Category Archives: Qiu Xiaolong

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

In Loyalty to Our Kind*

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot solves the stabbing murder of wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett. The victim is killed on the second night of a three-day trip across Europe on the famous Orient Express, and the only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same car. One of those passengers is Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, a formidable elderly lady whose strength is in her personality. At one point in the story, she has this to say:
 

‘‘I believe…in loyalty – to one’s friends and one’s family and one’s caste.’’
 

She’s not alone. Being loyal to the members of one’s group is a highly-valued trait, and that makes sense if you think about it. People depend on other group members for a lot, including, at times, survival. So, it’s important that groups stick together, as the saying goes. And there are sometimes very severe penalties for breaking that rule. Loyalty matters, but it can sometimes go too far, and that can make for an interesting layer of character development in a crime novel. It can also allow for plot points.

For example, one of the cardinal rules of the Mafia and of other criminal groups is what the Mafia has called omerta – silence. Every member is expected to keep quiet about the group’s activities, or about anyone else who might be involved. That’s how one proves loyalty to the group. We see that, for instance, in Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas. In that novel, Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children move from the US to a small town in Normandy. The four settle in and begin the process of getting used to an entirely new culture.  But all is not as it seems. ‘Fred Blake’ is really Giovanni Manzini, a former member of the New Jersey Mob, who testified against his fellow mobsters in court. Now, he and his family are in the US Witness Protection Program, and have been resettled in Normandy for their own protection. The plan is successful enough, until word of the Manzini family’s whereabouts accidentally gets back to New Jersey. Now, Manzini could very well pay a terrible price for his disloyalty.

Police officers depend on each other, sometimes for their lives. That’s one reason why there’s such a premium placed on loyalty to other officers. In many cases, that’s part of the ‘glue’ that holds the force together. But this loyalty, too, can be taken too far. In Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, for instance, we are introduced to Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police. One afternoon, he is called to the scene of a home invasion. With him, he takes probationer Lucy Howard. They’re investigating at the house when White is stabbed to death. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who already has a history with local law enforcement. The other officers are loyal to White, and want to mete out their own kind of justice. But the media is paying very close attention to this case, and everyone knows that if they don’t do everything exactly ‘by the book,’ there’ll be a lot of trouble. It’s all complicated by the fact that Rowley is part Aboriginal. All of the police know that the least misstep on their part will lead to accusations of racism. It’s clear throughout the novel, though, that loyalty to each other and to White impacts all of their choices. There are many other crime novels, too, where loyalty to other police officers comes into play (I’m thinking, for instance, of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight). This is part of the reason for which so many police officers are biased against Internal Affairs and other internal investigation groups.

There’s also the tendency for people in elite groups to protect themselves and one another. We see this, for instance, in the work of Qiu Xiaolong. His Chief Inspector Chen Cao lives and works in Shanghai at the end of the 1990’s/beginning of the 21st Century. Chen is respected, and has an important position within his police department. However, he isn’t at the very top of the proverbial tree. That place is reserved for the elite of the Party – the High Cadre people. Those individuals make all of the important decisions, and displeasing them can lead to the end of a career, or sometimes worse. High Cadre families are loyal to each other and protect one another, and would far rather police themselves than have independent investigators look into their business. Chen is very well aware of the power the High Cadre people have, and their tendency to be loyal to their sociopolitical group. So, when his investigations lead to high places, as they often do, Chen has to move very carefully.

And then there’s family loyalty. Most of us would agree that being loyal to one’s family is a highly valued trait. In crime series such as Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels, we see this loyalty in action. Rafferty is a ‘rough travel’ writer who lives and works in Bangkok. He also happens to be very good at finding people who don’t want to be found. That’s why he’s in demand when people are looking for someone in hiding. Rafferty’s married to Rose, a former bar girl who now owns an apartment cleaning company. Rose loves her husband and adopted daughter, Miaow. But she is very loyal to her family of origin. Here’s what she says about it to Rafferty:
 

‘She [Rose] turns to face him. ‘We have ten dollars left,’ she says. Her voice is so low he has to strain to hear it. ‘Miaow is hungry. My little sister up north is hungry. Who gets the ten dollars? … I would send the money to my sister,’ Rose says. ‘Without a minute’s thought.’’
 

Of course, family loyalty can create all sorts of obstacles to criminal investigation, too. In many crime novels, people don’t want to talk to the police about their siblings/parents/cousins/etc., because those people are family members.

But that’s the thing about loyalty. Like most other human traits, it’s a proverbial double-edged sword. It’s valuable to an extent, and in many situations. On the other hand, it can also be tragic.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Whish-Wilson, James Ellroy, Qiu Xiaolong, Timothy Hallinan, Tonino Benacquista, Y.A. Erskine

Where’s That Careless Chambermaid?*

When real and fictional police and PIs investigate, they try to get as much information as they can. Of course, they talk to family members, friends and co-workers, but even that doesn’t always fill in the proverbial blank.

A good detective can tell you that the real people to talk to when there’s a disappearance or a murder are people like restaurant servers and hotel chambermaids. And that makes sense if you think about it. A spouse or partner might not know about that ‘special guest’ in the hotel room, but the chambermaid will. The boss might not know how much someone drinks at lunch, but the server will. That’s part of the reason that the police work as hard as they do to trace a victim’s last days. Talking to people like porters, chambermaids, servers and so on can yield valuable clues.

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to Gladys Narracott. She works as a chambermaid at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. She gets involved in a murder investigation when one of the guests, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is murdered. The first suspect is, as you’d imagine, the victim’s husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall. But he has an alibi for the time of the murder, and Gladys can corroborate that alibi. So, the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the murderer is. And he discovers that Gladys has some useful information and insight to offer, just from what she’s learned about the guests as she’s tended their rooms.

In Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to investigate the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. The child’s mother, Helene, claims that she doesn’t know who would have wanted to take her daughter; she also says, naturally enough, that she didn’t have anything to do with the abduction. But Kenzie and Gennaro follow up on every possibility, one of which is that Amanda was taken by someone Helene knows. There’s also the chance that Helene herself is responsible for whatever happened to Amanda. So, Kenzie and Gennaro trace Helene’s movements, and do what they can to find out about her background. And some of that information comes from the Filmore Tap, a very tough, seedy bar in Dorchester (Massachusetts). It turns out that Helene’s known there; and, although no-one says very much about her, the bartenders and owner know more than they want to tell.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Said Cheese takes place, as many of her novels do, in the small town of Pickax, Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ A mysterious woman has moved into town, and is staying at the New Pickax Hotel. No-one knows anything about her, although there’s plenty of speculation and gossip. One day, a bouquet of flowers arrives for this enigmatic guest. Part-time housekeeping aide Anna Marie Toms is on duty when the flowers arrive, and prepares to take them to the new hotel guest. Then, a bomb hidden in the bouquet goes off, killing Anna Marie. Shortly afterwards, the mysterious woman goes missing. Local journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran, Braun’s sleuth, starts asking questions, and he and local police chief Andrew Brodie find out who the woman is, and who the killer is.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces us to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, and to Detective Inspector (DI) Dushan Zigic and Detective Sergeant (DS) Mel Ferreira. They’re called in to investigate when the body of an unknown man is found in a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, who was apparently in the UK as a migrant worker. It’s often not easy to find out information about migrant workers, since they don’t generally ‘put down roots’ or have close connections with locals. But Zigic and Ferreira get to work. One of their stops is Maloney’s, a pub right near the local bus station. It’s frequented by people just like Stepulov, and Ferreira finds that one bartender in particular has some very valuable information about the case.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police is faced with a challenging case. Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, is suspected of corruption, arrested, and held to face charges. He’s housed in a Shanghai hotel, rather than in the local prison, because of his status. One morning, he is found hanged in his room. The official theory is that he committed suicide, rather than face the shame of corruption charges. And Chen is expected to ‘rubber stamp’ that theory. But some things don’t add up. So, Chen and his assistant, Yu Guangming, look into the case more carefully. They’re going to have to move quietly and delicately, since this is no ordinary death. But in the end, they find out the truth. And some of the clues they need come from an interview with one of the hotel attendants, Jun, whose information proves quite useful.

And that’s the thing about people such as room attendants, chambermaids, bartenders and other servers. We may not notice them, but they know a lot. And their help can be invaluable when the police are on a case.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Al Dubin and Henry Warren’s Lulu’s Back in Town.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Eva Dolan, Lilian Jackson Braun, Qiu Xiaolong

I Bet You Set Me Up to Fall*

You’d think that someone who hired a PI or got the police involved in an investigation would want the mystery solved. But that’s not always the case – at least not fictionally. There are plenty of novels and stories in which a PI is hired either by the killer, or by someone who actively wants the PI to fail. There are others in which a police detective is assigned to a case with the hope/expectation that it won’t be solved.

Sometimes this happens because the guilty person wants to keep tabs on the investigation, or hopes to sabotage it by manipulating the sleuth. Sometimes it’s because a police ‘rubber stamp’ is needed to cover up corruption or worse. There are other reasons, too.

Whatever the motivation, it’s tricky to pull such a story off, because it can stretch credibility. But if it’s done carefully, such a plot point can be suspenseful as well as intriguing. And, for readers who like to ‘match wits’ against the author, it can provide a very engaging ‘match.’

A few of Agatha Christie’s novels and stories include this plot point. I won’t give titles, or even sleuths, in order to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that, just because a person asks one of her sleuths to solve a case, or wants a name cleared, doesn’t mean that person really wants that to happen. Sometimes the very person who does the hiring (or requesting) is the guilty one.

As Nicholas Blake, Cecil Day-Lewis wrote a long-running (1935-1968) crime fiction series featuring a poet, Nigel Strangeways, who is also a PI. Strangeways is a reflective sort of person, who considers many different possibilities when he’s on the case. And that’s a good thing, because he’s learned not to trust everyone who asks him to get involved in an investigation. Again, I won’t get more detailed because of spoilers. But Strangeways has learned the value of suspecting everyone.

One of the interesting sorts of crime plots happens when a police detective is, if you will, set up to fail – or at least to help convict the wrong person. In Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, for instance, we are introduced to New York homicide detective Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. In the futuristic New York where he lives, the population is basically divided between Spacers and Earthmen. Spacers are the descendants of humans who explored space and then returned. They’ve embraced the idea of space travel. Earthmen, on the other hand, are the descendants of humans who remained behind, and who believe that humans will survive best if they remain on Earth. Among the many differences between the two groups is that Spacer society includes positronic robots. Earthmen hate and fear them. When noted Spacer scientist Dr. Roj Nemennuh Sarton is murdered, it’s believed that an Earthman was responsible. In order to make the investigation as balanced and transparent as possible, Baley (who is an Earthman) is assigned to investigate. He’s given a Spacer partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, who is a positronic robot. Together, the two begin to look into the matter. They find out who killed Sarton and why, but readers also learn that someone far up on the police ‘food chain’ didn’t want them to find out the truth…

That also happens in Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine. In that novel, Shanghai Inspector Chen Cao and his assistant, Detective Yu Guangming, investigate the murder of a young woman named Guan Hongying. The victim was a national model worker, and for that reason, somewhat of a celebrity. That’s reason enough to be very careful about investigating her murder. It complicates matters that she moved in some high Party circles, too, so some important people could be involved in her death. Chen and Yu begin to trace the victim’s last days and weeks, and it soon comes out that she took a taxi ride not long before she was killed. Now that the taxi driver is a possible suspect, Party officials want the investigation stopped. So, the message comes down that the taxi driver is the killer, and that’s what needs to be on the report. Chen and Yu aren’t convinced, though, and continue looking for the truth. But some very important people do their best to ensure that this case isn’t going to be really solved. On the surface, it seems that the police brass and government are endorsing the investigation. But underneath, the exact opposite is happening.

William Ryan’s Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow CID faces a related situation in The Twelfth Department, which takes place just before World War II. In that novel, Korolev and his assistant, Sergeant Nadezdha Slivka, are assigned to investigate the murder of noted scientist Boris Azarov. The two sleuths follow the leads and settle on a suspect. Then, that suspect is murdered. Now, they have to start again. This case is especially delicate because Azarov was working on a top-secret government project, and the NKVD has an interest in it. Another possible suspect in both murders comes to light, and Korolev and Slivka are more or less instructed to identify that suspect as the guilty party and consider the case closed. But both of them believe that person’s been set up. Together, they decide to keep investigating, and it’s soon clear that some very important people do not want the truth about this case to come out. At the same time as Korolev and Slivka have been assigned to the case, they’re also being hampered.

Fictional characters can have several reasons for hiring a PI even if they’re the killers. Fictional police detectives can be assigned to cases by the very people who have the most to lose if they’re solved. That plot point isn’t easy to do well. But in deft hands, it can be very suspenseful.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Rasmus’ Dangerous Kind.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cecil Day-Lewis, Isaac Asimov, Nicholas Blake, Qiu Xiaolong, William Ryan