Category Archives: Linwood Barclay

Rows of Houses That Are All the Same*

One of the most important socioeconomic changes of the post-WWII world was the growth of the suburb – the commuter town. The suburb was billed as close enough to the city for access, but with lower taxes, more affordable housing, and even better schools. And people moved to suburbs en masse.

Suburban life gave rise to a whole new sort of culture – and a new sort of crime novel. We certainly see it in a lot of contemporary domestic noir novels. But it’s woven into other sorts of crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, for example, much of the action takes place in the suburban town of Woodleigh Common. It’s the sort of place where people come and go (although there are people who’ve been there a long time), and where people tend to commute to their jobs. Christie’s fictional detective story writer, Ariadne Oliver, has been invited there to visit her friend, Judith Butler, and Judith’s daughter, Miranda. During her visit, Mrs. Oliver attends a Hallowe’en party intended for the young people of the area. The party ends in disaster when one guest, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds, is murdered. Mrs. Oliver isn’t an overly fearful type of person, but the incident leaves her badly shaken. So, she asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. Poirot discovers that, on the day she was killed, Joyce boasted of having seen a murder. Someone overheard that remark and was so afraid of being found out that the only option seemed to be killing the girl. In the process of finding out who killed Joyce, Poirot uncovers a past murder, and some ugly secrets, in Woodleigh Common.

Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives takes place in Stepford, Connecticut, a suburban town with access to New York City. Walter and Joanna Eberhart move to Stepford with their two children, Pete and Kim. They’re hoping to take advantage of lower taxes, good schools, and better prices on property. At first, all goes well enough, and the children settle in at their school. Then, Joanna’s new friend, Bobbie Markowe, begins to suspect that something is very, very wrong in Stepford. At first, Joanna doesn’t agree. But it doesn’t take long, or many incidents, to convince Joanna that her friend is right. As she starts to ask more questions, Joanna learns that there may be real danger in Stepford. Then, a frightening event proves just how much danger there really is in that supposedly peaceful town.

In Ruth Rendell’s To Fear a Painted Devil, we are introduced to Patrick and Tamsin Selby. They live in the attractive suburban community of Linchester, and have settled in there. Then, the Selbys decide to celebrate Tamsin’s twenty-seventh birthday with an outdoor party.  They invite all of the local people, and it promises to be a fun event. During the party, a group of wasps begins to annoy the guests. So, Patrick climbs up a ladder to one of the eaves of the house, where the wasps have built their nest. As he’s trying to get rid of the nest, he’s badly stung.  A few days later, he dies. At first, Patrick’s death is put down to a massive allergic reaction. But, Dr. Max Greenleaf, who treated the victim, isn’t so sure that’s true. So, he starts to ask some questions. As he gets closer to the truth, we learn that the beautiful little suburb of Linchester has been hiding some dark secrets.

Science fiction novels Zack Walker learns how dangerous suburbs can be in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move. Walker convinces his wife, Sarah, to move from the city where they live to the suburban development of Valley Forest Estates. He’s sure that life there will be more peaceful and much safer than it is in the city. Besides, it’ll be much less expensive. The Walker family makes the move, and, although the children aren’t happy with their new school, everyone settles in. Then one day, Walker goes to the Valley Forest sales office to complain about some problems he’s having with their new house. During his visit, he witnesses a loud argument between one of the Valley Forest executives and local environmental activist Samuel Spender. Later that day, Walker finds Spender’s body at a nearby creek. Against his better judgement, Walker gets drawn into the mystery, and finds a web of fraud, murder and more. Valley Forest Estates certainly doesn’t turn out to be as safe and friendly as it seems on the surface.

And then there’s Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town. Famous Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson hires LA PI Elvis Cole to find his ex-wife, Karen, and their son, Toby. It seems that Nelson and his wife had parted ways years ago, but now, he wants to be a real father to his son. The only problem is, Karen and Toby have disappeared. At first, Cole is reluctant to take the case. After all, people can have any number of reasons for not wanting to be found. But he’s finally convinced to look into the matter. It doesn’t take a lot of work for him to discover that Karen and Toby moved to a small Connecticut suburb of New York City. When he finds her, he learns that Karen has a solid job in a local bank and no interest at all in reuniting with her ex. Cole also discovers that Karen is working for some very dangerous people who do not want to lose their ‘bank connection.’ Now, Karen and Toby are in real danger, so Cole is going to have to protect them and try to convince them to at least meet with Nelson. He may have a persuasive way, but he’s going to need help from his PI partner, Joe Pike, to go up against the Mob members who are after Karen.

The suburbs may certainly have their advantages. And they can be lovely places to live. But safe? Not as much as you’d think (right, fans of Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows?).

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, made famous by the Monkees.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay, Robert Crais, Ruth Rendell

Because There’s Consequences For What We Do*

The ‘photo is of some of the cloth totes I use to do my grocery shopping. Last year, the voters of California, where I live, elected to ban single-use plastic bags, such as the ones that are often provided by grocery stores. On the one hand, using cloth totes, or using a personal trolley, certainly cuts down on the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills. This is, overall, good for the environment. And it’s no more difficult to fill a cloth tote or trolley than it is to put one’s groceries in single-use plastic bags. There are other benefits, too, to choosing cloth over plastic. What’s more, companies spend less when consumers provide their own bags. It’s a way, if you think about it, for them to save money without cutting down on the quality of what they sell.

But there have been some unintended consequences of this law. To take just one example, I recently attended a conference. Another delegate needed to do a bit of shopping; and, since I had my car at this conference, I offered to do the transportation. But a problem arose. Where was this delegate supposed to put the purchase? It couldn’t be left in my car. And taking everything through the conference venue wasn’t practicable. We managed by using my conference tote, which I’d brought with me by chance. But it would have been so much easier with plastic bags.

There’ve been other consequences, too. People who used those bags for lining trash cans, picking up after pets, wrapping things for the freezer, or other kinds of storage can’t do that now. Does this mean the law is wrong? No, not necessarily. It does mean there are a lot of unplanned consequences.

We certainly see that happen in a great deal of crime fiction. Something may be done for a laudable reason, but have all sorts of unintended consequences. For instance, in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, Dr. Duca Lamberti is hired by wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri. He wants Lamberti to help his son, Davide, who’s developed severe depression and a serious drinking problem in the last year. Nothing seems to have been helpful, and Lamberti isn’t sure that he can do much good. But he agrees to try. And before long, he learns Davide’s story. It seems that, a year earlier, Davide had met a young woman, Alberta Radelli He gave her a lift, and they had spent a pleasant day together. Then, when the day ended, she begged him to let her stay with him. When he refused, she threatened to commit suicide. Not long afterwards, her body was found in a field, and it looked as though she made good on her threat. Now, Davide feels responsible for her death. Lamberti knows that the only way to help Davide is to find out what really happened to Alberta, so he decides to do just that. In this story, the unintended consequence of giving a young woman a lift turned out to be much more serious than it seemed at the time.

Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn is all about unintended consequences. Crime writer Martin Canning is waiting for a ticket to an afternoon radio comedy show in Edinburgh. As he waits, he sees a blue Honda hit the back of a silver Peugeot. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. Then, the Honda driver brandishes a bat and begins to attack the Peugeot driver, a man named Paul Bradley. Almost by instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. On the one hand, that has very positive consequences. On the other, though, it draws Canning into a web of deception and murder that he hadn’t imagined.

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move begins as science fiction writer Zack Walker moves his family from the city to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. The new home is bigger and has more amenities than the city home that Walker and his family currently have. What’s more, it’s in a safer area, and the family will have more property. So, on the one hand, it’s a wise move. But it has unintended consequences. For one thing, Walker gets drawn into a couple of murders that take place in the new development, and the danger reaches to his family.  For another, his two children are miserable, and don’t fit in at all in their new school. It’s a clear case of something that seems positive on the surface, but causes all sorts of unexpected trouble.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of a fifteen-year-old sex worker named Michelle Lucas. Morriss wants to find out as much as she can about the victim, and for that, she turns to Michelle’s friends. Michelle’s best friend was Vicki Flinn, also in the business. She starts off by being willing to help, but then goes missing. Then, another friend, Cassandra Swain, is badly beaten. Morriss does find out who killed Michelle and why. But as it turns out, taking what seems like the right step – connecting with the victim’s circle – has some very unpleasant unintended consequences.

And then there’s Eleanor Kuhns’ Cradle to Grave. It’s 1797 Maine, and itinerant weaver Will Rees has recently married Lydia Farrell, a former member of the Shaker community. One day, Lydia gets a letter from an old friend, Hannah ‘Mouse’ Moore, who’s still living with the Shaker community in upstate New York. Mouse is concerned about a group of children who live with their mother, Maggie Whitney. It seems that the children may be neglected, even abused. So, for their own safety, Mouse has taken them to the Shaker community. On the one hand, that means they’re safe. On the other, it gets Mouse into serious trouble for kidnapping, and casts a bad light on the Shakers. The Reeses go to New York to see what they can do to help, and with their intercession, the children are returned to their mother. Mouse will be disciplined, but allowed to remain in the community. And, at least she won’t be prosecuted and imprisoned. Then, Maggie Whitney is murdered. Mouse is, as you can imagine, the most likely suspect, but she claims to be innocent. The Reeses return to New York to try to clear their friend’s name if they can. In this case, all of Mouse’s attempts to help the children have had all sorts of negative consequences.

And that’s the thing about even very positive things. Everything has consequences, and sometimes, those consequences are both unexpected and negative. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Robert Cray’s Consequences.

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Filed under Eleanor Kuhns, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Kate Atkinson, Linwood Barclay, Maureen Carter

I Went Down to the Demonstration*

Lots of us want to see change in the world, or at least in our part of it. Many of us vote for what we want. Others get involved in some sort of activism, whether it’s protesting, a letter campaign, or something else. Still other people are even more deeply involved in activism.

Activists can make quite a difference in the real world, and they can be very interesting fictional characters. They’re often passionate, and the author can use such characters as protagonists or antagonists, depending on where the story is going. And there’s often suspense when there’s a conflict between activists and those against whom they protest.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we are introduced to Harold Raikes. He wants major societal changes, and protests people and institutions he feels hold back progress. One of his targets, if you will, is powerful banker Alistair Blunt. Blunt has conservative views about government and finance, and believes in careful, prudent steps and slow decision-making. To Raikes, he represents all that is wrong with the current British system of things. One day, Blunt finally gives in to the pain of a toothache and goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley. When Morley is shot in his surgery, the police and the Home Office believe that this was really an attempt on Blunt (after all, he’s certainly made plenty of enemies). And Raikes comes in for his share of suspicion, since he was in the building at the time of Morley’s murder. Hercule Poior was also a patient of the victim’s, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed Morley.

In Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope, we are introduced to Riel Delorme, a Regina-based Métis activist. Delorme has his own issues to deal with, but he is committed to bettering the lives of the people who live in Regina’s North Central district. When a development company proposes a project in North Central, Riel is one of the leaders of the opposition to it. He believes the project will disenfranchise the people who live in that area, and will force them out of their homes. So, when one of the development company’s employees is murdered, Delorme is a very likely suspect. Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in the case for two reasons. First, her husband is the attorney who represents the development company. Second, her daughter, Mieka, is romantically involved with Delorme. In this case, the investigation strikes quite close to home.

Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage features activists from several groups who converge on the town of Kingsmarkham when a new road is announced. The road will run through Framhurst Great Wood, and plenty of people are strongly opposed to it. That includes Inspector Reg Wexford’s wife, Dora. Wexford is hoping that the protests and activism won’t get out of control, but that’s not to be. First, a group of hostages – including Dora – is taken. Then, there’s a murder. The stakes get very high as Wexford and his team have to solve the murder and try to get the hostages free without a bloodbath.

Eco-activist Samuel Spender finds out just how dangerous activism can be in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move.  A development company has put up new suburban housing in a community called Valley Forest Estates. Spender and his group are very much against the development, and have been proverbial thorns in the company’s side. One day, Spender goes to the company’s sales office, and has a loud argument with one of the executives. Witnessing that argument is science-fiction writer Zack Walker, who moved his family to the community for greater safety and security. When Walker finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek later that day, he learns just how unsafe and unsecure a suburb can be…

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts introduces his sleuth, PI Jack Irish. Irish is also a sometime-lawyer. One day, one of his former clients, Danny McKillop calls, asking to meet him as soon as possible. Irish doesn’t get around to it right away, and by the time he does, McKillop is dead. As it is, Irish felt guilty about McKillop’s case; he didn’t do a good job of defending his client against a hit-and-run murder charge. Now he feels even more guilty. So he starts to look into the case. McKillop had originally been convicted of killing Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson. But, the more deeply Irish looks into the case, the more he suspects that his former client was framed, and that Jeppeson was killed by someone who wanted to shut her up.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass Darkly, we meet Venice activist Marco Ribetti. He and his group are convinced that the local glass-blowing factories are major polluters, and very dangerous for the environment. So, one day, Ribetti and his group stage a protest in front of a factory owned by his own father-in-law, Giovanni de Cal. Ribetti is arrested and jailed. Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is a friend of Ribetti’s, so Ribetti asks him for help. Vianello agrees and asks his boss, Commissario Guido Brunetti, for support. Together, the two arrange for Ribetti’s release. Not long afterwards, Giorgio Tassini, who works as night watchman at de Cal’s factory, dies in what looks like a terrible accident. But, when Brunetti learns that Tassini, too, was convinced the factories pollute the environment, he begins to wonder whether it was an accident.

And then there’s legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan, whom we meet in Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. He’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been monitoring a company called Vestco, which claims to have created a seed coating that will increase world food production by a substantial factor. Millbrook doubts both the company’s claims and the safety of the seed coating, but hasn’t been able to prevent its release. Now, with nine days to go, the foundation has decided not to fight the release any longer. Duggan decides to leave the foundation and return to his native New Zealand, and invites two colleagues to join him for a visit before they return to work. All three leave on their flight, with no idea that a Vestco employee has just been murdered. When they land in Auckland, they learn about the death. They also learn that they’ve been framed for it, and have become international fugitives. Now, they have to find out who the killer really is, and avoid the police if they can. There’s also the matter of stopping the release of the seed coating, which is imminent.

Activism is an important part of what makes our society look at itself and, hopefully, reflect and improve. And activists are involved in a number of different causes. They are important in real life, and they make interesting fictional characters.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey Robert, Linwood Barclay, Peter Temple, Ruth Rendell

Someday You’ll Thank Me For This Advice*

for-your-own-good‘It’s for your own good!’ ‘Someday you’ll thank me.’ I’ll bet you’ve heard this sort of thing before. Very often, the person who says something like that is well-meaning, or at the very least not deliberately malicious. And yet, what someone else thinks is for our own good isn’t always. And the way that plays out in crime fiction can be very interesting.

I got to thinking about what is(n’t) for someone’s own good when I read an excellent review of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. Admittedly, I’ve not (yet) read the story myself. But it’s got a plot point that includes that question of what is really best for someone. But don’t take my word for it. Please go check out Cleo’s review yourself. Her blog is an excellent resource for all sorts of terrific reviews, so you’ll want it on your blog roll if it’s not there already.

We see this plot point in crime fiction, too. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family travels from the US to the Middle East for a sightseeing tour. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is manipulative, malicious and tyrannical, but no-one in her family dares go against her will. That includes her seventeen-year-old daughter, Ginevra ‘Ginny.’ In more than one place in the novel, Ginny wants (or doesn’t want) to do something, and her mother insists she do the opposite. It’s almost always, according to Mrs. Boynton, because Ginny has no idea what’s best for her. But the reader soon sees just how unpleasant and controlling Mrs. Boynton really is, and how little of what she does is the best thing for her daughter. On the second afternoon of the family’s trip to the ancient city of Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is in the area on a trip of his own, so Colonel Carbury asks him to investigate. And Ginny becomes one of the ‘people of interest’ whom he interviews.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, we are introduced to the Davies family. Twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies is a world-class violinist, who’s been a musical prodigy for most of his life. But one frightening day, he finds himself unable to play at all. Terrified, he seeks the help of a psychologist to try to get to the root of his mental block. Through that plot thread, we learn that he’s been groomed (many would say, pushed) since he was a little boy. We also learn that, twenty years earlier, he lost his sister Sonia (she was a toddler at the time) to a tragic drowning accident (or was it?). All of these past issues play a role in Gideon’s life now. And we see how he’s been impacted by that attitude of ‘I know what’s best for you.’

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction novelist Zack Walker decides that his family isn’t safe in the city. He’d rather live in the far-less-dangerous suburbs. Neither of his children wants to make the move. They’re both well-established in school, and don’t see the point of moving. And Walker’s wife, Sarah, likes their present home, too. Still, she is finally persuaded to make the move. Walker thinks he knows what’s best for his family, but it certainly doesn’t turn out that way. First, there are several problems with the house. And Walker doesn’t get much help when he goes to the development’s sales office to complain. Then, during Walker’s visit to the office, he witnesses an argument between one of the executives there, and local environmental activist, Samuel Spender. Later that day, Walker finds Spender’s body at a local creek. Before he knows it, he’s drawn into a complex case of murder and fraud. As it turns out, he didn’t know what was best after all…

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost is the story of Kate Meaney. As the story begins (in 1984), she is a ten-year-old budding detective. In fact, she’s got her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a great deal of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, since she is sure that a mall is a magnet for criminals and suspicious activity. Kate’s very content with her life, despite the fact that she lives in a somewhat dreary town. But her grandmother, Ivy, thinks that it would be better for the girl to go away to school. Over Kate’s objections, Ivy arranges for her granddaughter to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Ivy believes she’s doing this for Kate’s own good, but things don’t turn out as planned. Kate and her friend, Adrian Palmer, take the bus to the school for the exams, but only Adrian comes back. Despite a massive search, no sign of Kate is ever found – not even a body. Twenty years later, Kurt, a security officer at Green Oaks, starts to see unusual images on the cameras he monitors. They seem to be of a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. One night, Kurt meets Lisa (Adrian Palmer’s younger sister), who has a job at the mall. He and Lisa strike up a sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, they re-open the past. We find out what happened to Kate, and we see that ‘for your own good,’ isn’t always for the best.

We see that, too, in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence, a fictional retelling of the story of Maggie Heffernan, who was arrested in Victoria in1900 for the murder of her infant son. As James tells the story, Maggie meets Jack Hardy in 1898. She falls in love with him, and the feeling seems to be mutual. In fact, he asks her to marry him, but says their engagement must be kept secret until he can provide for a family. Maggie agrees, and Jack goes to New South Wales to look for work. When Maggie discovers that she’s pregnant, she writes to Jack a number of times, but he doesn’t respond. Knowing that she can’t go home to her family, she goes to Melbourne to look for work. She finds a job at a Guest House, where she stays until her baby, whom she names Jacky, is born. Then, she goes to Mrs. Cameron’s home for unwed mothers. There, the young women are taught all sorts of things, ‘for their own good,’ including ways to take care of their babies. Maggie’s instinct is that Mrs. Cameron and her ways are wrong for both mother and baby. So, when she discovers that Jack Hardy has moved to Melbourne, she goes in search of him. When she finds him, he rejects her, telling her that she’s crazy. In her grief, Maggie goes from lodging house to lodging house, looking for a place for her and the baby to stay. She’s turned away from six establishments before the tragedy with Jacky occurs. She’s arrested and imprisoned, where again, a lot of what happens is ‘for the good’ of the prisoners. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at what was expected at that time.

Many people really are well-meaning when they say they’re doing/saying something ‘for your own good.’ And sometimes it works out that way. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that can add real tension to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from They Might Be Giants’ Save Your Life  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth George, Linwood Barclay, Wendy James

Was I So Unwise*

Unwise ChoicesI’m sure you’ve had those moments. Someone you know, who’s otherwise an intelligent person, is doing something really foolish. You may even think (or say), ‘How can you be so stupid?’

There are lots of reasons why smart people do stupid things. All sorts of factors (denial, greed, and fear being a few) play roles in what we do; intelligence is only one of them. We all have those ‘blind spots’ though. And in crime fiction, when smart people make foolish choices, the result can bring real trouble. This sort of plot thread has to be done carefully; otherwise, it takes away from a character’s credibility, and can pull a reader out of a story. Still, when it’s done well, it can make for a solid layer of suspense and character development.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, we are introduced to pawn shop owner Mr. Jabez Wilson. One day he visits Sherlock Holmes, bringing with him an unusual story. His assistant showed him a newspaper advertisement placed by the Red-Headed League, inviting red-headed men to apply for membership in the group, and for a job. Wilson went along to apply, and was chosen for the job. It turned the work was easy, too: copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The only stipulation was that he was not to leave his work during ‘office hours.’ Then one day, Wilson went to his new job only to find the building locked and a sign indicating that the Red-Headed League was disbanded. He wants Holmes to help him solve the mysteries behind these weird occurrences, and Holmes agrees. Wilson isn’t a particularly stupid person (although he could be accused of being a bit credulous). But he seems to have had a sort of ‘blind spot’ about this job, which turns out to be connected to a gang of robbers who wanted to use his pawn shop to tunnel into a nearby bank.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot retires (or so he thinks) to the village of King’s Abbot. He is soon drawn into a case of murder, though, when retired manufacturing magnate Roger Ackroyd is stabbed in his study. The most likely suspect is his stepson Ralph Paton. Not only had the two quarreled about money, but also, Paton went missing shortly after the murder and hasn’t been seen since. But Paton’s fiancée Flora Ackroyd doesn’t believe he’s guilty, and she asks Poirot to investigate. Ackroyd was a wealthy man, so there are plenty of suspects, one of whom is his widowed sister-in-law (and Flora’s mother). It turns out that each of these suspects is hiding something, and in the case of Mrs. Ackroyd, it’s a stupid decision on the part of an otherwise smart enough woman. She was eager for money, and Ackroyd wasn’t exactly a generous person. She ran up bills she couldn’t afford to pay, and became a victim of some unscrupulous moneylenders.

There’s a chilling example of smart people doing very unwise things in Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. George and Jacqueline Coverdale are well off and well educated. You wouldn’t think they’d do a lot of foolish things. But when they decide to hire a housekeeper, Jacqueline does a very stupid thing indeed. She hires Eunice Parchman without doing any real checking into her background, her previous experience, or much of anything else. Still, Eunice settles in and at first, all goes well enough. But Eunice has a secret – one she will go to any lengths to keep from her employers. When that secret accidentally comes out one day, the result is tragic for everyone. And it all might have been prevented if Jacqueline had done a little background checking before making her hiring decision.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, we meet science fiction writer Zack Walker and his journalist wife Sarah. Walker is concerned about the family’s safety, and decides that they’d be better off moving from the city to a safer, suburban home. The cost of living is lower, the amenities are better, and so he convinces his wife to make the move. All goes well enough at the very beginning, although the children aren’t happy. But then one day, Walker goes to the main sales office of their new housing development to complain about some needed repairs to the home. During his visit, he witnesses an argument between one of the sales executives and local environmentalist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek. He calls the police, who interview him – a wise enough decision. But then, one day during a shopping trip with his wife, Walker accidentally discovers a handbag left in a supermarket cart. He thinks it belongs to his wife, and takes it, only later discovering that it doesn’t belong to her. Instead of taking it back to the supermarket or to the police, Walker keeps it, hoping to return it to the owner himself. And that gets him more and more deeply involved in a tangled case of fraud and murder. In the end, his family gets in much more danger in the suburbs than they ever did in the city.

And then there’s Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief. In one plot thread of that novel, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello has gotten concerned about his aunt, Zia Anita. An otherwise intelligent woman, she’s been behaving oddly lately. For one thing, she’s taken what Vianello thinks is an unhealthy interest in astrology. As if that’s not enough, she’s been withdrawing money from the family business and giving it to a man called Stefano Gorini. The money is hers to do with as she wishes, so she’s not stealing it. But the family is worried about the choices she’s making. Vianello asks his boss, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to look into the matter, and Brunetti agrees. He does some background checking on Gorini, and finds that the man has been in trouble with the law before. In fact, he lost his medical license. Now he’s back in business again, promising ‘miracle’ cures that he can’t deliver. In this case, Zia Anita wants so badly to believe in Gorini that she’s made some very unwise choices.

And that’s the thing. Even the smartest of us sometimes have ‘blind spots,’ and make some very foolish choices. The consequences aren’t always drastic, although they can be embarrassing. But sometimes, they’re devastating.

ps. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the many crime novels in which otherwise intelligent people make really stupid romantic choices. Too easy.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ The Night Before.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Linwood Barclay, Ruth Rendell