Category Archives: Peter Høeg

Why, We Only Live to Serve*

Service StaffAn interesting comment exchange with Bryan, who blogs at The Vagrant Mood, has reminded me of how much fictional (and real) sleuths can learn from those service people we don’t always notice. People such as receptionists, secretaries, delivery people and so on can be extremely helpful when the police are trying to establish someone’s whereabouts or the course of events. And wise detectives know not to ignore those folks.

Agatha Christie’s stories frequently include clues, or at least information, from such people. For instance, in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley. Later Chief Inspector Japp visits Poirot, and tells him that Morley has been shot. Poirot and Japp begin the investigation, with their focus on those who were in the surgery at the time of the murder. For that information, they turn to Morley’s houseboy Alfred Biggs. One of his duties is to escort patients and other visitors from the reception area to the dentist, so he knows who’s arrived and who wasn’t there. He may not be able to pronounce the names correctly, but Alfred has more information about this case than anyone really knows at first.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Cad, Lochdubh constable Hamish Macbeth investigates the shooting death of Captain Peter Bartlett.  He was one of several houseguests staying with Colonel Haliburton-Smythe and his wife for a weekend party. Early one morning, he went out hunting for grouse, but was murdered instead. Macbeth happens to be on the scene when Bartlett’s body is discovered, because he wanted to speak to the Haliburton-Smythe’s daughter Priscilla, with whom he has an on-again/off-again romance. He starts asking questions, and, despite interference from DCI Blair, he’s able to prove that Bartlett’s death was no accident. As he tries to find out who was responsible, Macbeth relies on help from the Haliburton-Smythes’ maid Jessie, who has a particular liking for him. And in one funny scene, she proves resourceful, too. Macbeth doesn’t want Blair to know that he’s still at the Haliburton-Smythes after being more or less dismissed.

‘Hamish had not left. He had had no lunch and wanted to see if he could manage to get some tea and scones. He had slid quietly down behind a large sofa by the window and was sitting on a small stool.
Jessie, the maid, had a soft spot for Hamish. She quietly handed him down a plate of scones and tea when Jenkins [the butler] wasn’t looking.’

Jessie may be a little ‘dizzy,’ but she can be very helpful.

Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow introduces readers to Smilla Jaspersen, a half Inuit/half Danish Greenlander who’s now living in Copenhagen. As the novel begins, she’s attending a funeral for Isaiah Christiensen, a boy who lived in the same building, and who had what looks like a tragic fall from its roof. Jaspersen feels a bond with Isaiah, since he too is a Greenlander. So she’s drawn to the roof where the accident took place. While she’s there, she sees signs in the snow that suggest this was no accident. So she starts asking questions. The trail leads to the Cryolite Corporation of Denmark, and to a bookkeeper, Elsa Lübing, who worked there. When she discovers that Lübing was promoted directly from bookkeeper to head accountant, she knows that the woman probably has very useful information. And so it turns out to be. In the end, Jaspersen links Isaiah Christiansen’s death with some events in her own land.

Emily Brightwell’s long-running Victorian-era series features Mrs. Jeffries, who serves as housekeeper for Inspector Gerald Witherspoon. As housekeeper, she’s not officially entitled to give her opinion on the cases that Witherspoon investigates. But he often finds himself discussing them with her; and, in her own way, she offers insight that proves very helpful. She doesn’t do it alone, though. She in turn relies on her staff (cook, housemaids, footman, driver, and so on). These staff members are the ones who deal with delivery people, shopkeepers and others who see and know things that their ‘betters’ might not. And most of them would rather not talk to the police. So Mrs. Jeffries’ staff is tailor-made to find out information.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack takes place in 1970’s Argentina, a very dangerous time to live in Buenos Aires. Through it all, Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano does his job as a police officer the best he can. One morning, he’s called out to a riverbank, where he’s been told two bodies were dumped. When he gets there, though, there are actually three. Two of them bear the hallmarks of an Army-style execution, and in the times in which he lives, Lescano knows better than to ask questions about them. The third body, though, is a little different. The victim is successful pawnbroker Elías Biterman, who doesn’t seem to have been killed in the ‘regular’ way. So Lescano begins what turns out to be an extremely dangerous investigation. Most people don’t want to help, since it could get them killed. But a few people do. One of them is Marcelo, who works as a court office boy. He finds some important, incriminating information, and manages to get it to Lescano. It’s a dangerous and brave thing to do, and it makes a major difference in this case.

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. In that novel, successful accountant Daniel Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to catch and stop a blackmailer. Guest is married and ‘settled,’ but he’s had a few secret trysts with men; apparently someone’s found out about them and is now prepared to go public. The trail leads to the Persephone Theatre, so Quant visits the place, hoping to get some information on the actors who work there. He encounters a receptionist, Rebecca, whom he has to persuade to part with some information. When he finally does,

‘She lethargically opened a drawer that must have weighed several tonnes given the effort she expended to do so and pulled out just the documents I was looking for.’

Then, he has to convince her to let him have a look at the actors’ résumés. It’s not easy, but he finally manages to get Rebecca to collect the information he wants. It’s a funny scene, but it also shows that receptionists can be both help and hindrance for the sleuth.

And it’s not just receptionists. Secretaries, delivery drivers, domestic staff, hotel chambermaids, and other service staff can all be extremely useful resources. Sleuths ignore them at their peril.

Now, may I suggest your next blog stop be The Vagrant Mood? It’s a great resource for reviews, and you can also treat yourself to Bryan’s historical mystery series. One features actress Kay Francis; the other ‘stars’ 1940’s British Secret Service agent Peter Warlock.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Be Our Guest.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Emily Brightwell, Ernesto Mallo, M.C. Beaton, Peter Høeg

It’s All So Unexpected That I Just Don’t Understand*

Violating ExpectationsIf you’ve read enough crime fiction, you start to build up a set of expectations for crime novels. For example, imagine that a character’s walking down a very dark, abandoned street late at night. You expect that something bad’s going to happen. There are other overall expectations that we have of crime stories, too, and research suggests that we bring those assumptions with us when we read.

But at times, those expectations prove to be wrong. Authors sometimes play with readers’ expectations in order to build suspense and set readers up to be surprised. There are cases, too, where the author doesn’t do this sort of thing deliberately. Rather, the story simply goes in a direction that the reader hadn’t anticipated. Sometimes that works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. For the author, there’s a delicate balance between playing with readers’ assumptions and not ‘playing fair.’ There’s a delicate balance between taking a story in an interesting direction, and going off on an improbable tangent.

Agatha Christie, for instance, played with readers’ expectations in several of her stories. In Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot is en route to London on the famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed. M. Bouc, a director of the company that owns the train, is also aboard, and asks Poirot to investigate. The idea is for Poirot to find out who the killer is before the train crosses the next frontier, so that the killer can be handed over to the police. The only possible suspects are the other people in the same coach, so Poirot concentrates his attention on them. And here we have what seems a rather traditional sort of Golden Age setup: a murder, a limited cast of suspects, some clues, and a snowstorm to isolate them. But as anyone who’s read this novel can tell you, the solution isn’t ‘typical’ at all. In that way, Christie manipulated readers’ expectations.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice also plays with readers’ expectations. In that novel, LAPD detective Harry Bosch happens to be listening to his police scanner when he hears of a suicide in a seedy motel in his jurisdiction. Surprised that he wasn’t officially notified, since he’s ‘on call,’ Bosch goes to the scene. There, he finds that a fellow officer, Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore, has died, apparently a successful suicide attempt. A few details strike Bosch as inconsistent with suicide, so he starts to ask questions. But the ‘higher ups’ don’t want him to make much of this case. The official story is that Moore had gone dirty and committed suicide as a result, and that’s what Bosch’s bosses want on the report. Bosch being Bosch, though, he isn’t satisfied with ‘rubber stamping,’ and investigates Moore’s death. There’s a very key violation of reader expectations in this novel. At the same time, though, it’s not random, and it’s not unexpected if one really thinks about it.

In Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, Boston PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro take on the heartbreaking case of a missing four-year-old girl, Amanda McCready. The police have been out in force looking for the child, and of course there’s been a major public appeal for any information. So at first, Kenzie and Gennaro aren’t really sure what they can do that hasn’t already been done. But Amanda’s Uncle Lionel and Aunt Beatrice insist, and the PIs are reluctantly persuaded to look into the matter. Without spoiling the story, I can say that it goes against reader expectations in some important ways. At the same time, it does so in a way that (at least to me) is credible. Lehane’s choices about the storyline also raise some important and powerful ethical questions.

Sometimes, characters can turn out to be quite different to what readers expect, and that can impact readers’ assumptions about the story. For instance, in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction writer Zack Walker and his journalist wife Sarah move their family from the city to a beautiful suburban housing development called Valley Forest Estates. Walker believes that the family will be safer there, and he’s hoping that the lower cost of living will mean he can devote full time to his writing. Trouble begins soon after the Walkers move in. First, the family notices several problems with the house they’ve bought. Then, when Walker goes to the main sales office to complain, he witnesses an argument between one of Valley Forest’s executives, and local eco-activist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker finds Spender’s body by a local creek. Bit by bit, the naturally cautious Walker gets drawn into more danger than he could have imagined. There are a few characters in this novel who turn out not to be at all what they seem. We have certain expectations of those characters, possibly from reading a lot of other crime fiction, but those assumptions turn out to be wrong. That fact adds to the interest in the story.

Sometimes, the story itself takes a new and unexpected direction. This can be quite tricky, since readers may think they’re ‘signing up’ for one kind of story, only to get a story that proves to be something else. At times that can work very well, as the new direction in the story draws the reader in. It’s less successful at other times. One such story is arguably Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. As that novel begins, Smilla Japsersen attends the funeral of ten-year-old Isaiah Christiansen, who lived in the same Copenhagen apartment building. Isaiah fell off the roof of the building in what police say was a tragic accident. But when Jaspersen sees the marks in the snow on the roof, she notices signs that suggest that Isaiah’s death was not an accident at all. So she begins to ask questions. At this point, the novel has many of the hallmarks of a whodunit as Jaspersen tries to find out who would want to kill a young boy. But as she learns more, the novel arguably takes on the qualities of a science thriller. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers, but if you’ve read the novel, you know what I mean.

The question of whether and how much to manipulate reader expectations isn’t an easy one. But when it’s done well, it can make for a compelling story. It’s a risk, though, since if it doesn’t work well, it can also make readers very cranky. What are your thoughts? Are there certain expectations that you don’t want violated? How do you react when your assumptions about a story are turned upside down?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Church’s One Day.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Linwood Barclay, Michael Connelly, Peter Høeg

Next Phase, New Wave*

CrimeFIction TrendsYou don’t need me to tell you that there are certain trends in crime fiction that become popular, especially if a particular book does very well. Other publishers and authors see that, and it doesn’t take much intuition to understand the appeal of doing what sells very well. It’s also easy to see how authors might be inspired to explore a topic if they see that it’s been ‘safe’ for another author to do so.

Those trends have been a part of the genre since its beginnings, and my guess is, they’ll keep happening. It’s interesting to see what’s been popular just lately, and perhaps speculate on what might be coming next. Here are just a few examples of what I mean. I know you’ll think of more than I could.

There’s been excellent Scandinavian crime fiction out there for quite a while. Many argue that it’s been a tradition since the work of Steen Steensen Blicher in the 19th Century. But many English-speaking readers didn’t experience it until the mid-to-late 1960’s, when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series was translated. And it was even later, at the end of the 1990’s and beginning of the most recent decades, that a lot of English-speaking readers got to experience more of the richness of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Publishers saw the market, translations were commissioned, and the work of writers such as Peter Høeg, Åke Edwardson, Henning Mankell, and later, Liza Marklund and Karin Fossum (among many, many others) became better known in English-speaking markets (I can’t speak as well for other markets). This success could very well be part of what encouraged other authors and publishers to make other Scandinavian crime fiction available in English.

Scandinavian crime novels have been around for more than 150 years, but there’s been a particular interest in it in English-speaking markets in the last twenty years or so. Today it’s possible to read the translated work of many, many Scandinavian writers. Will this trend continue? Will interest fade in that particular kind of crime fiction? I don’t have the data to support myself here, but I don’t think it will fade out. Translated Scandinavian crime fiction is too well established, as I see it, and has been for some time. It’s also too broad a category. But it will be very interesting to see what form it takes as new generations of Scandinavian crime writers have their work translated.

Another trend we’ve seen, especially in the last seven or eight years, has been a large number of novels that are often called ‘domestic noir.’ In those novels, the focus is on families, intimate relationships, and the things that can go on underneath a seemingly peaceful surface.

Of course, that sort of story is not new. Work such as Margaret Yorke’s (and even work before hers) has featured this kind of plot line for some time. But since the popularity of work such as Gillian Flynn’s, publishers are seeing that domestic noir can be lucrative. That’s arguably part of why we’ve seen several such novels published in the last five years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, among many others. Publishers are seeing that there’s a market for such work, and they’re happy to meet that demand.

Will the trend continue? Will interest in it fade? I’m less certain here. In one sense, it’s a well-established sub-genre if you include books such as Yorke’s and some of Margaret Millar’s. On the other hand, it’s not as broad a sub-genre, and doesn’t have a very long history if you put it in context. I’m not sure if the current intense interest in domestic noir will continue.

Another interesting development I’ve seen (have you noticed this?) is an interest in children involved in crime and how that affects them. Some of these novels (such as Ruth Dugdall’s Humber Boy B, Simon Lelic’s The Child Who, Kanae Minato’s Confessions, and William Landay’s Defending Jacob) focus on young offenders. Others, such as Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, feature young people who are impacted by crime among the adults in their lives. There are many other examples, too, of that sort of novel.

Of course, novels about children who are mixed up in, or the perpetrators of, crime are not new. There’s even an Agatha Christie novel that features a young person as the killer (No, I’m not saying which one. No spoilers here.).  And that’s not the only Christie in which a young person is one of the suspects. But there is a lot of interest in the last few years in how we treat young offenders, how responsible they are for what they do, and whether they can be reintegrated into society.

These aren’t easy questions, of course, and perhaps that’s part of why this sort of novel has gotten a lot of attention recently. Perhaps authors and publishers are seeing that readers are open to exploring some of these difficult issues. Or it could be that as we learn more about young people’s development, we’re learning more ways in which to work with them (and ways that don’t work!).

What do you think about all this? What trends have you been noticing in the crime fiction you read? Do you think they’ll continue? If you’re a writer, do you pay attention to those trends when you choose your themes, characters and plots? And just as importantly, what do you think may be coming next?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Gillian Flynn, Helen Fitzgerald, Honey Brown, Kanae Minato, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Millar, Margaret Yorke, Paula Hawkins, Per Wahlöö, Peter Høeg, Ruth Dugdall, Simon Lelic, Steen Seensen Blicher, William Landay

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.


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 Kusanagi investigates the murder of Shinji Togashi. The victim’s ex-wife Yasuko Hanaoka comes under suspicion, but Kusanagi 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.


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