Category Archives: Michael Redhill

I’m Getting Older Too*

One of the major demographic shifts we’ve seen in many countries (certainly not all!) in the last years is the ageing of our population. The ‘baby boom’ generation is now entering into late middle/early old age, and that means a great number of changes. Socially, economically, and in other ways, we’re needing to re-think the way we do things (you’re welcome, younger people…)

I thought about this recently as I was reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old. The author has chosen Hendrik Groen as a pen name, too. This isn’t, admittedly, a crime novel. Rather, it’s a novel written in the form of a journal that the titular character keeps for a year. In that journal, Groen records what life is like in an Amsterdam elder care facility. It’s an unusual book with both wit and some darkness, too. And it highlights some of the issues that society faces as its population ages.

Crime fiction also highlights these issues, too, and it’s interesting to see how the genre treats them as time goes on. One thread through Groen’s story is the question of independence. Some elderly crime-fictional characters can do quite a lot (or even everything) for themselves. They may need occasional help here and there, but they’re certainly not invalids. I’m thinking, for instance, of Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Emily Micaleff. She’s the former mayor of the small town of Port Dundas, Ontario. Her daughter, Hazel (who’s facing retirement herself) is a police inspector, and the main protagonist of this series. Emily’s health isn’t always good, and she doesn’t have the stamina of a younger person. But she’s quite independent, and wants to do things for herself, in her way. Balancing the realities of her age and health against the very normal and healthy desire to be independent isn’t easy.

It’s not easy for Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover, either. She’s a retired English teacher who lives in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. On the one hand, she uses a cane, and she’s not as strong as she once was (she’s in her eighties). She tires more easily than younger people do, and she does have occasional health problems. But she likes her independence, and she’s not at all ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ It’s a difficult balance, and it’s a thread that runs through that series.

One of the points that Groen makes is that many elderly people do cherish their independence. They want to go to museums, concerts, good restaurants, and the like. In fact, a group of the fictional Groen’s friends form what they call the Old But Not Dead club. Each month, one of the members picks an activity for the group to engage in. They go golfing, to museums, out to dinner, and more. As they do, we see the challenge that society faces in making these activities available to elderly people who may need assistance, extra time, easy access to different places, and so on.

It’s not just independence, though. There’s also the issue of health. As the population ages, more people face health issues that weren’t as widespread (or at least, as well-understood) as they are now. And society will need to find a way to address those problems. One of them, for instance, is dementia in its many forms. Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind, for instance features Dr. Jennifer White, who’s been diagnosed with dementia. She’s had to retire because of her illness, and now lives with a caregiver. When the woman next door is murdered, White becomes a suspect. The problem for the police, though, is that it’s difficult to find out the truth from her, because of her advancing illness. Among other things, this novel sheds a light on some of the challenges we face in treating dementia, and working with people who have it.

On the one hand (and Groen addresses this, too), dementia often progresses slowly, so that those diagnosed with it still may have quite a long period of a relatively normal life (whatever that even means). They may need some assistance, or to find a way to remind themselves of things. But they can still live full lives. We see this in Mike Befeler’s Paul Jacobson novels. Jacobson has developed short-term memory loss, so he uses a notebook to keep track of everything he does. Then, the next day, he can go back to those notes to remind himself of what happened the day before. On the other hand, we haven’t found a cure for dementia. So, patients and their families face the challenge of how to give the person with dementia as much dignity and independence as possible, but also prepare for what is still inevitable.

Perhaps the most important point that Groen makes in the novel (at least to me; your mileage, as they say, may differ) is that elderly people are simply that – people. They want to be treated with dignity and respect, just as anyone else does. They have their own likes, dislikes, complexities, faults, and strengths. And crime fiction is, arguably, seeing that, too. There are plenty of elderly fictional sleuths, from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to the present day. And as time goes on, authors are exploring ageing in more depth. And that, to me, is a good thing. As more and more of us face getting older – perhaps very much older – the more prepared we are for it, and the more prepared society is, the better.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stevie Nicks’ Landslide.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alice LaPlante, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Hendrik Groen, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Mike Befeler

This is Not a War, No Winners No Losers*

Some professional relationships are, by their nature, adversarial. For instance, in the context of a trial, opposing counsel have to be adversaries if there’s to be a fair trial. The two sides might respect, and even like, one another off duty. But in the courtroom, they have to oppose each other. Some people think of trials as zero-sum situations: if one side wins, the other has to lose.

But there are plenty of relationships that don’t have to be adversarial, although they sometimes turn out that way. For instance, if a person commits crimes in more than one jurisdiction, it helps everyone if the police in those different places cooperate. In other words, it’s not a zero-sum situation. If the police in one place catch the criminal, the police in the other place haven’t ‘lost.’ And the citizens in both places are now safer.

In real life, police in different units and different places know this, and they’re often willing to exchange information and cooperate. It’s not that there’s never friction. In most cases, though, everyone knows that working with different police departments isn’t a zero-sum situation.

We see that cooperation in plenty of crime fiction, too. And that makes sense, since police departments do have to interact. When it’s written well, that sort of interaction can add to a story. It can also introduce different characters.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, a series of murders occurs in different jurisdictions. The victims don’t have much of anything in common, and the murders are committed in different ways. The only things linking the deaths are that, before each one, Hercule Poirot receives a cryptic warning letter; and, an ABC railway guide is found near each body. At first, it seems as though a serial killer might be at work. But Poirot isn’t convinced. He and Captain Hastings work with Chief Inspector Japp and police from the different towns involved to find out who the killer is. Admittedly, one of the people they work with, Inspector Crome, has a bit of an annoyingly superior attitude. But by and large, the different police groups share information and cooperate. And in the end, we learn who the killer is and what the motive is.

In Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna, the body of a young woman is pulled from Lake Vättern. Stockholm homicide detective Martin Beck and his team travel to Motala, where the investigation is taking place, to work with the local police. The going is slow at first, since the victim doesn’t match the description of any person listed as missing. But eventually, the police learn that the woman’s name was Roseanna McGraw, and that she was an American who was on a tour of Sweden when she was killed. In the meantime, Elmer Kafka of the Lincoln, Nebraska Police is searching for Roseanna, since a missing person report was filed there. Eventually, he and Martin Beck communicate and begin to share information. That information proves to be helpful in finding the killer, and it’s an interesting example of the way police can work together without one group or another having to ‘win.’

Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide sees Bolton’s protagonist, Lacey Flint, now working with the Met’s Marine Unit. In that capacity, her job is mostly to check boating licenses, warn people about unsafe conditions, and so on. One morning, she discovers the body of a young woman in the water. The victim is probably Middle Eastern or South Asian, and the likelihood is that she was drowned. What’s more disturbing, it looks as though the body might have been left where it was for Flint to find. If so, someone’s taking a bizarre sort of interest in her. The death is looking more and more like a homicide, so Flint works with Detective Inspector (DI) Dana Tulloch and her team in the Met’s Homicide group, to find out who the victim is, and who the killer is. As the two teams work to solve this case, we see solid cooperation between the Homicide Unit and the Marine Unit. There’s some good-natured back-and-forth about whose budget will be tapped for different things, but in the main, these people work together. They all know that everyone wins if the murderer is found, no matter who actually makes the arrest.

We see a similar sort of cooperation among police departments in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team is investigating the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. They’re trying to trace the victim’s last months and weeks to find out who would want her dead. At the same time, Scarlett’s friend and colleague Fern Larter and her team are investigating two more recent deaths: book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg. Scarlett and Larter are friends; but even if they weren’t, they both know that policing isn’t a zero-sum situation. Competing with one another wouldn’t solve crimes successfully, and working together does. When a connection between the two investigations is found, the teams share information and cooperate to find the killer.

In Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling, Detective Inspector (DI) Hazel Micallef and her team at Port Dundas, Ontario, are faced with a disturbing series of deaths that look on the surface to be assisted suicides. But Micallef’s not sure of that. As time goes on, and the case is no closer to being solved, she comes to believe that it’s possible a serial killer is striking. If so, this killer has likely struck before, and will likely strike again. So, in one plot thread, Micellef’s team communicates with other police teams to get whatever background information they may have on similar killings. That cooperation turns out to be very useful, as it helps the Port Dundas team home in on the murderer.

There are plenty of crime novels, of course, in which ‘patch wars’ and worse happen between fictional police departments, or between different units in the same department. And that kind of conflict does happen in real life. But the reality is, the more cooperation there is among different police teams, the more crime is solved. And it’s easier than ever with today’s technology. Little wonder there’s an argument that police work isn’t a zero-sum situation – well, except for the criminal…

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Inger Ash Wolfe, Maj Sjöwall, Martin Edwards, Michael Redhill, Per Wahlöö, Sharon Bolton

Nothing Could be Longer Than that Corrugated Road*

There’s plenty of crime in cities and suburbia. We see it on the news, and we read about it in crime fiction, too. Large city police forces certainly have their hands full, and I’m sure you could list dozens and dozens of big-city crime novels and series.

It’s interesting to contrast that sort of work with the work of a very rural police officer or other law enforcement officer. There’s crime in both cases – sometimes horrible crime – and, like their counterparts in cities, rural law enforcement officers have to do things like file paperwork, interview witnesses, look for evidence, and so on. But there are differences, too.

Rural law enforcement people are often spread thinner, as the saying goes. So, it helps if they’re familiar with the land. In some cases, they also have to be very much aware of weather patterns and other natural phenomena. And they tend to know the people they serve quite well, since there are usually far fewer of them. There are other differences, too. And it’s interesting to see how rural law enforcement plays out in crime fiction.

For example, Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte works with the Queensland Police. But, as fans can tell you, he certainly doesn’t stay in Brisbane. His territory is large, and lots of it is very rural. So, he’s learned to read ‘the Book of the Bush.’ He understands weather patterns, animal traces, and so on. And he gets to know both the Aboriginal groups he meets and the whites who live in the tiny towns and ranches in the area. He’s learned to pay attention, too, to the stories and gossip he hears. Word spreads, so he’s often able to learn about an area’s history and legends. That helps him, too.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest grew up in Moonlight Downs, a very rural Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. She left for school and travel, but returns in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs). And, in Gunshot Road, she begins a new job as an ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer). In both novels, she shows her deep understanding of the land, the weather, and other natural phenomena. We also see how connected she is to the people she serves. She knows, or at least has heard of, practically everyone, even though people are very spread out in her territory. Most of the people in the area know her, too, and trust her, since she’s ‘one of them.’ That relationship means that she’s able to get information that people aren’t always willing to give to the police.

A similar thing might be said of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. They are members of the Navajo Nation. They are also members of the Navajo Tribal Police. Most members of the Navajo community live in a very spread-out, rural area of the Southwest US. Chee and Leaphorn cover an awful lot of territory in their investigations, and some of that land is unforgiving, so both have learned to respect it. They understand weather patterns and other phenomena, and they’re smart enough not to take risks they don’t have to take. Members of the Navajo community know each other, or at least know of each other. In fact, there are complicated links among various Navajo clans. So, there’s less anonymity, even in such a sparsely populated area, than there is in some large cities. And Chee and Leaphorn take advantage of the way word spreads. You’re quite right, fans of Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series, and of Scott Young’s Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak novels. We see a similar situation in Alaska and in Canada’s far northern places.

And it’s not always in the far north of Canada, either. For example, Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Detective Inspector (DI) Hazel Micallef series takes place in fictional Port Dundas, Ontario. Micallef and her team cover a wide area that’s mostly rural and small-town. It’s not a big department, and they don’t have access to a lot of resources. But they make do, as best they can, with what they have. One of their advantages is that people know each other. For instance, Micallef’s mother, Emily, is a former mayor of Port Dundas. So, she’s well aware of the area’s social networks. So are most of the members of Micallef’s police team. And they use those networks to get information. Things can get awkward, as they do when you work in the same town where you grew up. But Micallef and her team also use that familiarity to their advantage.

So does Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire (oh, come on – you knew I couldn’t do a piece about rural law enforcement without mentioning him). He’s the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. While he’s based in the small town of Durant, he does more than his share of travel throughout the mostly rural county. As fans can tell you, Longmire has learned to be respectful of the weather conditions, natural forces and climate in the area. It can be a harsh place to live and work, especially in the winter. But Longmire knows the tricks of survival. He also knows the value of all of the networks of rural communication. Because it’s a sparsely-populated area, there’s sometimes a lot of travel between places. So, Longmire has learned to make use of those social networks. He knows that people – even people who don’t live close by – congregate at places like the Red Pony (a local bar/restaurant) and the Busy Bee Café. So, he listens to what he hears in those places. That helps him make the most efficient use of his travel efforts.

And that’s the way it is for a lot of rural law enforcement characters. It’s quite a different form of policing to what goes on in large towns, suburbs, and cities. And it’s important work, too. Anyone who says crime doesn’t happen in rural areas hasn’t read much crime fiction (right, fans of Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels?)…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Gunbarrel Highway.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Bill Crider, Craig Johnson, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman

Hey, Better Send Some People Down*

Even the best-equipped police forces don’t always have the staff or the resources they need, especially when there’s a particularly difficult investigation going on. And many police forces serve areas where there’s little major crime. So, they don’t invest a great deal in special equipment, extra people, and so on. That’s not usually considered a wise use of taxpayer money.

What this means is that sometimes, police departments have to ‘borrow’ people from other police departments. Being seconded can give a detective solid experience, and it’s a way to get the job done with limited resources. Sometimes it goes smoothly; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, a secondment can add an interesting layer to a crime novel, and an equally-interesting look at the way police departments work.

For example, in Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), lifestyle guru Cecilia ‘CC’ de Poitiers decides to move to the small Québec town of Three Pines. She settles in with her husband and fifteen-year-old daughter, and it’s not long before she succeeds in alienating just about everyone. She’s mentally sadistic, malicious, and thoroughly self-involved, so it’s not surprising that she isn’t exactly the most popular person in town. Then, during a Boxing Day curling match, CC is murdered. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team investigate the murder. For duty officer Robert Lemieux, this case gives him the opportunity to work with the legendary Gamache, as he’s the one who reported the crime. Gamache welcomes Lemieux to the team, and does his best to take the fledgling detective under his proverbial wing. It turns out to be a very sad case, but it gives Lemieux valuable experience. And fans of this series will know that he plays an important role in The Cruelest Month, too.

James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown takes place mostly in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The city’s been devastated by the disaster, and the police force is stretched to its limits. So, many of Louisiana’s other police forces are tapped for extra support, including the New Iberia Police. And that means that police detective Dave Robicheaux is sent to New Orleans to help. He discovers that an old friend, Father Jude LeBlanc, has gone missing. LeBlanc had set off in a boat to try to save some of his parishioners, but hasn’t been seen. What’s worse, the boat he used has turned up in the possession of some looters. Robicheaux is sure that there’s a connection between LeBlanc’s disappearance and the looters; to him, this isn’t a case of people happening on an empty boat. But, with much of the city reeling from the hurricane, and with few resources, it’s not going to be an easy connection to make.

Inger Ash Wolfe’s (AKA Michael Redhill) DI Hazel Micallef lives and works in Port Dundas, Ontario. It’s not a very big place, and there’s generally not a lot of crime there. So, she doesn’t have a very big police department. That proves to be a major problem in The Calling, when a series of murders takes place in the area. A small team like Micallef’s isn’t enough to handle the multiple investigations, so she requests extra staff. At first, her boss, Commander Ian Mason, doesn’t see the need for any secondments; he’s not even sure there’s a serial killer involved. But Micallef knows that she and her small team aren’t going to be able to solve these crimes without help. She finally convinces Mason to approve some staff, and that’s at least a start. One of the interesting sub-plots in this novel is the politics behind secondments, and the way that ‘borrowed’ officers and the ‘regular’ team have to work together.

Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods sees Accra DI Darko Dawson seconded to the small town of Ketanu when the body of Gladys Menah is discovered in a nearby wood. The victim was a volunteer with the Ministry of Health, so the Minister of Health takes a special interest in this case; hence the secondment. Dawson’s the logical choice, because he speaks Ewe, the local language, and because he’s a skilled detective. That doesn’t cut much ice with Inspector Fiti of the local police, though. He resents what he sees as Accra’s meddling, and he doesn’t care much for the insinuation that he and his men can’t handle the case. Dawson does his best, at least at first, to reassure Fiti that he has no desire to meddle or take the investigation out of their hands. It doesn’t work, though, and there’s a great deal of conflict and friction between the two. This leads to its own sub-plot, which adds a layer of interest to this novel.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse, the first of his Lewis trilogy. Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is an Edinburgh police inspector who’s working on a murder case when another, very similar, murder takes place on the Isle of Lewis. It’s very possible that the same person committed both crimes, so Macleod is seconded to help with the Isle of Lewis investigation. It’s hoped that if it’s the same murderer, he and the Isle of Lewis police will be able to help each other. For Macleod, this is a homecoming, since he was brought up there, but it’s not a happy one. He had very good reasons for leaving, and hasn’t had any desire to return. Still, he does his job and goes. This investigation will force him to confront his own past, and deal with several unresolved issues.

Jill Paterson’s Once Upon a Lie introduces readers to DCI Alistair Fitzjohn, of Sydney’s Day Street Station. He’s been in the UK taking some leave time, but returns to Sydney when the body of businessman Michael Rossi is found at a marina on Rushcutter’s Bay. Normally, the Kings Cross Police Station would handle this case, but they’re short-staffed at the moment. So, Fitzjohn is seconded to Kings Cross to help out. Fitzjohn insists that his second-in-command, Martin Betts, go with him. Betts isn’t overly eager, but he agrees, and the two take up their temporary assignment. It turns out that there are several possibilities, both personal and professional, when it comes to motive and suspect, so this case isn’t going to be easy. It doesn’t help matters, either, that Fitzjohn learns that a ‘mole’ may have been placed at Kings Cross to report back to his superior. In the end, though, Fitzjohn, Betts, and the Kings Cross team find out who killed Rossi and why.

Secondments can be awkward for everyone. Sometimes they even end up in friction or outright conflict. But they can also add to a crime novel. These are only a few of many examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Everybody’s Out of Town.

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Filed under Inger Ash Wolfe, James Lee Burke, Jill Paterson, Kwei Quartey, Louise Penny, Michael Redhill, Peter May

She Is Still a Mystery to Me*

Sometimes, fame can bring with it a real loss of privacy. Especially in today’s world of instant communication and social media, it’s very hard for someone who’s ‘in the news’ to have any real secrets or much of a private life.

But some crime writers have managed to do a very good job of keeping their own secrets. If you think about it, that makes sense, since crime writers create mysteries. And it’s interesting to think about some of the mysteries that have surrounded some crime novelists.

One of the most famous such mysteries surrounds Agatha Christie. In December,1926, Christie disappeared for 11 days. She left her home on 3 December, and, despite a massive search, was not discovered until 14 December, when she was found at the Swan Hotel, Harrogate. There’ve been many theories about what happened to her, and where she was during her absence. Christie herself never revealed the truth, and we may never know exactly what happened. Was it a publicity hoax? A bout with deep depression? Amnesia? Something else? It’s hard to say. But it’s fascinating to speculate about it.

In 2009, the novel Cut and Run, by Alix Bosco, was published. It was highly regarded; and, in fact, won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2010. The only problem was, no-one knew who Alix Bosco was. No-one even knew whether Bosco was male or female. The question of Bosco’s identity left a lot of crime fiction fans curious, but Bosco kept that information private. It wasn’t until after that award was presented that we learned who Alix Bosco really is. Auckland writer Greg McGee admitted that he is the pen behind the Alix Bosco name. Under his own name, McGee’s written several scripts and plays, and wanted to keep his crime fiction persona separate. He decided to come forward when his second crime novel, Slaughter Falls, made the short list for the second Ngaio March Award. It’s an interesting story of a very successful use of a pseudonym.

Along similar lines, in 2008, Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling was published in Toronto. It was very well-received, and had both critical and commercial success. But no-one knew who Inger Ash Wolfe was. The only clue was that Wolfe was ‘a well-known and well-regarded North American writer.’ There was plenty of speculation as to Wolfe’s identity; guesses included Margaret Atwood and Linda Spalding, among others. In the end, Michael Redhill admitted that he’s Inger Ash Wolfe. As he put it:
 

‘My goal was to do something separate, and that necessitated it being secret.’ 
 

For Redhill, it wasn’t a publicity stunt, but a matter of wanting a different ‘self’ for his crime series that led him to keep his real identity secret. And it wasn’t until the 2012 publication of A Door in the River that he admitted the truth publicly.

I know, not crime fiction, but these two stories also made me think of Italian author Elena Ferrante. As you’ll no doubt know, there’s plenty of speculation about her identity, too. It’ll be interesting to see whether we ever discover who she is.

There’s also the interesting story of Carl Constantine Kosak, better known by his pseudonym, K.C. Constantine. He’s the author of the Mario Balzic Rockport mysteries, which take place in Western Pennsylvania. Fiercely protective of his privacy, Kosak even included a proviso in all of his contracts that forbade publishers from revealing his identity. He didn’t do book tours, signings or other appearances. From 1974, when The Blank Page was published, until 2011, Kosak remained very much a mystery. He explains his choices by saying that he was concerned for his family’s privacy and safety. He didn’t want to be stalked, or to have anyone in his family stalked. That never happened, and, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kosak said,
 

‘‘Nobody tracked me down. I decided it was ridiculous to keep up this charade.’’
 

And so he revealed himself at the 2011 Festival of Mystery in Oakmont (a suburb of Pittsburgh).

Fans of Lilian Jackson Braun will know that she was an even more private person than her creation, journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. There are certain things we know about her, but even her true date of birth wasn’t known until 2005 (her first Cat Who… book was published in 1966). She doesn’t seem to have been deliberately coy; rather, she seems to have genuinely valued her privacy so much that very little about her life was made public.

And that’s the way it is with some crime writers. Their lives are at least as mysterious as their plots are. Which secretive mystery authors intrigue you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alix Bosco, Elena Ferrante, Greg McGee, Inger Ash Wolfe, K.C. Constantine, Michael Redhill