Category Archives: P.D. James

You Didn’t Even Notice Me*

We interact, probably on a daily basis, with a number of people we don’t really even notice. Unless there’s something very distinctive about that person, do you really pay attention to your bus driver, your taxi driver, or the person who pours your coffee at the restaurant? You might if you happen to be a ‘regular,’ so that that person is familiar. But otherwise, my guess is that you usually don’t. And that makes sense if you think about it. There’s only so much stimuli that we can pay attention to at any given time.

There are several ways crime writers make use of characters like that. They may hear something that they’re not meant to overhear, just because no-one noticed them. Or, they may provide helpful evidence, since the perpetrator doesn’t think about their presence. And, since they’re so much ‘in the background, they can even be killers…

In one of G.K. Chesterton’s short stories, for instance, that’s exactly what happens. I won’t give spoilers by naming the story. But the very fact of one character’s not being noticed allows that character to quite literally get away with murder.

In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, famous American actress Jane Wilkinson is suspected when her husband, Lord Edgware, is stabbed one night in his study. There’s evidence against her, too, as she wanted to marry someone else. In fact, she even threatened to commit murder. But Jane says that she was at a dinner party in another part of London on the night of the murder. And there are twelve people who are prepared to swear that she was there. Hercule Poirot had an appointment with the victim on the day he was murdered, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find the killer. And they find that more than one person had a motiv. One of those people is Ronald Marsh, the victim’s nephew. Marsh was desperate for money and had quarreled with his uncle about it. But he claims he was at the opera at the time of the murder. The only problem is, there’s a taxi driver – the sort you don’t pay attention to until it comes up later – who remembers taking Marsh to his uncle’s home during the performance. That fact makes Marsh very much a ‘person of interest.’

In P.D. James’ Death of an Expert Witness, Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Inspector John Massingham investigate when Dr. Edwin Lorrimer is murdered. The victim was a senior doctor at Hoggett’s Laboratory in East Anglia, so Dalgliesh and Massingham concentrate their efforts on the lab’s staff, and others who may have had a reason to be on the premises at the time. The murder wasn’t committed during office hours, so of great interest is information on who might have come in or out once the laboratory’s doors were locked. Oddly enough, a piece of information comes from a group of people who were riding a public bus at the time. The bus was rounding a curve that put the lab in view of anyone looking out the window in the right direction, and the bus driver and several passengers mention having seen a woman in that area. Dalgliesh and Massingham finally track that person down; and, although that doesn’t solve the crime, the woman is still able to give them some information.

In Max Kinning’s Baptism, we meet London train driver George Wakeham. He’s getting ready to leave for work as usual one morning when a group of three people burst into his home and abduct his wife and two children. They then give Wakeham a mobile ‘phone and tell him he must follow all of their telephoned instructions if he wants his family to stay alive. Wakeham has no choice but to obey, so he goes to work and gets into the cab of his train as he always does. Before long, the train heads into a tunnel, and Wakeham is told to stop. What he doesn’t know at first is that the abductors have brought his family aboard the train, and that they’re there, too. With the train halted, and more than 400 people taken hostage, it’s a dire situation for Wakeham and everyone else on the train. DCI Ed Mallory is called in to negotiate with the hostage-takers and find out what they want. And when he finds out, he and Wakeham learn that these hostage takers want much more than money.

And then there’s Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man. This novel follows Captain Sam Wyndham, as he arrives from England to take up his duties with the police in Kolkata/Calcutta. He’s no sooner started working when he’s faced with a delicate case. Alexander MacAuley, head of Indian Civil Service (ICS) for Bengal has been murdered, and his body discovered in an alley behind a brothel. For many reasons, Wyndham and his team, Sub-inspector John Digby and Sergeant Surendranath Benarjee, will have to move carefully as they investigate. As it turns out, the case has connections to some very high and very powerful places, and this will mean a great deal of danger for Wyndham. But he makes an unlikely friend in a rickshaw driver named Salman. Ordinarily, as a white person in Bengal at the time (the novel takes place in 1919), Wyndham wouldn’t be expected to pay any attention at all to the driver. But he does. And he learns a little about the man. Without spoiling the story, I can say that Salman proves to be a useful ally.

But it’s not often that we pay very much attention to those people who drive buses or trains, deliver parcels, or pour the coffee. They often fade into the background. Still, they can be very interesting, and in crime fiction, they can also be very useful…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trust Company’s Letting Go.

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Filed under Abir Mukherjee, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Max Kinnings, P.D. James

What Took You So Long?*

If you watch enough crime-fictional television and films, you might get the impression that crimes can be solved, and investigations finished, in a very short time. And, of course, there are some cases where that happens. Much of the time, though, investigations take more time – sometimes a great deal more time – in real life than they do on television and in films.

So, what takes the police so long to solve a murder? Most police detectives are dedicated to their work, and they want crimes solved. So, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not because the police either don’t care or are incompetent. And detectives know that the first 24-48 hours after a crime like murder is reported are critical, so there’s a lot of pressure to get answers quickly. There are any number of reasons that pressure doesn’t always yield an answer, and crime fiction covers many of them. Space only permits a few here, but you’ll get the idea.

Sometimes, there are questions the police don’t think to ask, and directions they don’t think to take. For instance, in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, re-investigate the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time, the theory was that she had gone overboard in a tragic ferry accident. There was no reason to believe otherwise, and no evidence from the ferry that anything else happened. So, the police didn’t carefully follow up. But now, there are little pieces of evidence to suggest that she may still be alive. If that’s the case, then there may not be much time left to find her. In one scene in the novel, Mørck gets very angry at the detective who first investigated, and it’s understandable why he does. But at the same time, the police have limited resources. They can’t look into every single possibility and use all personnel to do so. That scene reflects the delicate balance between following up on leads with due diligence, and acknowledging the reality of limited time and staff.

There’s a similar sort of dilemma in Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine. When financial advisor Dennis Brinkley is killed in his home, it looks very much like a tragic accident. The victim’s body was found by one of the medieval war machines he collected, and it seems that the machine malfunctioned. But Brinkley’s friend, Benny Frayle, doesn’t think so. She goes to visit Inspector Tom Barnaby to ask him to look into the matter again. He duly goes through the reports from the investigating officers, and does a bit of follow-up, but everything shows that they were careful and painstaking, and did their jobs effectively. So, he sees no reason to invest resources to go over the case again. Then, there’s another death. This time, the victim is a self-styled medium who actually described things about the murder scene that she couldn’t have known beforehand. Now, Barnaby sees that there’s more to Brinkman’s death than it seems, and he does re-open that case. It turns out that these two murders are just as closely linked as they seem.

When the police investigate a murder, they often have to rely on experts such as medical examiners and forensics teams. Those people (unlike what’s on the television), almost always have plenty of cases on their hands. So, there is sometimes a delay in getting results. Fans of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, for instance, know that Brunetti relies on the expertise of medical examiner Dr. Ettore Rizzardi. And his trust is not misplaced. But Rizzardi’s a busy person. He doesn’t just deal with Brunetti’s cases. There are plenty of deaths that aren’t necessarily murders, but that Rizzardi needs to look into as part of his work. And it’s interesting to see how the two men have to find a balance between Bunetti’s desire for quick answers, and the realities of Rizzardi’s work.

There’s also the fact that smaller and less affluent police departments may not have access to a state-of-the-art forensics laboratory. That means samples need to be sent out, tested, and so on. And that process can take weeks or more. There’s an interesting look at how that can work in P.D. James’ Death of an Expert Witness. That novel’s focus is Hoggett’s Laboratory, in East Anglia. The lab provides forensics and other specialty testing in cases of un-natural death. So, when there is a murder, both the police and defending counsel rely on the lab. It’s a busy, high-stress work environment. For one thing, there are a lot of cases, and results are expected quickly. For another, evidence has to be handled in very specific ways. Tests can take days or longer, depending on how busy the lab is and what the tests are. Commander Adam Dalgleish and Detective Inspector (DI) John Massingham explore the inner workings of the lab when Dr. Edwin Lorrimer, one of the senior staff, is murdered. Admittedly, this novel was first published in 1977. Testing, technology, and much more have changed dramatically since then. But there’s still forensic testing, it still takes time, and it’s still conducted at busy labs that can’t devote themselves to one case at a time.

There are also plenty of cases where there’s not much evidence. So, it’s hard to find clear clues that point to the killer. That’s what happens in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. A series of murders keeps Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp, and several local police departments busy for an entire summer. They don’t catch the killer after the first murder, or the second, or the third. And it’s not because there’s not a team trying to solve the case. But, the killer is very careful. There aren’t fingerprints, and the only clue left at each scene is an ABC railway guide – the kind you can buy in hundreds of places. So, there’s no way to trace them. The other clue – cryptic warnings sent to Poirot – isn’t helpful at first, either. The paper isn’t remarkable, there aren’t unique stamps, and the writer typed the notes, so there’s no handwriting clue. It’s a difficult case, and even though Poirot solves it, it’s not hard to see why it takes so long.

And that’s the thing. Police cases can take a lot longer than people want them to take. The police don’t generally like that any more than other people do. Admittedly, it’s not easy to acknowledge those very realistic delays in a crime novel, and still keep it interesting. But it’s a fact of police life.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Phil Collins’ I Missed Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Donna Leon, Jussi Adler-Olsen, P.D. James

By Making Donations Just Large Enough to the Correct Charities*

Most of us would like the world to be a better place. We’d like to help the unemployed get jobs, provide support for people with mental health problems, help those who’ve lost homes in floods and other natural disasters, and so on. There’s certainly enough need out there that we can always find plenty of good causes to support.

But, for a lot of people, supporting a cause in the abstract, or at a distance, is one thing. Actually getting close to the cause is different. This is a sort of example of what is sometimes called the ‘Not in My Back Yard’ phenomenon. You might support, for instance, a trash-to-steam plant as a sustainable way to generate power. But would you vote for one close to your home? Many people support the idea of community living options for those with mental health problems. But they might not like the idea of a halfway house on their block.

This tendency can make it very difficult to get things done, but it is a part of life. It’s a part of crime fiction, too. And it can make for some interesting tension and character development.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, for instance, we are introduced to the Abernethie family. The various members have gathered for the funeral of family patriarch Richard Abernethie. During that gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that he was murdered. At first, no-one takes the remark seriously. But privately, the family members wonder. After all, Abernethie’s death was sudden. And, when Cora herself is murdered the next day, everyone begins to believe that she was right. The family attorney, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot’s help in finding out the truth, and Poirot agrees. He wants to ‘vet’ the family, so Entwhistle proposes a weekend get-together for the family members to choose what they want from the family home before it’s sold. Poirot goes in the guise of a representative of an agency that wants to turn the home into a place for war refugees. In the abstract, of course, the family likes the idea of refugees being resettled. But Abernethie’s niece, Rosamund Shane, says,
 

‘‘Oh! Refugees all over again. I’m so tired of refugees.’’
 

And several of the other members of the family privately agree with her.

In Rex Stout’s Champagne For One, we meet socialite/philanthropist Louise Robilotti. She is the benefactor of Grantham House, a home for unwed mothers and their babies. Once a year, she sponsors a dinner dance, to which a few of the Grantham House residents are invited. Also invited are some eligible bachelors. The idea is that the young ladies will learn to be comfortable among ‘the right people,’ and might even find husbands. Archie Goodwin takes a friend’s place at this year’s event, so he’s there when Faith Usher, one of the Grantham House guests, suddenly dies of what appears to be suicide (which she had threatened). But Goodwin suspects it wasn’t suicide, and his boss, Nero Wolfe, supports him as he starts asking questions. As we get to know Mrs. Robilotti, we see that there’s a definite difference for her between funding ‘help for wayward girls,’ and actually working with the women as individuals, to find them jobs, housing, and the like. It’s doubtful she’d invite them to live in her home…

In P.D.James’ A Taste For Death, Commander Adam Dalgliesh has been tapped to lead a special investigation squad that is dedicated to cases that might attract a great deal of media and public attention. He, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Massingham, and Detective Inspector (DI) Kate Miskin, are called into action when Crown Minister Paul Berowne is found murdered in a local church. Of course, the police focus their attention on Berowne’s family, including his mother, Lady Ursula. And they learn that Lady Ursula is very much a traditional sort of aristocrat. In the abstract, she and her family support certain causes (especially given Berowne is a public official). But she doesn’t like the fact that her son took in a young woman named Evelyn Matlock when her father was convicted of a crime and imprisoned. She and the rest of the family treat Evelyn very much like a servant, and not ‘one of us,’ and they make it clear that she is ‘not as good.’

There’s a very clear example of this phenomenon in Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. The setting for a lot of the story is an ultra-exclusive residential community called Cascade Heights Country Club, located about 30 miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before being allowed to do so. On the one hand, it’s considered ‘correct’ to support the cause of helping those less fortunate. In one scene of the novel, for instance, the residents of Cascade Heights contribute to a charity rummage sale, and duly donate the proceeds. At the same time, every measure is taken to ensure that the residents are protected from ‘the rest of us,’ especially those who really are in need. The property is protected by a wall, and there’s a strict procedure for entering the community. There are other ways, too, in which the community keeps ‘those types of people’ out. And it’s successful until the financial woes of the late 1990s (when the novel takes place) find their way into Cascade Heights. And the end result is tragedy.

And then there’s Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday. In it, Judge Harish Shinde brings his law clerk, Anant, along for a two-week holiday in Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. There, they’ll be staying with Shikhar Pant, and old friend of the judge’s. Pant has other guests, too, including his cousin, Kailish Pant, and Ronit and Kamini Mittal, who run an NGO. There are also Pravin Anand and Anand’s son Avinash, as well as Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Right from the beginning of the gathering, there’s a little tension. The Mittal’s NGO has recently produced a report on AIDS in the state’s rural area, and there are people who are not happy about it. The Mittals want to educate people about HIV and AIDS; and, in theory, most people don’t want people to suffer from either. They might even donate to a hospital that treats HIV/AIDS patients. But there’s a line that’s crossed when it comes to bringing information into their area. Some find the information pornographic (in fact, the Mittals get into trouble on just that score). Others are offended at the implication that there is AIDS in their area. It makes for some unpleasant moments among the guests. Then, one afternoon, Kailish Pant is found stabbed to death. Inspector Patel investigates officially. And he benefits greatly from the sleuthing that the judge and Anant do.

For many people, there’s a difference between supporting something in the abstract, and dealing with it ‘close up.’ We see that in real life, and it’s in crime fiction, too. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s The Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines (You’d Like to Hear).

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, P.D. James, Rex Stout

Just the Few of Us*

There are only so many ‘regular’ characters an author can weave into a series without confusing readers. That’s why, even in crime fiction series that are set in large cities, there’s a relatively small group of ‘focus characters.’ That’s just as true of police procedurals as it is of other sorts of series.

It’s easy enough when a series takes place in a small town. Such places may only have one police station with a relatively small number of people who work there. It’s a bit trickier for series that take places in larger cities. Readers couldn’t, for instance, keep track of every fictional police officer in Sydney, Toronto, London, Los Angeles or Moscow. So, how do authors face this challenge?

Some focus on one geographic area. For example, Ed McBain’s long-running police procedural series mostly features the police who serve in the 87th Precinct of Isola, a thinly-disguised New York City. That precinct has a limited number of officers, and serves a limited geographic area. Fans of the series know that there are occasional forays into other parts of the city. But, because the 87th is a finite group, it’s easier to keep track of Steve Carella and the rest of his team. The reader isn’t faced with the challenge of trying to remember the thousands of fictional police officers who might actually serve in such a large city.

Henry Chang’s Jack Yu series also has a geographic focus: New York City’s Chinatown. Yu was born and raised in that part of the city, and in Chinatown Beat, he’s stationed there. The series does see him temporarily assigned to other places, but he basically stays in Chinatown. This allows readers to get to know the area, as well as the various characters with whom Yu usually interacts. Fans of Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Jean-Baptsite Adamsberg will know that that series, too, focuses on one small geographic part of Paris.

That’s certainly not the only way to address the challenge, though. Some authors focus on just one department (such as Robbery, Homicide, etc.). That’s what Michael Connelly does with his Harry Bosch novels. Fans of this series will know that Bosch has been a member of several L.A.P.D. departments. He’s been a part of Robbery/Homicide, Open/Unsolved, and Homicide Special, among others. This choice has given Connelly (and his readers) some real advantages. One is that, as Bosch works with one team (say, Open/Unsolved), readers get to know that team, and don’t have to try to remember the many other members of other teams. As the series has gone on, and Bosch has been with other departments, it’s kept the series from being restricted to only one small group. This has allowed for different sorts of plots and characters.

Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss also works with a departmental team. She is a member of the Göteborg/Gothenberg Police‘s Violent Crimes Unit. It’s a relatively small unit, with a focus just on murder and other violent crimes. This choice has allowed Tursten to develop her characters over time, as different members of the department evolve. It’s also allowed (as happens naturally) for members to leave and join.

The same thing’s true of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad. That team, has a small number of members. So, we get to know them. And different members of the squad ‘star’ in the different novels of the series. So, as members leave, join, and so on, we get to see how the team operates in the real world of a large city like Dublin.

Sometimes, police teams are gathered for a specific purpose. For example, at one point, P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh heads up a squad set up specifically for investigations that are likely to attract a lot of media attention. That’s the case in A Taste For Death, when Crown Minister Paul Berowne is murdered. He’s well known and ‘well-born,’ so of course the media take note when he’s killed. The squad, which consists of Dalgliesh, DCI John Massingham, and DI Kate Miskin is assigned to the case. They slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together, and find that this is as much about the victim’s private life as it is about his public life.

There’s also Jussi Adler-Olsen’s ‘Department Q.’ Part of the Copenhagen police force, Department Q is tasked with cases ‘of special interest.’ It was set up in part to appease the government’s (and the public’s) demand that the police show they’re looking into all cases, even those that have ‘gone cold.’ This group is headed by Carl Mørck, a homicide detective who has a reputation of being difficult. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that that’s the reason he was given the department in the first place – to keep him off others’ teams. Mørck is crusty and sometimes truculent. And the department has few resources and only a very few members. But the team gets the job done.

And then there’s Christopher Fowler’s London-based Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). That group, led by Arthur Bryant and John May, is tasked with solving strange crimes that the regular police homicide units haven’t been able to solve. It’s a very small group, but that makes it easier for readers to follow the team and get to know the members well.

These small units, whether they’re based on geography, on department, or on special assignment, allow the author to develop characters. And they make it much easier for readers to follow along and keep track of those characters. I’ve only mentioned a few; which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s It Takes Two.

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Filed under Christopher Fowler, Ed McBain, Fred Vargas, Helene Tursten, Henry Chang, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, P.D. James, Tana French

Make Me Beautiful*

Cosmetic surgery has advanced a great deal over the years, as has its relative, reconstructive surgery. There are new techniques and materials, and new options. It’s no longer the exclusive property of the very rich and Hollywood stars, either.

I got to thinking about the whole topic when I read an interesting post by Moira at Clothes in Books. By the way, if you’re not already following that excellent blog, I recommend it highly. It’s a treasure trove of fine book reviews and discussions of clothes and culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

Moira was discussing Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footmen, but that’s not the only example of a crime novel where cosmetic surgery plays a role. It’s not hard to see why, either. There are all sorts of possibilities for the author. And, whatever you feel about cosmetic surgery, it’s increasingly popular.

In P.D. James’ The Private Patient, we are introduced to journalist Rhoda Gradwyn. She checks into Cheverell Manor, an exclusive private clinic for patients undergoing cosmetic surgery. Her plan is to have a facial scar removed, but that’s not what happens. During her stay at the clinic, Gradwyn is strangled. Met Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate, and there are several possibilities. Certainly, the victim’s surgeon had opportunities to kill her. But, so did several nurses, attendants, and even visitors, among others. Dalgliesh and his team have to go back into Gradwyn’s past to see who would want to murder her.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Hussy, Lochdubh PC Hamish Macbeth investigates the murder of Maggie Baird. Although she hasn’t been a commercial sex worker, she’s certainly traded sex for expensive things, posh places to live, and so on. Now, although she’s still attractive, she’s middle-aged, and, at least in her view, has lost her looks. So, she goes away for several months and undergoes cosmetic surgery. When she returns, with her looks restored, she invites four former lovers to visit, and announces that she’s going to get married. Instead, she dies, ostensibly of a heart attack suffered during a car fire. Macbeth soon learns that there are several people who could have wanted the victim dead. For one thing, her four suiters have all come down in the world, as the saying goes. Any one of them could have killed her for her money. Then there’s her niece, who’s just been cut out of her will. There are other possibilities, too. The story certainly shows the wisdom of the saying, ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

One plot thread of Donna Leon’s About Face concerns a businessman, Maurizio Cataldo. Conte Orazio Falier is considering doing business with Cataldo, but he wants to be sure of the man before he actually signs anything. So, he asks his son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to ‘vet’ Cataldo, and see if there’s anything Falier should know. Brunetti agrees to do so. In the process of getting to know Cataldo’s life better, Brunetti also gets to know his wife, Franca Marinello. One of the things we learn about her is that she’s had cosmetic surgery. That surgery isn’t the reason for Falier’s caution. But it plays a role in the novel, and in some of the tragic events that happen.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight features former police officer Mick Stranahan (yes, fans, he later appears in Skinny Dip).  He learns that an unknown man has been asking where lives. He isn’t sure who the man might be, but it doesn’t take long for them to meet up. In fact, the man breaks into Stranahan’s home. In the course of defending himself, Stranahan kills the home invader, goring him with the stuffed head of a marlin (it is Hiassen…). Then he dumps the body, which is later discovered by a couple of tourists. In the meantime, Stranahan decides to find out who’s trying to kill him. His attacker had no ID and there was no way to connect him with any particular one of Stranahan’s enemies, so it won’t be an easy task. It’s made even harder by the fact that Stranahan’s got plenty of enemies. There’s the sleazy injury lawyer, the annoying TV journalist, the hit man, and an inept plastic surgeon named Rudy Graveline. They’re all good candidates, and Stranahan will have to work through all of them to find out who the killer is.

Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow is the first of her novels to feature Melbourne PI Simone Kirsch. She’s got a background as a stripper, and has now gotten her PI license. When the body of Francesco ‘Frank’ Parisi is discovered in a local bay, Simone’s best friend, Chloe, becomes a suspect. Parisi was the owner of a table-dancing strip club called the Red Room, where Chloe works. She was among several people who had a very good reason to kill the victim, and she’s worried about what to do. Matters get worse when Parisi’s underworld brother, Sal, gets involved. He wants Simone to find out who killed his brother, and he takes Chloe as ‘insurance.’ Since the only way to free Chloe is to find the killer, Simone gets started right away. She goes undercover as a new table dancer at the Red Room, and begins to get to know the people in the dead man’s life. And it’s not long before she discovers that some very dangerous people had very good murder motives. While cosmetic surgery isn’t the reason for the murder in this case, it does have a part in the story. And on a side note, it’s interesting to see how the table dancers use wigs, makeup, and costuming to play their roles.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Mercy, which features her sleuth, Stella Hardesty. By day, she owns Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales. But she has a ‘side business,’ too. She pays ‘friendly visits’ to those who’ve committed domestic abuse, and she has very effective ways of reminding them of how to behave, let’s just say. In this novel, Hardesty learns that her step-nephew, Chip, is in serious trouble because of gambling debts. In fact, his life’s been threatened. So, she drives from her home in small-town Missouri to Wisconsin to visit him. When she gets there, she finds Chip and his girlfriend, Natalya, trying to get rid of a dead man’s body. The man turns out to be Natalya’s abusive husband, and it looks very much as though Chip might be responsible. He and Natalya claim that they’re innocent, though, and found the body on their porch. So, if they aren’t the killers, Hardesty is going to have to find out who is. One very good possibility is a medical student named Doug, who has a sideline performing illegal (and not particularly professional) Botox injections. As it turns out, he had dealings with the victim, and a good reason to want him dead. But he’s not the only likely candidate.

Whatever your opinion of cosmetic surgery, there’s no doubt it’s popular. And it really does have a place in crime fiction, Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Engine Room’s A Perfect Lie.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Leigh Redhead, M.C. Beaton, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Sophie Littlefield