Category Archives: Linwood Barclay

I’ve Got Something to Say*

One way in which authors add some ‘leaven’ to their stories is to put in side comments – sometimes even full-on asides to the reader – to add in extra information. Among other things, these side comments can also be used to lighten a situation and to provide character background. They’re there in fiction, and they’re certainly there in crime fiction.

Like any other tool, side comments have to be wielded carefully. Otherwise, they break up the narrative too much. Too many side comments can also be confusing. But when they’re used well, they can be effective.

Some authors use side comments to address the audience quite directly. That’s what John Burdett does in his Sonchai Jitplecheep novels. Sonchai is a member of the Royal Thai Police. He mostly works in Bangkok, although some cases take him to other places. More than once in this series, he gives insight into the Thai culture by speaking directly to the reader (whom he addresses as farang (foreigner)). For instance, in Bangkok Tattoo, the body of a CIA agent is found in a brothel, and the most likely suspect is one of the brothel’s top earners. Here is a comment Sonchai makes to the reader about many Bangkok sex workers:
 

‘These are country girls, tough as water buffalo, wild as swans, who can’t believe how much they can make by providing to polite, benevolent, guilt-ridden condom-conscious farang exactly the same service they would otherwise have to provide free without protection to rough, whoremongering husbands in their home villages. Good deal? Better believe it (Don’t look at me that way, farang, when you know in your heart that capitalism makes whores of all of us).’
 

Sonchai makes other comments to the reader about Buddhism, about the Thai way of doing things, and so on.

Linwood Barclay’s Zack Walker, whom we meet in Bad Move, is a science fiction writer. In that novel, he and his family move from the city to a suburban development called Valley Forest Estates. Walker thinks the move will make the family safer, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Instead, he gets involved in a case of murder, fraud, and more. At one point, he has this to say about himself:
 

‘How many assholes know they’re assholes? So I guess what I’m saying is that if I know I’ve behaved like an asshole on certain occasions, then there’s no way I could actually be one. But I’d understand if you remain unconvinced. By the time you’ve heard this story, you might say, ‘Man, that Zack Walker, he’s a major one.’’
 

It’s interesting, convoluted logic, and Walker makes other comments about the way he thinks in other parts of the story.

Sometimes, authors use the aside to give character background and offer some depth. For example, Agatha Christie does this in Murder in Mesopotamia. That novel’s focus is an archaeological expedition taking place a few hours from Baghdad. The narrator is an English nurse, Amy Leatheran, who’s been hired by the expedition’s leader, Dr. Eric Leidner. It seems his wife, Louise, is having anxiety problems, and he wants a nurse to help allay her fears and tend to her needs. Nurse Leatheran is a practical and observant nurse, and sometimes makes comments from that perspective. For example, at one point, she’s describing another character, Sheila Reilly:
 

‘I had a probationer like her under me once – a girl who worked well, I’ll admit, but whose manner always riled me.’
 

When Louise Leidner is murdered one afternoon, Hercule Popirot is persuaded to interrupt his travels in the Middle East to investigate, and he finds out the truth. The story is told from Nurse Leatheran’s point of view, and it’s interesting to see how she views Poirot.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning introduces Edinburgh journalist Jack Parlabane. One morning, he stumbles onto the scene of a brutal murder. It all starts when Parlabane hears a commotion in the flat below and decides to go down and see what’s going on (and hopefully get the people in the flat to be quiet). He forgets his key, though, and locks himself out of his own flat, clad only in boxers and a T-shirt. Here’s what Brookmyre tells us next:
 

‘Now, the rational course of action for any normal human being at this point would be to enlist the help of the conveniently present police in securing the services of a locksmith, or at least the services of a few standard-issue Doc Martens. But even if he hadn’t been reluctant to enter into any dialogue with Lothian and Borders’ finest, he’d probably still have seen climbing in from another flat as the easiest solution.’
 

And that’s exactly what Parlabane tries to do. But when he goes to the downstairs flat and heads for one of its windows, he’s seen by a police detective, and gets drawn into a web of murder and high-level corruption. In this case, the aside gives us some information about Parlabane, and adds some wit to the story.

In Janice McDonald’s Another Margaret, Edmonton-based sessional instructor Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig gets involved in a mystery surrounding enigmatic author Margaret Ahelers, whose work Craig studied for her master’s thesis. Craig knows that Ahlers has been gone for years. So, how has a new Ahlers novel just been released? Is this a case of forgery? Or has an unpublished manuscript been found? The mystery leads to real danger and connects with another mystery Craig encountered years ago. Craig’s partner is police detective Steve Browning, who plays an important role in this novel. At one point, they go out to dinner together. During the meal, they discuss an alumni reunion that Craig is helping to plan (she is a graduate of the University of Alberta). Browning asks if he’s invited, and Craig assures him that he’s welcome:
 

‘‘I love you, Steve Browning.’
‘Mutual, I’m sure.’
Steve drove us to his condo…and we proved it to each other. There is nothing better than feeding steak to a red-blooded Canadian man, I am just saying.’ 
 

That one-line aside is witty, and it gives the reader a quick break from the plot of the story.

Asides can serve several purposes in a story. They can be funny, they can reveal character traits, and more. But, like all tools, they are best used in moderation, so that the flow of the story isn’t interrupted. What’s your view? If you’re a writer, do you use asides? Do you have a preference when it comes to your reading?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Janice MacDonald, John Burdett, Linwood Barclay

Why Are There Always So Many Other Things to Do?*

One of the things that writing requires is discipline. Sticking with a project, not letting yourself get too distracted, and seeing it through, are all difficult to do. That’s especially true with today’s social media and instant accessibility through email, text, and so on.

And then there’s the fact that a lot of writers do their writing at home. So, there’s always laundry, bills, pets, gardening, and all sorts of other things to pull the attention away from that manuscript. Trust me. Am I right, authors?

It’s that way in crime fiction, too. Writers try to make time to write, and when they’re on deadline, that’s even more important. And, yet, they do get pulled away from the manuscript, especially when there’s a murder investigation. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples.

Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver is a detective story writer. She’s well-enough known and popular enough that her publisher knows her books will sell. But that doesn’t mean she has no pressure to write. She does get distracted, though. For instance, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, she’s working on an adaptation of one of her novels for the stage when she gets drawn into a case that Hercule Poirot is investigating – and that ends up impacting her, too. Of course, Mrs. Oliver doesn’t welcome all distractions. Late in the novel, Poirot telephones her for a very important reason. She, however, sees it another way:
 

‘‘Have you got to ring me up just now? I’ve thought of the most wonderful idea for a murder in a draper’s shop…’’
 

She’s not happy to be interrupted, but what she tells Poirot helps to solve the case. Of course, fans of Mrs. Oliver know that sometimes, she welcomes distractions…

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Queen takes some time away in the small New England town of Wrightsville. He’s there to get some writing done, and he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet while he stays in a guest house owned by John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. But soon enough, he gets distracted by family drama among the Wrights. It seems that their youngest daughter, Nora, had been engaged to a young man named Jim Haight. He jilted her, though, and left town abruptly. Now, Haight’s back, and everyone hopes that Nora will give him short shrift. Instead, to everyone’s shock, she takes up with him again and, in fact, they marry. Then, evidence comes up that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Queen isn’t sure that’s true, but there’s no denying the evidence. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. The assumption is that Haight is the murderer, and that the cocktail was intended for Nora. Haight is duly arrested and put on trial. The only people who question his guilt are Queen, and Nora’s sister, Pat. Together, the two look for the real truth behind Rosemary’s death. Queen fans will know that this isn’t the only time when Queen is pulled away from his writing…

Lilian Jackson Braun’s James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is a newspaper journalist (he’s written a book, too). As a result of an odd series of events, he ended up in the small town of Pickax, in rural Moose County. Now, he does a twice-weekly column, Straight From the Qwill Pen, for the local paper. He’s become somewhat of a celebrity in the area, too. Like most journalists, Qwill is naturally curious. And he follows up when he thinks there might be a good story in something that’s happening. Since he’s in the newspaper business, he understands about deadlines, and he does his best to keep them. But, because he’s curious, he often gets involved in murder investigations. And sometimes, that distracts him from filing his stories promptly. In more than one novel, he rushes to the newspaper office with his copy just in the nick of time (much of this series was written before it was common to email copy).

Linwood Barclay’s Zack Walker is a science fiction author whom we meet in Bad Move. He’s worried about his family’s safety, living as they do in a big city. So, he persuades his wife, Sarah, to go along with his plan to move to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. Along with the increased safety, Walker is looking forward to having more space, and hopefully more time, for writing. And that’s what he’s working on when he starts to get distracted. First, there are some problems with the new house the family has bought. So, Walker goes to Valley Forest’s sales office to lodge complaints and requests for service. While he’s there, he witnesses an argument between one of the company’s sales executives, and a local environmentalist named Samuel Spender. Then, later on the same day, Walker finds Spender’s body near a local creek. Before he knows it, Walker’s drawn into a web of murder and intrigue in his quiet, suburban development, and drawn away from his writing.

And then there’s Lynda Wilcox’s Verity Long, whom we meet in Strictly Murder. Long isn’t, strictly speaking, a writer, herself. She’s PA to successful crime writer Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. While Davenport is popular and sells well, that doesn’t mean she can be heedless of deadlines and commitments to her publisher. So, Long has to do her job, too. And her job is mostly to find and research old unsolved crime cases that Davenport can use as inspiration for her work. But Long does get distracted from her research at times, especially when she stumbles across cases of modern-day murder.

See what I mean? Writers really need to have focus and discipline. Otherwise they get distracted by all sorts of things, including murder. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work on my novel. Oh, wait, there’s that laundry to do. And shouldn’t I be looking over this month’s bills? And there’s that meeting later on…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Distractions.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Lilian Jackson Braun, Linwood Barclay, Lynda Wilcox

We’ve Got a Falling Barometer and Rising Seas*

If you read enough crime fiction, you soon learn to expect that something bad – perhaps very bad – is going to happen. After all, most crime fiction is about bad things happening. Much of the time, the terrible thing that happens is murder.

Even though crime writers know that their readers expect something awful to happen, they still want to draw those readers in. Sometimes, they do this by building the tension right from the beginning. It’s a bit like storm clouds gathering and building up the suspense that happens just before a major downpour. Authors have different ways of doing this, but no matter what way the author chooses, it can build suspense and get the reader turning and swiping pages.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, begins as a group of ten people travel to Indian Island, off the Devon coast. They’ve all been invited to spend time there, and, for different reasons, each has accepted. As the various guests arrive, we follow their thoughts, and tension begins to build. It builds even more when it becomes clear that the host is not there. It’s all a bit odd, but everyone settles in. After dinner that evening, each person is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. Later, one of the guests suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Then, there’s another death. Now the survivors begin to see that someone has deliberately lured them to the island and is trying to kill them. They’ll have to find out who that person is if they’re to stay alive. We may not know from the start who the killer is; right away, though, as the people gather, we know that something very, very bad is going to happen.

There’s a similar sense of the tension building at the beginning of Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski. In that novel, Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, are on their way to a skiing holiday at Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. They’ll be staying at the Bella Vista Hotel, and they soon find that several other people on the trip are staying there, too. As the group arrives at the hotel, there are already undercurrents of unease, and it’s easy to sense that something awful is about to happen. And it soon does. One of the guests, an Austrian businessman named Fritz Hauser, is shot, and his body found on a ski lift. Capitano Spezzi and his team arrive and begin to investigate. When it comes out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, Spezzi grudgingly, and then more willingly, works with him. In the end, and after another death, they find that Hauser brought his fate on himself, in a manner of speaking.

Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye starts as a teacher named Janek Mitter slowly wakes up after having had far, far too much to drink. He was so drunk that, at first, he doesn’t remember who he is or where he is. That sense of disorientation starts to build the suspense right away. Slowly, Mitter remembers who he is, and that he’s at home. Just as he’s beginning to get his bearings, he discovers the body of his wife, Eva Ringmar, in their bathtub. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate, and it seems at first that all of the evidence points to Mitter as the killer. But he insists that he is innocent, and it’s not long before Van Veeteren starts to believe him. Mitter is still convicted, though, and remanded to a mental hospital until his memory recovers enough to assist the police. Not long afterwards, he himself is brutally murdered. Now, Van Veeteren knows that MItter was telling the truth, and works backwards to find out who would have wanted to kill both Mitter and his wife.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s very close to her brother, Bill, so she’s understandably very interested when he starts to date former Hollywood seamstress’ assistant Alice Steele. From the moment Alice makes her appearance, there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right. And that feeling gets even stronger as Bill and Alice continue to date, fall in love, and decide to marry. At first, Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake. The more she finds out about Alice’s life, though, the more repelled she is by it. And the more questions she has about Alice. At the same time, she is drawn to that life, so she has conflicting feelings when there’s a death, and Alice seems to be mixed up in it. Telling herself that it’s to protect her brother, Lora starts to ask some questions. But long before the death, in fact, from the beginning of the story, we know that something bad will happen.

We know that about Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, too. Science fiction novelist Zack Walker decides that he and his family should move from the city that he considers too dangerous to the suburbs. The Walkers choose Valley Forest Estates as their new development, and move in. But right from the beginning, we know there’s going to be trouble. First, Walker notices some problems with the house that need to be fixed. Then, he witnesses an argument between a Valley Forest executive and a local environmentalist. Later, he finds that environmentalist dead near a local creek. Before he knows it, Walker’s involved in a web of conspiracy and murder. But we know right from the beginning that this move is going to present real problems…

And then there’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner. This book follows the structure of a meal, with sections that have titles such as ‘Appetizer,’ ‘Main Course,’ and ‘Dessert.’ Within each section are the various chapters. At the beginning of the book, two couples meet for dinner at a very exclusive Amsterdam restaurant. Paul Lohman and his wife, Claire, meet Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. In some ways, there’s little indication of what’s to come. But very soon, there’s a sense of uneasiness, especially as we learn about Paul’s relationship with his brother. Little by little, we learn the real reason the two couples have met. Their fifteen-year-old sons have committed a horrible crime. Now, the four adults have to decide what they will do. As the novel goes on, we learn about what happened, and we learn about the histories of these dysfunctional people. And that sense that something is wrong starts early in the book.

Sometimes, especially if you’re a crime fiction fan, you know right away that things will turn awful. Little nuances, the atmosphere, and other clues can give the sense that trouble is on the way. And that can draw the reader in.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Storm Front.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Håkan Nesser, Herman Koch, Linwood Barclay, Megan Abbott, Patricia Moyes

My Mama Once Told Me of a Place With Waterfalls and Unicorns Flying*

It’s interesting how legends, if that’s what you want to call them, are built up around certain places. The reality seldom lives up to the promise of the legend, and most people know that intellectually. But the allure is often still there. So, people ‘buy into’ those legends. That’s why people can be sold on timeshares, ‘that perfect little place,’ and so on.

In crime fiction, those legends can add an interesting layer of tension as characters discover the truth behind the legend. And there are possibilities for character development, too. And that atmosphere, where reality and legend clash, can make for a solid background to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we are introduced to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use the money to take a trip to Le Pinet, which she’s heard about from clients. Jane’s neither gullible nor unintelligent, but the place does have a mystique about it. She finds, though, that Le Pinet isn’t anything as magical as the legends suggest. And on the flight back to London, she gets mixed up in a case of murder. One of the fellow passengers, a Parisian moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight (and, incidentally, quite suspicious as far as the coroner’s jury is concerned!). He works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who would have wanted the victim dead. I agree with you, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

There are all sorts of legends built up around the ‘perfect suburban place, with white picket fence.’ And we see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Walter and Joanna Eberhart decide to move from New York City to the small Connecticut town of Stepford. The story is that it’s a lovely town with low taxes and good schools, and they want to be part of that dream, so to speak. They and their two children settle in, and all promises to go well. But soon, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe begins to suspect that something is wrong with Stepford. Joanna doesn’t believe her at first, but soon some strange and frightening things show all too clearly that Bobbie was right. Some very dark things are going on in the town…

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move introduces readers to sci-fi novelist Zack Walker and his journalist wife, Sarah. He’s been concerned for some time about the safety of the city where he and his family live. Convinced by the legends of idyllic suburban life, Walker wants to move his family to a new development called Valley Forest Estates. Soon after they arrive, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t the ‘perfect suburban community’ Walker had thought it was. For one thing, the new house needs several repairs. Walker soon discovers, too, that all is not as it seems in this community. Matters come to a head one day when he discovers the body of a local environmentalist in a nearby creek. The more Walker tries to keep himself and his family safe, the more danger he seems to find. The ‘white picket fence’ suburban dream turns out to be nothing like the sales brochures…

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice takes place mostly in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Former school principal Thea Farmer has bought land there, and had a custom-made house built. For her, this is going to be the perfect home in the perfect place. It’s something she’s dreamed of doing. Then, bad luck and poor financial decision-making mean she has to settle for the house next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ Worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home Thea still thinks of as hers. As if that weren’t enough, Frank’s niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Now, Thea has to cope with the loss of her beautiful home as well as the fact that ‘invaders’ have taken it over. Unexpectedly, though, she forms an awkward sort of friendship with Kim, and sees promise in her. That’s why it’s so upsetting for Thea when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for the girl. When the police won’t do anything about it (they really can’t without clear evidence), Thea decides to take her own measures…

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi,’ and her partner, Yossi Shalev, move from London to Claire’s native Auckland. For Yossi, New Zealand is an almost ideal setting. He wants to live as far away as possible from the war and conflict he knew in Israel. And he’s excited to start over in what, to him, seems like the perfect place. Roi is happy about the move, too. Her mother has said very little about her background (and Roi’s), and Roi is curious to learn more. But Claire is not at all eager for the move, she had good reasons for leaving New Zealand in the first place. Her father, Patrick, was arrested and tried for the 1970 murder of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. Although there was never enough evidence to keep him in prison, plenty of people think he was guilty. Claire doesn’t want to go back to those memories. But, for Yossi’s sake, she goes along with the plan. Everything works well enough at first. Then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. Claire wants to plan an operation to remove the growth, but Rory’s parents refuse on religious grounds. The conflict between them gets media attention and before long, Claire’s in the public spotlight. And that’s when some journalists bring up the Kathryn Phillips murder. Now, Claire will have to fight to keep her family safe from the media blitz, and try to do the best she can for her patient.

And that’s the thing about ‘buying into’ stories about perfect places and lifestyles. In real life, and in crime fiction, the reality can be quite different from the ideal. And that can lead in all sorts of dangerous directions.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Sal Tlay Ka Siti.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay, Sue Younger, Virginia Duigan

Lost in the Supermarket*

As this is posted, it’s 101 years since the opening of the first self-service market (a Piggly Wiggly store located in Memphis). Since that time, of course, supermarkets have become fixtures in many places, and there is a good reason for that. It’s a lot more efficient to buy all of one’s food products (and often a lot more, too) in one place. Supermarket chains can buy in bulk, too, and that can reduce prices for the consumer.

Because they’re such integral parts of today’s shopping landscape, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are a lot of supermarkets in crime fiction. They’re really effective settings for meetings between characters, for creating a sense of setting and atmosphere, and more. And they can even be suspenseful.

But they haven’t always been welcome. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, Miss Marple investigates the murder of Heather Badcock, who is poisoned during a fête. The victim and her husband live in the then-new council housing in the village of St. Mary Mead, and the that’s only one of the changes that’s come to the town. The supermarket is another. Here’s what Miss Hartnall, one of the villagers, says about it:
 

‘‘All these great packets of breakfast cereal instead of cooking a child a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs. And you’re expected to take a basket round yourself and go looking for things – it takes a quarter of an hour sometimes to find all one wants – and usually made up of inconvenient sizes, too much or too little. And then a long queue waiting to pay as you go out. Most tiring.’’
 

Admittedly, the new supermarket isn’t the reason for Heather Badcock’s murder. But Miss Hartnall offers an interesting perspective on this major change in shopping.

Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives takes place mostly in the fictional small town of Stepford, Connecticut. Joanna and Walter Eberhart and their two children have moved there from New York City, in order to take advantage of lower taxes, less expensive housing, and better schools. All goes well at first. But Joanna soon notices that none of the other women in town seem to have outside interests; they all seem to be completely involved in their homes and domesticity. One day, for instance, she’s at Center Market, the local supermarket:
 

‘Joanna looked…into the cart of another woman going slowly past her. My God, she thought, they even fill their carts neatly. And she looked at her own: a jumble of boxes and cans and jars. A guilty impulse to put it in order prodded her, but I’m damned if I will, she thought…’
 

At first, it just seems like an oddity. But slowly, Joanna and her new best friend, Bobbie Markowe, begin to suspect that something is very, very wrong in Stepford. And they turn out to be right.

In a similar vein, science fiction writer Zack Walker decides to move his family to the suburb of Valley Forest Estates in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move. Walker’s convinced that the suburbs are safer, and persuades his wife, Sarah, to fall in with his plans. Things don’t work out as he thought, though. For one thing, the new home they’ve bought needs several repairs. When Walker goes to the sales office of the housing development, he witnesses a loud argument between one of the sales executives and local environmentalist Samuel Spender. Later, he finds Spender’s body near a local creek. Now, he’s unwittingly mixed up in that murder. As if that’s not enough, he and Sarah go to a grocery store one day. They’re leaving the store, when he sees a handbag left behind in a shopping cart. Thinking it’s his wife’s, Walker takes it and stashes it in the car. Then, Sarah produces her own handbag. Walker’s decisions about what to do next draw him even more deeply into some dark things going on in Valley Forest Estates.

Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire finds an innovative use for a local supermarket in Death Without Company. In one small plot thread of the novel, he needs to find enough people to serve as jurors for an upcoming series of hearings. So, he instructs his deputy, Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti, to wait outside the supermarket and ‘collect’ shoppers to serve as talis jurors:
 

‘I watched as my…deputy accosted a middle-aged man…copied down information from his driver’s license and informed him that he needed to get over to the courthouse pronto or be faced with contempt of court. ‘Well, there’s another notch on my Glock…’’ ‘Hey, there are worse places for stakeouts. At least we’ve got plenty of supplies.’’
 

It’s a very practicable solution to the jury-pool problem, even if it does interrupt the day for several shoppers.

And then there’s Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder. In that novel, Malin Andersson, her husband Henrik Kjellander, and their two children, Ellen and Axel, return to their home on the Swedish island of Fårö after a two-month absence. When they get to the house, they see that the tenants who’ve been staying there have made a huge mess. What’s worse, several family photographs have been deliberately disfigured. It’s unsettling, and Malin calls the police. There’s not much they can do at first, other than take down the details, but police detective Fredrik Bronan and his team promise to look into the matter. Then one day, Malin is in the local supermarket, when she gets the strong feeling that she’s being followed. She looks around quickly, but doesn’t see anyone. And the store employees aren’t much help. But this seems related to the damage to the house, and to a previous incident in which Malin noticed a stranger watching her as she dropped her children off at their schools. Then, other, more ominous things happen. Now, Bronan and his team take this threat seriously. They’ll have to find out who’s targeted the family and why before anyone is seriously hurt or worse.

See what I mean? Supermarkets are woven into our lives. So it’s little wonder they’re also woven into crime fiction.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, Håkan Östlundh, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay