Category Archives: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

How Can I Be Sure?*

suspicion-growingAuthors use a lot of different tools for building suspense. One of them is a slowly-growing sense that someone you thought you knew well could be a murderer. If you think about it, that’s an unsettling, even frightening, feeling. Even if you don’t think you’re an intended victim, it’s still a scary thought. And you can’t bring up the topic very easily, either. You may be wrong, in which case you’ve ruptured a relationship, possibly permanently. Or, you could be right, in which case voicing your suspicions could put you in danger.

That sort of suspense can add a lot to a crime story, and there are lots of examples of it. Space only permits me a few, but I know you’ll come up with lots more. Oh, and you’ll notice that there won’t be any domestic noir titles mentioned. Too easy.

Agatha Christie used that approach to building suspense in several of her stories. For instance, in Hickory, Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory, Dickory Death), Hercule Poirot’s normally unflappable secretary, Felicity Lemon, asks for his help. Her sister, Mrs. Hubbard, has gotten concerned about a spate of petty thefts and other strange occurrences at the student hostel she manages. Partly as a courtesy to Miss Lemon, Poirot agrees to look into the matter, and visits the hostel. On the night he goes there, one of the residents, Celia Austin, admits to several of the thefts. At first, that seems to settle the matter. But when Celia herself dies two nights later, it’s clear that there’s more going on than just some petty thefts. It’s soon proven that she was murdered, and Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find the killer. As the novel goes on, several of the residents are made very uneasy by the idea that one of them could be a murderer, and it impacts them. Then, there’s another murder. And another. That almost-claustrophobic feeling of being trapped with someone wo’s dangerous adds tension to this story. I see you, fans of And Then There Were None.

There’s also Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit, in which a group of people attend a very creepy séance. The purpose of it is to contact Grimaud Désanat, who died several years earlier. He left behind a successful wood processing business, but the land he owned has now been thoroughly logged. His widow, Irene, and his business partners, believe in spiritualism. So, they decide to use a séance to get his permission to develop a piece of land that he had said must be left unlogged for 20 years. The séance is eerie enough, but matters get far more frightening when Irene is killed later that night. If it wasn’t Désanat (and there are several people present who don’t believe in ghosts), then it had to have been someone in the group. That possibility is as frightening as a haunting, and adds to the suspense of the novel.

In Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s A Window in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro Inspector Espinosa faces a similar kind of growing suspicion. Three police officers are killed in quick succession. At first, it looks very much like the work of someone who’s got a vendetta against the police. But then, the mistress of one of the victims is killed. Then the mistress of another victim dies. And the third victim’s mistress goes into hiding to avoid the same fate. It’s now clear that this isn’t a case of a person who just wants to kill police officers. Something else ties these victims together, and that something could very well be corruption. Now, Espinosa and his hand-picked team have to be very careful. One or more of the cops with whom they work could be involved in the same corruption, or could be a killer. That feeling that one of their own might be a killer adds a solid layer of suspense to this novel.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring finds her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, investigating the murder of a university colleague. The body of Reed Gallagher is found in a seedy hotel, and at first it looks as though he was killed as a result of some sort of double life he was leading. But it’s not as simple as that. As the case goes on, Kilbourn learns that there are several possible leads. Unfortunately for her, one of them is her friend and temporary office-mate, Ed Mariani. On the one hand, Kilbourn knows that just about anyone is capable of murder, given the right circumstances. She’s not so naïve as to believe that Mariani couldn’t possibly be the killer. On the other hand, he is a friend. She’s been to his home, attended meetings with him, and currently shares an office teapot with him. It’s a really awkward and unsettling situation for her, and that adds to the suspense in the story.

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me?  Yvonne Mulhern has recently moved with her husband, Gerry, from London to Dublin. The move represents an excellent career opportunity for Gerry, but it’s all much more difficult for Yvonne, who is a brand-new first-time mum. With no friends or family in Dublin, she soon turns to Netmammy, an online forum of other mothers. In the group, Yvonne finds the solidarity and support she’s been missing, and all goes well at first. Then, one of the group’s members goes missing. Yvonne gets concerned; although she’s never meet the woman, she considers her a friend. In the meantime, Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself a mum-to-be, is faced with a difficult case. A woman’s body has been found in an abandoned apartment. When Yvonne hears about this, she begins to wonder whether the dead woman is her missing online friend. If so, that could mean that someone in the forum is not who she seems to be. And that possibility adds quite a lot of tension to this story.

And I don’t think I could discuss this topic without mentioning Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 film, Shadow of Doubt. In that film, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Newton is excited to learn that her uncle, Charlie Oakley, will be coming for a visit. All goes well at first. But everything changes as Charlie slowly comes to suspect that Uncle Charlie may in fact be a murderer.

When it’s done well, that slow building up of suspicion can be very suspenseful. It’s also realistic, if you think about it. I’ve only had space for a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Gail Bowen, Hake Talbot, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Sinéad Crowley

Look Out of Any Window*

windowsI’ll bet you do it without even thinking about it. I’m talking about looking out the window. Even if your view isn’t exactly stunning, it’s almost impossible to resist glancing out, especially if you see movement or hear something. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go for a day without looking out of your office window if you work from an office that has one. I’ll bet you’d find it hard-put to avoid looking out of your windows at home, too.

But windows can be very dangerous things, if you think about it. Just a quick look at crime fiction shows that looking out of a window can put you smack in the middle of a crime. And that can be risky. Windows can make people quite vulnerable, too.

In John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Mystery, Julius Tregarthan is shot one night through the open window of his sitting room at the family home, Greylings. Dr. Pendrill is summoned to the scene, and brings with him his old friend, the Reverend Dodd. It’s soon very clear that this was neither an accident nor a suicide. Inspector Bigwell takes the case, and works to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. What’s interesting is that three shots were fired through the window, from three slightly different angles. Two went wide; one found its mark. So, one question is: were there three killers? If not, how did the murderer fire from three different angles so quickly? It’s a complicated case, but the Reverend Dodd slowly puts the pieces together, and works with Pendrill and Bigwell to get to the truth.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way by train to visit her friend, Miss Marple. She happens to look out her window just as another train goes by, heading in the same direction. Her view lets her see through the windows of the other train, which is how she sees a woman apparently being strangled. She alerts the conductor, but no-one believes her, since there hasn’t been a body discovered. Miss Marple does take her seriously, though, and does some research of her own. She deduces that the body is likely on the property of Rutherford Hall, which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. Not having an ‘in’ of her own, Miss Marple enlists her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to be her eyes and ears. Lucy agrees and is soon hired as the Crackenthorpes’ housekeeper. Sure enough, she finds the body of a woman, and the police soon take charge. In her own way, Miss Marple stays involved, and works out who the killer is. There’s even a Christie novel in which a murder is committed through a window. But no spoilers!

In one plot line of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the strangling murder of Annette Bystock. She was killed in her bed, so it’s going to be important to find anyone who might have seen someone coming or going at the time of the murder. Fortunately for the police, retiree Percy Hammond lives next door to the murder scene, and spends his share of time looking through his window. And it turns out he saw something very important to the investigation. In the end, this murder is related to a missing person case that the police are also investigating.

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa is faced with a difficult and dangerous case in A Window in Copacabana. Three police officers are murdered with expert precision, and in quick succession. Now, there’s a general fear that someone is targeting cops. But that’s not the only possibility. The victims might have been involved in corruption and gotten mixed up with the wrong people. There’s nothing in their backgrounds or records to suggest that, but it’s certainly not impossible. Everything changes when the mistress of one of the victims is found shot in her car. Then, Rosita, who was the mistress of another of the police victims, is killed by a fall from her window. It looks like suicide at first. But Serena Rodes, the wife of a wealthy businessman, contacts Espinosa. It seems she was looking out her window and saw Rosita get pushed through the window (‘though she didn’t see by whom). This complicated case turns out to be rooted in corruption – only not in the way you might think.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage features Maura Cody, a former nun who’s now trying to live as quiet and unassuming a life as she can. She looks out her window one day and sees something that puts her in grave danger. It’s relevant to two cases that Dublin D.S. Bob Tidey, and Garda Rose Cheney, are working. So, they do their best to protect her as they get to the truth about those cases, and the link between them. What’s interesting here is that Maura had no desire to get involved in something so risky. But a look out the window changes everything for her.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane learns the hard way how risky windows can be in Quite Ugly One Morning. He wakes up one morning with an awful hangover, and hears a commotion outside. So, he leaves his flat and goes downstairs to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, his door locks behind him and he’s forgotten his key. He does remember that he left a window open, though. So, he decides that the best thing to do is to sneak through the downstairs flat, which has a corresponding window, and get back into his own place that way. Things don’t work out well, though. First, he discovers a brutally-murdered body in the flat downstairs. Then, as he’s trying to sneak out the window, he’s caught by Jenny Dalziel,the police detective who’s investigating that murder. After a great deal of initial suspicion, he and Dalziel see that they can be of help to each other, so they work together to find out who the killer is.

See what I mean? Looking out the window or using it is as natural as anything. But safe? I’m not so sure of that. Right, fans of Jeffery Deaver’s The Broken Window?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Gene Kerrigan, Jeffery Deaver, John Bude, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Ruth Rendell

So Glad That You’re Coming to Brazil*

BrazilThe 2016 Summer Olympics will get underway at the end of this week in Rio de Janeiro. And I hope everyone has a safe, enjoyable visit. Brazil really is a beautiful country with fine people, good food, and a great deal of diversity. And of course, there’s the football. Trust me, it’s lovely. But safe? I’m not so sure. All you need do is look at some of the crime fiction from and about Brazil to know that things there aren’t always as peaceful and beautiful as the advertisements might suggest.

One of the better-known crime fiction series set in Brazil is Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa series. Espinosa is based in Rio de Janeiro, but it’s a big city. So he has different sorts of experiences in different parts of it. In The Silence of the Rain, in which Espinosa is introduced, he investigates the death of Dr. Richard Carvalho. The victim was a very successful business executive who worked for the mining company Planalto Minerações. Then one afternoon, he left his office, went out to his car, and shot himself. Or did he? There’s evidence that he could have committed suicide, but there’s also a good possibility that he was murdered. As Espinosa traces Carvalho’s last days and weeks, it becomes clear that the key to this whole mystery is Carvalho’s secretary/personal assistant, Rose Chaves Benevides. The only problem is, she’s gone missing. So Espinosa has to add finding her to his list – especially after there are two more murders…

Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva is an officer with the Brazilian Federal Police. In Blood of the Wicked, he and his team investigate when Dom Felipe Antunes, the Bishop of Presidente Vargas, is assassinated. The bishop has made a trip to the remote town of Cascatas do Pontal in connection with the opening of a brand-new Catholic church. But when he leaves the helicopter that’s taken him to the town, he’s murdered. And it turns out that this murder could have real political ramifications. The bishop was very much against liberation theologians – priests and others who were fighting for the rights of poor, landless workers. So when Silva arrives, he finds himself right in the middle of a war between wealthy landowners and peasants. And neither side trusts him very much, because he’s not from the area. Then there are two other murders. Now Silva knows that this case goes deeper than someone who simply wanted to shoot the bishop because of his political stance.

Patricia Melo has written several noir novels that show the sometimes darker sides of life in Brazil. The Body Snatcher, for example, is the story of a former telemarketer who lost his job in São Paulo, and moved to the smaller town of Corumbá, near the Bolivian border. One day, he witnesses a small plane crash, and rushes to see what’s happened. He discovers the pilot, but he’s too late to save the man. While he’s there, though, he takes a backpack and wristwatch from the plane. Later, when he opens up the backpack, he discovers a valuable cache of cocaine. Rather than turn in the cocaine to the police, he keeps it, and arranges with his friend Moacir to try to sell it and pocket the money. That decision turns out to be disastrous when it turns out that the cocaine is the property of some drug dealers who are not happy about their property going missing…

In Dan Smith’s The Darkest Heart, we are introduced to Zico, a former contract killer brought up in the dirt and grit of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Now he lives in the small, interior town of Piritanga, where he’s trying to turn over a new leaf, as the saying goes. He’s got a legitimate job and is saving so that he and his girlfriend, Daniella, can have a life together. Then he’s asked to do one more hit – a hit that will earn him thousands. And this isn’t just an ordinary hit (if there is such a thing). It’s not a case of a criminal rival or highly-placed business executive. Instead, the victim is to be Sister Dolores Beckett, an American nun who’s moved to Brazil. Her ‘crime’ has been that she’s collaborating with workers’ groups and other activists to improve their lot, restore some of the ecosystem, and so on. In other words, she’s upset some very powerful and wealthy people. Zico doesn’t like this job, But the man who’s hired him has threatened to kill Daniella, as well as the old man Zico does odd jobs for, if he doesn’t do the hit. And there’s considerable money involved. Now Zico has to find a way to stay alive, keep the people he cares about safe, and try to get free of his ‘employer.’

And then there’s Edney Silvestre’s literary thriller Happiness is Easy, which takes place in São Paulo. In this novel, we meet Olavo Bettencourt, whose PR firm has made him a very wealthy and powerful man. That’s even more the case since he’s discovered that political campaigns are just as much advertisement as any other campaign. With so much clout, you’d think that Bettencourt would be what’s often called a ‘kingmaker.’ And that’s what he thinks himself. But the reality is, he is, in his way, just a pawn in a much larger game. And we find out just how vulnerable he is when a criminal gang decides to abduct Olavo’s only son for ransom. The only problem is, they get the wrong child. As the story goes on, readers go ‘behind the scenes’ for a look at the political and financial corruption that goes on in high-stakes elections. And readers follow the fortunes of the people whose lives are affected by the kidnapping of one small boy.

See what I mean? Brazil is physically beautiful, diverse, and in some ways, majestic. But peaceful and safe? I’m not so sure of that…

 

ps. The ‘photo isn’t very clear, I’m afraid. But it shows a part of the city of Juiz de Fora, which is in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where I spent a wonderful summer (or is that winter?) many years ago.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chris de Burgh’s Brazil.

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Filed under Dan Smith, Edney Silvestre, Leighton Gage, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Patricia Melo

Riddles Are Abound Tonight*

Ongoing MysteriesMost well-written crime novels give answers to the main questions in a plot. If it’s a whodunit, then usually the criminal is revealed, even if that person isn’t brought to justice. If it’s a whydunit or a howdunit, we learn the answers to those questions as well. That’s part of creating a good reading experience for the reader.

And yet, there are some questions that go unanswered through most, if not all, of a series. It’s not always easy to dodge those questions and still have an engaging series, but some authors manage it. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll have others to suggest.

One of Agatha Christie’s sleuths (and, so it is said, one of the characters she liked best) is Mr. Harley Quin. He usually works with another Christie character, Mr. Satterthwaite. Satterthwaite is a socialite who is often on the ‘also present’ lists when parties and other social events are written up in newspapers. So he has all sorts of encounters with members of the ‘upper crust.’ People tend to trust him and talk to him, which is often how he gets involved in mysteries. The real mystery, though, is Mr. Quin, who always seems to appear at key points in a story, and then disappear just as unexpectedly. We really know almost nothing about him; in fact, you could debate the question of whether he actually exists. But he certainly has conversations with Satterthwaite. He is a sort of catalyst for his friend, and frequently points him in the right investigative direction. Yet, we never see Mr. Quin interact with others. He’s an intriguing and very enigmatic character whom we never really get to know; still, the mysteries in which he gets involved are solved.

For quite some time, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels presented readers with an ongoing riddle: Morse’s given name. At more than one point, when people ask his given name, Morse says that it’s Inspector. It’s not until the twelfth novel (of thirteen), Death is Now My Neighbour, that Morse’s full name is revealed. For many readers, not knowing Morse’s given name adds to the mystery around him. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the plots of the different novels. And, since we know Morse’s surname, it was easy enough for Dexter to negotiate the details of writing the stories smoothly.

It’s not so easy to do that when the main character is not given a name at all. Yet, that’s what Bill Pronzini decided to do with his sleuth. Beginning with The Snatch, Pronzini has written more than forty novels featuring the San Francisco detective that most of us think of as Nameless. In fact, ‘though fans now know his name (it’s revealed in Savages, in case you’re interested), I’d guess a lot of people still refer to him as Nameless; I know I do. And, interestingly enough, it took Pronzini more than thirty novels to give readers what you’d think would be a vital piece of information about his sleuth. In part, of course, Pronzini’s been able to do that because of the stories’ focus on the mysteries at hand. But it’s also taken some skillful writing. The novels are written in the first person, from Nameless’ point of view, and that’s made it a bit easier to avoid giving away the name. But there are also some sections written from other characters’ perspectives. And that’s where Pronzini’s writing talent has come in. Most Pronzini fans I know don’t mind not being given the name of the main character for so long. Pronzini has, if you will, written his way around that question very successfully.

Sarah Caudwell created a four-novel series featuring a group of young London lawyers: Timothy Shepherd, Selena Jardine, Michael Cantrip, Desmond Ragwort, and Julia Larwood. Acting as a sort of mentor to these budding attorneys is Shepherd’s Oxford mentor, law professor Hilary Tamar. Each novel features at least one murder and the mystery surrounding it. The cases are solved, and the murderer revealed. But one mystery that is never solved is Hilary Tamar’s sex. Caudwell wrote these novels in first person, from Tamar’s perspective. So in that sense, it was a fairly straightforward matter not to reveal whether Tamar is male or female. But that doesn’t prevent every potential awkwardness in writing. Still, Caudwell managed to keep her writing style smooth, and the focus on the mysteries. So fans will tell you that not knowing Tamar’s sex doesn’t take away from the stories.

And then there’s Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa series, which takes place mostly in the Copacabana section of Rio de Janeiro. Espinosa isn’t what you’d call overly mysterious. The stories are told in part from his point of view, so we learn a bit about his personal life (he’s a divorced father who has very little contact with his children). We know that he’s a book lover with quite a collection and with dreams of owning a bookshop. He’s an essentially good guy who has to operate in an often-corrupt system. But what we never learn about him is his given name. It’s hinted at in A Window in Copacabana, when he has a conversation with a woman he’s trying to protect from a murderer:

 

‘‘When I want to talk to you, I’ll use the name Benedito. Don’t answer calls from anybody else. Remember: I’ll never use the name Espinosa. I’ll only be Benedito.’
‘Is that your first name?’
‘Almost.’’

 

Still, it’s not revealed. Since Gracia-Roza does use Espinosa’s surname, it’s a straightforward matter to tell these stories without any ‘clunkiness.’ But it’s still a bit of a riddle.

What do you think about all of this? Do you find it annoying, for instance, not to know a sleuth’s name (or part of it?). Do you notice those little mysteries within the mysteries you read? If you’re a writer, do you include those sorts of riddles?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bill Pronzini, Colin Dexter, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Sarah Caudwell

You Meet Him On The Street And Never Notice Him*

Nondescript PeopleDo you ever really pay attention to the person who waits your table at a restaurant? To the person who washes your car, handles your bank transaction, or stocks the grocery shelves where you shop? Unless you live in a very small town or rural area, where everyone knows everyone, you may not even know anything about those people. And that’s only natural; there are only so many things and people we can pay close attention to at any one time. So unless there’s something distinctive about a person, so that you really notice, you’re not likely to pay that much attention.

That fact actually plays an important role in crime fiction. Being the sort of person no-one really notices can put a fictional murderer in a very advantageous position. Of course, it works for sleuths, too. The sleuth whom nobody pays much attention to can learn quite a lot.

In G.K. Chesterton’s short story The Invisible Man, private investigator Hercule Flambeau and his friend, Father Brown, investigate the strange murder of Isidore Smythe. What’s particularly odd about this case is that Smythe was murdered without anyone seeing a person going in or out of his apartment. The solution turns out to linked to that phenomenon of not really noticing everyone.

Agatha Christie uses this plot point in more than one of her stories (right, fans of The ABC Murders?). In fact, one of her recurring characters is an interesting example. He is Mr. Goby, a sort of private investigator who is very skilled at finding out information. He’s the sort of nondescript person whom nobody really notices. And so are the people he employs. They’re shop assistants, household staff, newspaper delivery people, and all sorts of other ‘nameless, faceless’ people who have access to information. It’s rare that Mr. Goby isn’t able to get answers.

There’s another kind of anonymity: the kind that comes from social structure. We see that, for instance, in Barbara Neely’s Blanche White. She is a professional housekeeper whom we first meet in Blanche on the Lam. Most of her employers are white, while she is black. In this case, really, the social divisions are along two lines: racial and socioeconomic. In many cases, her employers aren’t particularly interested in knowing her as a person. They see her as ‘the help;’ and, even though she’s a human being, she tends to ‘fade into the background.’ That actually proves to be very useful. Nobody pays much attention when to what she does, as long as the meals are on time and tasty, the laundry’s done, and so on. Once she learns the routine of the households in which she works, Blanche can move around without being much noticed.

There’s also Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce. She’s a pre-teen, so most people don’t notice her as they would an adult. And she takes advantage of that. Even though she lives in the kind of village where people do know each other, she can still ride around on her bike without people checking where she’s going. People don’t raise eyebrows when they see her, and so on. In some senses, she’s limited in terms of what she can learn. But that very limit (her youth) also allows her to escape a lot of notice.

In Luiz Aflredo Garcia-Roza’s Alone in the Crowd, we are introduced to Hugo Breno, a teller at Rio de Janeiro’s Caixa Econômica Federal. He’s not the kind of person that you’d pay much attention to; there’s nothing really distinctive about his appearance. And that’s been very helpful to him. He falls under suspicion when one of his regular customers, Dona Laureta Sales Ribeioro, is killed after falling (or being pushed) under a bus. It turns out that she visited the bank on the day she died, and then went to the police station and asked to speak to Inspector Espinosa. He wasn’t able to break free to speak to her, and now, he feels a sense of responsibility. He also suspects (because of her visit) that her death was no accident. So he takes a special interest in this case, and it turns out that this case touches on his past as well as Breno’s.

And then there’s real estate agent William Heming, whom we meet in Phil Hogan’s A Pleasure and a Calling. He’s not the sort of person you notice very much, or remember well. He’s just the house agent. Once the hands are shaken and the keys turned over, nobody really thinks about him at all. And that’s just how he likes it. What people aren’t aware of is that Mr. Heming is a lot more observant of them than they are of him. And he’s kept keys to all of the houses he’s sold. When a body is discovered in one of the town’s backyards, Mr. Heming is as concerned as anyone. If too much comes out, and people start to notice him, the people in the town might learn that he has interests besides selling homes.

See what I mean? There are all sorts of people we encounter whom we don’t even really notice. And sometimes, that turns out to be a mistake…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Nina Mouskouri’s Bill.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Barbara Neely, G.K. Chesterton, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Phil Hogan