Category Archives: Peter Høeg

I Ain’t Got Much to Lose*

Not Much to LoseIt’s not easy to investigate a murder, even for police and professional PIs, who’ve signed up to do that work and who have some training. It’s even more so for people who haven’t and don’t. Some people – at least fictional characters – investigate because they’re implicated, or because someone they care about is implicated. There are other people though, who get into investigation because they really don’t have anything else in their lives. So they don’t have much to lose, even if they get into danger.

Characters who don’t have a lot to lose sometimes take chances that others wouldn’t. And if that’s not handled well in a story, it can pull the reader out. But these characters also can bring a certain perseverance and focus to a case because they’re not risking families, successful businesses and the like. There are a lot of characters like that in crime fiction. Here are just a few.

When we first meet him in The Sins of the Fathers, Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder has very little to lose, at least from his perspective. He’s a former New York police officer who left the force after a tragic accident in which a seven-year-old girl was shot as Scudder was going after some thieves who’d killed a bartender. As the series begins, Scudder doesn’t have a home life, or even very much of a place to live. He doesn’t have a steady job, either. So he doesn’t have a lot to lose when successful business executive Cale Hanniford asks his help. Hanniford’s estranged twenty-four-year-old daughter Wendy has recently been murdered, and he wants to know the kind of person she’d become. The police have arrested the victim’s roommate Richard Vanderpoel, and there is a great deal of evidence against him. So Hanniford doesn’t want Scudder to solve the crime. He simply wants to know what sort of life his daughter had, and what would have led to her murder. Scudder agrees to at least ask some questions, and begins following leads. The trail leads to the past for both the victim and the alleged killer, and as Scudder looks into the matter, he finds the pattern that has led to the killing.

In Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, we meet Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served a sentence for euthanasia. He can no longer work as a doctor, so he has nothing much to lose when Pietro Auseri offers to hire him. Auseri’s son Davide has been in a deep depression for almost a year, and can’t seem to stop drinking, despite some time spent in treatment. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do that professional treatment can’t, but he agrees to take on Davide’s case. Little by little, he gets to know Davide, and learns the reason for the young man’s depression and drinking. Davide blames himself for the death of Alberta Radelli, whose body was found outside of Milan a year earlier. He says that he met her by chance and offered her a ride and a day in Florence. They had an enjoyable day, but when he prepared to return with her to Milan, she begged him to take her with him – to help her escape Milan. He refused, she threatened suicide, and not long afterwards, her body was discovered. Lamberti believes that the only way to free Davide of his demons is to find out the truth about the young woman’s death. With little to lose, that’s exactly what he sets out to do.

Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins also gets drawn into investigating in large part because he doesn’t have much; therefore, he has very little to lose. In Devil in a Blue Dress, we learn that he worked at a wartime factory (this series takes place just after World War II). When the war ended, the factory downsized and he became redundant. When DeWitt Albright needs someone to find a young woman named Daphne Monet, Rawlins sees no real reason not to agree. And he’s well-suited for the task. He knows Los Angeles well, and, being Black, he can ‘blend in’ in the local Black community, which is where the missing woman was last seen. This case draws Rawlins into a web of fraud and murder; it also begins to establish his reputation as someone who can find people and get things done.

Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will know that she had nothing much to lose when she got started investigating. When Plum discovered that her husband was unfaithful, she got a divorce and took a job in a department store to pay the bills. Then, the department store made cuts in its staff, and Plum was laid off. With no real alternative, Plum took a job at her cousin’s bail bond company. She was supposed to work as a file clerk – a nice ‘safe’ job – but instead, ended up as a bounty hunter. It’s not exactly the job her family dreamed of for her, but it’s certainly never dull.

In Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), we meet Smilla Jaspersen, a half Inuit/half Danish mathematician and scientist. Although she grew up in Greenland, she now lives in Copenhagen. She has no close ties to anyone, and not very much to lose personally. So she’s got nothing to hold her back, so to speak, when she decides to ask questions about the death of ten-year-old Isaiah Christiansen. He, too, was a Greenlander, and lived in the same building as Jaspersen. One day, so the police say, he was playing on the roof of the building and had a tragic fall that killed him. Jaspersen is drawn to the roof where the accident occurred, and when she looks at it, she notices some things about the snow that aren’t consistent with an accidental fall. The trail leads back to Greenland, and as Jespersen looks into what happened there, she finds that this case is much more than a young boy who fell from a roof.

When we first meet Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor in The Guards, he’s been removed from the Garda Síochána for excessive drinking, which led to an incident involving unprofessional conduct with a speeder. Taylor has some friends, and people he knows, but no really close ties. He doesn’t have much to lose when he decides to hang out his shingle as a PI in Galway. He doesn’t have the money for a posh office or a staff, so he uses his local, Grogan’s, as an office. That’s where Anne Henderson finds him when she goes in search of someone to learn the truth about the death of her daughter Sarah. The police called it suicide, but she knows better. Taylor takes the case and ends up involved in a coverup, multiple killings and more.

Some people make the choice to become professional detectives. But for others, the choice to look into a crime (or crimes) happens because they have no real alternatives and not much to lose by investigating. These are just a few examples (I know, I know, fans of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee). Which ones occur to you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Citizen King’s Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out). I almost chose a line from Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster’s Me and Bobby McGee; both songs are good matches for the topic, I think.

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Filed under Giorgio Scerbanenco, Janet Evanovich, John D. MacDonald, Ken Bruen, Lawrence Block, Peter Høeg, Walter Mosley

He Does Love His Numbers*

Pi DayAs I write and post this, it’s 14 March (3.14), also known as Pi Day. Even if you hated maths in school, it’s hard to deny the importance of mathematical principles in life. They help us understand quite a lot about our universe; and we use them constantly, whether it’s following a recipe, keeping track of bank accounts, or deciding how much space we’ll need in that new place. The other thing about mathematics is that much of it is quite objective. Two of something, plus two more of that same something, equals four of that something. For those who like the objective and the clear (as opposed to the subjective and ambiguous), that can be quite refreshing.

Mathematics finds its way into just about everything, including music and poetry. So it’s little wonder we find a lot of mathematics and mathematicians in crime fiction, too. Here are just a few examples.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, is a brilliant mathematician. Here is what Holmes says about him in The Adventure of the Final Problem:
 

‘‘He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him.’’
 

As Holmes goes on to explain, though, Moriarty has a dark side and is now London’s top criminal leader. In this story, Holmes and Watson find the man such a dangerous enemy that they end up having to leave London for a time. They end up in Switzerland, where Holmes and Moriarty have a climactic meeting at the Reichenbach Falls. Of course, if you are a fan of these stories, you’ll know the saga doesn’t end there…

Plenty of the action in Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons takes place at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. The school is very capably run by Honoria Bulstrode. But she depends very much on Miss Chadwick, the mathematics mistress and the co-founder of the school. Miss Chadwick is a bit vague when she talks and she’s hardly a fashionable dresser. But she is a brilliant mathematician, and passionately devoted to the school. When games mistress Grace Springer is shot in the school’s new Sports Pavilion, Miss Chadwick is one of the two people who discover the body. Then, there’s a disappearance. And another murder. One of the pupils, Julia Upjohn, discovers an important clue to the events at the school. She visits Hercule Poirot, who knows a good friend of her mother’s, and tells him what she knows. Poirot goes back to Meadowbank with her to investigate; and in the end, he finds out the connection between the murders, the disappearance, and a revolution in a Middle East country.

In Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), we are introduced to Smilla Jaspersen. She’s half-Inuit and half-Danish, but was originally raised among her mother’s people on Greenland. She’s since moved to Copenhagen and, after a troubled childhood and adolescence, has become a mathematician and scientist. She forms a friendship with a young boy Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in the same building and is also a Greenlander. When Isaiah falls (or jumps, or is pushed) from the roof of the building, Smilla takes a special interest in his death. The police account is that the boy was playing on the roof and accidentally fell. But that’s not what the snow patterns say. So Smilla begins to ask some questions. The trail leads back to Greenland and to a particular expedition there. And it’s mathematics, science and a deep knowledge of snow and ice that give Smilla the answers.

Keigo Higashino also uses mathematics in his series featuring physicist/mathematician Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In The Devotion of Suspect X, Tokyo police officer Shunpei Kasanagi investigates the murder of Shinji Togashi. The victim’s ex-wife Yasuko Hanaoka comes under suspicion, but Kasanagi can’t find any really good evidence to connect her with the crime. So he brings in Galileo to consult on the case. It’s not long before Galileo sees that he is up against a formidable opponent (and former college mate) Tetsuya Ishigami, a mathematics teacher who lives in the same building as Yasuko Hanaoka. Ishigami has fallen in love with her and would do anything to protect her. In this case, mathematics and physics are woven throughout the novel.

There are also mathematics-related mysteries intended for younger readers. For instance, Leith Hathout’s Crimes and Mathdemeanors is a collection of stories featuring fourteen-year-old Ravi, a math genius who helps the local police solve crimes. Readers who remember the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries will find this a similar sort of context. What’s interesting in this collection is that mathematics principles are used to solve the cases.

There are even crime writers who are mathematicians. For instance, fans of the Michael Stanley writing duo’s Detective David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series may know that one half of that duo, Michael Sears, is a mathematician. His specialty was applied mathematics (e.g. image analysis and ecological modeling).

So you see? Mathematics is everywhere, including crime fiction. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have a piece of π.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kate Bush’s π.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Keigo Higashino, Leith Hathout, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Peter Høeg

There Were Incidents and Accidents*

So-Called AccidentsSome deaths are quite obviously murders. In those cases, at least in crime fiction, the killer doesn’t try to hide the fact that it was murder. Rather, the murderer may work hard at an alibi, or may work hard to prove there was no motive. But really, it’s much easier to disguise the murder as an accident if it’s possible. And sometimes, that makes it awfully difficult to prove that a death was murder.

Examples of murders made to look like accidents run all through crime fiction, possibly because it’s really credible that someone would want to cover up a murder that way. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of examples – many more than I could list in one post. But here are a few.

Agatha Christie uses the so-called accident in several of her stories. To take just one example, in Cards on the Table, Hercule Poirot is invited to a very unusual dinner. The enigmatic Mr. Shaitana gathers four sleuths (including Poirot) and four people that he hints have gotten away with murder. After the meal, everyone settles in to play bridge. During the evening, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects are the four people who were in the room at the time – the very four people Shaitana more or less accused of murder. Now the four sleuths are faced with the task of figuring out which of these equally-plausible suspects is guilty. One of them is Anne Meredith. At one point, she’d served as companion to a Mrs. Benson, who died tragically of poisoning by hat paint. Apparently, she confused the hat paint with her medicine, a very plausible accident. Or was it?

In Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), a young boy Isaiah Christiansen tragically dies after a fall from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment building where he lives. Isaiah had befriended fellow Greenlander Smilla Jasperson, and she is upset at his death. She’s drawn to the scene of the accident, and when she gets there, she sees signs in the snow that lead her to believe that the boy’s death was not accidental. She begins to ask questions and soon discovers that some dangerous people are determined to hide the truth. She persists though, and her search for answers takes her back to her homeland, where she finds the connection between Isaiah’s death and some secrets hidden in Greenland.

Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House introduces Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). The novel actually tells two stories, one of which is a recounting of the PCU’s first case. In 1940, the Palace Theatre is set to do a production of Orpheus. Then one of the dancers Tanya Capistrania dies in what some say is a freak accident. The police are investigating that death when Charles Senechal, who was to play the role of Jupiter in the production, is killed by a piece of scenery. Again it’s regarded as a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless. Still, it’s beginning to look very much as though someone is determined to stop the production. When another death occurs, and then a disappearance, Bryant and May and their team come under intense pressure to solve the case before there are any more tragedies.

Louise Penny’s Still Life is our introduction to the small rural Québec town of Three Pines. One of its residents Jane Neal is killed during the Thanksgiving holiday in what looks like a hunting accident. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to the scene, and he soon finds that this death was actually a murder. The question though is who would have had a motive. The victim was a beloved former teacher whom everyone seemed to respect. Gamache and the team get to know the town, though, and some of its history. And it’s in the past that they find the motive and therefore, the killer.

In Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone thinks he’s found a great new way to make money. He’s a marine biologist (well, in name at least) who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Hammernut’s company has been accused of pouring toxic waste into Florida’s Everglades, and Hammernut needs proof that his company doesn’t pollute. Perrone offers that in the form of a way he’s developed to fake the results of water testing so the water looks clean. The two begin to do business and all goes well enough at first. Then, Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on, and threatens to report it. Now he needs to get rid of her, so he tells her they’re going on an anniversary cruise of the Everglades. While they’re on the trip, he pushes Joey overboard, thinking that’s the end of his problems. At first everyone, including the police, thinks it’s a terrible accident and there’s much sympathy for Perrone. What he doesn’t know though is that Joey didn’t drown, and she’s made her own plans for revenge…

And then there’s Dawn Harris’ Letter From a Dead Man. In the late 18th-Century Lady Drusilla Davenish lives on the Isle of Wight with her Aunt Thirza and Thirza’s daughter Lucie. The family is excited about Lucie’s upcoming wedding to Giles Saxborough. Everything changes though, when Giles’ father (and Lady Drusilla’s godfather) Cuthbert Saxborough dies in what looks like a tragic riding accident. But things don’t quite add up for Lady Drusilla. Her godfather was an expert horseman. It’s highly unlikely that he’d have died in that way. So she starts to ask questions. Not long afterwards, Giles’ older brother Thomas and his son Tom are both killed in what’s put down as a horrible yachting accident. But Lady Drusilla is convinced that it’s more than that. And there’s more than one possible explanation. It might be connected to a smuggling operation she’s recently discovered. Or it might be someone with a vendetta against the Saxborough family. Or it might be something else…

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is hired by Jim Delbeck to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was a volunteer at the New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya when she fell from the roof of the building where she was living. The police report suggests it might have been suicide, but Delbeck doesn’t think so. It could also have very well been an accident. Whatever the cause, Delbeck wants to know the truth about his daughter’s death. Keeney takes the case and travels to Pattaya. As a part of her investigations, she decides to learn more about at New Life, going undercover as a volunteer. As she gets closer to the truth about Maryanne’s life and death, she finds out that some people do not want their secrets revealed…

At least in fiction, murders designed to look like accidents can serve a lot of purposes. They can give murderers effective ways to hide their crimes. They can also give the author a way to build suspense and interest. And they can allow the author the chance to lead the reader up the proverbial garden path. After all, sometimes an accident is just an accident. There are so many other examples of this plot point in crime fiction – many more than I could name. So…what gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Fowler, Dawn Harris, Louise Penny, Peter Høeg

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Injections

InjectionsThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is making great progress on our treacherous trek through the letters of the alphabet. As ever, my thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for keeping us all together and organized. Erm – You haven’t seen my passport have you, Kerrie? ;-)   This week we’ve arrived at the delightful Isle of I. The word is that there’s quite good fishing, hiking and outdoor sports here. So while everyone’s getting the anti-bug spray and changing into hiking shoes, I’ll share my contribution for the week: injections.

Some injections save lives. For instance, there’s naloxone (often marketed under the name Narcan) that reverses the effects of certain opiates such as heroin. And there’s epinephrine (adrenaline) that counteracts histamine reactions; it’s often carried by people who have severe allergies. But as any crime fiction fan can tell you, injections can be very dangerous too. There are a lot of examples in crime fiction of this kind of murder; I’ll just give a few of them.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family makes a sightseeing trip to the ancient city of Petra. One afternoon while they’re there, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But a few details of the death don’t quite add up, and Colonel Carbury isn’t entirely satisfied that Mrs. Boynton died a natural death. So he asks Hercule Poirot, who is in the area, to investigate. It turns out that Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist and no-one in her family is exactly mourning her loss. Neither are any of the other sightseers on this trip. It also turns out that she was murdered by an injection of digitalis. Poirot looks more closely into Mrs. Boynton’s life and that of her family members, and finds that the key to her murder lies in the kind of personality she had, and in an incident from her past. Some of Christie’s other work also features the role of injections, but no spoilers…

Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow) begins with the funeral of Isaiah Christiansen, a young Greenlander boy who moved to Copenhagen. The official account of his death is that he fell off the roof of the building where he lived – a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless. Smilla Jaspersen lives in the same building and actually befriended Isaiah. Herself a half-Inuit Greenlander, Smilla felt drawn to the boy so she takes an interest in his death. Little signs in the snow on the roof suggest that Isaiah did not fall off the roof accidentally. This is enough for Smilla to start asking questions. Her suspicions are confirmed when she finds out that Isaiah had a puncture wound on his leg. There’s no sign of drugs, but Smilla is now sure that something about this death is not what it seems. So she keeps asking questions. The trail leads her to Greenland and an expedition that included both Isaiah and his father. That expedition turns out to be critical to the mystery.

Benjamin Black’s The Silver Swan is the story of the death of Deirdre Hunt. When her body is found off the rocks near Dalkey Island, the official explanation is that she committed suicide. Her husband Billy accepts that verdict and wants the case to go no further. In fact, he asks his old friend Dublin pathologist Garrett Quirke to do what he can to prevent an autopsy, saying that he doesn’t want his wife’s body subjected to being cut up. For the sake of their friendship Quirke agrees to see what he can do. But he begins to have suspicions about this death and when he prepares the body for a post-mortem examination, he finds evidence to support those suspicions. There’s a puncture wound in Deirdre’s arm, suggesting that she was injected with something. That needle mark is enough to get Quirke looking more deeply into the case. His search for answers leads him to the Silver Swan, a beauty shop in which Deirdre had an interest. There also turns out to be a connection in this case to an Indian faith healer and to Quirke’s own estranged daughter Phoebe, who’s dangerously mixed up in events at the Silver Swan.

Laos’ chief (actually only) medical examiner Dr. Siri Paiboun investigates a case involving injection in Colin Cotterill’s  The Coroner’s Lunch. Dr. Siri and his team are assigned to work on the politically-charged case of three Vietnamese men whose bodies are found in the Nam Ngum Reservoir in Kharmuon. There is a possibility that the men were spies, as there is no love lost between Vietnam and Laos. There are also signs of torture on the bodies. So the Vietnamese government is very interested in knowing what happened to its citizens and in knowing whether the Laotian government had anything to do with their deaths. Dr. Siri and his team are told to work as quickly and discreetly as they can so the press in both countries doesn’t fan the proverbial flames. Siri works with a Vietnamese counterpart Dr. Nguyen Hong on the murders and they find out something startling. Two of the men died not from torture or even from drowning, but from embolisms – injections of air. This suggests something more deliberate than simply the fate of captured Vietnamese spies and so it turns out to be.

Of course, injections can cause plenty of trouble even if they aren’t given directly to people. Just ask Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. Chapman is a baker who lives and works in a Roman-style Melbourne building called Insula. As we learn in Heavenly Pleasures, her nearby neighbours Juliette and Vivienne Lefebvre own a chocolate shop called Heavenly Pleasures and sometimes use her as a taster for new creations. As Chapman puts it, Juliette

 

‘…really cares about chocolate in the same way that I care about bread.’

 

That’s one reason Chapman is so upset when some of the confections are sabotaged. Someone has injected chili into the chocolates, and although the Lefebvre sisters are quick to make things right, that doesn’t stop some questions being asked. There are other incidents of sabotage too and before long the Lefebvre sisters face having to close up shop until they find out what has happened to their chocolate. Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen look into the question of who is trying to ruin Heavenly Pleasures while they are also investigating a suspicious new resident in Chapman’s building as well as a bomb threat.

See what I mean? Injections can be as dangerous as they can be helpful. And you’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the many medical thrillers and hospital-based crime stories where injections play a role. Too easy. Now, if you’ll step over here, let me give you something guaranteed to help prevent a reaction to insect bites …   ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Benjamin Black, Colin Cotterill, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Høeg

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Falls

FallingThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has gotten through the first five stops on our treacherous tour and now we’re heading to our sixth destination, the historic F Falls. Our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has been doing a fantastic job keeping us all together and safe; thanks, Kerrie. It’s rather opportune that we’re visiting the Falls today actually because, well, that’s my contribution for this stop: falls.

Falls from heights (buildings, cliffs, etc.) can be very dangerous. In fact they’re often fatal. In a mystery novel they’re extremely useful though. A fall can look like an accident or a suicide, so it’s relatively easy to ‘cover up’ the fact of murder. And given the right circumstances, nearly anyone can arrange for someone to have a tragic fall. A good hard push in the right place is all it takes. So it’s really no wonder we see this plot point so often in crime fiction.

One of the most famous falls in crime fiction occurs in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem. Sherlock Holmes is about to get hold of the evidence he needs to put his nemesis Professor Moriarty and Moriarty’s criminal gang into jail for a long time. But Moriarty finds out and Holmes and Watson are forced to flee England. They end up in Switzerland where Morarity manages to track Holmes to the Reichenbach Falls. In a dramatic scene, the two enemies grapple and both go over the falls. Of course, as Holmes fans know, that’s hardly the end of the great detective’s story…

There’s a tragic fall in Agatha Christie’s short story The Edge. Clare Halliwell is one of the ‘pillars of the community’ of Daymer’s End. She’s a parish worker with a reputation for being a ‘very good sort.’ Clare and Gerald Lee have been friends for a long time, and in fact, Clare thinks their relationship is more than friendly. But then Gerald shocks her by marrying Viven Harper. Viven isn’t much liked in the village but at first Clare tries to get along with her. It’s not a successful attempt though and as time goes by, Clare dislikes Vivien more and more. Then she accidentally discovers that Vivien has been having an affair. Now Clare is faced with a decision: should she tell Gerald what she knows? Vivien begs her not to, and Clare soon finds that she rather enjoys having Vivien in her power so to speak. The tension between the two women mounts, and it results in a tragic fall from a cliff. An interesting question this story raises is: what really caused the fall?

In Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (AKA The Mystery at Lover’s Cave), writer and newspaper correspondent Roger Sheringham is preparing for a holiday with his cousin Anthony Walton when business changes his plans. Sheringham’s employer The Daily Courier wants him to go to Ludmouth Bay in Hampshire to report on the investigation into the death of Elise Vane, whose body has been found at the bottom of a cliff. There are now clues that her death was neither an accident nor suicide, so Sheringham is assigned to follow the story. That’s how he meets Inspector Moresby, who’s staying at the same inn and who is in charge of the investigation. Bit by bit, and each in a different way, the two men get to know the various people in the victim’s life, and they find that more than one of those people may have had a good motive for murder. Elise Vane was an unpleasant person with a large fortune to leave. In the end, Sheringham and Moresby find out who wanted the victim dead badly enough to actually murder her.

Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow) begins with the funeral of Isaiah Christiansen, a ten-year-old Greenlander who fell from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment building where he lived. His death has been ruled an accident and most people are quite satisfied with that. But Smilla Jaspersen, who also lives in the building and has befriended Isaiah, is not. As a half-Inuit who grew up in Greenland, she has a strong sense of snow, and she can see by the snow on the roof that someone else was involved in Isaiah’s death. So she begins to ask questions. The trail leads to an expedition that Isaiah made to Greenland with his father and the events that happened there, so Jaspersen travels to Greenland to search for answers. That’s where she finds the connection between a little-known piece of scientific research, the glaciers of Greenland, and the boy’s death.

In Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss, wealthy and powerful Swedish financier Richard von Knecht dies after a fall from the balcony of his posh penthouse. Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and her team are called to the scene for what is supposed to be a ‘rubber stamp’ determination that von Knecht committed suicide. However there are two problems with this theory. First, as the team learns, von Knecht was not the kind of person who would have done such a drastic thing. And there had been no signs that he was unhappy enough to take his own life – and certainly not in this manner, as he was very much afraid of heights. What’s more, the forensic evidence suggests that someone else might have been present on the balcony and could have pushed von Knecht over the edge of it. As the team gets to know von Knecht’s widow, son, daughter-in-law and friends/business associates, we learn that there are several people who might very well have wanted von Knecht dead.

Maryanne Delbeck learns how dangerous falling from heights can be in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. She came to Thailand from Australia to volunteer at the New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya. One night she is pushed, or jumps, or falls to her death from the roof of the hotel where she’s living.  The official police report is that Maryanne committed suicide but her father Jim doesn’t believe it. So he hires Bangkok PI Jayne Keeney to find out the truth about his daughter’s death. Keeney travels to Pattaya and goes undercover at the children’s centre to find out everything she can about Maryanne’s life and work. She discovers that the centre has its own secrets and that Maryanne may have known about them. What’s more, she learns that Maryanne’s life was more complicated than it seems on the surface. In the end Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel find out what really happened to Maryanne Delbeck.

 

See what I mean? Falls from high places aren’t always very easy to prove as murder, even if they are. And sometimes what looks like murder ends up having been an accident. Or suicide. No wonder there are so many of these unfortunate run-ins with high places in crime fiction. Now, what do you say we take a nice walk to the top of that lovely cliff to see the falls? It’s a beautiful view… ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Helene Tursten, Peter Høeg