Category Archives: Megan Abbott

People Livin’ in Competition*

A recent post from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, has got me thinking about competitiveness. Bill’s post, which you really should read, discusses competitiveness in attorneys. His point, which is very well-taken, is that trial lawyers have to be competitive. Otherwise, they don’t keep the ‘fire’ they need to do all of the work that’s involved in preparing for a trial and seeing it through.

There are many, many legal mysteries that bear him out, too. In John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, and Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, to name just three, we see examples of attorneys who take on difficult cases – and want to win. There are far too many more examples of such novels for me to mention in this one post, so I won’t.

There’s plenty of competitiveness in other crime fiction, too, and it can add a healthy dose of character development, suspense, and plot to a novel. And, since there’s competitiveness in many different professions, the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to integrating it into a story.

Competitiveness is certainly important in the world of athletics. That’s a major part of the plot in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent, and her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture it. So, when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour approaches them with a proposition, they’re happy to listen:
 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up]  and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’
 

Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (which might not have been an accident) occurs, and changes everything. Devon is gifted, but the question becomes: how far are she and her family willing to go to get to the Olympics? After all, there are only a limited number of young people who can join the US team. So, when one person earns a place, it often means others lose.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry series also explores athletic competitiveness (and for the matter of that, journalistic competitiveness as well). Like her creator, Henry is a sportswriter. She works for the Toronto Planet. Henry especially follows the doings of the Toronto Titans baseball team, so she goes along with them on ‘away’ tours, attends the home games, and gets locker-room interviews with players, coaching staff and the like. When the team is in a slump, it’s devastating. When the team does well, it’s euphoric. These players work hard and train intensively to go as far as they can in the World Series competition. Gordon doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mystery series, and the murder plots dominate the books. But the books also give readers a look at what it’s like to be Major League Baseball athlete. It’s not a life for those who aren’t competitive. Neither is the life of those who write and publish stories about sports.

Business can be very competitive, too. In most industries, there’s a finite pool of customers. So, companies vie to get as much of their business as possible. And sometimes, that competitiveness can be deadly. In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Contagion, for instance, we learn about a major competition between two insurance giants: AmeriCare and National Health. That competition becomes important when a virulent strain of influenza seems to be the cause of a series of deaths at Manhattan General Hospital. Medical examiners Dr. Jack Stapleton and Dr. Laurie Montgomery try to find out what’s causing the virus. The hospital’s authorities are interested in keeping the whole matter as quiet as possible, mostly to protect the institution’s image. But Stapleton in particular wants to whatever it takes, regardless of unpleasant publicity, to prevent more deaths. When it comes out that Manhattan General is affiliated with AmeriCares, the question becomes: did someone at National Health have something to do with these deaths, with the aim of discrediting the competition?

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide deals with the competitive world of the beauty pageant circuit. In it, wealthy pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke is murdered during a charity art auction being held at her home. The most likely suspect is local artist Sara Taylor, who had a public argument with the victim shortly before the murder. But Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu, is sure that she’s not guilty. So, she sets out to clear Sara’s name and find out who the real killer is. There are plenty of suspects, too, as Tristan was both malicious and vindictive. And, for the contestants in the pageant, and their families, there’s an awful lot at stake. The beauty pageant life is demanding, expensive, stressful and time-consuming. You don’t stay in it long if you have no sense of competitiveness.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that there’s a lot of competitiveness in the academic world, too. Many academic mysteries have plots that involve competition for scholarships/bursaries, prizes, academic jobs, funding and so on. It’s a demanding life that takes a lot of time and effort. Just to give one example, Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels take place in the context of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, where James heads the English Literature Department. One of the sub-plots in the first of this series, Murder is Academic, concerns funding for the program. Each department’s funding is based on its performance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). There’s a lot of competition for finite funding, and James knows that she will have to ensure that all of the faculty’s scholarship (including her own) is as impressive as possible. That in itself is stressful. At the same time, she’s caught up in the investigation of the murder of her predecessor, Margaret Joplin. Admittedly, getting funding isn’t the reason for the murder. But it does add to the tension in the novel. And it’s a realistic look at one way in which competition works in academia.

Bill is right that being competitive is important if you’re going to win your case in a trial. It’s also an important personality trait in other fields, too. So it’s little wonder it figures so much in crime fiction. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Bill’s blog. Thoughtful reviews and commentary await you there!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boston’s Peace of Mind.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Grisham, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, William Deverell

The Little Things That Give You Away*

When you do something often enough, or for a long enough time, you learn to spot things that are a little strange, and don’t follow the pattern you’re accustomed to seeing. For instance, I’ve been in higher education for years. It’s gotten to the point where I have a fairly good (by no means perfect!) sense of when a student’s work is not original. Why? Because I’ve read enough student writing to be able to pick up on their writing patterns. If something’s a bit ‘off,’ I notice it. In a similar way, people often begin to suspect their partners may not be faithful because they notice something ‘off’ about their partners’ patterns.

Being able to notice those patterns, and deviations from them, can be very helpful if you’re a sleuth. Those little ‘off’ things can be clues, or they can point to something bigger that’s worth investigating. And even when they aren’t, or don’t, they can be interesting bits of character development in a crime novel.

Agatha Christie’s sleuths make use of those little deviations more than once. In Evil Under the Sun, for instance, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. He gets drawn into a murder investigation when a fellow guest, Arlena Stuart Marshall, is strangled and her body found at a cove not far from the hotel. For Poirot, any correct theory about the crime has to account for all the details surrounding it. And in this case, there are several seemingly inconsequential oddities. Why, for instance, was someone taking a bath in the middle of the morning on the day of the murder? And what does that matter, anyway? And what’s the story behind an empty bottle that nearly hit another guest on the head? And what does that have to do with the murder? It all fits in, though, and once Poirot understands how the crime really happened, he’s able to make sense of all of those odd things.

In Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Ground, we meet American art enthusiast Thomas Murchison. He travels to London to see an exhibit of the work of Philip Derwatt that’s being held at the Buckmaster Gallery. Murchison is deeply knowledgeable about Derwatt’s work, and is excited to see it. And that’s exactly the problem for Tom Ripley, Highsmith’s protagonist, and his friends, Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury and Bernard Tufts. They’ve been making a tidy income by providing the gallery with ‘new’ Derwatt works (the artist died a few years earlier). Tufts forges the work, Banbury (a journalist) writes articles about Derwatt and his work, and it’s Constant’s job to photograph the paintings and advertise them. The whole scheme will fall apart if Murchison finds out that the ‘new’ Derwatt work is forged, so it’s decided that Ripley will go to London disguised as Derwatt. There, he’ll publicly identify the faked work as genuine. The disguise works well enough, but Murchison still notices small things that don’t fit the Derwatt pattern. He’s planning to go to the authorities about the matter, so Ripley invites Murchison to his home in France to discuss everything. Murchison doesn’t change his mind, though, and Ripley deals with Murchison in his own way. He solves ‘the Murchison problem,’ only to find he’s got even bigger problems now…

Peter Høeg’s Smilla Jaspersen, whom we meet in Smilla’s Sense of Snow, grew up in Greenland in her Inuit mother’s community, although she now lives in Copenhagen. So, she’s deeply knowledgeable about all sorts of patterns in snow and glaciers. That knowledge is an important part of her life. And it turns out to be very useful when one of the residents in her apartment building suddenly dies. Ten-year-old Isaiah Christiansen has fallen from the roof of the building in what the police are calling a terrible accident. Smilla finds herself drawn to the scene, and notices that little patterns in the snow don’t add up to an accidental fall. Those small oddities are enough to make her curious, so she starts to ask questions. The trail leads back to Greenland, and to a past expedition there.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano is an experienced police detective. He’s accustomed to patterns associated with crime. That skill turns out to be quite useful when the body of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello is discovered. The dead man is found in a car in a notorious part of town called The Pasture. He’s obviously had a sexual encounter, and the official explanation is that he had a heart attack as a result of it, and died. But seemingly inconsequential things don’t add up to that explanation, and Montalbano asks for a little more time to investigate. He’s grudgingly granted two days, and gets to work. It’s not long before he finds that several people could have wanted Luparello dead. Little by little, he gets to the truth about the matter, and it’s not what it seems on the surface.

And then there’s Megan Abbott’s Die a Little. In that novel, which takes place in 1950’s California, we are introduced to Pasadena teacher Lora King. When her brother, Bill, meets ‘that special someone,’ Lora wants to be happy for him. And the woman, Alice Steele, is both beautiful and smart. But there’s just something ‘off’ about her, and Lora is not impressed. Still, the romance blossoms, and Bill and Alice marry. As time goes by, Lora begins to wonder more and more about her new sister-in-law, although she tries to like her for Bill’s sake. It’s really a pattern of little things that simply don’t add up. For instance, at one point, Alice asks Lora to help her get a teaching job at the school where Lora teaches. Alice claims she has a teaching certificate, but there’s no record of it. Why not? And, if she has no background in teaching, why would she want a job as a teacher? As Lora learns more and more about Alice’s life, she finds more and more that’s ‘off.’ At the same time as she’s repulsed by what she finds, though, she’s also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder. And Alice just might be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s looking out for her brother, Lora begins to ask questions about the murder. And she finds that the answers are dangerous.

Those small breaks in patterns, and little ‘off’ things, might seem not to matter. And in some cases, they don’t. But sometimes, they tell a lot…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a U2 song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Megan Abbott, Patricia Highsmith, Peter Høeg

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?*

Have you ever watched someone do something, and wished you could be like that person? It’s not really envy, but it is wanting what another person has or can do. And it’s a very human emotion, really.

It’s little wonder, then, that it shows up in crime fiction. That feeling of wanting to be like someone else can add an interesting layer of character development. And it can add suspense to a story, especially if it’s taken too far…

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we are introduced to London hairstylist’s assistant Jane Grey. She’s accustomed to dealing with upper-middle-class and upper-class clients, and listening to their stories. It’s not really that she’s envious of them, but she certainly wouldn’t mind a taste of that life. So, when she wins a sweepstakes, she decides on,
 

‘A week at Le Pinet. So many of her ladies had been going to Le Pinet, or just come back from Le Pinet. Jane…had thought to herself, “Why the devil can’t I go to Le Pinet?” Well, now she could.’
 

Jane finds herself drawn into a murder investigation when a fellow passenger on her flight back to London is poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the killer is. There’s more than one possibility, too, since the victim, Marie Morisot, was a well-known moneylender with some desperate clients.

In Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair, we meet Gilbert Hand, junior partner in a small bookselling/publishing firm. After the death of his wife, Rachel, Hand takes his doctor’s advice, and moves to London for a fresh start. He takes a room in respectable hotel and settles in. One day, he discovers that the davenport in his room has a storage area with an unusual package in it. He opens the package to find that it contains a long coil of dark hair. Immediately, Hand is fascinated by the hair, and wonders how it came to be there and whose it was. Soon enough, he learns that the person who had the room before him was a man named Freddie Doyle. Now curious about Doyle, Hand starts to ask some questions. Over time, he becomes more and more obsessed with Doyle, and imagines that he’s in some sort of ‘chess match’ with him. At the same time as he sees Doyle as an opponent, Hand is also fascinated with his life. It’s not long before that obsession spins out of control.

There’s a similar sort of fascination/envy in Ruth Rendell’s 13 Steps Down. In one plot thread of the novel, Mix Cellini earns his living repairing exercise equipment. That’s how he meets supermodel Merissa Nash. Soon enough, Cellini becomes obsessed with her, and imagines a relationship that isn’t really there. At the same time, he learns about notorious serial killer Richard Christie. The murderer’s life fascinates the phobic, neurotic Christie. And, as his own life isn’t particularly interesting, his fantasies soon become more and more real to him. It’s not long before Cellini’s life comes closer and closer to Christie’s, with tragic results. I know, I know, fans of A Judgement in Stone.

Megan Abbott’s Die a Little is the story of Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. Lora and her brother, Bill, are very close. So, when Bill falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, Lora’s naturally concerned. But for Bill’s sake, she tries to get along with Alice. Then, Bill and Alice get married. Soon, Alice is the envy of their group of friends. She always hosts the perfect party, cooks the perfect meals, and manages to do it without looking frazzled. Still, Lora has questions about her new sister-in-law. Some things about Alice just don’t add up. As Lora slowly learns more and more about Alice’s secret life, she’s more and more repulsed by it. At the same time, though, she is irresistibly drawn to it. Alice seems to be sophisticated in a way that Lora isn’t. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Telling herself that she’s trying to protect her brother, Lora begins to ask questions about the death. And it turns out that she’s in far deeper than she thought…

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan spends the summer of 1978 staying with her Aunt Barbara and Uncle Doug Griffin, and her cousins, Mick and Jane. Angela naturally bonds with Mick and his friends, since they are close in age. Jane is a little younger, and often ends up being a tagalong. She looks up to Angela, and very much wants to be like her, as Angela seems so mature and sophisticated. Then, one day, Angela goes missing. She’s later found dead, with a scarf around her head. At first, the members of her family, and the friends she spent time with, are of a lot of interest to the police. But then, there’s another, similar, death. Now, it looks as though there’s a multiple killer around – one the Sydney press has dubbed the Sydney Strangler. The murderer is never found, though. Some thirty-five years later, documentary maker Erin Fury is doing a piece on families of murder victims. She wants to interview the Griffin family, and finally gets permission. And as she speaks to the different members, we see how Angela’s life and death impacted everyone.

It’s only natural to look up to, or wish you were like, someone else. It’s human nature. Sometimes it can spin out of control, though. And even when it doesn’t, it’s an interesting plot thread and piece of character development.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Megan Abbott, Ruth Rendell, Wendy James

Sing Out, Louise!*

An interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about what I’ll call ‘stage parents.’ These are parents who push their children to excel, far beyond the usual rules about getting schoolwork done, or the usual supports, such as going to games or paying for music lessons. Some parents do this because they honestly believe it’s a good way of ensuring that their child succeeds. They see it as their way of providing for their child. Others arguably do it because it allows them to succeed vicariously. There are other reasons, too.

You see such parents at sporting events, recitals and music competitions, and beauty pageants. They’re also in crime fiction. That makes sense, too, if you think about it. That sort of pressure adds a dimension of conflict and tension to a fictional relationship. It can also make an effective motive for murder.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, we are introduced to Gideon Davies. He’s got rare musical talent, and at twenty-eight, has become a world-class violinist. One day, he discovers to his horror that he can’t play. Desperate to find out what’s blocking his playing, he visits a psychotherapist. In the meantime, Davies’ mother, Eugenie, goes out to dinner one night. She leaves the restaurant and is struck in what looks like a tragic hit-and-run accident. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers investigate, and find that this was no accident. Both this death and Davies’ struggles are related to a twenty-year-old tragedy. And woven through the story is Davies’ own history as a child who was raised by ‘stage parents,’ who saw his musical talent and pushed him.

James Ellroy’s historical novel, L.A. Confidential, introduces readers to Preston Exley, who is a revered member of the LAPD. His fondest dream is for his son Edmund ‘Ed’ to rise to the top of the ranks, and he pushes, prods, and does whatever he can to make sure that Ed moves on in his career. This pressure is very difficult for Ed, as you can imagine. Still, he wants to please his father. On Christmas Day, 1951, seven civilians are brutally attacked by members of the police force. At first, nothing’s done about it. Then, a groundswell of protests forces the department to do an internal investigation. Ed Exley is caught up in that event, and in another event two years later. This time, it’s a shooting at an all-night diner called the Nite Owl. The two incidents are related, and we gradually learn what links them as the investigation plays out. Throughout the novel, we see how profoundly Ed Exley has been affected by his father’s ‘stage parenting.’

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide introduces readers to Tristan Pembroke. She’s a wealthy and successful beauty pageant coach and judge who’s helped more than one young girl to win. When she’s murdered at a charity art auction, there are several possible suspects, since she’s made quite a number of enemies. One of those suspects is Sara Taylor, a local artist. Sara’s mother-in-law, restaurant owner Lulu Taylor, knows that Sara’s innocent, and decides to clear her name. As the novel goes on, we learn some things about the beauty pageant circuit, what it takes to win, and how many beauty pageant ‘stage mothers’ there are.  Here’s what one of them, Colleen Bannister, says about pageants:

 

‘‘…you know that Pansy [Colleen’s daughter] and I are not competing for fun, we’re competing to win. Nothing makes that girl happier than having one of those ten-story crowns on her head, all glitzy and shiny, and everyone standing up and cheering themselves hoarse.’’

 

It’s very interesting to see how quick Colleen is to say that the pageant circuit is what Pansy wants. The reality is, of course, that Colleen wants it at least as much.

Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me takes readers into the world of competitive gymnastics. Katie and Erick Knox are the proud parents of fifteen-year-old Devon, a truly gifted gymnast. When Coach Teddy Belfour sees her in action, he makes her parents an offer:

 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up] and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’

 

He means it, too, and Devon’s parents are more than willing to do that. Before long, Devon’s well on the way to national, even Olympic, fame. Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (or was it an accident?) changes everything. Besides the mystery surrounding the death, Abbott also takes a close look at the families behind competitive athletes. It’s a stark case of ‘stage parents’ who will do whatever it takes to make sure their children are winners.

Of course, not all parents of gifted children are ‘stage parents.’ Take Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, for instance. She’s a retired academic and political scientist. She and her attorney husband, Zack, are also the parents of Taylor, a gifted artist. The Shreves have always known about Taylor’s very special and unusual talent. But they’re determined that she’ll have as normal a childhood as possible. In several story arcs that run through this series (and, actually, in a major plot thread of The Gifted), they’re careful about what they allow her to do. For them, it’s a question of balancing support for her talent with support for the rest of her development.

But not all parents do that. And when parents push their children too hard, the result can be tragedy. These are only a few examples. Over to you.

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Clothes in Books? You’ll find it a rich resource of fine reviews and discussion about clothes, popular culture, fiction, and what it all means about us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jule Shyne and Stephen Sondheim’s May We Entertain You?

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Filed under Elizabeth George, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, James Ellroy, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams

So What’s Your Name, New Kid in School?

Whether it’s for spring term or fall term, millions of children all over the world are getting ready to go to school. New clothes have been bought, schools supplies are ready, and the adventure’s about to begin. It’s especially an adventure if it’s a new school, where you don’t know anyone.

On the one hand, that adventure can be exciting; it’s a whole new chance to start over. On the other hand, it’s nerve-wracking, too. What if the other children don’t like you? What if you don’t make friends? What if you get one of THOSE teachers? The stress of starting in a new school is very, very real for a lot of children (and their families). And it can add an interesting plot thread to a crime novel, even if it’s not the main plot point.

Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons begins on the first day of Summer Term at Meadowbank, an exclusive girls’ school. It’s an interesting look at the way a school handles the influx of new pupils. Among those new students this term are Julia Upjohn and Jennifer Sutcliffe. The school is run by Honoria Bulstrode, who cares very much about the pupils. She makes sure the staff gets new students settled, and helps them find their way. And that’s how it works out for Julia and Jennifer, at least at first. Also new this term is Grace Springer, the games mistress. She’s got an abrasive, overly-inquisitive personality, and doesn’t fit in nearly as well as anyone hoped. Shortly after the term begins, Springer is shot late one night. The police are called in and the investigation starts. It hasn’t gotten very far, though, when there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. Now it’s clear that something is very, very wrong at Meadowbank. Julia goes to visit Hercule Poirot, who knows her mother’s best friend, Maureen Summerhayes (remember her, fans of Mrs.McGinty’s Dead?). Poirot returns to the school with Julia, and discovers the truth behind the events at the school.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction writer Zack Walker decides to move his family from the city where they live to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. He believes that his family, especially his two children, Angie and Paul, will be safer in the suburbs. What’s more, he thinks the schools will be better. That, at least, turns out not to be true. Angie and Paul don’t fit in very well in their new schools; here’s how Angie explains it one day:
 

‘‘I go to school with a bunch of losers,’ she said finally.
 I let that one hang out there for a while. ‘What do you mean, losers?’…
‘All I’m saying is just because we moved out of the city doesn’t mean there aren’t still weird people in my school.’’
 

Both young people dislike having to be what Angie calls, ‘borderline normal’ – conformist. And it’s not long before Walker learns firsthand how dangerous the suburbs can be. First, he witnesses an argument. Then, he finds the body of one of the people involved in that argument. Later, there’s another murder. And some strange discoveries about some of the ‘respectable’ people in Valley Forest.

The main focus of Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black is the murder of Catherine Ross, who is found strangled not long after New Year’s Eve. The first suspect is a misfit named Magnus Tait, who lives nearby, and who knows Catherine. There’s talk, too, that he was responsible for the disappearance of a young girl years earlier, although nothing’s ever been proven. Tait, though, claims he’s innocent. And Inspector Jimmy Perez doesn’t want to arrest the wrong person. So, he looks closely into the victim’s background to find out who would have wanted to kill her. He discovers that she and her father (her mother has died) recently moved to the town of Ravenswick, in Shetland. In ways, Catherine doesn’t fit in. She’s from ‘down south,’ and seems much more sophisticated than her classmates. But she also has enough confidence that she doesn’t much care how well she fits in. Catherine’s being new to Shetland isn’t the reason she’s killed. But it adds a dimension to her character, and it contributes to the atmosphere of the novel.

Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is, for the most part, the story of three families, all of whom have children who attend Kindergarten at Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The story begins with a tragedy that happens on Trivia Night. That event is supposed to be a fundraiser for the school, so that Smart Boards can be purchased for the classrooms. As the police investigate, the story goes back in time to the beginning of the school year, and the first day of Kindergarten. And we learn that, right from that first day of school, there’s been tension. The children in Kindergarten are already nervous at starting school, and some of their parents are just as anxious. For example, Jane Chapman’s recently moved to the area, and she doesn’t fit in socially with the other parents. So, she’s quite nervous about how her son, Ziggy, will fare in school. As the novel goes on, we see the tension among the parents build, and we see how it impacts their children.

New teachers often feel the same sort of ‘will I fit in?’ anxiety. And even when they don’t, they’re certainly subjected to quite a lot of scrutiny. For instance, in Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, we are introduced to Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. They’re in their last year of school, and at the top of the proverbial social tree. Beth is captain of the school’s cheerleading squad, and Addy is her trusty lieutenant. Together, they rule the school. Then, a new cheerleading coach, Collette French, is hired. Here’s how her arrival is described:
 

‘Her first day. We all look her over with great care, our heads tilted. Some of us, maybe even me, fold our arms across our chests.
The New Coach.
There are so many things to take in, to consider and set on scales, always tilted towards scorn.’
 

There’s a lot of tension as the new coach starts working with the team, but before long, she’s won a lot of the girls over. In fact, she turns the squad into a sort of very elite club. Addy is welcomed as a member, but Beth remains on the outside, looking in. Everything changes when there’s a suicide (or is it?). And we see the role that fitting as a new person plays in the story.

It plays out in other crime fiction, too, and that makes sense. Starting in a new school can be tense. And there’s always the chance that everything will go wrong – especially in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Donnas’ New Kid in School.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Liane Moriarty, Linwood Barclay, Megan Abbott