Category Archives: 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

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