Category Archives: Nelson Brunanski

The City Council is Very Alarmed*

A national government can only do so much, especially in a country with a large, or a scattered, population. So, many of the day-to-day decision making is done by smaller groups like city or town councils. There are also housing communities and club governing boards that have their own councils to run things within those communities. And they can wield quite a lot of control over what people do.

Those small groups determine where you may park your car, what sort of trees you can plant on your property, how and when your trash can be put out for collection, and much more. And governing boards determine who can join a group, what members are allowed and not allowed to do, and more. Such groups have a lot of influence in real life, so it’s not surprising that they show up in crime fiction, too.

For instance, it’s the town council of Paradise, Massachusetts, that hires Jesse Stone as chief of police in Robert B Parker’s Night Passage. The council, led by selectman Hastings ‘Hasty’ Hathaway, wants to hire a police chief who can be manipulated easily, and Stone seems to be the right choice. He left the LAPD in disgrace because of drinking (which is still a major problem for him), and the town council thinks he’ll be a useful ‘puppet.’ But things turn out quite differently. Stone isn’t as gullible or as weak-willed as it may seem, and it’s not long before he begins to show more initiative than anyone on the council really wants. He begins to unearth some ugly things the town is hiding, which is problematic enough. Then, there’s a murder that’s connected to those secrets. Little by little, Stone finds out the truth, and the town council learns that he is no patsy.

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat takes place mostly on Ellesmere Island, where Edie Kiglatuk is
 

‘…the best damned hunting guide in the High Arctic.’ 
 

Tragedy mars one of her expeditions, though. Kiglatuk takes Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor on a hunting trip, and finds that neither of them is a particularly good shot. They’re not very pleasant people, either. Still, they’ve paid plenty of money for the trip, and it’s her job to ensure their safety and provide them with a good experience. Tragically, Wagner is shot. Taylor claims he’s not responsible, and the evidence supports him. So, at first, the death looks like a tragic accident. But that in itself is a major problem for Kiglatuk. Wagner was killed on her watch, and the council of Elders may rescind her guide license because of it. There are some council members who don’t like the idea of a woman hunting guide as it is, and who would gladly use this as an excuse to remove her. And one of them, Simeonie Inukpuk, resents her privately because of her breakup with his brother, Sammy. The council decides not to revoke Kiglatuk’s license, but that plot thread shows just how much authority the members have.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies takes place in the fictional small town of Bradley, North Carolina. In the novel, retired English teacher Myrtle Clover finds the body of real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church. She may be in her eighties, but Myrtle is not ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ So, she decides to investigate. And she soon learns that there are plenty of suspects. One of them is City Councilman Benton Chambers. It turns out that he is not at all the ‘family man’ and ‘man of the people’ that he wants his constituents to believe he is. The victim knew that, and was blackmailing Chambers. So, one very good possible motive for this murder is political.

A local council features in Angela Savage’s short story, The Teardrop Tattoos. In it, we are introduced to a woman (the narrator of the story) who’s recently been released from prison, where she was serving time for murder. She’s given housing not far from a local child care facility, and settles in there with her only compassion, a Pit Bull called Sully. All goes well enough until one of the parents associated with the child care facility lodges a complaint about the dog. Before long, the narrator gets a letter from the council, informing her that she’ll have to get rid of Sully, because he’s a restricted breed. This is devastating, and the woman decides to take her own sort of revenge.

And then there’s Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. That novel takes place in the late 1990s, mostly at the Cascade Heights Country Club, an ultra-exclusive gated community about thirty miles from Buenos Aires. Usually known as The Heights, it’s the sort of place where only the very, very rich can afford to live. And even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before they’re allowed to move in. The community isn’t really subject to local laws. Instead, it’s governed by a Commission, composed of certain residents. It’s believed that disputes and other such matters are best handled ‘in house,’ rather than involving other authorities. Members of the Commission decide who will move in, who must leave, and so on. They make decisions, too, about what the houses will be like, which activities and events are acceptable, and more. All is well in this luxurious, protected community until the economic problems of 1990s Argentina find their way in. Little by little, that safe, secure stronghold weakens for some of the residents, and it all ultimately leads to tragedy.  

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, it’s the Board of Directors of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course who turn out to be important. They’re the ones who determine what happens in the park, who’s allowed to work there, and what improvements, changes and events will happen in the park. When Nick Taylor, Head Greenskeeper, is fired, he blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who’s never liked him and who would like nothing better than to see him gone. So, when Kristoff’s bludgeoned body is discovered on the golf course, Taylor becomes a very likely suspect. He says he’s innocent, though, and asks his friend, John ‘Bart’ Bartowski to help him. Bart isn’t sure what he can do. He’s not a police officer (he actually owns a fishing lodge), and he’s not an attorney. But he is a longtime resident of Crooked Lake, and he knows everyone. So, he agrees to find out what he can. And it turns out that plenty of other people might have wanted Kristoff dead.

There are lots of other examples of novels where local councils, governing boards, and so on. They wield a lot more authority than it might seem on the surface, and people elected to such groups are much more powerful than you might think.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Hornsby’s Talk of the Town.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Claudia Piñeiro, Elizabeth Spann Craig, M.J. McGrath, Nelson Brunanski, Robert B. Parker

No Compassion*

Early in life, most of us develop the capacity to take another’s viewpoint, and have sympathy – even empathy – for others. All of the religions and spiritual traditions I know about make a point about the importance of compassion. And even if you don’t believe in any religion or religious tradition, you’ve probably been taught the importance of sympathy for others. It’s part of the glue, if you will, that holds society together.

But not everyone has that sense of sympathy and compassion for others. Psychologists don’t agree on why a person might not have that capacity. And, in any case, there are any number of possible causes. Whatever the reason, the end result – a person who doesn’t have sympathy for others – can bring sorrow and tragedy. And in crime fiction, such a character can be truly chilling.

Agatha Christie included several such characters in her stories. For instance, in Lord Edgware Dies, famous actress Jane Wilkinson asks Hercule Poirot to approach her husband, Lord Edgware, regarding a divorce. She tells Poirot that she wants a divorce, but that her husband won’t agree to it; she wants Poirot to get Edgware to change his mind. This isn’t Poirot’s usual sort of case, but he agrees to at least speak to the man. When Edgware says he has no objection to the divorce, Poirot thinks the matter is done. That night, though, Edgware is murdered in his study. The most likely suspect is his wife, and there’s evidence against her. But she claims to have been at a dinner party in another part of London at the time. And twelve other people are ready to swear that she was there. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the killer. They find that this killer has no conscience, really, and no sense of sympathy for others. Here’s a tiny snippet of a letter that the killer sends to Poirot:
 

‘I feel, too, that I should like everyone to know just exactly how I did it all. I still think it was all very well planned…I should like to be remembered. And I do think I am really a unique person.’
 

And that matters more to this killer than does any consideration for anyone else.

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family. Eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ lives with her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian in the family home just outside a small New England town. We soon learn that the Blackwoods are a very isolated family. No-one in the village wants anything to do with them, and the feeling is mutual. Gradually, we learn of a tragedy that took place six years earlier, in which three other members of the Blackwood family died. Almost everyone in town thinks that one of the remaining Blackwoods is responsible, which is why the local people shun the family. Still, life goes on, more or less. Then one day, a cousin, Charles Blackwood, unexpectedly comes for a visit. His visit touches off a series of events that ends up in more tragedy. Throughout this novel, the lack of conscience and real sympathy for others plays an important role in what happens. And it adds to the tension and suspense.

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, we are introduced to John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own a fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan, but live in the small town of Crooked Lake, further south in the province. It’s not the sort of place where a lot of violent things happen as a rule. But then one day, Harvey Kristoff is murdered. The weapon seems to be a golf club, and his body is discovered on the grounds of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. The most likely suspect is Nick Taylor, who was recently fired from his position as Head Greenskeeper, and who blames Kristoff for his termination. But he claims he’s innocent, and asks Bart, who’s a good friend, to clear his name. Bart doesn’t want to think his friend is a murderer, so he agrees to look into the matter. And he soon learns that there were plenty of other suspects. Then, there’s another murder. Bart finds out who the killer is and in the end, we find that the murderer,
 

‘…took the lives of two men as if they were nothing more than annoyances.’
 

It’s a disturbing look at what someone with no sympathy and no compassion is really like.

Peter Robinson introduces us to that sort of character, too, in A Dedicated Man. In that novel, archaeologist Harry Steadman retires from his position at the University of Leeds. He and his wife, Emma, then move to Yorkshire, where he plans to excavate some Roman ruins in the area. He gets the necessary permissions, and then begins the work. Then, tragically, he is murdered by blunt force trauma. DCI Alan Banks and his team investigate, and they soon discover more than one possibility. For one thing, not everyone in the area was best pleased about the excavation. For another, there’s the matter of Steadman’s former colleagues at Leeds. There are other possibilities, too. In the end, Banks and his team find that this killer has no real regrets and, really no sympathy either for Steadman or anyone else.

And then there’s Kalpana Swaminathan’s Greenlight. In that novel, five children from a Mumbai slum called Kandewadi go missing, one by one. And, one by one, their bodies are returned to their families. Once the media outlets get hold of the story, pressure is put on the police to solve the murders, and Inspector Savio is assigned to investigate. He is in the habit of consulting with retired detective Lalli on his cases, and this one is no exception. Savio, Lalli, his assistant Shukla, and Lalli’s niece, Sita, investigate the killings. They discover that behind these deaths is a complete lack of sympathy for others or compassion. And it’s that lack of humanity that makes the killings even more disturbing, if that’s possible.

And that’s the thing about sympathy for others, and compassion. They help most of us control what we do, even if we do get angry or resentful. Without those qualities, the result can be truly chilling.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Kalpana Swaminathan, Nelson Brunanski, Peter Robinson, Shirley Jackson

The Name on Everybody’s Lips is Gonna be…*

high-publicity-casesAs this is posted, it’s 70 years since Elizabeth Short’s body was discovered in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. This still-unsolved murder case got a great deal of public attention at the time, and it’s not hard to see why. A young, attractive woman, found brutally murdered, would be sure to attract interest, especially when the killer was not found. It was a sensational killing, and the press dubbed Short ‘The Black Dahlia.’ Since the murder, there’ve been any number of theories about the killing, and dozens of people have confessed, or have pointed the police towards someone. No leads have held up to scrutiny, though.

There’ve been other murders that have gotten that sort of hype, both in real life and in crime fiction. Sometimes it’s because it’s a particularly gruesome killing. Other times it’s because the victim is famous, or wealthy, or particularly appealing.

We see this, for instance, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. Famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall travels to the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Accompanying her are her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, and her stepdaughter, Linda. Not long after the family’s arrival, Arlena engages in a not-too-carefully hidden affair with another (married) guest, Patrick Redfern. It’s the talk of the hotel, and when Arlena is found strangled one day, the killing becomes a public sensation. At first, the police suspect Marshall of killing his wife. But it’s soon shown that he couldn’t have committed the crime. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the real killer is. Even though he’s been cleared of suspicion, Marshall is still subject to a lot of scrutiny, and it’s very hard for him. I see you, fans of The ABC Murders.

Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town takes Queen to the small New England town of Wrightsville. He’s arranged to stay in a guest house on the property of wealthy social leaders John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. Queen gets drawn into the family’s private affairs when Jim Haight, former fiancé of the Wrights’ youngest daughter, Nora, comes back to town after leaving three years earlier. Against all advice, Nora rekindles her romance with Jim, and the two marry. Then, some letters emerge that suggest that Jim is planning to kill Nora. Nora doesn’t believe it, and the two settle in together. Matters get even more complicated when Jim’s unpleasant sister, Rosemary, comes for an extended visit.  On New Year’s Eve, Rosemary drinks a cocktail that turns out to be poisoned. The police investigate and immediately, the case becomes a public sensation. It involves the most important family in town and it’s a lurid murder case. So, naturally, everyone has something to say about it. When Jim is arrested for the murder (the theory is that the cocktail was intended for Nora), almost no-one believes his claims of innocence. Queen does, though, and it’s interesting to see how his investigation is impacted by the publicity surrounding the murder.

Jane Casey’s The Burning introduces readers to Met PC Maeve Kerrigan. She’s been working with a team investigating a series of murders where the killer tries to incinerate his victims. The press has dubbed the murderer the Burning Man, and the murders have gotten quite a lot of media and public attention. In part, that’s because there’s a series of killings. In part, it’s because of the fires. In any case, the Met is getting an awful lot of pressure to catch the killer, and that doesn’t make anyone’s job easy. Then comes the murder of Rebecca Haworth. At first, her death looks like another Burning Man killing. But certain aspects of the murder are different enough that Kerrigan isn’t sure it’s the same killer. She wants to stay on the team investigating the Burning Man killings, but her boss has other ideas. If Haworth’s murder is a Burning Man killing, then any progress in solving it is progress towards solving the other murders. If it’s a ‘copycat’ killer, then the Met will come under heavy criticism for neglecting it if leads aren’t pursued. So, Kerrigan is assigned to follow up on the Haworth murder. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at how a case’s level of publicity can impact police decision-making.

In Tarrquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, we learn of Dr. Suresh Jha, founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (D.I.R.E.). His mission, and that of the institute he founded, is to debunk fake spiritualists – people he calls ‘the godmen.’ One morning, Jha attends a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. During the meeting, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appears, and stabs Jha. As you can imagine, the press and public make much of this, and many people say that Jha was killed because he was leading people towards becoming infidels. News commentators everywhere have their say, and the incident leads to an upsurge in attendance at shrines, and other worship. Delhi PI, whose client Jha once was, is not convinced this death has a supernatural explanation. He takes an interest in the case, and decides to investigate. As he and his team look into the matter, it’s very interesting to see the role that the case’s publicity plays.

Nelson Brunanski’s Frost Bite is the second of his novels to feature John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. Bart and his wife, Rosie, life in the small Saskatchewan town of Crooked Lake. They own Stuart Lake Lodge, a fly-fishing lodge in the northern part of the province. Most of the time, life for the Bartowskis doesn’t involve a lot of press or publicity. But that changes when Bart finds the body of Lionel Morrison under a pile of wheat at the Crooked Lake Wheat Pool elevator. For one thing, Morrison was a well-known, well-connected agribusiness CEO; as a ‘heavy hitter,’ his death would naturally get attention. And this is no ordinary death. So, there’s soon a media ‘feeding frenzy’ and the case gets a lot of public attention. Bart’s already connected to the case, since he found the body. And the victim had recently spent some time at Stuart Lake Lodge. So, even though Bart’s really not one to covet media attention, he gets drawn into this investigation.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. When Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam, were murdered, the most likely suspect was Angela’s brother, Connor Bligh. In fact, he’s been in prison for years for the murders. But now, little hints have suggested that he might be innocent. If so, this could be the case to solidify Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne’s place at the top of her field. So, she starts to look into the matter. And, as she does, she finds herself getting closer than is safe to it. Among other things, it’s a really clear look at how publicity affects those involved in a murder.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of fictional cases that get a lot of public attention (you’re right, fans of Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry). And it’s interesting to consider which sorts of cases do get that sort of publicity, and which don’t. I wonder what that says about us…

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Helen Fitzgerald, Jane Casey, Nelson Brunanski, Paddy Richardson, Tarquin Hall

The Atmosphere is Electric*

AtmospheresAn interesting guest post on crime writer and fellow blogger Sue Coletta’s site has got me thinking about atmosphere. In part, the post’s focus is on character development, and that’s important of course. But the post also mentioned the larger context – the atmosphere.

Writers, of course, can use context for a number of purposes, far too numerous to discuss here. So I’m going to just mention a couple of ways in which crime writers use atmosphere.

Sometimes, crime writers use atmosphere to serve as a stark contrast to the murder(s) that are the main plot threads of their story. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure: the peaceful, lovely small town that hides secrets.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories are like that. For instance, Hallowe’en Party takes place in the village of Woodleigh Common, a small, outwardly peaceful place. One afternoon, several residents are visiting Apple Trees, the home of town social leader Rowena Drake. They’re helping her to get ready for a Hallowe’en party planned for later that evening. Also among the group is detective story author Ariadne Oliver. During the preparations, twelve-year-old Joyce Reynolds boasts that she saw a murder once. Everyone immediately hushes her up, and the assumption is made that she said what she said to call attention to herself, especially as Mrs. Oliver was there. But later, at the party, Joyce is murdered. Now everyone has to face the possibility that Joyce was telling the truth. Mrs. Oliver asks Hercule Poirot to come to Woodleigh Common and help find out what happened, and he agrees. When the two of them visit Apple Trees to talk to Mrs. Drake, Mrs. Oliver says,
 

‘‘It doesn’t look the sort of house there’d be a murder in, does it?’’
 

And it doesn’t. It’s a neatly-kept, pleasant house in a small, peaceful community. Nothing creepy about it. And that contrasts with what happens at the house, and with what is later revealed about some events in the town.

Ira Levin uses a similar strategy in The Stepford Wives. Joanna and Walter Eberhart and their children move from New York City to the small town of Stepford, Connecticut, hoping to find low taxes and good schools. At first, everything goes smoothly. The town is beautiful, the residents are pleasant, and everyone settles in. But then, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe begins to suspect that something is very wrong in Stepford. At first, Joanna doesn’t take her seriously. But then, some things happen that show just how right Bobbie was. Levin fans will know that he takes quite a different approach in Rosemary’s Baby, where the apartment building that features so heavily in the novel is depicted as rather eerie right from the start.

Nelson Brunanski’s novels featuring John ‘Bart’ Bartowski often feature the small town of Crooked Lake, Saskatchewan. It’s a quiet town where everyone knows everyone, and where life is mostly peaceful. That lovely small-town backdrop contrasts with the main murder plots of the stories. For example, in Crooked Lake, the first of the series, the body of Harvey Kristoff is found on the grounds of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. The most likely suspect is former head greenskeeper Nick Taylor, whom Kristoff recently had fired. But Taylor claims he’s innocent, and asks Bart to help clear his name. In Frost Bite, Bart gets involved in the murder of Lionel Morrison, a CEO with quite a lot of ‘clout.’ He spent some time at Stuart Lake Lodge, a fishing lodge owned by Bart and his wife Rosie. Later, Bart discovers Morrison’s body under a pile of wheat at the Crooked Lake Wheat Pool elevator. Crooked Lake’s peaceful, ‘down home’ sort of atmosphere serves as a really interesting contrast to the murders that happen there.

Of course, some crime writers use a story’s overall atmosphere to add to the suspense. That, too, can be quite effective. For example, Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is the story of Mary Yellan. When her mother dies, Mary obeys her mother’s last request and goes to stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss, who own Jamaica Inn. The inn is in Cornwall, between Bodmin and Launceston. Before Mary even arrives, she’s warned about Jamaica Inn, but she chooses to continue the journey. And when she arrives, she finds that it’s every bit as dreary and unpleasant as she’d heard. The place is isolated, run-down and creepy. Her uncle is unpleasant and abusive, and her aunt so downtrodden that she does nothing about it. This atmosphere serves as the backdrop for a case of murder, and for some very dark secrets that Mary discovers.

Several novels in Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache make mention of the old Hadley house. Fans of this series will know that it has a dark history, and that adds to its eerie atmosphere. Even Gamache, who is not a fanciful person, doesn’t like going there. In The Cruelest Month, a murder takes place there. A well-known Hungarian psychic, Madame Blavatsky, is staying in Three Pines, and is persuaded to hold a séance during her stay. The first attempt doesn’t go well, but another is scheduled during the Easter break, and is to be held at the Hadley place. During that second séance, Madeleine Favreau suddenly dies. At first, it’s said that she was frightened to death. But soon, it’s discovered that she’s been given a lethal dose of a diet drug. In this case, the house’s creepy history and atmosphere add to the suspense and tension.

And then there’s Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin, which features DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper. In that novel, two sets of remains are discovered in the Peak District on Pity Wood Farm, which used to be owned by the Sutton family. It now belongs to a Manchester attorney named Aaron Goodwin, but he bought the property after the remains were already there. So the detectives focus on the Suttons and on the people who lived in the area when they owned the farm. The nearest village is Rakedale, and Fry and Cooper are hoping to get some background from the residents. But Rakedale is a close-mouthed, creepy place. Few people are interested in speaking to the police, and even fewer in discussing the Suttons. It makes for a tense sort of atmosphere.

Whether the author chooses to use atmosphere to contrast with a murder (or murders), or add to the tension, it’s hard to deny the importance of atmosphere in adding to a story. Which atmospheres have stayed with you?

Thanks for the inspiration to Sue and her guest, David Villalva! Now, please go visit Sue’s excellent blog. It’s a fantastic resource for crime writers, and a fascinating place to learn all kinds of interesting things.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Little River Band’s So Many Paths.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Ira Levin, Louise Penny, Nelson Brunanski, Stephen Booth

You’re So Scared and All Alone*

Families of the AccusedAn interesting post from Mason Canyon at Thoughts in Progress has got me thinking about the families of those accused of murder. People who are suspected of murder often have parents, children, siblings, or other relatives; those people are deeply affected by the fact that one of their own may have killed someone. Their stories can add a compelling layer to a crime novel; they can allow readers to see just how much impact such an accusation can make, whether or not it’s true.

Agatha Christie addresses this in several of her stories. For example, in Ordeal By Innocence, Rachel Argyle is murdered with a fireplace poker. The evidence points to her stepson Jacko, who is duly arrested, tried and convicted. Later, he dies in prison.  Two years later, Dr. Arthur Calgary visits the Argyle family home, Sunny Point. He’s there to give them news that he thinks ought to please them: he can conclusively prove that Jacko Argyle was not a murderer. Calgary wasn’t able to provide that evidence at the time of the murder, because he was suffering from a case of amnesia. He’s since recovered, and now wants to put things right. To his shock, the Argyle family isn’t happy at all about his return or his news. If he’s right, it means that someone else within the family circle is a murderer. I know, I know, fans of The Hollow and of Five Little Pigs.

In Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph, we meet Juliet Spence, an herbalist who lives with her thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie in the village of Winslough. One evening, Robin Sage, Vicar of Winslough, has dinner with the Spences. He dies soon after in what turns out to be a case of poisoning by water hemlock. At first it’s put down to tragic accident. But that’s not how it seems to Simon St. James, who’s staying in the area with his wife Deborah. He asks his friend, Inspector Thomas ‘Tommy’ Lynley, to look into the matter, and Lynley agrees. Maggie Spence has a particularly difficult time during this investigation. For one thing, she is of course, worried about her mother, who is now the chief suspect in a murder case. For another, she has to deal with schoolmates and others who see her as a murderer’s daughter. It’s an awful situation for her, and George makes that clear.

It’s the Garrow family who comes under fire in Wendy James’ The Mistake. Angus Garrow is a successful attorney who’s being spoken of as the possible next mayor of Arding, New South Wales. He’s from a proud, ‘blue-blood’ family, and is highly regarded in the field. Everything changes when his wife Jodie becomes a murder suspect. It all starts when their daughter Hannah is rushed to a Sydney hospital after a car accident. That hospital happens to be the same place where, years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another daughter. No-one, not even Angus, knew about this baby. A nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says that she gave the infant up for adoption, but the nurse can’t find any formal adoption records. Now, some very ugly talk starts. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? That murder accusation changes the Garrow family forever.

Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake introduces readers to John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife Rosie live in the small Saskatchewan town of Crooked Lake, and own Stuart Lake Lodge, a fishing lodge in the northern part of the province. Murder strikes Crooked Lake when the body of Harvey Kristoff is discovered on the green at the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. The police start to investigate, and it’s not long before they settle on Nick Taylor, former head greenskeeper of the course. There’s evidence against him, too. For one thing, he blames Kristoff for getting him fired from his job. For another, it turns out that his wife Wilma had an affair with Kristoff. And the murder weapon belongs to Taylor. Still, Taylor claims that he’s innocent. And his lawyer Frank Hendrickson wants to defend his client as best he can. So he asks Bart, Taylor’s oldest friend, to help. Bart isn’t at all certain that Taylor is innocent, but he does agree to do what he can. As the story goes on, we see the impact on the Taylor family of a murder accusation. It’s all made even worse by the fact that Crooked Lake’s a small town; everyone knows everyone else. Even the Bartowskis feel the strain of being ‘on the Taylors’ side.’

In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri gets a new client, successful attorney Ajay Kasliwal. According to Kasliwal, he had employed a maid, Mary Murmu, in his home for a time. Then, several months ago, she went missing. New evidence has come up that suggests that she was raped and murdered, and that Kasliwal might be responsible. The media is watching this case carefully, as there’s a sense that Kasliwal will get special treatment because of his social status. The police are well aware of this, and are determined to show that they don’t toady to the rich. And that’s Kasliwal’s problem. He says that he is innocent, and doesn’t have any idea what happened to his maid. He wants Puri to find out the truth and clear his name. Puri agrees, and he and his team get to work on the case. As they look for answers, we see what happens to a family when a member is accused of murder, even if that family has high social status. It’s difficult for all of them.

The Blligh/Dickson family has a terrible time of it, too, in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Several years ago, Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan, and their son Sam were murdered one horrific afternoon. Only their daughter Katy survived, because she wasn’t home when the killer struck. At the time, Angela’s brother Connor Bligh was suspected of the crime. The evidence against him was compelling, so he was arrested, tried and convicted. Since then, he’s been in Wellington’s Rimutaka Prison. Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of this case at a crucial time for her. She’s reached a plateau in her career, and is looking for a story that will ensure her spot at the top of New Zealand journalism. So when she hears that there’s evidence Bligh may not be guilty, she’s interested. If he is innocent, this could be the story she’s been wanting. Thorne begins to re-investigate the case, and soon learns that no-one in the family really wants to help her. One reason is that they believe Bligh is guilty. But just as important is the fact that it’s been awful for them to have family members murdered, and probably by a relative. Now, they just want to get on with their lives, and not rake things up again.

It’s very hard to be accused of murder, whether or not one’s guilty. It’s at least as hard on family members. But that, too, is a reality of criminal investigation. So it’s little wonder we see it in crime fiction, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Renegade.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Nelson Brunanski, Paddy Richardson, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James