Category Archives: P.D. Martin

It’s a Dirty Story of a Dirty Man*

Stories within StoriesOne interesting plot strategy that authors sometimes use is to fold one story within another. The ‘story within a story’ plot thread needs to be handled very carefully; otherwise the result can be confusing, plodding or meandering. But when it’s handled well, a story within a story can richness to a novel. It can also add suspense and tension.

The main plot of Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, concerns detective novelist Ariadne Oliver’s trip to Nasse House in Nassecomb. She’s there on commission to create a Murder Hunt as an attraction for an upcoming fête. She soon suspects, though, that more is going on than preparations for the event. So she asks Hercule Poirot to join her and investigate; this he agrees to do. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s been playing the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Mrs. Oliver and Inspector Bland to find out who would have wanted to kill her. Wrapped within this story is the plot of Mrs. Oliver’s Murder Hunt. We learn the plot through the synopsis and character profiles she provides, and that folded-in story plays its role in the larger plot.

In Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead, Inspector Morse has developed a bleeding ulcer (not particularly surprising given his lifestyle and – er – diet). During his hospital recovery, he is given a copy of Murder on the Oxford Canal, which tells the story of the 1859 murder of Joanna Franks on a canal boat. At the time, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime, and duly executed. But as he reads the book, Morse becomes convinced that they were innocent. As soon as possible, he sets out to discover who the real killer was. So at the same time as we follow the main plot of Morse’s recovery and search for the truth in this case, we also follow Joanna Franks’ story. Fans of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time will know that that novels is structured in a similar way. Inspector Alan Grant is recovering from a broken leg when he becomes interested in the history of Richard III and the story of the Princes in the Tower.

James Yaffe’s Mom Doth Murder Sleep is the story of what happens when the Mesa Grande, Colorado amateur theatrical troupe puts on a production of The Scottish Play. The cast includes Roger Meyers, who also works for the local Public Defender’s office. On opening night, Martin Osborn, who has the lead role, is murdered. His leading lady Sally Michaels is arrested for the crime; she had motive, too, as he’d recently ended a relationship with her. But there are other suspects, too, and Meyer’s boss Dave works with him to find out who was really guilty. Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is This? also folds in the plot of the The Scottish Play with the main plot of the murder of the lead actor.

Sometimes, a ‘story within a story’ plot line can be very effective at building tension. Fans of Stephen King’s Misery, for instance, will know that this story’s main plot concerns novelist Paul Sheldon, and what happens to him when he is rescued after a car accident that happens during a bad snowstorm. His savior, Annie Wilkes, is a fanatic devotee of his work. And that’s the problem. She gets deeply involved with the plot of his latest novel, which is still in manuscript form. And when certain plot events don’t go the way she wants them to, she takes her own kind of action about it. In this novel, the story told in the manuscript plays a role in the larger plot. Admittedly, this isn’t, strictly speaking, a crime fiction novel; it’s more psychological horror. But it really was too good an example not to include…

P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail also shows what can happen when the plot of a novel is folded into a larger plot. FBI profiler Sophie Anderson meets best-selling crime novelist Loretta Black when Black pays a visit to Anderson’s department as a part of researching a new novel. Not very long afterwards, Anderson transfers to the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. She’s settling in there when she learns that Black has been murdered in an eerie re-enactment of the murder in her latest novel. That case is under investigation when there’s another murder, again of a novelist who is killed in the same way as the fictional character is killed. Then another novelist disappears. Now Anderson works with the local FBI team and the LAPD to find out who has targeted crime writers.

More recently, Renée Knight’s Disclaimer tells the story of what happens when documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft decides to read a new book called The Perfect Stranger. She soon discovers that the book is about her, and tells a terrifying secret that she’s kept for twenty years. But how did anyone know that secret? And why would anyone want to ruin her life? Now she’ll have to go back to the past to find out who is threatening her now.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples here; I know you can think of a lot more. Folding one story into another is an interesting way to add depth and keep readers engaged. When it works well it can also add a great deal of suspense. Which stories like this have you enjoyed? If you’re a writer, have you used this plot point?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Paperback Writer. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, James Yaffe, Josephine Tey, P.D. Martin, Renée Knight, Simon Brett, Stephen King

Scotland Yard Was Trying Hard*

National Police ForcesMany countries have a national police force or other law-enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the entire country. There are also sometimes local, province/state/department-level, or regional police as well.

National police forces and agencies are often the subject of crime fiction novels, for obvious reasons. And it’s fascinating (at least to me) to look at how they’re treated. Of course, a lot of that depends on the protagonist of a given novel or series, and it’s interesting to look at the different lenses through which those agencies are viewed.

The Met (formerly Scotland Yard), for instance, gets some very different treatments depending on the perspective of a given book or series. You’ll probably already know that the Met is not a national police force per se. But the agency does include expert special branches and services that other regional police forces tap. And in series such as Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan novels, Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers novels, or James Craig’s John Carlyle novels, Met police are treated sympathetically. In all of those cases, we have a protagonist who’s a member of that police force, so that makes sense. It’s not that there are no unpleasant Met characters in those novels. But the agency itself is viewed as competent and, overall, a positive force. Not so, though, if one reads, for instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Fans of those novels will know that Holmes has little patience with Scotland Yard. There are other novels too where there’s friction between Met branches and regional police.

We see a similar sort of disparity when it comes to the way the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police force, is treated. In L.R. Wright’s The Suspect for instance, we meet RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg, who investigates the murder of eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. It’s a very puzzling case; soon enough, Alberg begins to suspect eighty-year-old George Wilcox, but he can’t find a motive. Readers know from the beginning of the novel that Wilcox is, indeed, guilty. The suspense in the story really comes from the slow reveal of the motive and from Alberg’s dogged pursuit of the truth about the case. In this novel, the RCMP is not portrayed as perfect in the least. But it’s presented as an overall solid agency with competent law enforcers. Scott Young’s novels featuring Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak are also more sympathetic than unsympathetic towards Matteesie’s employer, the RCMP. But we get a very different picture through reading the work of Inger Ash Wolfe/Michael Redhill, Giles Blunt or Robert Rotenberg. Those series feature police protagonists who are in local or provincial police forces, and their perceptions of RCMP involvement are not exactly positive. At best, RCMP involvement is irritating. At worst, RCMP ‘players’ are slow, incompetent and counterproductive.

There’s an interesting ‘inside’ look at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Kel Robertson’s novels featuring Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen. As a member of the AFP, Chen participates in investigations that have federal (and sometimes international) implications. He works with competent and dependable team members, too. They aren’t always perfect, and they like a night off work as much as the next person. But they do their jobs well and they are committed to their work. What’s more, they form an important support network for Chen. They’re as much his mates as they are his colleagues.

There’s a less positive portrayal of the AFP in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, which introduces her Bangkok-based PI sleuth Jayne Keeney. In this novel, Keeney travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend, Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. When his partner Nou is murdered, Didi is devastated. The police visit him, supposedly because he was considered a suspect. During their visit he’s shot, and the police report is that he was in fact guilty, and tried to resist arrest. The report alleges that he represented an immediate threat to the arresting officers. But Keeney is sure that her friend was innocent, and works to clear his name. In the process of looking into the case, she crosses paths with AFP agent Mark D’Angelo. He’s in Thailand on special assignment with a group that’s looking into human trafficking and the child sex trade. D’Angelo is not portrayed as stupid, incompetent or corrupt. But Keeney does find him unwilling to really consider all the implications of what he’s doing. And without spoiling the story, I can say that for Keeney, it’s very difficult to reconcile herself to the perceptions he and his task force represent.

Talking of Bangkok, the Royal Thai Police have jurisdiction in Thailand. There are several novels (Andrew Grant’s Death in the Kingdom is one of them) in which this agency is depicted as corrupt and greedy at best. But other novels (including Savage’s work) show things differently. Savage’s Jayne Keeney knows that doing her job successfully depends on a rapport with the police. So she’s worked to get to know them. She finds some of the Royal Thai Police to be just as venal as their reputation suggests. But most do their jobs the best they can. And the hard-working police Keeney knows have encountered at least as many problems caused by farangs (foreigners) as those caused by the police. We also see a generally positive portrayal of the Royal Thai Police in John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series. Sonchai is a member of the police force and a very observant Buddhist. As he investigates cases, readers get an ‘inside look’ at some of the challenges the police face and some of the ways in which they make a very positive impact. That’s not to say of course that there are no corrupt or even dangerous police in those novels. And even the ‘good guys’ have their faults. But we do see a more or less sympathetic depiction of this national police force, and one that shows readers what goes on ‘behind the scenes.’

Fred Vargas’ Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a member of the Police Nationale, one of France’s two national police forces. The Police Nationale have jurisdiction in large cities, and Vargas’ novels portray at least Adamsberg’s team as competent, if eccentric (to say the very least). They do their jobs and they care about their work in their way. The Gendarmerie has jurisdiction in smaller towns, rural areas and borderlands. This group gets a less positive treatment from Vargas, although she doesn’t portray each member in a terribly negative way. Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series isn’t very flattering to the Gendarmerie either. In fact. Bruno, who is Chief of Police of the village of St. Denis, very often finds himself at odds with Captain Duroc of the local gendarmerie. In fact, he works better with the Police Nationale. As an aside, you’ll probably know that the Police Nationale used to be known as the Sûreté. Fans of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links will know that her Hercule Poirot is no big fan of that group…

You’ll notice that until now, I’ve not mentioned the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That’s because there are dozens and dozens of crime novels and series that mention that agency, either in a positive or negative light. P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson is an FBI agent, and as you can imagine, the agency is portrayed more or less positively in those novels. There are many others too that depict the FBI in a sympathetic way. But if you read Tony Hillerman’s work or some of James Lee Burke’s novels, you soon see that it’s not at all that simple. There are dozens of novels and series in which the FBI is portrayed as officious, heavy-handed, and sometimes corrupt.

So what can we say about national police agencies (or those that provide national-level services)? They’re large, sometimes complicated, and therefore, complex. As with many groups, the answer depends on whom you ask.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Grant, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth George, Fred Vargas, Giles Blunt, Inger Ash Wolfe, James Craig, James Lee Burke, Jane Casey, John Burdett, Kel Robertson, L.R. Wright, Martin Walker, Michael Redhill, P.D. Martin, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Young, Tony Hillerman

Thursday Night Your Stockings Needed Mending*

StockingsNot very long ago, Moira at Clothes in Books posted an interesting discussion of giving stockings as gifts. And that’s not her first post on stockings in literature. The whole thing has me thinking of how often stockings do figure in books; certainly they do in crime fiction. You might not really think about it, because they’ve been such an ordinary, everyday part of dressing for a lot of people for a long time. But they certainly play a role in crime novels.

For example, Anthony Berkeley’s The Silk Stocking Murders begins with a letter sent to Roger Sheringham at the offices of The Daily Courier, where he is a contributing columnist. The letter is from a rural parson, A.E. Manners, who is concerned about his daughter Janet. Janet had left home to try to ‘seek her fortune’ as the saying goes, and for some time, she’d been writing more or less regularly, mostly from London. But now her letters have stopped, and her father is worried about her. He doesn’t want the police involved, so he asks Sheringham to investigate. Sheringham’s curious about it, and happens to mention the matter to a colleague. His colleague identifies the ‘photo of Janet that Sheringham shows him as that of a chorus girl who recently died. She was strangled with her own silk stockings, and the police theory is that it was suicide. But Sheringham isn’t sure that’s the case, so he looks into the matter more deeply. Then, other, similar murders occur. Now it’s clear that Janet’s death was not suicide, so Sheringham works with Inspector Moresby and with Janet’s older sister Anne to find out the truth.

In Agatha Christie’s A Pocket Full of Rye, wealthy Rex Fortescue is poisoned, and Inspector Neele is assigned to investigate. He begins, as is logical, with the members of Fortescue’s family, and it’s not long before he discovers plenty of motives. To say the least, the family has not been a loving, united one. But if it’s a family member, what’s the meaning of the bunch of grains of rye that were found in Fortescue’s pocket? Neele tries to keep an open mind, but he doesn’t get very far along. Then, the family maid Gladys Martin is killed – strangled with a stocking. Miss Marple is especially upset at this, since she knows Gladys well. In fact, she prepared her for domestic service. So she gets involved in the investigation, and works to find out who the murderer is. The case isn’t solved in time to prevent more death, but in the end, Miss Marple gets to the truth. I know, I know, fans of Cards on the Table and of The ABC Murders.

In P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail, best-selling crime novelist Loretta Black pays a visit to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where Sophie Anderson works. Soon afterwards, Anderson transfers to the Los Angeles FBI office. Then, she learns that Loretta Black has been killed. What’s especially eerie about this murder is that it exactly resembles a series of murders Black wrote about in a novel. Part of the fictional killer’s ‘signature’ was strangling with torn-off stockings, and that’s how Black’s been murdered. Then, another writer is killed; again, the real murder mimics the writer’s fiction. And another writer disappears. Now, Anderson has to work with the LAPD as well as her fellow field agents to find out who the killer is before there are more murders.

Tony Black’s Murder Mile also has stockings as a main ingredient. Edinburgh DI Rob Brennan and his team investigate when the body of Lindsay Sloan is discovered in a field. She’s been strangled with her own stockings, and the body mutilated. As Brennan works on the case, he learns that this murder is eerily similar to the five-year-old murder of Fiona McGow, whose killer was never caught. When the media gets wind of this possible connection, the press begin to dub the killer ‘The Edinburgh Ripper.’ Pressure builds to catch this murderer before there are any more victims. It’s not going to be an easy case though, because the one witness who may have valuable information is not willing to give it up.

There’s also Kate Flora’s Death in Paradise. Boston education consultant Thea Kozak attends an education conference on Maui (trust me; that is a beautiful place for a conference!). The director of the conference is Martina Pullman, who heads the National Association of Girls’ Schools. One morning, Pullman doesn’t appear for a conference session. Since it’s very unlike her, the other people in the session begin to get worried. A search is made, and her body is found in her hotel room, strangled with a stocking. What’s more, she’s dressed more like a ‘call girl’ than an education executive. The association isn’t exactly a united group, so there are plenty of suspects. In the end though, Kozak finds out who’s responsible and what the motive is.

See what I mean? Stockings may be very useful, but they can be extremely dangerous, too. Little wonder I like trousers as well as I do…. ;-)

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now may I suggest your next blog round stop be at Clothes in Books, which is the source for fictional fashion and popular culture and what it all says about us.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Kate Flora, P.D. Martin, Tony Black

We Know Where We’re Going, We Know Where We’re From*

Among other things, crime fiction allows us to experience other cultures, or to look at our own through different eyes. And one way authors do that is through creating expatriate (ex-pat) characters. When someone from one culture lives and works in another, there’s a fascinating ‘meeting of minds’ if you want to call it that, and that can add a very interesting perspective to a novel. Well-drawn ex-pat characters don’t necessarily give up their own culture or language, but they do learn the ways of the new culture and that adds to their perspective and to the reader’s.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is an ex-pat Belgian. One could argue that because he left Belgium as a refugee he is, strictly speaking, not an ex-pat as he didn’t leave his country voluntarily. But I include him here because he provides an interesting look at what it’s like to be from one country but live and work in another. In many ways he is quite distinct from the English people among whom he lives. Besides the language difference (he’s had to learn English and sometimes needs to learn a new idiom or two), there are also cultural differences. Just as an example, although Poriot is familiar with the custom of tea, he’s never really made it his own habit. There are other English customs too, such as shaking hands rather than embracing, that he’s had to get used to and he’s never really lost his own Belgian way of life. In a way, you could argue that Poirot allowed Christie to hold up a mirror to her own culture.

In Walter Mosley’s A Red Death, we meet ex-pat Chaim Wenzler, a former member of the Polish Resistance who’s since moved to the United States. Wenzler has become the object of FBI interest because he is believed to be a communist. At the time this novel takes place (the early 1950’s), being a communist in the United States is a very serious matter so if the allegations about Wenzler are true, then FBI Agent Darryl Craxton wants to bring him down. Craxton gets the opportunity to get close to Wenzler through then-amateur private investigator Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. Rawlins is in deep tax trouble, so Craxton offers him a deal: if he agrees to get close to Wenzler, Craxton will make his tax problems go away. Rawlins agrees and starts volunteering at the First African Baptist Church, where Wenzler too has been volunteering. The two men get to know each other and before long Rawlins finds himself liking Wenzler and increasingly reluctant to give him up to the FBI. Then there’s a series of murders for which Rawlins is framed and it looks as though someone has begun to target him. Now he has to clear his name by solving the murders and walk a very thin line between giving enough information about Wenzler to the FBI without giving too much away.

Alexander McCall Smith introduces us to American ex-pat Andrea Curtin in Tears of the Giraffe. Curtin and her husband lived in Botswana for a few years as a part of her husband’s job. Their son Michael fell in love with Botswana while the family was there and decided to remain when his parents returned to the United States. He joined an eco-commune and all seemed well enough until he disappeared. The official explanation for his disappearance is an attack by wild animals. But his mother Andrea has never quite believed that and wants closure. She’s moved back to Botswana where she’s decided to remain. She hires Mma. Precious Ramotswe to help her find out the truth about her son’s disappearance so she can move on with her life. Mma. Ramotswe takes the case and goes to the eco-commune where the young man lived. Bit by bit she finds out what
happened to him and is able to give his mother the answers she needs.

Dicey Deere created a four-novel series featuring American ex-pat Torrey Tunet, who now lives in Ballynagh Ireland when she’s not ‘on the road’ as part of her job. Tunet is a language specialist and interpreter who often travels, but she always returns to her ‘base’ in Ballynagh. Through her
eyes we get to see the interesting, sometimes quirky local characters and the unique customs and culture of the area. Tunet has respect for the local ways, too; it’s obvious that Deere doesn’t fall into the trap of the ‘fish-out-of-water who annoys everyone’ kind of character.

P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson is an ex-pat Australian who now lives and works in the U.S. as an FBI agent. She started her career with the Victoria police force but fell in love with the idea of being an FBI profiler after she took a course offered by the agency. She makes an excellent profiler too; not only does she have the training and skills, but she also has an added ‘plus.’ Anderson has psychic dreams – visions, if you want to call them that – that allow her to ‘get into the heads’ of the killers she pursues. Although she isn’t always comfortable with that ability, she does learn to channel it and make use of it as she investigates.

Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly” Smith is purely Canadian. But her parents aren’t. Lucy ‘Lucky’ and Andy Smith are former hippies and ex-pat Americans who moved to Canada when Andy was drafted for service in the Vietnam War. Andy had real doubts about leaving the U.S. at the time they moved but Lucky strongly believed that the war was wrong, so they made the move. Since then they’ve settled there comfortably and now run an adventure tour company and store. Although neither is ashamed of having come from the U.S., they’ve more or less embraced the local way of doing things.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney. She’s an ex-pat Australian PI who now lives and works in Bangkok. Although in many ways she’s purely Aussie (if there is one way to be purely Aussie), but she has also learned quite a lot about the different culture, language and way of life in her new home. She speaks fluent Thai, understands and follows the local customs and has begun to appreciate the complexity of life there. In Behind the Night Bazaar and The Half-Child, Keeney’s ability to move between her own culture and her adopted culture proves to be very useful as she solves cases.

And that’s the interesting thing about ex-pat characters. We get to see, through their eyes, what a different culture is like. There’s also a terrific opportunity for a complex, ‘fleshed out’ character if she or he is from one culture but has had to get accustomed to living and working in a different one. I’ve only had space here to mention a few examples; which ones do you like?

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s Exodus.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Angela Savage, Dicey Deere, P.D. Martin, Vicki Delany, Walter Mosley

I’m a Night Stalker*

One of the most frightening experiences one can have is being stalked. The vulnerability one feels is bad enough, as is the sense of violation of privacy. If you add to that the threat of danger, it’s no wonder that people who’ve had that experience have found it so traumatic. What’s worse is that unless the stalker actually threatens or commits harm, the police can’t do much to keep away a stalker who is determined to frighten his or her victim. Stalking is a sad and scary reality for people in real life, and the tension it brings makes it also a very suspenseful plot point for crime fiction. That said though, it’s also been done frequently – sometimes quite deftly and sometimes…not. If the “stalker” plot point is to succeed, it’s got to be done carefully, thoughtfully, and not (necessarily) in connection with a serial-killer motif.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, wealthy and beautiful Linnet Ridgeway Doyle is on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile with her new husband Simon. The trip is supposed to be a luxurious celebration but it’s marred for Linnet because she feels she and Simon are being stalked. Before he met Linnet, Simon was engaged to Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort. Since the marriage, Jackie has followed the Doyles everywhere they’ve gone. She doesn’t threaten either Linnet or Simon, but her presence makes Linnet feel vulnerable. Normally a calm and authoritative person used to being in charge of her own life, Linnet feels frightened. But she really can’t do much about it because there’ve been no threats or physical attacks. Her nerves frayed, Linnet approaches Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, and asks him to intervene and make Jackie stop her stalking. Poirot agrees to speak with Jackie, although he says he can’t force her to stop. His intervention doesn’t save Linnet though; she’s shot on the second night of the cruise. Jackie is the most logical suspect, but it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have been the killer. So Poirot and fellow passenger Colonel Race have to look elsewhere for the murderer.

DI Alan Banks has to deal with a different sort of stalker in Peter Robinson’s Gallows View. Banks and his family have recently moved from London to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale, where they hope things will be less hectic. But the move turns out to be anything but peaceful for Banks when a peeper starts to make life frightening and miserable for the women of Eastvale. At first, several members of the police force, including Banks’ second-in-command Sergeant Jim Hatchley, don’t think that the voyeur is a very serious matter. But Banks becomes convinced that the peeping might escalate into something worse, so he keeps the investigation going. At the same time, Banks and his team have to contend with a series of house-breakings and the murder of one of Eastvale’s residents. In the end, we see how all of these crimes are related. One of the themes that runs through this novel – and is actually a source of interesting debate in it – is how scary it really is to feel that one’s being watched. Robinson makes it clear that for the women of Eastvale, the voyeurism is a horrible violation of their privacy.

We see another kind of stalking in Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip. In that novel, we meet Charles “Chaz” Perrone, a barely-qualified marine biologist who has discovered a way to alter the results of water testing to make it look as though the water being tested is not polluted. That discovery will prove very helpful to Samuel Johnson “Red” Hammernut, owner of the successful agribusiness Hammernut Farms. Hammernut’s company has been dumping toxic waste into the Florida Everglades and he has no intention of stopping. But there’ve been questions about his business practices and lots of government “red tape.” Hammernut wants “proof” that his company is obeying the laws about toxic waste dumping so he makes a “business arrangement” with Chaz Perrone that will give Perrone an easy income and keep the government from interfering with Hammernut. The only hitch in the plans is that Perrone’s wife Joey suspects what’s going on. Perrone needs to stop her from getting in the way of his scheme so he surprises her with what he says is an anniversary present – a cruise. During the cruise, Chaz Perrone pushes his wife overboard, convinced she’ll drown. What he doesn’t remember though is that she is a world-class competitive swimmer. Joey Perrone survives and is rescued by former cop Mick Stranahan. Joey wants to know exactly why her husband tried to kill her and besides, she wants revenge. So she and Stranahan hatch a scheme to stalk Chaz and make him think someone saw what happened on the cruise. They put their plan into action in all sorts of little and not-so-little ways and before long, Chaz is convinced that he’s the target of a blackmailer who’ll continue to stalk him until he pays up.

We see the darker side of stalking in P.D. Martin’s Body Count. Sophie Anderson has recently moved from her native Australia to the U.S. and now works as a profiler in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Her job there is to “get into the heads” of serial killers to track and find them as quickly as possible. What she’s never admitted to herself, let alone confided to anyone else, is that she is helped in her job by psychic visions that often come to her in dreams. In those visions she sees and feels what the killer sees and feels. Her skills are put to the test when she and her team investigate several murders committed by a killer nicknamed “The D.C. Slasher.” Anderson and her team are starting to put together a profile of the killer and getting clues when her friend and colleague Samantha “Sam” White is abducted. That adds a real sense of urgency to the investigation and that urgency is only increased when it becomes clear that Anderson herself is being stalked. The worst thing is that the stalker is apparently someone Anderson knows. Now she has to do her best to find the killer – and White – before she or White become victims.

Nicci French’s Beneath the Skin is another eerie portrait of stalking. One hot summer, Zoe Haratounian, Jennifer Hintlesham and Nadia Blake, three very different sorts of women, all begin to be stalked. It starts with love letters that become increasingly threatening. Bit by bit, the women begin to lose their self-confidence and sense of trust in the world. The police do their best to offer protection but the women are still not safe. Objects in their homes are removed or moved around, and the stalker seems able to psychologically manipulate these women to sap their strength. One of them though chooses not to be a victim and decides to find out for herself who the stalker is and why the stalker has chosen those particular women as targets. This decision leads to a proverbial game of nerves between the stalker and the would-be victim.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, in which a stalker seems bent on harassing several residents of Insula, a Roman-style building in Melbourne. First, there’s ugly graffiti. Then one by one the residents begin to receive threatening letters from someone who seems to know personal things about them. The police ask questions but there’s not much they can do since no-one knows who the stalker is. One of Insula’s residents is Corinna Chapman, who owns a bakery in the building. When she finds out what’s been going on, she’s upset about it for the sake of her neighbours and friends. One night, she and her lover Daniel Cohen are returning from volunteering with the Soup Run, a mobile soup kitchen for Melbourne’s street people. They go into the building only to find a particularly gruesome-looking message. Chapmen tells Cohen what’s been going on and he offers to help her find out who’s responsible for stalking and frightening Insula’s residents. This plot thread adds a very real tension to the story.

Being stalked is frightening, even if the stalker never hurts the victim physically. And in crime fiction, the theme of stalking can add a very authentic level of suspense to a story when it’s well-done and not stereotypical or melodramatic.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Sleepwalker.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Kerry Greenwood, Nicci French, P.D. Martin, Peter Robinson