Category Archives: Martin Walker

Get Up, Get Out, Get Well Again*

Not long ago, Moira, at Clothes in Books, brought up a very interesting question: what books would you recommend for someone who is convalescing? It isn’t an easy question. Books that are very bleak, or very long, or that explore deep philosophical issues, might not be the best choice. People who are convalescing may need to rest a lot, and they may not have the energy to ‘go dark,’ keep pace with a thriller, or really think deeply about issues. At the same time, just because people are recovering from an illness or surgery doesn’t mean they want ‘frothy’ books or badly written books.

There’s also the matter of personal taste, of course. Some series are more appealing than others, whether or not a person is in good health. So, making recommendations almost always carries a certain risk. That said, though, Moira asked a good question, and I decided to offer a few suggestions.

I’ll start by saying I couldn’t recommend just one book, or even just one author. I’ll also add that all of my suggestions are crime fiction (which should surprise exactly no-one). That said, here are a few of my ideas.

 

Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series

There are several things I like about this series for the person who’s convalescing. For one thing, none of the books is very long. So, someone who needs to rest, and may not have a lot of energy, can still enjoy the books. I also like the fact that the pace of these books is leisurely, but (at least for me) not plodding. It’s not the sort of series that wears a person out. And yet, the stories are engaging, and the characters interesting. There’s also the optimistic nature of the series. Even when things don’t work out, or there’s bad news, or… the stories have hope. Someone who’s convalescing isn’t likely to want to dwell on how bad things could get. Finally, the setting is exotic enough that it can draw the reader into a fascinating different place.

 

Cathy Ace’s Caitlin Morgan Series and W.I.S.E. Series

Ace writes traditional-style mysteries. One of her series features Caitlin ‘Cait’ Morgan, a criminologist and academician who teaches at the University of Vancouver. Her W.I.S.E. series features four women (one Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish, and one English) who set up an investigation agency. The stories mostly take place in the Welsh town of Anwen by Wye. Both of these series include whodunit-type plots that invite the reader to stay interested and keep turning and swiping pages. They both feature appealing (well, at least to me) settings and characters as well. Since they’re both traditional-style series, they don’t feature gore or a ‘high octane’ pace. Yet, they are not without substance. To me, they strike a fine balance between engaging and keeping the reader’s attention without being too much for a reader who is recovering from an illness or surgery.
 

Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges Series

Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series strikes a similar balance. Bruno is Chief of Police in the small Périgord town of St. Denis. He’s also a member of the community, who’s woven into the town’s life. The mysteries he investigates are not light, ‘easy’ cases. But neither are they gory or bleak. And they invite the reader to engage in the story. They make their points without getting overly philosophical or ‘weighty,’ and the pace moves along without being tiring. While they’re not what you’d call very short books, they’re also not doorstop-length, either. A person who’s convalescing would, at least in my opinion, be able to enjoy the series without getting exhausted.

 

Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks Series

There often comes a point in convalescence when a person is almost, but not quite, ready to rejoin the world, so to speak. People in that situation may not be at the point of going back to work yet, but they are getting some energy back. And they may be ready for a series that sometimes gets a bit darker. That’s where Peter Robinson’s Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks series may come in handy.  These novels take place mostly in and around the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. They begin, in Gallows View, as Banks and his family move from London to Eastvale and follow Banks’ personal and professional life. The novels aren’t really overly long, and they’re not what you’d call bleak or gory. The focus is often on the whydunit as well as the whodunit, and Robinson doesn’t go for ‘shock value’ as he writes. That said though, these books aren’t always very easy, light reading, and sometimes address more challenging subjects. For me, that makes them a solid choice for the convalescent who’s strong enough to start rejoining the human race, so to speak, but isn’t quite finished resting and taking extra care.

 

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourne Shreve Series

And I wouldn’t want to do a post like this without mentioning Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series. Joanne is a political scientist and (later, retired) academician. Based mostly in Regina, the series follows Joanne’s life as she teaches, does research, raises her family and, later, becomes a proud grandmother. The investigations she’s drawn into are sometimes somewhat dark. But Bowen weaves hope, family bonds, and sometimes wit through the novels as well. They are also interesting character studies, as well as solid portraits of life in modern Canada. They aren’t overly philosophical, and they’re not gory or explicit, either. I recommend them in general to begin with, but I think they’re also a fine choice for someone who’s convalescing.

And there you have it.  A few ideas of mine for series that might be of interest to those who are convalescing. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. Thanks, Moira, for inviting me to think about this. Folks, do check out Moira’s excellent blog. It’s a treasure trove of reviews and discussions about fashion and culture in books, and what it all says about us.

What are your ideas, folks? What would you recommend?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Duke Ellington’s Merry Mending.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Cathy Ace, Gail Bowen, Martin Walker, Peter Robinson

You’re New to This World*

They say that you never forget your first. I’m talking about your first murder investigation, folks!   Of course, the best detectives never get so hardened that dealing with murder becomes easy. But it’s especially difficult when you’ve never dealt with the ugly reality of what a murder really looks like before.

It’s interesting to see how that first experience is explored in crime fiction. Everyone handles it differently, so an author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to character and plot development. Whatever approach an author chooses to take, that ‘first murder’ experience can add to a story when it’s done credibly.

For example, In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, we are introduced to Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. He is Chief of Police in the small Périgord town of St. Denis. It’s not the sort of place that’s steeped in crime, so when Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr is found brutally murdered, it’s a whole new experience for Bruno. He’s seen death before, especially during his military service, so he’s not really squeamish. But this is a deliberate, ugly murder. At first, it looks like it might be the work of a far-right group, Front Nationale (FN). But there are other possibilities, and Bruno soon finds that more than one person might have wanted the victim dead.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion begins as Detective Sergeant (DS) Anna Travis begins her work with the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. And she’s joined at a critical time. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and it’s not a pretty sight. Travis wants to make a good impression, since she’s the new member of the team. But this is her first murder investigation, and she isn’t prepared for what she sees when she gets to the crime scene. She doesn’t handle it particularly smoothly, and she’s embarrassed about it. Fortunately, her boss, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, understands what she’s going through, and doesn’t make it all any worse for her. The team soon comes to believe that this murder may be linked to six other ‘cold’ murders. There are differences, but Langton is convinced that they’re dealing with one killer. They settle on a suspect, but he’s both wealthy and very popular. So, they’re going to have to tread lightly. Besides, he’s not the only suspect. As the novel goes on, Travis and the rest of the team slowly put the evidence together and find out who the killer is.

In A Not So Perfect Crime, Teresa Solana introduces Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep “Pep” (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez. Lluís Font, Member of the Parliament of Catalonia, hires the brothers because he suspects his wife, Lídia, is being unfaithful. The PIs shadow her for a week, but they find no evidence that she’s having an affair. Then, she suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Unsurprisingly, Font comes under suspicion, and asks the Martínez brothers to stay on the case, this time to clear his name. They’ve never dealt with a murder investigation before, so Eduard, in particular, is uneasy about it. But Borja convinces him to agree. They’re not sure exactly how to proceed, and that adds both realism and wit to the story. Slowly, they build a list of suspects, and, in the end, they get to the truth about who killed Lídia Font and why.

Alan Bradley’s sleuth, Flavia de Luce, has her first encounter with murder at the tender age of eleven. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, she overhears an argument between her father and an unfamiliar visitor. The next morning, Flavia finds the man’s body in her family’s cucumber patch. Soon enough, Flavia’s father, Colonel de Luce, becomes the most likely suspect. He is arrested and jailed. Flavia wants to clear her father of suspicion, she launches her own investigation. Little by little, she learns the truth about this murder, and it turns out that it’s all related to the past. Flavia is bright, resourceful, and not particularly fragile. But she is also only eleven, so the experience does leave her quite shaken.

And then there’s Gordon Ell’s The Ice Shroud. Detective Sergeant (DS) Malcolm Buchan has recently moved from Dunedin to head the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) in the Southern Lakes District of New Zealand’s South Island. He’s the ‘new kid’ with the team, and wants to make a good impression, as you can imagine. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found frozen in a river not far from Queenstown. Buchan has been involved in murder investigations before, but this is his first time leading this team, and he wants to get things right. It’s not going to be easy, though. The woman is soon identified as Edie Longstreet, who owned a local business. And it turns out that she and Buchan had a relationship which ended, amicably, when he left to do a military tour in Afghanistan. Buchan’s personal relationship with the victim could complicate the case. There’s also the fact that she had a very complex life. It’s going to be a challenge to get to the truth about what happened to her, especially as Buchan is also trying to earn his team’s respect.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of novels that tell the story of a sleuth’s first murder investigation. It can be a very difficult time, both in real life and in crime fiction. It can also add a solid plot point and layer of character development to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Marsicans’ Wake Up Freya.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Gordon Ell, Lynda La Plante, Martin Walker, Teresa Solana

Sleuth Celebrity Shows ;-)

We’re all familiar with our top fictional sleuths’ skill at solving mysteries. But they have other talents, too, if you think about it. What if those other talents were celebrated? Wouldn’t it be great if the fictional sleuths we like best got their own TV shows, designed to showcase those skills? No, I mean it – it could work. If you’ll park your disbelief in front of the laptop to do some online shopping, I’ll show you what I mean with these

 

Sleuth Celebrity Shows
 

Restaurant Rescue

Struggling restaurants everywhere get a new lease on life as master gourmand Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie) offers them his singular expertise. Join M. Poirot as he pays a visit to a different restaurant each week, and gives the owner and chef the benefit of his deep knowledge of ambiance, food, wine, and service. The end result? A restaurant and staff that provide an unforgettable dining experience. You won’t want to miss it!

[We hear from our sources that Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout) had been considered for this show, but his spokesman has said that Wolfe would not be taking the role. The spokesman neither confirmed nor denied that Wolfe said the show was ‘flummery.’]

 

Refashion Yourself

If you’ve ever felt you wanted a new look, but weren’t sure where to start, you’ll want to tune in as Paris’ own Aimée Leduc (Cara Black) transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each week, she takes charge of a different lucky client’s wardrobe, and brings it alive with the best in clothes, shoes, outerwear, accessories, and more. She also offers valuable tips to viewers on how to put together simple but sophisticated looks for every occasion. Don’t miss a single episode!

 

Save My Kitchen

Straight from the heart of France’s gastronomic culture, Bruno Courrèges (Martin Walker) brings the Périgord to homes everywhere. Tune in each week as this skilled chef transforms his guests’ everyday meals into something special. With the right ingredients and simple cooking strategies, Courrèges makes even a quick lunch memorable. Each episode brings you a treasure trove of advice for your own kitchen. No more ho-hum meals!

 

Live With Less

The show for people who want to de-clutter and start living simpler, less hectic, and less expensive lives. Let natural living expert Rebecka Martinsson (Åsa Larsson) be your guide to a more sustainable, more budget-conscious, and less frantic lifestyle. Each week, Rebecka visits the home of a different family, and gives them sustainable and inexpensive solutions for clothing, cooking, cleaning, and much more. Each episode teaches easy ways to cut down the waste, tone down the non-stop stress of modern life, and make the most of what nature offers. Don’t miss a single one!

 

The Big Event

Starring one of the world’s foremost entertainment experts, Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood), this show covers everything involved in planning and hosting the perfect event. Each week, Phryne coaches her guests as they put together weddings, reunions, corporate events, and other special occasions. Watch as the guests plan themes, decorations, music, food and drink, and all of the other unique touches that make an event unforgettable. Then, see the event itself, and get some great ideas for your own big day.

 

Pub Crawl

Renowned pub expert E. Morse (Colin Dexter) takes you on a tour of the UK’s best pubs and watering holes. Each week, Morse visits a different local, and shares his experiences. Learn how the UK’s pubs compare on selection, price, quality, ambiance, and much more. Enjoy Morse’s critiques, and pick your own new places to try!

 

See what I mean? These TV shows could really take off, don’t you think? And it would mean our sleuths could earn some welcome extra income. These are just a few of my own ideas. Got any of your own to share?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Cara Black, Colin Dexter, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Rex Stout

As a Restaurant Inspector It’s a Long Lonesome Road*

There’s an interesting (if small) plot thread in Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. The small French town of St. Denis prides itself on its good food; it is, after all, in the food-famous Périgord. And, for as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a weekly market where the local residents get their fresh bread, cheese, and other items. These people know how to prepare, cook, sell, and store food. So, no-one is exactly pleased that EU inspectors have taken an interest in the market, and plan to apply EU rules to the food that’s bought and sold there. Local Chief of Police Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges is sworn to uphold the law; and in most cases, he believes in being law-abiding. At the same time, he’s a gastronome himself, and understands exactly how the citizens he serves feel about the EU health inspectors. So, he looks the other way when a few of the citizens find their own approach to preventing what they see as EU ‘meddling.’

In the main, though, most people agree that public health is a serious and important matter, and that there needs to be a way to ensure that any threats to public health are eliminated. Such inspections are thankless jobs, though. No company wants its operations interrupted, and making sure that everything is up to code can be expensive. And companies, hospitals, and the like don’t want to fail inspections. So, there’s a lot of pressure on anyone in that business.

The San Francisco Department of Health figures into Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson’s The Nightmare Factor. In that novel, we are introduced to Dr. Calvin Doohan, a transplant from Scotland. He’s working on some research for the World Health Organization (WHO) when the city is hit with a number of cases of virulent, flu-like illness. Each case seems to end in death, and doctors are hard-pressed to isolate the cause. Doohan volunteers his services to San Francisco’s Board of Health, and soon finds himself working with Dr. Suzanne Synge, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s soon established that the illness can be traced to people who attended a convention at the Hotel Cordoba, so several interested parties (the CDC, the Board of Health, etc..) concentrate their efforts there. Inspections of the food and its handling start, and Doohan soon begins to suspect that this outbreak was deliberate. As he gets closer to the truth behind it, he finds more and more danger for himself.

The CDC also features in Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the CDC is sent to Los Angeles when several patients of the Richter Clinic die. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Rudolph Richter, also succumbs. Blumenthal and the team she works with manage to contain the outbreak, and it seems that the public health isn’t at risk. Then, there’s an outbreak in St. Louis. And another in Phoenix. It now seems clear to Blumenthal that this virus is being spread deliberately. But she doesn’t have much evidence to support herself. Still, she perseveres, and soon finds she’s up against some very dangerous and powerful people who are not afraid to kill.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman has to be concerned about her local Health Department’s expectations, because she owns a bakery. By and large, she doesn’t have a bad relationship with the inspection team, although they don’t see eye to eye on Chapman’s approach to vermin control. Along with her ‘house cat’ Horatio, Chapman is owned by Heckle and Jekyll, the feline Rodent Control Officers who roam the bakery at night, making sure that Chapman’s baking supplies are vermin-free. It isn’t exactly what the Health Department pamphlets advise, but it works well, and Chapman’s bakery is successful. Then, in Trick or Treat, there’s an ergot infestation at another, nearby, bakery. The Health Department has to close that bakery until the ergot is removed, and all the other local bakeries, including Chapman’s, also become suspect. It’s hard for Chapman not to be able to go about her baking business. But she understands why the bakery has to close temporarily, and she certainly doesn’t want anyone sickened on her account. It’s among other things an interesting look at how health inspectors work when something goes wrong in a restaurant or other food-selling establishment.

Sometimes, health, food, and other inspectors are fictional targets. For instance, in Donna Leon’s Beastly Things, the body of an unknown man is found in one of Venice’s canals. There’s no identification, and no truly distinctive marks on the body, so at first, it’s hard to determine who the victim was. But Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team eventually identify the man as Andrea Nava. He was a veterinarian who worked part-time at a local slaughterhouse. His job there was to inspect the animals brought in by local farmers, to verify the health of their animals. As Brunetti and his team look into the murder, readers learn about the way slaughterhouse inspections are supposed to work, and how they work in this case.

A few of Carl Hiaasen’s novels include characters who are health inspectors, or have related roles. One of them is Razor Girl, which features Andrew Yancey, whom fans will remember from Bad Monkey. In this novel, he’s no longer a police detective. He’s been demoted to Inspector for the Health Department. He gets involved in a complex (this is Hiaasen….) case when he discovers hair from a beard in the food at Clippy’s Restaurant. The hair turns out to belong to Buck Nance, a reality show star who presumably went into hiding after a disastrous live show. One of Yancey’s leads is con artist Merry Mansfield, who ended up trying to scam Lane Coolman, who was supposed to meet Nance in Key West (Florida). Coolman’s now worried about Nance’s whereabouts, and Yancey sees a way to get his badge back if he finds out the truth. He and Mansfield work together, but Yancey’s got to go up against serious odds, including a restaurant infestation of Gambian pouched rats (yes, those are real, and they can grow to be about .9 m (about 3 ft.) long).

Public health is a very real and important concern. So, it’s little wonder that health inspectors of different sorts can shut down restaurants and all sorts of other businesses. Their job might not always make them a lot of fans, but we do need them.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Three Penny Piece’s Saddam Henderson’s Old Time Country Kitchen.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Frank Robinson, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Robin Cook, Thomas N. Scortia

It Was Just My Dog and Me*

Recently, Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write posted some lovely pictures of writers with their cats. I really enjoyed that post, because I think it shows a side of authors that we don’t always see. And, although I don’t live with cats, I do like them very much.

Of course, there are also plenty of authors who are owned by dogs. So, I thought it might be fun to have a look at some of those authors, too.

 

Here is Canadian novelist Louise Penny with her Golden Retriever. Her series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who’s also owned by a dog.

 

This is Sara Paretsky with her Golden Retriever. As fans can tell you, her V.I. Warshawski is owned by two dogs, Mitch and Peppy.

 

And here’s Stephen King with his Corgi canine overlord. No, let’s not mention Cujo here….

 

This is Martin Walker, author of the Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series. Here he’s consulting with his Basset Hound owner.

 

I don’t think I could look at crime-fictional authors and their canines without mentioning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here he is with his terrier owner.

 

And anyone who knows me will know that I also couldn’t do a post on crime fiction without a mention of Agatha Christie. Here’s a young Ms. Christie with her Fox Terrier. It shouldn’t be surprising that dogs figure so often in her stories.

It’s not just fictional sleuths who are owned by dogs. Their creators often are, too. Thanks very much, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. I’m really glad you got me thinking about this. Folks, give yourselves a treat and have a look at Marina Sofia’s excellent blog. Fine reviews, excellent poetry, and more await you there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Hiatt’s My Dog and Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Louise Penny, Martin Walker, Sara Paretsky, Stephen King