Category Archives: Martin Edwards

They Tried to Give Me Advice*

helping-the-policeHave you ever noticed that when people say that they don’t want to tell you how to do your job – they do? And it can be awfully annoying when someone tries to be ‘helpful.’ Even if that person has the best of intentions, it can still be grating. The police have to deal with that whenever there’s a very public case. ‘Armchair detectives’ and members of the media are quick to have their say. And, with the advent of today’s social media, it’s easy for members of the public to second-guess an investigation, too. It’s little wonder that the police can get fed up with all of that ‘help.’ But it’s a part of the job. And besides, the police don’t want to miss an important lead. So, it’s worth the annoyance (well, most of the time) to get a sense of what people think.

There are different ways, too, in which people let the police know what they ‘should be doing.’ And many of them show up in crime fiction. That sort of plot point can add a layer of suspense to a story. It can also be an effective tool for providing clues, if the author wants to do that.

We see one example of telling the police what to do in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings to discover who poisoned Emily Inglethorp. There are several suspects, as she was a wealthy woman. The killer has been clever, too, so it’s not an easy case to solve. But the victim’s friend and companion, Evelyn Howard, is sure she knows who’s guilty. She tells several people, including Hastings and Poirot, that the criminal is Alfred Inglethorp, Emily’s husband. That’s certainly a possibility, but there are other suspects, too, and other leads to follow. Evelyn sticks to her guns, though, as the saying goes, and insists that the police are wasting their time looking at anyone else as the guilty party. And it’s interesting to see how strident she is about what the police should and shouldn’t be doing.

Domingo Villar’s Vigo-based Inspector Leo Caldas has an interesting way to listen to what members of the public have to say. Along with his police duties, he hosts a radio show called Patrolling the Waves. It’s a call-in show that invites listeners to share their concerns, comments and so on – a chance to ‘talk with a cop.’ And Caldas gets all sorts of ‘helpful suggestions’ for improving police work. On the one hand, it’s sometimes tiresome, even frustrating. On the other, Caldas knows that it’s best to have the reputation of being open to public comment. And a call-in show is an ordered way (well, usually) to hear what people have to say without spending too many hours doing so.

Sometimes, the police use press briefings and the like to update the public on their investigations. And, since the media’s job is to inform people, journalists sometimes ask challenging questions. If they’re not handled well, it can seem as though the press is trying to tell the police how to do their jobs. We see that sort of tension in ’s Dregs. Police detective William Wisting and his team are trying to solve a bizarre case. A left food, clad in a trainer, was found near the Norwegian town of Stavern. Shortly afterwards, another was found. And another. The story has made all of the news outlets, and everyone has an opinion on what’s going on. One of the most popular is that there’s some sort of serial killer at work. There’s so much gossip about the investigation that the police believe it’s best to hold a press briefing, so that they have a say in the information that becomes public. Wisting isn’t a big fan of such events, but he knows they have value. During the briefing, he’s grilled on several aspects of the case. One journalist in particular challenges him on several matters, even suggesting that the police have made mistakes. It’s a tense scene, and certainly doesn’t make Wisting’s job any easier.

The police also have their share of input from individuals who call or visit. Sometimes those visits are fruitful; sometimes not. That’s part of what can make the police’s job challenging. In Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood, for instance, Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett gets a call from Orla Payne. Orla’s brother Callum went missing years ago, and no trace of him has been found. Now, Orla wants his case re-opened. When she calls in, though, she’s both emotionally fragile and drunk. So, she’s not very coherent and doesn’t make a very good impression on Scarlett. In fact, she’s all but brushed off. Then, Orla herself dies by suicide (or is it really suicide?). Now, Scarlett wishes she’d accepted Orla’s suggestion to look into Callum’s disappearance. Her guilt is part of what spurs her on to open the case again. And what she finds is a dark story that goes back decades.

And then there’s Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from her native Scotland to Victoria, they’re hoping to make a new start. The trip doesn’t go well, though, as their nine-week-old son, Noah, is not an easy baby. In fact, the flight is dreadful. But, they land safely and start to make their way from Melbourne to their destination, Alistair’s home town. Along the way, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. The police spearhead a massive search, and they get all sorts of advice from the media and the public. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media are full of people’s opinions about what the police ought to be doing, and where they should be looking. People are even more ‘helpful’ when they begin to suspect that one or both of Noah’s parents may have had a hand in whatever happened to him. In the end, we find out the truth. We also see how difficult it can be for the police when everyone wants to make suggestions.

But the fact is, you never know when someone’s ‘help’ may actually include vital information. So, the police know that they can’t shut people out entirely. It makes for an interesting dilemma, and (in crime fiction) a solid source of tension.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Frank Black’s Freedom Rock.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Martin Edwards, Domingo Villar, Jørn Lier Horst, Helen Fitzgerald

Everybody Take Responsibility*

taking-responsibilityEver had the feeling that most companies and their representatives are only too happy to hide behind ‘company policy’ instead of providing good customer service? Yeah, me, too. And it can get disheartening.

But I’m here to say that it’s not always that way. Some people do take personal responsibility for what their companies do and what their customers need. Case in point: something that happened to me. Recently I had a situation with the auto insurance carrier I’ve had for decades. Without boring you with details, I’ll just say that there was a lapse in customer service – one that really disappointed me. But the story doesn’t end there. A few hours after dealing with the issue, I got a call from the representative who’d been working with me. She took personal responsibility for the choice her employer made, and took it upon herself to make things right. And she did. Among other things, it shows that there are people who do their jobs conscientiously and with integrity. It also made me an even more loyal customer. Thanks to that employee who had a sense of personal responsibility. Thanks, Liberty Mutual, for supporting that kind of integrity.

The whole situation got me to thinking about how integrity and conscientiousness can be woven through a genre such as crime fiction, in which we read about the horrible things people can do to each other. It’s got to be done deftly, or the result can be too ‘frothy.’ But it can be done.

Aaron Elkins’ Loot, for instance, introduces readers to Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere. He gets a call one day from his friend, pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. It seems that Pawlovsky’s just gotten a painting he thinks might be very valuable, and he wants Revere to give him a sense of its worth. Revere agrees and goes to the shop. Much to his shock, the painting appears to be a priceless Velázquez. Revere is concerned about such a valuable item left in a pawn shop, and asks to take the art with him while he does some further investigation. This Pawlovsky refuses to do, and, in the end, Revere doesn’t fight him on the subject. He leaves for a few hours of research. When he gets back, he finds that Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Revere feels a real sense of responsibility that he didn’t work harder to keep his friend safe, so he decides to at least find out who killed him. The trail leads all the way back to World War II, when the painting was originally ‘borrowed for safekeeping’ by the Nazis.

In Giles Blunt’s 40 Words For Sorrow, Algonquin Bay (Ontario) Detective John Cardinal learns that a body has been discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. It’s soon established that it’s the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine, who went missing five months earlier. Cardinal was assigned to that original case, and was never able to solve it. He takes personal responsibility for that, and goes himself to visit her mother and tell her the news – something that must be extremely difficult. He also takes responsibility for this new angle on the case, and follows the leads he gets. In the end, he’s able to discover who the killer is.

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts is the first in his series featuring sometimes-lawyer Jack Irish. He’s just coming back to life, so to speak, after the murder of his wife, and has been spending quite a bit of time at the bottom of a bottle. Unfortunately, that’s the state he was in when Danny McKillop was arrested for a drink driving incident that ended in the death of a Melbourne-area activist named Anne Jeppeson. Now McKillop’s out of prison, and wants to meet with Irish. But by the time Irish gets to it, McKillop’s been shot. Irish already feels responsible for McKillop’s imprisonment; he did a horrible job of representing him and he knows it. So he does what he can now to at least make things right for McKillop’s family. He digs into the case more, and finds that McKillop was framed for Jeppeson’s death, and that this ‘accident’ was quite deliberate.

In one plot thread of Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, Trafalgar (British Columbia) Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith discovers that her best friend, Christa Thompson, is being stalked by Charlie Bassing. Smith advises her friend to swear out a complaint and get a restraining order, but that doesn’t go very well. What’s more, Smith’s dealing with a murder case at the moment, and it’s occupying her time. So she doesn’t really follow up. Then, the stalking turns very ugly. Smith feels responsible for what’s happened, and believes that the system (and she!) should have done a better job of protecting Thompson. So she takes it on herself to try to make things right. It’s extremely awkward and difficult, because the whole thing has ruptured the friendship. But Smith isn’t satisfied to just ‘put it in the files.’

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has a similar feeling in The Hanging Tree. One day she gets a call from Orla Payne, who wants her to investigate the twenty-year-old disappearance of Orla’s brother, Callum. Unfortunately, Orla’s drunk when she calls, and not particularly coherent, so Scarlett puts the matter aside. Then one day, she learns that Orla has committed suicide (or was it?). She feels a real sense of responsibility, especially since she’d brushed the victim off. Now Scarlett takes it on herself to dig into the mystery of Callum Payne’s disappearance, and find out what happened to him, and how that might be linked with his sister’s death.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood, in which we meet London investigator Catherine Berlin. She’s been gathering background information on an illegal moneylending racket run by Archie Doyle. As a part of that, she’s been working with an informant who goes by the name of Juliet Bravo. One day, ‘Juliet’ is found dead in Limehouse Basin. Berlin knows that the victim’s safety was her responsibility, and she’s determined to try to make things right by at least finding out who killed her contact. That conscientiousness puts her at odds with her employer, and in very grave danger.

We all have stories, I’m sure, of people who didn’t have that sense of personal responsibility and integrity. I know I do. Once in a while, it’s nice to remember that there are people who act conscientiously – even in crime fiction…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Nylons’ Human Family.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Annie Hauxwell, Giles Blunt, Martin Edwards, Peter Temple, Vicki Delany

Show Me Don’t Tell Me*

Depicting MurdersOne of the questions I’m facing as I work on my new manuscript is whether or not to depict the murder featured in the story. On the one hand, including the murder, especially at the beginning of a story, can be a powerful way to draw the reader in. It really can be a solid ‘hook.’ Showing the murder can also give a novel a solid core around which a plot can be built, and it doesn’t require a gory description.

On the other hand, depicting the murder can be tricky. It requires thought to do it without identifying the murderer. For the whodunit author, for instance, that requires finesse. And even authors who write different kinds of crime fiction (i.e. not whodunits) need to handle the depiction carefully. Otherwise, the writer runs the risk of being melodramatic.

There are really arguments on both sides of this question. And of course, there are plenty of crime novels that are examples of each approach. And as I think you’ll see, it can work either way.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is attending a community picnic where her friend, Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is scheduled to make a speech. He’s an up-and-coming politician who’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition party, so this is an important speech for him. He’s just gotten started when he suddenly collapses on stage and quickly dies of what turns out to be poison. Bowen doesn’t provide all of the details of his death, but the murder is depicted. As a way of coping with her grief at the loss of her friend, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she learns more about him, she also learns that his life was more complicated than she’d thought. And the closer she gets to an understanding of that life, the closer she gets to the truth about the murder.

In one of the main plot threads of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Aberdeen-based oil worker Allan Mitchison is having some drinks with some companions. Mitchison’s drinking buddies take him back to their place, where they murder him. This killing is portrayed clearly. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the murder. Mitchison didn’t have obvious enemies, and he wasn’t important enough, if I can put it that way, to make a difference. As Inspector John Rebus discovers, though, he’d found out some secrets that it wasn’t safe for him to know.

Martin Edward’s The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. He’s on the job one afternoon when he is murdered with his own scythe. This murder isn’t depicted in all of its detail. But readers are witnesses to what happens. At the time of the murder, everyone thinks Howe’s wife Tina is guilty, and she has plenty of motive. Howe is an abusive, unfaithful husband, and those are his good qualities. But the police can’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Ten years later, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty. So DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, decides to re-open the case. When she and her team do so, they find that this case is more complicated, and has deeper roots, than it seems. At the same time, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is working on a mystery of his own. He’s recently taken a cottage with an unusual garden, laid out in a cryptic shape. It turns out that the mystery of the garden is connected to the mystery of who killed Warren Howe, and why.

In all of these novels, the authors show the murders, but they do so in ways that don’t reveal the killers’ identities. What’s more, none of the authors revels in a gore-fest. So the murders aren’t depicted for ‘shock value.’

Still, there are plenty of authors who choose not to depict the murders at the core of their novels. And many readers prefer this style of mystery, as they don’t care much for a lot of violence. For those authors and readers, the ‘hook’ may be the discovery of a body. Or it may be something else.

For instance, in Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his team face a strange case. Comrade Nitnoy, the wife of Senior Comrade Kham, suddenly collapsed and died during an important luncheon. This is 1970s Laos, where the Party is firmly in control, and where everyone knows better than to go against the wishes of a highly-placed Party member. In fact, Party instructions are the reason for which Dr. Siri has become Laos’ medical examiner in the first place. So when he is told that Comrade Nitnoy died of accidental poisoning by parasites in some raw food, he is expected to go along with that explanation, submit a cursory report and be done with the matter. But a few pieces of evidence suggest that something else caused the victim’s death. Now, Dr. Siri has to decide whether and how much to go against his superiors’ wishes to find out what actually happened. In this case, readers don’t see the murder committed. Rather, we learn about the death when Comrade Nitnoy’s body is wheeled into the mortuary. Readers find out more of the details as Dr. Siri talks to people who were at the luncheon, and as he does his own tests to find out how Comrade Nitnoy died.

Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom introduces Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. In that novel, she’s recently opened for business, and is eager to build a clientele. So when she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, she’s hoping she’ll be able to help this new client. As Arvisais tells the story, she had been planning to marry Gordon Hanes. Their engagement ended, though, and Arvisais claimed she’d moved on. Hanes was shot on the day that was supposed to have been their wedding day, and plenty of people blame his ex-fiancée.  Arvisais is spoiled, rude, and malicious. But she claims to be innocent, and a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. As she starts to look into the matter, she finds that more than one person could have had a good motive for murder. The murder of Gordon Hanes isn’t depicted. Rather, Jackson learns what happened as she asks questions and does research.

There are many authors who choose to have a character discover a body, rather than show the murder. That’s what happens in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic. Cambridge academic Cassandra James goes to the home of Margaret Joplin, who heads the English Literature Department at James’ college. She’s stopped by the house to collect some exam paper. Instead, she finds her boss’ body in the pool, and the papers scattered everywhere. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But soon enough, little clues suggest otherwise. As James looks into the death, she finds that the victim had a more complicated life than it seemed.

What do you think? Do you have a preference when it comes to the way authors present murders in the crime fiction you read? If you’re a writer, do you depict the murder, or allude to it? Why?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Show Don’t Tell.

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Filed under Christine Poulson, Colin Cotterill, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jill Edmondson, Martin Edwards

Secret Messages*

Codes and CiphersToday would have been the 104th birthday of British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing. As you’ll know, among many other accomplishments, he played a crucial role in intercepting and deciphering Nazi coded messages. It’s estimated that he and the other members of the Bletchley Park team shortened World War II by several years.

To celebrate his birthday, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a few of the ciphers and codes we’ve seen in crime fiction. You’ll notice that I don’t make reference to the many espionage thrillers in which codes are used: too easy. But even if you take that sort of book out of the equation, there’s plenty of coding used in the genre.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. He’s concerned about his American-born wife, Elsie. They’ve been happy together as a couple, but everything changed when she received a letter containing what looked like a child’s drawing of ‘stick people.’ She won’t explain what’s upset her so much, but she does say that it has to do with her past in Chicago. Other, equally cryptic, messages arrive, including some that are chalked onto one of the windowsills at the couple’s Norfolk home. Then one tragic night, Cubitt is shot and his wife badly injured. Holmes slowly decrypts the coded messages, and uses the code as a ‘bait’ to catch the killer.

In Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant Mervyn Bunter are stranded by a car accident in the small East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. While they wait for their car to be repaired, they stay with the local vicar, Theodore Venables. Their visit occurs during New Year’s Eve, the night of the traditional change-ringing at Venables’ church. One of the ringers has been taken ill, so Wimsey takes his place. The next day, word comes that Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire, has died. Wimsey and Bunter stay on for her funeral, then go on their way when their car is fixed. A few months later, Wimsey gets a letter from Venables. It seems that Sir Henry has died, and there’s a mystery surrounding his death. When the gravediggers prepared the place next to that of Lady Thorpe, they found another corpse already there. Venables wants Wimsey to return to Fenchurch St. Paul to find out the truth about that ‘extra’ body. Wimsey agrees, and he and Bunter make the trip. He finds that the extra corpse is related to a robbery, some stolen jewels, and a mysterious cipher that’s found in the church’s bell tower.

Agatha Christie made use of ciphers and codes in more than one of her stories. In The Clocks, for example, British operative Colin Lamb is in the village of Crowdean, following up on a lead. A fellow operative named Hanbury has been killed, and Lamb wants to find out why and by whom. He knew that Hanbury was investigating an espionage ring, and he has only one clue to that ring: a cipher written on a piece of paper found in Hanbury’s pocket. Lamb happens to be on a street called Wilbraham Crescent when he gets drawn into a case of murder. A young woman named Sheila Webb has discovered the body of an unknown man in the sitting room of a house she was visiting. She gives the alarm and Lamb tries to help. The case is, on its surface, strange, so Lamb takes it to his father’s old friend Hercule Poirot. In the end, Poirot connects the dead man’s murder to two other deaths; in an odd way, it also connects with the case Lamb is working.

Horace Croyden, whom we meet in Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal, is an avid amateur cryptographer. His hobby of choice is working ciphers and he’s proud of his skill. As the story begins, Croyden’s life is going exactly the way he wants. He has a safe, very respectable job at a bank, and a well-ordered, quiet home life. Everything changes when he meets his boss’ cousin Althea. They begin to date and eventually marry, and that’s when the trouble begins. Althea turns out to be much more vivacious than her husband had thought (or hoped). What’s more, she begins to remodel their home with bright shades and modern furniture and décor – all of which Horace dislikes intensely. Then comes the proverbial straw: Althea discovers her husband’s beloved ciphers and burns them. She says she thought they were just useless scraps of paper. But to Horace, they were much more. It’s past the point of tolerance for him, and he takes drastic action because of it…

Of course, not all codes and ciphers have to be written on paper, or even electronic. In Martin EdwardsThe Cipher Garden, for instance, Oxford historian Daniel Kind discovers an unusual sort of cipher. He’s taken a cottage in the Lake District, and is setting it up the way he wants. He notices that the cottage’s garden is an unusual shape and, gradually, comes to see that it’s actually a cipher. As he’s slowly working out what it means, DCI Hannah Scarlett of the Cumbria Constabulary has a strange case of her own. Ten years earlier, landscaper Warren Howe was found murdered by his own scythe. At the time, his widow, Tina, was suspected of the crime. But the police couldn’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Now, anonymous tips suggest that she really was guilty. So Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team look into the matter again. As it turns out, that case is connected to Kind’s own mystery, and not just by the fact that Warren Howe worked for the company that created that garden.

Ciphers and codes have been embedded in crime fiction (and espionage fiction) for a very long time. And as Alan Turing’s work shows, they’ve been critical to real-life history, too. Which ‘coded’ stories have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of song by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Martin Edwards, Talmage Powell

Back to the Beginning Again*

Circular NarrativeOne option for telling a story is by means of a circular narrative. That narrative structure begins and ends a story in more or less the same place, often with the tale of how the character ended up in that place being the main plot.

There are a lot of ways to go about using this structure in crime fiction. Sometimes those beginning/ending ‘bookends’ are detailed and obvious. Sometimes they’re less so. Either way, it’s an interesting way to give a crime story a form.

Agatha Christie arguably uses the circular narrative structure in Sad Cypress. That novel begins at the trial of Elinor Carlisle, who’s been arrested and charged in connection with the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard, daughter of the lodgekeeper at Elinor’s family home, Hunterbury. After the opening scenes, Christie tells us that the story really all began with an anonymous letter to Elinor. The letter claimed that someone had ‘designs’ on her elderly Aunt Laura’s fortune. Then, the story moves on to Elinor’s trip to Hunterbury with her fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman. We learn then of Roddy’s growing infatuation with Mary, of the breakup of his engagement with Elinor, of Aunt Laura’s death (and the fortune at stake), and of Mary’s poisoning. Local GP Dr. Peter Lord has fallen in love with Elinor, and wants her name cleared, so he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees, and the story proceeds to the climax, where we return to the trial. There, Poirot’s investigation leads to some startling evidence that changes the course of the trial.

Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid A Scandal also takes a rather circular path. It begins as Horace Croyden tells a listener that he wants to explain exactly what happened, so the listener won’t get the wrong impression from lurid newspaper stories. Then, Croyden proceeds to tell his story. He’s a staid, old-fashioned banker with quiet good taste, who’s always had a horror of creating a scandal, or even getting public notice. He keeps his home scrupulously neat, and works ciphers as a hobby. Then one day, as he tells the story, he met his boss’ cousin Althea, and the two began what Croyden thought would be a dignified courtship that would end in marriage. At first, that’s exactly what it was. But then, he found Althea was more vivacious than he’d thought (or hoped for). What was worse, she redecorated their home with more modern taste, and in other ways, didn’t behave in ways he thought were ‘ladylike.’ The proverbial straw came when she destroyed the ciphers her husband was working, and he took the only action he felt he could. Now, the story returns to the beginning, so to speak, as Croyden explains why he did what he did.

James M. Cain’s novella Double Indemnity has a touch of the circular narrative, too. In it, insurance salesman Walter Huff tells the story of his meeting with Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his clients. He goes on to tell of his attraction to Phyllis, of the affair they start, and of its disastrous consequences. As the story begins, we can see that he’s actually telling it to a reader. And as the story ends, it comes full circle and we learn where Huff is as he writes, and why he’s actually writing the story to begin with.

In Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair, we are introduced to Gilbert Hand, junior partner in a publishing/bookselling firm. The story begins as Hand tells the reader (as if speaking to a listener),
 

‘I’m not going to give explanations and make excuses. I’ll tell you what happened, and you can draw your own conclusions.’
 

Then, Hand explains how, after the death of his wife, Rachel, he moved to a respectable London hotel for a change of scenery, and perhaps, to get ready to start his life again. There, he found a long coil of dark hair hidden in the davenport in his room. That discovery led to the development of an obsession with the person who put it there, and, ultimately, to tragedy. At the end, the narrative returns to the beginning, as Hand addresses his listener again. And here, we learn where Hand has been all along as he’s told his story.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman is the fictional retelling of the story of Dr. Hawley Crippen, and the famous murder of his wife, Cora. Edwards’ account begins and ends with notes from the Chief Government Archivist. In them, it’s clear that a manuscript written by Crippen has been discovered, and that it sheds a completely new light on the murder. The story itself begins as Crippen is in prison, awaiting execution. He tells of his early life, his young adulthood, his meeting with Cora, their marriage, and his later meeting with Ethel Le Neve. As the story goes on, we see the events from his perspective as doubts are raised about exactly what happened to Cora. Then, the story goes round again and ends with Crippen about to be executed. It’s an interesting way to tie the events together.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. That novel begins with an account of the discovery of the murders of Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan, and their son Sam. It’s told in first person, from the point of view of Angela and Rowan’s daughter Katy, who wasn’t home at the time of the murders. Then, the story moves to the perspective of Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She learns that Connor Bligh has been in prison for several years for those murders, but that there is a possibility he is innocent. If he is, this could be the story to establish Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. So she begins to ask questions. The more questions she asks, the closer she gets to the story – too close for objectivity.  But eventually, Thorne learns what really happened on the day of the murders. The story comes round again at the end, and there are references to the same story Katy starts to tell at the beginning.

As you can see, there are several ways to tell a story. One option for telling a story is by means of a circular narrative. That narrative structure begins and ends a story in more or less the same place, often with the tale of how the character ended up in that place being the main plot.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, James M. Cain, Martin Edwards, Paddy Richardson, Talmage Powell