Category Archives: Lawrence Sanders

Find Out the Truth*

As I’ve often mentioned on this blog, most criminals aren’t eager to be caught. And there’s not always enough evidence to bring charges against someone. So, at least in crime fiction, the sleuth sometimes has to use some creativity to get the criminal to confess.

There are limits to what fictional police sleuths can do. For instance, entrapment – enticing someone to commit a crime she or he would not otherwise commit – is not allowed. And there’s a very fine line between a ‘sting’ operation (which is permissible) and entrapment. And even if the sleuth is not a cop, there’s still the credibility factor. Still, sleuths can be innovative, and sometimes have to be.

In Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat mystery, for instance, Inspector Richard Queen investigates the poisoning death of an attorney, Monte Field, who was also a blackmailer. He was killed in a theatre, so it’s hard a first to narrow down the list of people who could have committed the crime. And, even when the Queens do work out who was responsible, they don’t have the sort of evidence needed to pursue the case. So, they devise a ruse that, today, might be considered entrapment. They entice the killer into attempting another murder in the same way, using the same poison.

Fans of Agatha Christie will know that, more than once, her sleuths find creative ways to catch killers, even without a lot of evidence. For instance, in The Moving Finger, Miss Marple helps to solve the mystery of who’s been writing a series of vicious anonymous letters to the residents of the small town of Lymstock. Several of the villagers take those letters very seriously; there’s even a suicide (or was it a suicide?) associated with one of them. Then, there’s an obvious murder. Miss Marple works out who the killer is, but there’s not a lot of proof. So, she sets up what you might call a trap, and ‘baits’ it with another character, to flush the killer out. Fans of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series will know that Beck and his team use a rather similar sort of ‘trap’ in Roseanna. They know who the killer of twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw is, but they don’t have the proof they need. So, they lure the killer into trying for another victim. And it works.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes introduces readers to John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s recently been released from prison, and has a legitimate job working in a print factory. But, then, he gets a chance to visit an exclusive Manhattan apartment building. Impressed by the luxury he sees, Anderson can’t resist the opportunity to set up a heist – and not just of one apartment, either. His scheme is to rob the whole building. For that, he’s going to need some help. So, he contacts several people he knows to get supplies, a getaway truck, and so on. What he doesn’t know is that the FBI and various other agencies have been interested in several of Anderson’s contacts for some time. And they know full well that those criminals are not going to be easy to catch. In order to get the proof they need, these agencies have gotten clearance for wiretapping and other surveillance. They’re hoping this will get the evidence they need to convince the people they’ve targeted. So, much of what Anderson says to these people is recorded. The question is: will they learn of Anderson’s scheme before he and his team have the chance to pull it off?

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Mma Precious Ramotswe gets a new client, Happy Bapetse. Like other members of her culture, Happy has been taught that caring for elderly relatives, especially parents, is her responsibility. So, when a man shows up at her home claiming to be her father, Happy welcomes him and starts to take care of him. But she slowly begins to suspect that the man is not her father at all, but someone who wants to take advantage of the fact that she’s done well in life. So, she goes to Mma Ramotswe to get some help. Mma Ramotswe soon sees that she isn’t going to get this man to admit his scam. So, she sets up a ruse that forces his hand, as the saying goes. And it works.

And then there’s Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands. In it, twelve-year-old Steven Lamb takes a very risky decision. His family has been devastated for a long time by the loss of his uncle, Billy Peters, who went missing nineteen years earlier. Steven wants his family to heal, and he believes that finding his uncle’s body, assuming he’s dead, will at least allow his family to start that process. It was always assumed that a man named Arnold Avery, who’s currently in prison for another child murder, killed Billy. So, Steven decides to write to Avery, and try to find out from him whether he killed Uncle Billy, and if so, where the body is buried. It’s a very daring ploy, since Avery has never admitted to that murder. And it begins a dangerous game of ‘cat and mouse’ between the two. And the stakes get higher as time goes on.

It can be very risky to try to get a criminal to admit wrongdoing, especially if it’s a serious crime like murder. But, few criminals are eager to tell what they’ve done. So, sometimes, a fictional sleuth has to come up with a different approach to getting the truth.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Love and Money’s Axis of Love.  

11 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Belinda Bauer, Ellery Queen, Lawrence Sanders

I Wasn’t There But I Heard it All*

As this is posted, it’s 103 years since Thomas Edison invented the telescribe, a device for recording telephone conversations. Since that time, of course, technology has dramatically changed the way conversations are recorded. But the basic idea – that someone can record and later listen to one’s telephone conversations – hasn’t.

The notion of recording private telephone conversations without consent is controversial. On the one hand, wiretapping can lead to valuable information that catches criminals. On the other, there are serious issues of privacy and civil rights when telephone conversations are recorded. So, in general (not to say this always happens!), the police need a warrant in order to be allowed to record someone’s conversations without that person’s consent.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of mentions of wiretapping in crime fiction. And it doesn’t just happen in spy thrillers. Space only permits a few examples; I know you’ll think of many more than I ever could.

In Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes, we meet professional thief John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s recently been released from prison, and is trying to live a legitimate life, with a legitimate job. Then, he gets the chance to visit a luxury Manhattan apartment building. The visit gives Anderson the idea for a major heist: robbing the entire building. To do that, he’ll need materials and support, so he begins to enlist both from his contacts. What he doesn’t know is that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been wiretapping several of those contacts. So, most his conversations with those people are being recorded. In fact, plenty of the story is told through transcripts of those recordings. As Anderson begins to make final plans, the question becomes: will the police find out about the heist in time to be able to stop it?

James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover is the third in his Underworld USA trilogy. The novel takes place between 1968 and 1972, and it follows the political and other machinations of those years (e.g. J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with civil rights leaders, the Mob’s behind-the-scenes development of casinos, and Nixon’s political ambitions). Three people – Wayne Tedrow, Jr. (who is a drug runner), Dwight Holly (an FBI agent whose father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan), and Don ‘Crutch’ Crutchfield (who does menial PI work) – are caught up in all of the complexity. The plot involves several ‘backroom deals’ and more than one betrayal. And it features quite a lot of wiretapping, which shouldn’t be surprising to those who know what the US political situation was during that era.

In Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion, Anna Travis joins the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. At the time, the squad is facing a perplexing case. Seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been murdered, and the profile of her death fits that of six other women who’ve also been killed. But there are major differences. For instance, the other victims were older sex workers, but Melissa was young, and not a sex worker. Still, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton believes that the same killer is responsible. After a time, the team settles on a suspect: up-and-coming television/film star Alan Daniels. But it’s going to be difficult. He is beloved, wealthy, and well-connected. What’s more, there’s very little evidence that conclusively links him to the crime. He may, in fact, be innocent. As the story goes on, the team uses recordings and ‘wires’ to find out the truth, and it’s interesting to see how those fit in.

Ed McBain’s Criminal Conversation (he wrote this one as Evan Hunter) features an ambitious assistant district attorney named Michael Welles. He has a particular loathing for the Mob, so when a thug named Dominick di Nobili is ready tell what he knows about Mob operations, Welles is only too happy to listen. It seems that de Nobili owed a big gambling debt to a loan shark, and the result is that he’s now caught between two major crime families: the Colottis and the Faviolas. As he sees it, he’s safer in police custody than he is on the streets. Welles arranges for all sorts of telephone tapping and other surveillance, thinking he finally has the opportunity to bring down these crime groups. But what he doesn’t know is what the wiretapping will actually reveal. When he finds that out, he learns that it’s all much closer to home than he imagined.

And then there’s Michael Connelly’s The Closers. In that novel, Harry Bosch is working in the Open-Unsolved Unit of the LAPD. And, in one plot thread, he re-opens the murder of sixteen-year-old Rebecca Verloren, who was taken from her parents’ home and shot. Bosch finds that there’s a possible DNA match between evidence on the gun used in the crime, and a man named Roland Mackey. Now that his interest in Mackey is piqued, Bosch wants to trace Rebecca’s last few days and weeks, to see if there’d been any contact with Mackey. More than that, Bosch wants to record Mackey’s telephone conversations. As he says to his colleague, Kiz Rider,
 

‘‘…since Nine-Eleven and the Patriot Act it’s easier for us to get a wiretap.’
 

And she agrees:
 

‘The word’s sort of gotten around that this is a tool we can use now.’’
 

That said, though, approval for recording telephone conversations isn’t usually given capriciously.

And there’s good reason for that. Recording and listening to someone’s telephone conversations is an invasion of that person’s privacy. But at the same time, it can yield valuable information. So, it’s little wonder that tactic is used in some criminal investigation. An, of course, that means it shows up in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: the title of this post is a line from the Undertones’ Listening In.

12 Comments

Filed under Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, James Ellroy, Lawrence Sanders, Lynda La Plante, Michael Connelly

If I Were a Rich Man*

There’s plenty of excitement in a lot of US states this week. The Mega Millions lottery is now up to over US$450 million, and likely to grow before Tuesday’s drawing. Even people who don’t usually play the lottery are risking money on tickets, and there are office pools and other group efforts. Everybody wants to win.

And that’s not surprising. Many of us imagine what it might be like to be rich. Some even dream of it. It can be fun to think about what you’d do with all of that money. We all know in our logical minds that the chances of getting really rich aren’t great. And we all know in our logical minds that being very rich doesn’t mean a person has no challenges, problems, sorrows, or even tragedies. But that doesn’t stop us dreaming of that kind of wealth, at least a little.

There are plenty of crime-fictional characters who dream of it, too. And sometimes, that can get them into a lot of trouble. And even when it doesn’t, it can certainly complicate their lives. Like a lot of real-life people, though, that doesn’t stop their dreaming.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, we are introduced to Simon Doyle. When we first meet him, he’s engaged to Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Neither has money, but they are in love. Then, Simon loses his job and needs another, so that he and Jackie can marry. Fortunately, Jackie’s good friend, Linnet Ridgeway, is extremely wealthy, and in need of a land agent to manage her property. Jackie convinces Linnet to give Simon a try as land agent, and Linnet agrees. Then, the unexpected happens: Linnet falls in love with Simon. He’s attracted to her, too, and especially to the life of luxury and money that she lives. In fact, he’s always wanted the ‘rich life.’ They marry and plan a honeymoon trip to the Middle East. Jackie follows them everywhere, which greatly unsettles the couple. So, they try to evade her by taking a sudden trip up the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, so he is present when Jackie unexpectedly turns up on the boat. He is also present the second night of the cruise, when Linnet is shot and killed. At first, Jackie is the most logical suspect. But she has a proven alibi, so she cannot be the murderer. Simon, too, has a corroborated alibi. This means that Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes is the story of John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s been recently released from prison, and is now on the ‘straight and narrow,’ working at a print company. One night, though, he gets the chance to visit a very posh Manhattan apartment building. When he sees the wealth and luxury there, he gets the idea of having a lot of that money for his own. So, he creates a plan to rob the entire building. He won’t be able to do the job on his own, so he makes arrangements with people he knows to get weapons, assistance, materials, and so on. The only thing is, the FBI and other authorities have been recording those people for reasons of their own. This means they have access to all of Anderson’s plans. The question becomes: will the authorities see this, and stop the heist before it happens, and people get hurt?

In Patricia Melo’s The Body Snatcher, a São Paulo salesman and former telemarketer moves to Corumbá when a tragedy ends his job. He settles in and forms a relationship with Sulamita, who is an administrative assistant to the police. One day, he happens to witness a small plane crash into a nearby river. By the time he arrives, it’s too late to save the pilot. But he sees that the pilot has left behind a backpack and a watch.  The narrator takes those things, and later discovers that the backpack is filled with cocaine. Instead of reporting it all to the police, the narrator dreams of what it would be like to have all of the money that would come from selling the cocaine. It would be just a one-time thing – just enough to set him and Sulamita up for life. His friend Moacir lives nearby, and seems to know the right people, so the two go into business. Moacir makes the connections, and the arrangements are made. But that turns out to be only the start of real trouble for both men, and for Sulamita. They get drawn into a mess involving ruthless drugs smugglers and end up in much more trouble than they imagined.

Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You is the story of Joylayne Lucks. She’s an avid environmentalist who dreams of having a lot of money so that she can use it to protect the land. She gets her chance when she buys a winning lottery ticket. The prize is US$14 million, and she plans to use it to buy a piece of land and keep it out of developers’ hands. Then, the ticket is stolen by a Nazi group that wants to use the money to fund a militia. Features writer Tom Krone has been assigned by the Register to do a piece on Lucks and her big win. Instead, he finds himself drawn into a plot to get the ticket back.

And then there’s Vincent Naylor, whom we meet in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. He’s recently been released from prison, where he learned one important lesson: don’t take any more risks unless the payoff is worth it. Naylor meets up with his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother, Noel, and a few other people, and they concoct a plan. They’re all dreaming of big money – money that will let them get out of their humdrum lives. So, they decide to pull of a heist. The target is an armored car company called Protectica, that transfers cash among local banks. The details are planned, and the heist goes off. Then, things take a tragic turn, and everything changes for the group.

Lots of us dream, however idly, of what it’d be like to be extremely wealthy. It does have appeal, doesn’t it? That’s why I have my lottery ticket. On Tuesday, I’m going to win that pot. And when I do, I’ll need a lot of support. I’ll certainly need legal counsel – from several different countries, too, since I plan international philanthropy as well as careful investments. Some of my plans also include academic bursaries and endowments, so I’d be glad of help from people in academia, too. I’ll need an IT person who can help set up safe communication and file transfer among the people who work for me. I’m going to also need people with NGO and other philanthropy backgrounds to help me set up the groups I want to set up. And of course, all of this has to be released to the public in the right way. So, I’ll need someone with a background in journalism, and in fashion and public image, to help me make the right impression. I know I’ll need other support, too. And, of course, if these people also had an interest in books and reading, well, that would be all to the good. Do you happen to know anyone??

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

24 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Gene Kerrigan, Lawrence Sanders, Patricia Melo

You Can’t Compete With Murder Incorporated*

One of the most influential films of the last decades has arguably been Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, which premiered 46 (!) years ago. It’s based, as you’ll know, on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, and traces the fortunes of the Corleone family. Many people consider it a remarkable film; certainly, it’s had a real impact.

But it’s not by any means the only story about members of the Mafia. It seems as though we have a real cultural fascination with Mafiosi, crime families, and their doings. And, if you look at crime fiction, such characters and plot lines are woven into the genre. There are crime families and dynasties all over the world, and there’s only so much room in one post. But here are a few examples.

Puzo’s original 1969 novel, of course, had quite an impact of its own, independent of the film. It features the Corleone family, mostly between 1945 and 1955, and traces that family’s rise to power and its feud with other New York crime families. This novel’s focus is the New York Mafia culture, and its links to the Italian Mafia, and that’s become part of the mythology.

As you’ll know, there were also many connections between the New York Mafia and other crime syndicates and the underworld of Havana during the years before Fidel Castro took power there. There’s an interesting look at those links in Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra,which takes place in 1957. In that novel we are introduced to Havana journalist Joaquín Porrata, who writes for the Diaria de la Marina. He’s accustomed to writing ‘puffball’ pieces such as interviews with performers. One day, though, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia, who’s been killed in a New York barbershop. Anastasia was known as the Great Enforcer of Murder, Inc., and Porrata believes that he was murdered because he took more of an interest than was good for him in some of the other Mob bosses’ dealings in Havana. Porrata’s supervisor doesn’t want him to follow up on that story, though. Instead, he sends him to cover the story of a hippopotamus who escaped from a Havana zoo and was later found dead. When Porrata hears that the animal’s death was likely a message to Anastasia, he is convinced that the two incidents are linked, and starts to ask questions about Anastasia’s death, and about what it suggests about the Mob’s hold on Havana. The closer he gets to the truth, though, the clearer it becomes that some people do not want him to find out what’s really going on.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of Franco family, who moves from Italy to New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century. Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco wants the ‘American Dream’ for his family, so he gets a job in a shoe repair shop, works hard, and within a few years is able to open his own shoe sales and repair shop. The business does well, too. But then disaster strikes. Ben Franco, who by this time has changed the family’s name to Frank, kills a man in a bar fight. That man turns out to be Luigi Lupo, son of notorious Mafioso Tonio Lupo. Frank is arrested and imprisoned for the murder, and Lupo visits him in prison. There, he curses the family, and says that each of Frank’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi Lupo was at his death. It’s not an idle threat, either, as Tonio Lupo is powerful, notorious, and ruthless. As the years go by, we see what happens to Frank’s sons, and how this curse impacts the family. And we also see how the Mafia plays a part in what happens to the Frank family fortunes.

Mafiosi make an appearance in Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes, too. In that novel, we are introduced to professional thief John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s recently been released from prison and is trying to ‘go straight.’ He changes his mind, though, when he gets the chance to visit a posh Manhattan apartment building. He decides to plan a robbery, but not just of one apartment. His plan will be to rob the entire building. For that, of course, he’ll need equipment, money, and people to work with him. So, for about five months, Anderson makes his plans and gets his team in place. One of Anderson’s sources will be the Angelo family, a Mafia family involved for some time in New York’s underworld. The FBI and other authorities are very interested in anything they can learn about the Angelos’ activities, so they’ve placed the members under electronic and other surveillance. They’ve also got an interest in several other of Anderson’s contacts. The question will be: can the authorities stop this robbery before it takes place? As we get to know the Angelos, we learn a little about how such families work.

And then there’s Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas. Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children move from New Jersey to a small town in Normandy. The four settle in and try to adjust to the new culture, the new language, and so on. But this isn’t a typical American family. ‘Fred Blake’ is really Giovanni Manzini, a member of the New Jersey Mafia. He’s committed the unforgiveable sin of testifying against his former Mafia colleagues in court. Now, he and his family are in the US Federal Witness Protection Program. The plan to start life over in Normandy works well at first. But then, word of the Manzinis’ new location gets back to New Jersey. Now, the family has much more serious problems on their hands than ‘culture shock.’ This novel was the inspiration for Luc Besson’s 2013 film, The Family.

The Mafia has woven into the underworld for a very long time. So it makes sense that we’d see examples all through crime fiction. I’ve only had the space to mention a few; I know you’ll think of many others (right, fans of Andrea Camilleri’s series?). Which ones have stayed with you?

As you know, I usually take my own ‘photos for this blog. But I just couldn’t resist this iconic image of Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Murder Incorporated.

 

21 Comments

Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Lawrence Sanders, Mario Puzo, Mayra Montero, Tonino Benacquista

We’ve Got Tonight, Who Needs Tomorrow?*

Is it possible to have a truly ‘no strings attached’ sort of relationship? Plenty of people say ‘yes;’ and plenty of those have had them. Many other people disagree. To those people, there’s always some connection, even if it was just a one-night stand.

Crime fiction doesn’t seem to offer a definitive answer on this question, and that makes sense. There are a lot of factors involved, if you think about it. People’s personalities vary greatly. So do contexts. And it’s interesting to see how those ‘no strings attached’ relationships (or are they?) figure into character development, plot points, and more.

Some crime-fictional relationships really do seem to involve no obligations. One of them is the relationship between John ‘Duke’ Anderson and Ingrid Macht, whom we meet in Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes. As the novel begins, Anderson’s recently been released from prison, and is on the ‘straight and narrow.’ Then, he gets the chance to visit a posh Manhattan apartment building and gets the idea of robbing all of the apartments. It’s a major undertaking, and Anderson can’t do it alone. So, he recruits a number of associates to help at different points. What he doesn’t know is that many of the conversations he has have been recorded in one way or another. The FBI and various police agencies have an interest in several of the people Anderson deals with, so they’ve been secretly keeping tabs. The question becomes: will Anderson and his team get away with their robbery before they’re caught? Throughout the novel, Anderson has a number of conversations with Macht. They like each other, and sometimes sleep together, but neither feels an obligation to the other. And neither has any illusions that they have an actual relationship.

In Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol, we are introduced to San Diego PI Boone Daniels. In this novel, he investigates a warehouse fire (was it or was it not arson?), a missing stripper, a murder, and an ugly truth behind it all. While Daniels is an investigator, he is also, first and foremost, a surfer. Almost every morning, he and his friends (they call themselves the Dawn Patrol) go surfing together. One of those friends is a lifeguard who has the nickname Dave the Love God. He is legendary among women, both local and tourists. In fact, when tourists return to their homes, they often recommend Dave to their friends. Dave the Love God treats his dates well and is completely upfront with them. There are no lies, promises, or expectations. Everyone knows it’s just for fun, and it works well for Dave and for his companions.

In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, we meet Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney. Originally from Australia, she now makes her home in Thailand. She gets involved in a murder investigation when her good friend, Didier de Montpasse, is accused of murdering his partner, and then is killed himself. At this point in her life, Keeney isn’t really looking for a relationship. She likes her independence. But that doesn’t mean she wants to be a hermit. For Keeney, it works best – at least at the outset of this series – to have relationships with no expectations. Later, she chooses a partner, and it’s interesting to see how she makes the transition from preferring no strings to feeling a real bond.

Of course, not all ‘no strings attached’ relationships work out. In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, for instance, Dr. John Christow and his wife, Gerda, are invited for a weekend to the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. What Christow doesn’t know at first is that one of the nearby cottages has been taken by an old flame, Veronica Cray. On the Saturday night, she bursts in at the Angkatell home and asks to borrow some matches. She then sees Christow and insists on having him accompany her home. For Christow, it’s a one-night stand – no obligations or expectations. But that’s not how Veronica Cray sees it. She wants to rekindle their romance and is infuriated when Christow refuses her. The next afternoon, Christow is shot, and Cray becomes one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case.

And then there’s Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. When Eva Wirenström-Berg discovers that her husband, Henrik, has been unfaithful, she is devastated. She’d always imagined the proverbial ‘white picket fence’ life for them and their son, Axel. When she finds out who the other woman is, Eva makes her own plans, and they turn out to have tragic consequences. One night, she stops into a pub where she meets Jonas Hansson, who has his own issues to face. The two begin talking and end up in bed. For Eva, it’s a no-strings-attached relationship, in part intended to cope with Henrik’s betrayal. But that’s not how Jonas sees it. Before long, things begin to spin out of control for both of them and end up very badly indeed.

And that’s the thing about those one-night or no-strings sorts of relationships. Sometimes they work out for both people. That’s especially true if both people agree that there will be no expectations. But things aren’t always that easy or clear. And then, it can all get very ugly.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s We’ve Got Tonight.

15 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Don Winslow, Karin Alvtegen, Lawrence Sanders