Category Archives: Maj Sjöwall

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.


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

You’ll Find it Takes Teamwork Every Time*

TeamworkIt’s very rare that an individual solves a crime, especially a crime as complex as murder, alone. And even in crime fiction from the classic and Golden Age years, there are plenty of examples of sleuths who work with a partner (e.g. Holmes and Watson, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and Poirot and Hastings). But since the advent of the more modern police procedural, we’ve seen a growth in crime fiction that follows not just one or two sleuths, but a whole team of them. These novels aren’t just stories of the crimes; they are also the stories of the groups of people who solve them. So they are arguably character studies as well as crime novels.

This kind of series can be a bit challenging to write. On the one hand, the author wants a group of interesting, perhaps even eccentric characters. On the other, it’s important to keep the focus on the mystery at hand. That balance isn’t always easy, but when it does work, the result can be memorable.

Beginning in 1956, Ed McBain published a long series of novels featuring the police of the 87th Precinct. Although Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling appear most frequently in this series, it’s really about many other people at the precinct, too. The various characters have their eccentricities and foibles, but they work together as a team, and each one brings something to that team. The series is a long one, and there are several story arcs throughout it that involve the personal lives of the various detectives. But that said, the focus in these novels really is the cases at hand.

Shortly after the 87th Precinct series got underway, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö began their ten-novel Martin Beck series. Starting with Roseanna, this series follows Beck and his Stockholm homicide team as they go about their work. The novels do include story arcs that deal with the characters’ personal lives, and we get to know them as people. They have their eccentricities, as we all do, and they certainly don’t always see eye to eye. But they do work as a team, and they know they depend on each other. Fans will know that Sjöwall and Wahlöö used this series as a way to critique Swedish government and society. Even so, the novels keep their focus on the crimes that are the focus of the novels. The plots don’t tend to get lost, if I may put it that way.

The same might be said of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his team. Beginning with 1970’s A Clubbable Woman, this series follows Dalziel, his assistant, Peter Pascoe, and the various members of their team. On one level, many of the sub-plots and story arcs follow the characters’ personal lives. We get to know their backgrounds, and we see them as people. They’re in some ways a very disparate group, too, so it’s interesting to see how they interact. They don’t always agree; and sometimes, there’s real tension among them. And yet, they do respect each other, and each one adds to the team’s collective ability. That’s arguably why Dalziel supports them as he does. Part of what has made this series so successful is arguably the way in which the characters develop, and their personal stories. But Hill also didn’t lose sight of the mysteries at hand in these novels. The real focus is the set of cases that the team investigates.

One of the most eccentric groups of detectives is the one supervised by Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. His team includes Danglard, a ‘walking encyclopedia’ who drinks far more white wine than you’d think judicious; Mercadet, who deals with narcolepsy; and Betancourt, a naturalist who interacts more effectively with animals than with people. There’s also (in a few novels) Snowball the office cat. These are very disparate characters, and their personal stories are woven through the series. In several story arcs, we learn about their backgrounds and their home lives. They certainly don’t always agree on things, but they do know that they depend on each other and their boss. And Adamsberg knows he depends on his team. These particular characters may not be conventional, but they get the job done. While the stories in this series do include character development, their focus is the mysteries that the team solves.

More recently, Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series also shows how a disparate team of people work together to solve crimes. Montalbano may get irritated with one or another (or even a few) members of his team from time to time. And each member has weaknesses and personal foibles. But all of the team members know that they depend on each other. They’re quite a motley crew, as the saying goes. But they each bring something to the team, and everyone knows that, especially Montalbano. There are story arcs and sub-plots that explore the personal lives of some of the team members, and Camilleri fleshes out the characters. But the focus here, as it is in the other series I’ve mentioned, is the plots – the actual cases.

Thus far I’ve discussed police teams, but there are also plenty of examples of this sort of teamwork outside the police station, too. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features Chapman, who lives and has her bakery in a distinctive Melbourne building. But the stories are most definitely not just about her. Several other people also live and/or have businesses in the same building, and we get to know them all as the series goes on. They’re all quite different, and each has eccentricities. But they do work together and each contributes to the series. Their personal stories are woven into the series in the form of story arcs and sub-plots, but the main focus is the set of mysteries. Greenwood weaves together character development and plot development as the series goes on.

And that seems to be the key to making such ‘ensemble’ series work. Readers want to know about the characters; story arcs and sub-plots can help in this. But such novels work best when the real focus is on the plot. Which ‘ensemble casts’ do you like best? If you’re a writer, do you use teams?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Teamwork.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Ed McBain, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Reginald Hill

I Know You Have Laid a Trap For Me*

Traps and StingsMost criminals don’t want to be caught. So when the police don’t have enough evidence to pursue a conviction, it can be difficult for them to get a confession from the guilty party. There are, after all, limits to what police are allowed to do to obtain a confession. That’s one reason for which police sometimes use ruses and other setups to get criminals to talk.

This is always a bit tricky for the author of a crime novel. As I say, there are limits to what police can actually do. And for authors who write about amateur sleuths, there are limits to what those sleuths can believably do. Still, if it’s credibly done, a ruse or ‘sting’ can build tension in a story, and serve as an interesting plot point.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes uses such means in several of his cases. For example, in The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate a series of strange, coded notes that have been left for Elsie Cubitt. Her husband Hilton is so worried about his wife’s panicked reactions to the notes that he’s asked Holmes to look into the matter. One challenge in this case is to decipher the notes. The other is to catch the person sending them. Before Holmes and Watson can do both, there’s a tragedy in which Cubitt is shot. Elsie is the prime suspect, but Holmes doesn’t believe she’s guilty. A few clues give him a very good idea of who is responsible for the notes, and he uses the very code in which those notes were written to ‘flush out’ the killer and solve the case.

Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table features the stabbing death of the very enigmatic Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects in this murder are the four people, guests at a dinner party he hosted, who were playing bridge in the same room when he died. Each claims to be innocent, of course, although each had a powerful motive and the opportunity. Hercule Poirot is among four sleuths who were also at the fateful dinner party, and he works with the other sleuths to find out who was guilty. He doesn’t really have conclusive proof, even towards the end of the story, and he knows that a confession from the criminal will be the only way to prove his case. So he uses a bit of trickery to get that person to tell what happened. It raises an interesting question of what would be permitted in real life. And that’s not the only Christie novel in which ruses are used to get confessions (I know, I know, fans of 4:50 From Paddington).

The first of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck novels, Roseanna, proves to be a very difficult case. It starts when the body of an unknown woman is pulled from Lake Vättern. She has no documentation, and there are no records of missing persons who match her description. After a great deal of time and effort, she is identified as Roseanna McGraw, an American who was on a cruise tour of Sweden. It takes another several months and a few strokes of luck to narrow down the possibilities to one prime suspect. But even then, Beck and his team know that this killer will not simply give in and submit to an arrest. So they arrange a difficult and (for one team member in particular) dangerous setup – a trap to catch the murderer. In the end, the ruse is successful, and the murderer is caught. But it raises an interesting question about cases where police go undercover to solve cases. How much danger is reasonable? More modern police procedurals show how important protecting the safety of operatives has become, and the developments in both procedure and equipment. But there is still danger.

Margaret Maron’s One Coffee With takes place mostly on the campus of Vanderlyn College, where Riley Quinn serves as deputy department chair of the Department of Art. One morning, department secretary Sandy Kepler goes as usual to the college cafeteria to bring back coffee for the members of the department. She returns with it and places the cups in their usual spot. Then there’s a buzz of activity as students and faculty go in and out of the main office where the cups are. One by one, various people get their coffee. Shortly after he takes his cup, Quinn dies of poison. NYPD Lieutenant Sigrid Harald and her assistant Detective Tildon take the case and begin the investigation. As they trace the events leading up to Quinn’s death, they find that just about everyone had motive for killing the victim. What’s more, enough people had access both the poison and to Quinn’s coffee that it’s very difficult to pin down exactly who was responsible. And even after Harald and Tildon deduce who the killer was, they haven’t enough conclusive proof to pursue the case in court. So Harald sets a trap for the killer, using one of the other suspects as ‘bait,’ if you will.

In Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his team investigate the disappearance of one of their own. Giuseppe Fazio was looking into a case of smuggling when he went missing, so his colleagues decide to follow the trail that he left. They believe that if they pick up where he left off, so to speak, they’ll find him. That turns out to be the right decision, as Fazio is found, wounded but alive. Getting him safely to a nearby hospital, and keeping him protected, is only part of the challenge the team faces. The other is catching the criminals he was after, especially when they end up being responsible for a brutal murder. Montalbano decides that the best way to catch the guilty party is to set up a trap, so with the help of one of the characters, that’s what he does. And in the end, he’s able to expose the murderer quite publicly.

Ruses, traps, and ‘stings’ can be very tricky. There are limits to what’s allowed and what’s feasible. They can be dangerous, and sometimes they don’t work. But they can add some interesting tension to a story. Which ones have stayed with you?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bic Runga’s Captured.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Maron, Per Wahlöö

Watching the Tide Roll Away*

Bodies Washed UpSince most murderers don’t want to be caught, one of their concerns is how to get rid of the bodies of their victims, leaving as little evidence of what happened as possible. That’s where bodies of water can come in very handy. It can take quite a while for a body to wash up on shore, and sometimes the body ends up someplace quite far away from where it was dumped (fans of Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, will know that that point is mentioned in that novel). What’s more, water washes away quite a lot of evidence, so it’s hard to connect a killer to the crime.

Perhaps that’s why there is so much crime fiction in which the body of at least one victim has washed up on a beach. There are many, many such novels; I’ll just mention a few. I know you’ll think of lots more.

Minette Walters’ The Breaker begins when brothers Paul and Daniel Spender decide to explore the area around Chapman’s Pool near the Dorset Coast. They’re on holiday there with their parents, and are eager for a morning excursion of their own. They discover the body of an unknown woman on the beach and give the alarm. The police, in the form of PC Nick Ingram, begin their investigation. It’s not very long before the victim is identified as Kate Sumner, whose toddler daughter Hannah has been found wandering around the nearby town of Poole. In this case, there are only three really viable suspects. One is the victim’s husband William. Another is a local teacher, Tony Bridges. There’s also Bridges’ roommate Stephen Harding. All three had reasons for wanting Kate dead and, because the body had been in the water, there’s very little evidence as to which one is responsible.

In Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore, Vigo police detective Leo Caldas and his assistant Rafael Estevez investigate the death of a fisherman, Justo Castelo. The body was discovered washed up on shore, and it’s assumed that Castelo committed suicide by drowning. But there are little pieces of evidence that suggest that he was murdered. Because the body was in the water and found washed up, though, there’s not very much that specifically suggests a particular suspect. So Caldas and Estevez look into the victim’s background to find out who might have wanted him dead. Little by little, they trace Castelo’s death to a tragic event from the past.

Jørn Lier Horst’s Chief Inspector Willing Wisting investigates a bizarre case of washed-up bodies in Dregs. The story begins with a left foot in a training shoe that washes up on the beach near the Norwegian town of Stavern. The police start investigating immediately, but they haven’t gotten very far when another foot is discovered. And then there’s another. Still, no bodies have washed up. This eerie case is of course picked up by the press and there’s fear that some mad serial killer might be on the loose. So Wisting and his team have to work quickly to find out who the victims were and how they are connected. In the end, they discover that this isn’t the work of a serial killer at all. Instead, the deaths are all connected to the area’s past.

Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective introduces readers to Edinburgh oceanographer and Ph.D. candidate Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill. He’s an expert in wave patterns, and is using his knowledge to try to find out what happened to his grandfather, who was reported lost at sea years earlier. He uses his contacts in the field to follow up on any promising leads, and has managed to identify likely spots where his grandfather might have either landed or been washed up. But there are missing pieces to this puzzle, so in one plot thread, McGill goes to Eilean Isagaich Mor, Great Fishing Island, where his grandparents lived, to try to get some answers. There he finds a much bigger mystery than a case of ‘man overboard.’ At the same time, something else has made him curious. The body of a young woman was discovered off the Argyll coast, and a friend of the victim’s wants McGill’s help in finding out what happened to the woman and who killed her. His knowledge of the way the sea moves proves very helpful in both cases.

There’s also Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel decide to take a getaway holiday at Krabi, on the Thai coast. During their visit, they are especially impressed with their tour guide Pla. So when they find out that she’s been found dead – washed up in a cove – they’re very upset about it. They agree to extend their stay a bit to see if they can find out what happened. The trouble is, though, that there’s not much evidence. The police report suggests that the victim committed suicide. But there are just enough inconsistencies that Keeney isn’t sure that’s what happened. It wouldn’t have been likely to be an accident either, since Pla was an expert swimmer. So Keeney and Patel look into the matter more deeply. In this case, one of the real difficulties is that the water has washed away any clear-cut evidence about who the killer is. It’s not even crystal-clear that this was murder. So the two sleuths have their work cut out for them, as the saying goes.

So does London investigator Catherine Berlin, whom we meet in Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood. She’s been working on a case involving illegal moneylending rackets run by Archie Doyle, and has gotten some useful leads from an informant who calls herself ‘Juliet Bravo.’ When ‘Juliet’s’ body is pulled out of Limehouse Basin, Berlin feels responsible for the woman’s murder. So she decides to find out who killed her. She’s up against several obstacles though. For one thing, the victim never gave her real identity. So finding out who she was will be difficult. And, since the body was in the Basin, there’s little evidence as to what really happened to her. For another, Berlin is suspended for unprofessional conduct relating the case, so she doesn’t have easy access to the reports and other details she needs. Also, she is a registered heroin addict whose legal supplier has just been killed. In a very short time, she’ll be going through withdrawal and be unable to function. So she has to work quickly to find ‘Juliet’s’ killer.

As you can see (but you already know this anyway, I’m sure), it makes sense that there are so many crime novels where the murder victim is somehow dumped into water and left to wash up. I’ve only touched on a few novels that feature this plot point (I know, I know, fans of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Roseanna). Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Otis Redding and Steve Cropper’s (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Annie Hauxwell, Domingo Villar, Jørn Lier Horst, Maj Sjöwall, Mark Douglas-Home, Minette Walters, Per Wahlöö

I Know That I Will Kill Again*

Second MurdersMany crime novels feature more than one murder. And if you think about it, this makes sense. For one thing, there’s an argument that once you’ve crossed the line and taken a life, it’s easier to do it again. Here, for instance, is what the murderer in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile says about it:

‘It’s so dreadfully easy – killing people. And you begin to feel that it doesn’t matter!’

This fictional killer even acknowledges that it could happen again.

There’s also the fact that second murders in novels can be very effective plot devices. Second murders can add to the suspense and keep the reader engaged. They can also make for effective plot twists (e.g. the most likely suspect in a fictional murder becomes a victim).

Like just about any other element in a novel, second murders have to be handled carefully. They have to fall out logically from the plot (i.e. not be included just for shock value). Timing matters, too. If the second murder happens too abruptly, it can jar the reader. If too much time goes by, the reader’s interest lags. There has to be a logical reason for the second murder as well. After all, most of us are not habitual killers, so something credible has to drive a character to that act.

Perhaps the most frequent motive for the second murder is to keep the second victim quiet. Most murderers don’t want to be caught, and if they suspect that someone knows what they’ve done, it’s easy to believe they’d kill to prevent that person from speaking out. That’s what happens in Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger. Postman Joseph Higgins is admitted to Heron Park Hospital for a fractured femur. It’s supposed to be a routine operation; tragically, though, he dies during the procedure. At first it’s put down to a terrible accident, and Inspector Cockrill begins what’s expected to be a routine investigation. But Higgins’ widow is convinced he was murdered. Cockrill takes her very seriously when there’s a second death. This time, it’s a nurse, Sister Marion Bates, whose body is found only hours after she blurted out that she knew Higgins was killed, and by whom. There are, of course, myriad other stories where the killer strikes more than once to keep someone from going to the police.

Sometimes, killers strike more than once because their first victim is accidental. For example, in Colin Dexter’s Death is Now My Neighbor, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are assigned to investigate the shooting death of physiotherapist Rachel James. They don’t make much progress on the case at first, since there seems no obvious motive. Then, journalist Geoffrey Owens, who lives near the first victim, is murdered. Now it looks as though someone may have a grudge against the people who live in that particular area. But Morse and Lewis soon find differently. As it turns out, Owens was the intended victim the whole time; Rachel James was murdered accidentally.

There are also fictional cases where the murderer has more than one target. There’s a second victim (or more) because that’s part of the killer’s plan. That’s what happens in Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House. Stockholm DCI Conny Sjöberg and his team are called in when the body of realtor Hans Vannerberg is discovered in the kitchen of a temporarily-unoccupied home. The homeowner, Ingrid Olssen, claims not to know the victim, and in any case couldn’t have killed him. So the team has to look elsewhere for the murderer. Then there’s another killing, this time of a prostitute who’s murdered in her seedy apartment. There’s another murder, too. In this novel, the second murder happens because the killer targeted a particular group of people.

There are also fictional cases where the murderer kills more than one person so as to ‘hide’ one particular death. The idea here is that that one murder will point more or less directly to the killer. It won’t be so easy to find the real murderer if there are several victims. That’s a plot point, for instance, in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman. In one story thread, a gunman holds up a public transit bus and shoots eight people. At first it seems that a madman has struck. But it’s not that simple. It turns out that one victim, a cop named Åke Stenström, was investigating the murder of a prostitute on his own, and that someone doesn’t want that case solved. Homicide detective Martin Beck and his team learn that in this instance, the killer really only had one target. The other deaths were used, if I may put it this way, as a disguise. There’s an Agatha Christie novel too that has that premise.

Sometimes, the fictional second murder is committed because the killer is after something that isn’t obtained after the first murder. In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, for instance, art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere gets involved in the case of a valuable Velázquez that was ‘safeguarded’ by the Nazis during World War II. When it turns up, decades later, in a Boston pawnshop, the store’s owner is murdered for it. Revere was a friend of the victim’s, and hopes that if he can trace the painting from the time it disappeared during the war, he can find out who the murderer is. As it turns out, more than one person is killed for this valuable artwork.

There are also plenty of cases where there are (at least) two murders that are committed by different people. I won’t give authors and titles, so as to avoid spoilers. But here’s one example. I read a novel where A kills B. Then C (who is in love with B) finds out that A is the murderer and kills that person. That sort of plot is tricky, because it’s a bit more of a challenge to keep everything coherent and keep the focus on the main plot. But it does happen in real life, and it does in crime fiction too.

You’ll notice I’m not mentioning any of the many novels where the second murder indicates a serial killer. It’s not that those stories can’t be well-written. There are certainly high-quality ‘serial killer’ novels out there. But there are also a great many that, well, aren’t of high quality. And in real life, the true serial killer – the psychopath or sociopath – is comparatively rare.

Whatever the motive for a second fictional murder, it has to be credible if the story is to hold up. It also has to fall out naturally from the plot (i.e. not be included merely for interest). When the author does that though, a second murder can add to a story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jarvis Cocker’s I Will Kill Again.


Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Carin Gerhardsen, Christianna Brand, Colin Dexter, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö