Category Archives: Liane Moriarty

Each Parent Here Expects Their Child to Earn a High Return*

One of the important jobs that teachers often have is to work with their students’ parents. Research shows that a solid home/school relationship contributes to student achievement; students benefit if their teachers are in regular communication with their families. More than that, a solid home/school relationship makes communication much easier and less awkward if there is a problem. So, it makes sense that teachers and other school staff would want to reach out to parents.

But that communication can be fraught with difficulties. For one thing, parents and teachers may not see things the same way. For another, there’s a lot at stake in the relationship. Parents want their children to do well; and for many, their children’s reputations are a reflection of their parenting. Because the home/school relationship is so important, and sometimes so tense, it’s not surprising that it come up in crime fiction. Here are just a few instances; there are a lot more out there.

In Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, we are introduced to Honoria Bulstrode. She is the headmistress at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. The novel opens as Meadowbank begins the summer term, and parents arrive with their daughters. Miss Bulstrode, her business partner, Miss Chadwick, and her assistant, Eleanor Vansittart, welcome the students, deal with the parents, and try to get everyone settled. There’s a funny scene where one parent arrives, completely inebriated, with the goal of taking her daughters out of the school. Miss Bulstrode sees what’s happening and how it’s handled, and completely misses something important that’s said to her. That comment turns out to be key to the solution when the new games mistress, Grace Springer, is shot late one night. That murder is related to a kidnapping, some stolen jewels, and a revolution in a faraway country.

Peter Robinson’s Gallows View takes place in the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks has recently moved there with his family. Almost immediately, he is faced with some difficult investigations. There’s a voyeur who’s been making the women of Eastvale miserable. And there’s been a series of home invasions. Then, there’s a murder. And one person who may be mixed up in it all is a teenager named Trevor Sharp. He doesn’t fit in particularly well at school and is a bit at loose ends. His teachers have told his father that he doesn’t apply himself, and that he could do better, but Trevor’s father is, to say the least, not helpful. That’s what Banks finds, too, when he tries to talk to the man about his son. The relationship between home and school isn’t a major part of the plot in this novel, but it does add interesting character layers, and it shows what happens when there’s a gulf between parents and teachers.

Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark is, in part, the story of Ilse Klein, a secondary school teacher in the small town of Alexandria, on New Zealand’s South Island. In one plot thread, she becomes concerned about one of her most promising students, fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. Lately, Serena has been skipping school a great deal. And when she is there, she takes no interest in what’s going on, and she doesn’t participate. This is so unlike the girl that Ilse alerts the school’s counseling team, who send a representative to Serena’s home. Serena’s mother resents the visit, and in any case, doesn’t have much to say about her daughter’s recent changes. She proves to be more defensive and self-involved than helpful. Then, Serena goes missing. Now, Ilse Klein is very worried, and ends up getting more deeply involved in what’s going on than she ever thought possible.

One of the main characters in Herman Koch’s The Dinner is former teacher Paul Lohman. One night, he and his wife, Claire, meet up for dinner with his older brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. The restaurant is ultra-exclusive, and on the surface, it looks like a lovely night out. But underneath, things are quite different. The story is told as the meal progresses, and during each ‘course,’ we find out more about these two couples. One thing we learn is that their sons, each aged fifteen, are responsible for a terrible crime. The reason for the dinner is that the parents want to discuss what to do about what they know. As the novel moves on, we learn the families’ backstories, including Paul’s time as a history teacher. It turns out that he angered some parents (and some of the students) with his comments about the Second World War. The parents complained to the school board and principal, and Paul was urged to ‘take some time off,’ and ‘get some rest.’ In the end, he retired for medical reasons. There are a few scenes in the novel that depict some conversations between Paul and the school principal, and they show how teachers can view things very differently to the way parents do. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Paul is not a very reliable narrator, so it’s also an invitation to the reader to think about what really happened in the classroom.

And then there’s Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. That’s the story of a group of families, all of whose children attend Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The main focus of the novel is the Kindergarten class and the members of their families. The Kindgergarten teacher, Bec Barnes, is looking forward to a good school year. But that’s not how things turn out. First, one of the most influential mothers at the school, Renata Klein, claims that another boy, Ziggy Chapman, bullied and hurt her daughter, Amabella. Ziggy claims he’s innocent, and his mother, Jane, believes him. But Renata is extremely influential. So, Bec is soon caught in the proverbial crossfire between ‘team Renata’ and ‘team Jane.’ At first, as you would imagine, her impulse is to stop the bullying immediately, and to protect Amabella. But as time goes on, we learn that things aren’t as simple as they seem. As if this isn’t enough, the school’s big fundraiser, a Trivia Night, ends in tragedy. As the story goes on, we learn more about the characters, about what’s behind their closed doors, so to speak, and about what leads to the tragedy.

Students do best when their parents and teachers work together. But that doesn’t always happen, and, in fact, that relationship can be very tense indeed. Perhaps that’s why it can add such interesting ‘spice’ to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater’s Here at Horace Green.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Herman Koch, Liane Moriarty, Paddy Richardson, Peter Robinson

And I Am a Massive Deal*

In many communities, there’s a social leader – the one to whom everyone seems to defer. If you’re going to fit in in that sort of community, you need to get that social leader’s approval. And not having it (or worse, being disapproved of) can be enough to make you a pariah.

Those sorts of people aren’t necessarily rich. And they don’t always have official authority. But their opinions are essential all the same. And they can make very interesting characters in crime fiction.

Sometimes, social leaders can be benign, even sympathetic, as characters. For example, in Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, we are introduced to Amy Folliat. For many generations, her family owned Nasse House, in the village of Nassecomb. Now, the house and grounds are the property of Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs, and Mrs. Folliat lives in the lodge on the grounds of Nasse House. But she is still the undisputed social leader. Her opinion carries a lot of weight locally. That said, though, she isn’t really intimidating, nor is she overbearing. People naturally defer to her, and her praise and approval mean an awful lot. In fact, when a fête is held at Nasse House, it’s she who greets the visitors, and to whom they mostly speak. On the day of the big event, there’s a murder. Detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, who’s visiting Nasse House, has invited Hercule Poirot to the event (and to do some investigating), so he is on hand when the body is discovered. And he finds what Amy Folliat has to say to be very useful as he looks into the case.

Maureen Carter’s Working Girls introduces Detective Sergeant (DS) Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss, who lives and works in Birmingham. When fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas is found murdered, Morris and her team investigate. The victim was a sex worker, so one possibility is that she was killed by her pimp, Charlie Hawes. Another possibility is that one of her clients murdered her. Either way, Morriss is going to have to get to know some of the other sex workers who knew Michelle. And that’s not going to happen without the approval of their unofficial leader, Big Val. At first, Val is reluctant to have much to do with Morriss, as you can imagine. But little by little, they get to know each other. And, when Big Val approves of Morriss, this opens up the chance to talk to some of the sex workers who knew Michelle. And that gives Morriss insight into the case (and into the private lives of some highly-placed local people).

Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is the story of a group of families whose children all attend Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. Many of the parents are heavily involved in school doings, and they’ve formed a social group of their own. The undisputed leader of this group is Renata Klein, whose daughter, Amabella, attends the school’s Kindergarten. Anyone who wants to be truly accepted among the parents must get Renata’s approval, and be on her ‘good side.’ And that becomes a problem for new arrival Jane Chapman, when Renata accuses her son, Ziggy, of bullying Amabella. Ziggy says he’s innocent, but a lot of people defer to Renata, so it’s not long before there’s a real conflict between Renata’s ‘followers,’ and Jane and some new friends she’s made. That’s just one of several conflicts and secrets brewing among the school’s families, and it all ends in tragedy one night at a school fundraiser. As the police look into what happens, we slowly learn the secrets that these people have been keeping.

Susan C. Shea’s Love and Death in Burgundy takes place in the small French town of Reigny-sur-Canne. American ex-pats Michael Goff (a famous musician) and his artist wife Katherine have moved to Reigny to get away from the fast-paced life that fame has brought. They’ve been there three years, but they’re still not really accepted among the locals. And that’s mostly because they have not been accepted by Reigny’s undisputed social leader, Mme. Pomfort. She is, at best, chillingly polite, and Katherine knows that she’ll have to gain Mme. Pomfort’s approval if she and Michael are ever to fit in. Then, late one night, longtime resident Albert Bellegarde dies after a fall down some stairs at his home. At first, the death is put down to a tragic accident. After all, Bellegarde was elderly, the stairs are not easy to negotiate, and it was late. But soon enough, it begins to look as though he might have been murdered. Katherine gets involved in the investigation because she knew the victim and his wife, Adele; and, as she starts to ask questions, she learns that more than one person might have wanted Bellegarde dead.

And then there’s Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man. In that novel, which takes place in 1919, Captain Sam Wyndham arrives in Calcutta/Kolkata to take up his duties with the local police. He’s not there long when the body of Alexander MacAuley, head of Indian Civil Service (ICS) finance for Bengal, is discovered in an alley behind a brothel. This is going to be a delicate case for a few reasons. One is that MacAuley was a very influential person, both socially and politically. His opinion counted for a lot, and he had an ‘in’ with some of the most important authorities in the region. So, the trail leads to some high places. There are political aspects to the murder as well, which might mean that this death has to do with the ongoing conflict between the British authorities and those who want Indian independence. It’s a difficult case, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that MacAuley wielded a lot of power.

And that’s the thing about such characters. They have a great deal of social influence, even if they do not have a position of high authority. That’s part of what makes them interesting, and it can mean they are both dangerous and vulnerable.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jeff Richmond and Neil Benjamin‘s Meet the Plastics.

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Filed under Abir Mukherjee, Agatha Christie, Liane Moriarty, Maureen Carter, Susan C. Shea

When You Were Only Startin’ to Go to Kindergarten*

It’s a ritual that happens in almost every family. I’m talking about the first day of school, especially the first day of Kindergarten or its equivalent. It’s a big event, even for children who’ve been in a child care facility of some kind. It’s an even bigger event for those who haven’t. And it often makes people anxious.

For the parents, it might be the first time their child is ‘officially’ compared to others. And in some countries, it’s the first time that children are expected to do anything like academic work. So, it’s natural for parents to feel anxious (e.g. ‘Will my child make friends/learn letters/behave/etc….’). For the children, starting school means a whole new routine, new adults in charge, and all sorts of new children to meet. And that’s to say nothing of what they’re expected to learn. Some children are excited about it, and some are reluctant, to say the least.

Not the least of parents’ concerns is, of course, their child’s well-being. That’s one reason many parents walk or drive their young children to school (at least until those children beg them not to any more…). We see that sort of concern in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. In that novel, Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband, Hendrik, seem to have a perfect suburban life, complete with white picket fence. They’ve been married for fifteen years, and they are the proud parents of six-year-old Axel. Then, Eva discovers that Hendrik has been unfaithful. Devastated by this news, she determines to find out who the other woman is. When she does, she makes her own plans, which quickly spiral out of control. In the meantime, she’s got another concern. One day, Axel tells her about a man – someone he doesn’t know – who’s been talking to him over the fence at his school. It scares Eva, as you can imagine, and adds to the tension in the story. And, in its own way, it relates to the larger plot.

Hannah Dennison’s Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall features former TV personality Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford, who’s living with her mother, Iris, in the former carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall, in Devon. The estate’s current owner is Rupert Honeychurch, whose son, Harry, is old enough now to go to school. Like many boys in his social group, Harry is sent away to school, and he doesn’t like the idea at all. He’s miserable away from home and keeps finding excuses to come back to Honeychurch Hall. His unhappiness sparks a major debate in his family. On the one hand, if Harry doesn’t go away to one of the ‘right schools,’ there’s a good chance he won’t get to mix with boys of his social class. This means he won’t get the opportunity to be a part of the networks that are so important to later advancement. On the other hand, there’s no doubt he’s deeply unhappy, and would much prefer to go to the local school. It’s not an easy choice to make, especially for a boy as young as Harry is. Admittedly, it’s not a part of the main plot thread. But it shows what it can be like for families as their children go off to school.

In Peter May’s The Blackhouse, Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis. There’s been a murder there that resembles a murder MacLeod is investigating, and it’s hoped that, if the same person committed both murders, working as a team might help both groups catch the killer. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on the Isle of Lewis. But it’s not a particularly joyful one. He had his own good reasons for leaving when he did. And the dead man is a person he used to know. As MacLeod works with the local team to find out who the killer is, he meets several people he grew up with, and we learn about his early life. One of his memories is going to school for the first time (he was excited about it at first). One of the realities of life at the time MacLeod was growing up was the fact that most people on the Isle of Lewis spoke Gaelic. And yet, only English was spoken and taught in school. So, along with getting used to lessons and so on, MacLeod also had to get used to a new language. And that’s a reality for many young children who speak one language at home and/or in their community but must learn another at school.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows takes place mostly in an ultra-exclusive community called Cascade Heights Country Club, about thirty miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, and even they are not guaranteed acceptance. It’s a very elite place. Residents are expected to shop at certain places, go on certain trips, and send their children only to the ‘right’ schools. Then, the financial crises of the late 1990s (when this novel takes place) find their way into even this most upmarket of places. Everything starts to change, and eventually, it ends in real tragedy. At one point, there’s an interesting discussion of one of the residents, Mariana, getting her daughter ready to go to school for the first time. This school teaches in English, so the child will have to get used to a new school, new children, and a completely new language. But this is one of the ‘right’ schools, and Mariana’s main concern is getting her daughter into the school and then making sure she stays there. Instead of being concerned about her daughter’s readiness, comfort, etc., or easing her anxieties, Mariana is thinking about her daughter’s appearance, and about her superficial success. Certainly, she’s doing nothing to ease the transition to school.

And then there’s Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. This novel takes place within the community of parents and children associated with Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The main focus is on the Kindergarten class, and the children who are joining it. The plot follows the lives of three families whose children are enrolled in that class, and how those lives intersect. There are rivalries, domestic issues, and other simmering conflicts that boil over one evening and end in tragedy. Throughout the novel, we see the anxiety of starting school for both parents and children. The parents want their children to reflect well on them, of course. The children have their own anxieties, and it’s interesting to see how that tension impacts the story.

Starting school, especially for the first time, can be stressful. It’s almost always eventful, and it can lead to all sorts of anxiety. Little wonder we see this plot point in the genre.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer’s You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.

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Filed under Claudia Piñeiro, Hannah Dennison, Karin Alvtegen, Liane Moriarty, Peter May

So What’s Your Name, New Kid in School?

Whether it’s for spring term or fall term, millions of children all over the world are getting ready to go to school. New clothes have been bought, schools supplies are ready, and the adventure’s about to begin. It’s especially an adventure if it’s a new school, where you don’t know anyone.

On the one hand, that adventure can be exciting; it’s a whole new chance to start over. On the other hand, it’s nerve-wracking, too. What if the other children don’t like you? What if you don’t make friends? What if you get one of THOSE teachers? The stress of starting in a new school is very, very real for a lot of children (and their families). And it can add an interesting plot thread to a crime novel, even if it’s not the main plot point.

Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons begins on the first day of Summer Term at Meadowbank, an exclusive girls’ school. It’s an interesting look at the way a school handles the influx of new pupils. Among those new students this term are Julia Upjohn and Jennifer Sutcliffe. The school is run by Honoria Bulstrode, who cares very much about the pupils. She makes sure the staff gets new students settled, and helps them find their way. And that’s how it works out for Julia and Jennifer, at least at first. Also new this term is Grace Springer, the games mistress. She’s got an abrasive, overly-inquisitive personality, and doesn’t fit in nearly as well as anyone hoped. Shortly after the term begins, Springer is shot late one night. The police are called in and the investigation starts. It hasn’t gotten very far, though, when there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. Now it’s clear that something is very, very wrong at Meadowbank. Julia goes to visit Hercule Poirot, who knows her mother’s best friend, Maureen Summerhayes (remember her, fans of Mrs.McGinty’s Dead?). Poirot returns to the school with Julia, and discovers the truth behind the events at the school.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction writer Zack Walker decides to move his family from the city where they live to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. He believes that his family, especially his two children, Angie and Paul, will be safer in the suburbs. What’s more, he thinks the schools will be better. That, at least, turns out not to be true. Angie and Paul don’t fit in very well in their new schools; here’s how Angie explains it one day:
 

‘‘I go to school with a bunch of losers,’ she said finally.
 I let that one hang out there for a while. ‘What do you mean, losers?’…
‘All I’m saying is just because we moved out of the city doesn’t mean there aren’t still weird people in my school.’’
 

Both young people dislike having to be what Angie calls, ‘borderline normal’ – conformist. And it’s not long before Walker learns firsthand how dangerous the suburbs can be. First, he witnesses an argument. Then, he finds the body of one of the people involved in that argument. Later, there’s another murder. And some strange discoveries about some of the ‘respectable’ people in Valley Forest.

The main focus of Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black is the murder of Catherine Ross, who is found strangled not long after New Year’s Eve. The first suspect is a misfit named Magnus Tait, who lives nearby, and who knows Catherine. There’s talk, too, that he was responsible for the disappearance of a young girl years earlier, although nothing’s ever been proven. Tait, though, claims he’s innocent. And Inspector Jimmy Perez doesn’t want to arrest the wrong person. So, he looks closely into the victim’s background to find out who would have wanted to kill her. He discovers that she and her father (her mother has died) recently moved to the town of Ravenswick, in Shetland. In ways, Catherine doesn’t fit in. She’s from ‘down south,’ and seems much more sophisticated than her classmates. But she also has enough confidence that she doesn’t much care how well she fits in. Catherine’s being new to Shetland isn’t the reason she’s killed. But it adds a dimension to her character, and it contributes to the atmosphere of the novel.

Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is, for the most part, the story of three families, all of whom have children who attend Kindergarten at Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The story begins with a tragedy that happens on Trivia Night. That event is supposed to be a fundraiser for the school, so that Smart Boards can be purchased for the classrooms. As the police investigate, the story goes back in time to the beginning of the school year, and the first day of Kindergarten. And we learn that, right from that first day of school, there’s been tension. The children in Kindergarten are already nervous at starting school, and some of their parents are just as anxious. For example, Jane Chapman’s recently moved to the area, and she doesn’t fit in socially with the other parents. So, she’s quite nervous about how her son, Ziggy, will fare in school. As the novel goes on, we see the tension among the parents build, and we see how it impacts their children.

New teachers often feel the same sort of ‘will I fit in?’ anxiety. And even when they don’t, they’re certainly subjected to quite a lot of scrutiny. For instance, in Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, we are introduced to Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. They’re in their last year of school, and at the top of the proverbial social tree. Beth is captain of the school’s cheerleading squad, and Addy is her trusty lieutenant. Together, they rule the school. Then, a new cheerleading coach, Collette French, is hired. Here’s how her arrival is described:
 

‘Her first day. We all look her over with great care, our heads tilted. Some of us, maybe even me, fold our arms across our chests.
The New Coach.
There are so many things to take in, to consider and set on scales, always tilted towards scorn.’
 

There’s a lot of tension as the new coach starts working with the team, but before long, she’s won a lot of the girls over. In fact, she turns the squad into a sort of very elite club. Addy is welcomed as a member, but Beth remains on the outside, looking in. Everything changes when there’s a suicide (or is it?). And we see the role that fitting as a new person plays in the story.

It plays out in other crime fiction, too, and that makes sense. Starting in a new school can be tense. And there’s always the chance that everything will go wrong – especially in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Donnas’ New Kid in School.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Liane Moriarty, Linwood Barclay, Megan Abbott

We’re Off to the Pub to Play in the Trivia Club*

As this is posted, it’s the birthday of famous quiz show host Alex Trebek. If you think about it, quiz shows such as Jeopardy and Mastermind are interesting examples of how much people like trivia. If you watch those shows, or you’ve ever played Trivial Pursuit or games like it, you know what I mean. And sometimes, knowing trivia can be lucrative.

Even if all you get is bragging rights, trivia can be interesting. Trivia even finds its way into crime fiction. And sometimes, it can end up being important, and not trivial at all.

Take Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance. In that novel, famous American actress Jane Wilkinson comes to Poirot with an unusual (for him) sort of problem. She wants a divorce from her husband, Lord Edgware, so that she can marry again. But she says he won’t consent. Her solution is for Poirot to visit Edgware and ask him to withdraw his objection. It’s a strange request, but Poirot agrees. When he and Captain Hastings visit Edgware, though, their host tells them that he’s already written to his wife to tell her that he consents to the divorce. Confused, Poirot and Hastings leave, only to learn the next day that Edgware’s been stabbed. Jane is the most likely suspect, but there are a dozen people willing to swear that she was at a dinner party in another part of London at the time of the murder. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp, who’s assigned to the case, have to look elsewhere for the killer. In the end, a piece of trivia casually mentioned turns out to be part of the murderer’s undoing.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, we are introduced to Jonas Hansson. He’s got deep scars from an unhappy childhood and very dysfunctional parents. But he found solace in his fiancée, Anna. Then, Anna nearly died in a fall from a pier at a local boat club. She’s been in a coma since then, and Jonas spends as much time as he can by her side. At first, that attention impresses the staff at the hospital where Anna lives. But soon enough, we see that Jonas isn’t dealing with his life in a very healthy way. One night, he happens to be in a pub where he meets Eva Wirenström-Berg, who’s just found out that her husband, Henrik, has a mistress. Both she and Jonas make some fateful decisions that end up having tragic consequences for everyone. Interestingly enough, Jonas uses a particular set of trivia – distances between different places in Sweden – to cope with stress.
 

‘Alingsås to Arjeplog 1179 kilometres, Arboga to Arlanda 144, Arvidsjaur to Borlänge 787.’
 

He uses the ritual of repeating the distances to himself to calm down.

Trivia turns out to be useful to Saskatoon PI Russell Quant in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. Successful accountant Daniel Guest is being blackmailed, and he wants Quant to find out who’s responsible, and get that person to stop. He gives Quant the information he has about who the blackmailer might be, and Quant gets started. At one point, the trail leads to a local community theatre, where Quant hopes the secretary might provide him with some photographs he wants to see:
 

‘‘Hello, my name is Rick Astley and I’m the Artistic Director for Theatre Quant in Mission.’ I was betting she wasn’t old enough to be up on her late 1980’s teen idol trivia or informed enough about British Columbia community theatre to catch on to my clever ruse. And actually she looked pretty unimpressed with life in general regardless of the decade. I continued on, hoping my enthusiasm, if not my really bad English accent, would be contagious.”
 

Quant’s knowledge of musical trivia helps get him the photographs he wants, and a tiny piece of the puzzle.

Catriona McPherson’s Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver series begins with Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. In that novel, private detective Dandy Gilver gets a new client, Walburga ‘Lollie’ Balfour, who believes her husband, Philip ‘Pip,’ is trying to kill her. She doesn’t want Pip to know she’s consulted a detective, so she asks Dandy to visit her in the guise of a maid seeking a job. Dandy agrees, and takes a position under the name of Fanny Rossiter. The idea is that she’ll find out what she can, and try to protect her client. Late on the first night of ‘Fanny’s’ employment, Pip is stabbed. Dandy gets involved in the case as she tries to clear her client’s name. At one point, she comes upon the maid who discovered Pip’s body, desperately trying to get bloodstains out of her clothes. Dandy doesn’t think this maid is the killer, so she tries to be practical about it:
 

‘‘Apart from anything else, Miss Etheldreda, hot water sets a bloodstain so nothing will ever shift it. A cold water and salt soak is what’s needed.’’
 

That little bit of knowledge helps Dandy get some information she wants, and brings down the barrier between her and Etheldreda.

One of the major events in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is a Trivia Night event at Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. It’s intended as a fundraiser to provide the school’s classrooms with Smart Boards. Everyone’s ready for a fun event, but instead of a friendly competition in aid of a good cause, disaster strikes. The hors d’oeuvres don’t arrive, which means that people are drinking too much without anything to eat. The alcohol fuels already-simmering resentments, and the end result is tragedy. Then, the book takes readers back six months to show how the resentments built, and what led to the events of Trivia Night.

You see?  Trivia isn’t just for Jeopardy or for Quiz Night at the pub. And, of course, trivia isn’t always deadly. Just ask Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. He depends on that sort of knowledge, and his knowledge of language, to do his crossword puzzles. And where would he be without those?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Squeeze’s Sunday Street.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Catriona McPherson, Colin Dexter, Karin Alvtegen, Liane Moriarty