Category Archives: Pascal Garnier

We Were Just Young and Restless and Bored*

Have you ever gotten so busy that you almost wish you could be bored? You might even think what a luxury it is to have enough time for boredom. But, before you get too envious of those who are bored, keep in mind that it has its own challenges.

If you look at crime fiction, you see all sorts of negative consequences that come from being bored. Boredom, especially among young people, can get one into serious trouble. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I know you’ll think of lots more than I could.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, we are introduced to two young men, Andreas Winthur and Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. They are best friends; in fact, you could say that they’re each other’s only real friend. They are also bored with life, and without much purpose. Their search for something to do gets them into trouble more than once. And, on one fateful day, it has terrible consequences. Andreas and Zipp spend the day together. Later, Andreas disappears. His mother, Runi, is worried about him, so she goes to the police. At first, Inspector Konrad Sejer isn’t overly concerned. After all, Andreas isn’t a young child. But when more time goes by, and he hasn’t returned, Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, start investigating. Naturally, one of their first interviewees is Zipp. But he’s not much help. Zipp says he and Andreas parted company before Andreas disappeared. Sejer is sure that Zipp knows more than he’s telling, but it’s not going to be easy to find out the truth.

Wendy James’ The Lost Girls is the story of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. In 1978, she gets permission to spend some of the summer at the home of her Aunt Barbara and Uncle Doug Griffin, near Sydney. Angela, her cousin, Mick, and Mick’s friends, are a little bored, with no school, no sport contests, and so on. So, they spend a lot of time playing pinball at a local drugstore. One day, the group goes to the drugstore as usual, but Angela doesn’t come back. She is later found dead, with a scarf over her head. The police investigate, and they focus their attention on Mick and his friends, but they can’t find any evidence of wrongdoing. Then, a few months later, another young girl is found dead, again with a scarf around her head. The theory now is that someone is targeting young girls, and people do worry. The press even dubs the killer, the ‘Sydney Strangler.’ No more killings are reported, though, and the murders are never solved. Years later, filmmaker Erin Fury decides to do a documentary on families who’ve lost a loved one to murder, and she approaches the Griffin family. They eventually agree to be interviewed, and we slowly learn what really happened to Angela.

In Pascal Garnier’s How’s the Pain?, we meet twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. There’s not much for him in the small town in which he lives, and he’s bored and restless. Then, he meets professional assassin Simon Marechall. And it turns out that he’s got something Marechall needs: a driver license. Marechall needs a driver to take him to Cap d’Agde, on the French coast, where he wants to do one more job before he retires. Bernard isn’t doing anything else with his life, and he is bored. So, he agrees to serve as driver, and the two plan their trip. But Bernard doesn’t know what his new boss does for a living. By the time he finds out, it’s too late, and things start to spin out of control.

Of course, it’s not just young people who get bored with their lives. In Ian Rankin’s Doors Open, for example, wealthy Mike Mackenzie has gotten bored with his life, and he’s looking for some excitement. He and his banker friend, Allan Cruikshank, share a love of art. So, together with art professor Gissing, and with help from local gangster Chib Calloway, Mackenzie and Cruikshank devise a plot. They want to rob the National Gallery of Scotland, and replace some of its valuable holdings with forged art. They choose the gallery’s Doors Open day, when the public gets to view the warehouses and other ‘behind the scenes’ places associated with the museum. The robbery goes off as planned, but the group soon learns that there’s more to benefiting from art then just stealing it…

Sometimes, of course, boredom has more positive consequences. For example, in Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock, Poirot’s frighteningly efficient secretary, Miss Lemon, brings him an unusual problem. Her sister, Mrs. Hubbard, manages a hostel for students where some perplexing things have been happening. Odd things have been disappearing, and there seems no explanation for what’s going on. Here are Poirot’s thoughts on the matter:
 

‘Hercule Poirot was silent for a minute and a half.
Did he wish to embroil himself in the troubles of Miss Lemon’s sister and the passions and grievances of a polyglot Hostel? …
He did not admit to himself that he had been rather bored of late and that the very triviality of the business attracted him.’
 

Poirot agrees to look into the case, and it turns out that this is much more serious than someone stealing things for fun.

As you can see, boredom has all sorts of consequences. Some of them can be positive, as boredom can spur us on to find new ways to be productive. But other times, boredom can lead to disastrous consequences. There are all sorts of examples in crime fiction; which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Night Moves.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Karin Fossum, Pascal Garnier, Wendy James

I Keep Hoping You’ll Come Back to Me*

For families and other loved ones, one of the major differences between a missing person case and a murdercase is the possibility that the missing person will return. Sometimes, people nurse that hope for years. That’s part of the reason, for instance, that many families won’t move from their homes if a loved one goes missing, so that that person will be able to find them. And there are stories of people who’ve been missing for years, who do return.

It doesn’t happen often, but the fact that it happens at all gives people hope. And sometimes, people sustain that hope, even when it’s clear to just about everyone else that the missing person isn’t coming back. We see that happen in crime fiction, and it can add a solid layer of both character development and suspense. After all, the person who’s disappeared could come back…

In Pascal Garnier’s Boxes, for instance, we meet book illustrator Brice Casadamant. In the main plot thread, he and his wife, Emma, have bought a house in the countryside, and are ready to make the move. Emma’s gone on a trip, though, so Brice has deal with the frustrations and aggravations of the move by himself. He gets to the new house and waits for Emmy to return. In fact, he’s so confident she’ll be back soon that he doesn’t even unpack the moving boxes, as he might not put things where Emmy wants them. But, as time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that Emmy is not coming back. And we slowly learn why. Brice won’t accept that, though, and lives among his unpacked boxes, rummaging through them when he needs something. Gradually, Brice sinks deeper and deeper into depression, and comes close to a complete mental break with reality. He can’t bring himself to work on his latest illustration commission, he won’t unpack, and he doesn’t have many social contacts. Among other things, this story shows how strong the need can be to believe that a loved one will return.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck is assigned to head a new department – Department Q – dedicated to looking into cases ‘of special interest.’ These are ‘cold’ cases that the police department has been under pressure to solve. Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, begin with the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. According to reports, she was on a ferry ride with her younger brother, Uffe, when she went missing. The explanation at the time was that she went overboard in a terrible accident. But there are pieces of evidence that suggest that she may still be alive. If she is, then Mørck and Assad might not have very much time to find her. As you might imagine, Mørck pays a visit to Uffe to get his perspective on what happened. But Uffe has communication problems and some mental health problems. So, he isn’t able to be of much help. Still, we learn that, in his way, Uffe thinks his sister may be alive, too. And, in the end, we find out the truth about what happened to her.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she is fourteen, her younger sister, Gemma, goes missing during a community picnic at Lake Wanaka. Despite a thorough search and police investigation, Gemma is never found. For a long time, though, the family hopes that she will return. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is beginning her career as a psychiatrist in Dunedin. She gets a new patient who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to her own. This patient’s younger sister also went missing and was also never found. After so much time, Stephanie is sure that Gemma isn’t going to return, but she does want to lay her ghosts to rest. And she wants to find out who is responsible for the devastation wrought on her family, and that of her patient. So, she returns to her home town of Wanaka, and starts to look for answers. And, in the end, she gets them. Among other things, this story shows the terrible toll that waiting and hoping takes on families.

In one plot thread of Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, Mitch and Pauline Fisher go to Market Day with their young son, Nathan, when he goes missing. There’s no trace of him, not even after a thorough search. And it’s not spoiling the story to say that the Fishers never give up hope that Nathan will return. Their story is connected to another story, this one of fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. One day, he finally gets up the courage he needs to run away from his abusive father, Joe. Adam’s been kept under lock and key, so he knows almost nothing of the world. This makes him, of course, very vulnerable. But he finds an ally in a young man named Billy Benson, who visits the house just as Adam is leaving. In the week that follows, Billy uses his streetwise knowledge to take care of both of them, and as the week goes by, they get mixed up in real danger.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. Dunedin’s had to deal with five straight days of hard rain. Then, a twister comes through, and the police have to deal with a series of problems. Against this backdrop, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who went missing two weeks earlier, is discovered in Ross Creek. Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is given the case, and it won’t be easy for him. Nine years earlier, his own daughter, Beth, went missing and never returned. Judd and his wife, Kate, are still coping with that awful loss. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been asked to do this sort of case, but a ‘flu epidemic has left the police department with a serious shortage of people. So, there is no choice but Judd. As Judd and his team work to find out the truth about Tracey’s death, we also see how he and his wife have gotten through the last years, and how a part of both of them still hopes that Beth will come home.

And that’s what can be so hard about a missing person case. There isn’t the closure that comes from knowing a person has died. So, it’s not surprising that some people whose loved ones go missing still have hope – even after a long time – that their loved ones will return.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s Sleepless Nights.

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Filed under Honey Brown, Jane Woodham, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier

You Have Lost Your Innocence Somehow*

As we get older and (hopefully) mature, we also tend to lose our innocence about the way the world works. That doesn’t necessarily have to mean that we become complete cynics. Rather, it means that we learn (sometimes, sadly, the hard way), that not all people can be trusted, and that there’s plenty of corruption and worse in the real world.

That experience can be very difficult for a person, and we all deal with it in different ways. And, in a crime novel, it can add to a character’s development. It can also add tension and even suspense to a story as the character faces that loss of innocence.

There’s a sense of that experience in Agatha Christie’s Three-Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts). In it, we are introduced to Hermione ‘Egg’ Lytton Gore. On the surface, she tries to be jaded. But she is quite innocent in her way, although she’s neither gullible nor completely naïve. One evening, she is invited to a cocktail party at the home of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. At the party, one of the other guests, the Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Not long afterwards, several of the same people, including Egg, attend a house party at the home of Dr. Bartholomew Strange. At that gathering, Strange dies, also of poison. It seems clear that the two deaths are linked, as is another death that occurs. Hercule Poirot gets involved in the case, as he attended the first party. And in the end, he finds out who the murderer is, and how the killings are connected. As the novel goes on, we see how Egg loses her innocence about who can be trusted and who can’t.

John Grisham’s The Firm is the story of Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McDeere. As the novel begins, he’s a Harvard Law School graduate, and an attractive candidate for a number of law offices. He’s smart and ambitious, and that’s exactly the sort of lawyer that the Memphis firm of Brendini, Lambert, & Locke want to hire. They make Mitch an irresistible offer, and he accepts. He settles in, and all seems to go very well at first. Mitch’s new colleagues help him pass the Tennessee Bar Exam, and everyone welcomes him as a colleague. But then, he begins to have questions. It seems that several members of the firm have died, and he wants to know more about why. By the time he begins to see some things going on at the firm, he’s in deep, as the saying goes. And he’s going to have to find a way to get out of his situation if he’s going to stay alive. Throughout the novel, we see how Mitch loses his innocence about what can happen in law firms, especially this one.

Pascal Garnier’s How’s the Pain? Introduces readers to twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrrand. He doesn’t have any clear plans for his future; in fact, he’s rather aimless. But he does have something very valuable: a driving license. And that’s just what professional assassin Simon Marechall needs. He’s nearing the end of his career, but he wants to complete one more job before he retires. He hires Bernard to drive him to Cap d’Agde, on the French coast, where he’ll carry out this last job. Bernard isn’t stupid, but he doesn’t know what his new boss’ business is. When he finds out, there’s a loss of innocence as things start to spin out of control.

In Mari Strachan’s The Earth Hums in B Flat (set in the 1950s) we meet twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan, who lives in a small Welsh village with her parents and her older sister Bethan.  Gwenni’s a little unusual. She’s what a lot of people call a dreamer, and she’s very much a reader. She’s curious, too. Life in the village goes on as it has for a long time, until the day that Ifan Evans goes missing. Gwenni has a vision/dream in which she sees a body, and when Ifan’s body is eventually found, she wants to know what happened. So, she starts to ask questions. As she slowly puts together the truth about the death, she also learns some dark truths about some people in the village. And, she learns some things about her own family. All of this teaches Gwenni some unhappy lessons, and in the process, she loses some of her innocence.

And then there’s Jock Serong’s The Rules of Backyard Cricket. That’s the story of Darren Keefe and his older brother Wally. As children growing up in Victoria, they’re passionate about cricket, and play it whenever they can. And, as it turns out, both have real talent for the game. As they get older, they begin to play professionally, and soon enough, they learn about the dark side of cricket. There’s plenty of ugliness that goes on behind the scenes, and, each in a different way, the Keefe brothers are impacted by it. It affects them differently, because they have very different personalities. But in the end, they both lose their innocence about the game. And the result is tragic.

Of course, not all loss of innocence is tragic. But it’s often sobering. It also can make for a solid layer of character development in a novel, to say nothing of the possibilities for tension and suspense.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Everybody Loves You Now.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jock Serong, John Grisham, Mari Strachan, Pascal Garnier

One Little Choice*

In many stories, there’s a point of decision. And that decision has consequences that drive the rest of the plot. It may not seem like a momentous decision at the time the character takes it, but it often turns out to make all the difference in the story.

Certainly, we see those sorts of moments in crime fiction. For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t envision a life for herself as, say, a typist. And she’s not really interested in settling down and marrying. She’s a bit at loose ends when she happens to witness a tube accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under an oncoming train. Anne happens to pick up a piece of paper that the dead man had in his pocket, and soon works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she goes to a travel agency and books passage on the ship. That decision turns out to have important consequences for her, as she ends up caught in a web of intrigue, smuggled gems, and murder.

William Hjortsberg’s historical (1959) novel Falling Angel is the story of a low-rent New York private investigator named Harry Angel. One day, he gets a call from the upmarket law offices of McIntosh, Winesap, and Spy. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man named Jonathan Liebling. Better known as Johnny Favorite, Liebling was a gifted jazz musician. Cyphre says that he helped Johnny Favorite at the start of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He returned from the war physically and emotionally badly damaged, and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Then, he disappeared from the hospital. Now, Cyphre wants to find him. Angel’s decision to take the case and look for Johnny Favorite turns out to have major consequences, and drives the rest of the plot. He ends up caught in a case of horror, multiple murder, and worse.

In Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has died in a car crash. Delorme will miss his wife, but their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time. What’s worse, in his mind, is that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who also died in the crash. Against his better judgement, Delorme sneaks a look at the information the police have on Arnoult. That’s how he learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Delorme’s decision to peek at that information, and then act on it, turns out to be a fateful one. He becomes obsessed with Martine, and it’s not long before things spiral completely out of control for both of them.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red is the first to feature Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s at a crossroads in her career, and wants to cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. It’s not going to be easy, as there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists coming up the ranks. Then, she learns about a possible story that could exactly what she needs. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh might be innocent. If that’s true, it’s a major story. Several people caution Thorne against pursuing the story. But she decides to go after it. Doing so has real personal and professional consequences for her, and for other people in her life.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In it, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has ‘gone straight,’ and now owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes keys. Then, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him quite a lot of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses outright. He doesn’t want to have any more to do with police or prison. Not long afterwards, he gets a visit from his former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband died in what looked like a carjacking gone wrong. It’s since been proved to be a murder, and she’s suspected of hiring the killer. She has a good motive, too, as she stands to inherit a fortune. Now, she needs a good lawyer to help her clear her name, and she asks Singh for help. He’s still more than half in love with her, although she broke his heart. So, he agrees to get the money she needs. That decision draws Singh into the underworld again, and ends up putting him under suspicion of murder.

A decision may seem like a trivial one on the surface. But sometimes, even those smaller decisions can lead to very big consequences. And those consequences can be dangerous…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Malloy’s Hero.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier, Surender Mohan Pathak, William Hjortsberg

Golden Opportunity*

I’ll bet you know the feeling. An opportunity comes along, and it seems like the proverbial answer to a prayer. Or your credit line at your bank is increased, just when you’re planning to get a car or some new furniture. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

But beware. Those pieces of good fortune have to be handled carefully. That’s certainly true in real life, and if crime fiction is anything to go by, it’s true there, too. And when things go wrong in a crime novel, they can go very wrong indeed.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lady Cicely Horbury. She’s a former chorus girl who married Lord Stephen Horbury. At first, all went well enough. But Lady Horbury has developed a gambling problem, so she’s incurred a lot of debt. And she uses cocaine – another costly habit. Then, she finds a solution that she thinks will work. She meets Marie Morisot, AKA Madame Giselle, a Paris moneylender, who agrees to lend to her. It starts with small enough sums that Lady Horbury can repay. Then, Madame Giselle lends her larger sums – as much as Lady Horbury wants. In fact, as she later tells Hercule Poirot,
 

‘‘It seemed like a miracle at the time.’’
 

Then, the time comes when Lady Horbury can’t repay her debt. That’s when Madame Giselle threatens to use her ‘collateral’ – private information that she intends to give to Lord Stephen. Now, Lady Horbury is desperate, and Madame Giselle is unyielding. That’s the situation when Madame Giselle is murdered aboard a flight that Lady Horbury is also taking. So, she becomes a ‘person of interest’ as Poirot investigates.

Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary is the story of Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from prison, and he knows that, because he’s an ex-convict, his opportunities are very limited. But he’s got to pay the bills. So, he starts looking for whatever sort of job he can get.  One day he sees an advertisement that especially interests him. Wealthy Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/escort/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Scofield is permanently disabled, so he can’t leave the house. But, as he tells Hadlock during the interview, he doesn’t want to restrict his wife similarly. Hadlock gets the job; and, at first, all goes very well. The position comes with a nice apartment, use of the Scofield cars, and a good salary. It’s not long, though, before things start to go wrong. And Hadlock soon learns that this job is fraught with a great deal of danger.

Walter and Joanna Eberhart get what they think is a golden opportunity when they discover the small suburban town of Stepford, Connecticut. The taxes are low, the schools are good, and the housing is affordable. So, the Eberharts and their two children make the move from New York City to Stepford. At first, all goes well. The family settles in, the children make new friends, and the house is everything they hoped it would be. But all is not as it seems. It starts when Joanna’s new friend, Bobbie Markowe, suspects that something might be very wrong with the town. At first, Joanna doesn’t believe her. But as time goes by, more and more things happen that suggest that Bobbie might be right. If she is, then something sinister is lurking beneath Stepford’s picture-perfect surface.

In Pascal Garnier’s novella How’s the Pain, we meet twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. He doesn’t have a university education or clear career goals. In fact, he’s a bit aimless. He gets what seems to be the perfect opportunity when ageing contract killer Simon Marechall offers him a job. Marechall wants Ferrand to serve as his driver for one last trip to the French coast, where he has some business to do. Ferrand doesn’t know what his new employer’s business is at first, but it’s an opportunity he can’t pass up. So, he goes along with the plan. Before he knows it, he’s in much, much deeper than he thought, and involved with a very dangerous business.

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? In it, Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern and their newborn daughter, Róisín, move from London to Dublin, so that Gerry can take advantage of a very attractive job opportunity. At first, it seems like the right choice. Then, things start to go wrong. For one thing, Gerry works a lot, so he can’t do much baby minding or housework. And Yvonne is exhausted from the work of taking care of Róisín mostly on her own. What’s worse, she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. So, there’s no-one to confide in or to pitch in and help. Then Yvonne discovers Netmammy, an online forum for new mums. It seems like the perfect solution; Yvonne finds new friends among the other forum members, and gets answers to many of her questions. All goes well until one of the members seems to go ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne’s concerned enough to go to the police about it, but there’s really nothing they can do. Then, the body of an unidentified woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle investigates, and finds that the woman’s description is similar enough to that of Yvonne’s online friend that it could be the same person. If so, what does that mean for Netmammy? If not, then who is the dead woman? In the end, we learn that sometimes, what seems like a perfect solution…isn’t.

And that’s the thing about those golden opportunities. You have to be very careful before taking them. And even then, they don’t always work out as planned…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Ian Hunter song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Pascal Garnier, Robert Colby, Sinéad Crowley