Category Archives: Natsuo Kirino

You Studyin’ Hard and Hopin’ to Pass*

Most students, whether they’re in secondary school or in college/university (and beyond), go through the challenge of taking final exams or other high-stakes exams. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you tend to ‘freeze up’ at exam time. And then there’s that tension as you wait for results. Whether it’s high school/private school entrance exams, graduate school and law school entrance exams, or something else, getting through those tests can take a toll.

But it’s something a lot of people go through, so it resonates with many of us. With that connection, and with all of the tension that surrounds exam time, it’s little wonder that high-stakes tests and exams play a role in crime fiction. There are plenty of examples in the genre; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, we are introduced to the Reynolds family. One afternoon, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds is present at the preparations for a Hallowe’en party to be held that evening. There, she boasts that she has seen a murder. No-one believes her, but she insists that it’s the truth. Later that evening, she is drowned in an apple-bobbing bucket. Detective story novelist Ariadne Oliver is at both the preparations for the party and the party itself. She asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he agrees. As part of his investigation, he talks to the members of her family, including her sixteen-year-old sister, Ann. At the time of the murder, Ann is preparing for her A-Level exams, and is thoroughly immersed in her studies:
 

‘They went upstairs to where Ann, looking rather more than her sixteen years, was bending over a table with various study books spread round her.’
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Despite her focus on her work, Ann was at the party, and is able to confirm what Poirot’s already heard. And she adds some interesting information about her sister’s character to what Poirot knows.

Because there’s so much at stake, important examinations are treated very seriously, and those responsible for creating and administering them are supposed to work under strict regulation. That topic comes up in Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. In it, we are introduced to Quinn, who is the only Deaf member of Oxford’s Foreign Examinations Syndicate. This group is responsible for all exams given in other countries that follow the British education system. Quinn was by no means a universal choice to join the group, so there’s already tension. Then one day, he is poisoned. Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the crime, and, of course, take an interest in the other members of the Syndicate. And they find that Quinn knew some things about members of that group that weren’t safe for him to know.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, ten-year-old Kate Meaney has the dream of becoming a detective. In fact, she has her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a great deal of time at the newly-built Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she suspects there will be a lot of crime. She’s quite content with her life, but her grandmother, Ivy, wants more for the girl. So, she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate refuses at first, but is finally persuaded by her friend, Adrian Palmer. He even promises to go with her to the school, for moral support. When Kate doesn’t return from Redspoon after the exams, there’s a massive search for her. But she is never found. Some twenty years later, Adrian Palmer’s sister, Lisa, is now working at the mall. One night, she happens to meet Kurt, who is a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, return to the past. As they do, we find out what happened to Kate.

The real action in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic begins when Cassandra James, who works in the English Literature Department of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, pays a visit to Department Head Margaret Joplin. She’s there to pick up a group of student exam papers. When she arrives, though, she finds that Joplin is dead, and the papers are scattered everywhere, and in various stages of ruin. The shock of Joplin’s death is hard enough, especially when it turns out that she was murdered. But there’s also the problem of the papers. There’s going to be a real problem if the papers can’t be located and rendered readable, and James doesn’t want to face that. She’s going to have to, though, because with Joplin’s death, she is named Department Head. As the murder investigation continues, the exam papers become one of several challenges that James is going to have to face. And it’s interesting to see, from the faculty perspective, how exam papers are supposed to be handled, marked, and so on.

And then there’s Natsuo Kirino’s Real World, which takes place in contemporary Tokyo. In it, Toshiko Yamanaka is preparing to go to a ‘cram school’ session to help her prepared for college entrance exams. They are extremely rigorous, and even a lot of extra tutoring and assistance don’t mean a student will do well. It’s a cause of a lot of stress. As she’s getting ready to leave, Toshiko hears a loud noise from the house next door. She wonders if all’s well, but on the way to cram school, she sees Ryo, the boy who lives there. He seems fine, so she doesn’t think much more about it. Later, she hears that Ryo’s mother has been murdered. The police stop by to talk to her, and it’s soon clear that they have Ryo on their suspects list. She decides to cover for Ryo and lies to the police about having seen him. Soon, Toshiko and her friends are drawn into this murder case, and things spin quickly out of control for all of them.

There are other novels, too, that touch on high-stakes exams such as entrance exams and other major tests. They do cause stress, and they have a lot of impact on people’s lives. So, it shouldn’t be surprising they come up in crime fiction.

I can’t resist closing this post with a bit from Kathryn Fox’s Malicious Intent. Everyone who has ever taught will likely appreciate it. In this scene, freelance forensic pathologist Anya Crichton is giving a university lecture on forensics:
 

‘Put the word ‘forensic’ in a lecture’s title and it pretty much guaranteed a full house. Anya introduced the day’s topic and a croaky voice from the back row interrupted.
‘Excuse me, but will this be in the exams?’
The most predictable question had taken all but thirty seconds to be asked.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chuck Berry’s School Days.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, Kathryn Fox, Natsuo Kirino

Blues From Tokyo*

Tokyo has a long history, dating back to when it was a small fishing village called Edo. It’s also a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis – the most populated metropolis in the world – that attracts people from everywhere. It’s a banking, commercial, tourist, and business hub, too. And that’s to say nothing of the restaurants, art, theatre, nightlife, and more.

There’s actually so much to Tokyo that it would be impossible for me to do a post that would do justice to that complexity. But there is a great deal of crime fiction that explores different aspects of life in Tokyo at different times. And it’s interesting to see how Tokyo is depicted in that crime fiction

For instance, Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichirō novels take place in the late 1680s, when Tokyo was a much smaller city, still called Edo. Sano is a yoriki, a senior investigator and police officer. In Shinjū, the first in this series, he is assigned to look into a case of what seems to be a double suicide. The bodies of Niu Yukiko, a ‘well born’ young woman, and an artist named Noriyoshi, have been pulled from the Sumida River, and it’s believed they chose to die together because their circumstances wouldn’t let them marry. Sano’s superior officer makes it clear that his report should confirm the theory of suicide, and it’s not an impossible explanation for the deaths. But Sano is a good detective, and determined to do his duty, which means finding out the truth. And he begins to suspect that this is a case of murder. One big problem for him will be that the Niu family is rich, powerful, and completely opposed to him doing any investigating beyond a few perfunctory questions. Another is that the real truth about these deaths links them to other powerful people who are determined that Sano will keep quiet.

Post-World War II Tokyo was faced with several challenges, not the least of which was moving into the modern age as an international community. There was also the matter of the many social and other changes that came during the mid-20th Century. We see that reflected in Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. In that novel, which takes place in 1961, the body of an unknown man is found under a train. Inspector Imanishi Eitaro is assigned to investigate, and he begins with the most basic question: the victim’s identity. That’s not as easy as it might seem, because the man had no identification. But after a time, he is identified as Miki Ken’ichi, the retired owner of a store in Okayama. He was very well regarded there and doesn’t seem to have had any enemies. What’s more, he didn’t tell anyone why he was going to Tokyo, or whom he might know there. So, it’s a major challenge to connect him with anyone who lives in the city. Then there’s another death, this time of Naruse Rieko, who worked at the Avant-Garde Theatre. And then another death, also connected with the theatre, occurs. On the surface, there seems nothing to connect Miki’s death with the others. But eventually, Imanishi puts together the pieces of the puzzle.

Keigo Higashino’s novels take place in contemporary Japan. They feature mathematician and physicist Yanabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. These novels are police procedurals, and in the first two, The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint, police detective Shunpei Kusanagi plays the ‘official’ lead investigating role. He’s an old friend of Yukawa’s, and so consults him on cases where the latter’s deep knowledge of physics and mathematics are useful. Along with the actual cases being investigated, readers also get a look at contemporary Tokyo’s lifestyles, cultures, and geography.

Natsuo Kirino’s Real World is an unflinching look at Tokyo’s young people. The novel follows four teenage friends: Toshiko Yamanaka, Kazuko Terauchi, Kiyomi ‘Yuzan’ Kaibara, and Kirari Higashiyama. Their lives are changed forever when the woman who lives next door to Toshiko is murdered. Toshiko hears crashes as the murder occurs, but she doesn’t see the actual event. Not long afterwards, she sees the victim’s son, Ryo. He doesn’t seem unduly upset, so Toshiko goes on about her business. Later, when the police come to her house to question her, Toshiko guesses that Ryo might be the murderer. But she decides to protect him and lies to the police about seeing the boy. When Ryo steals her bicycle and her telephone, Toshiko is sure he is guilty. Then, he starts to contact her, as well as her three friends. Before long, all five are caught up in a web of cover-ups that end up having truly tragic consequences. Along with other things, the novel shows the dark side of what it’s like to be a teen in today’s Tokyo. Kirino’s other novels also address some of the psychologically darker sides of today’s Tokyo.

There are also scenes of life in Tokyo in Kazuhiro Kiyuki’s Shield of Straw. The story begins when Takaoki Ninagawa, of Japan’s wealthiest and most influential people, suffers a devastating loss. His granddaughter, Chika, goes missing and is later found raped and murdered. DNA samples establish that the killer is a man named Kunihide Kiyomaru. Ninagawa decides not to depend on the Japanese justice system to punish Kiyomaru. Instead, he offers a one-billion-yen reward to anyone who finds and kills Kiyomaru and can prove it. When he hears about this bounty on his head, Kiyomaru comes out of hiding and turns himself in Fukoaka. He’ll have to face trial in Tokyo, though, so someone will have to bring him from Fukoaka to Tokyo. That someone turns out to be SP (Special Police) officer Kazuki Mekari of the Tokyo Municipal Police Department (MPD). Mekari and his team travel to Fukuoka to pick up their prisoner and bring him back. But that’s not going to be easy. There are many thousands of people who are going to try to kill Kiyomaru. And there’s nothing to say that even the police escorting him couldn’t be vulnerable to temptation. The real question becomes: can the team bring Kiyomaru back to Tokyo before he’s killed?

There are, of course, many more crime novels that take place in Tokyo. I’m sure you’ll think of plenty more than I could. Which have stayed with you?

 

ps. Thank you, Japan-Guide, for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Kazuhiro Kiuchi, Keigo Higashino, Laura Joh Rowland, Matsumoto Seichō, Natsuo Kirino

Well Versed in Etiquette*

I don’t have to convince you that society keeps changing. And in many of the most important ways, that’s a good thing. As we go on, we hopefully evolve and transform for the better. One of the consequences of those changes is that the ‘rules’ we’ve lived by need to change, too – well, some of them, anyway.

And that’s where the complexity and sometimes difficulties can come in. The thing about established rules of etiquette is that everyone knows them. There’s a certain security in that, if you think about it. People know who they are, they know what’s expected of them, and so on. And not having those rules can make things awkward. For instance, who pays for a first date? Who asks for the date? When two people approach a door, who opens it? There are some basic answers to those questions (e.g., At least in the US, the person who gets to the door first and/or has hands free opens a door). But things aren’t always as straightforward any more as they were. And that can cause anxiety.

We see these changes in etiquette throughout crime fiction. Among other things, they give us a look at a particular time, place and socioeconomic context. For example, Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead was published in 1952. In it, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to look into the murder of a charwoman. Her lodger, James Bentley, has been convicted of the crime, and is due to be executed. But Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence thinks he’s innocent. So, Poirot investigates. In the process, he’s re-acquainted with Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, who’s in Broadhinny to work with up-and-coming playwright Robin Upward to adapt one of her books for the stage. She gets out of her car and discovers that she’s been sitting on her hat:
 

‘‘I never liked it much. But I thought I might have to go to church on Sunday and although the Archbishop has said one needn’t, I still think that the more old-fashioned clergy expect one to wear a hat.’’
 

Today, there are far fewer ‘rules’ about what to wear to religious services, one’s office, or even occasions such as weddings. It so often depends now on the context, on the people involved, and so on. That means the decision about what to wear can be complicated, even if it is liberating in a lot of ways.

Among other things, Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates gives readers a look at post-World War II Japan. In it, Imanishi and his team investigate the murder of Miki Ken’ichi, whose body is found under a Tokyo train. As Imanishi and his co-workers ask questions and follow up on leads, they interact with several other characters. Through this, we see the rituals of the time regarding going to someone’s home, giving and receiving things, and so on. Life has changed drastically in Japan since that time. And Natsuo Kirino’s Real World shows that. That novel takes place in modern Tokyo, and features four teenagers, who are part of the young culture. It’s interesting to see how many of the older rules of etiquette (e.g. interactions between the sexes) have changed. But at the same time, there are still some elements of old-fashioned etiquette that remain (e.g. bringing a small gift to someone’s home as a way of thanking or making apologies).

Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret brings up another sort of ‘etiquette’ question. In it, Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig is helping her friend, Denise Wolff, put together an alumni reunion to coincide with the University of Alberta’s Homecoming events. The reunion is intended for members of the English Department, so the list of invitees is long, but not so long as to preclude personal invitations. And that raises the question of how the alumni should be invited. On the one hand, a personal, paper invitation is still considered the most appropriate. On the other, that can get costly, and most people do have email accounts. So, why not send the invitations through email? In the end, that decision is voted down in the interest of creating a better impression with an actual paper invitation. But, the response card also includes an email address, so that invitees can respond that way if they wish. It’s an admittedly small part of the plot, but it shows how these etiquette rules aren’t as ‘hard and fast’ as they once were.

And then there’s Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, the first to feature Cardiff Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths. She gets drawn into the investigation of the murders of an occasional prostitute, Janet Mancini, and her six-year-old daughter, April. One of the other people on the team is Detective Sergeant (DS) David Brydon. He and Griffiths are attracted to each other, and neither is in a current relationship. So, there’s nothing, really, to hold them back from dating. But the problem is, Griffiths doesn’t know how to do ‘the dating thing.’ She doesn’t really know the etiquette for what to wear, how to make the right sort of small talk, and so on. It’s made all the more complicated because the rules aren’t really ‘hard and fast.’ They’re changing as society changes. This isn’t a major plot thread, and it’s certainly not the reason for the murders. But it does give some interesting insight into how confusing dating can be in today’s world.

And that’s the thing about those comfortable rules of etiquette. They can be very limiting, and I think most of us would agree that it’s good riddance to a fair share of them. But some of them are comforting and add a measure of security when we’re interacting. And they certainly show up in crime fiction.

 

 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Harry Bingham, Janice MacDonald, Matsumoto Seichō, Natsuo Kirino

When They’ve Been Used So Ill*

A really interesting conversation with crime writer and fellow blogger Angela Savage has got me thinking about what’s sometimes called sexually transmitted debt. By that, I mean becoming responsible for a spouse or partner’s debt after being convinced (sometimes misled) into taking on new debt or financial risks without necessarily being aware of it at first. Some sexually transmitted debt involves a partner agreeing to share (or assume) the responsibility for a debt. It can work in other ways, too.

Whichever way it works, it can leave a person in a great deal of financial trouble. And, in crime fiction, it can add to plot lines, character development, tension, and more. Here are just a few examples; I’ll bet you’ll be able to think of more.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lord Stephen Horbury. He fell in love with a chorus girl named Cicely Bland, and married her without really getting to know her. The fact is, though, that Cicely has a fondness for gambling. She’s not averse to using cocaine, either. All of this has meant that she owes a lot of money. At first, her husband paid her debts, mostly for the sake of the family name.  But Cicely’s debts keep mounting. So, she borrows money from a French moneylender named Madame Giselle. Then, when she’s not able to pay what she owes, Madame Giselle threatens to reveal certain information that she has. Cicely is frantic, but this time, her husband is no longer willing to assume her debt. He even makes a public announcement that he will no longer be responsible for anything she owes. It all puts Cicely in a very difficult position, especially when Madame Giselle is murdered during an airline flight. Cicely is also on the flight, and becomes one of the suspects. Hercule Poirot, who was also a passenger, works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who actually killed the victim.

In Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters, we are introduced to Miami PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano. Jose Antonio and Lucia Moreno hire Solano to find the birth mother of their adopted daughter, Michelle, who is very ill. Doctors say that she needs a bone marrow transplant, and that only her biological mother can serve as her donor. Solano takes the case and finds out everything she can about the circumstances of Michelle’s birth and adoption. Along this way, she meets Barbara Perez, whose partner, Alberto Cruz, is mixed up in illegal businesses. Barbara knows what he’s doing, but there really isn’t much of a way out for her, mostly because she’s got children. Later in the novel, she gets herself (and Solano) into real danger because of the work her partner was doing, and the money from it that he was supposed to have hidden away. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a case of debt that’s transmitted. But it is an interesting case of being mixed up in a partner’s criminal activity, and risking a heavy price for that.

Peg Brantley’s Red Tide introduces readers to Jackie ‘Jax’ Sussman, medical examiner for Aspen Falls, Colorado. Her husband, Phil, is a philanderer with a gambling problem and other ‘expenses.’ Jax pays his debts and, so far, has stayed with him. But the cost of assuming that financial responsibility has wiped her out financially. Her sister, Jamie, is a loan officer for a local bank, so she’s all too well aware of Jax’s financial situation. But there’s very little she can do. In one plot thread of this story, both sisters get mixed up in a case of multiple murders when FBI agent Nicholas Grant is assigned to find 13 bodies in the Aspen Falls area. Convicted killer Leonard Bonzer has confessed to the murders, but won’t tell police where the bodies are. And, when other, more recent corpses are discovered, it looks as though there might be a ‘copycat’ at work. Admittedly, Jax’s financial situation isn’t the main plot thread, nor the reason for the murders. But it does show how sexually transmitted debt can work.

There’s also Natuso Kirino’s Out. This novel is the story of a group of women who work nights at a Tokyo factory that makes boxed lunches. One of them, Yayoi, is married to an abusive husband, Kenji, who has gambled away their savings. Now, she’s left with a heavily mortgaged home, little money, and no real way to pay off the debt – not on her salary. In a rage, she strangles Kenji with his own belt. Now, of course, she’s left with a body, and the very real likelihood that she’ll be arrested for the murder. So, she turns to her co-workers for help. Their choices draw the women into a very dark web of Tokyo’s underside.

And then there’s Chelsea Field’s series featuring Isobel ‘Izzy’ Avery. In Eat, Pray, Die, we learn that Izzy has recently moved from her home town of Adelaide to Los Angeles. Mostly, she made the move to escape her ex-husband, Steve. More specifically, she wants to escape Platypus Lending, a loan shark operation that she owes money to, thanks to Steve. Early in their marriage, Steve convinced her to
 

‘…get a two-hundred-grand-loan to invest in some “sure thing” stocks…’
 

Even she admits that was stupid. The plan backfired, the stock market crashed, and Steve hadn’t told her he’d borrowed money from a shady operation. Now, Izzy works as a professional taster for Los Angeles’ rich and famous. This series is among other things, an interesting look at how much trouble sexually transmitted debt can cause.

I’m really glad Angela brought the topic up, as it’s really interesting. And it’s a good reminder to be sure of the person you choose as a partner…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lionel Bart‘s As Long As He Needs Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Chelsea Field, Natsuo Kirino, Peg Brantley

Here’s the Mystery of Fitting In*

Human interactions can be complicated, since people are complex. That may be part of why each group of people develops rules – some of them very subtle and unspoken – for being accepted. If you know and follow those rules, you have a much easier time in that particular group. If you don’t, it’s more difficult; you may even be made unwelcome.

Those rules permeate our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re also woven into crime fiction. For example, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is Belgian, with a lifetime of that culture’s subtle and not-so-subtle ‘rules’ for interaction. He’s smart and observant enough to know that things are different in his adopted home of England. So, he’s made the adjustment. In The Murder on the Links, for instance, he and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, who lived with his wife and son in Merlinville-sur-Mer, in France. At one point, Poirot makes a trip to Paris to follow up on a lead. Here’s how he takes his leave of Hastings:
 

‘‘You permit that I embrace you? Ah, no, I forget that it is not the English custom. Une poignee de main, alors.’’
 

Needless to say, a handshake is much more suited to Hastings’ style.

In Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, Trafalgar, British Columbia (BC) Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, investigate the murder of land developer Reginald ‘Reg’ Montgomery. There are plenty of suspects, too. He wanted to create the Grizzly Resort, an upmarket tourist attraction that some people say would have brought in a lot of welcome revenue. But, there are just as many people who didn’t want the resort, saying it would wreak havoc on the environment and make life harder for the local people. The victim had some secrets in his personal life as well. There were certainly plenty of people who didn’t like Montgomery, but he knew some of the ‘rules’ for fitting in in Trafalgar:
 

‘…he made a point of shopping at the local stores, rather than the Wal-Mart in Nelson, eating out regularly, usually in family-owned restaurants, and tipping well. Ellie, his wife, had her hair done at Maggie’s Salon on Front Street, bought her clothes from Joanie’s Ladies Wear, and contributed generously, in time as well as money, to the hospital and the seniors center.’
 

Montgomery wanted the locals to accept him and his wife, and learned how to help make that happen.

In many groups, new members get the least desirable assignments, and sometimes have to be good sports about having tricks played on them. Once they show they can ‘take a joke,’ and are willing to do lowly tasks, they’re accepted. Of course, such ‘rules’ can be taken much too far, and amount to hazing. But they’re a part of a lot of groups’ cultures. For instance, Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood is the story of the murder of Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police. One day, he’s called to the scene of a home invasion, and takes probationer Lucy Howard with him to investigate. He’s killed at the house, and everyone assumes that the murderer is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. Howard didn’t see the murder, though, as she was at a different part of the house when it happened. So, the police have to investigate. As they do, we get to know the people White worked with, and the bond they share. One of those people is Constable Cameron Walsh, who considered White a mentor, even though White played a ‘new guy’ prank on him. Walsh was accepted among his fellow coppers, including White, in part because he proved he ‘could take a joke.’

One of the most important things one learns in the LGBT community is that you don’t ever ‘out’ someone. People choose to come out or not of their own accord. And Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant knows and follows that rule. In Flight of Aquavit, Quant gets a new client, successful accountant Daniel Guest. Guest is a ‘closeted’ married gay man, who’s being blackmailed over some trysts he’s had with other men. He wants Quant to find the blackmailer and stop that person. Quant’s first reaction is that it would be a lot easier if Guest simply went public with the fact that he’s gay. But that’s not Quant’s decision to make, and Guest is unwilling to take that step. So, he takes the case and begins to look into the matter. It’s a challenging case, and leads to murder; but in the end, Quant finds out the truth.

Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates takes place in Japan, mostly in Tokyo. In that culture, at that time (the book was written in 1961), there are a number of expectations for the way one is supposed to interact. There are several ‘rules’ for verbal and other communication. Some indicate who has authority and who doesn’t; others are used to get along with others and to be accepted. Some of those expectations are still in place (we see some of them, for instance, in Natsuo Kirino’s Real Life, which was published in 2003). And it’s interesting to see how those rules and rituals allow for social harmony among a large group of people concentrated in a small place.

It’s much harder to be accepted among a group of people if you don’t know the social subtleties and rules. Just ask Harry Bingham’s Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths, whom we first meet in Talking to the Dead. In this novel, she’s the most junior member of her Cardiff-based police team. It’s vital for a group of police officers to be able to work together, and Griffiths knows that. But knowing and following those ‘rules’ is difficult for her, because she is dealing with a mental illness. It’s not so debilitating that she can’t work, but it does hamper her ability to interact productively with others, and to live on what she calls ‘Planet Normal.’ Things such as joking around, small talk, dating, and so on can be real challenges. She’s not the only one who faces this, either, is she, fans of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

Most of us learn the ‘rules’ and expectations for interaction very early on. And that’s a good thing, as they make it much easier to work with others and get through life. In fact, they’re so much a part of our lives that we probably don’t pay a lot of attention to them. Little wonder we see them so often in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Pale Pacific’s How to Fit In.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Harry Bingham, Mark Haddon, Matsumoto Seichō, Natsuo Kirino, Vicki Delany, Y.A. Erskine