Category Archives: Mayra Montero

Something’s Got to Pay Off*

Have you ever been to a casino? They’re designed to be exciting, and to get the adrenaline going. And every detail is very carefully planned so that you’ll spend the maximum amount of time there, and wager the maximum amount of money.

Because casinos are exciting, suspenseful places where a lot of money changes hands, it’s not surprising that they’re also really effective settings in crime novels. All sorts of things can happen in a casino, and they run the gamut from seedy, dangerous places to some of the most luxurious places in the world. So, there are lots of possibilities for an author.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, for instance, we are introduced to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. She’s just won a lottery, so she decides to take a trip to Le Pinet, where many of her clients go. She doesn’t have much luck at the casino, but she does meet some of the characters who figure later in the story. One of them is Lady Cicely Horbury. She’s got a gambling addiction, and has the bad judgement to think that her next roll will wipe out her debts. She has a run of bad luck, though, and is desperate for money. So, she borrows money from Marie Morisot, a Paris moneylender who does business as Madame Giselle. When she can’t pay the money back, Madame Giselle prepares to use the ‘collateral’ she has – private information that Lady Horbury does not want her husband to learn. Everything changes when Madame Giselle suddenly dies during a flight from Paris to London. It looks at first like heart failure due to a wasp’s sting. But it’s soon clear that this was murder. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight as Madame Giselle, as are both Jane Grey and Cicely Horbury, and all three get caught up in the investigation.

In the US, several Native American Nations generate revenue by operating casinos on their land. One of them, a casino in the Ute Nation, figures in Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger. In it, the casino is robbed by a group of far-right militia members who want to use the loot they stole to buy arms and equipment. If you know about casinos, then you know it’s well-nigh impossible to steal from them without ‘inside help.’ Deputy Sheriff Teddy Bai works part-time at the casino as a security guard, and the police suspect that he’s in league with the thieves. He claims he’s innocent, and his friend, Navajo Tribal Police detective Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito, believes him. She takes her concerns to Sergeant Jim Chee, and he starts asking questions. It turns out that this case is linked to the past, and to an old Ute legend.

In Michael Connelly’s Trunk Music, L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch investigates the murder of mediocre filmmaker Tony Aliso, whose body is found in the trunk of his Rolls Royce. He was killed execution-style, and all signs point to this being a Mob ‘hit.’ As Bosch looks into that possibility, he follows the trail to a seedy Las Vegas casino – and to former FBI agent Eleanor Wish, who’s become a professional poker player. He and Wish develop a relationship that ends in marriage, and it’s interesting to see how their story arc impacts the novels that come after this one. And in this novel, there’s a really telling scene between them that takes place in a casino.

As you’ll know, Havana was, at one time, a mecca for those who liked casinos. And many of those watering holes were owned by, or at least controlled, by Mob members. That’s one of the plot points in Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra’, which takes place in the years just before the revolution that put Fidel Castro into power. In that novel, we are introduced to fledgling journalist Joaquín Porrata, who works for the Diario de la Marina. Most of what he writes is ‘lightweight’ news, such as interviews with film actors. But then, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia, who was killed in a New York barbershop. Anastasia was known as ‘The Great Executioner of Murder, Inc.,’ and Porrata thinks he was killed because he ‘stuck his nose’ into Mob business in Havana casinos. If that’s correct, then there’s a major story here. But instead, Perrota is told to write a story about a hippopotamus that escaped from a Havana zoo and was later found killed. He does what he’s asked to do, but his interest in the Anastasia murder is renewed when he uncovers a link between it and the hippo’s death – and yes, there is one. Throughout this novel, we see the role that casinos played in Havana’s economy and society during the last years of the Batista regime.

Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State features a different sort of casino. In it, professional thief Gary Chance goes from South Australia to Brisbane when a robbery he was involved in goes wrong. There, he meets Dennis Curry, who runs certain poker games for wealthy people who don’t go to ‘regular’ casinos. Curry wants to rob one of his clients, Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao, and he wants Chance’s help. It sounds like an opportunity for a big payout, so Chance meets the rest of Curry’s team, and agrees to join it. The robbery is planned, but it doesn’t turn out to be anything like what Chance had imagined…

And, of course, I don’t think I could bring up the topic of casinos in crime fiction without mentioning Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Fans of these novels can tell you that he’s as comfortable at the baccarat table as he is anywhere else. And there are several important and tense casino scenes in the series.

But that’s just the thing. Casinos lend themselves to adrenaline, tension and suspense. And a lot of money is at stake. So, they do make really effective contexts for crime novels, and scenes in them.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Mayra Montero, Michael Connelly, Tony Hillerman

Oh, Havana, I’ve Been Searching For You Everywhere*

As this is posted, it would have been Fidel Castro’s 91st birthday. Whatever you think of Castro, his politics or his history, it’s impossible to deny his impact on Cuba and on world politics. And it’s interesting to see how Cuba features in crime fiction. Leaving politics aside (Please! Let’s leave politics aside.), there are some interesting crime novels and series set in Cuba at different times, and they give readers a fascinating portrait of the country.

For instance, Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra’ takes place in 1957 Havana, just before the revolution that will put Castro in power. At the time, Fulgencio Batista is still in power, and his secret police and armed forces do whatever it takes to keep things that way. But at the same time, there is a groundswell of support for a revolution, and plenty of tension in the atmosphere. Against this backdrop, we are introduced to Joaquín Porrata, a fledging reporter for the Diario de la Marina. So far, his assignments have mostly been ‘fluff’ pieces, such as interviews with starlets and ‘lightweight’ news. Then, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia in a New York City barbershop. Anastasia was known as The Great Executioner of Murder, Inc., and had quite a reputation among mobsters with strong links to the Havana casino and club scene. And that, Porrata believes, is the reason he was killed. He apparently ‘stuck his nose’ into other Mob bosses’ Havana interests, and that sealed his fate. Porrata’s managing editor doesn’t think Anastasia’s death is relevant for a Havana newspaper, and instead, assigns Porrata to another story, the mysterious death of a hippopotamus that had escaped from a local zoo. Porrata learns that the hippo’s death was likely a message to Anastasia, and comes to believe that the two stories are linked. When he’s lured away from his employer by the Prensa Libre, he’s given permission to investigate Anastasia’s murder. But the closer he gets to the truth, the more determined some very powerful people are that it will not get reported. Among other things, this is an interesting look at life in Havana just before Castro took power.

When Castro did come to power, many Cubans left the country and developed their own communities elsewhere. One of the largest ex-pat Cuban communities is in Miami, and that makes sense, given its proximity to Havana. Readers get a close look at that community in the work of Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, who is herself a Cuban-born American. Her sleuth is PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano. Solano’s parents emigrated from Cuba because of the revolution, and her father still feels a deep connection to his homeland. In fact, he pays close attention to any radio news he gets from Cuba, so that when the time is right, he and his family can return. The other members of the family also feel close to their Cuban background. They speak Cuban Spanish, eat a traditional Cuban diet to the extent they can, and keep their culture alive in other ways, too. And in several of the mysteries in this series, Solano’s investigations include links to Cuba. So they offer readers a glimpse of life in modern Cuba, and of the relations between people who stayed in Cuba and their families, and those who left.

Leonardo Padura also offers readers a look at life in Havana. His Mario Conde series features Lieutenant Mario Conde of the Havana police force. The first quartet of novels (published in English as Havana Red, Havana Blue, Havana Black, and Havana Gold) takes place in 1989, mostly in Havana. Through Conde’s eyes, readers follow the lives of people who stayed in Cuba and worked to make good lives there. Some stayed because they believed in the revolution. Others stayed because they saw no other option. Either way, the novels offer a look at Cuban life from the perspective of those who stayed on after the revolution. On the one hand, Conde sees clearly some of the serious problems facing the country. There’s corruption where there was supposed to be equity. There’s poverty, too, and shortages. There are other challenges as well. But at the same time, Conde loves his home, his old friends, and his culture. He isn’t at all blind to the failures of the Castro government, but he loves his homeland. For those interested, there’s also Havana Fever, which takes place in 2003, and features a now-retired Conde. Again, as much as anything else, it’s a look at modern Havana. Conde dreams of being a writer, and these novels are as much literary as they are crime fiction, but there are certainly important crime plots in them.

There’s also Paul Goldstein’s Havana Requiem, which features New York attorney Michael Seeley. In the novel, he’s trying to put his life back together after a devastating series of setbacks. He’s got a brilliant legal mind, so he’s starting to regain some of what he lost. Then he gets a visit from Héctor Reynoso, a Cuban musician and composer, whose music was very popular during the ‘Golden Age’ of Cuban music, in the 1940s and 1950s. Reynoso has taken grave risks to come to the US and ask for Seeley’s help on behalf of himself and some composer friends. His claim is that their music was stolen from them, and they want their rights (and royalties) back. And that adds up to a considerable amount of money, too, since the music is still popular and still being covered by contemporary Latin artists. Seeley has a reputation for defending the rights of composers and other artists, and Reynoso’s been told he’s the best. Seeley has his own problems, and at first doesn’t want to take this case. But when he sees how the group has been defrauded, he takes an interest. He goes to Havana and begins a search for the other composers in Reynoso’s group, but before he can accomplish much, Reynoso disappears. Now Seeley is caught up in a web of intrigue with international implications, especially given the always-delicate situation between Cuba and the US. The main plot of the novel has to do with copyright law, rights to work, and other, related, legal issues. But it also offers a look at modern Havana.

There are other novels, too, (I’m thinking, for instance, of Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Crisis, for instance) with scenes that take place in Cuba. It’s a country rich in heritage and culture, and whatever else one might say of Fidel Castro, he left his mark there.

 

ps. Thanks to Condé Nast Traveller for the ‘photo.
 
 
 

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

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Filed under Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Leonardo Padura, Mayra Montero, Paul Goldstein, Robin Cook

Got Clean Away in a Stolen Car*

gangsters-and-mobstersAs this is posted, it’s the 83rd anniversary of two events. One is the escape of John Dillinger from an Ohio jail. The other is the incarceration of George Francis Barnes, AKA Machine Gun Kelly. They were by no means the only gangsters out there. Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd, and Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel are just a few of the other infamous names of the times. Some of these people were members of criminal gangs and groups. Others were ‘lone wolves.’

Either way, these people were, first and last, criminals. Many of them committed horrible acts, and certainly sanctioned others that they didn’t commit themselves. And yet, they have a certain fascination. Gangsters and mobsters figure in a lot of films, TV shows and series, and books. Space doesn’t permit me to mention all of the crime novels where gangsters figure into the plot. But here are a few to show you what I mean.

Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, which takes place in early-1930’s Oklahoma, features Jack Belmont. He’s always been a ‘wrong ‘un,’ as the saying goes, and now dreams of being a powerful outlaw, just like Pretty Boy Floyd. If he’s going to do that, though, he’ll have to get past Deputy U.S. Marshal Carlos ‘Carl’ Webster. He’s as determined to put gangsters like Belmont behind bars as Belmont is to be at the top of the ‘most wanted’ list. For each man, it’s as much a personal matter as it is anything else, and it’s interesting to look at the culture that made folk heroes of so many of the outlaws of that time.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs tells the story of the Franco family. In 1974, an unnamed art restorer happens to be in the Swiss Alps looking at some of the frescoes at a monastery there. He meets an old man who lives in the care home attached to the monastery, and gets an irresistible offer. The old man promises to tell him a story – a good story – if he’ll tape record that story. The art restorer agrees, and the old man begins. The story really starts at the turn of the 20th Century, when Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family immigrate from Italy. Franco is, by trade, a shoemaker, and soon sets up his business in New York City. He does well, and the family prospers. But then he starts drinking too much. One night, he gets into a bar fight and ends up killing Luigi Lupo, son of a powerful New York gangster. Lupo’s father finds out who killed his son and puts a curse on the Franco family. According to the curse, Franco’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age as Luigi Lupo was when he was killed. The storyteller than goes on to recount what happened to the three sons, how the curse impacted them, and how it led to the family’s current situation, years later. As the story is told, we learn about the mobsters and gangsters of that era, and how the various criminal families operated.

Before the days of Fidel Castro, Havana was a watering hole for many mobsters and gangsters, and Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra’ uses that context. Joaquín Porrata is a fledgling reporter for Diario de la Marina, accustomed to doing ‘fluff’ stories like interviewing actors. One day, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia, the Great Executioner of Murder, Inc. Anastasia was killed in New York City, but the Mob’s reach is far, and it’s believed he was killed because he was interfering too much with some powerful bosses’ Havana interests. Porrata is taken off the Anastasia story and instead, is told to follow up on a story about a hippo who escaped from a zoo and was found killed. When Porrata discovers that the hippo was ‘a message for Anastasia,’ he is convinced that there’s a connection between Havana’s gangster activity and what happened in New York. The closer he gets to the truth, though, the harder some very powerful people try to shut him up.

Today’s outlaws, gangsters and mobsters are arguably cut from a different bolt, as the saying goes. But they’re still a force to be reckoned with. We see a bit of what they’re like in Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas. In that novel, ex-pat Americans Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children move to a small town in Normandy. They’re hoping to settle in and start new lives, but it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, there’s the culture shock. For another, Fred Blake is really Giovanni Manzoni, a former member of the New Jersey Mob, who testified against fellow mobsters. In return, he and his family were placed in the US’ Federal Witness Protection Program. When word of the Manzonis’ gets back to New Jersey, the ‘Blakes’ are in serious trouble… There are other authors, too, such as Mario Puzo and Richard Condon, who’ve written books detailing life in the Mob.

What do you folks think? Is there a certain mystique about the gangsters and outlaws of bygone days? If so, why do you think that is? Whether ‘lone wolves’ or members of groups, those gangsters certainly made names for themselves. And they’ve found quite a place in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Mitch Murray and Peter Callander’s The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Elmore Leonard, Mario Puzo, Mayra Montero, Richard Condon, Tonino Benacquista

In The Spotlight: Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra’

>In The Spotlight: Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who Could Read BackwardsHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Historical novels allow the author to share the cultures of certain times and places, and give readers the chance to learn about them. One key to doing that well is to tell the story without overburdening the reader with historical facts. To see what I mean, let’s turn the spotlight on Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra.’

A great deal of the story takes place in 1957 Havana, just before the revolution that will put Fidel Castro into power. At this time, Havana is known for its casinos and clubs, most of which have Mob connections. Joaquín Porrata is a fledging reporter for the Diario de la Marina. Thus far, he’s done ‘fluff’ jobs, such as interviewing performers and reporting on ‘lightweight’ news. One day, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia, who was killed in a New York barber shop. Anastasia was a known as the Great Executioner of Murder, Inc., and Porrata believes that he was killed because he ‘stuck his nose’ into other powerful Mob bosses’ Havana interests.

However, Porrata’s managing editor doesn’t think Anastasia’s death will be of any interest to readers:

 

‘Who cares if they killed that fat pig?’

 

Instead, he sends Porrata to look into another odd case. A hippopotamus escaped from the local zoo and has been found killed. One of the first people Porrata talks to about the animal is Juan Bulgado, who usually works tending the lions. He tells Porrata that the hippo’s death is,

 

‘…a message for Anastasia.’

 

When Porrata responds that Anastasia’s dead, Bulgado remarks on what a waste it is, and that Anastasia didn’t get the message.

The fact that there’s a connection between the dead hippo and a murdered crime leader intrigues Porrata, who wants to find out more about Anastasia’s death. He writes up an article about this possible link, but his bosses quash it, sending him instead to interview Kary Rusi, a singer/entertainer who’s working at the San Souci. That’s where Porrata meets Rusi’s assistant Yolanda, with whom he begins to form a relationship.

Then, Porrata is courted and won by a rival newspaper, Prensa Libre, and persuades them to let him go to New York and find out more about Anastasia’s death. Porrata is convinced that that murder has a direct link to Mob activity in Havana, and that it’s an important story. But the closer he gets to the truth about that link and what it really means, the more some very powerful people want to shut him up.

One of the most important elements in this novel is the look that it gives at life in Havana just before Castro. The casinos are Mob-owned and run, and if you have money, are very alluring. Figures such as Santos Trafficante, Meyer Lansky and other crime leaders run the proverbial show, and those who cross them soon regret it. Fulgencio Batista is still in control of the government; and he and his armed forces and secret police take sometimes brutal measures to stay that way. There is also, though, a rising tide of threat from the revolutionaries. It’s a country just on the cusp of moving from a playground of the Western rich to the Cuba of Castro. There’s a looming sense of danger as these various forces interact.

Along those lines, there is also an element of nostalgia in the novel. I don’t usually make comparisons between stories, but in this case, there’s a certain similarity (to me anyway) between the nostalgia in this novel and that in Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin (which inspired the musical Cabaret). The context in both cases is a society that’s caught in a very uneasy place between a past that now seems innocent and an extremely uncertain future.

The main plot of this novel has to do with Mob involvement in the casinos of the 1950s, so several real-life Mob figures are mentioned, and some play roles in the story. That said though, this isn’t what you’d call ‘untrue crime’ in the sense that, say, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is. Rather, people such as Lansky, Trafficante and so on move in and out of the story as other characters do.

As you might suspect with this kind of plot, there is a great deal of violence in the novel. Some of it is quite brutal too. It’s not a story for the faint of heart. The violence doesn’t go on for page after page; still, it’s very, very ugly.

The story is told in first person, from Porrata’s point of view for the most part. In several places, Porrata remembers one or another event or person; those sections are told in flashback form. Readers who prefer their stories to be told in chronological sequence will notice this. In this way, we learn much about Porrata, his parents, his brother Santiago and his sister Lucy.

Readers will also notice that there is more than one plot thread. Besides the main plot, we also learn Yolanda’s story. It’s also told in the first person, and is separated from Porrata’s story by italics. Her story is linked with the main plot, and as it evolves, we learn how – it’s not what you might think.

The story of what happened to Anastasia and why is prosaic, if violent. But there is also an almost dreamlike quality in some of the writing. Here’s a bit of Yolanda’s story:

 

‘…I felt like I was in floating in a dream, or floating on the line that divides two waters: on one side the living, and the normal things that happen every day, and on the other side the dead, and the ghosts that no one should get involved with, or try to learn why they do what they do…’

 

Readers who prefer a more direct approach to storytelling will notice this.

Dancing to ‘Almendra’ is the story of Havana in its last ‘glory days’ before the Cuban revolution. It features a young reporter trying to make sense of it all, and of his life, and gives readers a look at the Mob during the days of some of its most notorious leaders. But what’s your view? Have you read Dancing to Almendra? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 18 May/Tuesday 19 May – The Devil’s Making – Seán Haldane

Monday 25 May/Tuesday 26 May – In Her Blood – Lisa Unger

Monday 1 June/Tuesday 2 June – The Water Rat of Wanchai – Ian Hamilton

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A Mug of Suds and a Leather Strop*

Barber Shops and Beauty SalonsFor most of us, trips to the barber shop or hair stylist are part of our routines. They’re places where we put life aside for a short while and take some time for ourselves, if only for the few minutes it takes to get our hair trimmed. But if you think about it, beauty salons and barber shops are also really effective contexts for crime novels. For one thing, a lot of gossip is exchanged at such places. So they’re very good places for sleuths to ‘listen in.’ And since barbers and hair stylists hear a lot of things, they’re awfully vulnerable when someone would rather keep something a secret. What’s more, people often have their guards down, so to speak, when they get their hair cut. So a barber shop or beauty salon can also be a solid setting for a murder. Little wonder that such places are woven through crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) for instance, we meet London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. After a lucky win in a lottery, Jane decides to use some of her prize for a holiday at Le Pinet. During her flight back from Paris to London, one of her fellow passengers Marie Morisot suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the murderer is. Since the only possible suspects are the victim’s fellow passengers, Jane comes in for her share of questioning. And she learns that sometimes, being mixed up in a murder case gets a person quite a lot of publicity and can even be good for one’s career. Jane’s occupation isn’t the reason for the murder, but in the course of the story, readers get a look at a London beauty salon, and there are some funny moments as Jane and her colleagues encounter all sorts of different clients and deal with their irascible boss.

In Rex Stout’s novella The Cop-Killer, the Goldenrod Barber Shop, where both Archie Goodwin and his boss Nero Wolfe get their hair cut, becomes the focus of a triple murder investigation. When two women are killed by a hit-and-run driver, police detective Jake Wallen thinks he has tracked the killer to the barber shop. He’s following up on this lead when he himself is stabbed. Suspicion falls on Carl and Tina Vardas, who work at the shop and who are in the country illegally. They ask Goodwin to help them, since they know they’re likely to be deported at the very least. Goodwin agrees to at least look into the matter and he and Wolfe trace Wallen’s movements to find out who killed him and why.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s A Dyeing Shame: Death at the Beauty Box introduces us to retired teacher Myrtle Clover. She gets her hair done at The Beauty Box, a hair salon in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. Lately, the shop’s owner Tammy Smith has been having some very obvious problems. She’s been ruining people’s hair and drinking quite a lot. It’s very clear that something’s wrong, but Tammy’s not saying what it is. Then one night she’s stabbed in the back with a pair of shears and pushed down the stairs to the shop’s basement. There’s talk that Tammy’s niece Kat Roberts is guilty, and it’s not impossible. Kat works at the shop and everyone knows the plan was for her to take over some day. What’s more, she’s quarreled with her aunt more than once. Kat says she’s innocent though, and Myrtle believes her. It turns out that this murder has more to do with Tammy’s personal life than with her skill at styling.

In Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters, DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla investigate the death of Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in Jerusalem Lane with her two sisters. On the surface of it, the death looks like a suicide. But Kolla isn’t so sure of that and Brock agrees that she should look into the matter more closely. It turns out that there are several possibilities too. For one thing, a development company wants to buy up Jerusalem Lane to create a new shopping and entertainment complex, but the victim was holding out and refusing to sell. For another, Meredith’s son Terry stands to inherit the house in Jerusalem Lane. He’s the owner of several beauty salons in the area and has found himself in real financial trouble. The sale of the house to the developers will make a big difference. And then there’s the fact that Meredith and her sisters are descendants of Karl Marx, and have several old papers and books among their possessions. Those items are potentially worth a great deal of money. One of the leads that the detectives follow is Terry’s business situation. A little digging into his life as a salon owner turns up some not-very-above-board doings. And you thought you could trust a salon owner… 😉

We see how vulnerable people can be at barber shops and salons in Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra.’ In that novel, which takes place in 1957, New York Mafia capo Umberto Anastasia is murdered in the barber shop at the Park Sheraton Hotel (If that story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on a real event). On the very same day, a hippopotamus escapes from the zoo in Havana. What’s interesting is that the two incidents are related. Joaquín Porrata is a young Cuban journalist who’s assigned to cover the story of the escaped hippo. When the zookeeper hints that there’s a Mob connection in both cases, Porrata senses a much bigger story. So he digs deeper and finds himself getting dangerously involved in the Cuban/American Mob scene.

And then there’s Douglas Lindsay’s Barney Thomson series. When we first meet Thomson in The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, he’s a nondescript Glasgow barber with an unhappy marriage. The customers at the barber shop usually bypass him for the other two barbers, and few people really pay attention to him at all. He’s socially awkward and certainly not prepossessing. He’s got a morose attitude to life, and for good reason. And in his fantasies, he’d love to commit a murder or two. And, as it turns out, there’s a serial killer who wouldn’t mind lending a hand. This is a comic-noir twist on the barber shop theme, and for those who enjoy that sort of dark wit, there is a lot of humour here.

See what I mean? We may take those trips to the hair stylist or barber for granted, but you never know what can happen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with my stylist. Don’t want to be late, you know; she doesn’t like that…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Prologue).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Douglas Lindsay, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Mayra Montero, Rex Stout