Category Archives: Peg Brantley

When They’ve Been Used So Ill*

A really interesting conversation with crime writer and fellow blogger Angela Savage has got me thinking about what’s sometimes called sexually transmitted debt. By that, I mean becoming responsible for a spouse or partner’s debt after being convinced (sometimes misled) into taking on new debt or financial risks without necessarily being aware of it at first. Some sexually transmitted debt involves a partner agreeing to share (or assume) the responsibility for a debt. It can work in other ways, too.

Whichever way it works, it can leave a person in a great deal of financial trouble. And, in crime fiction, it can add to plot lines, character development, tension, and more. Here are just a few examples; I’ll bet you’ll be able to think of more.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lord Stephen Horbury. He fell in love with a chorus girl named Cicely Bland, and married her without really getting to know her. The fact is, though, that Cicely has a fondness for gambling. She’s not averse to using cocaine, either. All of this has meant that she owes a lot of money. At first, her husband paid her debts, mostly for the sake of the family name.  But Cicely’s debts keep mounting. So, she borrows money from a French moneylender named Madame Giselle. Then, when she’s not able to pay what she owes, Madame Giselle threatens to reveal certain information that she has. Cicely is frantic, but this time, her husband is no longer willing to assume her debt. He even makes a public announcement that he will no longer be responsible for anything she owes. It all puts Cicely in a very difficult position, especially when Madame Giselle is murdered during an airline flight. Cicely is also on the flight, and becomes one of the suspects. Hercule Poirot, who was also a passenger, works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who actually killed the victim.

In Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters, we are introduced to Miami PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano. Jose Antonio and Lucia Moreno hire Solano to find the birth mother of their adopted daughter, Michelle, who is very ill. Doctors say that she needs a bone marrow transplant, and that only her biological mother can serve as her donor. Solano takes the case and finds out everything she can about the circumstances of Michelle’s birth and adoption. Along this way, she meets Barbara Perez, whose partner, Alberto Cruz, is mixed up in illegal businesses. Barbara knows what he’s doing, but there really isn’t much of a way out for her, mostly because she’s got children. Later in the novel, she gets herself (and Solano) into real danger because of the work her partner was doing, and the money from it that he was supposed to have hidden away. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a case of debt that’s transmitted. But it is an interesting case of being mixed up in a partner’s criminal activity, and risking a heavy price for that.

Peg Brantley’s Red Tide introduces readers to Jackie ‘Jax’ Sussman, medical examiner for Aspen Falls, Colorado. Her husband, Phil, is a philanderer with a gambling problem and other ‘expenses.’ Jax pays his debts and, so far, has stayed with him. But the cost of assuming that financial responsibility has wiped her out financially. Her sister, Jamie, is a loan officer for a local bank, so she’s all too well aware of Jax’s financial situation. But there’s very little she can do. In one plot thread of this story, both sisters get mixed up in a case of multiple murders when FBI agent Nicholas Grant is assigned to find 13 bodies in the Aspen Falls area. Convicted killer Leonard Bonzer has confessed to the murders, but won’t tell police where the bodies are. And, when other, more recent corpses are discovered, it looks as though there might be a ‘copycat’ at work. Admittedly, Jax’s financial situation isn’t the main plot thread, nor the reason for the murders. But it does show how sexually transmitted debt can work.

There’s also Natuso Kirino’s Out. This novel is the story of a group of women who work nights at a Tokyo factory that makes boxed lunches. One of them, Yayoi, is married to an abusive husband, Kenji, who has gambled away their savings. Now, she’s left with a heavily mortgaged home, little money, and no real way to pay off the debt – not on her salary. In a rage, she strangles Kenji with his own belt. Now, of course, she’s left with a body, and the very real likelihood that she’ll be arrested for the murder. So, she turns to her co-workers for help. Their choices draw the women into a very dark web of Tokyo’s underside.

And then there’s Chelsea Field’s series featuring Isobel ‘Izzy’ Avery. In Eat, Pray, Die, we learn that Izzy has recently moved from her home town of Adelaide to Los Angeles. Mostly, she made the move to escape her ex-husband, Steve. More specifically, she wants to escape Platypus Lending, a loan shark operation that she owes money to, thanks to Steve. Early in their marriage, Steve convinced her to
 

‘…get a two-hundred-grand-loan to invest in some “sure thing” stocks…’
 

Even she admits that was stupid. The plan backfired, the stock market crashed, and Steve hadn’t told her he’d borrowed money from a shady operation. Now, Izzy works as a professional taster for Los Angeles’ rich and famous. This series is among other things, an interesting look at how much trouble sexually transmitted debt can cause.

I’m really glad Angela brought the topic up, as it’s really interesting. And it’s a good reminder to be sure of the person you choose as a partner…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lionel Bart‘s As Long As He Needs Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Chelsea Field, Natsuo Kirino, Peg Brantley

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.

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

Babe, You Know You’re Growing Up So Fast*

Adult SiblingsAn interesting comment exchange with Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery has got me thinking about some of the really interesting relationships we have: those with our adult siblings. Oh, not following Tracy’s blog yet? Please check it out. You won’t regret it; it’s a fine source of thoughtful crime fiction reviews among other things. Go ‘head; see for yourself.

Siblings know us in ways very few other people do. They may have different personalities, different outlooks and so on but they share common experiences. In fact, our relationships with our siblings are very often the longest-term relationships we have. And what’s really interesting (and this is what Tracy mentioned that got me to thinking) is what happens when siblings grow up. Adult siblings’ relationships are deeply affected by childhood experiences; if you have siblings you know what I mean. It can take a real effort of will to see one another with adult eyes, so to speak. Siblings’ relationships can be very complicated too. Some people are close to their adult siblings; others avoid them. But siblings are part of the human experience and they’re a rich source of plot points and characters when it comes to crime fiction. In fact, there are so many good examples that this one post won’t even come close to touching on all of them. But here are just a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), we meet Charles and Theresa Arundell. Neither of them is particularly good at managing money and both of them are fond of having it. So when their wealthy Aunt Emily dies, they’re desperate for their shares of her fortune. But Emily Arundell has left all of her money to her companion Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson. Before she died, Miss Arundell wrote to Hercule Poirot asking his help in a delicate matter which she never specified. By the time Poirot and Hastings get to Market Basing to investigate though, Miss Arundell has already been dead for two months. That doesn’t stop Poirot; he discovers that Miss Arundell didn’t die naturally as had been assumed. Charles and Theresa Arundell are among the most likely suspects and as Poirot interviews them, we see how these siblings support each other while at the same time being quite aware of each other’s weaknesses.  

There’s an interesting look at adult sibling relationships in Dorothy Sayers’ Clouds of Witness. Lord Peter Wimsey’s sister Mary is engaged to be married to Denis Cathcart. When he is murdered, Wimsey’s older brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, is charged with the crime. Wimsey investigates, partly because he is interested in criminal investigation but mostly because his brother is in trouble. He discovers that more than one person had a motive to kill the duke. In the course of this novel Mary meets Wimsey’s friend Inspector Charles Parker and the two develop a relationship. And in Strong Poison we learn that they plan to marry. It’s interesting to see how Mary Wimsey’s brothers react to this relationship. On the one hand they’re as protective of her as though they were all still children. On the other, Peter Wimsey knows that Mary is now an adult who will make her own choices in life. It’s an interesting thread that runs through those novels.

There’s a really interesting look at how complex sibling relationships can be in Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit. Brothers Mason and Gates Hunt are the sons of an abusive alcoholic and that affects them deeply. Gates, the older son, tries to protect his younger brother as best he can. Mason feels strongly the debt he owes to his brother and that has a very important role to play in what follows later. Gates has quite a lot of athletic ability but he squanders all of the opportunities that brings him and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare money and on money he gets from his mother Sadie Grace. Mason on the other hand takes advantage of every opportunity he gets. He gets a scholarship to law school and ends up becoming an attorney. Then one night Gates and Mason are coming home from a night out when they encounter Wayne Thompson, who is Gates’ romantic rival. An argument they had earlier flares up again and before anyone really knows what’s happened Gates has shot Thompson. Mason feels the burden of debt to his brother so he helps Gates cover up the crime. Life goes on for the brothers and the crime is never officially solved. Mason Hunt becomes a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Virginia while his brother turns to drug dealing. Then Gates is arrested for and convicted of cocaine trafficking. He begs his brother to help him get out of prison but this time Mason refuses. Then Gates threatens that if Mason doesn’t help him, he’ll claim that Mason shot Wayne Thompson. When Mason calls his bluff Gates does as he’s threatened. Now Mason is indicted for murder and he’ll have to figure out how to clear his name.

And then there’s Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, a National Park Service Ranger. She’s been assigned to several different areas of the country, and she’s seen all sorts of both beauty and horror. But always in her life is her sister Molly. Molly is a New York City-based psychotherapist who tries her best to be there for her sister. Anna treasures their relationship but that doesn’t mean either is blind to the other’s faults. Anna for instance doesn’t like the fact that Molly is a smoker. Molly gets infuriated because she feels Anna puts herself in far too much danger. Underneath their differences though the two really do love and depend on each other.

One of the things that can add to already-complex sibling relationships is the resentment adult siblings can feel about long-ago incidents. You could call it a form of sibling rivalry. There are a lot of novels where one sibling seems to ‘have it all’ and the other feels left behind and that resentment has consequences. Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood explores that theme on several levels. In that novel, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team look into the twenty-year-old disappearance of Callum Payne when his sister Orla apparently commits suicide. She’d begged Scarlett to look into the case, but Scarlett didn’t do much about it at first as Orla Payne was drunk and incoherent when she first made the request. It’s partly Scarlett’s feelings of guilt and partly her professional sense of responsibility that lead Scarlett to pursue both the disappearance and the circumstances of Orla Payne’s death. It turns out that much of what happens in this novel is tied in with the complex relationships between siblings, and the way that can lead to resentment.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and his half-brother Mickey Haller have a very interesting relationship. For several reasons they didn’t really know each other for much of their lives. Now that they’ve established contact and a relationship, they work together on cases in several novels. And that makes sense as Bosch is a cop and Haller is an attorney. They didn’t grow up together though, so one thing that’s interesting in the novels featuring them is that although they’re biologically brothers, they’ve had to establish a relationship beginning in adulthood. It casts quite a different light on the sibling dynamic and it adds a solid thread to the series.

In Peg Brantley’s Red Tide we meet Jamie Taylor, a bank loan officer and volunteer rescue dog handler. She gets involved in a case of multiple murders when her dog Gretchen discovers a series of recently-buried bodies in a remote field near Aspen Falls, Colorado. Jamie’s sister Jacqueline ‘Jax’ is a local medical examiner who’s called in when the bodies are discovered. As the two interact we learn about their past. Their mother Star was murdered ten years earlier and their father Bryce has basically disappeared from their lives as he’s tried to search for the truth about his wife’s death. One the one hand, the two sisters work closely together as they unravel the mystery of how the victims in the field died and who killed them. When they discover the truth they find themselves in grave danger and have to work even more closely together to face that danger and bring the killer to justice. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean the sisters have no issues between them. Jamie is unhappy with the way her sister has managed her personal life; Jax is married to an abusive philanderer and so far, hasn’t left him. Jax doesn’t like the idea of her sister ‘managing her life.’ It’s an engaging portrait of an adult sibling relationship.

And there are many others, too (I know, I know, fans of Camilla Läckberg’s Ericka Falck and her sister Anna). Space doesn’t permit me to mention them all. But if you have a sibling I probably don’t have to anyway. You already know about life with adult siblings.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Night Ranger’s Sister Christian. Why’d I choose this one? It was written for and about drummer Kelly Keagy’s younger sister Christy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Dorothy Sayers, Martin Clark, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Nevada Barr, Peg Brantley

Lean on Me When You’re Not Strong*

Millions of people volunteer their time and energy to help those in need. And the best kinds of volunteers are the ones who don’t make a big fuss about it. They see a need and without judging or asking anything in return, they try to meet that need. I won’t go on and on about the different causes for which they work. There is far too long a list of urgent needs out there for me to do that. Suffice it to say though that volunteers have a huge impact. Certainly they do in real life; I’ll bet you volunteer yourself and if you do, you know what a difference the work you do makes. That’s why you do it. There are many, many volunteer and volunteer groups in crime fiction too.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles for example, Captain Hastings is recovering from a wartime injury. He accepts an invitation to visit an old friend John Cavendish while he heals up, and is looking forward to a pleasant stay. Instead, Hastings is drawn into a case of murder when Cavendish’s stepmother Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. By chance Hastings discovers that another old friend Hercule Poirot is staying in the nearby village and asks him to investigate. Poirot agrees, not least because Emily Inglethorp was his benefactor.  As the novel goes along we learn that several members of the family do their share of volunteering, mostly in aid of the war effort. Cavendish, for instance drills with the local volunteer militia. His wife Mary volunteers as what would later be known as a Land Girl. And Emily Inglethorp plays quite a key role in all sorts of local charity groups. Although this fact of their lives isn’t the motive for the murder, it’s an interesting perspective on their lives.

Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House introduces us to Helping Hands, a group dedicated to helping abused women and their children find safe places to go and make plans for their lives once they get there. One night, a warehouse fire in Southwark is reported by a resident at Helping Hands, and Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his lover DI Gemma James go to the shelter to interview the person who called in the fire.  There they meet Kath Warren, the director. What makes this fire of special interest is that the body of an unidentified woman was found in the remains. It seems that the shelter may be more than casually related when it turns out that Laura Novak, a member of its board of directors, has disappeared and could be the fire victim. There are three other equally strong possibilities though and Kincaid and James investigate all of them as they work to figure out who set the fire and who the dead woman is. I don’t think it’s spoiling this novel to say that the Helping Hands group didn’t engineer the fire or Novak’s disappearance. But we do get some interesting insight into the workings of a volunteer group, its leadership and the way such groups are viewed.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman volunteers with the Melbourne Soup Run, a mobile soup kitchen that serves Melbourne’s street people. She’s a baker so she provides bread; she also takes her turn going on the run with other volunteers who travel from one part of the city to another. At each stop the Soup Run gives out coffee and tea, food, some medicines and other supplies like blankets and clothes. Chapman is quite matter-of-fact about her volunteer work. She doesn’t talk much about it; she just rolls up her sleeves as the saying goes and does what needs to be done. The Soup Run is overseen by the indefatigable Sister Mary, one of Melbourne’s strongest advocates for those in need. Sister Mary has a remarkable skill at getting people to part with their time, their money, their donations, their official permission, whatever is necessary to get the job done. And she’s one of the few people Chapman co-operates with nearly automatically. The Soup Run proves useful to Chapman too, in a few mysteries. For instance, in Devil’s Food, Chapman’s father seems to have disappeared. Through the Soup Run she makes contact with other Melbourne volunteer groups and services and is able to find out what happened to him. The Soup Run is also a source of clues in Earthy Delights, in which she helps to solve the mystery of a series of junkie overdose deaths.

In Peg Brantley’s Red Tide we meet volunteer guide dog handler Jamie Taylor. By day she’s a Colorado bank loan professional. She also trains and handles Gretchen, Socrates ‘Socks’ and McKenzie, who are search-and-rescue dogs. When the need arises Taylor and her dogs go on search and rescue missions. That’s how they get involved in an eerie discovery. Convicted serial killer Leopold Bonzer has told the FBI where he buried his victims and Taylor and her dogs are sent to that remote field. They find the bodies but they also find bodies that Bonzer could not have buried there. Now it looks as though a ‘copycat killer’ is using the same field. Each in a different way, Taylor, her sister Jacqueline ‘Jax’ and FBI Agent Nick Grant investigate to find out who this new killer is and how that relates to a tragedy in Taylor’s own past. Among other things, this is an interesting look at the way search-and-rescue operations are carried out and how dogs are used in the process.

And then there’s Nina Borg, whom we first meet in Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase. Nina is a nurse at Ellen’s Place, a shelter and service provider for refugees. She’s also volunteered in several different world ‘danger zones’ and takes her work in service to others very seriously. But one day she gets a very unusual case. Her friend Karin asks her to go to the Copenhagen train station and pick up a suitcase. She does so only to discover that it contains a little boy. He’s dazed and drugged, but he is alive. So she tries as best she can to find out who he is. Her first call is to Karin, but Karen seems to have disappeared. Now Nina has to find out for herself who the boy is and get him to safety. In doing so she finds herself up against some ruthless people who want that child. Meanwhile, we meet Sigita Ramoskiene, the Lithuanian mother of three-year-old Mikas, who has been abducted. As she frantically searches for her son, we learn that he is the child Nina found. Each in her own way the two women work to find out why Mikas was abducted and return him safely.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer features Catherine Monsigny, who’s recently become an attorney. She has a full-time job at the law office of Maître Renaud, but she also volunteers her time to an association that works with undocumented immigrants who get into legal trouble. Her purpose in doing the volunteer work is mostly to get experience. That’s how she learns of the case of Myriam Villetreix, originally from Gabon, who’s been arrested and charged with the murder of her wealthy husband Gaston. The case has been getting a lot of media attention and if Catherine gets her boss’ permission to defend Myriam, it could launch her career. She gets that permission and begins to look into the case only to find that it’s more complicated than it seems on the surface. There is evidence against her client and there is motive. What’s more, this trial takes place not far from where Catherine’s mother was murdered when she was a tiny child. No-one was ever arrested for the crime and the memory of that day has haunted her since then. Being in the area spurs Catherine to try to find out who killed her mother while she is also searching for the truth about the murder of Gaston Villetreix.

There are of course many other crime fiction novels that feature volunteers, and quite frankly, I’m glad they get ‘air time.’ It’s easy enough to click a link and donate money. It’s not so easy to give up your time and your mental and physical energy. But volunteers do it all the time in a million different ways, and without going on about it. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Mostly, they deserve to have us join their company.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bill Withers’ Lean on Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Deborah Crombie, Kerry Greenwood, Lene Kaaberbøl, Peg Brantley, Sylvie Granotier

Armed With the Faith and the Will That Even the Darkest Ages Couldn’t Kill*

In yesterday’s post I mentioned just a few of the technological and other developments we owe to careful scientific research. Without rigourous and painstaking research we wouldn’t have even basics such as electric lights, let alone anything as complex as digital imaging and the geodosic dome. Who are the people who conduct this research? Quite often one doesn’t learn their names unless they win a Nobel prize (and sometimes, let’s face it, not even then). But even those who are more or less anonymous have been the driving force behind many of the things we take for granted. Whether they work in laboratories or in the field, scientists inform our knowledge. That’s one reason it’s refreshing to see them portrayed sympathetically in crime fiction. Oh, and you’ll notice in this post that I am not going to mention the many medical doctors, forensic specialists or computer scientists who play roles in the genre. That’d be too easy. 😉

Two scientists prove to be very important to making a case in Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress. In that novel Elinor Carlisle is charged with the poisoning death of Mary Gerrard, daughter of the lodgekeeper at the family home of Hunterbury. There’s plenty of evidence against Elinor too and she had at least two motives. For one thing there’s a question of inheritance. Elinor stands to inherit a great deal of money when her wealthy Aunt Laura dies, but Aunt Laura became quite fond of Mary and it was likely she’d leave a considerable amount of money to her instead of to Elinor. There’s also the fact that Elinor’s intended Roderick “Roddy” Welman has become infatuated with Mary. In fact, he and Elinor break up their engagement over the matter. But local GP Dr. Peter Lord is convinced that Elinor is innocent. And even if she’s guilty he wants her name cleared. So he appeals to Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees and looks into the matter closely. He finds out who really killed Mary Gerrard and why but of course it requires more than just Poirot’s say-so to win a court case. In the end, testimony from a botanist and a chemist provide the evidence that solves the mystery.

Isaac Asimov’s stories frequently feature scientists as protagonists and/or major characters. I’ll just give one example. In his short story The Dying Night, three scientists Edward Talliaferro, Stanley Kaunas and Battersley Ryger meet at an astronomy conference after not having seen each other for some years. All of them carry a burden because they’ve been far more successful than the fourth member of their group of friends Romero Villers. Villiers’ health made it impossible for him to leave Earth as the other scientists did and build a reputation as a leading astronomer as his friends did. What makes matters even more awkward is that Villiers claims to have made a breakthrough discovery, and plans to present his findings at this conference. His former friends aren’t convinced he’s made the breakthrough he claims to have made and there’s bitterness on both sides. On the night before his scheduled presentation Villiers is killed and critical files relating to his research and discovery have disappeared. Rather than call in the police it’s decided to consult Dr. Wendell Urth, a noted expert on conditions on other planets. He’s also got an unofficial relationship with the police and has been of assistance to them before. He agrees to listen to each scientist’s account of the night of the murder, and from that information he’s able to deduce who the murderer is. And what’s fascinating about this story is that Urth solves the case through his knowledge of the atmosphere and other information about other planets.

Sarah Andrews, herself a geologist, has created a series that features forensic geologist Em Hansen. Hansen is originally from Wyoming and in Tensleep, the first in this series, she’s landed a job as a mudlogger for an oil company. Her job is to collect and analyze mud samples but her work’s complicated by the fact that a lot of her male colleagues don’t think that an oil drilling outfit is the right place for a woman. Then her mentor Bill Kretzmer is killed in what looks at first like a car accident. Everyone thinks Kretzmer’s death is accidental but then another co-worker Willie Sewell is killed, apparently crushed by horses. Hansen doesn’t believe the theory of accident and begins to investigate. As the series moves on, Hansen slowly moves up the ladder, so to speak, even taking a position with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

In Marilyn Victor’s and Michael Allan Mallory’s Killer Instinct, we meet Lavender “Snake” Jones, zookeeper and documentary host. Jones decides to feature the Minnesota Wolf Institute (MWI) for her show Zoofari. Her friend Gina Brown, a wolf biologist with the MWI, is eager both to spend time with Jones and to have her beloved wolves featured on Zoofari; she’s hoping that a better understanding of wolves will mean fewer people hunting them and needlessly fearing them. Then Brown gets into a conflict with anti-wolf leader Ivar Bjorkland. When Bjorkland is murdered, Brown is suspected of killing him. Even Jones wonders whether her friend might be guilty. But then there are other murders. Jones discovers who’s responsible but she’ll have to stop the killer if she’s to stay alive herself.

There’s also an interesting example of scientists being critical to solving murders in Peg Brantley’s Red Tide. In that novel, banker and rescue dog handler Jamie Taylor is called to a remote field near Aspen Falls, Colorado. There Taylor and her dog along with police authorities discover a set of long-buried remains that are the work of a killer who’s died recently. But when recent remains are also found, it’s clear that another killer is using the same area. The police can’t really make headway on the case because Jamie’s sister ME Jacqueline “Jax” Taylor can’t establish clearly what the cause of death is. That’s when veterinarian Scott Ortiz comes in handy. He’s noticed some unexplained deaths among local horses and does special experiments to find out what the cause of death is. His studies reveal the cause of death among the horses and gives Jax Taylor valuable information in her own search for answers.

And of course no post on scientists in crime fiction would be complete without a mention of Rex Stout’s Theodore Horstmann, the botany expert who works with Nero Wolfe to raise and tend Wolfe’s beloved orchids.

See what I mean? Scientists are valuable folks. Despite the stereotypes you might have heard about “mad scientists” or cold and unfeeling “eggheads,” scientists are interesting and generally very good people. They’re also extremely informative and useful when it comes to crime-solving. Want some more ideas? Check out this post on science in crime fiction from Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, an excellent blog you should be following if you’re not already. Seriously.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Two Thousand Years.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Marilyn Victor, Michael Allan Mallory, Peg Brantley, Rex Stout