.  Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Drive My Car.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charles Todd, George Pelecanos, Kerry Greenwood, Raymond Chandler, Robert Colby, Tarquin Hall

Locally Grown*

Natural ProductsIn Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal), Hercule Poirot investigates two deaths, one of which is the murder of Cora Lansquenet, an elderly widow who shared a home with her paid companion Miss Gilchrist. At one time, Miss Gilchrist owned a tea shop, and still very much enjoys cooking and serving. In one scene, she makes tea for herself and two guests: the victim’s niece Susan Banks; and an acquaintance, art critic Alexander Guthrie. For the occasion, Miss Gilchrist
 

‘…made a nice lot of scones and that’s some homemade strawberry jam, and I just whipped up some little drop cakes.’
 

Later, while they’re eating, Mr. Guthrie says,
 

‘…and what delicious jam! Really, the stuff one buys nowadays.’
 

He’s not alone in his thinking. Homemade, natural-tasting food is, for a lot of us, far superior to packaged food.

Many people have ‘gone natural’ (e.g. no preservatives, a minimum of chemicals, etc…) and there’s definitely something to that choice. Most ‘foodies’ will tell you that fresh ingredients and food that’s not processed tastes better. And there is research to suggest it may be healthier too. I’m not a dietician or nutrition scientist, so I don’t have data; still, a lot of people swear by ‘going natural.’ Natural products (both food and non-food items) are a booming business. And many companies, sensing this trend, market what they make to people who are looking to avoid additives and other chemicals.

There’s lots of ‘all natural’ in crime fiction, too. For example, in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, spa owner Jónas Júlíusson hires Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to help him pursue a lawsuit. He claims that the land on which he’s built his resort is haunted, and that the former owners knew it and didn’t inform him. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts; but the fee comes at a welcome time, and so does a free visit to an upmarket spa/resort. So she takes the case. It’s not long before she finds herself defending her client against a charge of murder when one of the spa guests is killed. The spa prides itself on all-natural, organic food and beauty/health products. For instance, at one point, Thóra and her partner Matthew Reich have a drink with Jónas and discuss the case.
 

‘He [Jónas] reached for his beer and took a sip. ‘This is organic beer,’ he said as he put the glass back down and wiped the froth from his upper lip.
 

Matthew isn’t overly impressed with the quality of the brew, but it’s interesting to see how much of a market there is for the ‘all natural.’

Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson also visits an organic-only, ‘all natural’ spa in Blood and Groom. In that novel, Christine Arvisais hires Jackson to find out who killed her former fiancé Gordon Hanes. Their engagement had ended (and not particularly amicably), so there’s a lot of talk that she’s responsible. But she claims to be innocent and wants Jackson to clear her name. Of course, any good PI knows that not every client is truthful and ethical. So Jackson does her own checking into her client’s background and financial situation. And that includes a visit to the exclusive Crystal Cove Spa where Arvisais and her mother go on regular retreats. It’s a completely all-natural, organic place where clients are not allowed to bring in chocolate, candy, or any other processed food or drink. That’s not exactly the way Jackson or her sister-in-law Lindsey live, so when they go on an undercover retreat there to gather information, they get quite a rude dietary awakening.  But they also get important information.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman takes real pride in her Melbourne bakery. She creates all sorts of fine breads and cakes without using preservatives or extra chemicals. She doesn’t even use chemicals to keep the place free of vermin. Instead, she has two feline Rodent Control Officers who in Chapman’s mind do a better and safer job than chemicals do. It’s not so much that Chapman is what you would call a ‘back to nature’ type. In fact, she enjoys her ‘creature comforts.’ But she does know that the best bread is made from natural ingredients. The bakery’s popularity proves her right, too. She bakes a fresh lot of bread and rolls each morning, and is usually sold out before the bakery closes for the day. If there’s any left over, she donates it to those who need it.

There’s even a mystery series devoted to organic food. Nadia Gordon’s Sunny McCoskey owns Wildside, a Napa Valley (California) restaurant that serves only organic food and wine. And of course there are many novels and series (D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington series is one) in which the sleuth takes pride in home-grown produce.

It’s really not surprising that there’s so much crime fiction that mentions ‘all-natural’ food, cleaning supplies, beauty products and so on. Whether or not you’ve ‘gone organic,’ it’s hard to deny that organic food and other products are increasingly popular, and many people swear by their benefits. And there’s nothing like homemade food that hasn’t been shrink-wrapped…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Tom Chapin song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Jill Edmondson, Kerry Greenwood, Nadia Gordon, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Without Compassion, There Can Be No End to Hate*

CompassionToday (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this), has been set aside as 1000 Voices For Compassion Day. The idea is to focus on the compassionate and good things that we do for one another. I think that’s a great idea. Of course, we don’t need a special day to be compassionate; it’s never out of style or out of season. That said though, it is good to be reminded of how important compassion is. It helps both the person in need of compassion and the person who offers it.

You wouldn’t think you’d see a lot of compassion in crime fiction. After all, crime stories are usually about people who kill other people – not a very compassionate thing to do. But you’d be surprised how often it shows up. I’ll just offer a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of a lot more than I could.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is not what you’d call a particularly sentimental person. But he shows compassion at times. For instance in The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Lady Eva Brackwell hires Sherlock Holmes for a very delicate case. She is being blackmailed by the notorious Sir Charles Augustus Milverton over some indiscreet letters she wrote several years earlier. Milverton has threatened to give the letters to Lady Eva’s fiancé unless she pays him a huge sum of money; and he’s the kind of blackmailer who won’t think twice about continuing to harass her until she has nothing left. Holmes takes the case and soon learns that Milverton is unyielding. So he and Dr. Watson take a novel approach to the case: they sneak into Milverton’s home one night, with the goal of finding out where the letters are hidden and taking them. They’re in the midst of carrying out their plan when they encounter another of Milverton’s victims, who has her own way of solving her problem. It’s an interesting example of the way Holmes sometimes shows that human, compassionate side of himself.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot does not, as he puts it, approve of murder. In his view, no-one ‘deserves to die.’ In that sense, he shows compassion for those who are killed. In fact, fans will know that in several stories, the death of a particular victim is upsetting to him. He also shows another kind of compassion. In some stories, he really does feel compassion for the killer. In fact, there’s even one story in which he agrees to give the police an account of a murder that lets the killer get away with the crime.

Arthur Upfield’s Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte shows compassion too. As just one example, in The Bushman Who Came Back, Bony is sent to Mount Eden, the ranch home of Mr. Wootton, when Wooton’s housekeeper Mrs. Bell is found shot. Worse, her seven-year-old daughter Linda has disappeared, presumably abducted by the killer. All signs point to a bushman nicknamed Ol’ Fren’ Yorky (usually called Yorky), and with good reason. He knows the area very well, and bootprints found at the back of the house are identified as his. What’s more, he hasn’t been seen since the killing. So although he’s popular in the area, a lot of people believe he’s responsible for Mrs. Bell’s death. Bony knows he’ll have to find Yorky as soon as he can, before anything happens to Linda. In this novel, we see how Bony shows compassion for several people as he gets to the truth about the killing. There are a lot of other classic/Golden Age novels in which we see that sort of compassion (I know, I know, fans of G.K. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown).

In Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, we are introduced to accountant-turned baker Corinna Chapman. One day she gets a visit from a teenage street child who says his name is Jase (Jason). He asks if she has any odd jobs available, and she puts Jase to work mopping the bakery floor. He’s clumsy at first, not well-rested and not well-nourished. But he does the job. Bit by bit, he starts to come by more often to do other chores, and soon he’s more or less an employee. Chapman finds out that he’s a heroin addict who’s recently stopped using, and he’s trying to get his life back together. It’s not easy, and there are moments when Chapman wonders whether she made the right choice to take Jason under her wing, as the saying goes. But he proves himself to be a real asset to the bakery, and in fact, he makes better gourmet muffins than Chapman does. This is a clear example of a case where compassion benefits everyone involved.

We also see compassion in Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Souls Murders. Early one morning, her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, gets a disturbing call from her daughter Mieka. The body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin, who was one of Mieka’s part-time cleaning employees, has been found in a trash bin. Finding a body would be enough to upset and distress anyone, particularly if one knows the victim. But in this case, Mieka and her mother also have compassion for Bernice, who’d had a very unfortunate life. So both of them want this case solved, to at least give the victim some sort of dignified closure to her life. Another plot thread of this novel concerns Christy Sinclair, the former girlfriend of Kilbourn’s son Peter. Christy’s had her share of issues, and Kilbourn was relieved when she and Peter broke up. Now she’s come back into the family’s life, and at one point even says that she and Peter are getting back together. On the one hand, this is not good news. On the other, Kilbourn does have compassion for Christy, and she treats her kindly, ‘though with eyes wide open, so to speak.

Compassion and treating others kindly is an essential aspect of many spiritual traditions, among them Buddhism. We see that connection between Buddhism and compassion in Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty series, which takes place mostly in Bangkok. We also see it in John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series; Sonchai is a member of the Royal Thai Police and an observant and dedicated Buddhist. There’s also a thread of this compassion woven into Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney novels; they too take place in Thailand.

But you don’t need to just read about compassion. The whole point of putting a focus on being compassionate is to remind us of how much good there is in the real world, and how much we can add to that good, just by showing concern and compassion for others. Simple, small gestures of humanity and compassion can make a huge difference, and they benefit everyone. Want to be a part of 100 Voices For Compassion? You can check it out here. Rather not? That’s fine too. You can be compassionate anyway.

 

On Another Note…
 
InaWordMurder
 

I’d like to take a moment and thank all of you for the support you’ve given the charity anthology In a Word: Murder. Since the anthology was released a year ago, proceeds of £250 have been donated to the Princess Alice Hospice. Your compassion is much appreciated. To those who contributed stories to this anthology, my continued humble thanks; you made the anthology possible.

Haven’t had a chance to check the anthology out yet? Now’s a good time (a-hem, for those celebrating Mothering Sunday, it’s only a few weeks away…). It’s a terrific collection of crime stories having to do with writing, publishing, editing and blogging, and it’s all in aid of Princess Alice Hospice. A group of highly talented authors contributed some memorable stories – you don’t want to miss ‘em! You can read more about the anthology on my ‘Writing’ tab, or click the picture on my side bar. Yes, that one.

This anthology is in memory of Maxine Clarke, devoted friend of the genre, who is still sorely missed.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Two Thousand Years.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, G.K. Chesterton, Gail Bowen, John Burdett, Kerry Greenwood, Timothy Hallinan

He’s a Pinball Wizard*

Arcade and Video GamesDo you play video and arcade games? A lot of people do. And arcade (and now video) games have been around for a long time, too – ever since the 1930s. Gamers will tell you that arcade and video games are fun, assist in eye-hand coordination and are great ways to meet other gamers. And with today’s online gaming communities, you can play video games against opponents from all over the world. Or, you can simply try to best your own top score.

Because arcade and video games are so popular, it’s little wonder that crime-fictional characters play them. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. Fans of Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series will know that Hill is a criminal psychologist and profiler who works with police detective Carol Jordan on many of her cases. Hill has plenty of baggage from his past, and his physical health isn’t particularly good. Those things, plus the stresses of his work, can be very difficult to bear. But Hill has an outlet: he enjoys playing video games. They help him de-stress and focus.

And Hill isn’t the only gamer among fictional sleuths. Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle is too. As the series begins, Boyle is a ‘summer cop’ who works with the regular police force of Sea Haven, New Jersey when the tourists come to town. As the series goes on, he becomes a full-time cop himself. Like a lot of seaside towns, Sea Haven has gaming arcades that are very popular with the tourists. But Boyle enjoys them too. Here’s what he says about it in Free Fall:
 

‘The video arcade game Urban Termination II is one of the many ways I hone the cop skill that, not to brag, has made me somewhat legendary amongst the boys in blue up and down the Jersey Shore. I have, shall we say, a special talent.
I can shoot stuff real good.’
 

Boyle will tell you that playing video games is actually a form of professional development.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a Melbourne baker who lives and works in a building called Insula. One of the shops in that building, Nerds, Inc., is run by Taz, Rat and Gully, whom Chapman refers to as The Lone Gunmen of Nerds, Inc. They are all gaming/computer wizards who deal in hundreds of different video games. They spend more time in front of their computers than they do with live humans, so they are experts in just about any kind of game or computer repair. They don’t exactly have a healthy diet, preferring cheese twists and pizza to anything like a balanced meal. And they don’t come out into daylight unless it’s necessary. Sometimes, Chapman finds them a little difficult to communicate with, since computers are not her specialty. But she does respect their knowledge, and finds them very helpful more than once.

Gaming can be a very social sort of activity, since even online, gamers can compete against each other. And of course in arcades there’s even more interaction. And that interaction is a part of the plot of Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. The real action in the novel begins during the summer of 1978, when fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan’s parents reluctantly give her permission to spend a few weeks with her cousins Mick and Jane Griffin, and their parents Doug and Barbara. Angela, Mick and some of Mick’s friends spend their share of time at a nearby drugstore, where they play pinball. Angela’s no expert at the game, but the group allows her to join in. One day, Angela plays some pinball with the group as usual, and then says she’s heading back to her aunt and uncle’s house. She never arrives. Not long afterwards her body is discovered strangled. At first, the police concentrate on her friends and family members, but there are no good leads in that direction. Still, they are the most likely suspects. Then, a few months later, there’s another murder. Sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor is found strangled in the same way that Angela was. Now the press begins to dub the killer the Sydney Strangler, and an all-out effort is made to catch the murderer. The police aren’t successful though, and the killings go unsolved. Years later, journalist Erin Fury is doing a documentary on families of murder victims and how they’ve been impacted by the tragedies that have happened. As a part of that project, she interviews Jane and her husband, Mick, and their parents. As she does, we learn bit by bit what really happened that summer, and who really killed Angela and Kelly.

Video and arcade games can be dangerous in and of themselves, too, at least in crime fiction. In Lindy Cameron’s Redback, for instance, we are introduced to journalist Scott Dreher, who’s doing a piece of the use of war simulation games to recruit terrorists. He’s on a flight to Japan to meet with legendary game designer Hiroyuki Kaga when he notices a fellow passenger playing a new game called Global WarTek. He gets permission to take a look at the game and soon makes a discovery that links that game to a shadowy group of terrorists. In another plot thread, crack Australian rescue/retrieval team Redback has become aware of a series of disasters, including a hostage situation, a train explosion, three murders and an attack on a US military base. They soon discover that this same terrorist group is behind those tragedies, and work to stop them before there are any more deaths. The key to the group’s goals and identity turns out to be Global WarTek.

See what I mean? Arcade and video games aren’t just fun ways to earn prizes. They’re taken very seriously by a lot of people. Sometimes deadly seriously…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Pinball Wizard. Yes, I know. An obvious choice. You’re welcome.

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Filed under Chris Grabenstein, Kerry Greenwood, Lindy Cameron, Val McDermid, Wendy James

I’ll Be Out in Cyberspace*

OnlineMeetingsIt’s no secret that technology keeps moving forward, making it increasingly easier to keep in contact with people from all over the world. And it’s happened at amazing speed too. Here are a few facts to put this all in a bit of perspective. People have of course been writing messages, notes and letters for as long as there’s been writing, really. But for many thousands of years, two things hampered this kind of contact. First, lots of people weren’t literate, and there are many cultures that don’t have a written language. Second, there were logistical and geographical issues to take into account, so letters could take a very long time to reach their recipients. Local communication by note and letter was easier (and you see a lot of that in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories), but it still left much to be desired.

The first transatlantic cable was sent in 1844, and the first telephone call was made in 1876. And within the next few decades, telephone and cable contact became more and more integral to people’s everyday communication. And you see it in crime fiction too. Agatha Christie fans can tell you about a number of cases that rely on cables for information (Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air is just one small example). And of course, we can all cite dozens of classic and Golden Age crime fiction stories where telephone calls are important parts of the plot, whether as alibis, clues or something else. And if you think about it, that’s just a matter of about sixty years (for the telephone). It was really the first long-distance synchronous communication, and it was revolutionary.

What happened next is possibly even more revolutionary: computer communication. Online communication actually began with a very small group of people in the 1970’s (the first email was sent in 1971), but for most consumers, email didn’t become a fact of regular life until the late 1980s/early 1990s. Still, that was only about 60 or 70 years after the telephone became an important part of daily life. And it made a huge difference too. If you’ve read Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, for instance, you know that the victim in that case is identified as Roseanna McGraw through a series of transatlantic telephone calls. They take time, the connection is terrible, and there are other technical problems too. Imagine if there’d been email then. I know that there simply wasn’t at the time that novel was written, and of course including it would have made the novel not credible. But it’s interesting to think of what the story might have been like.

In the last 30 years or so, global communication has once again been tranformed and arguably transformative. Today, email, texts and social media commentary link people from all over the world in a matter of microseconds. And we see that all over crime fiction. I’ll just give a few examples. There are Facebook posts that figure into Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness. Another social media site, Campus Juice, is an important factor in Alafair Burke’s 212. Texts feature in C.J. Box’s Below Zero. And the list could go on. And today’s Internet allows for all sort of sophistication too. How often do you see videos, lots of them uploaded from telephones, posted on blogs and other sites? And if you’ve ever done an online workshop, course or seminar, you know that Internet communication has had a powerful impact on education. As a somewhat personal aside, a hat tip goes to the way Australia has led the way in distance learning. I could give you lots of dates and academic references, but I’ll spare you…

These developments have come at an astonishing speed. They’ve also had of course some very negative consequences. Both in crime fiction and in real life, there are all sorts of stories of online predators. Perhaps a little less dangerous but no less upsetting are the stories of online ‘trolls.’ There’s another negative consequence too, that sometimes gets less attention, but is important. As we communicate more and more via technology, what’s happening to our in-person communication? There are studies (again, I’m sparing you the details) that suggest that young people who spend too much time using online technology do have difficulty with in-person social skills (e.g. appropriate eye contact, listening skills and the like). And even more studies support the vital importance of in-person contact. There are also plenty of crime novels that portray characters like this (for a witty but at times painfully real example, check Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. There’s a small group of computer wizards and gamers Chapman calls Nerds, Inc. that personify this phenomenon).

And there’s the question of just how intrusive online communication is. Do we really want to know what people had for breakfast? Where they partied last night? And more to the point, do we want others to know what we ate, where we went, or whom we see? Today’s communication has meant a need to re-think privacy and how to maintain it.

There’s another issue, too. Even with videos and pictures, asynchronous communication has its drawbacks. It’s hard to gauge people’s non-verbal language that way, and it can take longer for ideas to develop. And that’s to say nothing of the social and emotional benefits that come with real-time, face-to-face interaction.

Enter one of the most recent technological developments: communication applications such as Skype, Zoom and Google Hangout. With those applications, people from all over the world can have a live conversation. These applications are used for employment interviews, meetings, and simply keeping in contact with faraway friends and loved ones. Just to give you one example, every month, UK crime novelist Rebecca Bradley facilitates an online meeting of the Crime Book Club, which has members from several different countries. Yes, this is in part a plug for that great group. It meets the third Wednesday of every month at 8pm GMT, and everyone’s welcome. But this is more than just a plug. The Crime Book Club is a really clear example of what a tremendous impact technology has had on communication. And all of this in 175 years! Amazing!

So what’s coming next? And what will the implications be? Now that young people can communicate with family and friends via live video applications, will this improve social skills? Is physical proximity really necessary for that? Will family bonds be stronger (because of the ease of keeping in contact) or will they erode (because of time spent online with other people)? And what about privacy? I don’t have the answers, but my impression is that it’ll be a bit of a proverbial mixed bag. Let me put it this way: I am flattered, honoured and always amazed by the friendships I’ve made with people from all of the populated continents. And it’s all because of online technology. I wouldn’t be without online capability. But nothing is the same as meeting people in person. I wonder how close technology can get to that.

ps. Talking of Rebecca Bradley, you’ll want to visit her excellent blog. It’s a rich resource for crime fiction readers and writers. And you’ll want to check out her debut novel Shallow Waters. It’s a very solid police procedural/suspense thriller featuring DI Hannah Robbins of the Nottingham CID (I love the fact that this one takes place in a part of the UK that isn’t as common in crime fiction).
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Black-Eyed Peas’  Now Generation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alafair Burke, Arthur Conan Doyle, C.J. Box, Kerry Greenwood, Maj Sjöwall, Michael Connelly, Per Wahlöö, Rebecca Bradley