Category Archives: Martin Edwards

It Seems That Ancient Adage Still Applies*

SayingsI’ll bet you’ve heard them all your life. You may even use them and live by them yourself. I’m talking about sayings and proverbs that are passed along in a culture. Whether they directly reflect a culture’s values and viewpoint or are more universal in nature, sayings, adages and proverbs are woven into the way we think and sometimes act. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of sayings and proverbs written into crime fiction in one way or another.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories include sayings. For example, in Murder in Mesopotamia, Hercule Poirot interrupts his travel in the Middle East to investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. She was the wife of noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, who’s been working with his dig team at a site a few hours from Baghdad. This story is told from the point of view of Amy Leatheran, a nurse who was hired as a sort of watchdog/companion for Mrs. Leidner. When she first meets Poirot, Nurse Leatheran is not exactly impressed, and her lack of faith in him is soon evident. Here’s what Poirot says about it:
 

‘‘You disapprove of me, ma soeur? Remember, the pudding proves itself only when you eat it.’
The proof of the pudding’s in the eating, I suppose he meant.
Well, that’s a true enough saying, but I couldn’t say I felt much confidence myself!’
 

By the end of the novel, as you can imagine, Nurse Leatheran’s opinion of Poirot’s abilities has improved…

The title of one of Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant novels, The Daughter of Time, comes from a saying attributed to Sir Francis Bacon: ‘Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.’ And it’s a fitting title for a novel in which Inspector Grant looks into a very old case. He’s been laid up with a broken leg, and as he’s recuperating, he gets interested in a portrait of King Richard III.  As he reflects on the portrait, it occurs to him that the king may not have been the evil murderer that history made him out to be. If that’s true, then the famous case of the Princes in the Tower could have an entirely different explanation. With that possibility in mind, Grant sets out to learn the truth about the tower case.

A Basque proverb, ‘A life without friends means death without company,’ is woven into Craig Johnson’s Death Without Company. In that novel, Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates the poisoning murder of Mari Baroja, an elderly member of Wyoming’s Basque community. At first there doesn’t seem much motive for the murder, but soon enough, the trail leads to the network of relationships among some of the people in the area. Those relationships go a long way back, and it’s in an event fifty years old that Longmire finds the root of this modern-day murder. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the saying is a very appropriate choice of title for the novel.

Michael Robotham’s Lost begins with a German proverb: ‘Wealth lost, something lost; honor lost, much lost; courage lost, all lost.’ In this novel, DI Vincent Ruiz wakes up in a hospital with bullet wound in his leg. He has no memory of how he got there, nor how he came to be hurt. All he remembers is being pulled out of the Thames. He works with his friend, psychiatrist Joe O’Loughlin, to get answers. It turns out that Ruiz was working on the disappearance of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle, who went missing three years earlier. It was always assumed that the child had been killed by Harold Wavell, who’s actually in prison for that crime. But Ruiz came to believe that Wavell might be innocent, and that Mickey may still be alive. He was following up on leads in this case when he was shot. With O’Loughlin’s help, Ruiz pieces together what he had already learned, and discovers the truth about the disappearance.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take begins, in prologue form, with a four-year-old child and the old prayer, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep…’ (I can’t say more about the prologue for fear of spoilers). This may not be, strictly speaking, an adage, but it’s been a part of, especially, Christian culture for a very long time. Sixty years after the events in the prologue, Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir takes on a new client Jónas Júlíusson, who owns an upmarket spa and resort. He wants to sue the former owners of the land where his spa is located, because, so he claims, the place is haunted and the former owners never informed him of that. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she is interested in the fee. And the chance for a stay at a spa is just as welcome. So she travels to the spa to start working the case. She’s not been there long when there’s a murder, with her client as the most likely suspect. He asks Thóra to continue acting for him, and she agrees. It turns out that this recent murder has everything to do with the sixty-year-old events.

Sayings, proverbs and the like also come from other religious traditions. For instance, John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a member of the Royal Thai Police. He is also an observant Buddhist. More than once in this series, Burdett weaves in a saying or adage from the Buddha. And of course, Buddhist teachings are at the core of the way Sonchai thinks and tries to act.

There’s another interesting use of sayings in Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen series. These novels take place for the most part in post-Mao Shanghai, where Mao’s writings and sayings are still very much etched into the national consciousness. Interestingly enough, this society is also strongly impacted by much older proverbs and sayings. Since Chen is, among other things, a poet (as is his creator), he’s particularly observant of words and sayings. Their use in this series reflects much about the world views of the people Chen encounters.

And that’s the thing about adages, proverbs and sayings. We may not think about them very much, but they can reveal a great deal about a people’s way of looking at the world. Which sayings and proverbs have stayed the most with you?

 

A Programming Note…

I have a bit of a background in writing and words and language, so of course sayings in crime fiction interest me. But I’m by no means an expert in everything about the genre. So I’m going to call in a real expert to talk about Golden Age writers. As you know, I don’t do book reviews, and almost never do I do author promo. But Martin Edwards knows more about the Golden Age of crime fiction than I ever could, and I think you’ll find what he has to say very interesting. So I’m very pleased to announce that he’ll be right here on Tuesday. Do tune in!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston’s The Moon Got in My Eyes.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, John Burdett, Josephine Tey, Martin Edwards, Michael Robotham, Qiu Xiaolong, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Same as the Old Boss*

Bad BossesAs I mentioned yesterday, having a supportive, competent boss can make all the difference in your professional world. But not everyone is so fortunate. If you’ve ever had a terrible boss, you know what a nightmare that can be. That kind of work stress can be intolerable.

There are of course plenty of crime-fictional examples of incompetent, non-supportive and even downright malicious, sadistic bosses. Creating these characters can be tricky, since most crime fiction fans don’t want unidimensional characters. Most people, even awful bosses, have at least some redeeming quality. But an annoying (or worse) boss can give the author lots of opportunity for conflict, sub-plots and so on.

Michael Connelly’s LAPD cop Harry Bosch has a boss who certainly makes his life difficult. In The Black Echo, we are introduced to Irvin Irving, then a Deputy Chief. In more than one of the books in this series, Irving shows that he’s self-protective and highly political. He’s also not in the least bit above squelching any honest investigation that may make him or the department look bad. So even those not deeply familiar with this series will be able to guess that he makes life very difficult for Bosch and sometimes represents a real threat to him. Connelly doesn’t give Irving’s character only one facet though. He is competent, and people loyal to him will tell you that he stands up for the police force. But to Bosch, for whom integrity is essential, Irving is part of what’s wrong with the department.

Fans of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series will know that he is saddled with a dreadful boss, Vice Questore Giuseppe Patta. Patta is a toady to the rich and well-connected. More than that, he’s an ambitious man who’s not above ‘glory-grabbing’ to make his mark. In several novels he interferes with investigations, pulls Brunetti from cases, and in other ways impedes work. Most of the time it’s because he’s being protective both of his own reputation and of those of the rich, powerful people he thinks can do him some good. Brunetti is no fool, though; more than once, he and Patta’s assistant, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, use Patta’s vanity, arrogance and ambition against him.

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has a boss, ACC Lauren Self, who isn’t much better. Self is also ambitious, and well aware that moving up into the higher echelons of police power is still easier for men than for women. So she does everything she can to improve her political position. Even Scarlett, who has little but contempt for Self, admits that her boss is very good at getting influential people on her side. She manages the social aspect of police politics quite well. But underneath that exterior, Self can be very malicious, even backstabbing. Certainly she’s not respectful of the people who work for her; nor does she listen to what they tell her about what’s really going on as they investigate. Again, Edwards doesn’t depict Self as one-sided. She does have skills. But she certainly hasn’t endeared herself to her team members.

Sometimes, even when you have a boss you like and respect, things can change if that boss leaves, transfers or is temporarily away. That’s what happens in Katherine Howell’s Web of Deceit. New South Wales Police Detective Ella Marconi likes and respects her usual boss Dennis Orchard. But he’s on a temporary assignment elsewhere, so Brad Langley steps in as acting head of homicide. On the one hand, he knows and follows police procedure, and is competent at what he does. It’s no surprise that he’s been tapped to head this team. On the other hand, he is, as Howell tells us,
 

‘…a numbers man.’
 

He doesn’t use department resources wisely, and he doesn’t listen to the people who work for him. What’s more, he can be publicly rude to his team members, especially when they suggest anything other than what he outlines for them. It’s little wonder Marconi misses Orchard.

Adrian Hyland’s Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest also has a very bad experience with a temporary boss. In Gunshot Road, we learn that she’s just begun her duties as an ACPO, and is hoping to work with Tom McGillivray, whom she likes and respects. But when he is badly injured, Tempest is assigned to work with Bruce Cockburn. From the very first, they dislike each other. Cockburn is brusque and disrespectful. He’s sometimes rude and not one to pay much attention to what Tempest says. For his part, Cockburn finds Tempest too much of a maverick and too tactless. So when they investigate the shooting death of former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins, they butt heads almost immediately. Matters worsen between them as the novel goes on. Hyland doesn’t depict Cockburn as all bad. Some of the things he says are right, and the points he makes well-taken. He’s not completely incompetent, and Tempest makes her share of mistakes. But Cockburn is certainly not skilled at supervising with any kind of respect.

Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka police detective Patrik Hedström also has an insufferable boss. Bertil Mellberg. Especially in the earlier novels in the series, he is rude, lazy and disrespectful. He is also ambitious, and considers his current assignment to be a ‘backwater.’ His only goal is to be transferred ‘up the pole’ to the bigger and more prestigious police department in Göteborg. Admittedly, as the series evolves, it becomes a little easier to work with Mellberg. He gets a little more responsive to his team and actually does some work on his own. But he’s hardly ‘boss of the year’ material.

If you’ve ever had a ‘nightmare boss,’ you know what an impediment it is. But perhaps some of the really unpleasant fictional bosses will make the ones you’ve had seem a bit better by comparison…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. I couldn’t resist the symmetry…

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Camilla Läckberg, Donna Leon, Katherine Howell, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly

Meet the New Boss*

BossesUnless you’re self-employed, chances are you’ve got a boss. If you’re fortunate, you have a supportive boss who looks out for you and helps you to develop and use your skills. That makes sense when you think about it. After all, if you look good, your boss looks good. Of course, you may be unlucky enough to have a boss who’s not supportive at all, and that can make your work life horrible. Either way, bosses play an important role in the way we feel about our work.

Bosses also play important roles in crime fiction. Some crime fictional sleuths are independent PIs; except for laws and policies that govern what they’re allowed to do, they don’t have bosses in the usual sense of the word. But a lot of fictional detectives have bosses (some are also bosses themselves). Here are just a few examples.

Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is sometimes unorthodox in his approach to solving cases. Just as one example, the alternate title of The Bushman Who Came Back is Bony Buys a Woman. No, it’s not exactly the way it sounds; it’s more complicated than that. And no, Bony isn’t a human trafficker. But he does have different ways of going about things. In that particular novel, he has a rather unusual way of helping one of the other characters as he solves the mysterious shooting of a housekeeper. Sometimes his approach gets him into trouble with the ‘higher ups’ in the Queensland Police. But Bony is fortunate enough to have a boss who understands both his value to the police and his not-always-by-the-book ways. So although they do ‘butt heads’ from time to time, Bony knows that his supervisor supports him and wants him to use his skills.

On the surface of it, you might not think that Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel would make a particularly good boss. After all, as fans will know, he’s demanding, sometimes quite rude, and certainly not one to care much about the finer sensibilities of his staff. And as the saying goes, he does not suffer fools gladly. But he is in many ways a very supportive boss. He’s not at all one to gush, but he is well aware that he’s got a good team of people working for him. And he looks after them, too. For example, in Child’s Play, the team is investigating the case of a man who’s found murdered not long after claiming to be the son (and only heir) of a wealthy woman who’s recently died. In the meantime, Sgt. Wield faces a difficult personal matter. He’s gotten involved in a relationship with a young drifter who has his own agenda. Now Wieldy has to decide what to do about coming out as gay. When internal police politics threaten Wieldy’s career, Dalziel finds a very clever way to protect his sergeant. He takes care of the rest of his team too, even when it doesn’t seem so.

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg supervises a very unusual team of detectives. At first glance, it seems as though they’d be any boss’ nightmare. One’s a narcoleptic, one has an uncomfortably close relationship with the bottle, and one works better with animals than with people. But Adamsberg is a supportive boss. For one thing, he knows he’s not perfect either. For another, he knows that he has a team of skilled detectives who are good at their jobs. So he looks out for them and listens to them. They may be misfits in a lot of people’s estimation, but Adamsberg gets the best out of them.

The same is true of the team at Andrea Camilleri’s fictional Vigàta constabulary. Inspector Salvo Montalbano can be short-tempered and brusque with people, including those he supervises. And anyone who works for him knows better than to interrupt him when he’s eating. But they also know they can count on him. For one thing, he’s a fine detective. For another, he’s loyal to them and cares about them. As an example, in one plot thread of Dance of the Seagull, one of Montalbano’s team members, Giuseppe Fazio, goes missing. Montalbano immediately puts together a plan to find him. At the time of his disappearance, Fazio was following up some leads on a dangerous smuggling ring, and pursuing that case seems to be the best chance to find him. So Montalbano and the team do exactly that. They find Fazio too, wounded but alive. Throughout the novel, we see how Montalbano’s leadership and his loyalty to his team play roles in what happens.

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has to learn leadership skills as she takes over and heads up the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. At first it’s seen as a demotion – a punishment for a case that went wrong. But Scarlett is determined to do the best job she can. And she loves her work. So she buckles down and develops the skills she needs to get the best from her team members. Along the way, she has to deal with some very complicated relationships and with the inevitable performance evaluations and other paperwork involved in being a boss. In this series, we get a look at what it’s like to learn how to be a supervisor and lead a team.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman may not head up a large team, but she cares about the people who work for her. Chapman is a Melbourne baker with two shop assistants, Kylie Manners and Gossamer ‘Goss’ Judge. She also has an apprentice baker, Jason Wallace. All three employees are young, and sometimes need some adult guidance. For example, Kylie and Goss have a potentially very dangerous encounter with some weight-loss tea in Devil’s Food. When Chapman learns what’s happened, she does what’s needed to help take care of them and ensure that they’ll be all right. For his part, Jason is learning to live on his own, without the use of drugs. He makes his share of mistakes, but Chapman supports him as he starts to grow up. In turn, all three of the young people are just as loyal to their boss. They step in when needed, they work to make sure that customers are happy, and they are trustworthy.

Those relationships are possibly the best thing about being (or having) a good boss. If you are a good boss, you get your subordinates’ loyalty and best work. If you have a good boss, you get the chance to develop your skills, and you grow professionally. You also forge really positive relationships. Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have a good boss; that’s the stuff of another post…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill

Sometimes I Don’t Speak Right*

Difficult InterviewsInterviews with witnesses and suspects are critical to any investigation. Certainly those people can lie or be wrong; still, what they say and don’t say often provides important information about a case. Some witnesses (and suspects too) are particularly challenging to interview. They may have mental or emotional limitations that make it hard to reach them; and it may be difficult to make sense of what they say. Sleuths have to be especially careful in those cases, and use all of their interviewing skills to get the information they need.

In crime fiction, this challenge can add a layer of interest and suspense to a story. It’s got to be done carefully, or the witness/suspect can seem more of a ‘curiosity object’ than a real human being. But in deft hands, such a plot point can add some depth to a novel.

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders has a few interesting examples of this sort of interview. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate a series of killings. The only things the murders seem to have in common is that Poirot receives a cryptic warning note before each death, and that an ABC railway guide is found near each body. In the course of the investigation, Poirot interviews Lady Clarke, who is the widow of the third victim, retired throat specialist Sir Carmichael Clarke. She has cancer, and is kept under sedation most of the time because of the pain. This means that arranging a conversation with her requires planning, so that she can remain lucid during the interview. When Poirot speaks with her, she does ‘drift off’ at times. But she also has moments of clarity; and she says some things that turn out to be very helpful.

Interviewing children nearly always requires delicacy and care. That’s especially true in the case of seven-year-old Melody Quinn, whom we meet in Jonathan Kellerman’s When the Bough Breaks. Melody is the only witness to the murders of psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez, so LAPD detective Milo Sturgis wants to find out what she knows. But she’s not always coherent, and Sturgis is sure there’s more she could tell the police. He asks his friend, child psychologist Alex Delaware, for help. Delaware is reluctant at first; but in the end he agrees to at least speak to the child. When he does, he discovers that she’s heavily medicated with Ritalin and other drugs intended for children with ADHD. After considerable effort, Delaware convinces her mother Bonita to allow him to reduce her daughter’s medication so he can communicate with her. When he does, the child starts having nightmares and showing other symptoms of distress, so neither Bonita nor Melody’s doctor allow him any more access to her. But what she says during their short time together turns out to be significant.

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn takes an interest in the murder of a colleague Reed Gallagher, who headed the School of Journalism. One of Gallagher’s students, Kellee Savage, may have important information about the murder. As she’s also in one of Kilbourn’s classes, the two talk about the death. But Kellee has psychological and emotional conditions; and it’s not easy to interact with her. So at first, Kilbourn doesn’t take seriously some of the things Kellee says. Then one night, Kellee disappears. As the investigation goes on, Kilbourn learns that Kellee had some valuable knowledge about Gallagher’s death.

Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is the story of Chicago surgeon Dr. Jennifer White. She’s been diagnosed with dementia, and has had to leave her profession. But as the story begins, she still has many more good days than bad days. One night, the woman next door, Amanda O’Toole, is murdered. Her body has been mutilated in a skilled way that only a surgeon would be likely to know, so police detective Luton naturally takes an interest in White. And as she investigates, Luton finds more and more reason to think White is guilty. But at the same time, the evidence doesn’t completely add up; there are enough inconsistencies that it’s also quite possible White is innocent. But she is gradually slipping away from coherent thinking, so Luton finds it very hard to interact with her at times. In the end we discover what really happened to the victim, and it’s interesting to see how Luton goes about finding out the truth.

Martin EdwardsThe Hanging Wood introduces readers to Orla Payne, a troubled young woman who is haunted by the disappearance of her brother Callum twenty years earlier. Everyone’s always thought their uncle had something to do with what happened, but Orla’s never really believed that. Still, Callum hasn’t returned and his body was never discovered. Orla wants the case re-opened, so she calls the Cumbria Constabulary to ask DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team to look into it. But she is drunk when she calls, and emotionally very fragile in any case, so Scarlett finds it difficult to talk to her. Then Orla dies, apparently a suicide. Now Scarlett feels guilty for not having worked harder to communicate with Orla, and commits herself to finding out the truth about Callum’s disappearance.

There’s a very interesting case of a witness/suspect with limitations in T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton. The body of a mysterious young woman Sarena Gunasekera is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. There’s good reason to believe that Elton Spears is responsible for her death. For one thing, he’d already been in trouble with the law before for inappropriate contact with young girls. For another, he was known to be in that area at the time of the murder. Solicitor Jim Harwood knows Spears, and takes on his case. Working with this client isn’t easy though. Spears is a mentally troubled man who isn’t always coherent. He can’t do much to defend himself; he can’t even really explain his movements on the night in question. But Harwood wants to clear Spears’ name, so he and barrister Harry Douglas, who will defend the case in court, work to prove the young man innocent.

In real life, police and attorneys (and other investigators) sometimes have to work with witnesses or suspects who can’t be coherent and don’t seem reliable. And yet, those people can sometimes have important insights and valuable clues. So part of the task of solving a case is to find ways to reach those witnesses and suspects. That plot point can add a real layer of suspense to a crime story, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from War’s Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alice LaPlante, Gail Bowen, Jonathan Kellerman, Martin Edwards, T.J. Cooke

You Had to Have the Last Word Last Night*

WisecracksThere’s a great deal of sadness in a lot of crime novels, even those that don’t count as ‘bleak’ or noir. And that makes sense, since there’s nothing amusing about murder. So it can come as a welcome lift when one of the characters has enough of a sense of wit to make wisecracks. Those ‘wiseacre remarks’ have to be handled well, or they can be off-putting. But when they are deftly done, they can add a ‘lift’ to a story. Here are just a few examples to show what I mean. Oh, and you’ll notice that I haven’t included ‘screwball’ novels: too easy…

In Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), wealthy Emily Arundell knows very well that her relatives would love to get their hands on her fortune. She tells them that they’ll have to be content to wait for her death, and a frightening fall down a flight of stairs convinces her that someone is willing to hurry her along, as the saying goes. That’s when she writes to Hercule Poirot. She doesn’t specify exactly what she wants from him, but Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the village of Market Basing to investigate. By the time they get there though, it’s too late: Emily Arundell has died of what seems to be liver failure. When it becomes clear that she was poisoned, Poirot looks among her relatives and employees to find out who the murderer is. One source of information on the history of the Arundell family and their home Littlegreen House is Caroline Peabody, who’s known the family for years. Miss Peabody may be elderly, but she’s alert and intelligent, and not afraid to speak her mind. Here is a bit of a conversation she has with Hastings:
 

‘‘You are his secretary, I suppose?’
‘Er – yes,’ I said doubtfully.
‘Can you write decent English?’
‘I hope so.’
 ‘H’m – where did you go to school?’
‘Eton.’
‘Then you can’t.’’
 

Hastings can’t really come up with the right rejoinder to that.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s work will know that it’s infused with wisecracks. Those remarks lighten up what are sometimes very sad stories. And those quips come from several of the characters. For instance, in The Wings of the Sphinx, Inspector Montalbano and his team investigate the murder of an unknown young woman whose body is found near a local landfill. Here’s a bit of the conversation Montalbano has with his second-in-command Mimì Augello shortly after he’s roused early in the morning when the body is found:
 

‘‘Mimì, couldn’t you have scratched your balls by yourself?’
‘Salvo, I’m not going to play your game anymore.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean that if I hadn’t had you come here, later you’d be driving me crazy saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this, why didn’t you tell me that…’’
‘What’s the corpse like?
‘Dead,’ said Augello.’
 

There’s not much Montalbano can say in response to that…

Martin Edwards’ Lake District series features DCI Hannah Scarlett, who heads up the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. That’s not of course the only team at the constabulary, and Scarlett’s made friends with Fern Larter, who heads a team of her own. In The Serpent Pool, the two work together to connect a six-year-old drowning death that Scarlett’s investigating with two recent murders that Larter’s investigating. One of those is the killing of book collector George Saffell. At one point, they’re discussing the Saffell case, in particular the Saffell family background:
 

‘‘For good measure, there’s a villa in Spain, but so far I haven’t managed to wangle a trip out there to hunt for clues.’ [Larter]
‘You’re slipping.’ Fern’s ability to persuade the top brass that trips overseas were vital to her latest investigation were the stuff of legend. ‘How about a trip to New Zealand, for a word with the daughter? They say it’s a beautiful country.’
‘Lynsey came back to England for the funeral,’ Fern pouted.’
 

Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series takes place mostly in Absaroka County, Wyoming, where Longmire is sheriff. Some of these stories are very sad, but there’s also a dose of wit. And some of that wit comes from exchanges between Longmire and his deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti. In Death Without Company for instance, Longmire has assigned her to wait outside a local supermarket to ‘collect’ a group of shoppers to serve as talis jurors, so they can fill out the local jury pool. Here’s a bit of their exchange about that:
 

‘I watched as my…deputy accosted a middle-aged man…copied down information from his driver’s license and informed him that he needed to get over to the courthouse pronto or be faced with contempt of court. ‘Well, there’s another notch on my Glock.’
…‘Hey, there are worse places for stakeouts. At least we’ve got plenty of supplies.’’
 

Then, Moretti asks what a talis juror is.
 

‘‘It’s from the Latin. Meaning bystander. You’re Italian, you should understand these things.’
‘I’m from Philadelphia, where we vote early and often, and everybody on the jury has a vowel on the end of his name.’’
 

Fans of this series will also know that there are plenty of wisecracks between Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear, who runs the Red Pony Inn.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish is a sometimes-lawyer who also has a knack for finding people who don’t want to be found, and for finding out secrets people would rather keep. As a way of keeping his sanity, he’s informally apprenticed himself to master cabinetmaker Charlie Taub. Irish richly enjoys working with the wood and creating new things. He also enjoys the interactions he has with Taub. For his part, Taub is absolutely not one to gush. But he does like having Irish around. Here’s a bit of an exchange they have in Bad Debts, when Irish pays a visit after not having been there for a bit:
 

‘‘So,’ he said without looking at me. ‘Man who finds the scum of the earth. Man who breaks his parents’ hearts. Horses and criminals. That’s his life.’…
‘I gather you missed me a lot then?’
Another snort ‘What I miss, I miss someone finishes little jobs I give him. Like little tables. Day’s work for a man who actually works.’’

 

There’s not much Irish can say to that…

There’s also Donna Malane’s Surrender, in which missing persons expert Diane Rowe gets involved in the murder of James Patrick ‘Snow’ Wilson. A year earlier, Rowe’s sister Niki was murdered, and Snow admitted being hired to do the job. But he never gave the name of the person who hired him. Now he’s been killed in exactly the same way. Rowe believes that if she can find out who killed Snow, she’ll find out who killed her sister. So she looks into the case. Niki was an exotic dancer at a club, so Diane starts there to find out what her sister’s connections were, and who might have wanted her dead. One possibility is club regular Richard Brownlee, who paid quite a lot of attention to Niki. Brownlee’s crude, arrogant sexism does not exactly endear him to Diane. Here’s a bit of the conversation they have:
 

‘One of the girls at the club told me you had a bit of a thing for my sister.’…
‘What kind of a thing would that be, babe? No offence, but she was a whore.’
I was determined not to let him get to me. ‘She said you didn’t like other guys spending time with Niki. That you liked to have her all to yourself. I heard you were jealous.’
Richard barked a laugh. ‘Now that would be pretty stupid, wouldn’t it?’
‘Yep,’ I agreed pleasantly. ‘But then, you see, that would fit nicely with my assessment of you so far.’
 

Needless to say, everyone has a good laugh at Brownlee’s expense.

And, at the risk of making this post go on too long, here is my top wisecrack, from Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate the murder of Eva Ringmar, whose body is found in her bathtub. Her husband, Janek Mitter, discovers the body when he wakes up hung over after a long night of drinking. As you can imagine, he becomes the chief suspect and in fact, is arrested for the crime. He claims he’s innocent, and at his trial, an officious prosecutor asks how he knows he didn’t kill his wife, since he was so drunk at the time of the murder. Here’s Mitter’s reply:
 

‘I know I didn’t kill her; because I didn’t kill her. Just as I’m sure that you know you are not wearing frilly knickers today, because you aren’t. Not today.’ 
 

That, to me, is priceless. And it helps to spur Van Veeteren on to investigate the murder more thoroughly.

There are of course a lot of other great wisecracks in crime fiction, even in very sad stories (I know, I know fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series). Which ones have stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Big Shot.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Craig Johnson, Donna Malane, Håkan Nesser, Martin Edwards, Rex Stout