Category Archives: Peter Temple

Cottage Industry*

Today’s Internet and social media have allowed individual, one-or-two-person businesses more ‘reach’ and larger markets than ever. Consider authors, for instance (Please, do consider authors… 😉 ). Self-published authors have many options for getting the word out about their books. But they aren’t the only ones. If you’ve ever been to Etsy or other, similar, sites, you know that individuals who design and sell their own products can now reach people as never before. So can those who provide services, whether it’s editing, web design, or tax preparation.

It hasn’t always been that way, of course, and it’s interesting to see how those individual businesses have been represented in crime fiction as time has gone on. After all, not everything has to be purchased from a mass producer. And sometimes, those characters who in those businesses can add interest to a story.

For many centuries, individual businesses were integral to a lot of economies. We see that, for instance, Eleanor Kuhns’ Will Rees is an itinerant weaver, who lives in Maine at the very end of the 18th Century. As the series begins (with A Simple Murder) Rees doesn’t really have what you’d call a home base. He doesn’t even have a shop. He travels through New England, doing weaving jobs as he is commissioned. As the series goes on, he meets and, later, marries, Lydia Farrell, and begins to develop what a lot of us would consider a home base. But he still travels, and he owns his business by himself. People learn about him mostly through word of mouth. On the one hand, life is hardly physically easy for Rees. On the other, he has almost no overhead expenses. Fans of historical crime fiction can tell you that there are plenty of other characters who have similar individual businesses.

Later, of course, individuals had their businesses in small shops. Many still do. In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance, we meet Jenny Driver, who is a milliner. When her good friend, Carlotta Adams, dies of what looks like an accidental overdose of barbiturates, Jenny is, understandably upset. She’s also not convinced that this death was accidental. And neither is Hercule Poirot. He has more than one conversation with Jenny as he works to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. And it turns out that this death is related to an earlier murder. In this novel, Jenny is portrayed as successful, with her own shop and at least one employee. It’s still a time when those with the means go to individual dressmakers and tailors to have their clothes made, and milliners to have hats made.

Even today, there are people who have their own, individual, clothing businesses like that. For instance, there’s D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington. He is a retired milliner, who used to own a well-regarded shop in London. He’s very skilled at creating just the right hat for each of his clients. As the series goes on, he retires to the village of Tuesbury, where he still makes the occasional hat in a shed he has on his property (but don’t tell the local council!). He takes great pride in all the details of a well-made hat, too. Interestingly, word about his millinery skill is ‘out there’ on the Internet, thanks in large part to his friend, Delilah Delibes. She’s also getting the word out that he’s a skilled sleuth, too…

Fans of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish can tell you that he is a sometimes-lawyer who also happens to be good at finding people, especially people who don’t want to be found. One of the interesting sides of Irish’s character is that he has also informally apprenticed himself to a cabinetmaker, Charlie Taub. Taub takes great pride in finding the perfect piece of wood for every project, and he cares about each detail. And a Charlie Taub product is a piece to treasure.

Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder is the story of a relatively new sort of individual business owner. Malin Andersson is a professional blogger, whose blog, Malin’s Table, features natural recipes and home living ideas. She makes a decent living from the blog, and has few overhead expenses, since she runs the business from her home on the island of Fåröe. She and her husband, Henrik Kjellander, take their two children on a two-month trip, during which they sublet their home. When they return, they find that everything is in a total mess, and there’s been damage. At first, they put it all down to terrible tenants. But then, Malin discovers that some of the family photographs have been deliberately mutilated. Now uneasy, she wants to get the police involved. Gotland police detectives Fredrik Broman and Sara Oskarsson look into the matter and try to find out who would have a personal grudge against the family, or at least against one member of it. The stakes get higher as the family begins to receive anonymous threatening letters. Then, the couple’s daughter, Ellen, disappears. Now, there’s a frantic search for her, and everyone knows that the police are going to have to solve this case quickly before there is even more tragedy.

Even in this post-industrial age, there are still plenty of individuals who have their own businesses. They create unique products, they offer valuable services, and, with the Internet, they’re often easy to find. There are plenty of risks, of course, but there’s also little in the way of overhead expense. And, because of the nature of this sort of business, owners can be flexible as they learn what customers want. And, for customers, there’s nothing quite like that specially designed gift basket. Or that perfect knitted hat-and-scarf set. Or that website that is exactly what you need.

Oh, the ‘photo? Individual businesses need to have flexible ways for people to make payments. Like this Square that I use for my books.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Yeah Yeah Noh.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Eleanor Kuhns, Håkan Östlundh, Peter Temple

This Warehouse Frightens Me*

Many companies use warehouses to store things until they are shipped or delivered. And, of course, there’s a big business in residential/individual storage too. That makes sense, as people look for a house, serve in the military, and so on. There’s even a US TV show about goods in storage, where people bid on the contents of different storage sheds.

If you think about it, warehouses and storage places can make for interesting additions to crime novels. They’re convenient for hiding contraband, weapons, bodies, and so on. And they can be awfully creepy, too. So, it makes sense that we’d see them in the genre.

For example, in Freeman Wills Crofts’ The Cask, the Bullfinch pulls in to the London docks from Rouen. When it arrives, the cargo is unloaded into the warehouse. Tom Broughton, who works for the Insular and Continental Steam Navigation Company, is sent to ensure that a valuable consignment of wine has arrived in good order. He checks the casks, and finds that one weighs more than the others, and that gets his attention right away. Soon enough, when he gets a foreman to open the questionable cask, he finds the body of a woman in it. Inspector Burnley of Scotland Yard investigates, and he works with his French friend and counterpart, M. Lefarge of the Sûreté, to find out who the woman was and who killed her.

Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House begins with a fire in a warehouse in London’s Southwark area. Firefighters are called in and manage to control the blaze. In the ruins of the warehouse, they find the body of an unknown woman. The police, in the form of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, are called in and begin to investigate. With help from his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, Kindcaid and his team discover that there are four missing persons reported whose descriptions match that of the woman in the warehouse. So, Kincaid, James, and the team work to find out if the dead woman is one of those people and, if so, which one. In the meantime, there’s the question of who set the warehouse fire – especially after it’s followed by other fires…

There’s a very eerie scene in a storage bunker in Tony Hillerman’s The Wailing Wind. In that novel, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito finds the body of a man slumped over in his car. At first it looks a case of a drunk curled up asleep, but soon enough, it’s clear that this man was murdered. Once it’s clear that this is a crime scene, Sergeant Jim Chee takes over the case, and he works with (now retired) Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn to find the truth. It turns out that this is linked to a five-year-old case that Leaphorn wasn’t able to solve – the first time…

Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol features San Diego PI Boone Daniels. He’s approached by Petra Hall, from the law firm Burke, Spitz, and Culliver, to take on a new case. The firm represents Coastal Insurance Company, which is currently facing a lawsuit. Daniel ‘Dan Silver’ Silvieri is suing Coastal for bad faith and damages in the matter of a warehouse he owns. The warehouse burned, and Silvieri applied to the insurance company to cover his losses. But the company suspects this is a case of arson, and won’t pay; hence, the lawsuit. Hall wants Daniels to find a stripper named Tamera Roddick, who was a witness to the fire. Her testimony will be important in this case, and she has gone missing. Daniels doesn’t want to take the case at first, but he is finally persuaded. Not long afterwards, a young woman dies from a fall (or a push) off the balcony of a cheap motel room. She’s got Tamera Roddick’s identification, so at first, Daniels and the police draw the obvious conclusion. But they are soon proved wrong. The dead woman is Tamera’s best friend, another stripper who calls herself Angela Hart. Now, Daniels is drawn into a case of murder, arson, and some very ugly things going on. And the warehouse plays a role in the story.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Truth. That novel takes place as Melbourne faces a serious threat from bush fires, so everyone’s nerves are stretched. Against this backdrop, Inspector Stephen Villani has some very difficult cases to solve. One of them is the murder of three drug dealers whose mutilated bodies are discovered in an abandoned warehouse. Another is the case of an unidentified woman whose body is found in a posh apartment. As the novel goes on, Villani finds that there are several people, including some in his own department, who do not want the truth about these cases to come out.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of crime stories where storage places and warehouses play roles (right, fans of Ian Rankin’s Doors Open?). And it’s not hard to see why. They’re very seldom carefully watched, they offer space for…whatever, and they can be positively creepy. These are just a few examples, to show you what I mean. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Matthews’ Warehouse.

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Filed under Deborah Crombie, Don Winslow, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ian Rankin, Peter Temple, Tony Hillerman

The Voice of the People Cannot be Denied*

As this is posted, it would have been César Chávez’ 91st birthday. Chávez was, of course, an activist whose focus was farm workers, especially migrant farm workers. His work resulted in better working conditions, collective bargaining (under the auspices of the United Farm Workers), and more. Of course, Chávez wasn’t the only activist to try to improve living and working conditions for workers. There’ve been many in real life.

There’ve been plenty in crime fiction, too. Activists make for interesting characters, since their passion is an important character trait. And that passion can have all sorts of consequences. Activism also can add interesting tension to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a group of people embarks on a cruise of the Nile. One of them is a man who calls himself Mr. Ferguson. He is an activist who is determined to improve the lives of working people. Ferguson views the wealthy as parasites who contribute nothing to society, and he has nothing but contempt for the ‘better class’ of people he meets on the cruise. One of those people is Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, who’s on a honeymoon trip with her new husband, Simon. When she is shot on the second night of the cruise, Hercule Poirot works with Colonel Race to find out who is responsible. The most likely suspect is the victim’s former friend, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, who was engaged to Simon before he met Linnet. But she can be proven to have been elsewhere at the time of the shooting, so she cannot be the murderer. This means Poirot and Race have to look among the other passengers and the crew for the killer. Mr. Ferguson’s socialist views aren’t the reason Linnet is killed, but they add an interesting layer to the story, and they give his character some ‘flesh.’

Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning sees Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe travel to Holm Countram College. The school is undergoing renovations, and the construction workers have uncovered the body of the college’s former president, Alison Girling. She was supposed to have been killed in a freak avalanche five years earlier, during a skiing holiday. Now it’s clear that she never got to her destination. As Dalziel and Pascoe investigate, they get to know several of the students on campus. One of them is student activist Stuart Cockshut, who’s very much a radical, and wants all sorts of changes that he sees as improvements. His ‘boss’ is Franny Roote, who’s one of the campus leaders. The activism plays its role in the story, and it’s interesting to see the tension between the student leaders and Dalziel. As you can imagine, he has little patience for the student radicals and their demands.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly, we are introduced to Marco Ribetti. He is an activist leader whose group wants to stop the Venice glass-blowing industry from pouring toxic waste into the local water system and canals. His politics and beliefs are very much at odds with those of his father-in-law, Giovanni de Cal, who owns one of the factories. That doesn’t prevent Ribetti from getting involved in protests and other activity, including demonstrations at de Cal’s place of business. When he is arrested one day during a protest, Ribetti asks his friend, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello for help. Vienello agrees, and gets his boss, Guido Brunetti, involved. They arrange for Ribetti’s release, but things are far from over. Not long afterwards, Giorgio Tassini, night watchman at de Cal’s factory, dies of what looks like a terrible accident. But Brunetti isn’t convinced this death was accidental. So, he and his team look more closely into the case.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometimes-lawyer Jack Irish gets a call from a former client, Danny McKillop. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served time for a drink-driving incident that killed a local activist, Anne Jeppeson. McKillop wants to meet with Irish, but before they can get together, McKillop is murdered. Irish feels guilty as it is, because he didn’t do a good job of defending his client. So, he decides to try to find out what happened. As he looks more deeply into the case, Irish learns that McKillop was framed. Someone else killed Anne Jeppeson, and it wasn’t an accident. There are several possible killers, too, as she and her group were trying to stop a multi-million-dollar Melbourne developed called Yarra Cove. She wanted to keep that area available and affordable for the working-class people who live there, and someone stopped her. As Irish gets closer to the truth, he finds greed and corruption in very high places.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s Riel Delorme. He’s a Regina-based Métis activist whom we first meet in Kaleidoscope. In that novel, he and his group are trying to prevent a development in the economically depressed North Central part of the city. His methods are arguably questionable, but the goal is to improve the lot of the people who live in that part of Regina. The development company is represented by prominent attorney Zack Shreve, whose wife is Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. When one of the developer’s employees is killed, Riel is a likely suspect. But it’s not as simple as that. Matters get even more complicated when Joanne learns that her daughter, Mieka, is romantically involved with Delorme. It’s an interesting exploration of how a development project can divide people.

There’s a lot of work to be done in the world, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of activism. Those who lead those movements are often interesting in their own right, and they can add interest, tension, and more to a crime novel. These are just a few. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Webber and Tim Rice’s New Argentina.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Peter Temple, Reginald Hill

At the Gate Are All the Horses Waiting For the Cue to Fly Away*

Have you ever ridden horses? Even if your family never owned a horse, you might have taken riding lessons. Horses have a long history with people, for farm work, for racing, and as forms of transportation. And that’s to say nothing of the way they’ve been bred for showing.

The horse business is a very lucrative one, and it’s got its own culture and language. Because it’s a small world, so to speak, and because of the money involved, the world of horses is an interesting context for a crime story. There are a lot of them out there; here are just a few.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel to Dartmoor to investigate the disappearance of a famous racehorse, Silver Blaze. The horse has been abducted, and his trainer, John Straker, has been murdered. Some of the evidence points to a London bookmaker, Fitzroy Simpson. In fact, Inspector Tobias Gregson has already arrested him for murder. But, for all of his faults, Gregson doesn’t want an innocent man to be convicted. So, he asks Holmes to investigate. Of course, Holmes and Watson want to know who Straker’s killer is, too. But there’s also the intriguing question of what happened to Silver Blaze. It’s not easy to hide a horse. But Holmes works out where Silver Blaze is.

In Ellery Queen’s short story, Long Shot, Queen is under contract to Hollywood’s Magna Studios. They’ve tapped him to do a crime film that takes place in the horse racing world, but he knows nothing about horses, or racing. His love interest, gossip columnist Paula Paris, takes him to meet with well-known breeder John Scott. Queen gets some useful information, but he also gets drawn into a difficult mystery. It seems that Scott is being threatened by a man who wants to buy up his whole stable. If Scott doesn’t acquiesce, his best horse, Danger, is at real risk. And, on the day of an important race at Santa Anita, tragedy strikes. Danger is badly wounded, and Scott’s daughter, Kathryn, is abducted. But, as Queen discovers, this isn’t as straightforward a mystery as it seems…

Fans of Dick Francis’ work will know that many of them feature the horse breeding and racing world. For example, one of his series features former jockey Sid Halley. His racing career has ended in injury, and Halley now works as a racetrack investigator. And there are all sorts of nefarious things that can go on in that world, There’s a lot of money in racing, so there’s quite a lot at stake. And that means that some people will do whatever it takes to sabotage competition and ensure their horses will win. Of course, there are watchdog groups to make sure that races are run fairly. But, as Halley learns throughout the novels, there are plenty of insidious ways to ‘work the system.’

Fans of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series will know that Irish is a Melbourne-based sometimes-lawyer, who also has a knack for finding people who don’t want to be found. One of his interests is horse racing, and he and a group of his friends have a sort of betting ‘syndicate.’ In Dead Point, for instance, one of the plot threads follows the syndicate as their horse, Renoir, can’t finish an important race, and has to be put down. Then, one of the group members is mugged, and the group’s winnings from another race are stolen. Now, Irish has very personal reasons for finding out who’s behind it all.

If you’ve ever been to the US state of Virginia, you know that horses and horse breeding are integral to the culture. There are some horse bloodlines that go back many generations, and races, shows, sales, and even fox hunts, are important social events. Rita Mae Brown’s Mary Minor ‘Harry’ Haristeen series takes place against this backdrop. As the series begins, she is the postmistress for tiny Crozet, Virginia. Later she steps away from that position and does other things, such as winemaking and concentrating on her farm. Throughout the series, readers get a strong sense of the local culture, and that includes horses. In more than one novel, Harry investigates mysteries that have to do with horse breeding, racing, and so on. Fans can tell you, too, that her ex-husband, Pharamond ‘Fair’ Haristeen (who later returns to her life), is a much-in-demand veterinarian whose specialty is horses.

Horses also play important roles on ranches. Good horses are an essential to a successful operation. We see that in work like Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte series. He is a police investigator for the Queensland Police. His work takes him to some far-flung places, and to more than one ranch. In works such as The Bone is Pointed and The Bushman Who Came Back, we see how a ranch relies on its horses. We see that in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, too, as well as several others.

As you can see (but you knew this), horses and people have a long and varied sort of relationship. Whether it’s racing, farm work, transportation, or something else, horses have been integrated into our lives for millennia. So, it’s really little wonder at all that we also see them in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples. Your turn.

 

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? That’s a ‘photo of my daughter taking her first pony ride.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Ascot Gavotte.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Craig Johnson, Dick Francis, Ellery Queen, Peter Temple, Rita Mae Brown

Livin’ On The Edge*

Anyone who’s ever lived in wildfire/bush fire country can tell you that, when even a small fire starts, things can turn very, very bad, very, very quickly. So, there’s often a lot of tension as everyone looks at things such as prevailing winds, terrain, availability of firefighting staff, and size of the blaze. Wise people take precautions, in case they need to evacuate. After all, there may only be 10-30 minutes to evacuate once the order is given. That’s not the time to discuss who will take what, or where to go. By the way, if you want to read a realistic account of what this situation is like, read Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350. G’wan, read it. Admittedly, it’s not crime fiction, but it’s such a good fit here that I decided to mention it, anyway.

That tension, as people wait to see what will happen, is almost palpable. In real life, it can be a big challenge. In fiction, it can add an engaging layer of suspense. And crime writers have used it in several different ways.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood begins in Hercule Poirot’s club. Everyone’s taking shelter there against World War II air raids, and it’s not in the least clear how things will pan out. So, there’s a lot of tension. In part to break that tension, Poirot listens to a story told by fellow member Major Porter. It seems he knew a Robert Underhay who died in Africa. Underhay’s widow, Rosaleen, later married Gordon Cloade. But Porter’s story suggests that Underhay might still be alive. This possibility becomes crucial later, when Cloade is killed in a bombing. He dies without having made a will, which in most cases would mean Rosaleen inherits all of his considerable wealth. But if her first husband is alive, that would mean she couldn’t inherit. And that’s exactly what Cloade’s family wants, for various reasons. So, Poirot’s interest is piqued when he learns that a stranger named Enoch Arden has been killed in Warmsley Vale, where most of the Cloads lived. Arden hinted that he knew Underhay was still alive, and that could certainly have something to do with his murder. Poirot travels to the village and slowly learns the truth about Arden, the Cloades, and Rosaleen.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place mostly in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch Saint Paul. When a car accident strands Lord Peter Wimsey and his assistant/valet, Mervyn Bunter, the village’s vicar, Reverend Theodore Venables, rescues the men and lodges them in the rectory until the car is fixed. That’s how Wimsey ends up getting involved in a case involving an unknown ‘extra’ corpse in a grave, some missing emeralds, a long-ago robbery, and change-ringing. In one plot thread of this novel, heavy rains bring on a flood. Venables wants to do what he can to save the villagers, and there are some very tense moments as everyone watches and waits to see how high the waters will rise, and how severe the damage will be.

Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke introduces Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel. It’s 1931, and the Great Depression has meant that everyone is desperate for money. Hannah herself has very little, although she has enough to eat and keep her home. What’s more, there’s a great deal of tension as everyone waits to see whether and to what extent the Nazis will get power. They’re already a force to be reckoned with, and people know that it’s best not to get in their proverbial sights. Against this very suspenseful background Vogel learns that her brother, Ernst, has been found dead. She wants to know why, and, if he was murdered, who killed him. So, she starts to ask questions. She’ll have to work very quietly, so as not to call too much attention to herself. But she’s determined to find answers. The background tension to this novel adds a real layer of atmosphere, as people watch and wait and wonder what will happen to the country.

Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground is the first of his series to feature Sean Duffy. He’s that rare thing, a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The novel takes place in 1981, in the midst of the Troubles, when everyone’s nerves are frayed from the constant conflict. People do try to go about their lives, but they watch and wait to see what ‘the other side’ will do, and where the next attacks might be. There aren’t many really trustworthy people, and for Duffy, it’s especially difficult. For one thing, almost all of his colleagues are Protestant, reason enough for suspicion on both sides. For another, the public is suspicious, too. He’s a police officer, which is a problem in itself. Then, he’s a Catholic in the RUC; hence, he’s a traitor to a lot of Catholics. And Protestant civilians won’t trust him, either. All of that undercurrent of tension, as people wait to see what will happen, adds to the story as Duffy works to solve two murders that seem to be related.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Truth.  That novel takes place during a siege of brush fires that are threatening the state of Victoria. It’s an extremely tense time, and it’s not at all clear how much damage there will be, which way the fires will go, and so on. Everyone is very much on edge as people watch and wait. Against this backdrop, Inspector Stephen Villani and his team work to solve the murder of an unknown woman whose body was found in a very posh apartment.  Meanwhile, they’re also investigating the killings of three drug dealers whose bodies were found in another part of the Melbourne area. The brush fires are not the central focus of the novel. But the suspense they cause adds much to the novel.

Watching and waiting, and not knowing how things will pan out, can be extremely hard to deal with in real life. In a novel, though, that suspense can add much to a plot if it’s not done in a melodramatic way. Which examples have stayed with you?

ps. The ‘photo is of a wildfire evacuation map. Red means a mandatory evacuation. Purple is voluntary/evacuation warning. Everyone who’s anywhere near a wildfire pays close attention to those maps, and the tension often builds as people watch and wait to see what will happen on their streets.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Peter Temple, Rebecca Cantrell