Category Archives: Patricia Stoltey

But the Cowboy and the Rancher Knew His Name*

WesternsMany people find a real appeal in what I’ll call Westerns, whether books, film or television. Even if you don’t care for them yourself, you no doubt know that they have a strong following. There are arguably several reasons so many people love Westerns, just as there are a lot of reasons for which people have moved to ‘the wide open spaces.’

One of the allures of Westerns and their settings is the chance to start over in beautiful, open land. We see that, for instance, in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. It’s 1806, and William Thornhill, his wife Sal and their children have just arrived in Sydney Cove, Sydney, to start their lives over. Thornhill is a former London bargeman who was sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing wood. He and his family have experienced real poverty in London, so even though transportation is nerve-wracking, it’s also a chance to build new lives. Before very long, Thornhill finds work delivering goods up and down the local waterways; his wife opens a makeshift pub. One day, Thornhill finds a piece of irresistibly beautiful land, and sets about to claim it. And therein lies the problem. People have been living in what is to become New South Wales for many thousands of years, and it’s not long before there are serious, even bloody and brutal, conflicts between the two groups. Grenville doesn’t make light of the crimes committed in the name of new land and new opportunities. At the same time, we see just how tempting that land can be.

Even today, people are drawn to the prospects of open land, the chance to put the past behind, and the opportunity to start all over. That’s arguably part of what makes Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series popular. It’s also, of course, highly regarded as a well-written set of novels. But as we learn about the characters, we see a pattern of people who’ve chosen to live in Absaroka County, Wyoming because it’s beautiful, because it gives them a chance to build their own kinds of lives, and because the open land appeals to them. For instance, Longmire’s deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti is originally from Philadelphia, where she served as a police officer. She’s had her share of ups and downs in life, but she’s found a certain kind of contentment if you will in Absaroka County. Philadelphia may at times offer more conveniences, but Moretti has chosen to start over in the west. I know, I know, fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series and of Margaret Coel’s Wind River series…

‘Going West’ offers other kinds of opportunities too. As you’ll no doubt know, many people have taken the risks involved in starting over because of the discovery of gold and other precious metals. Vicki Delany’s historical Klondike series, set during the Klondike Gold Rush, has this theme as a backdrop. These novels feature Savoy Dance Hall owner Fiona MacGillivray, who’s originally from Scotland. She’s got a past that she’d just as well leave behind, and a teenage son Angus. Together, they’ve started over in Dawson, Yukon, just as the area is feeling the full effects of the gold rush. She herself isn’t in search of gold, but she knows that there are a lot of other ways to profit from the surge of newcomers. Taverns, restaurants, food and supply purveyors, dance halls, and of course assayers are all benefiting from the search for riches.

Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn isn’t really a westerner. She’s a retired judge who lives in Florida. But in The Desert Hedge Murders, she certainly gets a taste of the Old West. She travels with her mother’s traveling club, the Florida Flippers, on a sightseeing tour to Laughlin, Nevada. The group gets caught up in a case of murder when the body of a dead man is found in the bathroom of one of hotel rooms the club is using. Then, one of the members disappears and is later found dead in an old mine now used as a tourist attraction. As Thorn helps her mother and the rest of the group, she also experiences ghost towns, information about mining and prospecting, and legends. And burros.

For some people, the appeal of Westerns also comes from the ‘good guys v bad guys’ tension. Cattle rustlers, sheriffs, posses, outlaws and so on can tap the desire a lot of us have to see the ‘good guys’ win and the ‘bad guys’ get their due. Of course, it certainly wasn’t that simple; a quick glance at history makes that clear. But for a lot of readers and viewers, there’s a real appeal to following the adventures of ‘larger than life’ characters.

And it’s that sense of adventure that also draws many people to the Western. A lot of series and novels feature the sort of cliffhangers that you might see in old-style Western serials; one of them is Stark Holborn’s Nunslinger series. The protagonist in these stories is Sister Thomas Josephine, a Roman Catholic Vistitandine nun from St. Louis, Missouri. As the series begins, she is making her way to start a new life in Sacramento. Everything changes when the wagon train she’s on is attacked in Wyoming. Left stranded there, Sr. Josephine ends up being falsely accused of murder. She goes on the run and is drawn into all sorts of dangerous situations. Sr. Josephine is definitely not your ‘garden variety’ nun…  I admit I’ve not (yet) read these stories. But I’ve already gotten a solid sense of them from the terrific Col, who blogs at Col’s Criminal Library. You’ll want to check out his great blog and see for yourself why it’s one of my must-visits.

There are also plenty of readers/viewers who are interested in Westerns because they want to know more about the people who have always lived in those areas. Novels that depict the lives of Indigenous people in the West can give readers a window on a fascinating perspective on life. And they fulfil the important role of sharing information that doesn’t always make it to the textbooks. Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series, for instance, will know that those novels depict life in the modern US West/Southwest, often from the point of view of members of the Navajo Nation. Those stories give an important perspective on aspects of Western life such as mining, oil prospecting, and land and water rights. They also share the culture and lifestyle of the people who’ve lived in that area for a very long time.

We also see that perspective in Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte novels. Those stories give readers a look at mining, ranching and prospecting in Australia. Very often they feature the point of view of Bony, who is half White/half Aboriginal. So we see several ways of looking at the same places and events. Adrian Hyland’s books feature Emily Tempest, who’s an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) in Australia’s Northern Territory. Those novels give readers a look at modern life in the ‘great wide open’ parts of Australia.

Whether it’s the myths of the Western or the actual history of settlement, there’s something about the Western in all its forms that can draw people in. Does it have that effect on you? If so, what appeals to you about the Western? If not, what puts you off?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Ballad of Billy the Kid, a song he refers to as ‘completely historically inaccurate.’ Still, for my money, it captures all of the adventure, danger and myth of the Western.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Kate Grenville, Margaret Coel, Patricia Stoltey, Stark Holborn, Tony Hillerman, Vicki Delany

It’s The Colorado Rocky Mountain High*

DenverIt’s called the Mile High City, among other things, because of its location above sea level. It’s full of history, beautiful scenery, sport and some excellent food and locally brewed beer. Oh, and there are great people too. Yes, I’m talking about Denver. Originally, Denver was a mining town during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of the mid-1850s (hence the name of Denver’s basketball team, the Nuggets). But it’s much more than that. Colorado is also the home of several Native American Nations, including the Arapaho and the Ute. And there’s a heavy influence from the state’s ranching history too. All of this makes Denver a really interesting Western US city located in one of the country’s most breathtaking places, the US Rocky Mountains.

Denver can also be dangerous. What? You don’t believe me? Well it is. It’s the setting for some fine crime fiction. I only have space for a few examples here, but they ought to serve to give you a sense of what I mean.

Michael Connelly’s The Poet features reporter Jack McEvoy of the Rocky Mountain News. As a crime reporter, he’s seen his share of death in all of its ugly forms. But then he learns that his twin brother Sean, a cop with the Denver Police Department, has committed suicide. McEvoy didn’t even know his brother was that fragile mentally, but it’s not so surprising considering the last case Sean was working on before his death: the very brutal murder of university student Theresa Lofton. The case generated a lot of publicity and has been very difficult for all of the police involved, especially since they haven’t been able to solve it. But there are little clues, including a message that Sean left behind, that suggest his death was not suicide. So his brother looks into the case more deeply and finds that a dangerous killer has been at work.

Stephen White’s psychological thriller series ‘stars’ Dr. Alan Gregory. Gregory is a clinical psychologist based in Boulder, Colorado, which is about 30 miles/48 km from Denver. His partner, later his wife, is Deputy District Attorney Lauren Crowder. The twenty-book series is mostly based in the Denver/Boulder area, but occasionally Gregory travels in the course of his work. Many of the plots have to do with Gregory’s clients, although some are related to his wife’s work. Some are also connected with his past. For instance, Manner of Death begins with the death of a former colleague Arnie Dresser. When Gregory is asked to help find out whether Dresser was murdered, he discovers that someone seems to be targeting the group of people who were in his own psychiatry preparation program. Now he’ll have to work with another former colleague Dr. Sawyer Sackett to find out who the killer is.

C.J. Box is perhaps best known for his Joe Pickett series, which takes place in Wyoming. But his standalone Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is set in Denver. Jack McGuane and his wife Melissa are the loving parents of beautiful baby Angelina. Everything changes though when it comes out that Angelina’s biological father Garrett Moreland never relinquished his parental rights. Now he wants to exercise them. As you can imagine, the McGuanes refuse to give up their daughter. When Garrett’s powerful father Judge John Moreland hears of this, he and Garrett visit the McGuanes to try to persuade them, and then bribe them, to change their minds. They refuse again and Moreland strikes back. He issues a court order directing them to surrender Angelina to the court within twenty-one days. Now the McGuanes have a terrible choice. They decide to do whatever it takes to keep their daughter. And as the story goes on, we see what a terrible price ‘whatever it takes’ exacts.

Peg Brantley’s Red Tide is the story of Jamie Taylor, a Colorado bank loan professional who also volunteers as a rescue dog trainer. When a convicted killer tells the FBI where he buried his victims, Taylor and her dogs are sent to the scene to try to find the bodies. They’re successful, but they also make another eerie discovery: there are bodies there that this killer could not have buried. Now Taylor gets involved in the search for the person who used the same remote field as a burial ground. As an interesting note, the climactic scenes in this case take place near Denver’s Mile High Stadium during a US football game featuring the Denver Broncos.

Colorado is also the home of a very active and creative crime fiction community including Patricia Stoltey and Beth Groundwater, among many others. I encourage you to check out Patricia Stoltey’s terrific blog for all the latest in Colorado authors’ news (Psst….her novel Dead Wrong will be coming out soon!!). You can also visit the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website and catch up on Colorado fiction.

So, in case you didn’t already know this, you can see that Denver may be gorgeous, but you may just want to look out….just to be sure…

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.


Filed under Beth Groundwater, C.J. Box, Michael Connelly, Patricia Stoltey, Peg Brantley, Stephen White

Rainbows in the High Desert Air

DesertLas Vegas is a major tourist attraction with lots to do. Because of that it’s easy to forget that it’s located in the middle of a desert. There are deserts in lots of different places in the world, and they can be beautiful. But deserts can be very harsh and inhospitable places if one’s not prepared. They’re lonely places, too, where it’s a long time between people. Deserts can be effective settings for stories just because of the danger; it can add a layer of suspense to a story. So it’s not surprising that we see deserts in crime fiction.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called to the scene of the unusual murder of Enoch Drebber, an American who was staying in London boarding house with his friend Joseph Stangerson. At first, Stangerson is suspected of the murder, but when he himself is killed, it’s clear that someone else is responsible. It turns out that these murders have their roots in the American desert of Utah. Years earlier, John Ferrier had been stranded in the desert with a young girl Lucy whom he had more or less adopted. They were rescued and the events that followed that rescue led directly to the murders of Drebber and Stangerson.

Since several of Agatha Christie’s stories take place in the Middle East, it’s no surprise that the desert plays a role in her work. Just to give one example, in the short story The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, Sir John Willard discovers and excavates an ancient tomb that’s said to be haunted and cursed. Not long after the tomb is opened, Sir John dies. Then, there are two other deaths. Willard’s widow is not a fanciful, hysterical person, but she is beginning to wonder whether there might indeed be some kind of curse. So she visits Hercule Poirot and asks him to travel to Egypt and investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings go to the site of the excavation and look into the matter. What they find is that there is a very prosaic reason for the deaths, and that someone has been using the curse to cover up murder.

Many of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte novels are set in the desert of Australia’s Outback. Let me just give one example. In The Bushman Who Came Back, life at the Wootton homestead is turned upside down when Mrs. Bell, who serves as housekeeper, is found shot. What’s more, her daughter Linda has disappeared. Everyone is especially fond of Linda, so a massive search is launched. It’s suspected that a bushman named Yorkie killed Mrs. Bell and took Linda, Bony is sent to investigate and to try to rescue Linda if he can. There are several scenes in this novel that depict just how harsh the desert in that part of the world can be, and in fact, that’s part of the reason for which there’s such a sense of urgency to Bony’s search. In the end, Bony finds out the truth about Mrs. Bell’s murder and as you imagine, it’s not at all what it seems to be at first.

More recently, Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels depict life in the Outback desert. Tempest is an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) who is assigned to Moonlight Downs, an aboriginal encampment that’s,


‘…miles from nowhere. The nearest town, Bluebush, was four hours of rough roads away, Alice Springs another five beyond that.’


Because Tempest was brought up there, she knows the land and is prepared for the harsh climate. But that doesn’t mean she’s safe from desert danger…

Fans of Tony Hillerman will know that his Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels are set in the American Southwest. The intersection of the US states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado is often called Four Corners, and is the home of several Native American Nations, including the Navajo. The desert there is unforgiving, but both Chee and Leaphorn have always lived in the area and have learned how to adapt to the climate. Novels such as The Blessing Way and The Dark Wind give readers vivid portraits of life in the desert.

So does Betty Webb’s series featuring Scottsdale, Arizona PI Lena Jones. Together with her partner Jimmy Sisiwan, Jones owns Desert Investigations.  Jones is familiar with living and working in a desert climate, and she’s well aware of the dangers. But even she comes almost fatally close to those dangers in Desert Noir. I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling the novel; suffice it to say that the desert is not a safe place to be if you’re at all vulnerable.

And then there’s Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders. Former Florida judge Sylvia Thorn grew up in Illinois and has lived in Florida for some years. But she gets more than a taste of the desert experience when she accompanies her mother’s travel club the Florida Flippers on a sightseeing tour of Laughlin, Nevada. The group hasn’t been settled in their hotel very long when one of the group members finds the body of an unknown man in her hotel room’s bathtub. Then, another group member disappears and is later found in an abandoned mine. Thorn wants to keep her mother and the rest of the group safe, so she begins to investigate. With help from her brother Willie Grisseljon, Thorn finds out who the murderer is and why the Florida Flippers seem to be the focus of so much mayhem.

As you can see, the desert is not the kind of place you want to be unless you are thoroughly prepared. And sometimes even then, it’s not all that safe. And I haven’t even mentioned the Arctic deserts…


ps.  The ‘photo is of the sunrise over the Nevada desert. It only looks peaceful and safe…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Betty Webb, Patricia Stoltey, Tony Hillerman

And Nothing’s as Precious as a Hole in the Ground*

MineAs any crime fiction fan can tell you, a murder can happen just about anywhere. That said though, some settings just lend themselves to crime fiction in ways that others might not.  Take mines as an example. You probably don’t think about mines very often unless you come from a mining town or family. But they really are terrific settings for a crime novel. For one thing, there’s the mine shaft itself. That’s a very effective place to commit a crime or at least hide a body. And there’s mining in many, many different countries, so there’s a lot of flexibility in terms where the story can take place. Mining communities can be close-knit and insular too, and that can lead to all sorts of motives for murder.

Mining turns out to be a deadly industry for Wu Ling, whose murder Hercule Poirot investigates in Agatha Christie’s short story The Lost Mine. He is the head of a Chinese family that owns valuable documents relating to some Burmese mines. He’s willing to sell them (and the mining rights) to a British syndicate, but only if he can meet with the principals. So it’s arranged that he’ll travel to London and attend a board meeting of the company that’s going to buy the documents. He makes the journey without incident, but when his body is later found in a seedy district of East London, Inspector Miller is assigned to the case. Not long afterwards, Charles Lester is arrested for the crime. He was known to be in debt, and the papers were worth a lot of money. What’s more, he’d made the acquaintance of the victim on the trip to England, and was the last person to have been seen with the victim. Hercule Poirot’s been hired by the company to find the papers so he gets involved in the investigation. And as you can imagine, he’s not satisfied with the case against Lester…

Much of the action in Reginald Hill’s Under World takes place in the coal mining town of Burrthorpe. Several years earlier, a young girl Tracey Pedley disappeared. The police thought that she was a victim of Donald Pickford, who had already admitted to being a child molester and has since committed suicide. But others thought Tracey was killed by Billy Farr, a Burrthorpe miner who disappeared. When Farr’s skeleton is found in the mine, it looks as though he either had a tragic accident or committed suicide, and Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and their team investigate. Billy’s son Colin has come back to the UK to take over his father’s mining job. He’s angry and bitter and has never really believed the stories about his father, but he settles back into life in Burrthorpe. Tragedy strikes again when Harold Satterthwaite is killed in the mine. And Colin Farr is the main suspect, since he and Satterthwaite were both romantic rivals and enemies. As Dalziel and Pascoe and the team look into this new murder, we see how it relates to the disappearance of Tracey Pedley and the death of Billy Farr. We also get a look at life in a mining town, and at the network of relationships that develop there.

Several of the novels in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series take place in the small town of Pickax, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ As you can guess from the name of the town, it was originally a mining town, and in fact there are still stories told of mining explosions, ghosts of miners and so on. And in The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, those abandoned mines are used for a modern-day murder. There’s been a series of suspicious fires in some of the abandoned mines and columnist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is looking into them. Then, one of the volunteer firefighters Ralph ‘Ruff’ Abbey is shot at the Big B Mine. It turns out that he witnessed one of the fires being set and was killed because of what he’d seen. Qwill and Police Chief Andrew Brodie look into the case and find out that these events are connected with the murder of a local book dealer and the destruction of his business.

Martin Edwards’ The Arsenic Labyrinth shows us just how useful mines can be for hiding bodies. In that novel, journalist Tony di Venuto plans to do a ten-years-on retrospective on the disappearance of Emma Bestwick, who went off on her bicycle one day and never returned. When di Venuto gets a tip that Emma is dead, and a clue as to where her body can be found, her case is re-opened. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team find Emma’s body in The Arsenic Labyrinth, a series of underground tunnels that were used to mine arsenic and remove it from ore. What’s even more shocking is the team also finds a skeleton that’s been buried for fifty years. Now they’ve got two murders to investigate and as it turns out, the two are related. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, Scarlett and her team trace the deaths to local family histories and long-held secrets.

An abandoned mine shaft figures strongly in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow, too. Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) police department is called in when the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine is discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. At first, everyone had believed that Katie had run away from home, but Cardinal never believed that. So now that the body’s been discovered, he and Detective Lise Delorme re-open the investigation. They find that Katie’s death is connected to two other deaths. Then, they get word of another disappearance and now they know that if they don’t catch the killer, there’ll be yet another murder…

Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders takes place in mostly Laughlin and Oatman, Nevada. When retired judge Sylvia Thorn accompanies her mother’s travel group on a sightseeing tour to that part of Nevada, she’s hoping all will go smoothly. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes. First, the body of an unknown man is found in the hotel bathroom shared by two of the group members. Then another tour group member disappears and her body is later found in an old mine. Thorn gets drawn into the murder investigations mostly because she wants to keep her mother and the remaining members of the tour group as safe as she can and in the end, she finds that the deaths are related to greed and to secrets that someone’s been keeping.

There’s also a climactic scene at an old mine in Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin. In that novel, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper investigate the discovery of two sets of remains at Pity Wood Farm, near Rakesdale in the Peak District. The deaths turn out to be related to Pity Wood Farm’s background and to a later, related murder. At one point in the novel, Cooper and Fry connect what’s been happening at the farm with the old Magpie Mine, a former lead mine. Saying much more about what happens at the mine would come closer to spoiling the novel than I want, but the mine itself is a suitably eerie place and does figure in this novel.

Mines are unique. They foster a special kind of community and the settings themselves are fascinating – and dangerous. I don’t wonder at all that there are so many of them in crime fiction.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mine.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Giles Blunt, Lilian Jackson Braun, Martin Edwards, Patricia Stoltey, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth

He Met a Girl Out There With a Tattoo Too*

TattoosIn the past few decades, tattoos have become more and more ‘mainstream.’ Of course as we’ll see, they’ve been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t really until more recent years that a lot of ‘regular’ people have been getting them. One of the things about tattoos is that they can be distinctive. Whether you like them or you don’t, they can give very clear clues as to a person’s identity, so it’s no wonder that when someone goes missing, one of the first things the police ask is whether that person has a tattoo or some other distinguishing mark. That’s also the case when someone is attacked; the cops almost always ask whether the assailant had a tattoo. Because tattoos have been woven into our culture for quite some time, it’s no surprise that we see them quite a lot in crime fiction. And sometimes they can be very useful.

For instance, a few of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories hinge on Sherlock Holmes’ knowledge of tattoos. In The Red-Headed League, we meet Mr. Jabez Wilson, a pawn-shop owner who’s had some odd things happen to him. He decided to earn a little extra money by responding to an advertisement for an open position. The job, as he found out, involved copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it was easy enough. Then one day he found his new employer’s business had abruptly closed. He wants Holmes to find out what’s going on, and Holmes is intrigued enough to agree. It turns out that Wilson has been used by a group of thieves who wanted to use his shop as a base for digging a tunnel into a nearby bank. In the scene where we meet Wilson, Holmes notes that Wilson has been in China. He knows that by the look of a tattoo just above Wilson’s wrist – it’s made in a way that Holmes knows is distinctively Chinese. There are other stories too (I’m thinking, for instance of The ‘Gloria Scott’) in which Holmes’ knowledge of tattoos comes in handy.

In Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons, liquor store owner John Li is shot and LAPD cops Harry Bosch and Ignacio Ferras are called to the scene. Li’s wife doesn’t speak English, and Bosch and Ferras are not thoroughly familiar with the Chinese culture of that part of Los Angeles. So Detective David Chu, who’s associated with the LAPD’s Asian Gangs Unit (AGU) is called in to assist. He proves to be very useful in helping Bosch and Ferras make sense of the culture and of the payments that Li had been making to a member of a triad – a ‘protection’ group. When Bosch shows Chu a video of one of Li’s payoffs to the triad member, Chu notices something else about the man: a tattoo. The tattoo gives Chu some interesting information that leads the police to suspect that Li might have been shot by a member of a particular triad with connections in Hong Kong. Then everything changes when Bosch gets a call from his daughter Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong. She says she’s been kidnapped and Bosch is sure that it has something to do with his current investigation. He goes as quickly as he can to search for his daughter. In the end, Bosch finds out what happened to John Li and to Maddie, and how the two are connected.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano makes effective use of a tattoo for identification in Andrea Camilleri’s The Wings of the Sphinx. A young woman is found dead near a local landfill. She has no clothes or other identification, so no-one knows who she is. The only identifying feature that’s really distinctive about her is the tattoo of a sphinx moth on her left shoulder. Montalbano doesn’t recognise the tattoo, but he asks his friend Nicolò Zito, who works for Vigatà’s Free Channel, to help. Zito broadcasts the picture of the tattoo and before long, Montalbano and his team are able to link the victim to a group of young Eastern European women who’d come to Sicily to find jobs. He also links the case to corruption in a social service agency and to some odd thefts.

Peter Lovesey’s Bath CID chief Peter Diamond has a similar challenge in The Tooth Tattoo. The body of a young woman is found in a canal in Bath. Oddly enough, there’s a sense of déjà vu for Diamond; he and his partner Paloma Kean have recently been in Vienna where they saw a memorial to another young woman who was also killed and dumped in a canal. Both were Japanese music students, too. The second victim – the one found in Bath – has only one identifying feature: the tattoo of a musical note on one of her teeth. It’s also discovered that she was a fanatic ‘groupie’ of Staccati, a string quartet. Bit by bit, Diamond and his team trace the relationship between the string quartet and its mysterious history and the deaths of the two victims.

In Angela Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos, we learn that tattoos can also tell stories. This one is about a woman who’s recently been released from prison after serving time for murder. She and her dog Sully are settled into an apartment not far from a child care facility where one day, she gets into an argument with one of the parents. When a complaint is later lodged against her for keeping a restricted-breed animal (Sully is a pit bull), the woman blames her antagonist at the child care facility and plots her revenge. As she does so, we learn exactly what happened that sent her to prison. We also learn what the meaning is of her teardrop tattoos.

Peter Robinson’s Cold Is the Grave is the story of what happens to Emily Riddle, daughter of Chief Constable Jeremiah ‘Jimmy’ Riddle. Emily has left home, and her parents become alarmed when her younger brother Benjamin discovers pornographic ‘photos of her on a website. Riddle is now desperate to find his daughter and he asks DCI Alan Banks to help. The idea is that if Banks goes as a civilian, he’ll draw less attention to a personal matter that Riddle wants very much to stay private. Riddle and Banks have had a rancourous relationship in the past, but Banks is a father too. So he reluctantly agrees to look into the matter. Banks’ search for Emily takes him into some very seamy parts of London and one of the things that helps him find out what happened to her is the fact that in the ‘photos Benjamin saw, she has a spider tattoo.

And that’s the thing about tattoos. They can be very helpful in identifying a person. So they often cut down on the time it takes to find out who an unknown victim is. And they can be very interesting personal statements. That’s part of why sleuths such as Robinson’s Annie Cabbot and Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn have them. No wonder we see them in crime fiction.

Oh, did you notice one very famous tattooed sleuth I didn’t mention? Oh, come on –  too easy!😉



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open.



Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Connelly, Patricia Stoltey, Peter Lovesey, Peter Robinson