Category Archives: Lilian Jackson Braun

Over at the Counter, Helping All the Shoppers*

As this is posted, it’s 116 years since James Cash (J.C.) Penney opened his first department store. Since that time, department stores have become an integral part of our buying culture. And, if you think about it, department stores represented a major change in shopping. It was now possible to purchase ready-made clothing for men, women, and children, all in the same place. Linens, housewares and jewelry, too.

Of course, today’s department stores don’t much resemble the early department stores. Most now have online shopping options, for example. And there aren’t as many department stores as there once were. But, whether it’s El Corte Inglés, J.C. Penney, Debenhams or Hudson’s Bay, department stores still play a role in our shopping.

They play a role in crime fiction, too, and it’s interesting to see how they fit in to the setting of a novel. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Much of Ellery Queen’s The French Powder Mystery is set in French’s Department Store, which is in New York City. One day, a store employee is setting up a window demonstration of some of the store’s furniture. When she tries to demonstrate the way the pull-out bed works, she discovers the body of a woman on the bed. Inspector Richard Queen takes the investigation, and, of course, his son Ellery goes along. It turns out that the dead woman is Winnifred French, wife of the store’s owner, Cyrus French. As the Queens investigate, they learn that there are several possibilities for the killer’s identity. As we meet the various suspects, we also learn about the way older, family-run department stores worked.

In Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe, Perry Mason and Della Street duck out of the rain into a department store. There, they see a store security guard stop Sarah Breel for shoplifting. Unfortunately, this is a habit with her, but most of the time, her niece, Virginia Trent, goes shopping with her to prevent any incidents. But this time, Virginia wasn’t right next to her aunt. Not long afterwards, Virginia Trent comes to Mason with an even more complex problem. Her uncle is a gem expert, who appraises, cuts, cleans, and custom-sets gems on commission. Now, two valuable diamonds have been stolen, and the most likely suspect is Aunt Sarah. Austin Cullens, who originally sold the diamonds, doesn’t believe Aunt Sarah has the diamond. But when he’s found dead, and Aunt Sarah becomes the prime suspect, Mason has a difficult case on his hands.

Fans of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series know that it takes place in the small town of Pickax, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ The local department store, Lanspeak’s, is owned by Larry and Carol Lanspeak, who run it as a family business. Several scenes in the series take place at the store, and the Lanspeak family figures into more than one of the mysteries. It’s an interesting example of the sort of department store that used to be much more common before the advent of larger company buyouts and, later, the Internet.

There’s a memorable scene at a department store in Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke. It’s 1931, and the Nazis are rising to power in Germany. Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel has just learned that her brother Ernst was killed, but she doesn’t know why or by whom. So, she starts to quietly ask some questions. She has to be careful, so as not to attract Nazi attention, but she does want to find out the truth. Late one night, a young boy named Anton comes to her home. His birth certificate lists her as his mother, but she knows she has no children. Still, she takes the boy in and decides to take care of him the best she can for now. And that will include getting him some clothes, since the boy has nearly nothing. So, she takes Anton to Wertheim’s Department Store. They have a very good experience, and for Anton, it’s like being taken to a wonderland. All that changes on the way out of the store, when they are harassed by Nazi thugs who don’t want ‘good Germans’ shopping at ‘Jewish stores.’ It’s a frightening experience, and it shows how stores got caught in the dramatic events in Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic.

In one plot thread of David Whish-Wilson’s Perth-based Zero at the Bone, we learn that former police superintendent Frank Swann is no longer working with the police (read about the events that led up to that in Line of Sight). He’s been hired by another former police officer, Percy Dickson. Dickson is head of security at a local department store, and he wants to know the truth behind some robberies that have been taking place. Several department stores and some jewelers have been targeted, and Dickson wants to know who’s responsible. So, he is working with the security people at the other stores to see if there’s a pattern. And Swann works with them to find out who’s behind the thefts. He discovers the truth, and the stolen merchandise is returned. But Dickson is under strict orders to say nothing about the thefts or the resolution of the problem. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of mentioning the matter to the wrong people…

And then there’s Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel. That story begins in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Evelyn ‘Evie’ Hobart has grown up with very little. But she is beautiful and seductive. So, when she meets Hank Moran at a dance, it doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with her. They marry, and Evie finally has the life of privilege that she always wanted, since Hank comes from a family with money and prestige. All starts out well enough, and Evie joins the group of wealthy young women who take day trips into Philadelphia to shop, who belong to clubs, and so on. But Evie has always wanted to acquire things. And she enjoys the rush that comes when she takes them without paying for them. So, she’s caught shoplifting in department stores more than once. At first, it’s all hushed up and settled over because of the Moran family’s money and power. But finally, things get to the point where she is sent to The Terraces, an exclusive ‘special place’ where she can be ‘cured.’ Things don’t work out that way, though, and her daughter, Christine, grows up in a very toxic home. Evie hasn’t changed, and stops at nothing, including murder, to get what she wants. Christine feels powerless to do anything about it until she sees her young brother, Ryan, begin to get caught up in the same web. Now, Christine will have to find a way to free herself and Ryan before it’s too late.

The world of shopping has changed dramatically over the decades. But it’s still got a place for department stores. And so does crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rosenbergs’ Department Store Girl.

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Filed under David Whish-Wilson, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Lilian Jackson Braun, Patricia Abbott, Rebecca Cantrell

His Family Business Thrives*

One of the staples of a lot of economies is the family-owned business. Some of them are large, many are smaller. Either way, they are part of the backbone of a lot of communities.

Family businesses can be very interesting contexts for a crime novel, too. They can be sources of conflict, they can add character development, and they can give interesting insight into a community. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) begins directly after the funeral of wealthy family patriarch Richard Abernethie. In this case, the family built its fortune in the making of corn plasters and other, similar remedies. The business was very successful, and Abernethie has quite a lot of money to leave. His will distributes his money evenly amongst his nephew, two nieces, brother, sister-in-law, and younger sister. On the one hand, it seems on the surface like an equitable distribution. On the other, it also suggests that he didn’t have enough faith in any one member of his family to leave everything to that person. At the funeral gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up, and even she tells the others to pay no attention. But privately, everyone begins to wonder if Cora was right. And, when she herself is murdered the next day, everyone is convinced that she was. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. He finds out that more than one person could have wanted to kill both people.

Ellery Queen’s The French Powder Mystery features family-owned French’s Department Store. The store does well, and store owner Cyrus French and his family are well off. Then, one tragic day, French’s wife, Winifred, is found dead in one of the store’s display windows. Inspector Richard Queen is called in to investigate, and of course, his son, Ellery, takes part. The Queens soon discover an interesting thing about family businesses: sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘family’ from business. Was Winifred killed by a family member? A business associate? It’s not an easy case to solve.

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig)’s Memphis Barbecue series features Lulu Taylor. She is the current owner of Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, one of Memphis’ popular eateries. It’s a family-owned business in which she takes great pride. She inherited the restaurant, and is planning that her son, Ben, will take over as owner when she is ready to step aside. As it is, he does plenty of work in the restaurant, and even Lulu’s two granddaughters help out at times. Part of what makes Aunt Pat’s special is that it isn’t an impersonal chain restaurant.

We also see several family-owned businesses in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series featuring James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. He is a journalist who’s moved to the small town of Pickax, Moose County – ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ Most of the local businesses are owned by families, rather than by large companies. For example, the local department store is owned by the Lanspeak family, the local newspaper is owned by the Goodwinter family, and so on. Some of those families have been in the area for generations, too. It’s that sort of place. And that plays its roles in the mysteries that Qwill encounters.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs tells the story of the Franco family, who emigrate from Italy to New York at the turn of the 20th Century. Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco brings his wife and children to the US in hopes of a successful ‘American Dream’ sort of life. He gets a job in a shoe repair shop, works hard, and in a few years, has been able to open his own shoe repair and sales shop. The business does well, and he is hoping to pass it along to his three sons. He changes the family name to Frank, and everyone prospers at first. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. Ben gets into a bar fight one night, and kills a man named Luigi Lupo. It turns out that his father is notorious gangster Tonio Lupo, and that Lupo has every intention of getting revenge. He visits Ben in prison and curses his family, promising that all three of his sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was at his death. The story goes on to follow the lives of Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick,’ and Leonardo ‘Leo’ Frank, and it’s interesting to see how the family business shapes them. Al Frank takes over the business and oversees real success for it. Nick Frank wants to be an actor, and he has a little talent. For a while, he does well enough in Hollywood, which suits him, because he doesn’t want to be in the family business. Leo takes several wrong turns and has his own issues. But after a number of years, he also chooses the family business. As the book goes on, we see what happens to each son, and how the curse plays out in their lives.

And then there’s Rajiv Patel, whom we meet in Angela Savage’s The Half-Child. Originally from India, he wanted a chance to see more of the world. His family wanted him to stay nearby, find a local woman to marry, and settle down. But that wasn’t in his plans. As a way of keeping the peace, and still doing what he wanted to do, Patel went to Bangkok’s Little India, where his uncle’s family keeps a bookshop. The agreement was that he would live with the family and help in the bookshop. And that’s where he meets PI Jayne Keeney, who loves to read. The two get to talking, find that they like each other, and begin to date. And Patel gets involved in the case Keeney’s working on, which involves the mysterious death of a young volunteer at an orphanage/children’s home. Later, they become business partners as well as partners in life.

Family businesses have been with us for a very long time. Perhaps you even have a business in your own family. They add much to the economy, and a lot to crime fiction, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Levon.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Apostolos Doxiadis, Ellery Queen, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Lilian Jackson Braun, Riley Adams

Are We the Things We Keep Hanging Around?*

If you have any storage space at all, my guess is that you use it. Most of us tend to accumulate all kinds of things for various reasons. You may have sentimental reasons for keeping something, or you may keep things because you think they’re beautiful. Or because they may come in handy someday and you never know. Or it may be a question of books, in which case there is no question. Books deserve good homes.

Whatever the reason, we do seem to accumulate things. Sometimes those things can reveal a lot about a person. So, it’s no surprise that, when police investigate a murder, they take a look at people’s things. If nothing else, it’s a way to get to know the victim a bit. Little wonder, then, that we see this happen in crime fiction, too. And it can reveal a lot about the victim and other characters.

It’s precisely the lack of such accumulated things that gets Hercule Poirot wondering in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds. In that novel, Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed a French moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle. She was poisoned on board a flight from Paris to London, so the only possible suspects are the other people in the cabin. Poirot thinks he may learn more about the motives people may have had for murder by getting to know the victim. So, he visits her Paris home. To his surprise, there are almost no personal items. No photographs, mementos, personal letters, boxes of books, or anything else that might give him information. That in itself interests Poirot, and he determines to find out why the victim seemed to want no connection of any kind with her past. The lack of accumulated things doesn’t solve the mystery, but it gives real insight into Madame Giselle’s history and character.

Things are completely different In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Went Into the Closet. Journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats are preparing for the winter, which can get severe in Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ Their home isn’t suitable for winter living, so they’re going to spend it at the former home of Euphonia Gage, who lived in a large house in the middle of town. She’s now moved to a senior living facility in Florida, so the house is available. They settle in, and Qwill can’t resist doing a little exploring in the old house. It’s full of closets that are full of accumulated things, and he and the cats find that interesting enough. Then, Euphonia Gage dies, apparently of suicide. It’s not long, though, before that’s called into question. She was in good health, very much enjoying life, and had no financial problems. Then there’s another death, which could very well be related to hers. Now, Quill suspects that something more sinister is going on, and so it is. And some of the keys to the mystery are in the junk left behind in the house.

As L.R. Wright’s The Suspect begins, eighty-year-old George Wilcox has just killed eight-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. We know from the beginning who the killer and victim are, but we are not told the motive. Wilcox leaves the scene of the crime and returns home. Later, he notifies the police, and RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg investigates. Sechelt, British Colombia, is a small town, so it’s not long before everyone knows what’s happened, and everyone starts to speculate about who killed Burke and why. Alberg starts to put the clues together, and before very long, he suspects Wilcox. What he doesn’t know is the motive. The two men didn’t like each other much, but that’s hardly a reason to kill someone. And there’s no real evidence to connect Wilcox to the crime. Bit by bit, as Alberg tries to get the evidence and information he needs, we learn more about the history between victim and killer, and the motive is slowly revealed. And Alberg finds the evidence for it among some accumulated ‘stuff.’

In R.J. Harlick’s Death’s Golden Whisper, we are introduced to Meg Harris. She’s inherited a house and land at Three Deer Point in Outaouais, in Western Québec, from her Great-Aunt Agatha, and has settled in. Aunt Agatha had always enjoyed a good relationship with the Miskigan people of the area, and Meg has worked to do the same. So, Miskigan Band Chief Eric Odjik turns to her for help. There’s a good possibility of gold on Whisper Island, which lies near Deer Point. A company called CanacGold wants to mine the island. And there are plenty of Miskigan who don’t want the island mined, for various reasons. The simplest way to keep the company off the island is to prove that it is someone’s property, and that someone may be Meg. If it can be shown that Whisper Island belonged to Aunt Agatha, then Meg gets to decide what will happen to the island.  And she doesn’t want CanacGold to mine, so she’s only too happy to agree to help. In one plot thread of this novel, she goes through Aunt Agatha’s things to try to find any paperwork that may indicate who owns the island. Her search leads her to some surprising family truths. In the meantime, Meg’s friend and employee, Marie Whiteduck, goes missing. Later, Marie’s abusive husband, Louis, is found dead. Meg gets caught up in this investigation, and we see that it’s connected to the controversy over Whisper Island.

Not everyone accumulates a lot, though. Take John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitplecheep. He is a member of the Royal Thai Police, who lives and works in Bangkok. He’s also a devout Buddhist and tries to be attached as little as possible to possessions. He lives in one room, which doesn’t have a television. And, although he has the clothes he needs and some other things, he hasn’t accumulated much of anything. He has a very different perspective on the value of owning things.

For a lot of us, though, it’s amazing how many things we tend to accumulate without even being aware of it. That is, until we get ready to move house…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice BrightSky’s Box of Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, John Burdett, L.R. Wright, Lilian Jackson Braun, R.J. Harlick

Where’s That Careless Chambermaid?*

When real and fictional police and PIs investigate, they try to get as much information as they can. Of course, they talk to family members, friends and co-workers, but even that doesn’t always fill in the proverbial blank.

A good detective can tell you that the real people to talk to when there’s a disappearance or a murder are people like restaurant servers and hotel chambermaids. And that makes sense if you think about it. A spouse or partner might not know about that ‘special guest’ in the hotel room, but the chambermaid will. The boss might not know how much someone drinks at lunch, but the server will. That’s part of the reason that the police work as hard as they do to trace a victim’s last days. Talking to people like porters, chambermaids, servers and so on can yield valuable clues.

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to Gladys Narracott. She works as a chambermaid at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. She gets involved in a murder investigation when one of the guests, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is murdered. The first suspect is, as you’d imagine, the victim’s husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall. But he has an alibi for the time of the murder, and Gladys can corroborate that alibi. So, the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the murderer is. And he discovers that Gladys has some useful information and insight to offer, just from what she’s learned about the guests as she’s tended their rooms.

In Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to investigate the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. The child’s mother, Helene, claims that she doesn’t know who would have wanted to take her daughter; she also says, naturally enough, that she didn’t have anything to do with the abduction. But Kenzie and Gennaro follow up on every possibility, one of which is that Amanda was taken by someone Helene knows. There’s also the chance that Helene herself is responsible for whatever happened to Amanda. So, Kenzie and Gennaro trace Helene’s movements, and do what they can to find out about her background. And some of that information comes from the Filmore Tap, a very tough, seedy bar in Dorchester (Massachusetts). It turns out that Helene’s known there; and, although no-one says very much about her, the bartenders and owner know more than they want to tell.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Said Cheese takes place, as many of her novels do, in the small town of Pickax, Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ A mysterious woman has moved into town, and is staying at the New Pickax Hotel. No-one knows anything about her, although there’s plenty of speculation and gossip. One day, a bouquet of flowers arrives for this enigmatic guest. Part-time housekeeping aide Anna Marie Toms is on duty when the flowers arrive, and prepares to take them to the new hotel guest. Then, a bomb hidden in the bouquet goes off, killing Anna Marie. Shortly afterwards, the mysterious woman goes missing. Local journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran, Braun’s sleuth, starts asking questions, and he and local police chief Andrew Brodie find out who the woman is, and who the killer is.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces us to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, and to Detective Inspector (DI) Dushan Zigic and Detective Sergeant (DS) Mel Ferreira. They’re called in to investigate when the body of an unknown man is found in a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, who was apparently in the UK as a migrant worker. It’s often not easy to find out information about migrant workers, since they don’t generally ‘put down roots’ or have close connections with locals. But Zigic and Ferreira get to work. One of their stops is Maloney’s, a pub right near the local bus station. It’s frequented by people just like Stepulov, and Ferreira finds that one bartender in particular has some very valuable information about the case.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police is faced with a challenging case. Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, is suspected of corruption, arrested, and held to face charges. He’s housed in a Shanghai hotel, rather than in the local prison, because of his status. One morning, he is found hanged in his room. The official theory is that he committed suicide, rather than face the shame of corruption charges. And Chen is expected to ‘rubber stamp’ that theory. But some things don’t add up. So, Chen and his assistant, Yu Guangming, look into the case more carefully. They’re going to have to move quietly and delicately, since this is no ordinary death. But in the end, they find out the truth. And some of the clues they need come from an interview with one of the hotel attendants, Jun, whose information proves quite useful.

And that’s the thing about people such as room attendants, chambermaids, bartenders and other servers. We may not notice them, but they know a lot. And their help can be invaluable when the police are on a case.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Al Dubin and Henry Warren’s Lulu’s Back in Town.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Eva Dolan, Lilian Jackson Braun, Qiu Xiaolong

Well, I Ain’t Superstitious*

scepticismI’m sure that you’ve learned in the course of your adult life that it’s not a good idea to be too credulous. A certain amount of disbelief – even cynicism – can protect you from all sorts of trouble, from scams to terrible relationships and worse. Even when people read fiction, they often keep that disbelief with them. I know I do.

Authors know that a lot of readers are not willing to believe everything they see and read. And sometimes, they use that in stories. A character who isn’t easily convinced by things such as spiritualism, psychics and so on can give voice to readers’ doubts. Such a character can also add tension to a crime story.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, for instance, believes only what logic and deduction show. He’s not convinced by otherworldly explanations for anything, which is quite ironic considering his creator was deeply interested in spiritualism and the occult. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, for instance, Holmes gets a visit from Dr. James Mortimer, who tells him of a curse on the Baskerville family (Mortimer is a family friend). Legend has it that the family has been cursed by a phantom hound since the 1600s, when Hugo Baskerville sold his soul to the Powers of Evil in exchange for a young woman with whom he was infatuated. And there certainly have been strange deaths in the family. In fact, the most recent head of the Baskervilles, Sir Charles, was found dead of an apparent heart attack. Mortimer doesn’t believe that it was a heart attack, and wants to protect the new head of the family, Sir Henry, who is due to arrive soon from Canada. So, he asks Holmes to investigate. Holmes, as fans know, is a cynic when it comes to matters paranormal, so he seeks a more prosaic solution to the case. And it turns out that he’s right.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is also incredulous about spirits, Ouija, curses, and ghosts. But, as he says in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,
 

‘‘…I believe in the terrific force of superstition. Once get it firmly established that a series of deaths are supernatural, and you might almost stab a man in broad daylight, and it would still be put down to the curse, so strongly is the instinct of the supernatural implanted in the human race.’’
 

And that’s exactly what happens in this story, when a series of murders are put down to a curse on a tomb. As Poirot makes clear, this killer is very much a human being. You’re right, fans of Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client).

In The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, Lilian Jackson Braun introduces her sleuth, journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. As a former crime reporter, he’s learned to be very, very cynical. And life hasn’t taught him to think otherwise. That’s what makes it such a challenge for him when he inherits a Siamese cat, Kao K’o-Kung ‘Koko’, as a result of this first case. The cat previously belonged to George Mountclemens, the art critic for the Daily Fluxion, but adopts Qwilleran when Mountclemens is murdered. Koko is, in many ways, a normal (if quite spoiled) Siamese cat. But every once in a while, he acts in ways that can be interpreted as paranormal. Qwilleran is just as incredulous as you probably are about Koko’s abilities, and it’s interesting to see how Braun weaves that cynicism through the stories. It’s a very useful tool to keep the series grounded, if I may put it that way.

Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun has become quite cynical over the years, and with good reason. He lives and works in 1970s Laos, where he is the country’s only medical examiner. It wasn’t a job he wanted; he’d been ready to retire. But he was ‘volunteered’ for the job, and really has had no choice but to carry out his work as best he can. He’s seen plenty of government programs that don’t work, Party promises that haven’t been kept, medical supplies and equipment he can’t get, and so on. So, as you can imagine, he’s not one to believe in mysticism. And yet, in The Coroner’s Lunch, the first in this series, he has several encounters that make him wonder. For example, he seems to have a strange connection to an ancient shaman called Yeh Ming. And he has dreams and visions in which those who have died communicate with him. On the one hand, he doesn’t believe in ghosts in the way that belief is traditionally portrayed. He’s a sceptic and a pragmatist. But he knows what he’s seen and experienced. It’s an interesting dichotomy that runs through the series.

And then there’s Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Dr. Suresh Jha has made a career out of unmasking spiritualist charlatans. He doesn’t believe in religion or mysticism. In fact, he is the founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (D.I.R.E.). One day, he’s attending a morning meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. During the group’s session, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that this is punishment for Jha’s lack of faith. When Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri learns of what’s happened, he decides to investigate. Jha was a former client, so Puri has a particular interest in the case. On the one hand, he doesn’t believe in spiritualism or the occult, although he has religious beliefs. On the other, he can’t at first suggest any other explanation for what happened. In the end, though, we learn what really happened to Jha and why.

It’s interesting to contemplate things that seem otherworldly. But most people do have a strong attachment to the credible – to something prosaic. That’s why characters who are sceptics can add so much to a crime story. They resonate with many readers, and their reluctance to believe can add tension to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steve Miller’s Rockin’ Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Cotterill, Lilian Jackson Braun, Tarquin Hall