Category Archives: 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


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.


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

I Still Look in Your Window When I Pass Your House*

Did you ever have the uneasy feeling that you were being watched? I don’t mean stalking – that’s a different sort of thing. Rather, it’s the feeling of vulnerability that comes from feeling as though you’re under the proverbial microscope. It’s part of the reason that many people prefer to pull their window shades or blinds down after dark.

The feeling that someone’s looking can add a lot of suspense to a story. And, for an author, it offers lots of possibilities for a plot point. Is the person who’s watching a witness to a crime? Is the person being watched a victim? A killer? There are other plot points, too, that involve that creepy feeling of being watched.

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in more than one of her stories. In 4:50 From Paddington, for instance, Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way by train to visit her friend Miss Marple. At one point, another train, going in the same direction, passes Mrs. McGillicuddy’s train, and she happens to look into one of the windows of that other train. To her shock, she sees what very much looks like a man strangling a woman. But there is no body found on the other train, and no-one has reported a missing person who answers the woman’s description. So, the train authorities and the police are not inclined to believe Mrs. McGillicuddy. But Miss Marple does. She does her own sort of experiment and finds out where the body would likely be – on the grounds of Rutherford Hall, which is the property of the Crackenthorpe family. Then, she convinces a friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to get a position there. Lucy does some sleuthing, and she discovers the body more or less where Miss Marple predicted it would be. Now the police are called in, and Miss Marple works with them and Lucy to find out who the woman was, and why (and by whom) she was killed.

Beryl Bainbridge’s Harriet Said is the story of one fateful summer in the lives of two teenage girls. As the story begins, the unnamed narrator of the story is waiting for her friend, Harriet, to return from a trip to Wales. In the meantime, she happens to meet Peter Biggs, a middle-aged man who’s unhappy in his marriage, and generally dissatisfied with his life. The two find that they enjoy each other’s company, and the narrator feels the beginnings of the ‘hormone rush’ that signifies attraction. But she doesn’t dare do anything about it until Harriet comes back. When she does, Harriet insists that her friend not get too emotionally involved with Biggs. Instead, she wants this to be an objective observation, like other experiences the girls have had. So, the two plan to spend some time spying on Biggs, and then, says Harriet, they’ll find a way to ‘humble’ him. One day, they’re carrying out their plan, watching through one of the windows of Biggs’ house. They see something they’re not meant to see, and everything changes. Their plan also changes, and morphs into something much worse than it had been. Then, things spin out of control, and it all leads to real tragedy.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel takes place mostly in the small Dutch town of Zwinderen. Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk has been seconded there to help investigate a strange series of events. Several of Zwinderen’s residents have been getting vicious anonymous letters. The letters have had such a powerful impact that they’ve led to two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to find the person responsible, so Van der Valk has been asked to look into the matter. Zwinderen is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. People think nothing of looking into one another’s windows, and there’s plenty of gossip. In fact, one’s considered odd at best, and suspicious at worst, if one doesn’t leave the window shades up, so to speak. So, at first, it’s hard to find out who sent the letters. Van der Valk also finds that few people will talk to him about the letters they’ve gotten. There’s a sense in the town of always being under scrutiny, so no-one wants to seem to be doing anything that might start even more gossip. In the end, though Van der Valk gets to the truth.

Peter Robinson’s Gallows View introduces his protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks. In the novel, Banks has recently been transferred from London to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He and his family are working on the process of settling in, but there’s not a lot of time for that. The police are on the trail of a peeper who’s been making the lives of Eastvale women miserable. It’s very unsettling, and plenty of people are upset that the police aren’t doing more to catch this person. Then, there’s a series of home invasions and robberies. And a murder. Now, Banks and his team have to deal with multiple cases. They find that, in their way, the cases are connected, and once Banks finds that fragile link, he’s able to get to the truth.

William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series takes place mostly in Moscow, in the years just before World War II. Stalin is firmly in control of the USSR, and the dreaded NKVD has agents everywhere. To add to that, ordinary citizens are encouraged to denounce even friends and family members. So, everyone knows better than to trust others. And everyone knows that anyone might be watching, at any time. Against this backdrop of paranoia, Captain Korolev of the Moscow CID has to go about his job of finding the truth about murder cases. It’s often a delicate balance for him. On the one hand, he’s required to do his job. On the other, the trail sometimes leads to very high places. And anyone who dislikes him could easily denounce him, with all of the consequences that would have for him.

We also see that sort of ‘being watched’ in one plot thread of Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Gerda Klein, her husband, and their daughter, Ilse, live in Leipzig, in the former East Germany. It’s the early 1980’s, and the Cold War is still in full force. The Stasi have ‘eyes and ears’ everywhere, including in people’s private homes. Everyone knows that people look through windows, listen in on telephone conversations, and more. It’s an atmosphere of real uneasiness and lack of trust. And that’s part of the reason for which the Kleins decide to leave East Germany. It’s a major risk, but they make their escape and end up in the small town of Alexandria, on New Zealand’s South Island. There, they start a new life. Ilse becomes a secondary school teacher, which is how she gets involved in the life of one of her most promising students, Serena Freeman. When Serena stops showing interest in school, and then disappears entirely, Ilse gets concerned. Her involvement in Serena’s life draws her into more than she had imagined.

It really is an eerie feeling to wonder if you’re being watched. So, it’s little wonder that authors use this plot point. So do filmmakers, don’t they, fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chad Price’s All.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Nicolas Freeling, Paddy Richardson, Peter Robinson, William Ryan

No Smoke Without Fire*

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, ‘There’s no smoke without fire.’ That belief – that a story doesn’t generally start unless there’s a kernel of truth to it – is part of the reason so many people believe gossip. It’s also why, if someone is a ‘person of interest’ in a criminal investigation, it can be so hard to get rid of that stigma, even after someone else is shown to be guilty.

It may not be the most appealing quality we humans have, but that old saying can make for a very interesting layer of character development, tension, and even plot points in crime fiction. There are many examples in the genre, of course. Here are just a few; I know you’ll think of lots more.

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone begins at the Palace of Seringaptam in 1799. During the storming of the palace, Colonel John Herncastle takes a valuable yellow diamond called the Moonstone. The story has always been that anyone who steals the diamond is cursed, and so is anyone who comes into possession of it. And plenty of people believe that story, including Herncastle. When he dies, he bequeaths the diamond to his niece, Rachel Verinder, to be given to her on her eighteenth birthday. Herncastle and his sister (and Rachel’s mother), Lady Julia Verinder, were on very bad terms, and the gossip is that the stone was given to that family as a curse. And sure enough, bad things begin to happen to the Verinder family. First, the stone itself is stolen on the evening it’s given to Rachel. Then, one of the household maids disappears and later commits suicide. People’s willingness to believe the gossip about the curse is a helpful disguise for what’s really going on. In fact, it takes Sergeant Cuff two years to trace the diamond and solve the mystery. In the end, he’s successful, and it turns out this mystery has nothing to do with a curse.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a new client, Carla Lemarchant. She’s become engaged to John Rattery, and on the surface, it seems that she’s got everything. She’s wealthy, intelligent, attractive, and in love. But Carla doesn’t feel she and her fiancé can marry until the mystery of her father’s death is solved. Sixteen years earlier, famous painter Amyas Crale (Carla’s father) was poisoned. At the time, his wife Caroline was believed guilty, and there was evidence against her. In fact, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. A year later, she died in prison. Carla believes that her mother was innocent and wants her named cleared. But it’s not just because she thinks someone else is the murder. It’s also because she doesn’t want the gossip about her mother’s guilt to get in the way of her marriage. Poirot agrees to look into the case and interviews the five people who were ‘on the scene’ at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each one. And, in the end, he finds out who the killer is, and what the motive was. You’re absolutely right, fans of Crooked House.

Very often, the power of anonymous letters is partly that people think there must be some truth to them. That’s what we see, for instance, in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. Amsterdam police detective Piet Van Der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen to help with a strange case. Several people in town have been getting anonymous letters insinuating all sorts of things. It’s the sort of town where everyone knows everyone, so the letters have a real impact. In fact, they’ve led to two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t made much headway. After all, if you admit you’ve had a letter, then you may be admitting that what’s in the letter is true. So, it’s hoped that Van Der Valk will be able to get some answers. He and his wife, Arlette, travel to Zwinderen, where the get to know the locals. And in the end, he finds out who’s been sending the letters and why.

In Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph, Robin Sage, Vicar of Winslough, has dinner one evening with Juliet Spence and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Maggie.  Shortly afterwards, he dies of what turns out to have been water hemlock poisoning. At first, Sage’s death is put down to a tragic accident. But Juliet is an herbalist, and it doesn’t make sense that she would have mistakenly served water hemlock to her guest. Simon St. James is staying in the area with his wife, Deborah. When he learns what happened, he begins to have some suspicions, so he asks his friend, Inspector Thomas Lynley, to look into the case. Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers learn that there are several people in Winslough who might have wanted to kill Sage. That’s not enough, though, for those who believe Juliet Spence is guilty. That ‘no smoke without fire’ attitude makes life extremely difficult for both her and Maggie.

And then there’s Jonothan Cullinane’s Red Herring. It’s 1951 in Auckland, and the dock workers – the wharfies – are preparing to go on strike. It’s in the government’s interest to prevent that strike, and some people are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop the wharfies. For their part, the wharfies are not about to back off from their demands, so the situation is ugly. Against this backdrop, PI Johnny Molloy is hired to find Francis ‘Frank’ O’Phelan, AKA Frank O’Flynn, who is believed to have committed insurance fraud. It’s soon clear that some dangerous people do not want him to find O’Flynn; they even give Molloy a very unpleasant ‘suggestion’ to drop the case. He and reporter Caitlin O’Carolan persist, though, and they get to the truth. One of the threads that runs through this novel is the anti-communist hysteria of the times. In fact, that’s used against Molloy and O’Carolan to try to stop them from finding out the truth. At that time, if there was even a hint that someone might be a leftist, that was enough to sabotage a career or worse.

And that’s the thing about that belief that there’s no smoke without fire. In real life, it can sometimes have serious consequences. In fiction, though, it can add layers of interest to a novel.


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Jonothan Cullinane, Nicolas Freeling, Wilkie Collins

Unknown Enemy*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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