Category Archives: Qiu Xiaolong

We’re No Longer Strangers*

An interesting post from José Ignacio at A Crime is Afoot has got me thinking about the way we interact with people we don’t know. In his post (which you’ll want to read), José Ignacio reviews Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, which takes place mostly at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay in Devon. Hercule Poirot, who’s there on holiday, gets involved in a murder investigation when fellow guest, Arlena Stuart Marshall, is murdered.

One of the interesting things about this novel is the way Christie uses the interactions among the guests, some of whom were complete strangers to each other when they first arrived.  And yet, they come to know a lot about one another as the story goes on. They play tennis, they sit and chat, and so on, and those conversations form part of the plot. In large part, that’s because in 1941, when the novel was published, modern electronics weren’t available. Television had been invented, but most people didn’t have one. That meant that, especially on holiday, people were more inclined to talk to one another.

That’s also apparent in Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night, which takes place at the Ocean House resort in Ford’s Beach, Maine. In that novel, a young man named Amberley Cowden is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. He had a serious heart condition and wasn’t expected to live long. So, his death might have been natural. But was it? Rare book expert Henry Gamadge is staying at the same resort and gets involved in the investigation. In this novel, too, we see people who don’t know each other start to talk and interact. There are many other novels, too (I’m thinking of Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski, for instance), in which people come to the same place for a holiday and interact quite a lot with strangers. That’s what people did before television and other modern electronics changed the way we communicate.

It’s arguably harder for contemporary authors to create a credible similar scenario (where strangers at a hotel or other gathering place start chatting with each other and get to know each other). It still happens of course. For instance, if I may, let me share a personal example. Not many years ago, there was a widespread power outage in the area where I live. It affected my entire community. Without television, air conditioning, or the Internet, people wandered outdoors, and began chatting. The big topic was, of course, the blackout itself. But we started talking about other things, too. That sort of scenario also happens in fiction, too, and gives the author plenty of opportunities for conflict, misdirection, and more.

That said, though, today’s authors often need to explore the other ways in which people communicate and get to know each other. For instance, Cat Connor’s Ellie Conway is an FBI Special Agent (Later Supervising Special Agent (SSA)). Her cases often involve online groups, chat rooms, and other fora, both legitimate and in the ‘dark web.’ These groups also involve people who are complete strangers to each other at first, but who get to know one another. A major difference between these groups and an in-person collection of strangers is that it’s very easy to be anyone you want online. So, contemporary crime novelists can build tension and suspense as they explore what online anonymity may be covering up.

That’s what happens, for instance, in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me. When Gerry and Yvonne Mulhern move from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, it means big changes for everyone. For Gerry, a new job offers a lot of promise for his career. For Yvonne, though, the changes aren’t so easy. She’s overwhelmed by the many demands of tending to a newborn. And she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. Then, she finds an online forum called Netmammy. It’s a mutual support group for new mothers, and for Yvonne, it’s a lifesaver. She finally begins to find the friendship and help that she’s been needing. And then, one of the forum members goes ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne gets concerned enough to go to the police about it, but there’s not much they can do. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found in an empty apartment. Her description matches that of Yvonne’s missing online friend. But is it the same person? If so, what does this mean for Netmammy? Is someone in the group adopting an identity? Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle investigates the murder and finds the link between the online group and the dead woman.

The anonymity of online groups can provide another sort of protection. In Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China, for instance, Chief Inspector Chen Cao learns about an online watchdog group. In the late-1990s Shanghai in which Chen lives and works, it can be very risky to chat about certain things in real life. And people don’t generally do a lot of face-to-face chatting with complete strangers, anyway. It’s different online, though. Because of the government’s close supervision of printed news, many people feel that the only credible news comes from the Internet. And that’s mostly because it’s harder for the government to keep tabs on members of online groups. So, when an online watchdog group accuses Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, of corruption, the government has a dilemma. On the one hand, they have to act on the accusation, because the group has made the alleged corruption public. On the other hand, it’s in the interest of the government to monitor and, if necessary, clamp down on this online group. And Chen gets caught in the middle of it all when Zhou suddenly dies. Is it suicide, as the government claims? Or did someone kill Zhou?

Technology has radically changed the way we do a lot of things, including communicate. But what’s interesting is that it hasn’t changed the fact that we communicate. People have a need to reach out, whether it’s face-to-face or online, even to complete strangers. That dynamic can add a lot to a crime novel.

Thank you, José Ignacio, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit José Ignacio’s excellent blog. Fine reviews, discussions, and photographs await you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lewis Lebish, Jerry Leiber, Irving Nahan, Mike Stoller, and George Treadwell’s Dance With Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cat Connor, Elizabeth Daly, Patricia Moyes, Qiu Xiaolong, Sinéad Crowley

A Bomb or Two and Very Few Objected*

Very often, fictional sleuths have to move a bit carefully as they do their jobs. They may be investigating powerful and/or very dangerous people. Or (for police sleuths), they may have been told not to focus their energies on certain cases. There are other reasons, too, for which a sleuth might have to be very careful in investigating.

Sometimes, it’s the larger political situation that limits or even threatens what a sleuth can do. That context can add an interesting layer of suspense to a novel or series. In those situations, the sleuth has to go up against not just a group of suspects, but also political and other authorities that can be even more dangerous. One post isn’t enough space to list all of the novels and series that have this context; I know you’ll think of more examples than I could, anyway.

After the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s, ordinary citizens soon learned that they had to be extremely careful about where they went, what they did, what they said, and so on. Anything that brought them to the notice of the authorities could potentially result in a death sentence or worse. Several authors have used this climate of fear as a background for their novels and series. For example, Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series begins in 1936, when the Nazis are fully in power. Gunther is a former police officer who’s turned private investigator, and sometimes, the trails he follows lead to some high places. He often has to balance finding out the truth against staying alive.

The same is true of Rebecca Cantrell, whose Hannah Vogel series begins in 1931. Vogel is a crime reporter who’s well aware of how powerful and dangerous the Nazis are. In several of the novels in this series, she has to come up with very creative ways to avoid calling attention to herself. When she does find herself in Nazi crosshairs, she has to find ways to stay alive, and it’s not always easy. Even when something isn’t directly happening to Vogel, it’s clear that she’s living in the sort of fearful atmosphere in which no-one can be trusted.

There’s a similar atmosphere in William Ryan’s series featuring Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev. These novels take place just before the outbreak of World War II. Stalin is firmly in power, and the dreaded NKVD is, as the saying goes, everywhere. Citizens are encouraged to denounce anyone who says or does anything that could be conceived as disloyal to the Party or its leadership. So, people have learned, sometimes the hard way, not to trust anyone. Against this backdrop, Korolev is charged with solving crimes, which sometimes include murder. And sometimes, the crimes he investigates get very close to very highly-placed people. So, he and his assistant, Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka, have to be extremely careful as they do their work. It doesn’t help matters that Moscow’s criminal underworld is also dangerous, and sometimes takes an active interest in the crimes that Korolev and Slivka investigate.

Fans of Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels can tell you that they, too, take place against the background of Party power and in a climate of distrust and fear. As the series begins (in Gorky Park), Renko is a Moscow homicide detective. As he investigates, he often finds himself in conflict with high Party officials, corrupt bureaucrats, and sometimes criminal gangsters. And he discovers that that corruption doesn’t end when the Soviet Union breaks up.

From 1948 to 1991, South Africa’s official policy was apartheid. This set of laws had powerful impacts on every aspect of people’s lives. The rule governed where one lived and worked, whom one could marry, and where one’s children went to school. They also governed the sort of social relationships one had. And there were several government agencies whose task it was to enforce the laws, often brutally. People know that speaking out, being seen with someone from a different race, or otherwise questioning the system, could get you killed. Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper series takes place in this environment. Beginning in the early 1950s, it tells the story of Cooper, who is a Johannesburg-based Detective Sergeant (DS) with the police. As he looks into cases, Cooper frequently has to cross racial lines. That in itself is risky, especially since people are strongly encouraged to report any suspected anti-apartheid activity. And Cooper isn’t universally liked, especially when the trail leads to people in authority. So he has to be very careful whom he trusts.

That’s also true of Ernesto Mallo’s Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. He is a Buenos Aires-based police detective at a very dangerous time (the late 1970s) in the country’s history. The military government wields supreme power, and anyone seen as ‘trouble’ is quickly ‘disappeared.’ Often, such people are later found dead. Lescano knows that anyone might denounce him to the authorities, so he is very careful in his choices of confidants. That doesn’t entirely keep him out of trouble. But it keeps him alive.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen series. Chen Cao lives and works in late-1990s Shanghai. At that time, Chinese society is integrating a few elements of capitalism, and ‘pure’ Maoism isn’t as common as it was. But the government is still very much in control what people see, read, and so on. And it’s not wise to go against the wishes of those who are high on the Party’s ‘ladder.’ More than once in the series, Chen and his assistant, Yu Guangming, have to move very quietly and carefully as they look into cases. That’s especially true when what they find goes against the official government line.

It adds real challenge to a fictional sleuth’s investigation when it has to take place against a sociopolitical climate of fear and lack of trust. That element can add suspense and conflict to a novel or series. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s The Lady’s Got Potential.

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Filed under Ernesto Mallo, Malla Nunn, Martin Cruz Smith, Philip Kerr, Qiu Xiaolong, Rebecca Cantrell, William Ryan

Learned Karate and Kung Fu*

Despite what’s portrayed in many action films, martial arts involve a lot more than just smacking and kicking someone. In fact, the whole point of skill at martial arts is careful self-control (rather than simply lunging at someone) and mind/body connection. Because of that, traditional martial arts are holistic; they involve meditation, breath control, and coordinated movements, among other things.

Most traditional martial arts take years to learn properly, and even longer to perfect, and people have been doing just that for many centuries.  So, it’s little wonder that we see martial arts and those who know them in crime fiction. When it’s done well (i.e. credibly), some skill at martial arts can add a layer to a character.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that he’s got an eclectic set of skills and knowledge. One of them is bartitsu (Conan Doyle called it ‘baritsu’), which is a mix of martial arts styles, including jiu jitsu and other techniques. Interestingly, bartitsu was developed in the UK at the end of the 19th Century and gained in popularity during the Edwardian Era. As Holmes fans know, he uses bartitsu to defend himself during the climactic fight with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. That, so he tells Watson in The Adventure of the Empty House, is how he managed to stay alive.

Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss is a member of the Violent Crimes Division of the Göteborg police. She is also a former Swedish national judo champion. While she no longer competes, she is a regular at the local dojo. She knows that keeping mind and body healthy and connected is important, and she uses her judo sessions to keep in shape and to cope with the stress of being a police detective with a busy family life. She passes along her interest in martial arts to her daughter, Katarina, who studies for several years herself. Later, Katarina becomes more interested in dance than in judo but her years of study have taught her valuable skills.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen Cao is a detective for the Shanghai police. As a young person, he studied tai chi, as many people do, and tried his best to learn. But tai chi didn’t come easily to him (as I say, martial arts is complex). As we learn in A Loyal Character Dancer, he didn’t continue his martial arts study, but he did happen to find an old English textbook in the park where he was practicing one day and found both an interest and an ability with language. Chen hasn’t continued studying tai chi, but he respects those who have mastered it. Here’s a bit of his thinking (also from A Loyal Character Dancer) as he sees a man doing tai chi in a park one day:
 

‘Chief Inspector Chen wondered what he might have become had he persisted in practicing. Perhaps he would now be like that tai chi devotee, wearing a white silk martial arts costume, loose-sleeved, red-silk buttoned, with a peaceful expression on his face. Chen knew him. An accountant in an almost-bankrupt state company, yet at that moment, a master moving in perfect harmony with the qi of the universe.’
 

That harmony and self-control is an important aspect of traditional martial arts.

Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee is a Toronto-based forensic accountant. Her specialty is following ‘money trails’ to locate funds that people have tried to hide. She works for a Hong Kong-based company that serves people who’ve been cheated out of money and are desperate to get it back. For those clients, the financial loss is devastating on several levels; and for various reasons, they may not be able to (or wish to) go through the usual channels. So, by word of mouth, they learn of and contact Lee’s employer. The people who have stolen that money generally don’t want to be caught, so they can be very dangerous. Lee’s prepared, though. She is an expert at bak mei, a special form of martial arts that makes particular use of the hands. More than once in the series, she makes use of her skill at bak mei and other martial arts.

And then there’s Zoë Sharp’s novels featuring Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. She’s a former member of Her Majesty’s Special Forces, where she learned martial arts. She left the military, but she still makes use of her knowledge. For one thing, she teaches what she knows to others, especially women. The idea is to help them develop not just the ability to defend themselves, but also the confidence that goes with it. Here’s what she has to say about it:
 

‘I view self-defence like wearing an expensive watch. You don’t keep flashing it about trying to impress people. Instead, you keep it up your sleeve, but in the back of your mind you have the confidence of knowing you have the exact time whenever you need it.’ 
 

And Fox has certainly had need of her skills. She’s a PI who sometimes gets into very dangerous situations. Like most of those who are skilled at martial arts, especially traditional martial arts, she begins by trying to defuse the situation. The goal is not to have to use her skills if it can be avoided. But she knows what to do if it can’t.

And that’s the thing about traditional martial arts, especially if they are taught, learned, and used effectively. The whole point is not to have to use them in the first place. But there are times when they come in very handy…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Handsome Devil’s Samurai.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Helene Tursten, Ian Hamilton, Qiu Xiaolong, Zoë Sharp

When Are You Free to Take Some Tea With Me?*

An interesting post from Tim at Informal Inquiries has got me thinking about tea. Yes, tea. If you think about it, tea’s played an important role in history and politics for centuries. And that’s to say nothing of its role in economics, sociology, and lots more. Plenty of people swear by tea’s medicinal qualities, too.

With all of this going for it, it’s not surprising at all that crime fiction is steeped with tea and tea shops. And, of course, there are myriad scenes where a character makes tea at home. There are far too many references for me to mention in this one post, but here are a few.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, we are introduced to Cora Lansquenet. When Cora’s brother, Richard Abernathie, dies, the rest of the Abernethie clan, including Cora, attend his funeral. At the gathering, Cora blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up, but privately, several members of the family begin to wonder whether Cora was right. Then Cora herself is murdered the next day. Now, it seems quite clear that Cora must have been right. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks for Hercule Poirot’s help in finding out the truth about these two deaths, and Poirot agrees. In the process, he and Mr. Entwhistle get to know the Abernethie family – all of whom were very much in need of the money that their patriarch left. They also meet Cora’s companion, Miss Gilchrest. Here’s what she says about her background:
 

‘‘When my little teashop failed – such a disaster – it was the war, you know. A delightful place. I called it the Willow Tree and all the china was blue willow pattern – sweetly pretty-  and the cakes really good – I’ve always had a hand with cakes and scones.’’
 

To Miss Gilchrest’s mind, keeping a teashop is the ‘essence of gentility.’ Certainly, tea shops like the one she had are woven into the culture in a lot of towns and villages – and stories about them.

There’s a very interesting example of a tea ceremony in Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. Tokyo Inspector Imanishi Eitaro is assigned to the team that investigates the death of an unknown man whose body is found under a train. At first, it’s difficult to find out who the victim was, but after some slow, patient work, he is identified as Miki Ken’ichi, the retired owner of a store in Okayama. Since the trail may lead to the man’s home town, Imanishi travels there. One of the people he interviews is Kirihara Kojuro, who knew the victim for years, and who’s been in town for a very long time. Kirihara is a traditionalist, so he formally invites Imanishi into his home, and serves him tea, using the traditional ritual, in a room set aside for the purpose. It’s an interesting look at the Japanese way of drinking tea. And, as it happens, Kirihara has some interesting information and perspective to share.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Cao lives and works in late-1990s Shanghai. Our best knowledge is that tea was invented and first drunk in China. So, as you can imagine, the custom of drinking tea is an integral part of life in Shanghai, and there are many tea shops, stands, and so on. There are plenty of scenes, too, that have such places as backgrounds. For instance, in Enigma of China, Chen is looking into the death of Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. He’d recently been arrested in connection with a corruption scandal, and at first, it’s believed he committed suicide rather than face the public shame of a trial. But Chen isn’t so sure that’s what happened, and quietly starts to ask questions. One of his leads is a man named Melong, who runs an online watchdog group. The government monitors such groups very carefully, and Melong wants to keep a low profile. So, rather than come to the police station, he meets Chen in a local tea shop:
 

‘The waitress came into the room carrying a thick tea menu and long-billed bronze kettle.
Chen ordered ginseng oolong, and Melong chose Pu’er, the Yunan tea.
‘Enjoy your tea,’ the waitress said, bringing out the tea leaves from drawers in the table, putting each into a teapot, then pouring hot water from a kettle into their respective pots. ‘Snacks, which are on the house, are also listed on the menu.’’
 

Melong is an interesting character, and the scene shows the importance of the local tea shop for finding out information.

Tea also has a very long history in India. We see that, for instance, in Madhumita Bhattacharyya’s The Masala Murder, which takes place in Kolkata/Calcutta. In it, PI Reema Ray investigates the murder of a gourmet food importer named Prakash Agarwal. As it turns out, Ray had interviewed Agarwal as a part of her ‘day job’ working for a lifestyle magazine called Face. So, she remembers him (not very fondly), and his widow. Now, Mrs. Agarwal has asked Ray to find out what happened to him. And it turns out that there are plenty of suspects. Agarwal was not ethical in his marriage, his business, or much of anything else, and he made plenty of enemies. There’s an interesting scene in which Ray recalls her interview with the victim. On the surface, it’s a very pleasant interview, with gourmet tea served, and so on. But it makes her very uneasy, and the fine quality of the tea doesn’t do much to lift the suspense.

Of course, tea isn’t always soothing and ‘civil’ anyway. Just ask Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, who are regular characters in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. They work in Chapman’s bakery, and live in the same building. Their dream is to become television stars, and whenever there’s a bit part on any show, they audition. So, for Kylie and Gossamer, staying thin is critical. That’s why, in Devil’s Food, they’re so interested when they hear about a new diet tea that’s supposed to help in quick weight loss. Instead of helping them lose weight, though, the tea poisons them. Now, Chapman and her friend, Meroe, have to find out what, exactly, the poison is, so that they can help Kylie and Gossamer.

And, no discussion of tea shops and tea in crime fiction could possibly be complete without a mention of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series. Bayles is the owner of Thyme and Seasons, an herb shop that includes special herbal teas. She is also the joint owner of Thyme for Tea, a teashop that’s built behind her herb shop. Bayles lives and works in the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas, which is the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. Bayles gets involved in more than one mystery because she’s ‘plugged in’ to the local network.

See what I mean? Tea has been an essential part of many cultures for thousands of years. So, it’s no wonder we see so much of it in crime fiction. It’s even featured on several excellent book blogs, such as Bitter Tea and Mystery, and A Hot Cup of Pleasure. Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the kettle’s boiling…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Lovely Rita. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Kerry Greenwood, Madhumita Bhattacharyya, Matsumoto Seichō, Qiu Xiaolong, Susan Wittig Albert

Room Service Came at the Push of a Bell*

Modern technology has made a number of important changes to the way we do, well, nearly everything. Take hotels, for instance. Many of the larger chains (and even some smaller ones) allow guests to book online, check in and out online, and so on. Some even provide for getting room keys from a kiosk, rather than from a receptionist at the front desk. Of course, the most luxurious hotels still offer more personal service, but many hotels don’t as much.

Among other things, this means that the hotel staff may never really get to know guests. And that can be a problem for the police when they’re trying to follow up on a crime. A hotel authority can tell the police, for instance, whether a particular person checked in or out, and what credit card was used to pay. And that can be very helpful. But many of the people who work in today’s hotels might not be able to tell the police whether, say, a guest had a visitor, let alone who that visitor was.

All of this has changed crime fiction considerably, of course. In contemporary crime fiction, the police can check CCTV cameras, verify credit card use, and so on. But they can’t necessarily find out whether a given guest seemed afraid, or was in the room at a certain time. And this means that today’s crime writers have to use hotels in a different way.

Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel shows that hotels were changing even in the mid-1960s. In it, Miss Marple travels to London for a holiday at Bertram’s Hotel, a place she stayed as a young person. She remembers the luxurious service, the late Victorian/Edwardian atmosphere, and so on. And when she first arrives, it seems that the place still has that atmosphere of indulging the guests. But it’s not long before some strange and unsettling things begin to happen that suggest that the hotel isn’t what it was. Then, there’s a murder. It’s now clear that something is going on at the hotel, and Miss Marple works with the police to find out what’s happened to Bertram’s. I know, fans of A Caribbean Mystery.

Writing as Hugh Pentecost, Judson Philips created a series that features New York’s Hotel Beaumont. It’s an old-fashioned, luxury hotel that’s managed by his sleuth, Pierre Chambrun. This series was written between 1962 and 1988, in the days before modern technology. So, at the Beaumont, guests check in at the main front desk, and the staff learns who they are. Staff members also know when the guests are in or out of their rooms, whether they host parties or have visitors, and even what their food preferences are. This hotel doesn’t pride itself on guests not having to bother to stop in at the reception desk, or wait for room keys, as a lot of today’s hotels do. Rather, it prides itself on devotion to detail and individual attention. And because of that, Chambrun knows a lot about the guests. And what he doesn’t know himself, he quickly finds out through his staff.

In Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates, the body of Miki Ken’ichi is found under a Tokyo train. Inspector Imanishi Eitaro is assigned to the case, and he and his team begin their work. The victim lived far from Tokyo, so there aren’t many leads in the city. But Imanishi learns that Miki was on a trip from his home in Okayama. So, he traces that trip, and finds out the hotel where Miki stayed along the way. It’s not a luxurious hotel, but the staff know who the guests are, and are able to tell Imanishi some important things. This novel was first published in 1961. So, many of the things we now do online or automatically are still done through staff members. That’s how they’ve gotten to know their guests.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen Cao series takes place in the late 1990s, mainly in Shanghai. At that time, computers are in regular use, but people still make hotel reservations by telephone, and hotel staff members have regular contact with their guests. Against that backdrop, in Enigma of China, Chen investigates the death of Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. Zhou’s been accused of corruption, and some evidence suggests that he’s guilty. Because of his status, Zhao is held in the Moller Villa Hotel after his arrest, rather than transported to prison. The hotel is considered elite, and has a history dating back to the 1930s, so the staff members have a lot of personal interaction with guests, and do get to know them. When Zhao dies in his hotel room, it looks very much as though he committed suicide, rather than face the shame of a corruption trial. Chen is expected to ‘rubber stamp’ this explanation, but he’s not entirely sure that this was a suicide. So, very quietly, he starts to ask some questions. And the information he learns at the hotel turns out to be useful to Chen as he looks into the death.

Even in today’s world of online reservations and check-ins/check-outs, some hotels do still offer personal service, and get to know their guests. That’s what we find in Swati Kaushal’s Drop Dead. Rakesh ‘Rak’ Mehta, CEO of Indigo Books, India, books a retreat for himself and his senior staff at the exclusive Lotus Resort in the Northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. When his body is discovered in a valley not far from the resort, it looks at first as though he died in a terrible cable car accident. Shimla Superintendent of Police Niki Marwah and her team investigate the death, and it’s not long before the case is considered a ‘suspicious death.’ As you can imagine, the police team members concentrate on the resort and what happened there. They also focus a lot of attention on the senior staff members. And that’s where the hotel staff’s personal knowledge of the guests comes in handy. The police are able to learn quite a bit about the guests, and about their interactions.

And that’s one of the differences that technology has made. When it comes to hotels, the police can learn a lot from credit card records and the like. But there’s something about personal knowledge that can add much to what the police find out.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from All Stewart’s Broadway Hotel.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Hugh Pentecost, Judson Philips, Matsumoto Seichō, Qiu Xiaolong, Swati Kaushal