Category Archives: Megan Abbott

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

I Really Need This Job*

InterviewsOne of the facts of life for most working adults is the job interview. Whether the job is bagging groceries, managing a warehouse, or performing cardiac surgery, getting it usually involves at least one interview. Sometimes there’s more than one interview, and sometimes, the interview process involves talking to several different people.

Interviews seldom go as planned. If I may share two personal examples, at one interview, I happened to have a terrible cold. At another, the interview ended just as a severe snowstorm moved in, and it was quite a harrowing trip back home. But even if the interview goes very well, it’s still a nerve-wracking experience. For the company or institution that’s hiring, it’s time-consuming and can be a real drain on resources. But that’s the way new people are usually hired.

Job interviews figure a lot in crime fiction, which shouldn’t be surprising, since they happen so often in real life. And that tension can add much to a crime novel’s plot or character development.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, for instance, Violet Hunter is interviewed by Jephro Rucastle for the position of governess to his six-year-old son. It’s an odd interview, as he asks her some unusual questions. In fact, she’s not sure she should take the job. But then, Rucastle raises the salary offer so much that she really can’t resist. So she visits Sherlock Holmes to ask his advice. Among other things, he tells her that if she ever needs him, all she has to do is contact him. It’s not long, either, before that’s exactly what happens. As it turns out, she’s been hired as a part of a larger plan, and she’s in very grave danger.

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) introduces readers to London hairstylist’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins some money in a sweepstakes, she decides to take a trip to Le Pinet. She’s on the flight back to England when one of the other passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find the murderer. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on that flight, so it’s a relatively small circle of suspects. Among them are famous archaeologist Armand Dupont and his son Jean. For various reasons, Poirot wants Jane to get to know the Duponts. He even manages to wangle a spot for her on an upcoming dig. She knows nothing about archaeology, but Poirot convinces the Duponts to at least consider her. Here’s what Poirot says to Jane about it:
 

‘‘By the way, I must obtain for you in the morning a handbook on prehistoric pottery of the Near East. I have said that you are passionately interested in the subject.’’
 

Later, he suggests this:
 

‘‘If M. Jean Dupont should ring up or call, be amiable to him. Talk of buttons and socks, but not as yet of prehistoric pottery. He admires you, but he is intelligent!’’
 

It certainly makes for an interesting job opportunity.

In Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary, we meet Glenn Hadlock. He’s a convicted felon who’s recently been released from prison, so his job chances are limited. But one day he sees an advertisement that interests him. Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Hadlock goes to the Scofield home on the appointed day, and waits with a group of other applicants. When he meets Scofield, he learns more about the family. Scofield himself is completely disabled and unable to leave his room. But, as he tells Hadlock, he doesn’t want that fact to restrict his wife unnecessarily. Hadlock gets the job, and at first, all is well. The pay is good, the working conditions excellent, and Eileen Scofield is pleasant company. But Hadlock soon learns that this job is going to be much more dangerous than he thought.

Megan Abbott’s Die a Little is the story of Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s always been very close to her brother, Bill, and protective of him. So when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, Lora isn’t too happy about it. But even she admits to herself that it’s probably because of her protectiveness. When Bill and Alice marry, Lora tries to be happy for them. But little by little, she begins to have some real questions about Alice. For example, Bill asks her to get an interview for Alice at the school where she teaches. He says that Alice has her teaching certificate, and could do the job. The school’s principal, Don Evans, is eager to replace a teacher who’s getting ready to leave, so he doesn’t do a thorough check. Before anyone knows it, Alice is working at the school. She doesn’t know anything, really, about teaching, and it turns out she’s lied about having her teaching certificate, too. As Lora learns more about Alice’s life, she is at the same time repulsed by it and drawn to it. Then there’s a murder, and Alice is very likely mixed up in it. It just shows you have to be careful whom you interview. Am I right, fans of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone?

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen’s Winemaker Detective series features noted oenologist Benjamin Cooker. In the first of this series, Treachery in Bordeaux, he is preparing to meet Virgile Lanssien, who wants a job as Cooker’s assistant. Here’s a little of how the interview goes:
 

‘Virgile Lanssien tried to hide his apprehension and answered as distinctly as possible the volley of questions that descended on him.’
 

Cooker isn’t unpleasant, but he does want to know just how much Lanssien understands about winemaking. The interview goes very well, and Lanssien is hired. He turns out to be very helpful, too, when Cooker is asked to find out who has sabotaged some of a fellow winemaker’s harvest.

And then there’s P.J. Parrish’s Dead of Winter. This story begins as Louis Kincaid travels to Loon Lake, Michigan for a job interview with the Loon Lake police force. To his surprise, Police Chief Brian Gibraltar hires him after a very short conversation. He’s given his assignment and he prepares to get to work. It’s not long before he learns the reason for which there was an opening on the police force. Just a few weeks earlier, Officer Thomas Pryce was killed in his home. Kincaid gets Gibraltar’s permission to look more deeply into the case, and he gets to work. Then, there’s another death, this time of a retired officer. Kincaid soon learns that several of the people involved are not telling everything they know. It turns out that this is much more than just someone who’s targeting police offers.

Job interviews can be successful, disastrous, funny, and a lot else. They have interesting dynamics, and there’s always a lot of tension around them. Little wonder we see so many of them in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE; The title of this post is a line from Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban’s I Hope I Get It.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Megan Abbott, Noël Balen, P.J. Parrish, Robert Colby, Ruth Rendell