Category Archives: Liza Marklund

Another Scandal Every Day*

corruptionTransparency International has released its 2015 Global Corruption Perception rankings. That’s an annual ranking of nations based on transparency of government activity, press access, independence of judiciary, and other factors. On the one hand, it’s sad, but not surprising, that no country is corruption-free. On the other, there are countries that, based on these factors, have much lower levels of corruption than others. Want to see where your country ranks? You can check it out right here.

Government corruption is a very, very common topic in crime fiction, and that’s not surprising. There’s a lot of money involved, and very important people whose careers and reputations are at stake. All of that makes for suspense and for an effective context for a crime novel. In fact, there are so many such novels that I only have space to mention a very few. I know you’ll be able to think of lots more.

Many of the novels in Maj Sjöwall and Per Whalöö’s Martin Beck series address the topic of corruption in the Swedish government and members of the Swedish business community. And that series isn’t, of course, the only one that does so. Those who’ve read Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon novels know that they also feature plot threads where Bengtzon, who’s a journalist, investigates government corruption.

Ernesto Mallo’s Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano novels also address high-level corruption, this time in 1970s Argentina. At that time, and in that place, the military is very much in power. Anyone perceived as a threat to that power faces imprisonment or worse. The government is not answerable to the press or to the people, so all sorts of crimes go uninvestigated and unpunished. In Needle in a Haystack, the crime is the murder of a pawnbroker named Elías Biterman. His death is made to look like an Army ‘hit,’ the same as many others at that time. And Lescano knows better than to question what the Army does. But there are some things that are different about this killing, and that piques Lescano’s interest. He begins asking questions that several powerful people, including government officials, do not want asked. Throughout the novel, we see how extensive the corruption is.

There’s a look at high-level corruption in Australia in Peter Temple’s Black Tide. Sometime-lawyer Jack Irish gets a visit from Des Connors, one of his father’s friends. Connors wants Irish to help him make out a will. In the course of that conversation, Irish learns that Connors’ son Gary has ‘gone to ground’ after borrowing (and not paying back) sixty thousand dollars. Now Connors is in real danger of losing his home, so Irish decides to help try to find Gary and get the money back. The search for Gary leads to some very high places, and a record of vicious ways of dealing with journalists or anyone else who might want to expose the wrongdoing. Irish is mostly concerned about making sure his client gets his money back and doesn’t lose his home; but in the end, he finds that that’s just the proverbial tip of a very dangerous iceberg.

Qiu Xialong’s series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao includes several plot lines involving corruption at high levels of government. For example, in Enigma of China, Chen is asked to ‘rubber stamp’ an official theory of suicide when Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, is found dead. And there is reason to support that theory. For one thing, the victim was found hung in a hotel room, with no-one seen going in or out. For another, he was in that hotel room because he was under police guard after having been arrested for corruption. It’s believed that he took his own life rather than face the charges. But Chen isn’t completely convinced that this was suicide. So, very delicately, he and his assistant, Detective Yu Guangming, begin to look into the matter. They soon find that there is definitely more to this death then the suicide of someone who was about to be publicly humiliated for corruption. This isn’t the only novel, either, in which Qiu addresses the way corruption can work, at least in late-1990s Shanghai.

One of the plot points in Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night is the way in which corruption can link the very wealthy and powerful to police and government officials who will co-operate for a price. Social worker Simran Singh travels from Delhi, where she lives, to her home town of Jullundur, in the state of Punjab. She’s there to help the police unravel the truth behind a terrible crime. Thirteen members of the wealthy and powerful Atwal family have been poisoned, and some of them stabbed. The only family member left alive is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. She hasn’t said anything, really, since the crime, so police don’t know whether she is guilty, or whether she is also a victim, but just happened to survive. It’s hoped that Singh will be able to get the girl to talk about what happened that night, so that police can complete their investigation. Singh begins to ask some questions, and in the end, uncovers much more than just a young girl who ‘snapped.’

Ian Rankin also explores the way corruption links up wealthy and powerful people with the government leaders who can get them what they want. In several of his John Rebus novels, Rankin looks at the impact that that corruption has on everyone. Here’s what he says about it in Black and Blue:
 

‘Corruption was everywhere, the players spoke millions of dollars, and the locals resented the invasion at the same time as they took the cash and available work.’
 

Rebus himself sometimes feels corrupt as he finds himself having to make deals and work with all kinds of people in order to get the job done.

There are plenty of novels that explore government corruption in the US, too. Margaret Truman’s series featuring Georgetown University law professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith deals with this topic quite frequently. Murder at the Kennedy Center, for instance, is the story of the killing of Andrea Feldman, a campaign worker for Senator Ken Ewald’s bid for the US presidency. Smith knows Ewald, and in fact, supports his candidacy. So he’s willing to help when Ewald’s son Paul is suspected of the murder. Paul was having an affair with the victim, so he’s the most likely suspect, too. But it turns out that he’s by no means the only one. Smith discovers that there are several powerful people who want nothing more than for Ewald’s campaign to be de-railed, and are willing to go to great lengths to do just that.

And no post on government and high-level corruption would be complete without a mention of Donna Leon’s series featuring Venice Commissario Guido Brunetti. Many of the cases he and his team investigate involve corruption in very high places, and people who may or may not ever ‘face the music’ for what they do.

Government corruption is a continuing global problem. It’s not going to go away quickly. So it’s no surprise that so much crime fiction deals with it. Hopefully if people keep talking and reading about it, this will keep our attention on the problem…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Third World’s Corruption.

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Filed under Donna Leon, Ernesto Mallo, Ian Rankin, Kishwar Desai, Liza Marklund, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Truman, Per Wahlöö, Peter Temple, Qiu Xiaolong

When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping ;-)

When Sleuths Shop for ChristmasIt’s the last week before Christmas, and a lot of people are doing their final rounds of shopping and preparation. Everyone’s got a different way of buying gifts, so I thought it might be enlightening (or at least entertaining!) to think about how some of crime fiction’s sleuths go about it. So now, if you’ll kindly have your disbelief stay home and watch some holiday films, let’s take a look at what happens…

 

When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping

 

I. Andy Dalziel (Reginald Hill)

Dalziel and Sgt. Wield are in Dalziel’s office.

Dalziel: One more thing, Wieldy. I’m needing a Christmas present for Ellie.
Wield: Ellie, Sir?
Dalziel: Aye, Ellie. Soothe some ruffled feathers, that sort of thing.
Wield: What’ll you get her?
Dalziel: I dunno, lad! Think I’d ask you if I did?
Wield: Right. Well, a food gift basket’s always welcome. You can find some nice ones, too. And not too expensive.
Dalziel: All right, then. What store, do you think?
Wield: I know just the one. She loves it. Here, I’ll write it for you. Scribbles a name and address on a piece of paper and pushes it across the desk to his boss. Dalziel nods his thanks.

Later that day, Dalziel goes into the store Wield suggested…

Shop Assistant: Welcome to The Good Life. How may I help you?
Dalziel: Do you have gift baskets?
Shop Assistant: We certainly do, Sir. We offer only all-organic, gluten-free, planet-friendly baskets. Now, would you be interested in our Orchard Treasures basket? Our Green Tea and Rest basket? We also have a lovely Natural Grains basket. Or perhaps (pointed look at Dalziel’s waistline) our Refresh and Fit basket?

 

II. Walt Longmire (Craig Johnson)

Longmire and Ruby are in his truck.

Longmire: Thanks for coming with me, Ruby. It’s getting harder and harder to buy Cady something she wants.
Ruby: No problem. I don’t want to hear you complain for the rest of the year that Cady didn’t like what you got her.
Longmire: I really wish we hadn’t had to drive into Sheridan for this, though.
Ruby: What do you care? You drive a lot further than this all the time.
Longmire: Guess so.

They arrive at the store.

Longmire (Looking askance at the store): You serious, Ruby? A cosmetics store?
Ruby (Smiling): You should thank me. Vic wanted me to take you to Victoria’s Secret…

 

III. Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell)

Wallander is having coffee with his sometimes-lover, Baipa Liepa.

Walander: That’s the thing. I want to get something for Linda’s baby, but Mona always handled those things when Linda was that age. I have no idea what to get.
Baipa: Let’s take a walk. It’s not too cold, and maybe we’ll see something.
Wallander: All right.

The two are walking….

Baipa: How about here?
Wallander: I’m not sure about that.
Baipa: We don’t have to stay long, and I’ll bet you’ll find something.
Wallander, looking none too happy, nods in a resigned way and they walk in.
Christmas carols are playing loudly on the store’s sound system. A determinedly cheerful young man, dressed as a Christmas elf, greets them:
Welcome to Lattjo Toys, where all your Christmas dreams come true!
Just then, a small child rushes by, brushing against Wallander and smearing chocolate on his sleeve.

 

IV. Annika Bengtzon (Liza Marklund)

Annika is having a glass of wine with her friend Anne.

Anne: So, have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?
Annika: No, not yet. I still need to get something for my cousin Klara.
Anne: Any ideas?
Annika: I don’t know. She’s getting married in a few months, and I was thinking of getting her something for their home.
Anne: Good idea! I know just the place, too. It’s called Lilian’s. They’re supposed to have all kinds of bridal things there.
Annika: All right. Go with me?
Anne: Sure. I might even look around. I’ve never been in.

Later, the two go into Lilian’s.

Shop Assistant: May I help you?
Annika: Thanks. I’m looking for the right gift for my cousin, who’s getting married in a few months.
Shop Assistant: Wonderful! I have just the thing. We’ve got some lovely treasures in our ‘Together Forever’ collection.
Annika (Looking a bit doubtful): Could you show me a few things?
Shop Assistant: Absolutely. Right this way. Here we’ve got some things I really love. The ‘Together Forever’ collection has everything from matching ‘his and hers’ hand towels, to these heart-shaped ‘photo frames, to these beautiful wine glasses. See? They’ve got ‘Bride’ and “Groom’ etched on them. Perfect for those special nights. She winks knowingly.

 

V. Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie)

Poirot is talking to George.

Poirot: And so you see, Georges, I would like to get something special for Miss Lemon.
George: A very good idea, Sir. Perhaps I might suggest something?
Poirot: Ah, non, merci. I already have the best idea. I want to give Miss Lemon a new desk and office chair. Something that will be comfortable for her.
George: An excellent idea, Sir. I was thinking something along the same lines myself.
Poirot: Bon. Now, I must choose the furniture and arrange for delivery. Putting his hat on. Please arrange for a taxi for me, Georges, as I do not know how far this place is.
George: Yes, Sir. If I may ask, where are you planning to go?
Poirot: I have heard that Asda sells the sort of thing I want.
George: But, Sir…
Poirot: Not now, Georges. I am in a hurry. Puts his coat on and gets ready to leave.
George: Shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering to himself. I don’t know what he’ll do when he learns that Asda’s owned by WalMart.

 

So there you have it. What sort of shopping experience do you think your top fictional sleuths would have??

ps. You may notice that I didn’t include Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe here. Now that he’s learned to shop online, he has no need to go out…😉

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Reginald Hill

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime*

Christmas PreparationAt this time of year, people often make plans to spend the holidays with family or with friends. Some take getaway holidays. Either way, it can mean a lot of planning, travel hassles and so on. And that’s to say nothing of the gift buying that’s usually involved. If all of that leaves you stressed, it might be a comfort to know that some people spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in some very unusual (and sometimes quite dangerous) situations. At least they do in crime fiction.

Consider Agatha Troy, who spends a very unusual Christmas in Ngaio Marsh’s Tied up in Tinsel. She’s been commissioned by Hilary Bill-Tasman to paint his portrait, and agrees to spend Christmas at his home, Halbards, to complete the task. Since her husband, Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, is out of the country on a case, the timing works out perfectly. Troy soon finds, though, that this is a very unusual place. For one thing, Bill-Tasman believes firmly in the redemptive power of work and purpose. So he only hires former inmates; in fact, each of his employees has been convicted of murder. Still, Troy gets started on the portrait. Then, Bill-Tasman’s uncle, Fleaton ‘Uncle Flea’ Forrester and his wife arrive for Christmas, along with Uncle Flea’s longtime servant Alfred Moult. The plan is for Uncle Flea to dress up as a Druid (instead of the more conventional Father Christmas) to give out presents to the local children at a large party to be held at the house. On the day of the party, though, Uncle Flea is not well, so Moult takes his place. After he passes out the gifts, Moult disappears, and is later found dead. And it turns out that more than one person had a very good motive for murder.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice, LAPD police detective Harry Bosch is ‘on call’ on Christmas Day, and spending the day at home. It’s ordinary enough to stay home at Christmas, but everything changes when Bosch hears news over the police scanner of a body found at a cheap motel. He’s surprised that no-one notified him, since he’s on call. He’s also surprised that one of the high-ranking department members has gone out to investigate. Bosch goes to the scene, only to find that the dead man is a fellow police officer, Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore. The official account of the death is that Moore was a ‘dirty’ copper who committed suicide. But there are hints that this was not a suicide, so Bosch decides to ask some questions. He’s immediately shunted to another set of unsolved cases that he’s tasked with closing before the end of the year. But of course, anyone who knows Harry Bosch will know that he doesn’t give up that easily…

Liza Marklund’s The Bomber begins a week before Christmas, when a major explosion rocks Stockholm. The city’s been chosen to host the next Olympic Games, and to everyone’s dismay, the bomb went off in Victoria Stadium, in Olympic Village. Annika Bengtzon, crime editor for Kvällspressen, goes to the scene only to learn that there’s been a death. Christine Farhage, one of Stockholm’s business and civic leaders, was in the building at the time of the explosion. There’s talk that this might have been an act of terrorism. But there are other possibilities, too. There’s soon evidence that this might have been an ‘inside job’ committed by someone connected with the upcoming events. So Bengtzon and her staff have a lot of ground to cover as they investigate. And the trail leads to a very unusual and dangerous place for Bengtzon to spend Christmas Eve.

Nicci French’s Blue Monday begins in late November, but people are already getting into ‘holiday mode.’ And that’s just what London psychotherapist Frieda Klein hates most:
 

‘She loathed Christmas, and she loathed the run-up to Christmas, the frenzied shoppers, the tat in the shops, the lights that were put up too early in the streets, the Christmas songs that belted out of shops day after day…’
 

Soon enough, Frieda’s got much more to think about than her dislike of Christmas. Four-year-old Matthew Faraday has gone missing, and police efforts haven’t turned up any leads. Then, Frieda begins to get a very uncomfortable feeling about one of her patients, Alan Dekker. Some of the things that he tells her suggest that her work with Dekker may be in some way connected to Matthew’s disappearance. One of the issues she has to face is how much to tell DCI Malcolm Karlsson, who’s investigating the case. What’s the role of patient/therapist privacy? And how useful is what she could tell, anyway? Each in a different way, she and the police follow up on this investigation. In the end, they find out what happened to Matthew, and how it connects with another disappearance twenty-two years earlier. Through all of this, and mostly because of her feelings about Christmas, Frieda hasn’t done anything to prepare. Still, she allows herself to be talked into having her sister Olivia and niece Chlöe visit. Through a series of plot events, she actually ends up having a group of people at her house for Christmas. One of them even says,
 

‘‘What a collection of left-behinds and misfits we are.’’
 

It’s a very odd and unusual Christmas for Frieda, especially given she doesn’t celebrate the holiday. But as she herself says,
 

‘‘We could do worse.’’
 

And they could.

Just ask Anthondy Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant. In Flight of Aquavit, Quant has a new client, Daniel Guest, who’s being blackmailed. Guest is a ‘respectably married’ successful accountant, who has also had some secret trysts with men. Rather than coming out, as Quant thinks he should, Guest is desperate to have the blackmailer found and stopped. In the course of that investigation, Quant finds himself looking into a case of murder as well, and ends up in an extremely dangerous predicament with his friend Jared Lowe. The two are stranded outside just before Christmas Eve – a life-threatening situation in Saskatchewan. They manage to find shelter just in time, but they are still trapped, with no way home. It’s an very unusual Christmas Eve for them.

So next time you’re feeling stressed because of house guests, gifts, travel, or the myriad other things that can ‘pile on’ at this time of the year, keep one thing in mind. It really could be a lot worse…

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Liza Marklund, Michael Connelly, Ngaio Marsh, Nicci French

Next Phase, New Wave*

CrimeFIction TrendsYou don’t need me to tell you that there are certain trends in crime fiction that become popular, especially if a particular book does very well. Other publishers and authors see that, and it doesn’t take much intuition to understand the appeal of doing what sells very well. It’s also easy to see how authors might be inspired to explore a topic if they see that it’s been ‘safe’ for another author to do so.

Those trends have been a part of the genre since its beginnings, and my guess is, they’ll keep happening. It’s interesting to see what’s been popular just lately, and perhaps speculate on what might be coming next. Here are just a few examples of what I mean. I know you’ll think of more than I could.

There’s been excellent Scandinavian crime fiction out there for quite a while. Many argue that it’s been a tradition since the work of Steen Steensen Blicher in the 19th Century. But many English-speaking readers didn’t experience it until the mid-to-late 1960’s, when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series was translated. And it was even later, at the end of the 1990’s and beginning of the most recent decades, that a lot of English-speaking readers got to experience more of the richness of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Publishers saw the market, translations were commissioned, and the work of writers such as Peter Høeg, Åke Edwardson, Henning Mankell, and later, Liza Marklund and Karin Fossum (among many, many others) became better known in English-speaking markets (I can’t speak as well for other markets). This success could very well be part of what encouraged other authors and publishers to make other Scandinavian crime fiction available in English.

Scandinavian crime novels have been around for more than 150 years, but there’s been a particular interest in it in English-speaking markets in the last twenty years or so. Today it’s possible to read the translated work of many, many Scandinavian writers. Will this trend continue? Will interest fade in that particular kind of crime fiction? I don’t have the data to support myself here, but I don’t think it will fade out. Translated Scandinavian crime fiction is too well established, as I see it, and has been for some time. It’s also too broad a category. But it will be very interesting to see what form it takes as new generations of Scandinavian crime writers have their work translated.

Another trend we’ve seen, especially in the last seven or eight years, has been a large number of novels that are often called ‘domestic noir.’ In those novels, the focus is on families, intimate relationships, and the things that can go on underneath a seemingly peaceful surface.

Of course, that sort of story is not new. Work such as Margaret Yorke’s (and even work before hers) has featured this kind of plot line for some time. But since the popularity of work such as Gillian Flynn’s, publishers are seeing that domestic noir can be lucrative. That’s arguably part of why we’ve seen several such novels published in the last five years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, among many others. Publishers are seeing that there’s a market for such work, and they’re happy to meet that demand.

Will the trend continue? Will interest in it fade? I’m less certain here. In one sense, it’s a well-established sub-genre if you include books such as Yorke’s and some of Margaret Millar’s. On the other hand, it’s not as broad a sub-genre, and doesn’t have a very long history if you put it in context. I’m not sure if the current intense interest in domestic noir will continue.

Another interesting development I’ve seen (have you noticed this?) is an interest in children involved in crime and how that affects them. Some of these novels (such as Ruth Dugdall’s Humber Boy B, Simon Lelic’s The Child Who, Kanae Minato’s Confessions, and William Landay’s Defending Jacob) focus on young offenders. Others, such as Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, feature young people who are impacted by crime among the adults in their lives. There are many other examples, too, of that sort of novel.

Of course, novels about children who are mixed up in, or the perpetrators of, crime are not new. There’s even an Agatha Christie novel that features a young person as the killer (No, I’m not saying which one. No spoilers here.).  And that’s not the only Christie in which a young person is one of the suspects. But there is a lot of interest in the last few years in how we treat young offenders, how responsible they are for what they do, and whether they can be reintegrated into society.

These aren’t easy questions, of course, and perhaps that’s part of why this sort of novel has gotten a lot of attention recently. Perhaps authors and publishers are seeing that readers are open to exploring some of these difficult issues. Or it could be that as we learn more about young people’s development, we’re learning more ways in which to work with them (and ways that don’t work!).

What do you think about all this? What trends have you been noticing in the crime fiction you read? Do you think they’ll continue? If you’re a writer, do you pay attention to those trends when you choose your themes, characters and plots? And just as importantly, what do you think may be coming next?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Gillian Flynn, Helen Fitzgerald, Honey Brown, Kanae Minato, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Millar, Margaret Yorke, Paula Hawkins, Per Wahlöö, Peter Høeg, Ruth Dugdall, Simon Lelic, Steen Seensen Blicher, William Landay

Never Mind, I’ll Be Around*

Staying AroundAn interesting review from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about how we invest ourselves in fictional characters. The review itself isn’t precisely about that, but one of the (well-taken) points that FictionFan makes has to do with learning about things before they’ve actually happened. You’ll most definitely want to visit FictionFan’s great blog and see for yourself why it’s a must-have on your blog roll.

Right. Investing ourselves in fictional characters. If you know a fictional character is going to die, does that affect the way you think about that character, and how invested you are in the plot? Are you willing to stay around? It’s tricky to invite readers along for the ride, so to speak, if they already know a key piece of information such as, ‘X is going to be the (first) victim.’ When the author makes that choice, there need to be other aspects of the novel that keep the reader engaged and absorbed and wanting to know more.

Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress begins at the trial of Elinor Carlisle. She’s been charged with the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard. So we know right from the start that Mary is at least one victim in that novel. Then, the novel ‘flashes back’ to the beginning of the series of events that led up to this trial. We learn that Mary is the daughter of the lodgekeeper at Hunterbury, the home of the Welman family. Elinor’s aunt, wealthy Laura Welman, has taken a real interest in Mary and paid to have her educated. In fact, Elinor receives an anyonymous note warning her that Mary may be playing on the old lady’s feelings in order to benefit from her will. Elinor isn’t greedy, but she is very accustomed to a comfortable life. So she and her fiancé Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman travel to Hunterbury to visit Aunt Laura and, if they’re being honest, to see how much truth there is to the note. They renew their acquaintance with Mary during their visit, and to Elinor’s chagrin, Roddy is soon besotted with her. In fact, Elinor and Roddy end their engagement. Then, Aunt Laura dies. Shortly afterwards, Mary is killed. There’s ample evidence against Elinor, but local GP Dr. Peter Lord wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. In this novel, we don’t learn anything about Mary until after we know she is going to die. The suspense lies in what the outcome of the trial will be, and whether Elinor is or is not really guilty.

We know from the first sentence of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone that the members of the Coverdale family will be killed. We are even told who the killer is. It’s not until after learning this that we find out that George and Jacqueline Coverdale are well-off, well-educated people who are looking to hire a new housekeeper. Without doing much background research (quite different to today’s searches), they hire Eunice Parchman. She begins her duties and all seems to go well enough at first. But Eunice is hiding a secret – something she is desperate that the family not discover. When one of the family members accidentally finds out what Eunice is hiding, this spells disaster for everyone. In the end, it costs the lives of George, Jacqueline, George’s daughter Melinda and Jacqueline’s son Giles. In this novel, the suspense is built, and the reader is invited to stay around, as we learn about Eunice’s background, and as the Coverdale family gets unwittingly closer and closer to their fate.

In L.R. Wright’s The Suspect, we are told right from the beginning of the story that eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke is the murder victim. We know who the killer is too; he is eighty-year-old George Wilcox. One might ask the question, then: if we know Burke is the victim, why get invested? Why follow along? In this novel, Wright invites the reader to become invested by slowly revealing those two characters’ histories. As RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg and his team investigate, we learn bit by bit how the two elderly men know each other and what their relationship has been like. It’s that history that has ultimately led to the killing, and since Wright reveals it layer by layer, the reader is invited to get more and more engaged as the story goes on.

Liza Marklund’s The Bomber also informs the reader, right from the start, who is going to be killed. In that story, Stockholm is slated to host the Olympic Games and, as you can imagine, a lot’s at stake with the upcoming competition. So it’s an especially terrible shock when a bomb goes off in Olympic Village. It’s an even greater shock when the body of civic leader Christine Furhage is pulled from the wreckage. Terrorism is suspected at first, especially since the victim was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Stockholm. Soon, though, other possibilities arise. Journalist Annika Bengtzon and her team follow the case and investigate to find out who killed Christine Furhage, and why. In this novel, we know from the beginning who the victim will be. But Marklund reveals her character and history more slowly, inviting the reader to stay around and become invested in her (or choose to dislike her) as the story goes on.

David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight is the story of the murder of brothel owner Ruby Devine. It’s the mid-1970s in Perth, and Superintendent Frank Swann has returned to town after some years away. He’s come back because he was friends with the victim although they were on opposite sides of the law. And it’s not long before he begins to suspect that the crime was the work of a corrupt group of police officers known as ‘the purple circle.’ It’s going to be hard to prove, though. For one thing, the ‘purple circle’ has a bad reputation for making life truly awful for anyone who gets in their way. For another, there’s an unwritten code that police protect each other. Swann has already called for a Royal Commission hearing on corruption in the ‘purple circle’ so as it is, he’s a ‘dead man walking.’ But he persists and in the end, he does find out who killed the victim and why. We know from the first page of the story that Ruby Devine is the victim. But as Swann talks to her friends, her partner and her business associates, we get a more complete picture of what she was like. And that invites readers to care about her (or choose to dislike her).

And then there’s T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton. Elton Spears is a young man with mental problems who’s had more than one brush with the law. So when evidence connects him to the murder of Sarena Gunasekera, everyone thinks he’s the murderer. But solicitor Jim Harwood has worked with Spears before and knows the young man. So he takes Spears’ case and works with barrister Harry Douglas to defend him at trial. In this story, we know from very early on – before we know anything about her – that Sarena Gunasekera is killed. So on the surface, it might seem that it would be difficult to become invested in her and care why she was murdered, much less stay around for the rest of the story. But Cooke invites the reader to do that by making her character just enigmatic enough to be interesting, and by revealing aspects of that character a little at a time.

So, does knowing a character is going to be a victim make one less invested in that character? It can. When that information isn’t well-managed, it can amount to spoiling the story. But if it’s handled effectively, authors can do several things to encourage readers to stay around and remain interested, even in characters they know are not long for this world.

Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The North’s Any Days Fine.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Whish-Wiilson, L.R. Wright, Liza Marklund, Ruth Rendell, T.J. Cooke