Category Archives: Max Kinnings

You Didn’t Even Notice Me*

We interact, probably on a daily basis, with a number of people we don’t really even notice. Unless there’s something very distinctive about that person, do you really pay attention to your bus driver, your taxi driver, or the person who pours your coffee at the restaurant? You might if you happen to be a ‘regular,’ so that that person is familiar. But otherwise, my guess is that you usually don’t. And that makes sense if you think about it. There’s only so much stimuli that we can pay attention to at any given time.

There are several ways crime writers make use of characters like that. They may hear something that they’re not meant to overhear, just because no-one noticed them. Or, they may provide helpful evidence, since the perpetrator doesn’t think about their presence. And, since they’re so much ‘in the background, they can even be killers…

In one of G.K. Chesterton’s short stories, for instance, that’s exactly what happens. I won’t give spoilers by naming the story. But the very fact of one character’s not being noticed allows that character to quite literally get away with murder.

In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, famous American actress Jane Wilkinson is suspected when her husband, Lord Edgware, is stabbed one night in his study. There’s evidence against her, too, as she wanted to marry someone else. In fact, she even threatened to commit murder. But Jane says that she was at a dinner party in another part of London on the night of the murder. And there are twelve people who are prepared to swear that she was there. Hercule Poirot had an appointment with the victim on the day he was murdered, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find the killer. And they find that more than one person had a motiv. One of those people is Ronald Marsh, the victim’s nephew. Marsh was desperate for money and had quarreled with his uncle about it. But he claims he was at the opera at the time of the murder. The only problem is, there’s a taxi driver – the sort you don’t pay attention to until it comes up later – who remembers taking Marsh to his uncle’s home during the performance. That fact makes Marsh very much a ‘person of interest.’

In P.D. James’ Death of an Expert Witness, Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Inspector John Massingham investigate when Dr. Edwin Lorrimer is murdered. The victim was a senior doctor at Hoggett’s Laboratory in East Anglia, so Dalgliesh and Massingham concentrate their efforts on the lab’s staff, and others who may have had a reason to be on the premises at the time. The murder wasn’t committed during office hours, so of great interest is information on who might have come in or out once the laboratory’s doors were locked. Oddly enough, a piece of information comes from a group of people who were riding a public bus at the time. The bus was rounding a curve that put the lab in view of anyone looking out the window in the right direction, and the bus driver and several passengers mention having seen a woman in that area. Dalgliesh and Massingham finally track that person down; and, although that doesn’t solve the crime, the woman is still able to give them some information.

In Max Kinning’s Baptism, we meet London train driver George Wakeham. He’s getting ready to leave for work as usual one morning when a group of three people burst into his home and abduct his wife and two children. They then give Wakeham a mobile ‘phone and tell him he must follow all of their telephoned instructions if he wants his family to stay alive. Wakeham has no choice but to obey, so he goes to work and gets into the cab of his train as he always does. Before long, the train heads into a tunnel, and Wakeham is told to stop. What he doesn’t know at first is that the abductors have brought his family aboard the train, and that they’re there, too. With the train halted, and more than 400 people taken hostage, it’s a dire situation for Wakeham and everyone else on the train. DCI Ed Mallory is called in to negotiate with the hostage-takers and find out what they want. And when he finds out, he and Wakeham learn that these hostage takers want much more than money.

And then there’s Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man. This novel follows Captain Sam Wyndham, as he arrives from England to take up his duties with the police in Kolkata/Calcutta. He’s no sooner started working when he’s faced with a delicate case. Alexander MacAuley, head of Indian Civil Service (ICS) for Bengal has been murdered, and his body discovered in an alley behind a brothel. For many reasons, Wyndham and his team, Sub-inspector John Digby and Sergeant Surendranath Benarjee, will have to move carefully as they investigate. As it turns out, the case has connections to some very high and very powerful places, and this will mean a great deal of danger for Wyndham. But he makes an unlikely friend in a rickshaw driver named Salman. Ordinarily, as a white person in Bengal at the time (the novel takes place in 1919), Wyndham wouldn’t be expected to pay any attention at all to the driver. But he does. And he learns a little about the man. Without spoiling the story, I can say that Salman proves to be a useful ally.

But it’s not often that we pay very much attention to those people who drive buses or trains, deliver parcels, or pour the coffee. They often fade into the background. Still, they can be very interesting, and in crime fiction, they can also be very useful…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trust Company’s Letting Go.


Filed under Abir Mukherjee, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Max Kinnings, P.D. James

Please Don’t Tell Me That I’m the Only One That’s Vulnerable*

Most people would rather not be killed. I know, that’s a painfully obvious point to make, but it has implications if you’re a fictional murderer. Among other things, it means that you have to pick your time. It’s easiest to commit the crime if the victim is already vulnerable, or at the very least, unsuspecting. For the author, that’s not always easy to pull off in a believable way, but there are plenty of examples of how this can work. Here are a few of them, to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, we are introduced to powerful banker Alistair Blunt. He’s made more than his share of enemies, and he’s generally a careful person, partly for that reason. One day, he goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley, because of a toothache. Later, Morley is found shot in his surgery. And one real possibility is that the intended victim was Blunt himself. After all, people are quite vulnerable when they’re in the dentist’s chair. Chief Inspector Japp’s been told by his superiors to make this case a priority, since Blunt is considered important for national security. Then, there’s another death. A patient of Morley’s dies from a suspected overdose of drugs. When Japp finds out that Hercule Poirot was also at Morley’s office on the day of the murder, he contacts Poirot, and the two work together to find out the truth behind the two murders.

Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger takes place mostly at Heron Park Hospital, which has been converted for military (WWII) use. One day, a postman named Joseph Higgins is brought to the hospital with a broken femur. It’s considered a straightforward operation, and he’s brought in for surgery. Tragically, Higgins dies during the procedure. Inspector Cockrill of the Kent Police is brought in to ‘rubber-stamp’ the report of accidental death. Higgins’ wife, though, does not accept that explanation. She says that Higgins was murdered. Then, one of the hospital nurses has too much to drink at a party, and blurts out that she knows Higgins was murdered, and she knows how it was accomplished. Later that night, she, too, is killed. Now, Cockrill is sure this is a case of murder, and puts the focus of his search on the people who were present when Higgins died. It certainly shows how vulnerable people can be during surgery. Right, fans of Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder?

One plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola concerns the murder of Annette Bystock. She works at the local Employment Bureau, trying to match available jobs with unemployed people who can fill them. One day, she’s found murdered in her bed. Inspector Reg Wexford and his team begin to trace her last days, and discover that, shortly before she was murdered, she had an appointment with a young woman named Melanie Akande. Melanie has since gone missing, and Wexford and the team wonder whether the two incidents are related. And so they turn out to be, only not in the obvious way. It turns out that, on the day she died, Annette had stayed home from work because she was ill. Her vulnerability, and the fact that she was unsuspecting, made her easy prey for the killer.

In Zoran Drvenkar’s You, we are introduced to a character called the Traveler. His part of the story begins in 1995, during a terrible snowstorm that’s blocked the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. Many vehicles are stranded on the road, and even emergency vehicles can’t get through because of the snow. Everyone in that traffic mess is extremely vulnerable, and not just because of the snow and the cold. With everyone stuck, the Traveler has plenty of ready-made victims. He works his way along the line of cars, leaving twenty-six people dead by the time the road is cleared. He’s able to make his escape, and as the story goes on, we see what happens to him in the ensuing years.

And then there’s Max Kinning’s Baptism. In that novel, we meet George Wakeham, a London Underground driver. Early one morning, three hostage-takers break into his home, capturing his wife and children. Wakeham is told that his only chance of saving his family is to do exactly what their captors say. Then, they give him a mobile ‘phone and tell him to follow precisely the instructions they give him. This Wakeham agrees to do (what choice does he have?). He’s told to go to his job as usual, and take his place driving his usual train. What he doesn’t know at first is that the hostage-takers have boarded the train as well, and they have his family with them. Wakeham starts his route as usual, but before long, one of the hostage-takers joins him in the cab. He’s soon told to stop the train, and it’s only then that he sees what his enemies really wanted from him. The train is now stopped in an underground tunnel with over 400 very vulnerable people aboard. Word of the captured train gets out, and Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Ed Mallory is assigned to contact the hostage-takers, find out what they want, and free the passengers. It’s not going to be easy, though, as this is a group of fanatics with a very specific purpose in mind. As Mallory tries to find out what he can, Wakeham tries to save his own life and those of his family members.

There are lots of other examples, too, of stories where the murderer (or would-be murderer) tries to choose a time when the victim will be especially vulnerable. It can add real tension to a story, and it makes sense. It’s easiest to target a victim who’s at a disadvantage.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Secondhand Serenade’s Vulnerable.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christianna Brand, Max Kinnings, Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell, Zoran Drvenkar

Just Put the Phone Down*

Mobile VulnerabilityLook around you for a moment. My guess is that there’s a good chance that you’re only a few feet (at most) away from…your telephone. Of course, today’s telephones do a whole lot more than just let people make calls wherever they are. For instance, mine lets me keep up with the blogs I read, make comments, engage with my online students, take photographs, read the news, do Internet research, and get just about wherever I want to go without getting lost. And mine isn’t a particularly upmarket model.

A lot of people will say they’ve come to really depend on their telephones. But just as many people think of them as, at best, mixed blessings. For one thing, telephones can be awfully intrusive. When colleagues and others can reach you at any time, they frequently do just that. And it can be very difficult to avoid (or break) the habit of checking email or texting instead of being more tuned in to wherever you are.

Telephones can make a person vulnerable, too. Just think of all the private information that may be on yours. There are other ways as well in which telephones can be used against a person. And that’s just why they can also be interesting parts of crime novels.

In Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana, for example, Stockholm County police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge get involved in an international investigation when the German police seek Sweden’s help in solving the murders of four German scientists. There’s reason to believe that Swedish national Leo Brageler is the killer, but there seems no motive. The German authorities are hoping that the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation can help them link Brageler to the scientists. There are other possibilities as to the killer, though, and Gröhn and his team want to explore those too. At one point in the novel, de Brugge has followed a lead to one particular possible suspect, and finds out almost too late that her telephone has made her vulnerable. I can’t say more than that without giving away too much, but I can say that it’s not one of those ‘didn’t bring telephone with me and am all alone’ sort of situations.

In Peter James’ Not Dead Yet, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace is working on the strange murder case of a man whose torso was found in an abandoned chicken coop. He’s also been assigned to help protect international superstar Gaia Lafayette during her upcoming stay in Brighton, where she’s making a film. Along with everything else, he’s concerned that someone in his department might be leaking details of some of the team’s investigations. So, he’s advised to have the High Tech team look at his Blackberry to see if someone’s gotten access to some of the information there. That plot thread shows how someone might hack a mobile device. It also shows how vulnerable privileged information can be.

Another police investigation is compromised in Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw. In that novel, SP (Special Police) officer Kazuki Mekari of the Tokyo Municipal Police Department (MPD) gets a very difficult assignment. He is told to take a team to Fukuoka and escort a prisoner back to Tokyo. But this is no ordinary prisoner. This is Kunihide Kiyomaru, who is responsible for raping and killing the granddaughter of wealthy business magnate Takaoki Ninagawa. And Ninagawa has taken the unusual step of offering a very public billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru. Mekari and his team go to Fukuoka, collect their prisoner, and begin the journey back to Tokyo. But they soon run into trouble. Wherever they go, it seems that news of their presence gets there first, and they have to contend with crowds of people, many of whom are eager to claim the reward money. Despite spur-of-the-moment changes of plans, they don’t seem to be able to break free of the many people who are trying to kill Kiyomaru. Someone keeps publishing detailed live GPS information about their whereabouts. It’s a scary reminder of how easy it can be to get that sort of data and misuse it.

In Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? we are introduced to new mum Yvonne Mulhern. She’s recently moved from London to Dublin with her husband, Gerry, so that he can take advantage of a good career opportunity. Yvonne loves her husband, but he’s gone much of the time, and she’s overwhelmed by the demands a new baby makes. In need of support and company, she turns to an online forum called Netmammy, a group of other new mothers. Yvonne finds great solace in the online group. There’s even a very telling scene in which she’s at a real-life party with her husband, but uses her ‘phone to access the site. And she’s not the only member who’s that drawn to the group. Then, one of the members seems to disappear, and Yvonne gets concerned. Then, the body of a woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Sgt. Claire Boyle and her team investigate, and try to trace the victim’s last days and weeks. The woman’s profile (age and so on) is very similar to Yvonne Mulhern’s missing online friend. Is it the same woman? And if so, what might this mean for the other members of Netmammy? This novel points out, among other things, just how much information we reveal online without always knowing it. And it shows how much a person can find out by picking up a telephone.  

There’s also Max Kinnings’ Baptism, in which criminals make use of a mobile ‘phone. London Underground driver George Wakeman is getting ready for work one morning when his home is invaded by three hostage-takers. They take his wife and children prisoner, and give him a mobile ‘phone. Then they tell him to go to his job and follow every instruction he is given. With no other choice, Wakeman does as the hostage-takers say, and drives to his job. Using the number of the telephone they’ve given him, the criminals direct Wakeman to begin his route as normal, so he gets into the cab of his train and starts the route. The hostage-takers board the train, too, and it pulls out from the station. After a time, Wakeman is ordered to stop in a tunnel. Soon enough, Wakeman learns why he has been targeted. The team wants to take his entire train (with about 400 passengers) hostage. DCI Ed Mallory, an experienced negotiator, is assigned to the case to see if he can find out what these people want and whether he can free the passengers before it’s too late.

See what I mean? Of course today’s telephones are incredibly useful. But sometimes, they’re more dangerous than you know. Oh, wait! Excuse me, please, I just got an email and I really need to check it…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Buzzcocks’ Phone.


Filed under Kazuhiro Kiuchi, Max Kinnings, Peter James, Sinéad Crowley, Stefan Tegenfalk

He Started Something With His First “Hello, Hello”*

TelephoneAs I post this, today would have been Alexander Graham Bell’s 169th birthday. It’s not really an overstatement to say that the telephone, the invention with which he’s most closely associated, created a communications revolution. Today, we take for granted the ability to reach into a pocket or handbag, get our telephones, and call anyone we want. Modern telephones do even more. You can make hotel reservations, buy airline tickets, check into your flight, rent a car, and get a cab to the airport within a few moments, all with a telephone.

Telephones are crucial for police investigations, too, and they have been since long before you could take ‘photos with them. There was a time when houses had one telephone, with possibly an extension in another room. That meant few conversations were as private as one might have hoped.

That lack of privacy figures into Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal). When family patriarch Richard Abernethie suddenly dies, the rest of his family gathers for his funeral and the reading of his will. At that gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered. Everyone discounts the idea, and she herself tells the group not to pay any attention to her. But secretly, everyone begins to wonder. Any doubts are put to rest when Cora herself is killed the next day. Family lawyer Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and Poirot agrees. At one point, one character remembers something that turns out to be an important clue. That character makes a telephone call to report that memory, but unfortunately, the wrong person overhears…

In Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Velvet Claw, Perry Mason gets a new client who calls herself Eva Griffin. She tells him she’s being blackmailed by tabloid reporter Frank Locke, who threatens to publish her relationship with up-and-coming politician Harrison Burke in Spicy Bits unless she pays him well. Being married to someone else, she knows this might ruin her lover’s career, and will certainly ruin her own reputation.  Mason agrees to take the case, and begins to communicate with Locke. He soon concludes that there’s more to this story than it seems. So he follows Locke to a nearby hotel, where he arranges with the hotel’s switchboard operator to trace a call that Locke makes. That information gives Mason the lead he needs to find out who’s set his client up for blackmail and why. At first it seems that this might be the end of the case. But that turns out not to be so, when Eva’s husband is shot and she becomes the prime suspect. Now Mason has to defend his client, even though he’s discovered that not much of what she says is the truth.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine takes place in 1990’s Shanghai, where many people use public telephones. When the body of national model worker Guang Hongying is discovered in a nearby canal, Chief Inspector Chen Cao and his assistant, Sergeant Yu Guangming are assigned to investigate. It’s a very delicate matter, because the victim was a sort of national role model – a celebrity in her own way. It takes time and patience, but the two detectives do rack down the killer. And part of the way they do that is by tracing a call that links the victim to the murderer.

Today, of course, many, many people have their own telephones. Those can be treasure troves of information, since lots of people store contact numbers, addresses, photographs, and lots more in their telephones. So those who don’t want to have their calls traced often use pay-as-you-go telephones. That’s what happens in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. In one plot thread of that novel, DS Bob Tidey and Garda Rose Chyney investigate the execution-style murder of dubious Dublin banker Emmet Sweetman. His killers are not exactly legitimate business contacts, so they did business with Sweetman through a pay-as-you-go ‘phone. Tidey and Cheney are lucky enough to find that telephone, and are able to link the killers to their victim. Incidentally, in another plot thread of the same novel, Vincent Naylor, his brother Noel, and some friends plot the robbery of a van belonging to Protectica, a company that transports cash among banks and firms. They pull off the heist by holding the driver’s wife hostage and sending pictures that prove she’s in danger.

They aren’t the only criminals who use telephones in that way, either. In Max Kinnings’ Baptism, three hostage-takers break into the home of London Underground train driver George Wakeham. They take his wife and children hostage, and order him to do as they tell him. He’s to go to his job as usual, and follow every instruction he is given by the hostage-takers. They then give him a special mobile ‘phone that he’s to keep with him at all times. With no other option, Wakeham does as he’s told, goes to his job, and takes his seat in the driver’s cab of his train. The hostage-takers board it shortly afterwards. And it’s not long before Wakeham understands that these people want to capture the entire train, with all 400-plus passengers. Hostage negotiator DCI Ed Mallory is assigned to try to find out what the hostage-takers want, so he has to establish communication with them, too. By telephone.

There are a lot of other examples, too, of the way police use telephones to get information about victims, suspects and more. And it’s not hard to see why. People do leave a lot of information on their telephones, sometimes more than is judicious. Just ask Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett. In The Serpent Pool, she and her Cold Case Review Team re-open the six-year-old murder of Bethany Friend. It turns out that that killing is tied to two more recent deaths. Oxford historian Daniel Kind is working on some research about Thomas de Quincey, and it turns out that his work is very useful to the cases Scarlett is investigating. One day, she goes out, forgetting her mobile ‘phone at home. When her partner, book dealer Marc Amos finds the telephone, he can’t resist the urge to check her messages. He’s been feeling unsettled about their relationship, and his worst fears seem to be coming true when he sees a text from Kind. That incident doesn’t solve the case, but it plays its role. And it shows just how much information a person can get from a telephone.

Telephones may drive us to the brink sometimes. What with robo-calls, people who have loud, public conversations, and so on, they can seem to do more harm than good. And modern telephones make it harder than ever to actually get away for a break. But where would we be without them?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sweet’s Alexander Graham Bell.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Gene Kerrigan, Martin Edwards, Max Kinnings, Qiu Xiaolong

You’re Saying I’m Fragile*

FragileOne of the ways that authors keep the reader’s interest is by developing characters in sometimes unexpected ways. For example, a character may seem quite fragile on the surface, but as the story evolves, we learn that the character has strengths that we didn’t realise. There’s always a risk with that, of course, because a character who seems to change too abruptly or who acts too much ‘out of character’ isn’t believable. But discovering hidden strength under surface-level fragility can make a character all the more interesting.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links for instance, Hercule Poirot receives an urgent letter from Paul Renauld, an ex-pat Canadian who now lives in France. Renauld’s letter refers to threats on his life, and he makes it clear that he wants Poirot to come to France immediately. Poirot and Hastings go to the small  town of Merlinville-sur-Mer, but by the time they get there it’s too late. Renauld has been stabbed and his body found on a golf course being built near the villa where he lived. As you might expect, the police and Poirot interview people who might have seen something or who might have known the victim. So one of their stops is the villa nearest the Renauld home. In that villa lives Marthe Daubreuil, who is the fiancée of Renauld’s son Jack. When they first meet her, Marthe seems fragile and vulnerable. Poirot even calls her


‘…a girl with anxious eyes.’


But as the story evolves and we learn more about her, we find that Marthe has quite a lot of strength in her.

In Barbara Vine’s (AKA Ruth Rendell) The Minotaur, Kerstin Kvist accepts a position as a private nurse at Lydstep Old Hall, the home of the Cosway family. She’s hoping that the move from her native Sweden to England will allow her to spend more time with her lover Mark Douglas. Her job at the Cosway’s home will be the care of thirty-nine-year-old John Cosway, who is said to be schizophrenic. Kvist settles into her job, but soon finds that this is no ordinary family. For one thing, the family seems to live and behave as though it were still the Victorian Era. For another, John Cosway is kept heavily medicated on orders from his mother, the family matriarch. After a short time Kvist begins to suspect that the heavy medication is detrimental to her patient so without telling anyone, she begins to withhold it. That decision has tragic consequences that she couldn’t have imagined. As the novel evolves and Kvist gets to know her patient, so does the reader. And although he seems very fragile on the surface – he is a mental patient after all – we learn that there are depths and strengths to his character. He turns out to be quite surprising in his way.

In Shona (S.G.) MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, we meet grammar school undermaster Alexander Seaton, a former candidate for the pulpit who left the ministry under a cloud of scandal. Since that time, Seaton has tried to stay ‘under the radar,’ taking on a humble job and trying to stay out of trouble. In many ways he’s quite fragile, although not physically so. Then his good friend Charles Thom is accused of murdering local apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davidson. Thom claims he’s innocent and begs Seaton to clear his name. Seaton agrees and starts to ask questions about the murder. Bit by bit he’s drawn more and more into the investigation. And, trite as it may sound, that process requires him to find strength within himself that he didn’t know he had.

Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride) introduces us to Gunder Jormann, who lives in the small Norwegian town of Elvestad. He’s not the world’s quickest thinker, but he’s a steady worker and has never been in trouble. His sister Marie has always looked after him and in that sense he seems fragile on the surface. Then he decides to do something no-one expected. He decides he would like to get married. He’s no longer a young man, but he’s still in decent physical shape and he has a steady income, so he doesn’t think his marital prospects are hopeless. As if that weren’t surprising enough, he decides to go to Mumbai to find a wife. At first, Marie is against the idea. But when she sees that her brother is determined, she reminds him of all of the details that are involved in international travel. Things start to change when Jormann actually gets to Mumbai. There, he surprises even himself by his ability to get used to being in a totally different environment. He’s successful at finding a wife, too. She is Poona Bai, whom Jormann met when he started going to the restaurant where she works. Within a short time, he has persuaded Poona to marry him and move to Norway. She has to finish up the details of her life in India, so Jormann goes back to Elvestad first, with the understanding that his bride will follow him. On the day of her arrival though, Jormann’s sister is involved in a terrible auto accident and he can’t leave her side. So he asks a friend to meet Poona at the airport. When the two miss each other, Poona continues on towards Elvestad, but never makes it to Jormann’s home. When her body is later discovered in a field near Elvestad, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate. Throughout the novel it’s interesting to see the solid strength of Jormann’s character show beneath his superficial fragility.

Max Kinnings’ Baptism is the story of George Wakeham, a London Underground driver for the Northern Line. He’s by no means weak-willed, but in some ways he’s quite fragile. He’s always wanted to do something creative with his life – something that would have a lasting impact. But although he was part of a band and tried writing as well, he hasn’t felt he succeeded. In that sense he’s quite insecure. Still, he has a stable marriage, two healthy children and a steady job. Then one morning, three people invade his home and take his family as prisoners. They tell Wakeham that if his family is to live, he must do exactly as they say. They give him a special mobile ‘phone which they will use to instruct him, and tell him to report for work as usual, making sure to do everything he is told. With no other option, Wakeham goes to his duty station and takes his place in the cab of his train. The hostage-takers board the train as well, with his family in tow. Then, in the middle of a tunnel, he is ordered to stop the train. Now Wakeham learns to his horror why he was targeted and what the hostage-takers want. In the meantime, DCI Ed Mallory and his team have been alerted to the hostage situation. Mallory is an experienced negotiator, so he tries to work with the hostage-takers to find out exactly what they want. Meanwhile Wakeham works to keep himself and his family alive, and to try his best to protect the 400 passengers on the train. In that process we see that he has a lot of strength that he didn’t know he had.

Fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal is the central focus in Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. Durga has been temporarily placed in a prison because she is under suspicion for having committed multiple murders. One night, thirteen members of her family were poisoned. Some were stabbed as well, and the house was burnt. Durga has survived, but she won’t talk about that night. It looks very much as though she somehow ‘snapped’ and is guilty of the crimes. However, there are clues that instead, she was bound and raped, so she may be a victim herself. The only way to find out what really happened is to get Durga to talk, so social worker Simran Singh is asked to travel from her home in Delhi to the Punjab town of Jullundar to help. Simran knows the town well, since she was brought up there, and it is hoped that she’ll be able to break through Durga’s ‘wall of silence.’ Slowly and piece by piece, Simran finds out about the Atwal family, about Durga’s life there, and about some very dark secrets that the well-to-do family had hidden. As the novel evolves, we see that although Durga seems quite fragile on the surface (and in some ways, she really is), she is actually much stronger and more resilient than it seems.

When characters seem one way on the surface, but turn out to have different sorts of depths to them, this can make them all the more interesting. And that’s part of what keeps readers turning and clicking pages. This post only gives me enough space to mention a few examples of fragile characters who turn out not to be so fragile. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stevie Nicks’ Leather and Lace.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Karin Fossum, Kishwar Desai, Max Kinnings, Ruth Rendell, Shona MacLean