Category Archives: Michael Connelly

I Heard it on My Radio*

RadioAn interesting post on podcasting from crime writer Elizabeth Spann Craig has got me thinking about broadcasting. Her excellent writing blog inspires me; it’s a must-visit for writers and anyone interested in the process of writing. Podcasts are a very new form of broadcasting, but radio has been around for a very long time. In fact, it was arguably the first real-time medium of mass communication. And even with the advent of television and the internet, radio is still a popular and powerful tool. It’s not surprising then that radio plays a role in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of dozens more than I can.

In Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are on a holiday in Cornwall. There they meet Magdala ‘Nick’ Buckley, who has a house there. Poirot soon comes to suspect that someone is trying to kill Nick, although she herself doesn’t believe him at first. Then, she has a few ‘near misses.’ Poirot doesn’t want her staying in the house by herself, so Nick invites her cousin Maggie for a few weeks. Tragically, Maggie is killed during her visit. She was wearing one of her cousin’s shawls at the time of the murder; and this obvious case of mistaken identity convinces Poirot that Nick is in imminent danger. He arranges for her to be safely cared for at a hospital, where she’s told to eat nothing from ‘outside.’ When the murderer tries to strike again, Poirot has to act quickly. In this case, a radio broadcast is key to what the killer chooses to do.

The police have their own radio frequencies; and police radio plays a role in Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice. One Christmas night, LAPD cop Harry Bosch is ‘on call,’ and has his police scanner running in the background. That’s how he hears that a body has been discovered at a seedy hotel in his district. To him, it’s surprising that no-one called him to let him know, since he’s on duty. He goes to the scene only to find that the dead man is Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore, a fellow police officer. The death bears all the hallmarks of suicide, but a few things don’t add up for Bosch. The official explanation is that Moore killed himself because he’d ‘gone dirty’ and was involved in drug smuggling. In order to protect the department’s reputation, Bosch is told to leave the case alone and accept it as a suicide (in fact, that’s why he wasn’t called). Bosch fans will know that leaving things alone is not his style, so he keeps asking questions. In the end, and after a trip to the US/Mexico border area, he finds out the complex truth behind this death.

Even with the popularity of television and the Internet, there are still plenty of successful and well-known radio celebrities. Some of them are quite controversial, too. We see an example of the rise of the ‘shock jock’ in Robert B. Parker’s High Profile. In that novel, we meet celebrity radio personality Walton Weeks. His politically-charged broadcasts have made him a host of fanatic followers and enemies; his private life has been just as full of drama. So when he is found shot and hung, Paradise, Massachusetts Police Chief Jesse Stone has his pick of suspects. For one thing, Weeks’ broadcasts had inspired strong passion on both sides, so to speak. For another, his ex-wives and his current wife all had good reason to want him out of the way. Stone is working on this case when there’s another murder. This time, the victim is Weeks’ pregnant mistress. Stone finds that there were a lot of secrets in Weeks’ life, and that those secrets turned out to be fatal.

In one plot thread of Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to comic Richard Mott. He’s been invited to headline a lunchtime radio comedy show, and arranges for his housemate, crime writer Martin Canning, to get tickets. On the day of the show, Canning and several other characters in the novel are waiting for the doors to open when they witness a car accident. A blue Honda hits the back of a silver Peugot driven by Paul Bradley. Both men get out of their cars and are soon arguing bitterly. Then the Honda driver wields a baseball bat and attacks Bradley. Mostly by instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. A sense of obligation drives Canning to ensure that Bradley gets safely to the nearest hospital; before he knows it, he’s far more involved than he wants to be in a case of multiple murders, fraud and theft.

Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall introduces readers to Toronto radio personality Kevin Brace. He and his common-law wife Katherine Torn are both successful, and have an upscale lifestyle which includes a home in the exclusive Market Place Tower condominiums. Everything changes one morning when Torn is found dead in one of the bathtubs. Brace is quickly arrested, and indicates that he wants to be represented by Nancy Parish. Acting for the Crown will be Albert Fernandez. While the attorneys prepare for the legal aspects of this case, Police Detective Ari Green and his team investigate the crime. One possible explanation for the seemingly airtight case against Brace is that he was framed. If that’s the case, then one likely suspect is Donald Dundas, another radio personality who stands to become a broadcasting star with Brace out of the way. And Dundas might have had his own reasons for wanting Torn dead. As the police and attorneys fallow this trail, we learn some interesting things about the modern big-city radio business.

Domingo Villar’s Leo Caldas is a detective with the Vigo police. He also has a radio call-in show. The goal of the show is closer ties between the police and the community, so callers get to ask their questions (or lodge their complaints) in direct conversations with Caldas. The show is so popular that when people are introduced to Caldas, they invariably say something like, ‘Oh, from Patrolling the Waves?’ He’s actually better known for the radio broadcast than he is for anything else.

And that just goes to show that radio still has an important impact. People do listen to audio broadcasts. These are just some instances. You’re now on the air to offer more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Radio Ga Ga.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Domingo Villar, Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, Robert Rotenberg

Same as the Old Boss*

Bad BossesAs I mentioned yesterday, having a supportive, competent boss can make all the difference in your professional world. But not everyone is so fortunate. If you’ve ever had a terrible boss, you know what a nightmare that can be. That kind of work stress can be intolerable.

There are of course plenty of crime-fictional examples of incompetent, non-supportive and even downright malicious, sadistic bosses. Creating these characters can be tricky, since most crime fiction fans don’t want unidimensional characters. Most people, even awful bosses, have at least some redeeming quality. But an annoying (or worse) boss can give the author lots of opportunity for conflict, sub-plots and so on.

Michael Connelly’s LAPD cop Harry Bosch has a boss who certainly makes his life difficult. In The Black Echo, we are introduced to Irvin Irving, then a Deputy Chief. In more than one of the books in this series, Irving shows that he’s self-protective and highly political. He’s also not in the least bit above squelching any honest investigation that may make him or the department look bad. So even those not deeply familiar with this series will be able to guess that he makes life very difficult for Bosch and sometimes represents a real threat to him. Connelly doesn’t give Irving’s character only one facet though. He is competent, and people loyal to him will tell you that he stands up for the police force. But to Bosch, for whom integrity is essential, Irving is part of what’s wrong with the department.

Fans of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series will know that he is saddled with a dreadful boss, Vice Questore Giuseppe Patta. Patta is a toady to the rich and well-connected. More than that, he’s an ambitious man who’s not above ‘glory-grabbing’ to make his mark. In several novels he interferes with investigations, pulls Brunetti from cases, and in other ways impedes work. Most of the time it’s because he’s being protective both of his own reputation and of those of the rich, powerful people he thinks can do him some good. Brunetti is no fool, though; more than once, he and Patta’s assistant, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, use Patta’s vanity, arrogance and ambition against him.

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has a boss, ACC Lauren Self, who isn’t much better. Self is also ambitious, and well aware that moving up into the higher echelons of police power is still easier for men than for women. So she does everything she can to improve her political position. Even Scarlett, who has little but contempt for Self, admits that her boss is very good at getting influential people on her side. She manages the social aspect of police politics quite well. But underneath that exterior, Self can be very malicious, even backstabbing. Certainly she’s not respectful of the people who work for her; nor does she listen to what they tell her about what’s really going on as they investigate. Again, Edwards doesn’t depict Self as one-sided. She does have skills. But she certainly hasn’t endeared herself to her team members.

Sometimes, even when you have a boss you like and respect, things can change if that boss leaves, transfers or is temporarily away. That’s what happens in Katherine Howell’s Web of Deceit. New South Wales Police Detective Ella Marconi likes and respects her usual boss Dennis Orchard. But he’s on a temporary assignment elsewhere, so Brad Langley steps in as acting head of homicide. On the one hand, he knows and follows police procedure, and is competent at what he does. It’s no surprise that he’s been tapped to head this team. On the other hand, he is, as Howell tells us,
 

‘…a numbers man.’
 

He doesn’t use department resources wisely, and he doesn’t listen to the people who work for him. What’s more, he can be publicly rude to his team members, especially when they suggest anything other than what he outlines for them. It’s little wonder Marconi misses Orchard.

Adrian Hyland’s Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest also has a very bad experience with a temporary boss. In Gunshot Road, we learn that she’s just begun her duties as an ACPO, and is hoping to work with Tom McGillivray, whom she likes and respects. But when he is badly injured, Tempest is assigned to work with Bruce Cockburn. From the very first, they dislike each other. Cockburn is brusque and disrespectful. He’s sometimes rude and not one to pay much attention to what Tempest says. For his part, Cockburn finds Tempest too much of a maverick and too tactless. So when they investigate the shooting death of former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins, they butt heads almost immediately. Matters worsen between them as the novel goes on. Hyland doesn’t depict Cockburn as all bad. Some of the things he says are right, and the points he makes well-taken. He’s not completely incompetent, and Tempest makes her share of mistakes. But Cockburn is certainly not skilled at supervising with any kind of respect.

Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka police detective Patrik Hedström also has an insufferable boss. Bertil Mellberg. Especially in the earlier novels in the series, he is rude, lazy and disrespectful. He is also ambitious, and considers his current assignment to be a ‘backwater.’ His only goal is to be transferred ‘up the pole’ to the bigger and more prestigious police department in Göteborg. Admittedly, as the series evolves, it becomes a little easier to work with Mellberg. He gets a little more responsive to his team and actually does some work on his own. But he’s hardly ‘boss of the year’ material.

If you’ve ever had a ‘nightmare boss,’ you know what an impediment it is. But perhaps some of the really unpleasant fictional bosses will make the ones you’ve had seem a bit better by comparison…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. I couldn’t resist the symmetry…

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Camilla Läckberg, Donna Leon, Katherine Howell, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly

No Border Fence Can Separate Us, No*

BorderlandsI live less than an hour’s drive (depending on the traffic) from the U.S./Mexican border. What’s interesting about a borderland area like this is the distinctive culture that’s developed. There are certainly influences on both sides of the border of both the U.S. dominant culture and the Mexican dominant culture. But really, life here is a blend of those cultures, and that makes it unique – neither one nor the other, if I can put it that way.

There are ‘border cultures’ all over the world, whether the border is between two very friendly allies or two enemies. And if you think about it, borderlands are very effective settings for crime novels. For one thing, there is, as I say, a unique culture. For another, even between the friendliest of allies, there are often big and little tensions that can add to a novel’s suspense. Put that together with the mystery that’s the main focus of the novel, and you can have a very absorbing read.

Borderlands figure into a few of Agatha Christie’s stories. For example, in both The Murder on the Links and The Mystery of the Blue Train, Hercule Poirot, who lives in London, investigates murders that take place in France. Several of the characters in those novels cross between the two countries more than once, and do business in both places. That ‘border culture’ of cosmopolitan travel is distinctive – neither French nor English really – and it’s interesting to see how it plays out in these stories. I know, I know, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.

Philippe Georget’s Summertime and All the Cats are Bored takes place in the Perpignan region of France, near the French/Spanish border. Two Perpignan police officers, Gilles Sebag and Jacques Molina are dealing with the usual life of a long, hot summer. Sebag’s concerned that his wife Claire may be having an affair, and Molina has his own concerns. Everything’s put aside though when the body of Josetta Braun, a Dutch tourist, is discovered. Then Anneke Verbrucke, who is also Dutch, is abducted. It looks very much as though there’s a serial killer at work, and the media wastes no time making much of that. Now Sebag and Molina have to try to outwit the killer before there are any more murders. In this story, we get a look at the culture of this border area – neither thoroughly French nor thoroughly Spanish, but distinctive.

The Austria/Italy borderland is the setting for Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski, which introduces her Scotland Yard sleuth Henry Tibbett. He and his wife Emmy take a skiing trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. They’re staying at the Bella Vista Hotel, which caters to skiers. Then late one afternoon, one of the other guests is murdered. Austrian-born businessman Fritz Hauser is shot and his body discovered on the downward-facing ski-lift. Tibbett doesn’t have jurisdiction, but once the investigating officer Capitano Spezzi finds out Tibbetts is with the Yard, he slowly starts to trust him and Tibbetts gets to work. Santa Chiara is in Italy; however, there’s a strong Austrian influence in the area, not least because this borderland has changed hands more than once. There are important cultural differences between the Italians and the Austrians; there’s even a bit of tension. But really, the local culture is Alpine – neither distinctly Italian nor distinctly Austrian.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice takes place partly in the borderland between the US and Mexico. It begins in Los Angeles, when Harry Bosch gets word on his police scanner that the body of a suicide victim has been discovered. The dead man is identified as Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore, a fellow cop. The first theory is that Moore killed himself because he’d ‘gone dirty.’ But certain things don’t add up for Bosch, and he starts to investigate. His search leads him to the ‘twin cities’ of Calexico (in California) and Mexicali (in Mexico), and to a connection with Moore’s past. This area is a blend both of languages (English, Spanish and Spanglish are spoken on both sides of the border) and of cultures. There’s some tension there, but people who live in this borderland have developed their own distinctive culture and ways of living.

The U.S./Canada border is one of the friendlier borders in the world (not that there’s never any tension or strong disagreement). Because it’s such a long border (it’s the world’s longest international border), there isn’t what you’d call one ‘borderland’ culture. There are several. One such culture is the Great Lakes culture in the borderland between the U.S. state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. Steve Hamilton explores the rural part of that culture in his Alex McKnight series. McKnight is a former Detroit police officer who’s left the force and now makes a living renting cabins near Sault Ste. Marie (Soo) Michigan/Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. There are of course formalities when McKnight crosses the border, but the area isn’t really completely Canadian or completely U.S. Instead, it’s a unique rural hunting/fishing/sport tourist area.

The capital of Botswana, Gabarone, is in the borderland area between that country and South Africa. So Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe, whose detective agency is in Gabarone, visits South Africa in more than one of her cases. And in both that series and the Michael Stanley writing duo’s David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, we see several examples of people who live on one side of the border but work on the other. It’s a culturally and linguistically unique place, and you can see that in the language patterns. English is the official language of Botswana, but most of the people also speak Setswana. Setswana is also spoken just across the border in South Africa. It’s an interesting case of cultural and linguistic borders being different to geopolitical borders.

Fans of Brian McGilloway’s Garda Ben Devlin series will know that it takes place mostly in the borderlands between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. And fans of Kate Atkinson and Val McDermid will know that several of their novels take place in the Scottish Border area. In both of those cases, we see a distinctive way of life that blends both sides of the border. Dialect, daily life, and so on are all unique to those areas. And that’s really what a borderland is. It’s not one side’s culture or the other. Instead, it’s a unique culture that has elements of both. Which bordlerlands novels and series stand out for you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boom Shaka’s Unite.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Brian McGilloway, Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly, Patricia Moyes, Phillipe Georget, Steve Hamilton, Val McDermid

I’ll Be Out in Cyberspace*

OnlineMeetingsIt’s no secret that technology keeps moving forward, making it increasingly easier to keep in contact with people from all over the world. And it’s happened at amazing speed too. Here are a few facts to put this all in a bit of perspective. People have of course been writing messages, notes and letters for as long as there’s been writing, really. But for many thousands of years, two things hampered this kind of contact. First, lots of people weren’t literate, and there are many cultures that don’t have a written language. Second, there were logistical and geographical issues to take into account, so letters could take a very long time to reach their recipients. Local communication by note and letter was easier (and you see a lot of that in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories), but it still left much to be desired.

The first transatlantic cable was sent in 1844, and the first telephone call was made in 1876. And within the next few decades, telephone and cable contact became more and more integral to people’s everyday communication. And you see it in crime fiction too. Agatha Christie fans can tell you about a number of cases that rely on cables for information (Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air is just one small example). And of course, we can all cite dozens of classic and Golden Age crime fiction stories where telephone calls are important parts of the plot, whether as alibis, clues or something else. And if you think about it, that’s just a matter of about sixty years (for the telephone). It was really the first long-distance synchronous communication, and it was revolutionary.

What happened next is possibly even more revolutionary: computer communication. Online communication actually began with a very small group of people in the 1970’s (the first email was sent in 1971), but for most consumers, email didn’t become a fact of regular life until the late 1980s/early 1990s. Still, that was only about 60 or 70 years after the telephone became an important part of daily life. And it made a huge difference too. If you’ve read Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, for instance, you know that the victim in that case is identified as Roseanna McGraw through a series of transatlantic telephone calls. They take time, the connection is terrible, and there are other technical problems too. Imagine if there’d been email then. I know that there simply wasn’t at the time that novel was written, and of course including it would have made the novel not credible. But it’s interesting to think of what the story might have been like.

In the last 30 years or so, global communication has once again been tranformed and arguably transformative. Today, email, texts and social media commentary link people from all over the world in a matter of microseconds. And we see that all over crime fiction. I’ll just give a few examples. There are Facebook posts that figure into Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness. Another social media site, Campus Juice, is an important factor in Alafair Burke’s 212. Texts feature in C.J. Box’s Below Zero. And the list could go on. And today’s Internet allows for all sort of sophistication too. How often do you see videos, lots of them uploaded from telephones, posted on blogs and other sites? And if you’ve ever done an online workshop, course or seminar, you know that Internet communication has had a powerful impact on education. As a somewhat personal aside, a hat tip goes to the way Australia has led the way in distance learning. I could give you lots of dates and academic references, but I’ll spare you…

These developments have come at an astonishing speed. They’ve also had of course some very negative consequences. Both in crime fiction and in real life, there are all sorts of stories of online predators. Perhaps a little less dangerous but no less upsetting are the stories of online ‘trolls.’ There’s another negative consequence too, that sometimes gets less attention, but is important. As we communicate more and more via technology, what’s happening to our in-person communication? There are studies (again, I’m sparing you the details) that suggest that young people who spend too much time using online technology do have difficulty with in-person social skills (e.g. appropriate eye contact, listening skills and the like). And even more studies support the vital importance of in-person contact. There are also plenty of crime novels that portray characters like this (for a witty but at times painfully real example, check Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. There’s a small group of computer wizards and gamers Chapman calls Nerds, Inc. that personify this phenomenon).

And there’s the question of just how intrusive online communication is. Do we really want to know what people had for breakfast? Where they partied last night? And more to the point, do we want others to know what we ate, where we went, or whom we see? Today’s communication has meant a need to re-think privacy and how to maintain it.

There’s another issue, too. Even with videos and pictures, asynchronous communication has its drawbacks. It’s hard to gauge people’s non-verbal language that way, and it can take longer for ideas to develop. And that’s to say nothing of the social and emotional benefits that come with real-time, face-to-face interaction.

Enter one of the most recent technological developments: communication applications such as Skype, Zoom and Google Hangout. With those applications, people from all over the world can have a live conversation. These applications are used for employment interviews, meetings, and simply keeping in contact with faraway friends and loved ones. Just to give you one example, every month, UK crime novelist Rebecca Bradley facilitates an online meeting of the Crime Book Club, which has members from several different countries. Yes, this is in part a plug for that great group. It meets the third Wednesday of every month at 8pm GMT, and everyone’s welcome. But this is more than just a plug. The Crime Book Club is a really clear example of what a tremendous impact technology has had on communication. And all of this in 175 years! Amazing!

So what’s coming next? And what will the implications be? Now that young people can communicate with family and friends via live video applications, will this improve social skills? Is physical proximity really necessary for that? Will family bonds be stronger (because of the ease of keeping in contact) or will they erode (because of time spent online with other people)? And what about privacy? I don’t have the answers, but my impression is that it’ll be a bit of a proverbial mixed bag. Let me put it this way: I am flattered, honoured and always amazed by the friendships I’ve made with people from all of the populated continents. And it’s all because of online technology. I wouldn’t be without online capability. But nothing is the same as meeting people in person. I wonder how close technology can get to that.

ps. Talking of Rebecca Bradley, you’ll want to visit her excellent blog. It’s a rich resource for crime fiction readers and writers. And you’ll want to check out her debut novel Shallow Waters. It’s a very solid police procedural/suspense thriller featuring DI Hannah Robbins of the Nottingham CID (I love the fact that this one takes place in a part of the UK that isn’t as common in crime fiction).
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Black-Eyed Peas’  Now Generation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alafair Burke, Arthur Conan Doyle, C.J. Box, Kerry Greenwood, Maj Sjöwall, Michael Connelly, Per Wahlöö, Rebecca Bradley

My Little Town*

Communities within CommunitiesFor a lot of people, it’s important to belong to a community. It can be very comforting to be among people who share your culture, language, lifestyle, or something else. That’s why very often, even in large cities, you’ll find smaller groups of people who have some sort of bond. Those smaller communities, even when they’re not closed off (e.g. a cloister) can be very interesting to explore. And they make for interesting contexts for a novel.

There are all sorts of possibilities in terms of plot and character development when the author explores smaller communities within larger ones. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction. I’m quite sure you’ll be able to think of a lot more than I could.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, we are introduced to Hercule Poirot, a former member of the Belgian police who’s had to escape to England. He and a group of fellow Belgians have settled in the village of Styles St. Mary and are trying to pick up their lives as best they can. They were sponsored and helped by wealthy Emily Inglethorp, and all of them are very grateful to her. So when she is poisoned, Poirot takes a very particular interest in solving the murder. We don’t get a very deep set of insights into the inner workings of this small Belgian community, but we do learn that they’ve been more or less accepted by the locals. In fact, one of them mentions that while he’s not overly fond of foreigners, he doesn’t mind the Belgians.

London is of course home to many different smaller communities. For example, Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters takes place in Jerusalem Lane, one of London’s historic districts. Among the other people who live in that small community are Meredith Winterbottom and her sisters Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe. They’re the great-granddaughters of Karl Marx, who actually lived in that area at one point. A large development company wants to buy up Jerusalem Lane to turn it into a shopping and entertainment district. One by one, the various residents sell up, but Meredith Winterbottom refuses. Then, she dies, apparently a successful suicide. But when DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla look into the case, they notice small things that don’t quite add up to suicide. So they begin to investigate more deeply. It turns out that along with the development company and its representatives, there are other people in whose interest it was to get Meredith Winterbottom out of the way. As Brock and Kolla look into the case, we get an ‘inside’ look at Jerusalem Lane and the network of relationships among its residents.

There are also many smaller immigrant communities in London. Anya Lipska’s DC Natalie Kershaw/Janusz Kiszka novels explore one of them: immigrants from Poland. Kiszka is a veteran of the uprising against the former USSR that began in the Gdansk shipyards. He’s settled into London, but is still tightly connected to the Polish community there. In fact, he’s known as a ‘fixer’ among his fellow Poles – someone who can get things done. Since the imigrant Polish community is tight-knit, there aren’t many degrees of separation between Kiszka and any one other member of that group. That’s part of what makes him very useful to Kershaw when she investigtes crimes that affect London’s Polish community. Kiszka and Kershaw meet in Where the Devil Can’t Go, when he is a suspect in a murder she’s investigating. From both of their perspectives, readers get the chance to see how a smaller community functions within a larger one, and how each impacts the other.

New York is also composed of many, many different smaller groups of people. One of them for instance is its Russian community. There are lots of crime novels that focus on Russian-born and Russian-heritage New Yorkers. One of them is Margaret Truman’s Murder in the House. When US Congressman Paul Latham is found dead, it’s thought at first that he committed suicide. But that’s not by any means the only possibility. So when Georgetown University Law School Professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith learns of the case from a former student, he agrees to look into it. He finds a connection between Latham’s death and the economic climate that emerged in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. At one point in the novel, one of the characters travels from his home in Russia to New York, where he’s been told to wait for further instructions. He’s taken in by a former countryman and we see how the members of New York’s Russian community have created their own small world-within-a-world.

Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street explores smaller communities based on socioeconomic status. One warm night, Valerie ‘Val’ Merinao and June Giatto get on a pink rubber raft to take a ride on the bay near their home in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Early the next morning, local teacher Jonathan Sprouse finds Val, injured but alive. June has disappeared. As we learn about the impact this has on the people who knew her, we see that there are really two small communities here. One is mostly middle-class, ‘respectable’ and largely Roman Catholic. The other is working poor/unemployed, mostly non-White, and more on the fringes of society. June’s disappearance and the investigation into it show how small communities can be formed around common economic situations and ethnic culture as well. And what’s interesting here is that these two groups live very close to each other; yet until June goes missing, they don’t really interact very much.

But proximity can matter a great deal in creating a small community within a larger one. For instance, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features a Roman-style Melbourne building called Insula. The people who live and work there are disparate in some ways, but they’ve formed their own small group and they take care of each other. In this case, what started out as more or less being thrown together in the same place has evolved into a close-knit community.

There are many other examples of stories and series that explore these communities-within-communities. I’m thinking for instance of the Asian community in Los Angeles, which we read about in Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons. There’s also Henry Chang’s Jack Yu series, which features New York’s Chinatown. Which of those communities has stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Barry Maitland, Henry Chang, Ivy Pochoda, Kerry Greenwood, Margaret Truman, Michael Connelly