Category Archives: Martin Edwards

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

The Tree Fell Down*

Tree DamageThe ‘photo you see shows the aftermath of a tree falling on a covered parking spot. In case you’re wondering, that’s not my car. But it did happen in the community where I live. And it shows just how strong and powerful trees can really be. If you’ve ever had tree damage from a storm (that’s what actually happened in this case), you know what I mean.

Tree damage plays a role in crime fiction, too. Hadn’t thought about it before? Nor had I. But if you do think about it, you can see how tree damage can be used quite effectively in a crime novel. It can get people involved in cases, it can cause all sorts of tension, and it can be used to cover up a murder (or sometimes even cause one). Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, we are introduced to Sir George Stubbs and his wife, Hattie, who own Nasse House, in Nassecomb. It’s been the custom for a long time to hold an annual charity fête at Nasse House, and Sir George and Lady Hattie intend to continue that tradition. This year, they decide to include a Murder Hunt as one of the attractions, and they commission detective novelist Ariadne Oliver to create the hunt, the clues, and so on. But she suspects there’s more going on at Nasse House than just a charity event, so she asks Hercule Poirot to visit under the guise of handing out the prizes. Soon enough, he begins to wonder whether Mrs. Oliver might be right. Then, on the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s playing the part of the victim, is actually murdered. Now Poirot works with Inspector Bland to find out who killed a seemingly harmless teenage girl. In the process, he learns the Stubbs’ back story, including the story of the night George Stubbs brought his new bride Hattie to the house. That night, so Poirot is told, there was a terrible storm which knocked down a big oak tree. That fallen tree, and the damage the storm caused, plays a role in the story (I know, I know, fans of The Big Four).

Martin Edwards’ First Cut is the Deepest begins as Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin agrees to a getaway weekend with his new flame Juliet May. They have to be careful, since she is married, and to a very dangerous person. But they do want to spend time together, so they arrange to borrow a cottage that belongs to Juliet’s assistant Linda Blackwell. A strong storm comes up, knocking a sycamore over on the cottage’s utility room. With no telephone service available, Juliet goes next door to the home of Carl Symons to ask if she can use his telephone to call Linda and tell her what’s happened. That’s when she discovers that he’s been brutally murdered. As fortune would have it, Symons is a Crown prosecutor whom Devlin’s known for a long time. That, plus the fact that he and Juliet will have to explain their presence, draws him into the case. That and the sycamore.

Monica Ferris’ Darned If You Do also begins with a serious storm. The small town of Excelsior, Minnesota is struck by a pocket of storm activity that causes an old elm tree to fall on Tom Riordan’s house, wounding him and trapping him in his bedroom. When Marianne Schultz, who lives next door, sees the damage, she gives the alert and Riordan is rescued. He’s injured, though, and is immediately taken to the nearest hospital. His cousin, Valentina Shipp, arrives to help, and soon sees that she’s not going to be able to clean up the damage alone. Betsy Devonshire, who owns Crewel World, a local needlework shop, is among several of the locals who volunteer to help clean up Riordan’s house while he recuperates. It’s not going to be easy, though, because Riordan is a hoarder. But the team gets started. Then, Riordan is murdered in the hospital. Valentina is the most likely suspect, since she is set to inherit everything. And in this case, ‘everything’ includes some valuable things that were hidden among her cousin’s vast collections. Valentina claims that she’s innocent, though, and it’s not long before Betsy begins to believe her. But if she isn’t guilty, then who killed Tommy Riordan and why?

In Paul Doiron’s Massacre Pond, Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is called to the scene when the bodies of ten moose are discovered on the property of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Morse. The moose weren’t killed for food or sport, so it’s likely that they were left there to target Morse. An investigation begins, and it’s not long before Bowditch learns that there are several suspects. Morse was well-known as an ardent environmentalist and animal rights activist in this land of hunters and trappers. There’s also the fact that the lumber and building industries stand to lose if she has her way in converting a large chunk of land to a wildlife preserve. Things are dangerous enough as it is, but matters get far worse when Morse’s daughter Briar is killed. She’s driving on the property one night when she slams into a tree. On the surface it looks like a terrible accident, but Bowditch knows better. The victim was talking to him on her telephone when it happened, and she told him she was being chased by another vehicle. Now the question becomes, who would want to kill Briar and why? It’s a frightening case of a tree being used as a murder weapon.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder. Retired milliner Blake Heatherington lives in the usually-peaceful village of Tuesbury. One day, the village is shocked by the news that local newsagent Harold Salter has been murdered. His body has been found in a local wood, and the evidence shows he was struck on the head, and died after he fell onto a tree stump. At first it looks as though this might be a hate crime, since it’s well known Salter was gay. But soon enough, Heatherington finds that to be very unlikely. No threats had been reported, and no-one really seems to have cared very much about Salter’s private life. So Heatherington has to look for another explanation. It turns out that this death (and others that occur) has everything to do with a secret from someone’s past. Oh, and it’s not spoiling the story to say that a tree also provides a very interesting clue…

And that’s the thing about trees. They’re vital to our ecosystem, they’re strong, they’re powerful, and they’re beautiful. But…they can also be quite dangerous.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kithkin’s Treefell.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Martin Edwards, Monica Ferris, Paul Doiron

And With This Cat, it’s Curiosity*

CuriosityI’ll bet you know the feeling. You’re walking by someone’s door and see a notice on it. What does the notice say? Or you see a piece of paper someone’s dropped. Only take a second to read it. Perhaps you’re visiting someone’s house and see a drawer half-opened. No harm in peeking in for just a second, right?

Of course, most of us wouldn’t dream of, say, opening someone’s handbag and going through it, or looking through someone’s computer files. But humans are curious by nature as a rule. So it’s perfectly understandable that we sometimes have the urge to just have a peek, even we don’t follow through on it.

That curiosity is a very common plot point in crime fiction for a number of reasons. One is that it’s realistic. People do get curious. Another is that it can be a very effective premise for a story. Whether it’s looking through a drawer, overhearing a conversation, or something else, curiosity is a very useful to set up a motive for murder.

Agatha Christie used that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive charwoman. Everyone thinks that her lodger, James Bentley, is responsible, but Superintendent Spence has begun to think otherwise; hence Poirot’s presence. It’s not long before Poirot discovers that,
 

‘‘Of course she snooped a bit. Had a look at one’s letters and all that.’’
 

That curiosity turned out to be fatal for Mrs. McGinty, when she found out something it wasn’t safe for her to know. I see you, fans of Hickory, Dickory Dock.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone is the story of the well-off and well-educated Coverdale family. George and Jacqueline Coverdale are in need of a housekeeper, and they quickly settle on Eunice Parchman. Unfortunately, Jacqueline hasn’t done the research she should, because Eunice is hiding a secret. Still, all goes well enough at first, and Eunice settles into her job. Then, George’s daughter Melinda happens to be home from university when she accidentally discovers Eunice’s secret. It’s not that she goes through handbags or drawers, but her curiosity helps her to put two and two together as the saying goes. And that spells disaster for the family.

In one plot thread of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Inspector John Rebus and his team investigate the death of Allan ‘Mitch’ Mitchison, an Aberdeen-based oil worker. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for him to have been murdered. But as Rebus traces the victim’s last days and weeks, he learns that Mitch had found out some secrets it wasn’t safe for him to know. And when powerful, wealthy people don’t want others to know things, they have ways of making their wishes known…

Chris Grabenstein’s Hell Hole is the story of the murder of Corporal Shareef Smith, who’s recently returned from service in Iraq. His body is discovered in the men’s room of a highway rest stop, apparently a successful suicide. But Sea Haven, New Jersey police officer Danny Boyle isn’t so sure, and he convinces his boss John Ceepak to ask some questions. Smith’s commanding officer wants the case solved quickly; in fact, he’d rather mete out ‘vigilante’ justice. But Ceepak convinces him to wait for 24 hours before taking matters into his own hands. Ceepak and Boyle’s search for the truth pit them against some very influential people who are determined to keep some secrets that Smith had found out.

In Martin EdwardsThe Serpent Pool, Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the case of the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. That death turns out to be connected to two more recent deaths. And all three turn out to be related to some work that Oxford historian Daniel Kind is doing on Thomas De Quincey. In one sub-plot of this novel, Scarlett is going through a rough patch with her partner, rare book dealer Marc Amos. Matters aren’t helped when she accidentally leaves her telephone at home one day. Amos can’t resist the opportunity to just have a peek at her texts, and sees one from Kind. That discovery doesn’t solve the murders, but it plays its role in what happens in the story.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Television star Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has been planning to leave TV behind and open an antiques business with her mother, Iris. Everything changes, though, when she gets a call from Iris. It seems that Iris has changed her mind about the business, and has abruptly moved to the village of Little Dipperton, Devon. She’s purchased the carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall, and plans to stay. Shocked at this news, Stanford goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken one of her hands in a car accident. So Stanford decides to stay and help out, at least until her mother can manage on her own again. In one plot thread of this novel, Stanford discovers a locked door in the cottage. Then, she finds the key to it:
 

‘I knew it was wrong, but I just had to find out what was behind that locked door.’
 

When she opens the door, Sanford discovers some things about her mother than she never knew. And what she learns gives her a whole new perspective on the mother she thought she knew.

And that’s the thing about just opening that door a crack, or having a quick look at that letter. You never know what you’ll find…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Little River Band’s Curiosity (Killed the Cat).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Chris Grabenstein, Hannah Dennison, Ian Rankin, Martin Edwards, Ruth Rendell