Category Archives: Megan Abbott

Clinical, Intellectual, Cynical*

Life’s not always kind, and people who’ve seen a lot of that unkindness sometimes react to it by becoming cynical. If you think about it, a certain amount of cynicism is self-protective. It prevents too much vulnerability and disappointment (at least on a conscious level) when someone proves not to be trustworthy.

There are plenty of cynical characters in crime fiction, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Sleuths see the sometimes-tragic consequences when people act only in their own interests. And other fictional characters can be cynical, too. Carried to the extreme, cynicism has a lot of drawbacks. But a certain amount of it can add a layer of character development.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, we are introduced to Miss Pamela Horsefall, a writer for the tabloid Sunday Companion. One of her articles is a ‘Where Are They Now’ piece on women who’ve been involved in infamous crimes. The story itself is quite sentimental, and it suggests that these are all innocent people who’ve been victims of others or of society. That story turns out to be a clue when a charwoman is murdered. Everyone thinks the killer is her unpleasant lodger, James Bentley. But Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence isn’t so sure about that. He asks Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. When he finds out that Mrs. McGinty wrote a letter to the Companion shortly before she died, he suspects that there might be a connection between the article and her murder. So, he goes to visit Miss Horsefall. He discovers that she is much more cynical about the subjects of her story than it seems. In fact, in each case, she believes that the woman had much more to do with the murder than people think. Miss Horsefall’s cynicism doesn’t solve Mrs. McGinty’s murder, but the article gives Poirot an important lead.

Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, Solea) features police officer Fabio Montale. As young people, he and his friends, Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini and Manu, got into plenty of trouble, and had more than one brush with the law. Then, a tragedy changed everything. Montale left Marseilles and joined the military. After his stint in the service, he returned to his old haunts in Marseilles as a police officer. Although he’s on the right side of the law, so to speak, Montale has no illusions about the law, the city, the people, or his fellow coppers. He has seen, in some very ugly ways, just how self-motivated people can be, and how self-interest can come before anything else, including others’ lives. And, yet, Montale tries to be ‘on the side of the angels.’ He tries to do whatever good he can do. It’s an interesting example of a person who’s cynical without giving up, if I can put it that way.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes is the story of John ‘Duke’ Anderson. Shortly after being released from prison, he gets a legitimate job at a printer’s. He plans to stay on the proverbial straight and narrow until he gets a chance to visit a posh apartment building on Manhattan’s East Side. When he sees how much wealth there is there, he decides to rob not just one apartment, but the whole building. He knows he won’t be able to pull off the job by himself, so he gathers a group of confederates. Anderson is cynical about their motivations and interests, and he plans accordingly. He’s matched, cynicism for cynicism, by his friend-with-benefits, Ingrid Macht. She has her own dark history and very good reasons for mistrusting everyone. Her view is, ‘Everyone’s out for themselves, so I might as well get mine, too.’ Although she and Anderson are friends, they have no illusions about themselves or each other, and have no problem using one another. Ingrid isn’t one of Anderson’s co-conspirators, really, but she sheds important light on him and his character.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we meet Alice Steele, a former Hollywood wardrobe assistant. She meets Bill King, a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office, and the two begin dating. Bill’s sister Lora has her concerns about Alice. Still, she tries to be nice to her for Bill’s sake. Alice has a murky past, and she hasn’t completely left it. One of her friends, for instance, is Lois Slattery, a former roommate. Lois has a shady past of her own, and a cynical attitude towards life. Occasionally, she visits Alice, and Lora gets a chance to see how these two women seem to think. As time goes by, Lora has more and more questions about her new sister-in-law, and becomes increasingly uneasy about her. At the same time, she is drawn to Alice’s life. Then, there’s a death that turns out to be murder. And Alice could very well be mixed up in it all. Telling herself she’s doing it to protect Bill, Lora starts asking questions about the death. Throughout the novel, we see how cynical both Alice and Lois are. They’ve both seen plenty of life, and their cynicism comes in part from that.

As any fan of the ‘hardboiled’ PI novel can tell you, several fictional PIs are also cynical, even though they go after the ‘bad guys.’ Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, for instance, has no illusions about the motives of the clients who hire him, or of the people involved in his cases. He himself tries to do the right thing. But he’s seen enough in his time that he’s well aware of the dark side of many people. A similar thing might be said of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. There are plenty of other examples, too.

Cynicism certainly has its place in crime fiction. A dose of it can be useful in real life, too. And it’s interesting to see how it plays out in fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Supertramp’s The Logical Song.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Jean-Claude Izzo, Lawrence Sanders, Megan Abbott, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald

We’ve Got a Falling Barometer and Rising Seas*

If you read enough crime fiction, you soon learn to expect that something bad – perhaps very bad – is going to happen. After all, most crime fiction is about bad things happening. Much of the time, the terrible thing that happens is murder.

Even though crime writers know that their readers expect something awful to happen, they still want to draw those readers in. Sometimes, they do this by building the tension right from the beginning. It’s a bit like storm clouds gathering and building up the suspense that happens just before a major downpour. Authors have different ways of doing this, but no matter what way the author chooses, it can build suspense and get the reader turning and swiping pages.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, begins as a group of ten people travel to Indian Island, off the Devon coast. They’ve all been invited to spend time there, and, for different reasons, each has accepted. As the various guests arrive, we follow their thoughts, and tension begins to build. It builds even more when it becomes clear that the host is not there. It’s all a bit odd, but everyone settles in. After dinner that evening, each person is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. Later, one of the guests suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Then, there’s another death. Now the survivors begin to see that someone has deliberately lured them to the island and is trying to kill them. They’ll have to find out who that person is if they’re to stay alive. We may not know from the start who the killer is; right away, though, as the people gather, we know that something very, very bad is going to happen.

There’s a similar sense of the tension building at the beginning of Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski. In that novel, Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, are on their way to a skiing holiday at Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. They’ll be staying at the Bella Vista Hotel, and they soon find that several other people on the trip are staying there, too. As the group arrives at the hotel, there are already undercurrents of unease, and it’s easy to sense that something awful is about to happen. And it soon does. One of the guests, an Austrian businessman named Fritz Hauser, is shot, and his body found on a ski lift. Capitano Spezzi and his team arrive and begin to investigate. When it comes out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, Spezzi grudgingly, and then more willingly, works with him. In the end, and after another death, they find that Hauser brought his fate on himself, in a manner of speaking.

Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye starts as a teacher named Janek Mitter slowly wakes up after having had far, far too much to drink. He was so drunk that, at first, he doesn’t remember who he is or where he is. That sense of disorientation starts to build the suspense right away. Slowly, Mitter remembers who he is, and that he’s at home. Just as he’s beginning to get his bearings, he discovers the body of his wife, Eva Ringmar, in their bathtub. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate, and it seems at first that all of the evidence points to Mitter as the killer. But he insists that he is innocent, and it’s not long before Van Veeteren starts to believe him. Mitter is still convicted, though, and remanded to a mental hospital until his memory recovers enough to assist the police. Not long afterwards, he himself is brutally murdered. Now, Van Veeteren knows that MItter was telling the truth, and works backwards to find out who would have wanted to kill both Mitter and his wife.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s very close to her brother, Bill, so she’s understandably very interested when he starts to date former Hollywood seamstress’ assistant Alice Steele. From the moment Alice makes her appearance, there’s a sense that something isn’t quite right. And that feeling gets even stronger as Bill and Alice continue to date, fall in love, and decide to marry. At first, Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake. The more she finds out about Alice’s life, though, the more repelled she is by it. And the more questions she has about Alice. At the same time, she is drawn to that life, so she has conflicting feelings when there’s a death, and Alice seems to be mixed up in it. Telling herself that it’s to protect her brother, Lora starts to ask some questions. But long before the death, in fact, from the beginning of the story, we know that something bad will happen.

We know that about Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, too. Science fiction novelist Zack Walker decides that he and his family should move from the city that he considers too dangerous to the suburbs. The Walkers choose Valley Forest Estates as their new development, and move in. But right from the beginning, we know there’s going to be trouble. First, Walker notices some problems with the house that need to be fixed. Then, he witnesses an argument between a Valley Forest executive and a local environmentalist. Later, he finds that environmentalist dead near a local creek. Before he knows it, Walker’s involved in a web of conspiracy and murder. But we know right from the beginning that this move is going to present real problems…

And then there’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner. This book follows the structure of a meal, with sections that have titles such as ‘Appetizer,’ ‘Main Course,’ and ‘Dessert.’ Within each section are the various chapters. At the beginning of the book, two couples meet for dinner at a very exclusive Amsterdam restaurant. Paul Lohman and his wife, Claire, meet Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. In some ways, there’s little indication of what’s to come. But very soon, there’s a sense of uneasiness, especially as we learn about Paul’s relationship with his brother. Little by little, we learn the real reason the two couples have met. Their fifteen-year-old sons have committed a horrible crime. Now, the four adults have to decide what they will do. As the novel goes on, we learn about what happened, and we learn about the histories of these dysfunctional people. And that sense that something is wrong starts early in the book.

Sometimes, especially if you’re a crime fiction fan, you know right away that things will turn awful. Little nuances, the atmosphere, and other clues can give the sense that trouble is on the way. And that can draw the reader in.


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Håkan Nesser, Herman Koch, Linwood Barclay, Megan Abbott, Patricia Moyes

A Tiger is a Tiger, Not a Lamb*

Isn’t this wombat cute? I think so, too. But don’t let that fool you. Wombats are extremely strong, have sharp teeth, and can be very aggressive and destructive. That’s part of why they’re best left in their natural habitat. It’s a big mistake to be blind to what wombats can really be like.

The same is true of people. I think most of us would like to believe the best about the people in our lives. That’s arguably part of the reason we make excuses, at least to ourselves, for the way some people behave (e.g. ‘Yes, she’s very short-tempered, but look how creative she is!’). And sometimes, that way of thinking can allow us to work with others productively, even if we’re aware of their faults. And, in any case, no-one’s perfect.

It can be a mistake, though, to ignore others’ character traits, or to think that someone will change a fundamental trait (e.g. ‘I know he cheated on her, but it’ll be different with me.’). Making those sorts of excuses can lead to all sorts of sad consequences. And in crime fiction, it can lead to disaster.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), Hercule Poirot investigates the sixteen-year-old poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. At the time of Crale’s death, it was believed that his wife, Caroline, was responsible, and she certainly had motive; he was having a very obvious affair. In fact, Caroline was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the murder. But now, their daughter Carla wants to clear her mother’s name. So, Poirot interviews the five people who were on the scene at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts of what happened from each one. Using the interviews and accounts, he works his way towards the truth of the matter.  As the story goes on, we learn more about the victim’s character. For him, his art was the most important part of his life. In fact, he even warned his mistress, Elsa Greer, not to believe in him or trust him, except for his art. She didn’t listen to him, though, and took their relationship far more seriously than he did. She believed they would marry as soon as Crale divorced his wife. Her refusal to see Crale for what he was caused all sorts of conflict and tragedy that play a role in the story.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele. She meets Bill King, a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office, and the two begin a relationship. Bill’s brother, Lora, a Pasadena teacher, isn’t enthusiastic about Alice at first, but she puts that down to her protectiveness about her brother. Even so, as she gets to know Alice, Lora begins to have questions. Alice and Bill marry, and Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law, but the questions and concerns won’t go away. The more she learns about Alice, the more repulsed Lora is by Alice’s life. At the same time, though, she is drawn to it. And she comes to have, as she sees it, fewer and fewer illusions about her sister-in-law. Bill doesn’t share her concerns, though, and Lora knows that he doesn’t see Alice for what she is. Then, there’s a murder, and it looks very much as though Alice might be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s looking out for her brother, Lora starts to ask questions. In the end, refusal to see things as they are ends up wreaking havoc.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry is the sixth in his series featuring London PI Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool goes to Barker with an odd request. It seems that the British government has granted immunity to Sebastian Nightwine, and that he will be returning to London at the government’s request, so as to take part in a top-secret mission. Nightwine has indicated that he’s afraid he’s in danger from Barker. It was Barker’s discovery of some of Nightwine’s crimes that caused him to flee England in the first place. Now that he’s returning, he’s concerned that Barker represents a threat to him. Pool warns Barker to stay away from Nightwine. But Barker strongly suspects that Nightwine has his own agenda, and may even have a major criminal plan underway. To Barker, the government is naïve in not acknowledging the sort of person Nightwine is, and that naivety will lead to disaster. So, he does a little checking, and discovers that he’s right. Before he can do anything about it, though, he’s neatly framed for a murder. Now, the police are after him, and so are Nightwine’s people. So, with help from Llewellyn, Barker’s going to have to clear his name and stop Nightwine if he can.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion is the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently been promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant (DS), and has joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. The team is facing a very perplexing case. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder is similar in many ways to six other deaths the team is investigating. But there are some major differences. For one thing, the other victims were all prostitutes, and Melissa wasn’t. For another, the other victims were all older; Melissa was a teenager. Still, it’s certainly possible that all seven women were killed by the same person. Gradually, the team comes to believe that a man named Alan Daniels is that person. But that possibility presents several challenges. Daniels is a beloved television actor who’s about to ‘make it’ in films. Any public aspersions on him will not be taken kindly. What’s more, there’s no conclusive evidence against the man. And, Daniels is wealthy and well-connected. He can afford the best legal representation, and the team risks a lot of public embarrassment (and more) if they botch this case. As a part of the investigation, Travis gets to know Daniels, even seeing him socially. All of this is planned by her team, but that doesn’t mean it’s not risky. And, as she sees more of him, Travis has to consider what sort of person he is, and whether there’s a ruthless killer underneath his charming surface. He is charming and attractive, and Travis needs to remind herself, more than once, not to make excuses for him.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy, which features a locksmith named Jeet Singh. He’s a former safecracker/lockbreaker who’s ‘gone straight,’ and now operates a keymaking kiosk in Mumbai. One day, he gets an unexpected visit from his former lover, Sushmita, who asks for his help. It seems that her husband, wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, has been killed in a planned murder disguised as a carjacking gone wrong. Sushmita says that she’s being accused of hiring a killer, so she could inherit her husband’s money. Now, she needs her name cleared. For that, she needs money, and that’s why she’s come to Singh. He’s still at least partly in love with Sushmita, so he agrees to do what he can. And that means taking on one more illegal job, so that he can earn some quick money. He knows that Sushmita broke his heart, callously (to him) marrying another man because he was very rich, and Singh is not. But he refuses to really see her for what she is, and that leads to all sorts of trouble in this novel.

And that’s the thing about not seeing people for what they are. Most of us acknowledge that everyone has faults. But we sometimes ignore troubling character traits. And that can cause real trouble. So…be careful if you pet a wombat.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebbs’ Mein Herr.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Lynda La Plante, Megan Abbott, Surender Mohan Pathak, Will Thomas

Don’t Blame Them, You’re the Same*

It seems to be a part of human nature that we’re sometimes very critical of others, for the very same things we do ourselves. We use a different set of standards, if you like to put it that way (e.g. ‘Well, it’s different in my case!’). Or, we simply don’t see the same trait in ourselves.

t’s certainly a human characteristic, so it’s realistic. It’s little wonder, then, that it comes up in fiction, including crime fiction. And it can make for interesting character development, not to mention tension.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Miss Emily Brent. She’s among a group of people who are invited to spend time on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. When the group arrives, they’re surprised to find that their host hasn’t yet made an appearance, but everyone settles in. Then, that night, each one is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long afterwards, one of the guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, another guest dies. Soon, it’s clear that someone has lured the guests to the island, and plans to kill them all. Now, the survivors have to find out who the killer is, and stay alive themselves. Miss Brent denies causing anyone’s death, and has no problem sitting in judgement, if you will, of the others as we learn about their situations. But little by little, we learn that she’s no different. She refuses to see that she’s no less guilty, though, and it’s an interesting layer to her character.

Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die introduces readers to novelist Frank Cairns, who writes as Felix Lane. His son, Martin ‘Martie’ was tragically killed in a hit-and-run incident, and now, Cairns wants to kill the man who was responsible. So, he returns to the town in which he and Martie lived at the time of the death, and begins to track down the driver of the car. He finds out that that man is George Rattery, and slowly makes his plans. His idea is to take Rattery out sailing and make sure he drowns. But Rattery finds out what Cairns has planned, and tells Cairns that if anything happens to him, Cairns will be suspected. Later in the day, Rattery is murdered by what turns out to be poison. Now, Cairns contacts poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways. He tells Strangeways that, while he plotted to kill Rattery, he isn’t actually the murderer. Strangeways agrees to look into the case and find out who the real killer is. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how Cairns views what he planned. He doesn’t put his plot to murder Rattery in the same category as Rattery’s killing of Martie. He doesn’t see what he’s doing as the same thing at all.

In Megan Abbott’s historical novel (1950s) Die A Little, we meet Lora King, a Pasadena, California, teacher. She has a very close relationship with her brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he begins to date former Hollywood seamstress assistant Alice Steele. At first, Lora tells herself that she’s being overprotective of her brother, but her concerns only grow when Bill and Alice marry. She tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake, but she starts to find out some things about Alice that really unsettle her. At the same time as she is repulsed by Alice’s life, though, she is also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Lora tells herself she’s trying to help her brother, and begins to ask questions. Throughout this novel, there’s a very interesting and real question about whether Lora is really very much different to Alice, despite the way she judges her sister-in-law.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham police detective Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. When it’s discovered that she was a sex worker, the team looks among Michelle’s fellow sex workers and clients to find out who would have wanted to kill her. And it’s not long before they find several different possibilities. Throughout the novel, we see a clear prejudice against sex workers among many people. One thread of that (albeit not a major point in the novel) is that those who use sex worker services see a big difference between what they do and what the sex workers do.

And then there’s Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy. That novel is the story of a plot to kidnap the son of wealthy São Paolo business tycoon Olavo Bettencourt. Bettencourt has a life that just about anyone would envy. He’s rich, he has a beautiful ‘trophy wife,’ Mara, and quite a lot of ‘clout.’ He also has a young son, Olavinho. A gang decides to kidnap the boy, and sets the plan in motion. Everything falls apart, though, when they get the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, they abduct the mute son of the Bettencourt’s housekeeper. Now, the gang has to decide what to do about this situation. And Bettencourt has to decide what to tell the media and the police about the situation. His business deals have not all been entirely legal, and he’s reluctant to have any of that brought to light. As the novel goes on, we learn more about the Bettencourts. Mara grew up desperately poor, and has done a lot of questionable things to get to the wealthy life she has now. She despises her husband, but it’s arguable that she’s not much different. For his part, Olavo is contemptuous of his wife and her ‘low class’ background. But again, it’s arguable that he is no different.

There are plenty of other examples of characters who look down on, or at the very least, judge, the very qualities in others that they themselves share. It’s a human trait, so it makes sense that we’d see it in fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Good Night and Thank You.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, Maureen Carter, Megan Abbott, Nicholas Blake

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions*

Las Vegas is the sort of place where it’s very easy to be whatever you want, so to speak. People don’t ask a lot of questions; hence, the iconic Vegas catchphrase: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Las Vegas, of course, isn’t the only place or context where people don’t ask questions. There are plenty of places where asking too many questions is considered at best, bad form, and at worst, dangerous. This sort of context – where curiosity is not welcomed – can be a very effective backdrop for a crime novel. We all have secrets that we’d rather no-one ask about, and criminals in particular have things to hide. So it makes sense that they would prefer a context where no-one asks too many questions.

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River isn’t, admittedly, a crime novel per se. But crimes are definitely committed in it. Beginning in 1806, the novel tells the story of William Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and their children. Thornhill is a London bargeman who’s sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a load of valuable wood. The family lands in Sydney, which is at the time very much a frontier. It’s the sort of place where questions are discouraged. Most people are trying to start over, and don’t want a lot of discussion about what brought them there and what they’re doing. Thornhill gets a job delivering goods up and down the local waterways; his wife opens a makeshift pub. As time goes by, Thornhill finds a piece of land that he finds irresistible, and decides to claim it for his own. And he’s not alone. Plenty of other new arrivals want land, too. This leads inevitably to conflict and worse with the people who have always been on that land. Some brutal and bloody crimes are committed, and Thornhill wants no part of it, especially at first. But he also comes to see that he’ll have to get his hands dirty, too, if he wants to build the sort of life he wants.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s particularly close to her older brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant, Alice Steele. At first, Lora puts her misgivings down to human enough, if not exactly productive, feelings of jealousy and protectiveness, since she is close to her brother. Bill and Alice marry, and Lora tries to be friends with her new sister-in-law. But as time goes by, she gets more and more worried about Alice, and what she finds out repels her. Alice’s former world – or is it really former? – is seamy and dangerous. She knows a lot of the sort of people who don’t welcome questions, and they certainly don’t welcome questions from Lora. At the same time as Lora is repulsed by Alice’s world, she is also drawn to it, though, and this has a real impact on her feelings and choices. Then, there’s a murder. Alice could very well be mixed up in it, too, so Lora decides to protect Bill (or so she tells herself) and find out the truth about what happened. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she also gets to Alice’s life.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces her protagonists, DI Dushan Zigic, and DS Mel Ferreira. They work with the Peterborough Police Hate Crimes Unit, so they’re called in when the body of man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, and there’s a good possibility that his murder might be a hate crime. It’s going to be very hard to get answers, though. The immigrant community within which the victim moved is the sort of culture in which no-one asks questions. People often come, work for a while, and leave. Or, they stay longer, have their family join them, and move on. Or, they disappear for whatever reason. But no close ties are formed, and people such as landlords and moneylenders don’t ask any questions. In the end, Zigic and Ferreira find out who killed the victim and why. But they get very little willing help from anyone with whom he interacted.

Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow trilogy is set mostly in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. It tells the stories of men who kill for hire, and of the people who hire them. It also tells the stories of the victims, and how they get themselves into trouble. One of the important rules among these people is that you don’t ask a lot of questions. You buy your weapons, for instance, from people who won’t ask where the money came from, or how the weapon will be used. You borrow a car from someone who won’t ask why you need it. The more reliable you are at keeping your mouth shut and your curiosity under control, the more you’ll be trusted.

Even between people who are married, there are instances where it’s expected that you don’t ask a lot of questions. For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. It seems that Cubitt’s wife, Elsie, has been acting strangely lately. She’s been getting some cryptic letters lately from America, where she was born, and they have upset her greatly. She won’t tell her husband what the problem is, though, so he’s quite worried about her. They’ve always had the agreement that he would ask her nothing about her life in the US, because she had some unpleasant associations there. As she puts it, she has,

‘‘…nothing she need be personally ashamed of,’’

but she insists that her past be kept strictly private. And Cubitt has always respected that. But now he’s worried. Then, the same cryptic figures that appeared on the letters begin appearing in chalk on the ledges of the Cubitt home. Holmes works out that the drawings are a code, and that Elsie is being stalked. Then, one night, Cubitt is murdered. Holmes uses the code in the letters to lure the killer and learn the truth.

There are times and places where people don’t welcome a lot of questions. Asking them can get you in a lot of trouble – or worse. Especially in crime fiction.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Turin Brakes’ Last Chance.


Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Eva Dolan, Kate Grenville, Malcolm Mackay, Megan Abbott