Category Archives: Nicolas Freeling

Somehow I Got Stuck*

Part of investigating a crime is talking to anyone who might have any knowledge about it. That sometimes means that a lot of innocent people, who didn’t have anything to do with the crime, get mixed up in it, at least to some extent. That can lead to annoyance and drains on time (e.g. if one is deposed or summoned as a witness at a trial). It can also lead to embarrassment (e.g. the person who is in a hotel with a lover and happens to witness something related to a crime that takes place there). And, although there are some people who feel a certain amount of excitement about being deposed or summoned to court, the process can be nerve-wracking, too.

People’s differing reactions to getting mixed up in an investigation can add some interesting layers to a crime novel. They can also add character development. It’s also realistic that innocent people get mixed up in criminal investigations. So, it’s no wonder that we see this sort of plot thread in a lot of crime fiction.

Agatha Christie used such reactions in many of her stories. For instance, The ABC Murders begins with the murder of a shop owner, Alice Ascher. She’s killed in her shop late one afternoon, and, of course, the police want to talk to anyone who might have been there at the approximate time of her death. So does Hercule Poirot, who actually received a warning note about this murder. Two of the customers they speak to are James Partridge and Bert Riddell, and it’s interesting to see how they react to being drawn into the case. Partridge made a purchase just before Mrs. Ascher was killed, and he goes to the police of his own accord with his story once he learns of the murder. He’s not at all ghoulish, but he does enjoy being able to provide evidence. Riddell, on the other hand, doesn’t come forward. When he is interviewed, he blusters a bit as he tells his story, and wonders out loud (and rather angrily) whether the police suspect him. Soon enough, it’s established that neither man is likely to be the killer, but it’s interesting to see how they respond to giving their stories. I see you, fans of Death in the Clouds.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel has his sleuth, Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk, seconded to the small town of Swinderen. Someone has been sending vicious anonymous letters accusing the different residents of all sorts of things. It’s the sort of town where everyone knows everyone’s business, so no-one is comfortable talking about the letters. But they’ve wreaked havoc. In fact, they’ve caused two suicides and a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to find out who’s responsible, so Van der Valk’s been sent in to see what he can learn. Slowly, he gets to know the people of the town, and begins to talk to some of them. Most are terrified to reveal they got letters, because they don’t want anyone suspecting that what’s in the letters is true. And, although everyone wants the letters to stop, no-one really appreciates being drawn into the case and interviewed. It’s a challenge for Van der Valk, but in the end, he gets to the truth.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, mystery novelist Martin Canning is among a group of people who are in Edinburgh, waiting to buy tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. As they’re waiting, they see a blue Honda crash into a silver Peugeot. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. Then, the Honda driver brandishes a bat, and starts to attack the Peugeot driver. Canning sees this, and instinctively throws his computer case at the Honda driver to stop the attack. Out of concern, Canning accompanies the Peugeot driver to the nearest hospital, and ends up getting drawn into a case of fraud and multiple murder. All of the other people who were waiting for tickets get drawn into the case, too, to some extent or other, simply because they were witnesses to the accident.

In Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness, attorney Guido Guerrieri gets a new client. It seems that Abdou Thiam, who emigrated to Bari from Senegal, has been arrested for the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Francesco Rubino. He claims that he is not guilty, but he’s not very hopeful of getting a fair trial. Still, Guerrieri promises to do everything he can, and goes to work on the case. One of the witnesses he speaks to, and later questions in court, is a bar owner named Antonio Renna. It seems that Renna saw Thiam pass by his bar shortly before the abduction and murder, although Thiam has said that he was in another town at the time. Naturally, Guerrieri wants to know everything he can about that incident. For his part, Renna never really wanted to be involved in the investigation in the first place. He’s drawn into it, and it turns out that what he has to say figures into the real truth about the murder.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, which introduces retired Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s hoping to enjoy retirement in his new home on Garibaldi Island, but he is drawn back into the courtroom when some of his former colleagues persuade him to take the case of Professor Jonathan O’Donnell. He’s been charged with the rape of a law student named Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell isn’t satisfied with the representation he’s gotten, and he wants Beauchamp to defend him. Of course, O’Donnell and Martin tell different stories about the night of the alleged rape, but there are some facts that are not in dispute. On that night, the Law Students Association (of which Martin is a member) held a dance, to which O’Donnell and some other faculty members were invited. After the dance, a group of several people went on to another party, and then back to O’Donnell’s house. A great deal of alcohol was consumed, and not just by the two parties to the case. As Beauchamp and his opponent prepare their cases, they speak to several of the other students who were present at the dance, the party, and at O’Donnell’s house. In the end, we find out what really happened that night, and it’s interesting to see how those young people, who were simply out to have a good time, get drawn into this investigation.

And it’s like that with many witnesses. They may be entirely innocent, even in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the saying goes. But they can be drawn into murder cases just the same.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Warren Zevon’s Lawyers, Guns and Money.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gianrico Carofiglio, Kate Atkinson, Nicolas Freeling, William Deverell

What’s in My Head*

Most crime novels involve at least a little violence. After all, a lot of them are about (at least one) murder. For some novels, though, the focus of the tension is as much on the psychological as it is on anything else, perhaps more. And, for many readers, that sort of suspense has powerful impact – even more than does physical violence.

The focus on psychology (as opposed to violence) for tension has been around for a long time. For example, Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s The Yellow Wallpaper, from 1892, details a woman’s slow descent into madness over the course of a summer. There isn’t really violence in this story, but it’s psychologically suspenseful.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity also has more of a focus on the psychological than it does on violence. In it, insurance agent Walter Huff happens to be in the area where a client of his, H.S. Nirdlinger, lives. He stops by in the hopes of getting Nirdlinger to renew his policy. When Huff gets to the house, he finds that Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis, is. The two get to talking, and Huff is soon smitten. Phyllis does nothing to discourage him, and it’s not long before the two are involved romantically. Phyllis has a plan to kill her husband; in fact, she even knows the sort of insurance policy she’ll need to carry out her plan. By the time she shares that plan with Huff, he’s so besotted that he goes along with it, even writing the plan that Phyllis needs. The murder is duly carried out, but Huff soon sees that that’s only the beginning of his troubles. In the story, the psychology involved causes at least as much tension as does the actual murder.

Beryl Bainbridhe’s Harriet Said also uses psychology to build suspense. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old unnamed narrator who’s waiting for her fourteen-year-old friend, Harriet, to return to England from a trip to Wales. Feeling a little restless, the narrator strikes up a friendship with a middle-aged man named Peter Biggs. She starts to feel the hormone rush that comes from attraction, but she doesn’t do anything about it, as she wants to wait for Harriet’s return. And, in any case, Biggs is both older and married. When Harriet comes back, she says that she doesn’t want her friend to be overly emotional about Biggs. Rather, she wants this to be an objective observation. So, her plan is to spy on Biggs, and then ‘humble’ him. The two teenagers put their plan into motion. But, when they see something they were not intended to see, everything changes, and takes a much more sinister turn…

There’s also a lot psychological tension in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. In it, Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen. Someone has been sending out vicious anonymous letters, and they’ve wreaked so much havoc that two people have committed suicide. Another has had a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t got very far in finding out who’s responsible, so it’s hoped that Van der Valk can discover the truth. Little by little, he gets to know the people of Zwinderen; and, as he does, he finds that many of them are really terrified of the letters. It’s a small town, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone sits in judgement. The hold that the letter writer has over the residents is much more psychological than it is anything else.

That’s also the case with A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. Todd Gilbert and Jodi Brett are a successful Chicago couple who’ve been together twenty years, although they’ve never legally married. He’s a developer; she’s a psychotherapist. Everything begins to fray at the edges for them when Todd has an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his business partner. This isn’t the first time that Todd has strayed, but this time, it’s different. Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant, and she decides she wants to marry and have a family. Todd tells her (and himself) that this is what he wants, too. His lawyer convinces him to serve Jodi with a formal eviction notice that will require her to leave their home. Jodi’s lawyer tells her that Illinois doesn’t have a provision for common-law marriages. This means that Joid has no legal claim on the house. With her options getting more and more limited, Jodi becomes more and more withdrawn. Then, Todd is killed in a drive-by shooting. On the surface, it looks as though he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak. But it turns out that someone hired the killers. And now, the police have to go through a number of suspects to find out who’s responsible.

Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry also has very little focus on violence, and much more on psychology. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to his native Victoria with their nine-week old son, Noah. The flight itself is a nightmare, but they finally land in Melbourne. During the long drive from the airport to their destination, they suffer every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of their son. There’s a massive search for baby Noah, and all sorts of public and private groups join in. At first, there’s quite a lot of sympathy for the couple. Then, a few questions start to be raised. Little by little, suspicion starts to fall on, especially, Joanna. As she and Alistair deal with the media, the police, and Alistair’s daughter, Chloe, we learn the truth about Noah.

And then there’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner. That novel takes place mostly at an exclusive Amsterdam restaurant – the kind where you have to call in months ahead of time to (hopefully) get a table. Two couples, Paul and Claire Lohman, and Paul’s brother Serge and his wife, Babette, meet at the restaurant for dinner. As the dinner proceeds, course by course, we slowly learn more about these two couples. We also learn of a terrible secret they are keeping. Paul and Claire’s fifteen-year-old son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s son, Rick, also fifteen, are guilty of an awful crime. In fact, that’s the reason the couples are dining together. They’re trying to work out what they’re going to do, now that the police are investigating. While we do learn what the crime is (and it’s violent), the real focus of the novel is the dysfunction in the families, and the psychology involved.

And, very often, that psychology has at least as much capacity for drawing the reader in as does violence – perhaps even more (Right, fans of Shirley Jackson’s work?). When it’s well-written, a psychological novel can be tense and suspenseful. Which ones have you liked best?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Beryl Bainbridge, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, Helen Fitzgerald, Herman Koch, James M. Cain, Nicolas Freeling, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson

Packed Together Like a Can of Sardines*

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock, Hercule Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who killed one of the residents of a hostel. As a part of the investigation, Sharpe interviews the various residents. This is what one of them has to say:
 

‘‘There’s a lot of spite about here, Inspector.’
The Inspector looked at him sharply.
‘Now what exactly do you mean by a lot of spite about?’
But Nigel immediately drew back into his shell and became noncommittal.
‘I didn’t mean anything really – just that when a lot of people are cooped up together, they get rather petty.”
 

And there’s something to that. In this case, the hostel’s residents aren’t trapped. But there is a certain lack of privacy. That, plus the fact that they’re disparate people, adds tension to the story, and creates an interesting atmosphere.

Of course, Christie isn’t the only crime writer to make use of that strategy to build suspense. Put a group of people together, even if they are free to leave, and you’re bound to have differences. Reduce their privacy, and there’s an even bigger likelihood of petty and not-so-petty differences that can have all sorts of consequences.

We see that sort of atmosphere in Ellis Peters’ Cadfael series. Those novels take place in 12th Century England, at Shrewsbury Abbey. The monks and others who live there are not prisoners; they are free to leave (although it is complicated). But they are in a situation where they have little personal privacy. They are also at close quarters with very different sorts of people. Monks come from a variety of backgrounds, and have, of course, many different sorts of personalities. Through it all moves Cadfael, who became a monk after a career as a soldier. He’s spent plenty of time in the larger world, and it’s impacted his perceptions. That means he doesn’t always agree with his more sheltered fellow monks. But they are all Benedictine monks, and all expected to work together. There’s an interesting layer of tension in some of the novels as these differences, even pettiness, come up.

Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes takes place mostly at Leys Physical Training College, a physical education college for women. The college principal, Henrietta Hodge, has invited Miss Lucy Pym to give a lecture on psychology to the students. Miss Pym has recently written a major bestseller on the topic, and she is much in demand. She agrees to give the lecture, but it’s not long before she wonders about her decision. The early-morning wakeups, the unpalatable (to her) food, and so on are all unpleasant. Still, she goes through with her agreement. Then, she gets drawn into a case of murder when one of the students is killed in what looks like a terrible accident – or was it? One of the sources of tension in the story is disparate set of personalities, all cooped up together. The students and faculty are not trapped at the school, but the lack of privacy, and the different sorts of personalities, make for some very tense moments.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel is the story of the small town of Zwinderen. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. People are in the habit of leaving their curtains open, and it’s thought odd at best, and suspicious at worst, to claim any sort of real privacy. A series of vicious anonymous letters wreaks havoc in the town, causing two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t gotten very far in finding out who is responsible for the letters, so Amsterdam detective Piet Van der Valk is seconded to Zwinderen. Part of the tension in this novel comes from the friction among some of the residents, and from the fact that people don’t really have very much private space.

Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter features the Toronto Titans professional baseball team. None of the players is trapped on the team (at least, not in the physical sense), but they are expected to work together. Games aren’t won unless everyone works as a team. But they are different people, with different backgrounds and perceptions. And that can lead to some tension, especially when the team is on an ‘away trip’ where they have even less privacy than usual. Sports writer Kate Henry has a special interest in baseball. She travels with the team, she knows the team members well, and she has a solid sense of who gets along well, and who doesn’t. That ‘inside knowledge’ becomes useful when two of the team members are murdered. Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro investigates the killings, and he finds Henry’s perspective to be helpful. For her part, she’s getting an exclusive set of stories. Each in a different way, the two find out what happened to the players, and who’s behind it all.

It’s not easy to be cooped up, as the saying goes, with little privacy. That’s especially true when there’s a disparate group of people. Tensions rise, and even if the people involved are not trapped, there can be all sorts of consequences, from petty spats to much, much worse. These are only a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s A Room of Our Own.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Ellis Peters, Josephine Tey, Nicolas Freeling

I Can’t Face Another Day*

Even in today’s world of better understanding of mental health, many people still don’t feel comfortable talking about suicide. It can be incredibly difficult to talk about the depression and sadness that lead people to take that step. But, of course, we need to.

And suicide doesn’t just affect those who take their own lives. Those left behind are devastated, and often feel a deep sense of guilt and, often, shame. Because mental health issues such as depression often contribute to suicide, it’s not something people have tended to discuss openly, but we should.

Suicide is there. And it causes a great deal of pain. The recent deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and of Anthony Bourdain have brought suicide into the public conversation, but it’s a tragic reality for many families. And we see that in crime fiction, too. In fact, it’s interesting to note how often characters don’t want a death to have been suicide. They don’t want to bear the guilt that comes with suicide. Or, they don’t want to believe a loved one was depressed/upset/etc. enough to commit suicide. Or…

There’s a mention of suicide in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. In that novel, Rachel Verinder receives a valuable diamond called the Moonstone for her eighteenth birthday. It may not be the generous gift it seems to be, though, because it is said to be cursed. And misfortune soon befalls the Verinder family. On the very night Rachel receives the diamond, it’s stolen from her room. Then, second housemaid Roseanna Spearman disappears and is found to have committed suicide. This devastates her family, and, of course, saddens the members of the household where she works. Sergeant Cuff investigates the theft of the diamond, and, over the course of the next two years, traces its whereabouts and finds out who stole it. And we see how the theft and suicide are related.

Agatha Christie mentions suicide in more than one of her stories. In And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Miss Emily Brent. She is one of ten people who are invited to a house on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. On the night she and the others arrive, each one is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. In the case of Miss Brent, it’s the death of Beatrice Taylor, a former housemaid who threw herself into a river. Miss Brent insists that Beatrice’s death was not her fault; in fact, she’s quite smug about it on the surface. That night, one of the other guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Then, there’s another death later that night. Now, it’s clear that the guests have been lured to the island, and that their lives are in danger. Miss Brent is not immune, as we learn when she is killed by what looks like a bee sting. And it’s interesting to see that, as we get to know her a bit, we see that she is more haunted by Beatrice’s death than she lets on.  Suicide also impacts The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Hollow, among others.

There’s an Ellery Queen novel in which a suicide towards the end of the novel rocks Queen to the core. Without going into details, Queen feels that he bears some of the responsibility for this suicide, and he finds that very difficult. Among other things, this shows a bit of Queen’s human side, if I may put it that way. And it shows a bit of the impact a suicide can have on those left behind.

We also see that impact in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. Davide Auseri happens to be in Milan one day, where he meets Alberta Radelli. On impulse, he invites her for a drive to Florence and a day there. She agrees, and the two find they enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the day, Alberta begs Davide to take her with him, and not back to Milan. He demurs, and she insists. Then, she threatens to commit suicide if he doesn’t take her. He refuses again. Not long afterwards, Alberta’s body is found in a field outside Milan, and it seems she’s carried out her threat. The thought that he is responsible for this suicide devastates Davide, leaving him inconsolable. He takes to heavy drinking, and even trips to rehabilitation facilities don’t help. Now, his father is deeply concerned about his son, and hires Dr. Duca Lamberti to help. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do, but he agrees. As he gets to know Davide, he finally learns the truth about the young man’s depression. Lamberti finally concludes that the only way to solve this is to find out what really happened to Alberta Radelli, so as to relieve Davide of his guilt. It turns out that Alberta was murdered, but the novel has a very vivid depiction of a someone consumed by grief and guilt because of a suicide.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double-Barrel begins as Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen. Someone has been sending vicious anonymous letters to various residents, and they’ve had terrible consequences. In fact, two of the recipients have committed suicide. The local police haven’t been able to find out who wrote the letters, but whoever it is bears some responsibility for those deaths. As Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, get to know the people in town, they learn that more than one person has secrets to hide…

In Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive elderly man named Holberg. At first, it looks like a robbery gone horribly wrong. But soon enough, the evidence suggests something different. So, Erlendur and the team look into the victim’s past. They learn that he’d been accused of rape more than once. The first to make that accusation was a woman named Kolbrún. When she went to the police, they didn’t take her seriously; in fact, they humiliated her. Her distress was so great that she committed suicide. Although this all happened years ago, Kolbrún’s sister, Elín, still grieves. She is also still bitter about the way the police handled the case, and blames the police, at least in part, for her sister’s suicide. Erlendur knows that Elín is suffering, but he also knows that she may be an important source of information. So, he takes the risk of talking to her about what happened. She is no friend of the police, but she ends up being helpful.

It doesn’t take a detective, or crime fiction, really, to know how awful suicide is, both for the person who takes that step, and for those who are left behind. It’s hard to remember at times, but we don’t have to go through life’s pain alone. For anyone who’s thinking about suicide, here are some people to talk to:

 

Australia – 1300 22 4636

Canada – 1-833-456-4566

India – 91-22-27546669

Ireland – 087 2 60 90 90

New Zealand – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Spain (Also serves some Latin American countries) – 717-003-717

UK –  08457 90 90 90

USA – 1-800-273-8255

 

If I didn’t list your country, that doesn’t mean there isn’t help. There is. Reach out.

 

We can all do our bit to help. If someone needs to talk, we can listen – without judgement. We can help find resources. We can take it seriously when someone is depressed and check in to be sure that person has support. We can’t make life’s sadness go away. But we can stand together to get through it.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Ellery Queen, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Nicolas Freeling, Wilkie Collins

I Am the Observer Who is Observing*

Some people tend to be life’s observers. They’re not necessarily nosey – in fact, many aren’t – but they’re more likely to stay in the background and watch what’s going on, so to speak, rather than get involved themselves. Observers often have a very interesting perspective, because they stand back and notice everything.

They can also be very useful to police and other professionals who investigate crime. Observers can give valuable information on what they’ve seen. And their perspectives can give the detective a sense of what a group of people is like So, it’s little wonder that we see them so often in crime fiction.

Many writers are observers. And that makes sense when you think about it. We see that in Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy. In that novel, a group of people is invited to a cocktail party at the home of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. During the party, one of the guests, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be nicotine poisoning. Hercule Poirot is at this party, and he works to find out who would want to kill an inoffensive clergyman. Then, there’s another murder, this time at the home of Dr. Bartholomew Strange. Several of the same people are at this second party, and there seems no doubt that the two murders are connected. One of the guests at both parties is playwright Muriel Wills, who writes under the name Anthony Astor. In person, she’s quiet, even awkward in her way. But she is a keen observer of the people around her, and she has a sharp wit. Poirot finds her a useful resource, and she turns out to be much more observant than she lets on at first.

In Nicolas Freeling’s Double-Barrel, Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk is sent to the small town of Zwinderen to help solve a baffling mystery. Someone’s been sending vicious anonymous letters to several of the residents, and those letters have wreaked havoc. Two residents have committed suicide, and one has had a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to find out who’s responsible, so Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, go to Zwinderen to try to find out the truth. As Van der Valk gets to know the various residents, he starts narrowing down the list of possible suspects. One of them is an enigmatic man named M. Besançon. Little is known about him, except that he is a Holocaust survivor who settled in Zwinderen after World War II. He’s considered a vaguely suspicious character to begin with, because he has a wall fence around his property, and very much keeps himself to himself, as the saying goes. This is quite unlike the typical resident of Zwinderen, who knows everything about everyone, and whose life is open to everyone else’s scrutiny. Van der Valk finds that M. Besançon is an interesting character, and very much an observer. He stays out of the town’s spotlight, but he certainly looks on and sees a lot.

Gil North’s Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm is the story of the death of Amy Wright, who lived in the village of Gunnarshaw with her husband, Alfred. At first, her death looks very much like a suicide, and that wouldn’t be out of the question. She’d had a very hard life, and it’s not impossible that she would take this way out. But Sergeant Caleb Cluff, who’s assigned to the case, isn’t so sure. He wants the truth, and he wants justice for the victim. And that means that he very much wants to talk to her husband. Cluff is convinced that, regardless of what things seem to be on the surface, Wright caused his wife’s death. The only problem is, Wright has disappeared into the moors. So, Cluff goes after his quarry, and finds out that this case has several layers. At one point, he’s looking for some background information on some of the residents of Gunnarshaw and other nearby places. So, he goes to the Black Bear, the village pub, where he has a conversation with the landlord, George, whom he knows. It turns out that George is an observer of what goes on in the area, and he’s able to give Cluff some helpful information.

In Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace, we are introduced to mystery novelist Polly Praed. She lives in the village of LIttlebourne, where she observes what goes on in town. She isn’t much of a ‘joiner,’ but that doesn’t mean she’s oblivious to the other people in town. Littlebourne gets more than its share of excitement when a dog discovers the remains of a human finger. Inspector Richard Jury is assigned to the case, and he travels to Littlebourne. Soon, the rest of the body is discovered. It turns out that it’s a woman named Cora Binns, who’d come to LIttlebourne for a job interview. Now, Polly and the rest of the residents of Littlebourne are involved in a real-life criminal investigation that ends up linking Cora Binns’ death with a vicious attack on another resident, and a robbery.

In Louise Penny’s Still Life, we meet Jane Neal. A beloved former school teacher, she’s a fixture in the small Québec town of Three Pines. Early one Thanksgiving morning, she’s killed in what looks like a terrible hunting accident. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team investigate the death, and it’s not long before they determine that this was no accident. As the team tries to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim, they learn that she was an observer. She noticed what went on in town, and she knew some of the town’s background. And that played a role in her murder.

You’ll notice that I didn’t really discuss sleuths who are observers – too easy. But even if you only look at other characters, it’s easy to see what an important role observers can play in a crime novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

Oh, the ‘photo? If you look closely (you can enlarge the ‘photo by clicking on it if you wish), you’ll see you are being observed…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Van Morrison’s Waiting Game.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gil North, Louise Penny, Martha Grimes, Nicolas Freeling