Category Archives: Leigh Redhead

Where You Come From*

One of the interesting things about fictional PIs is the diversity in their backgrounds. The profession isn’t limited to people who have a particular academic degree or job experience. This means that the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to a PI’s background. And that can make for intriguing layers of character development, to say nothing of plot points and other characters.

There are some fictional PIs who decide early in life that that will be their profession. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, for instance, chose the profession quite deliberately. And, in A Study in Scarlet, he describes himself to Dr. Watson as
 

‘…a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is.’’
 

He’s carefully prepared for his career, too. In fact, his focus is so much on being the finest detective that he doesn’t take a lot of interest in topics unless they’ll be helpful to him professionally.

There are many fictional PIs who are former police officers. This means that they may very well have connections within the police community. And that can either be a source of valuable information, or an obstacle, depending on how the author wants to use that relationship.

For instance, Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant is a former member of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS). He decided that life on the police force wasn’t for him, and hung out his own shingle. But he still has contacts on the force. He doesn’t spend a lot of social time with his former colleagues, and he’s much happier as a PI. But he’s established a useful and mutually beneficial relationship with the SPS.

Fans of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot will know that he used to be a member of the Belgian police. That career ended, and then life changed abruptly with the advent of World War I. Poirot went to England as a refugee and started a career in private detection there. Interestingly enough, Christie doesn’t delve very much into Poirot’s early history. There are a few stories (right, fans of The Chocolate Box) that shed some light on Poirot’s life as a police detective. But he doesn’t maintain ties with his former colleagues.

Sometimes, fictional private investigators get into the business unexpectedly, or even accidentally. For instance, Dick Francis’ Sid Halley was at one time a well-known jockey. But he suffered a riding accident that severely injured his left hand and ended his riding career. At loose ends, so to speak, he got a job working for a large private detective agency, Hunt, Radnor and Associates. Private investigation wasn’t in Halley’s plan, and he’s bitter over the loss of his racing career. Still, he’s had to find some sort of job. His real career in private detection, though, begins in Odds Against, when his former father-in-law asks him to uncover a plot to take over the Seabury Racecourse for development. This case, which brings Halley back into contact with the racing world, also, as you might say, brings him back to life. He becomes a racetrack investigator; and, although he misses riding, and is still sometimes bitter, he manages to put himself back together.

Some PIs start by doing informal investigations, mostly to help friends. It’s only later that they make it an official business. Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins is like that. As the series begins (in Devil in a Blue Dress), he’s been laid off from his job at an aircraft manufacturing plant. It’s shortly after the end of World War II, and several former aircraft, munitions, and other war-related factories are closing or downsizing. Rawlins has to find some way to earn a living. So, when his friend, a bar owner named Joppy, introduces him to a man named DeWitt Albright, Rawlins listens to what Albright has to say. Albright is looking for a woman named Daphne Monet, who seems to have gone missing. He wants Rawlins to find her, and is willing to pay well for it. Rawlins is in serious need of money, so he agrees. But, as he soon discovers, this isn’t a simple case of finding a woman who may be in hiding. It involves theft, blackmail, and murder. Rawlins solves the case, and he does get paid, but he works informally for the first few novels in this series. Mostly, he does things for friends and their acquaintances.

That’s also the case with Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder. He was a New York homicide detective (another former police officer!). But a tragic accidental shooting changed everything. As the series begins (with The Sins of the Fathers), he doesn’t really have a ‘regular’ job. But he does know how to find people and get answers. He works very informally. As he puts it:
 

‘‘Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts.’’
 

He doesn’t get his official PI license until later in the series.

Some PIs have very unusual backgrounds. Leigh Redhead’s Simone Kirsch for instance, is a former stripper. She still does gigs now and again. It might seem unlikely that a stripper would make the change to a career as a PI. But for Kirsch, there’s a reason. When she got the point where it was time to quit, she tried to join the Victoria Police. That’s because she’s still grateful to the police for saving her life and her mother’s and brother’s when she was younger. But,
 

‘Either I didn’t have the moral credentials to be a girl in blue, or the Victoria Police had enough scandal without dropping a stripper into the mix.
 

She’s not accepted into police training, so she decides that the PI course is the next best thing. And she’s good at it, too. It helps that she stays in close contact with several people in ‘the business.’ They’re often good sources if information.

Fictional PIs (real ones, too) sometimes have some fascinating backgrounds, or at least unusual ones. That can add to a story, and make for solid character development and contexts.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dick Francis, Lawrence Block, Leigh Redhead, Walter Mosley

‘Cause I’m Unpredictable*

Some of the more interesting characters in crime fiction are appealing because one can never be sure exactly what they’re going to do. In order to make such a character credible, the author has to make sure there’s some stability (i.e. ‘Yes, that’s the sort of thing X might do’). But at the same time, these characters are just unpredictable enough that anything might happen. It’s a delicate balance, but when an author achieves it, that sort of character can be memorable.

For instance, James Lee Burke’s sleuth is New Iberia, Louisiana, police detective Dave Robicheaux. His best friend, and former police partner, is Cletus ‘Clete’ Purcell, who’s an interesting character in his own right. He drinks more than he should, and doesn’t always steer clear of trouble. In that way, he’s a little unpredictable. But he is loyal to Robicheaux, and he’s not afraid to get into a fight and knock heads together if needs be. And Robicheaux knows that Purcell won’t desert him when things get dangerous. Purcell’s character adds a dimension to Robicheaux’s personality, and has allowed Burke flexibility about plot lines, suspenseful scenes, and tension building.

We could say similar things about Walter Mosley’s Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander. He’s an old friend of Mosley’s protagonist, Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. The two grew up together in Louisiana, and have remained friends ever since. On the one hand, Mouse can be what’s sometimes called a ‘loose cannon.’ He has a hair-trigger temper and very few boundaries. He’s not the sort of person you want to upset. And he’s caused more than his share of trouble, in his way, for Rawlins. But he is loyal to his friend. And he’s completely unafraid. He’s saved Rawlins’ life, and survived an awful lot, including being shot in the back. Mouse isn’t what you’d call a nice person. But Rawlins knows that when it comes down to it, Mouse will be there, if I can put it that way.

Robert Crais’ Los Angeles PI Elvis Cole isn’t the biggest, or strongest, of people. He’s smart and quick-thinking, but that’s not always enough to keep him out of trouble. Fortunately, his PI partner is Joe Pike. A former member of the military, Pike is quick and skilled with weapons, of which he has plenty. He’s not a man of many words, but he can be very intimidating. And he’s not afraid to ‘mix it up’ if that’s necessary. You couldn’t really call him uncontrollable, but he’s certainly not one to stand by, if I can put it that way. And yet, Pike is highly disciplined in his way. And he’s loyal to Cole. When situations get dangerous, as they sometimes do, Cole knows that he can depend on Pike, and the two have a successful partnership. Even Cole’s feral cat approves of Pike; in fact, he’s the only human that the cat trusts.

Leigh Redhead’s Simone Kirsch is a Melbourne-based former stripper (she does an occasional gig) who’s trying to make a success of her PI business. Because of her background, she knows several people in the adult entertainment business. One of them is her best friend, Chloe Wozniak. When we first meet Chloe, in Peepshow, she’s a stripper at a peepshow place called Shaft Cinema. As the series goes on, Chloe opens her own business, Chloe’s Elite Strippers. Although Simone is the main character in this series (it’s told from her point of view, too), Chloe is hardly a ‘shrinking violet.’ She’s not intimidated by clients, strip club owners and managers, or, really, anyone else. In fact, in Peepshow, she’s taken hostage by an underworld ‘tough guy,’ and isn’t intimidated by him either. I don’t think it’s not spoiling the story to say that she doesn’t sit quivering in a corner. Chloe may not be utterly reckless, but she’s not always predictable, either.

And then there’s John Clarkson’s Among Thieves, in which we are introduced to James Beck. He and some of his friends own a bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Very few people know that he bought the bar with money he won in a wrongful conviction lawsuit after he spent eight years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His co-owners are all people he met in prison, and who are now ‘going straight.’ One of those people is Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Guzman, who used to be a gang leader. He’s not in that life any more, but he hasn’t lost his toughness. He can be unstable, too, although he’s not mindlessly rash. Beck knows that Guzman is perfectly capable of following through on any threat he might make, and he’s not afraid to do so. That’s why he’s so concerned when he learns that Guzman has said he’s going to kill someone. Then, he finds out the reason. Guzman’s cousin, Olivia Sanchez, has asked for his help. She says that she was fired from her job at an upmarket investment firm, and ‘blacklisted’ so that she won’t be able to find a job elsewhere. All of this has happened because she was going to ‘blow the whistle’ on some very questionable transactions. She’s filed a lawsuit against one of her colleagues, Alan Crane, who she says threatened her, breaking two of her fingers. Crane says that she attacked him, and that he was defending himself. When Guzman hears what his cousin has to say, he’s ready to take care of Crane in his own way. But Beck convinces him to wait, and at least talk to both parties first. Guzman reluctantly agrees. This case turns out to be much more complicated than a dispute between two ex-colleagues. And before they know it, Beck and his friends (including Guzman) are mixed up in a case involving Russian gangsters, US arms dealers, and more than one dangerous thug. Through it all, Guzman remains on ‘hair trigger’ alert, and that adds to the tension in the story. At the same time, he is loyal to Beck, and he understands the consequences if he lets rash decisions get in the way of helping his cousin.

And that’s the thing about such characters. They may be unpredictable, and sometimes even a little reckless. But they’re smart, and they’re loyal. And they can add much to a crime novel. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Robertson and Skye Sweetnam’s Unpredictable.

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Filed under James Lee Burke, John Clarkson, Leigh Redhead, Robert Crais, Walter Mosley

But Does Anybody Know My Name?*

Names are funny things. They’re one of the most important ways by which we identify ourselves. Imagine, for instance, not knowing your own name. And yet, we do sometimes use different names. For instance, if you’re a writer, perhaps you use a pen name for some of your work. Or, you may use your legal given name in some circumstances, but another name for others.

You might be surprised at the important role that names can play in crime fiction. But it makes sense if you think about it. Use of a different name can be a useful tool for hiding the identity of a murderer. And, there are many espionage novels and other thrillers where a character goes undercover using a different name. There are other times, too, when a sleuth or another character might not want to use her or his real name. If the author’s going to do that, it’s got to be done carefully. Otherwise, a change of name can be confusing for the reader. And it can be a bit too convenient, too. But there are times when playing with a character’s name can add to a story.

There are several Agatha Christie novels, for instance, where names are changed or switched. There’s even one in which a character’s real name turns out to give an important clue as to the killer in the story. And, in After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal) Hercule Poirot changes his name temporarily. Wealthy Richard Abernethie has died, and there’s a possibility that someone in his family might have killed him. So, to get a better sense of what the family members are like, Poirot spends the weekend at the family home, under the guise of possibly buying the property to use as a home for elderly war refugees. As fans can tell you, Poirot is convinced that his name is well-known. So, he goes under the name of M. Pontarlier – and affects a distinctly ‘un-English’ persona. He even pretends not to know much English. And that gives him the opportunity to observe much more than anyone thinks.

Poirot isn’t the only sleuth to go undercover and take a different name. For instance, in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok PI Jayne Keeney learns that her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse has been killed by police. The official explanation is that the police had come to arrest Didi for the murder of his partner, Sanga ‘Nou.’ According to the report, Didi resisted arrest so violently that he had to be killed. But Keeney doesn’t believe this. What’s more, she doesn’t believe that her friend killed his partner. So, she decides to investigate. And to do this, she takes on the name Simone Whitfield. That’s the name she uses when she meets Australian Federal Police (AFP) agent Mark D’Angelo. He’s in Thailand as part of a special task force looking into the child sex trade. He and Keeney have very different ways of going about addressing that problem, and it’s interesting to see how she interacts with him in her ‘Simone’ persona.

In Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, we are introduced to mystery novelist Frank Cairnes. He writes under the name of Felix Lane, and that’s the name he uses when he decides to find out who killed his beloved son, Martin ‘Martie.’ The boy died in a hit-and-run incident, and Cairnes wants to find out who was driving. He believes that he may be too well-known under his own name, so he grows his beard out and ‘becomes’ Felix Lane. Then, he moves back to the town where he and Martie lived, and tracks down the man who he believes is responsible for Martie’s death. The only problem is, the most likely suspect, a man named George Rattery, has found Carines’ diary, and now knows his plan. He tells Cairnes that if anything happens to him, Cairnes will be the immediate suspect. Later that day, Rattery dies of what turns out to be poison. Cairnes contacts poet and private investigator Nigel Strangeways, and asks for his help. His claim is that he had planned to kill Rattery, but not with poison. And why would he carry out his first plan, and also make such an elaborate plan to poison the victim? Strangeways is inclined to believe him, and starts looking for other possibilities. And, in the end, he finds out who killed George Rattery.

It’s not uncommon in the sex industry for people to use ‘stage names.’ There are, in fact, a lot of good reasons for people who work in that industry not to use their own names. We see this, for instance, in Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow. In that novel, we meet private investigator Simone Kirsch, who also works at times as a stripper. When she is hired to investigate the murder of a table dancing club called the Red Room, she goes undercover there as a newly-hired dancer. She uses the name Vivien Leigh, and plenty of people think the mystique of the name suits her.

In John Grisham’s The Chamber, Chicago lawyer Adam Hall travels to his firm’s Memphis office to help on the case of Sam Cayhall, who’s about to be executed for a bombing related to his Ku Klux Klan activities. We learn before long that Cayhall had been involved in Klan activity for a number of years, and that his son, Eddie, was disgusted at it all. When his father was convicted, Eddie Cayhall changed his name and moved to California. Later, he returned to the South (but not to Memphis) as Eddie Hall. He was the father of Adam Hall (who was actually born Alan Cayhall). So, as it turns out, Sam Cayhall is Adam Hall’s grandfather. That doesn’t make anything easier as Hall learns more about the bombing, and about his own family history. Along with trying to keep his grandfather from getting the death penalty, Hall also has to confront his own past, and it’s not going to be easy.

Names really are an important part of how we appear to the world. That’s why they can be so useful in a crime story. They can disguise or create an identity, and they can allow for interesting character development.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ You Don’t Know My Name.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, John Grisham, Leigh Redhead, Nicholas Blake

In The Spotlight: Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. PIs come from many different sorts of backgrounds, and take all sorts of cases. It certainly isn’t a ‘cookie cutter’ occupation. And that’s part of what can make a PI a very interesting character. Let’s take a look at one today, and turn the spotlight on Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow, which features her Melbourne-based PI sleuth, Simone Kirsch.

Kirsch is a newly-licensed PI whose background includes being a stripper. In fact, that’s why she wasn’t admitted to the police force, although that was her first choice. Her PI career hasn’t taken off yet, so she does freelance stripping for events like bachelor parties. She also works at a peepshow place called the Shaft Cinema. One day, her best friend, Chloe Wozniak, who also works at the Shaft, asks for her help. Wozniak works weekends at a table dance club called the Red Room, which is owned by Francisco ‘Frank’ Parisi. One morning, his body is pulled from a local bay, and it’s immediately clear that this was no accident. And that’s the problem. Wozniak was overheard having a loud argument with Parisi not very long before he was murdered, so she’s sure she’ll be a suspect. Kirsch advises her friend to tell the police what happened, but before that can happen, Parisi’s brother, Sal, takes matters into his own hands.

Sal takes Wozniak, and demands that Kirsch find out who killed his brother as the price for her friend’s freedom. He gives her two weeks to find the answers. Now, Kirsch has no choice but to get to the truth. And she decides to start with the people who work at and frequent the Red Room.

Kirsch goes undercover at the Red Room as a new table dancer whose stage name is Vivien Leigh, and slowly gets to know some of the other dancers. From them, and from other sources in the business, Kirsch begins to get a picture of the dead man. He was, as it turned out, a thug who made plenty of enemies, both inside and outside the club. So, there are several possibilities, some of them very dangerous.

As the time gets shorter, Kirsch follows several leads. The trail takes her through a few different peepshow cinemas, table-dance clubs, and a sex-industry expo called Sexpo. It also puts her in the sights of a corrupt police officer and a few other dangerous types. Kirsch isn’t heedless of the risk, but she’s afraid that Sal Parisi won’t think twice about killing his prisoner. So, she perseveres. In the end, and with some help from her PI mentor, among other people, Kirsch finds out who really killed Frank Parisi and why.

This is a PI novel, so Kirsch doesn’t have the law behind her as she talks to people. There’s also information to which she’s not legally privy. She makes effective use, though, of her contacts in the sex industry, and of some of her friends. She also makes use of news items, television, and so on. It’s not spoiling the novel to say that she also gets help and some information from a police detective, Alex Christakos.

The story’s context is the Melbourne sex industry, so readers get to go behind those curtains to see what goes on in table-dance clubs, peepshow cinemas and so on. Readers also get to know some of the characters behind the micro-shorts, thigh-high boots and halter tops.

In one sense, this is a gritty novel. There are several scenes of very explicit sex, so readers who prefer not to read detailed sex scenes will want to know this. There’s also a lot of discussion of the sex industry. Readers who dislike profanity in their novels will want to know that there’s plenty of that, too.

That said, though, the novel isn’t what you’d call noir. It’s got more wit than noir novels usually do. There is violence in the novel, but it’s mostly ‘off stage,’ and not described in gory detail; and Redhead doesn’t present a hopeless, bleak portrait of life in Melbourne’s sex industry.

In fact, by and large, the dancers and other characters we meet are quite empowered. They’re in the business because they want to be, and they help each other. Here’s the way Kirsch describes it:
 

‘I remembered how much I loved stripping, not the hustle, but the dancing, the rush of power and control. You could be sexual and shameless, yet completely insular, intimate without giving any of yourself away.’
 

Another character says this:
 

‘‘…art, power, self expression, and you can’t beat the money.’’
 

This isn’t to say that there’s no corruption in the industry. But the picture painted here is not one of, say, forced sexual slavery.

The story is told from Kirsch’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we learn quite a bit about her. She’s smart, capable, and at times, witty. She’s no superhero, but she is resourceful and can be outspoken. She drinks at times more than she should, but she’s far from the stereotypical drunken PI who can’t interact well with anyone. She smokes (although she had given the habit up) and doesn’t always say ‘no’ to a bit of pot. Readers who are tired of female characters being exploited will be pleased to know that Kirsch is very much empowered. That’s not to say she’s invulnerable; she’s not. But she’s by no means anyone’s easy prey.

The solution to the mystery is rooted in the past, and it’s ugly and sad. Without spoiling the story, I can say, too, that the motive is complex. It’s the sort of solution that invites readers to think about what they might have done.

Peepshow is a sometimes-raunchy, sometimes-witty look at life in Melbourne’s sex industry. It’s the story of the murder of a roundly-hated thug, and features a PI who makes good use of her brains, resourcefulness and, sometimes, stripping skills. But what’s your view? Have you read Peepshow? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 10 April/Tuesday, 11 April – Something in the Air – John Alexander Graham

Monday, 17 April/Tuesday, 18 April – A Jarful of Angels – Babs Horton

Monday, 24 April/Tuesday, 25 April – Wife of the Gods – Kwei Quartey

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Filed under Leigh Redhead, Peepshow

Make Me Beautiful*

Cosmetic surgery has advanced a great deal over the years, as has its relative, reconstructive surgery. There are new techniques and materials, and new options. It’s no longer the exclusive property of the very rich and Hollywood stars, either.

I got to thinking about the whole topic when I read an interesting post by Moira at Clothes in Books. By the way, if you’re not already following that excellent blog, I recommend it highly. It’s a treasure trove of fine book reviews and discussions of clothes and culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

Moira was discussing Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footmen, but that’s not the only example of a crime novel where cosmetic surgery plays a role. It’s not hard to see why, either. There are all sorts of possibilities for the author. And, whatever you feel about cosmetic surgery, it’s increasingly popular.

In P.D. James’ The Private Patient, we are introduced to journalist Rhoda Gradwyn. She checks into Cheverell Manor, an exclusive private clinic for patients undergoing cosmetic surgery. Her plan is to have a facial scar removed, but that’s not what happens. During her stay at the clinic, Gradwyn is strangled. Met Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate, and there are several possibilities. Certainly, the victim’s surgeon had opportunities to kill her. But, so did several nurses, attendants, and even visitors, among others. Dalgliesh and his team have to go back into Gradwyn’s past to see who would want to murder her.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Hussy, Lochdubh PC Hamish Macbeth investigates the murder of Maggie Baird. Although she hasn’t been a commercial sex worker, she’s certainly traded sex for expensive things, posh places to live, and so on. Now, although she’s still attractive, she’s middle-aged, and, at least in her view, has lost her looks. So, she goes away for several months and undergoes cosmetic surgery. When she returns, with her looks restored, she invites four former lovers to visit, and announces that she’s going to get married. Instead, she dies, ostensibly of a heart attack suffered during a car fire. Macbeth soon learns that there are several people who could have wanted the victim dead. For one thing, her four suiters have all come down in the world, as the saying goes. Any one of them could have killed her for her money. Then there’s her niece, who’s just been cut out of her will. There are other possibilities, too. The story certainly shows the wisdom of the saying, ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

One plot thread of Donna Leon’s About Face concerns a businessman, Maurizio Cataldo. Conte Orazio Falier is considering doing business with Cataldo, but he wants to be sure of the man before he actually signs anything. So, he asks his son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to ‘vet’ Cataldo, and see if there’s anything Falier should know. Brunetti agrees to do so. In the process of getting to know Cataldo’s life better, Brunetti also gets to know his wife, Franca Marinello. One of the things we learn about her is that she’s had cosmetic surgery. That surgery isn’t the reason for Falier’s caution. But it plays a role in the novel, and in some of the tragic events that happen.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight features former police officer Mick Stranahan (yes, fans, he later appears in Skinny Dip).  He learns that an unknown man has been asking where lives. He isn’t sure who the man might be, but it doesn’t take long for them to meet up. In fact, the man breaks into Stranahan’s home. In the course of defending himself, Stranahan kills the home invader, goring him with the stuffed head of a marlin (it is Hiassen…). Then he dumps the body, which is later discovered by a couple of tourists. In the meantime, Stranahan decides to find out who’s trying to kill him. His attacker had no ID and there was no way to connect him with any particular one of Stranahan’s enemies, so it won’t be an easy task. It’s made even harder by the fact that Stranahan’s got plenty of enemies. There’s the sleazy injury lawyer, the annoying TV journalist, the hit man, and an inept plastic surgeon named Rudy Graveline. They’re all good candidates, and Stranahan will have to work through all of them to find out who the killer is.

Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow is the first of her novels to feature Melbourne PI Simone Kirsch. She’s got a background as a stripper, and has now gotten her PI license. When the body of Francesco ‘Frank’ Parisi is discovered in a local bay, Simone’s best friend, Chloe, becomes a suspect. Parisi was the owner of a table-dancing strip club called the Red Room, where Chloe works. She was among several people who had a very good reason to kill the victim, and she’s worried about what to do. Matters get worse when Parisi’s underworld brother, Sal, gets involved. He wants Simone to find out who killed his brother, and he takes Chloe as ‘insurance.’ Since the only way to free Chloe is to find the killer, Simone gets started right away. She goes undercover as a new table dancer at the Red Room, and begins to get to know the people in the dead man’s life. And it’s not long before she discovers that some very dangerous people had very good murder motives. While cosmetic surgery isn’t the reason for the murder in this case, it does have a part in the story. And on a side note, it’s interesting to see how the table dancers use wigs, makeup, and costuming to play their roles.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Mercy, which features her sleuth, Stella Hardesty. By day, she owns Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales. But she has a ‘side business,’ too. She pays ‘friendly visits’ to those who’ve committed domestic abuse, and she has very effective ways of reminding them of how to behave, let’s just say. In this novel, Hardesty learns that her step-nephew, Chip, is in serious trouble because of gambling debts. In fact, his life’s been threatened. So, she drives from her home in small-town Missouri to Wisconsin to visit him. When she gets there, she finds Chip and his girlfriend, Natalya, trying to get rid of a dead man’s body. The man turns out to be Natalya’s abusive husband, and it looks very much as though Chip might be responsible. He and Natalya claim that they’re innocent, though, and found the body on their porch. So, if they aren’t the killers, Hardesty is going to have to find out who is. One very good possibility is a medical student named Doug, who has a sideline performing illegal (and not particularly professional) Botox injections. As it turns out, he had dealings with the victim, and a good reason to want him dead. But he’s not the only likely candidate.

Whatever your opinion of cosmetic surgery, there’s no doubt it’s popular. And it really does have a place in crime fiction, Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Engine Room’s A Perfect Lie.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Leigh Redhead, M.C. Beaton, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Sophie Littlefield