Category Archives: Michael Robotham

Unknown Enemy*

There are a number of ways to build tension and suspense in a crime novel. And that suspense is an important part of keeping the novel engaging for readers. One of the approaches crime writers sometimes use is to include what you might call an unknown enemy.

I’m not talking here of the evil villain out to take over the world. Rather, I mean situations where a character is targeted by an unknown person. If you think about it, that is an eerie feeling. Most of have a fairly good sense of who might be gunning for us. But what if you had no idea who was targeting you? That anxiety, and the wondering whom to trust, would likely add to your unease.

We see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, we are introduced to Jerry Burton and his sister, Joanna. They’ve recently moved to the village of Lymstock, so that Jerry can continue his recovery from a wartime injury. They’ve not been there long when they receive a vicious anonymous letter that suggests they are not siblings, but lovers. Soon, the Burtons learn that they’re not the only victims. Other people in town are also receiving such ‘poison pen’ letters, and it’s got everyone upset. Then, a letter to a local solicitor’s wife leads to a suicide. And then there’s a murder. Miss Marple takes an interest in the case when the local vicar’s wife, who knows her, suggests she might be able to help. Part of the tension of the novel comes from the fact that people don’t know who this unknown enemy is, and why that person might be targeting them.

There’s a similar plot point in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. Amsterdam Inspector Piet Van der Valk is sent to the small town of Zwinderen to help with an unusual problem. Several people in town have received ugly anonymous letters. This is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone, so one’s local reputation matters a lot. The tension caused by the letters is so high that the result has been two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t made much progress, so it’s hoped that Van der Valk will be able to help. And in the end, he and his wife, Arlette, find out who wrote the letters and why. One important cause of unease in the novel is that the local residents don’t know who their enemy is, if I may put it that way.

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, we are introduced to London psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. He gets involved in a murder case when the body of a former client, Catherine McBride, is pulled from Grand Union Canal. Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz wants whatever insights O’Loughlin may have about this case, so he persuades a very reluctant O’Loughlin to help out. Then, there’s another murder – one that very much implicates O’Loughlin. Now, Ruiz actively wonders whether his consultant may know more about the case than he’s letting on. What’s more, the leads that O’Loughlin has given Ruiz don’t seem to pan out. Before long, it’s clear that someone has set O’Loughlin up, and is framing him for multiple murders. The problem is, O’Loughlin doesn’t know who would deliberately target him. He’ll have to go back to his own past, and go after a very dangerous killer, if he’s going to clear his name. And part of the suspense as he does so comes from the fact that he doesn’t know who’s after him.

Neither does Merete Lynnggard, who is featured in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). In the novel, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck is assigned to head up a new police initiative, ‘Department Q.’ This new department will be devoted to cases ‘of special interest’ (i.e. cold cases), and is at least in part designed as a way to demonstrate that the police take all of their investigations seriously. Shortly after Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad take up their duties, they begin to look into the five-year-old disappearance of Lynnggard, who was a promising politician. Everyone thought that she went overboard in a tragic ferry accident. But new evidence suggests that she may still be alive. If so, Mørck and Assad may not have much time to find her. I can say without spoiling the story that part of its tension comes from the fact that Lynnggard didn’t even know who was targeting her.

And then there’s Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder, the first of her series featuring research assistant Verity Long. She works for famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘K.D.’ Davenport, who uses old cases as inspiration for her novels. When Long goes house-hunting, she discovers the body of well-known TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Badly shaken up by the experience, she’s happy on one level to let the police handle the investigation. At the same time, though, she found the body, so like it or not, she is involved. And she’s both curious and skilled as a researcher. So, she starts to ask questions. And it’s not long before she runs into serious danger. More than once in the story, it’s clear that someone is targeting her. And part of the suspense comes from the fact that she doesn’t know her enemy.

There are, of course, a lot of other crime novels in which someone has a secret enemy. That plot point can add suspense, even drama, to a story if it’s done effectively. And it can add to character development.
 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lynda Wilcox, Michael Robotham, Nicolas Freeling

We Know That It’s Probably Magic*

As this is posted, it would have been Jim Henson’s 81st birthday. As you’ll know, Henson was a creative innovator who pioneered an entirely new sort of character –  the Muppet. He was also instrumental in creating children’s television programming that reflected a diverse audience.

But it’s Henson’s way of reaching out to children that stays with me more than anything else. If you’ve ever seen episodes of Sesame Street (or, for the matter of that, any other of the various Muppet-based shows), you’ll already know that those shows respected their audiences. They addressed children’s real concerns about things as varied as starting in a new school and coping after death. There were segments that included children from many different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, too. Henson and his team communicated with their young viewers in real ways. And viewers responded. They still do.

Lots of famous people guested on the show, too, and allowed young people to see the range of creative talent out there. Among the famous visitors were Maya Angelou, Paul Simon, Meryl Streep, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Robin Williams, and Billy Joel. Yes, he visited several times. Yes, I watched those episodes. What?!   😉

Being able to reach out to children, to treat them with respect, and communicate with them, isn’t always easy, in real life or in fiction. But sometimes, children have important things to say. In some crime fiction, for instance, children may hold clues to investigations. Or, they may be deeply affected by something that’s happened, and need to be supported. So, being able to reach out to them can be a particularly valuable skill.

Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, for instance, is a child psychologist. He’s therefore quite skilled at getting young people to talk, and helping them work through the things that they need to face. And it’s sometimes quite difficult. For instance, in When the Bough Breaks, Delaware’s friend, L.A.P.D. detective Milo Sturgis, asks for his help with a particularly challenging case. Psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez have been murdered. The only witness is seven-year-old Melody Quinn, but she can’t provide much information, and what she does say isn’t particularly coherent. Sturgis is hoping that Delaware will be able to get the child to open up and say what she saw. But that’s not going to be easy. Melody has been diagnosed with ADHD and other learning difficulties, so she’s heavily under the influence of Ritalin and other medications. What’s more, her pediatrician, Dr. Lionel Towle, isn’t willing to reduce her medication so that she’ll be able to communicate with Delaware. But Delaware manages to form a sort of bond with her. He even persuades her mother to reduce her medication somewhat, so that he can talk to the child in more depth. Then, Melody begins having nightmares. Her mother and Towle won’t let Delaware have any more access to the child, but he’s learned enough to start on the right trail. And it leads to the past, and to a secret that some people share.

Fans of Michael Robotham’s psychologist sleuth Joe O’Loughlin will know that he, too, has a special way of getting young people to talk to him. At the very beginning of The Suspect, for instance, he’s up on the roof of London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, trying to persuade a suicidal teenager not to jump. He’s successful, and just wants to get back to ‘normal’ life. But that’s not to be. Shortly thereafter, he’s drawn into the investigation when the body of a former client, Catherine McBride, is pulled out of the Union Canal. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz is soon convinced that O’Loughlin is, at the very least, a ‘person of interest.’ And the longer things go on, the more drawn into the case O’Loughlin is. He soon sees that if he’s going to clear his own name, and catch the killer, he’s going to have to confront someone from his own past, and it could get very dangerous for him.

Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night introduces readers to Delhi social worker Simran Singh. She is persuaded to return to her home town of Jullundur, in the state of Punjab, when the police there are faced with a horrible and baffling set of murders. Thirteen members of the Atwal family have died of poison, and some of them have also been stabbed. The house has been set on fire as well. The only survivor is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal, but it’s hard to tell from the evidence whether she is responsible for what happened, or was also a victim who just happened to survive. And Durga isn’t talking to anyone. It’s hoped that Singh will be able to break through and get Durga to tell her what really happened that night. Things don’t go well at first. Durga doesn’t trust Singh, and it’s soon clear that there are plenty of people who do not want the truth to come out. Little by little, though, we learn what really happened at the Atwal home that night – and why.

And then there’s Dr. Helen Blackwell, whom we first meet in Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness. She’s the local GP for the village of Highfield, at a time (just after World War I) when there were few female doctors. One night, Colonel Charles Fletcher, his wife, Lucy, their maid, Sally Pepper, and the nanny, Alice Crookes, are all brutally murdered. The only survivor is four-year-old Sophy Fletcher; she hid under a bed, and the killer didn’t find her. Sophy has been through quite a lot of trauma, and in any case, isn’t very articulate, because of her age. Still, Blackwell works with her and, little by little, gets her to remember what happened. And it turns out that Sophy has some very important clues to the killer.

There’s also an interesting example of reaching out to children in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring. In it, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in investigating the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher.  At one point (and it’s not, admittedly a major part of the plot), Joanne and her adopted daughter, Taylor, are invited for dinner at the home of Ed Mariani and his partner, Barry Levitt. As it happens, Mariani and Levitt happen to have a painting done by Taylor’s biological mother, Sally Love. Mariani finds a way to reach out to Taylor by offering to let her see the painting. It gives her a connection, and reinforces her own interest in, and talent at, art.

Sometimes children do have important things to say. But it’s not always easy for adults to reach out in effective ways and hear it. That’s why people who can interact with children are so valuable. We miss you, Mr. Henson.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Williams’ and Kenneth Ascher’s The Rainbow Connection.

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Filed under Gail Bowen, Jonathan Kellerman, Kishwar Desai, Michael Robotham, Rennie Airth

All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away*

Not long ago, Brad, who blogs at Ah, Sweet Mystery Blog, did a very interesting post on the way the past catches up with fictional characters. His focus was Agatha Christie’s work, and he gave some fine examples. G’wan, then, check it out for yourself. And as you’ll be there anyway, do have a look at Brad’s excellent blog. You won’t regret it!

That trope of the past catching up with a person is woven through a lot of crime fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. It can make for a suspenseful story and interesting character development. And in real life, one really can’t run away from the past. So, there’s an element of authenticity, too, in a story that uses that plot point.

As I say, Brad mentioned a few Agatha Christie novels. One that comes to my mind is Appointment With Death. In it, the Boynton family goes on a sightseeing trip through the Middle East.  We soon learn that family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is cruel and malicious, and uses that to keep her family under control. They’re all so cowed that none of them dares defy her. As a part of the trip, the family members visit the ancient city of Petra. On the second day there, Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies. At first, her death looks natural enough; she wasn’t in good health, and the trip has been exhausting. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied. Since Hercule Poirot is in the area, Carbury asks him to investigate, and Poirot agrees. He finds that the colonel’s suspicions were entirely justified. And it turns out that this murder has everything to do with the past catching up, if I can put it that way. Go read Brad’s excellent post for more Christie examples.

By no means is Christie the only crime writer who uses that trope, of course. In fact, there are so many fine examples of this plot point in the genre that I’m hard-put to choose just a few, I know you’ll have your own list to share.

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, for instance, we are introduced to London psychotherapist Joe O’Loughlin. In this story, he gets involved in the investigation when the body of Catherine McBride is pulled out of the Grand Union Canal. It turns out that she was a former client, so Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is interested in whatever O’Loughlin may know about her. Then, there’s another murder. This one very much implicates O’Loughlin, and now Ruiz begins to actively suspect him. There are soon other deaths, too. If O’Loughlin is going to clear his name, he’s going to have to find out who the killer is, and how it all connects with him. Trite as it sounds, O’Loughlin will have to go back to the past, as it were, and use all of his clinical skills, to stop this murderer.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy is the first in his ‘Department Q’ novels. In it, we meet Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a line-of-duty incident in which he was gravely wounded, and a colleague killed. Another colleague was left with paralysis. Mørck, has always been difficult to work with, and it’s only gotten worse since the shooting. Eventually, his bosses see no choice but to transfer Mørck – they refer to it as a ‘promotion’ – to a new department. ‘Department Q,’ as it’s called has been set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest.’ In part, it’s an attempt to respond to some media and public concerns that the police aren’t doing enough to solve murders. In part, it’s a political move. Mørck gets started in his new job, and soon meets his assistant, Hafez al-Assad. It’s actually Assad who calls Mørck’s attention to the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, it was assumed that she went overboard and died in a terrible ferry accident. But there are little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. If she is alive, then there may not be much time to rescue her, so Mørck and Assad feel a sense of urgency about this case. And in the end, they find out the truth. It turns out that it’s all connected with a past that didn’t let go.

The past doesn’t let go in Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, either. In that novel, we meet eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. She lives with her two older sisters and her father in a large old house in the village of Bishops Lacey, in 1950s England. One evening, Flavia’s father gets a visit from a stranger. Flavia doesn’t hear much of what passes between the two men, but she knows that their exchange is acrimonious. The next morning, she finds the body of the strange visitor in the cucumber patch. And it’s not long before word gets to the police about the argument. This puts Flavia’s father at the top of the list of suspects, and he’s soon arrested. Flavia knows her father is no killer, and decides to find out the truth. And, with her unusually strong knowledge of chemistry, she’s in a good position to do so. It turns out that this murder has everything to do with something in the past that has caught up, so to speak.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses, which begins in the modern day, when police receive an anonymous letter. In it, the writer takes responsibility for the murder of a vagrant whose body was found on the tracks of an underground station. The story behind the letter starts in 1966, in London’s East End. It’s a time of Mods, Rockers, and experimentation of every kind. And teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan want to be a part of it. They’re from a working-class home, and have been brought up to be ‘nice young ladies,’ so they’re quite sheltered. But they want a little freedom. So, they cajole their mother into letting them go out one Friday night to the Palais Royale. The one condition is that their cousin Jimmy must take them and bring them back. That’s not a problem for the girls, who consider Jimmy to be ‘cool.’ The big night arrives, and Bridie and Midge go to the dance. What starts out as an exciting evening ends up tragically, and changes everyone’s life. And, as it turns out, that evening is behind the murder that takes place some fifty years later.

And that’s the thing about the past. Even many years or decades later, it doesn’t necessarily go away. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Yesterday – also Brad’s idea.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Robotham, Steph Avery

My Analyst Told Me*

As this is posted, it would have been Sigmund Freud’s 161st birthday. There’ve been a lot of criticisms of Freud’s work through the decades as we’ve gotten to understand the human mind a little better. But it’s hard to deny his influence on the field of psychology. And many people agree that he was actually the founder of psychoanalysis.

The whole point of psychoanalysis is to bring to the surface unconscious fears and anxieties, repressed memories, and the like, so as to address mental health issues. There’s a lot to this approach to psychotherapy – far more than there is space in this one post. Besides, I’m not a psychologist. But one of the key facets of it – and something very relevant for crime fiction – is the intimate relationship between client and therapist.

That relationship is fascinating, actually. In the best of situations, it’s intimate without being a friendship or a romance. It’s professional without being cold, too. People tell things to their therapists that not even their partners may know. Yet, a healthy therapist/client relationship doesn’t entail the emotional responsibility, if I can put it that way, that other intimate relationships entail. And we certainly see a lot of therapist/client relationships in crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we are introduced to Dr. Theodore Gerard, a noted psychologist. During a trip to the Middle East, he meets the Boyntons, an American family on a sightseeing tour. He’s fascinated by them on a professional level, and that’s not surprising. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is tyrannical, manipulative and malicious. Her impact on her family members is so negative as to be pathological, and just about everyone shows some symptoms of the trauma. The one who seems to be suffering the most is Mrs. Boynton’s youngest child, seventeen-year-old Ginevra ‘Jinny.’ As Gerard gets to know her, he sees (and so do readers) that she has delusions, and shows other signs of mental illness. On the second day of the visit to Petra, Mrs. Boynton is murdered. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and is asked to investigate. As he does, he relies on Gerard’s professional opinions of the various family members. And, in the end, he finds out who the killer is. It’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s an epilogue, that takes place five years after the murder. And it’s very interesting to see how the client/therapist relationship has developed between Gerard and Jinny Boynton.

The ‘Nicci French’ writing duo has created a series featuring London psychologist Frieda Klein. In Blue Monday, the first in that series, Klein is working with a new client, Alan Dekker. He has many anxieties and other issues, and Klein tries to help him work through them. Then, he begins to tell her about dreams he has in which he and his wife have a son who looks just like him. In real life, they have no children, and Klein tries to work with Dekker to address that and some other issues he’s facing. Then, four-year-old Matthew Faraday goes missing. The media makes much of this, and there are all sorts of efforts, both formal and informal, to find the boy. When Klein hears about this case, she begins to worry, first subconsciously, and then consciously, that there might be a relationship between the boy’s disappearance and the work she’s been doing with Dekker. Klein takes her commitment to Dekker’s privacy very seriously, but she’s concerned about Matthew Faraday, too. So, she approaches DCI Malcolm Karlsson, who’s in charge of the Faraday case. Each in a different way, the two begin to look into what happened, and they learn that this incident is related to a past disappearance. Among other things, the story shows just how intimate and complex the client/therapist relationship is.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace features Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She has her own personal issues, but she’s been successful professionally. And she’s developed effective professional relationships with her clients. Those relationships are intimate and personal, though, as all therapaeutic relationships are. So, Bergman is truly dismayed when she learns that someone has gotten access to her case notes. Then, the body of one of her clients, Sara Matteus, is found floating in water near Bergman’s home. There’s a suicide note that specifically mentions Bergman, too. But it’s soon clear that the victim was murdered. At first, Bergman is a ‘person of interest.’ But it’s shown that she is innocent. It’s also clear, though, that someone is out to ruin her, and might not be satisfied with just that. Now, Bergman is going to have to work quickly, and co-operate with the police, if she’s to stay alive.

There’s also Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, the story of Dunedin psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson. She’s just getting started in her profession when she meets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Her first meetings with Elisabeth show just how difficult it can be to establish any kind of rapport with a client, so as to build trust. After a time, though, Elisabeth does begin to trust her new therapist a little, and shares a terrible story from her past. Years earlier, her younger sister, Gracie, was abducted. No trace of her was ever found, and the incident devastated Elisabeth. This story is hauntingly familiar to Stephanie, whose family faced similar devastation when Stephanie’s younger sister, Gemma, was abducted. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and try to find out who caused such pain to both families. So, she travels from Dunedin to her home town at Wanaka, and works to find out the truth about the two missing girls. Among other things, this novel shows the intimacy that there can be in a therapaeutic relationship.

Fans of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels, and of Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin novels can say similar things about those series. They show the complexities and intimacy that develop when two people work together to help one of them heal. It’s little wonder this complicated relationship figures in so many crime novels.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Annie Ross’ Twisted.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Robotham, Nicci French, Paddy Richardson

Endless Irritation, Endless Aggravation*

Frustrations and IrritationsIt never fails, does it? You’re busy with your life, when something happens to disrupt your routine. It may be someone coming in to fix the boiler/air conditioning/etc., or it may be that your access to the Internet isn’t working. There are lots of other things like that that happen, and they always manage to happen just when you’re in the midst of everything.

It’s frustrating in real life, of course. And it’s realistic in crime fiction, too. After all, those are the sorts of frustrating things we all have to deal with at times. And for the writer, those discomforts also allow for added tension and sometimes conflict.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence pays a visit to Hercule Poirot. Spence is concerned because James Bentley is soon to be executed for the murder of his landlady, Mrs. McGinty, and Spence thinks Bentley may be innocent. He asks Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot travels to the village of Broadhhinny to investigate. There’s not much available in terms of lodging in such a small village, but Poirot finds a room at Long Meadows, the property of Johnnie and Maureen Summerhayes. Almost immediately, Poirot finds that his accommodations are, to say the least, not to his taste. His hosts are not skilled at running a guest house, so the food is bad, the room is uncomfortable, and the home is completely disorganized. Needless to say, those frustrations add tension (and actually, some funny moments) to the story. And they don’t make Poirot’s investigations any easier!

Stan Jones’ White Sky, Black Ice introduces readers to Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. Although he is Inupiaq, he was adopted and raised by white parents in Anchorage. So when he is assigned to the small northern town of Chukchi, there are a lot of adjustments he has to make. Shortly after his arrival, Active gets involved in the investigation of two deaths that, on the surface, look like suicides. One is George Clinton, who’s found dead outside a bar. The other is Aaron Stone, who’s found dead on what was supposed to be a hunting trip. Investigating Stone’s death involves going out to Katy Lake, where the victim’s hunting cabin was, so Active gets a ride from bush pilot Cowboy Decker. The plane is extremely small and uncomfortable, with so much noise that both pilot and passenger have to wear headphones so that they can communicate. And the trail isn’t any more comfortable, especially with night coming on and winter approaching. Fortunately, Active finds a place for the night with Amos Wilson, who has a cabin in that area. The cabin is far from what most of us would think of as comfortable, but it’s warm and safe.

In one sub-plot of Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets a temporary office-mate. There’s been vandalism in the building that houses the Department of Journalism at the university where Kilbourn works, and several of the faculty members in that department have to find temporary office space elsewhere until the damage has been repaired. Kilbourn offers to share her office with a colleague and friend, Ed Mariani. On the one hand, the two like each other, so they both work to make this arrangement go as smoothly as possible. On the other hand, it’s awkward for both of them. If you’ve ever had to share an office with someone, you know how uncomfortable that can be, what with people’s different habits, schedules and so on. Still, the two of them make the best of the situation. Matters get even more uncomfortable, though, when Kilbourn begins to wonder whether her friend and temporary office-mate might have committed murder…

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is asked to lend his expertise when the body of a young woman, Catherine McBride, is discovered. It turns out that the victim is a former client of O’Loughlin, so he rather reluctantly agrees to try to help find out who would have killed her. Then there’s another murder. And this one implicates O’Loughlin. DI Vincent Ruiz was already under the impression that O’Loughlin might know more about the case than he let on; now he begins to suspect him. O’Loughlin will have to clear his own name, and go up against a very dangerous killer, to avoid being convicted of crimes he didn’t commit. At the same time as all of this is going on, the boiler in the O’Loughlin home is broken, and a plumber will have to be called in. That means strange people coming in and out of the house, a disruption of routine, and, of course, the expense. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how frustrating the whole thing can be.

And then there’s Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. In that novel, which takes place in London in the early 1920s, Emily Wray has recently lost her husband. At this time, and in this place, ladies don’t really have careers, as a rule. So Emily and her daughter Frances have no other option, as they see it, but to open their home to lodgers (they’re called ‘paying guests’ as a euphemism). The Wrays put out discreet advertisements, and soon enough, Len and Lilian Barber accept the terms and move in. Everyone knows that the arrangement is more or less necessary. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, fun, or smooth. For one thing, there’s the awkwardness of having strangers in the house. For another, there are the inevitable annoyances such as extra noises, not enough hot water when you want it, and so on. But everyone tries to make it work. Before long, though, things begin to spin out of control, and the end result of this arrangement is real tragedy.

Not all of those frustrations do end up that way, but they’re often enough to put us completely out of sorts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my Internet’s about to cra –

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from No Fun at All’s Trapped Inside.  

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Michael Robotham, Sarah Waters, Stan Jones