Category Archives: Megan Abbott

You’re My Best Friend*

best-friendsWhen a person goes missing or is murdered, the police often talk to that person’s best friend(s) to get information. After all, we often tell things to our best friends that we don’t tell anyone else, even our families. So, it’s almost always worth the time it takes to find out who that best friend is and talk to him or her.

In crime fiction, a victim’s best friend can provide plenty of important clues, if that’s what the author wishes to do. And, since friendships – even best friendships – can be very complicated, there are all sorts of possibilities for plot twists. So, it’s little wonder we see fictional sleuths paying all sorts of attention to best friends. There are far too many examples for me to mention here. I hope you’ll add your own, to complete this post.

Agatha Christie introduced one of her most famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In that novel, Poirot has recently emigrated to England, and is now living in the village of Styles St. Mary, not far from his benefactor, Emily Inglethorp, who lives at Styles Court. As it happens, Captain Arthur Hastings is a friend of her stepson, John Cavendish. He’s visiting Cavendish when Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. By chance, he meets up with Poirot, whom he also knows, and persuades the detective to investigate. One of the people Poirot talks to is the victim’s best friend and companion, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. And Miss Howard certainly has plenty to say against her friend’s husband, Alfred Inglethorp. It’s an interesting perspective on the victim, and it turns out to be useful in solving the case. I know, fans of Death on the Nile.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the disappearance of Andreas Winthur. It seems that he spent the day with his best friend, Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, and never came home. When his mother, Runi, gets worried about him, she goes to the police. At first, Sejer doesn’t worry too much, since Andreas is not a little child. But after some time goes by, he, too, gets concerned. That’s when he and Skarre start to look into the matter. They soon find out about Zipp, and Sejer has more than one interview with him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he knows more than he is saying, and it takes Sejer quite a while to get that information. Among other things, this novel offers an interesting perspective on young adult friendships. Fossum also explores this in other novels, such as Black Seconds and Bad Intentions.

Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces readers to Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove police. In the novel, groom-to-be Michael Harrison disappears a few days before his wedding. It all started innocently enough with a ‘stag night’ prank. But a terrible car accident left Harrison stranded and in real danger. His fiancée, Ashley Harper, goes to the police for help, and DI Glenn Branson agrees to investigate. He brings Grace along, and soon enough, there’s an all-out search. As a part of the investigation, the police talk to Harrison’s best friend and best-man-to-be, Mark Warren. Warren wasn’t in town at the time of Harrison’s disappearance, so he doesn’t know exactly what happened. But he does have background and other useful information, which turns out to be important to the case.

Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen is faced with a tragic case in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. He’s recently been stationed at Tiverton, in rural South Australia, and is adjusting to life there. One day, the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road. There are definite signs that the victim wasn’t killed there, so there are plenty of possibilities. This won’t be an easy case. It’s made even harder by the fact that Hirsch is a pariah among his fellow coppers, because he’s seen as a ‘whistleblower.’ So, he’s going to get no help with the Melia Donovan case. As you’d guess, Hirsch starts with the victim’s family and friends. That includes her best friend, Gemma Pitcher, who works at a local convenience shop. At first, she does her best to avoid talking to him. But eventually he catches up with her, and the information she finally provides turns out to be helpful.

The focus of Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street is the disappearance of June Giatto. One summer night, she and her best friend, Valerie ‘Val’ Marino decide to take a raft ride on the bay near their Brooklyn area of Red Hook. The next morning, Val is found, injured but alive. June, though, has disappeared. Despite a major search, there’s no sign of her – not even a body. The police, of course, have plenty of questions for Val, but she claims not to know what happened to her friend. In fact, she’s devastated by June’s loss, and upset by the insinuations that she might know more about it than she’s saying. As time goes by, we slowly learn what happened to June, and we get an ‘inside look’ at the friendship between the two girls.

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated ever since the disappearance of his twin, Alyssa, a year earlier. He’s determined to find her, or at least, find out what happened to her. And he’s got a map and a plan. One day, he’s skipping school, spending time by the local river, when he witnesses another death. The victim this time is David Wilson, a local college professor. And he just might have had some information about Alyssa. Local police detective Clyde Hunt knows the Merrimon case well; he investigated it. And it’s haunted him ever since that he wasn’t able to get answers. So, he stays in contact with the family, and tries to help Johnny in his own way. One of the people Hunt talks to is Johnny’s best friend, Jack Cross. As the story evolves, we learn more about their friendship, the role it plays in Johnny’s life, and Jack’s perspective on Johnny. And that information turns out to be important.

Best friends can be the most loyal and helpful people in one’s life. Or the most dangerous. And that’s part of what makes those characters so interesting in crime fiction. Right, fans of Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Garry Disher, Ivy Pochoda, John Hart, Karin Fossum, Megan Abbott, Peter James

Waiting For Life to Start*

restlessAs adults, we learn that life isn’t a series of exciting events all in a row. In fact, a lot of us are sustained by the regular routines of our lives. But very often, young people don’t have that perspective. There’s a sense among some young people of waiting for, well, they’re not entirely sure what. But they know they’re waiting for something to happen. Perhaps you remember that same restlessness from your own past.

That sense of waiting can make a person bored and restless. And when that happens it leaves one open to a lot of things that seem new and different, even exciting, at the time, but can quickly become dangerous. So it’s little wonder that we see that plot point, or that sort of character, in crime fiction.

In Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, for instance, we meet Trever Sharp. He’s a bright enough young person, but he’s bored and restless, living in the small Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He doesn’t quite fit in with the other boys at school, and he’s had brushes with the law. Fortunately, he’s been smart enough to steer clear of real trouble. Then he starts spending time with Mick Webster, who is, by nearly anyone’s definition, a juvenile delinquent. Trevor’s father warns him to have nothing to do with Mick, but Trevor is aimless and Mick is interesting and ‘cool.’ DI Alan Banks, who is introduced in this novel, encounters Trevor in the course of investigating a series of break-ins, a peeper who’s making the lives of Eastvale’s women miserable, and a murder. As the novel goes on, we see just how dangerous that restlessness can be.

Pascal Garnier’s How’s the Pain? introduces readers to twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. He’s aimless, bored, and at loose ends. What’s more, he doesn’t have a particular skill or passion, so there’s nothing, really, that interests him. But he does have a driving license. And that’s just what ageing contract killer Simon Marechall needs. He’s nearly at the end of his career, and wants to do one more job before he leaves it. The idea is that Ferrand will drive him to the French coast, where Marechall will take care of his last piece of business. Ferrand agrees; after all, what else is there for him to do? But he doesn’t know, at first, what his new boss’ business is. And by the time he finds out, things have already been set in motion. If you’ve read Garnier, you know that this trip is not going to go well…

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate a strange disappearance. Andreas Winther hasn’t been seen in a few days. His mother Runi gets concerned and visits Sejer. At first, Sejer isn’t sure there’s any cause for worry; there are many reasons why a young man might take off for a few days without telling his mother where he is. But as more time goes by, Sejer begins to get concerned, too, and looks into the matter. He learns that Andreas and his best friend Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe are both rather aimless young men, waiting for something interesting to happen. They do everything together, and it’s very likely that Zipp knows something about what happened to his friend. Sejer becomes even more convinced that Zipp knows more than he’s saying when he interviews him. But Zipp refuses to help. It takes all of Sejer’s skill to find out what, exactly, happened to Andreas and why. And the novel shows what can happen when people have a sense of waiting for something to start their lives.

We see that same sense of waiting and restlessness in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter. That novel begins when a newborn is found at St. Alban’s (Episcopal) Church in the small town of Miller’s Kill, New York. Not long afterwards, the baby’s biological mother, Katie McWhorter, is found dead in the nearby river. Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne investigates the murder. Meanwhile, Clare Fergusson, who serves as St. Alban’s priest (and, who, incidentally, found the infant), works with Van Alstyne, as she feels a personal sense of responsibility to the people involved. As they look into the case, they interview Katie’s friends and her boyfriend, Ethan Stoner. We learn that many of these young people drink, take drugs, etc. in part because there’s not much for them in Miller’s Kill. They’re restless and bored, and there aren’t many jobs available. That sense of waiting for something isn’t the reason Katie is killed. But it is a part of these young people’s lives.

In Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, high school cheerleaders Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy are in their last year. They’re in charge of the school, as the saying goes, and waiting for their lives to start. Then, a new cheerleading coach, Collette French, is hired. From the beginning, the cheerleading squad is drawn to her, and she makes of the group a sort of special club. Addy, like the others, is a part of that club. But Beth is on the outside looking in, as the saying goes. Everything changes when there’s a suicide (or, perhaps, it wasn’t a suicide). And as the characters deal with what’s happened, we see where feeling a little aimless and restless can eventually lead.

We see that in Emma Cline’s The Girls, too. It’s 1969, and fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is waiting for something – anything – to happen in her world. She’s bored and aimless, and not sure what comes next. Then, she meets a group of girls in a park and feels drawn to them, especially to a young woman named Suzanne. That’s how she gets involved with a charismatic man named Russell, who seems to have these young women under his spell. Before she knows it, Evie is drawn into this world, and towards some very dark and dangerous places. And it all starts because she’s restless and waiting for whatever comes next.

That’s not unusual for young people (and sometimes people who aren’t so young!). Restlessness does happen, and it can add a layer of tension and character development to a crime novel.

 

In Memoriam

charmian-carr

This post is dedicated to the memory of Charmian Carr, who brought that feeling to life in Robert Wise’s film version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Sound of Music.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Sixteen Going on Seventeen (Reprise).

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Filed under Emma Cline, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Karin Fossum, Megan Abbott, Pascal Garnier, Peter Robinson

We’re For Our Team, Yeah*

team-membersHave you ever played on a sports team? Oh, not necessarily a professional team. But perhaps you played football (no matter how you define that term), baseball, rugby or hockey in school. Or you might have played for a local club. If you did (or still do), then you know that there’s a unique relationship among the players on a team. They share the wins and losses, of course. But they also share a certain kind of intimacy that goes beyond that. And that’s the way coaches like it, since the best teams work together and support each other.

That team relationship can make for a really effective context for a crime novel, if you think about it. For one thing, there’s a disparate group of people who have to live at close quarters with each other. And that (plus the competition) can make for all sorts of effective conflict and tension. For another, team members often know things about each other that friends and families may not. So they’re often useful sources of information and good repositories of all sorts of secrets. Here are just a few examples of how the team dynamic can work in crime fiction. I’ll bet you’ll know of dozens more than I could remember.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Sherlock Holmes gets an ‘inside view’ of a rugby team. Cambridge’s rugby coach, Cyril Overton, comes to Holmes with the news that his three-quarter, Godfrey Staunton, has gone missing. Of course Overton is concerned about the young man’s well-being. Beyond that, Cambridge is to face Oxford in a match the next day, and there’s little chance of Cambridge winning if Staunton doesn’t play. Holmes agrees to take the case, and starts to trace Staunton’s movements. Overton, of course, consults with Staunton’s teammates, but gets no help there. And other leads aren’t helpful, either. It’s not until Holmes makes sense of a cryptic telegram and a scent-dog that we learn what really happened to Staunton.

The first of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel/Peter Pascoe series, A Clubbable Woman, has a rugby club as its focal point. One day, veteran player Sam Cannon is badly roughed up during a match, and suffers a concussion. He goes home and falls into a deep sleep. When he wakes, he finds that his wife, Mary, has been bludgeoned to death. As you might expect, Sam himself is the most likely suspect in her murder. But he claims to be innocent. As Dalziel and Pascoe begin to look into the matter, they find out that the key to this mystery lies with the rugby club. Once they untangle the network of relationships, and the backgrounds of the team members, they learn the truth.

As Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter begins, Toronto sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry is returning to Toronto with the (American League) Toronto Titans baseball team. They’re about to host the Boston Red Sox for an important series of games that could get them into the championship series. After one key win, everyone’s celebrating when word comes that one of the players, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is dead, and his body’s been found in his home. On the surface, it looks as though Sanchez surprised a burglar, and Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro and his team begin their investigation. Then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered. Now, Munro changes the focus of the investigation to the members of the team. And he and Henry find that they can be of help to each other. She can provide him with inside information on the team members, their interactions, and so on. And he can give her exclusive information on one of the most important baseball stories she’s written. It turns out that things happening on the team play a major role in the case.

In Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, we are introduced to Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. They’ve been best friends for a very long time, with Addy serving as Beth’s trusty lieutenant. Now, Beth is captain of the cheerleading squad, and Addy is still her second-in-command. Together, they rule the school as the saying goes. That is, until the new cheerleading coach, Collette French, starts working with them. Before long, the other girls on the squad, including Addy, are drawn into the new coach’s world, and form a tightly-knit group. Beth, who’s been more or less left out of this new social group, naturally resents both the exclusion and her loss of power as the cheerleaders’ ‘queen bee.’ Addy, though, feels the ‘pull’ of the new coach and of the group of other cheerleaders who spend time with her. Everything changes for Addy when there’s a suicide – or is it? Among other things, this novel explores the intensity of teammate relationships, and the different (and not always) healthy forms they take.

And then there’s John Daniell’ The Fixer. In this novel, we meet Mark Stevens, who was one of the (New Zealand) All Blacks’ stars during his best playing years. Now that he’s getting a little older and closer to the end of his career, he’s taken a job with a French rugby club where the pay is good, and he can ensure that he’ll retire comfortably. Things go well until he meets Brazilian journalist Rachel da Silva. She’s in France to do a story on rugby for her magazine, and wants to do an in-depth piece. She wants Stevens to help her meet the other players and, of course, to give her his perspective. It’s not long before they’re in a relationship, but it turns out to be much more than Stevens bargained for originally. Rachel slowly convinces him that he can make a lot of money betting on matches. Then it becomes hints about fixing matches. And it’s not just a matter of his sense of ethics, either. The stakes get very high when his family back in New Zealand are threatened. One of the important plot lines in this novel is the set of relationships among the players in the club. They have a unique kind of a bond; and, in a way, that’s a big part of the problem for Stevens as he starts to walk a very blurred ethical line.

Teammates really do know each other in ways that lots of other people don’t. That relationship can get intense, and there can even be conflict (or worse). But that sense of team identity is part of what wins games.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Our Team.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Daniell, Megan Abbott, Reginald Hill

The Friendship is Toxic*

Toxic FriendshipsAn interesting post from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about what you could almost call an alternate take on the domestic psychological thriller. Instead of the main characters being partners or family members, this sort of novel looks at friendships.

For most of us, friends are the sort of glue that holds life together and makes it better. But some friendships, even if they start out well, can turn quite toxic. And those toxic relationships can make for a compelling context for a thriller. There are several of them out there; I know you’ll think of more than I could.

As L.R. Wright’s The Suspect begins, eighty-year-old George Wilcox has just murdered eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. Not very long afterwards, he reports the crime, saying that he stopped in and found Burke dead; RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg investigates. Word of the murder gets around the small town of Sechelt, British Columbia, very quickly, and there’s soon lots of speculation. But Alberg doesn’t have any real leads, as there doesn’t seem to be a motive. Burke hadn’t made any obvious enemies, and didn’t have a large fortune or valuable possessions that would have been worth stealing. As the novel goes on, we learn more about the background between Wilcox and Burke. And we learn what happened in the past that led to the murder.

Megan Abbott’s Bury Me Deep introduces readers to Marion Seeley. Her husband, Everett, has lost his medical license due to drug use, so he decides to go to Mexico to start over. While he’s getting settled, he arranges for Marion to live in a Phoenix apartment, and take a clerical job at the exclusive Werden Clinic. In the course of her job, Marion meets Louise Mercer and her roommate, Ginny Hoyt. Their lifestyle involves plenty of parties, drugs and men. Slowly, Marion becomes friends with Louise and Ginny, and drawn into their lives. And that friendship plays a major role in the tragedy that’s at the core of this novel.

Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle also explores what you might call a toxic friendship. Andreas Winther’s best (really, only) friend is Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. They do everything together, and depend on each other. Then, one day, Andreas goes missing. His mother, Runi, gets concerned, and goes to the police. But there are plenty of reasons why a young man might take off for a few days without telling his mother where he is. So at first, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer isn’t overly concerned. But when time goes by and Andreas doesn’t return, he starts to investigate. Sejer is sure that Zipp can give him useful information, but Zipp refuses to be helpful. Still, Sejer persists. Little by little, we learn what happened on the day Andreas disappeared, and we learn how the friendship between the two young men played a role.

In Tana French’s The Likeness, Dublin detective Cassie Maddox has recently been transferred from the homicide investigation team to the domestic violence investigation team, as a way to help her recover from the impact of an earlier case. Then one day, the body of a young woman is discovered. What’s especially eerie about this murder is that the victim looks exactly like Cassie. What’s more, her identification indicates that her name is Alexandra Madison, the same alias that Cassie used in her last assignment. As a part of the investigation, the police try to trace the young woman’s last days. They find that she lived in a house called Whitethorn House, outside of Dublin. So Cassie goes undercover there as Lexie Madison. She gets to know the other people who lived at the house, and she learns the real truth about their relationships, and about the young woman who was killed. She discovers that there was plenty of toxicity there, and that what happened in the house certainly played a role in the murder.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Last Rituals introduces Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. One day, she gets a strange call from Amelia Guntlieb, who lives in Germany. It seems that her son, Harald, was a student at the university in Reykjavík when he was murdered and his body mutilated. The police think that his friend, Hugi Thórisson, is guilty. In fact, he’s already been arrested. But Amelia doesn’t think he’s responsible. She wants Thóra to clear Hugi’s name, and find out the truth about Harald’s death. And she’s sending the family banker, Matthew Reich, to work with Thóra. At first, Thóra’s not sure why Amelia chose her, but when Amelia explains that it’s because Thóra speaks fluent German, the matter begins to make more sense. Thóra and Matthew begin to ask some questions, and they soon discover that Hugi was by no means the only one who might have had a motive for murder. Harald had a very close-knit and almost secretive group of friends. And when Thóra meets them and tries to talk to them, she finds that they’re not at all forthcoming about their friendship with Harald. As the novel goes on, we learn the secrets they’re hiding, and we see how this friendship impacted everyone.

And that’s the thing about friendships. The best ones, of course, are nourishing and enriching, and we benefit immensely from them. But there are others that can be very toxic indeed. Which novels featuring this plot point have stayed with you?

Thanks very much, Cleo, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest that your next blog stop be Cleo’s fantastic blog. Fine reviews and updates await you!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kate Miller-Heidke’s I Like You Better When You’re Not Around.

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Filed under Karin Fossum, L.R. Wright, Megan Abbott, Tana French, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

There is Good and Bad in Everyone*

DualNatureThere’s an old Cherokee story (you can read it here) in which a grandfather explains human nature to his grandson. He portrays it as a battle between our own good and evil tendencies, and claims that the side that wins is, as he puts it, ‘the one you feed.’

There’s a lot to that perspective if you think about it. We can look at human nature and good and evil from several points of view (philosophical, religious, anthropological, etc.). But, I’m not a philosopher, a member of the clergy, or an anthropologist. And besides, it’s a very large topic, and this is a very small blog. But even keeping the focus on crime fiction, we see plenty of examples of characters who ‘feed’ their ‘better angels’ as well as those who do just the opposite. In both cases, there are consequences.

G.K. Chesterton’s Hercule Flambeau begins as a notorious thief. In fact, in the short story The Blue Cross, we learn that he has gone from France to England, and is on his way to steal a valuable religious artifact. Flambeau has bested many people, including the French police. But Father Brown proves to be more than a match for him. Flambeau then chooses to ‘feed’ the better side of his nature. He gives up his larcenous career and becomes a private investigator. He doesn’t start going to religious services, and he enjoys a good wine as much as the next person. It’s not those outer trappings of what some people think of as ‘morality’ that change. Rather, it’s his decision to nurture the ethical side of his nature.

We see that sort of conversation and struggle in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, too. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Among the other hotel guests are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall; her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall; and Marshall’s teenaged daughter Linda. It’s soon hotel gossip that Arlena is having a not-very-well-hidden affair with another guest, Patrick Redfern. So, when she is found murdered one day, her husband Kenneth comes under suspicion. He has a solid alibi, though, so Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. One of the people they talk to is Linda Marshall. As it turns out, she hated her stepmother, and cannot be ruled out as the killer. At one point, she and Poirot have an interesting conversation about the difference between the urge to kill someone and actually going through with the act. That conversation, and one other one, suggests that, while Poirot is not naïve about the existence of evil, he does believe that people can choose to ‘feed’ their better natures, too. I see you, fans of Death on the Nile.

In Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, we are introduced to fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. He’s finally managed to escape his abusive father, Joe. But Adam has been kept locked away for many years, so he has little knowledge of the world and no good skills to survive in it. Fortunately, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who’s at the house when Adam makes his escape, and who becomes his ally. The two spend the next week together, and Billy provides Adam with a great deal of ‘street knowledge,’ as well as basics like a place to stay, clothes, and food. As they spend time together, the two also become friends, and begin to confide in each other. It turns out that both of them are haunted by the past, and by their connections to the tragic disappearance of a small boy from a crowded market ten years earlier. As the story evolves, both Adam and Billy learn something about ‘feeding one’s better nature,’ and about starting over, if I can put it that way.

Of course, people sometimes ‘feed’ their worse – even evil – side as well. After all, where would crime fiction be if they didn’t? And when they do, the result can be disastrous.

In Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair, we are introduced to Gilbert Hand, who works for a publishing firm. He’s recently moved to a very respectable London hotel, where he’s hoping to start over after the tragic death of his wife. Shortly after his arrival, he makes a bizarre discovery: in the davenport in his room, he finds a long coil of dark hair, wrapped in a scarf. Hand gets curious about the room’s former occupant and soon learns that it was man named Freddie Doyle. Now he’s even more curious, especially when Doyle pays him a visit to ask for the coil of hair (which request Hand refuses). Little by little, Hand becomes obsessed with Doyle, at the same repulsed and fascinated by him. He imagines a sort of ‘chess game’ between them. As his obsession grows, Hand starts to ‘feed’ his darker side, and the result leads to real tragedy.

A similar thing happens in Ruth Rendell’s 13 Steps Down. Mix Cellini takes a flat in a home owned by Gwendolyn Chawcer. They don’t really like each other, but it’s a business arrangement; and on that level, it works. Through his profession (he repairs exercise equipment), Cellini meets supermodel Merissa Nash. He’s immediately smitten, and soon goes beyond that to obsession. At the same time, he learns about the life of notorious killer Richard Christie. The more he reads, the more obsessed Cellini becomes with Christie, too. Little by little, he starts to ‘feed’ his darker side, and the end result, as you’d expect, is disastrous.

It does in Megan Abbott’s Bury Me Deep, too. Dr. Everett Seeley has lost his medical license due to his drug problems. He decides to go to Mexico to start over; but until he gets settled, he doesn’t want to bring his wife Marion with him. So he establishes her in a Phoenix apartment, and sets her up with a job as a file clerk in the exclusive Werden Clinic. At first, all goes well enough. Marion even makes two friends: Louise Mercer (a nurse at the clinic) and Louise’s roommate Ginny Hoyt. It’s not long before Marion starts spending more time with them, and getting more and more involved in their edgy, even dangerous, lifestyle of wild parties, drugs and drinking. As time goes on, Marion begins to ‘feed’ her own darker and more dangerous side. The end result is an awful tragedy that impacts everyone involved.

Oh, and speaking of Abbotts, you’ll also want to check out Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel as a really interesting example of making choices between which side of our nature we ‘feed.’ Eve Moran has always nurtured her selfish side, letting nothing – not even someone’s life – get in the way of what she wants. Her daughter Christine’s been brought up with this influence, and has been caught in her mother’s web, so their relationship is truly dysfunctional. But everything changes when Christine sees that her little brother Ryan is at risk. Now she’s going to have to find a way to free herself and her brother from their mother’s influence.

And that’s the thing about human nature. People generally aren’t all good or all bad. The choices we make – the side of our nature that we ‘feed’ – plays a major role in what we do. And those choices can have far-reaching consequences.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, G.K. Chesterton, Honey Brown, Megan Abbott, Patricia Abbott, Ruth Rendell