Category Archives: Nevada Barr

Let Me Make My Final Stand*

good-guy-bad-guyEven if you’re not thoroughly familiar with the story, you may very well have heard of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, in Tombstone, Arizona. It’s a classic story of the famous 1881 showdown between Sheriff Wyatt Earp and his friend, Doc Holliday on one side, and Ike Clanton and his gang on the other. And it’s a legendary story of ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys.’

Of course, that particular gunfight isn’t the only showdown between the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain,’ either in fiction or in real life. But it highlights the tension that builds up with that sort of confrontation. That suspense can add a great deal to a crime novel, too, so it’s little wonder we see so many examples of this plot point in the genre. There are far too many for me to mention here; I’m sure you could think of more than I could, anyway. But here are just a few.

One of the most famous crime-fictional confrontations comes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem. In that story, Sherlock Holmes is up against his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Holmes is, of course, formidable, but Moriarty has plenty of his own resources. In fact, things get so dangerous for Holmes that he and Watson temporarily leave their London lodgings and end up in Switzerland. As Holmes fans can tell you, he and Moriarty have a dramatic confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls. Conan Doyle had intended this to be his last Holmes story; but fans wouldn’t hear of it. Still, it’s a ‘power-packed’ story with plenty of buildup.

There are a few tense final showdowns in Agatha Christie’s stories and novels. We see one of them in The Murder on the Links. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to France at the request of Canadian émigré Paul Renauld. He wrote to Poirot, claiming that his life was in danger because of a secret that he possessed. Poirot doesn’t usually take kindly to being summoned, but somehow, this letter is different. By the time he and Hastings get to France, though, it’s too late. Renauld has been murdered. Poirot and Hastings slowly find out the truth about who the murderer is, and it all comes to a head one night in a dramatic way. It’s one of those times when Poirot doesn’t announce the solution to a drawing room full of suspects. I know, Christie fans, there are lots of other great examples of this sort of drama in her work.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Blessing Way, readers are introduced to Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. In the story, Leaphorn works with ethnologist Bergen McKee, who’s worried about the disappearance of his friend, Luis Horseman. It seems that Horseman went missing after getting into a drunken quarrel, and hasn’t returned. Later, his body is found in Many Ruins Canyon; and at first, it looks as though his death is the result of Navajo witchcraft. But Leaphorn isn’t superstitious, nor does he follow Navajo spiritual traditions. So he looks for a more prosaic solution, and that’s what he finds. In the novel, there’s a dramatic scene as Leaphorn and the killer face off in a place that’s very much ‘in the middle of nowhere.’ That geographical setting adds to the suspense of the confrontation, too, as it’s got its own very real dangers.

You could say the same thing about the confrontation between National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon and a killer in Nevada Bar’s Track of the Cat. Pigeon has been assigned to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, in the Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas. One day, she comes upon the body of another ranger, Sheila Drury. At first, it looks as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, and that’s the explanation the authorities want. But Pigeon isn’t sure it’s true. Besides, she’s afraid that, if word gets out that a mountain lion killed a person, then all of the park’s mountain lions could be in danger. So Pigeon starts looking into the matter more closely. As she does, she finds that there are other possibilities, and several people who could have had a motive to murder Drury. Finally, Pigeon finds out who the killer is, and one night, she has a final confrontation with that person. It’s very dramatic, and not least because of the physical setting.

A final confrontation doesn’t have to take place in a remote area to be dramatic, though. For instance, in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in investigating the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher. His body is discovered in a cheap rooming house, and it looks as though he was living some sort of double life that got him killed. But it’s not as simple, or as complex, as that. As Kilbourne starts looking into the matter a little more, she finds that more than one person might have had a motive for murder. And when she finally discovers who the real killer is, she confronts that person. Then, there’s a very tense final scene between them in an elevator. It’s a small, enclosed space, and that adds to the suspense.

Some dramatic fictional final showdowns take place in lonely, outdoors spots. Others can be as close as the sleuth’s front door (I’m thinking, for instance, of Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic). There are many other settings, too, including some very famous film scenes. Whichever way it’s done, that ‘good guy’-against-‘bad guy’ final scene can add a strong layer of tension to a story. Little wonder the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral has become iconic. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory.

20 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Christine Poulson, Gail Bowen, Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman

But You Just Keep Me Hanging on Again*

Building Tension Without GoreI think most of us would agree that a high-quality crime novel builds tension and suspense without resorting to a lot of gore and gratuitous violence. Everyone’s idea of what ‘counts’ as ‘too much’ or ‘gratuitous’ violence is likely to be a little different. But all of us have our limit. And there are ways to keep people turning and swiping pages without a bloodbath.

How, exactly, does a crime writer go about that, though? How can an author keep the tension strong in other ways? Here are just a few of my ideas. I’m sure you’ll have your own, too, and I’d love to learn from them.

 

Creepy Settings
 

Eerie settings can take on a life of their own, as the saying goes. When they’re depicted well, they can add quite a lot of suspense to a story. For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle uses Baskerville Hall to good effect in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In that novel, Sherlock Holmes sends Dr. Watson to Baskerville Hall on Dartmoor to help investigate the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Legend has it that the Baskerville family is cursed by a phantom hound, and that’s the reason for his death. Holmes isn’t sure that’s true, though. In any case, family friend Dr. Mortimer wants to prevent a similar fate for the new heir, Sir Henry Baskerville. As you can imagine, Sir Charles’ death has a much more prosaic explanation than a curse. One interesting thing about this story is that there isn’t a lot of violence in it. The tension and suspense aren’t built that way. The setting, though, is eerie. First, there’s the bleak moor, which at night is not exactly a warm, welcoming place. There’s the house itself, too, which
 

‘…was a heavy block of building from which a porch projected. The whole front was draped in ivy, with a patch clipped bare here and there where a window or coat-of-arms broke through the dark veil. From this central block rose the twin towers, ancient, crenelated, and pierced with many loopholes.’
 

It’s certainly not a cheerful, bright place.

Neither is the eponymous lodging that features in Daphne’s du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Also located on Dartmoor (hmm……), it’s owned by Joss Merlyn and his wife Patience. Their niece, Mary Yellan, goes to stay with them when her mother dies. Before she even arrives, she’s warned about the place; and when she arrives, she finds that the warnings have been more than justified:
 

‘She [Mary] went out of the room and into the dark passage, bumping against the settle in the hall, and so upstairs, feeling her way with her hands, judging her whereabouts by turning round and facing the stairs again. Her uncle had told her the room over the porch, and she crept across the dark landing, which was unlit, past two doors on either side – guest rooms, she imagined, waiting for those travelers who never came nowadays, nor sought shelter beneath the roof of Jamaica Inn – and then stumbled against another door and turned the handle, and saw by the flickering flame of her candle that this was her room, for her trunk lay on the floor.
 

Not the sort of place that suggests a happy, warm story. Like The Hound of the Baskervilles, the violence is more implied than depicted in detail (although there is more of it in this story). The setting builds the tension as much as anything else does.

 

The Elements

 

Along with physical setting, authors can also use the elements to build tension without getting gory. In Nevada Barr’s Firestorm, for instance, US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been sent to Northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. She’s to serve as a medic for those fighting a wildfire – the Jackson fire – in the area. Weather predictions are for colder air and snow to move in, so the hope is that the firefighters will soon be able to leave the area. Pigeon and a small group remain behind, though, to help an injured comrade. That’s when a freak thunderstorm forms and changes everything. A firestorm is whipped up, and all of the team dives for cover in individual shelters. When the storm passes, the firefighters check on each other only to find that one of them has been murdered. Now, Pigeon has to help the other exhausted firefighters, and at the same time find out who the killer is. This novel uses the quickly-changing and dangerous elements to add suspense to the story, rather than a very high ‘body count,’ or a lot of brutal gore.

That’s also true of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, which introduces his sleuth, Sheriff Walt Longmire. In this novel, Longmire and his deputy, Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti investigate two murders, both of young men who were involved in a previous rape. There are a number of possibilities, including that the family of the rape victim has exacted vengeance. Although the story has some dark elements, it’s not a really gory novel. And the violence that there is, is not extended. Part of what builds the tension here is a snowstorm that moves in during a trek that Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear make to try to prevent a third murder. The weather is brutal, and the two men are at serious risk. That’s what adds to the suspense, rather than a lot of violence.

 

Psychological Tension

 

Authors can also use the buildup of psychological tension to invite readers to stay engaged in a story. That’s what Agatha Christie does in And Then There Were None. In that novel, ten people visit Indian Island, off the Devon Coast. They’re all there for different reasons, but as we learn early on, they’ve all been deliberately brought to the island. After dinner on the first night, each is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Shortly afterwards, one of them suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, another dies. Soon enough, it’s clear that someone is trying to kill all of them. The survivors have to find out who that person is, and stay alive themselves. Admittedly, there’s a higher ‘body count’ here than there is in some of Christie’s other work. But the deaths are not described in ugly, gory detail. The real tension lies in the growing paranoia and the knowledge that someone in the same house is a killer.

Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train also uses a solid buildup of psychological tension. The real action in that novel begins when Guy Haines travels across country by train to visit his estranged wife Miriam, from whom he’s hoping to get a divorce. While he’s en route, he meets Charles Anthony Bruno. The two men get to talking, and before very long, Bruno proposes that each man commit the other man’s murder. He will kill Haines’ wife if Haines kills his father. At first, Haines doesn’t take Bruno seriously. But then, Bruno actually kills Miriam, and demands that Haines fulfil his side of the bargain. Now Haines has a terrible dilemma. In this novel, the violence isn’t the main part of the story, really. It’s the buildup of psychological tension as we slowly see the kind of person Bruno really is, and as Haines tries desperately to get out of his situation.

There are a lot of other ways, too, to ramp up the suspense in a story without a bloodletting. Which keep your interest the most? If you’re a writer, how do you build suspense without gore?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Hooters’ Hanging on a Heartbeat.

27 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Craig Johnson, Daphne du Maurier, Nevada Barr, Patricia Highsmith

This is a Showdown*

Confrontations and ShowdownsIn many (certainly not all!) crime novels, there’s an element of suspense that comes from that final confrontation between the sleuth and the criminal. It can be a very cathartic moment; after all, the sleuth has probably worked long and hard to catch the criminal. It can also add tension to the story (i.e. Is the criminal going to admit everything?). And there can be a real poignancy to this confrontation, especially if the sleuth has a sort of sympathy for the killer.

These confrontations vary of course, depending on the characters and the style of the story. And they need to be done thoughtfully, or there’s a risk of melodrama. But when they are done well, they can add much to a story.

Some confrontations are quiet and even moving. That’s what we see at the end of G.K. Chesterton’s The Invisible Man. In that story, Father Brown and his friend Hercule Flambeau investigate the mysterious murder of Isidore Smythe. One strange thing about this case is that the murderer seems to have got into Smythe’s home and killed him without anyone seeing a person go in or out. After Father Brown works out how and by whom the crime was committed, he has a confrontation – well, an interaction – with the killer:
 

‘But Father Brown walked these snow-covered hills under the stars for many hours with a murderer, and what they said to each other will never be known.’
 

When we know the truth behind the murder, it’s logical that Father Brown wouldn’t force a loud, public sort of confrontation. And he’s not that sort of person, anyway.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has had his moments of very public, even dramatic, unmasking of murderers (there’s one, for instance, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead). And even he will admit that he likes being the focus of everyone’s attention as he points out the guilty person. But he also has some quieter, poignant confrontations with killers. Everyone’s different, but for my money, the interaction between Poirot and the killer in Death on the Nile is a good example of this. Poirot is taking what’s supposed to be a relaxing cruise of the Nile when he gets drawn into the shooting death of fellow passenger Linnet Ridgeway Doyle. Poirot and Colonel Race, who’s also on the cruise, investigate, and Poirot discovers who’s behind that murder and two others. At one point, after revealing the killer’s identity, Poirot has a quiet conversation with that person:
 

‘‘Don’t mind so much, Monsieur Poirot! About me, I mean. You do mind, don’t you?’
‘Yes…’
‘But it wouldn’t have occurred to you to let me off?’
Hercule Poirot said quietly, ‘No.’’
 

In this case, Poirot admits that he has sympathy for the murderer, and that comes through in this conversation.

We know from the beginning of L.R. Wright’s The Suspect that eighty-year-old George Wilcox kills eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. When the murder is reported, RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg takes the case. There is more than one possible explanation for the killing, so Alberg doesn’t immediately focus on Wilcox. But it’s not long before he does. As the story goes on, he has some interesting confrontations with Wilcox. Little by little, we learn the history behind the murder and the motive for it. It adds to the suspense of the story to follow the two men’s interactions as the novel goes on.

Sometimes, there are more dramatic confrontations between sleuths and criminals. When they’re done well, they can certainly add to the story. For instance, in Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat, National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. One day, she discovers the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. At first, all signs point to a mountain lion as the killer. Pigeon is hoping this isn’t true, because she’s afraid that there will be a wholesale slaughter of these endangered animals if word gets out that a lion killed Drury. There are little signs, too, that suggest that this death is the work of a human. So Pigeon starts to ask some questions. The more she digs into the matter, the more possibilities she finds. She also discovers that someone wants very much to keep her from finding out the truth. Eventually, though, Pigeon learns who killed Sheila Drury and why. When she does, there is a dramatic confrontation between her and the murderer.

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in investigating the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher. It turns out that more than one person could have wanted him dead, and the investigation isn’t easy. But after some time (and another death), Kilbourn finds out who the murderer is. After she’s made it clear who the person is, she has a very suspenseful confrontation with that person during an elevator ride. It’s a tense scene in part because Kilbourn is in danger. But it’s also tense because of the history behind the deaths.

There’s another interesting, and more dramatic, confrontation between Inspector Salvo Montalbano and a very highly-placed criminal in Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Montalbano’s teammate Giuseppe Fazio is investigating a dangerous smuggling ring when he goes missing. Montalbano and the rest of the team know that the longer it takes them to find Fazio, the more danger there will be for him. So they follow the trail that Fazio has left, hoping it will help them find him. They’re up against a particularly ruthless group of people, so Montalbano knows that he and his team have to work quickly. In the end, and after the murder of their primary witness, they do catch the criminal. And there’s a very public (and for the culprit, a very embarrassing) scene when Montalbano faces this enemy.

There are, of course, plenty of crime novels in which there really is no confrontation between sleuth and criminal (that’s the stuff of another post). But confrontations that are done well can add layers of suspense and tension to a story. Which confrontations have you thought particularly well done? If you’re a writer, how do you handle this aspect of your crime stories?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon.

28 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, G.K. Chesterton, Gail Bowen, L.R. Wright, Nevada Barr

Gonna Climb a Mountain*

MountainsThe ‘photo shows one of the real natural treasures of Colorado – the US Rocky Mountains. Little wonder Colorado’s called the Rocky Mountain State, and Denver’s baseball team is the Colorado Rockies. The mountains are breathtaking, even from a distance. But of course, mountains can be awfully dangerous too, even if one’s accustomed to living in them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s plenty of mountainous crime fiction out there. Space only allows for a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I leave.

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski introduces readers to Scotland Yard inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In this novel, they take a trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, where they stay at the Bella Vista Hotel. This hotel caters mostly to skiers, and it’s only accessible via a long ski lift. That ski lift becomes a crime scene when of the hotel’s guests Fritz Hauser is shot and his body found on one of the downward facing cars. Capitano Spezzi and his team take on the investigation, and when Spezzi finds out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he gradually takes takes Tibbett into his confidence. Together they begin to investigate, and as they do, they learn that several people at the hotel have been hiding things. It turns out that there are several people who had a motive to murder the victim. Then there’s another murder. Now the two sleuths have to find out how those two deaths are connected.

In Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming investigates the murder of Cody Pritchard. The victim’s body was found on public land, and there’s not much evidence at first to connect him with the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Jacob Esper is shot by what appears to be the same gun. Now Longmire suspects he knows what may be behind these deaths. The two victims were part of a group of four young men who gang-raped then-sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. All four got off with what many people thought was far too light a sentence. That fact, plus some of the evidence, suggests that the killer might be a member of the Cheyenne Nation out for revenge. If so, most people won’t be in a hurry to go after that person, and the killer could be planning to target the other two young men involved in the earlier crime. So Longmire decides to track them down and try to prevent more murders. That proves to be far more difficult than he thinks, and he and his friend Henry Standing Bear end up following the trail of one of them into the mountains. When a sudden storm comes up, they end up in as much danger from nature as from the killer.

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat is set mostly in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to work at that park, and she’s settled into her job. One day Pigeon discovers the body of fellow Ranger Sheila Drury. She immediately reports the death and the police machinery is put into motion. It looks at first as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon’s hoping that’s not so. If the news gets out that a mountain lion was responsible for killing a human, it’s likely that all of the other mountain lions in the area will soon become targets for the locals. And that might put the lion population in real danger, since many of the area’s residents are none too fond of them. Besides, Pigeon has noticed a few things that aren’t consistent with murder by a big cat. So she begins to ask questions about Drury’s death, and comes up against something going on at the park that’s bigger than she had imagined.

Sam Hilliard’s Mike Brody is a former Special Forces operative who now operates an extreme adventure company S&B Outfitters. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife Jessica Barrett had arranged a holiday at Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. Despite the awkwardness, they decide to go ahead with that plan, hoping that it’ll be good for their son Andy. While they’re there, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson disappears from the ranch, where he was staying with his family. It turns out that Sean witnessed the murder of David St. John, and he’s afraid that the killer might have seen him and might come after him. So he’s run off without thinking things through – straight into some very unforgiving country. Detective Lisbeth McCarthy has found out that Brody is in the area and asks for his help in tracking Sean before the killer, or the elements, find him.

And then there’s Anne Holt’s 1222. A group of passengers is en route by train from Oslo to Bergen when there’s a crash that kills the conductor. The passengers are rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. Among those stranded by the crash is former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson, who simply wants to be left alone to live her life. But when there’s a murder at the hotel, she’s drawn into it very much against her will. Then there’s another death. And another. Now she’ll have to use her detection skills to catch the killer if there are to be no more murders.

There’s also Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone, which features Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable) decide to have a private getaway. Their plan is to take a trip to Banff, Alberta and enjoy the natural beauty – and each other’s company. Everything changes though when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. It’s not going to be easy to find him either, as he’s a very experienced camper who’s accustomed to outdoor life. What’s more, he could well be guilty of a murder that’s recently been committed, so he has to be found as quickly as possible. Lucky’s daughter, Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, doesn’t have jurisdiction in the Banff area, but she goes there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. While she’s there, Matt Keller’s girlfriend asks her to find him and help clear his name. So Smith begins to ask questions. She soon finds out that the natural dangers on a mountain are far from the only threats to her…

So as you see, mountains are beautiful. They’re important parts of the ecosystem too, and they’re delightful holiday destinations too. But safe?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See?

25 Comments

Filed under Anne Holt, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, Patricia Moyes, Sam Hilliard, Vicki Delany

It’s a Light and Tumble Journey*

Wildlife SanctuariesI’ve been fortunate enough to visit animal preserves and sanctuaries on three different continents. They can be breathtakingly beautiful places, and certainly give one a perspective on a lot of things. At least they do me. And it is fascinating to see all sorts of animals that you can’t see anywhere else.

But animal preserves and sanctuaries have a dangerous side to them too. There are all sorts of political and economic issues around them, and that’s to say nothing of the animals themselves. So it’s no wonder that this setting comes up in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you can think of lots more than I could.

Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger. In that capacity, she is sent to a variety of different US parks and preserves, and she knows first-hand how dangerous those places can be. For instance, in Track of the Cat, she’s been assigned to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There she discovers the body of a fellow ranger Sheila Drury one morning. At first, it looks as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, and there’s the local outcry about it that you’d expect. It doesn’t help matters that the locals have never liked the fact that mountain lions living within the boundaries of the national park are off limits to hunters. They resent what they see as the damage caused by the animals and the government’s unwillingness to protect their land. Pigeon isn’t so sure that the culprit was a lion though, and she certainly doesn’t want mountain lions to become the targets of hunters. So she begins to ask questions. In the process she discovers that the victim’s death had a very human cause…

Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, features in Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable of Police) have decided to take a trip to Banff, in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Their plan is for some relaxing ‘just the two of us’ time. But that’s not how it works out. Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. And since he’s experienced at camping and living in the outdoors, he could be anywhere and it would be very hard to find him. What’s more, he may very well be guilty of murder. Banff isn’t within the jurisdiction of Lucky’s daughter, Trafalgar Police Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. But she travels there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. Then Matt’s girlfriend begs her to clear his name, claiming that he’s innocent. So Molly begins to ask some questions. And you thought bears, cougars and wolverines were the biggest living threats in the park…

In Michael Sears’ and Stanley Trollip’s (AKA Michael Stanley) A Carrion Death, Professor of Ecology Benani Sibisi has taken a trip to Dale’s Camp, on the verge of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. He’s out in the field one day when he discovers the body of an unknown man. At first it looks as though the man was killed by wild animals; certainly hyenas have already paid the body a visit. Botswana CID Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu is called to the scene and supervises sending the remains for forensics testing, mostly to try to identify the victim. Results of that testing suggest that the man was murdered. Now it’s even more important to find out who he was and what he was doing at the Reserve. So Kubu and his team begin to look more closely into the case. They find a connection between the dead man and the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC), a powerful voice in the country’s economic and political arenas. That connection makes this case delicate, since the Botswana government has a major interest in making sure that the company remains a going concern. In the end, though, Kubu is able to find out who the dead man was and how his murder is related to events and interactions at BCMC.

Much of Michael Allan Mallory and Marilyn Victor’s Killer Instinct takes place at the Minnesota Wolf Institute (MWI), which in part functions as a preserve for wolves. Zookeeper Lavender ‘Snake’ Jones is invited to the MWI to film an episode of her television documentary series Zoofari. When she arrives, she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous controversy. Her friend Gina Brown, a biologist associated with the MWI, is a passionate defender of wolves and their preservation. That pits Brown against several locals, led by Ivar Bjorkland, who want to see the wolves exterminated. In fact, they have a very public dispute about the matter when four wolves are illegally killed. Then, Bjorkland is found murdered. Jones is worried that her friend might have been involved in the killing, although she doesn’t want to think so. Then there’s another murder. And another. Now Jones has to help clear her friend’s name and stop the killer before there’s another death. Wolves are by no means the most dangerous species in this novel…

In Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, Emma le Roux hires professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer to accompany her from Cape Town to the Lowveld to find out the truth about her missing brother Jacobus. He disappeared twenty-five years earlier in what everyone thought was a skirmish with poachers. But now Emma thinks he’s still alive. So she wants to trace his history from Kruger National Park, his last known whereabouts. She and Lemmer arrive in the area only to find out that this is much more than the case of a man who was killed by dangerous poachers. In the end, they find out that the truth about Jacobus le Roux is related to coverups, corruption and ugly realities about politics and environmentalism. Along the way, they visit more than one animal preserve, and it’s interesting to read the different perspectives and views on taking care of South Africa’s unique ecosytems while at the same time nurturing the economy.

New Zealand’s Rimutaka State Forest is the scene of some of the action in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Wellington missing person expert Diane Rowe is hired by Inspector Frank McFay to trace the identity of a ‘John Doe’ whose body has been found in the forest. There isn’t much to go on at first, but with the help of pathologist Grant ‘Smithy’ Smith, Rowe slowly learns that the man was in his twenties when he died, and that he died sometime during the early1970s. Bit by bit, Rowe puts the pieces together and finds out who the man was. At the same time, she’s on another case of her own choosing. Her sister Niki was murdered a year ago. Now, the man who claims he was paid to kill Niki has himself been murdered in the same way. Rowe believes that if she can find out who killed the ‘hit man,’ she’ll find out who’s responsible for her sister’s murder. Although the wildlife in the forest doesn’t hold the key to Niki’s death, the forest does have its role to play in the events in the story.

And that’s thing about animal preserves and sanctuaries. They can seem like peaceful places, and their natural beauty is practically unmatched. But safe? Erm – possibly not. I’ve only had space here to mention a few examples (I know, I know, fans of Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap and Blue Lightning). Which stories with this context have stayed in your mind?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s At the Zoo.

18 Comments

Filed under Ann Cleeves, Deon Meyer, Donna Malane, Marilyn Victor, Michael Allan Mallory, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Nevada Barr, Stanley Trollip, Vicki Delany