Category Archives: Reginald Hill

I Prefer You*

Many crime writers have more than one series. This lets them explore different characters and plot lines. Having more than one series gives authors other options, too. It also lets them reach out to different audiences.

And that’s what’s interesting. Even ardent fans of an author usually prefer one of that author’s series over the other. While I have no hard data, my guess is that there are several reasons for that, and those reasons interact with one another.

One of the reasons might be that there are simply more novels in one of an author’s series than in the other. For example, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels, a play, and more than 50 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot. She wrote 12 Miss Marple novels and a few short story collections. By contrast, she wrote only 4 novels and one short story collection featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. It’s not surprising, if you think about it, that fans of Agatha Christie would prefer either Poirot or Miss Marple. It’s not necessarily because they are better stories (although some would argue that they are). It might also be that the Beresfords don’t get the ‘press’ that Poirot and Miss Marple do.

A similar thing might be said of Reginald Hill’s work. He wrote 24 novels featuring Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe, and many people know him from those stories (and the TV series based on them). But he also wrote 5 novels featuring Joe Sixsmith. There are people who like them better, but my guess is, most people think of Dalziel and Pascoe when they think of Hill.

Sometimes, an author’s different series features two very different contexts and/or main characters. So, a reader’s preference might have to do with the setting or the characters. For instance, Kerry Greenwood has two successful series. One features the Honorable Phryne Fisher, a 1920’s socialite who becomes a private detective. That series has been adapted for television, with Essie Davis in the role of Phryne Fisher. Greenwood’s other series features former accountant-turned baker Corinna Chapman. She’s quite a different sort of character to Phryne Fisher, although both are independent, intelligent, quick-witted women. The two series are quite different, too. One takes place in the 1920s; the other is contemporary. One is told in third person (past tense), the other in first person (also past tense). There are other differences, too, and readers certainly respond to them.

That’s arguably also the case with Ann Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez series and her Vera Stanhope series. They’re both contemporary series, and both feature a police detective. But, as fans know, they have different settings. The Perez series takes place in Shetland, while the Stanhope series takes place in Northumbria. The two characters are quite different as well, even apart from their genders. So, it’s not surprising that some readers prefer the Vera Stanhope novels, and some prefer the Jimmy Perez series

There are also authors who have written very different types of series. For example, consider Donald Westlake’s work. He was a prolific author, so I’ll only focus on two of his series. Under his own name, he wrote a series featuring professional thief John Dortmunder. Under the name of Richard Stark, he wrote another series featuring another professional criminal named Parker. Although both main characters are professional criminals, the series are quite different. The Parker series is gritty, and Parker himself is ruthless. He doesn’t hesitate to kill if the need arises, and he is capable of being quite violent when pushed to it. There is wit in the series, but it’s not at all a light ‘comic caper’ series. The Dortmunder series, on the other hand, is lighter (although it, too, isn’t really a ‘comic caper’ series). Dortmunder isn’t a coward, but he prefers to avoid violence if he can. He’d rather make the right plans so that violent confrontation isn’t necessary. Of course, fans can tell you that Dortmunder’s carefully-laid plans seldom work out the way he hopes that they will. Many readers find his character more sympathetic than that of Parker. Others, though, prefer the grit and cool, logical efficiency of the Parker character.

Lawrence Block, also a prolific writer, has created two very different series in his Matthew Scudder novels and stories, and his Bernie Rhodenbarr novels and stories. Scudder is a former NYPD officer who’s become a PI. The stories featuring him tend to be dark and gritty, and fans know that Scudder goes through some very difficult times as the series goes on. And in it, Block explores the dark side of human nature. So, the endings aren’t usually neat, ‘everything will be all right now’ sorts of endings. By contrast, his Bernie Rhodenbarr novels are lighter, even comic. Rhodenbarr is a professional thief and lock picker who doesn’t set out to be involved in murders. But he does come across bodies in his line of work, and he is highly motivated not to be arrested for home invasion or theft (or murder!). So, he investigates as much to keep himself out of trouble as for any other reason. This is a very different sort of series to the Matthew Scudder series, so it isn’t surprising that some fans like one series better than the other.

And these are by no means the only examples of authors who write more than one series. When that happens, fans often do go for one series or another. Is that true of you? If an author whose work you love writes multiple series, which is your preference? Why?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Monk Higgins, Harvey Fuqua, Morris Dollison, and Dave McAleer.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Donald Westlake, Kerry Greenwood, Lawrence Block, Reginald Hill, Richard Stark

It’s Happening All Around You*

It’s almost impossible for a writer not to be affected by larger events that are going on. After all, we’re all impacted by what happens in the larger world. Some authors choose not to weave those larger social climates and events into their work. When they do, it seems to work most effectively if those larger things are, if I can put it this way, in the background. In that way, both the author and the reader can focus on the characters and the plot at hand. If that happens, those larger events and social contexts can add a sense of time and place to a novel.

For example, World War II is the backdrop for Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger. Heron Park Hospital has been converted for wartime use, and as the story begins, seven different people are going to the hospital to work in different capacities. One day, a postman named Joseph Higgins is brought the hospital with a broken femur. It’s not a life-threatening injury, but he does need surgery. When he dies during the operation, it’s put down to a tragic accident at first. In fact, Inspector Cockrill of the Kent Police goes to the hospital to ‘rubber stamp’ that explanation. Then, a nurse who was present at Higgins’ death has too much to drink at a party, and blurts out that she knows Higgins was murdered, and she knows how it was done. Later that night, she is murdered. Now, Cockrill investigates both deaths as murders, and finds out who the killer is. In this case, the war provides the atmosphere, and there’s plenty of talk about it. But the action doesn’t take place on the battlefield. Rather, the focus is on the hospital and the characters involved.

Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood takes place mostly in the small village of Warmsley Vale. World War II has recently ended, and Lynn Marchmont has returned home to her mother, Adela, after military service. Times are not easy, but the Marchmonts had always counted on Adela’s wealthy brother, Gordon Cloade, for financial support. In fact, he’d told all of his family members not to worry about money, as he would see to their well-being. So, it was a shock to the family to learn that Cloade had married. It was an even worse shock when he died intestate. Now, everything will likely go to his widow, Rosaleen. Then, a stranger, who calls himself Enoch Arden comes to town. He hints that Rosaleen may not be eligible to inherit, since she may have been married to someone else at the time of her marriage to Cloade. Arden is killed before anyone can determine whether he was telling the truth, and the Cloades (and Marchmonts) find themselves drawn into the murder investigation. Hercule Poirot is consulted by two members of the Cloade family, and he works to find out the truth. Postwar privation, and the postwar atmosphere aren’t the main focus of the novel, nor the reason Arden is killed. But Christie certainly taps into the atmosphere of the times (this book was published in 1948).

Twenty years later, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman, was published. In it, Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team are assigned to help secure the US Embassy. There’s a large protest against the Vietnam war, and things could, of course, get disastrous. Then, a gunman boards a bus and shoots eight people, including a police officer. At first, it looks like an act of terrorism. But soon enough, Beck and his team discover that this might have been a very deliberate attack on the dead policeman, whose current investigation was proving dangerous to some dangerous people. While the student activism and anti-war sentiment of the late 1960s isn’t the reason for the murders on the bus, that atmosphere and political context are certainly woven into the story and provide interesting background.

During the mid-1980s, there was a major strike among UK miners. Feelings ran high on all sides, and the strike left lasting resentments. That’s the background against which Reginald Hill’s Under World is set. In that novel, Colin Farr returns to the small mining town of Burrthorpe, where his father, Billy, died a few years ago in a tragic fall (or was it an accident?). It’s not long before he alienates everyone – especially those who think his father was responsible for the disappearance and murder of a young girl, Tracey Pedley. So, he’s an attractive target for suspicion when there’s another murder. Superintendent Andy Dalziel leads the investigating team, and it’s not going to be an easy case. Woven into all of this is the climate engendered by the strike. There’s a lot of hostility towards the police, which makes it hard to get information. And, there’s a look at the life of the miners, both underground and above it. It’s a very difficult, dangerous occupation, and it’s got its own culture.

And then there’s Ian Rankin’s Set in Darkness, which takes place just before the Scottish Parliament is to be reconvened after hundreds of years. A long-dead body is discovered behind a blocked-up fireplace in a building that’s being renovated to house the Parliament. The body isn’t nearly as old as the building is, so Inspector John Rebus and his team look into the building’s more recent history to find out the truth about the body. As if that’s not enough, a homeless man throws himself off a bridge – and leaves behind quite a lot of money. And a promising prospective MP is murdered. The upcoming reconvening of the Scottish Parliament is woven through the novel and adds to its atmosphere and background.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of authors who use contemporary events, movements, and so on as backgrounds to their stories. Doing that adds the risk of dating a novel. But if the focus stays on the characters and the actual plot, such events and movements can add real atmosphere to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Brett Dennen’s Surprise Surprise.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christianna Brand, Ian Rankin, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Reginald Hill

Then Came the Reading of the Will*

An interesting post from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about what happens (at least in crime fiction) when a will is read. It’s possible that there aren’t as many scenes in modern crime fiction as there used to be of a group of people gathered to hear the reading of a will. But that moment – when someone opens and reads the terms of a will – can make for a tense, suspenseful scene. And, in real life and in crime fiction, a will and its implications can have a lot of impact. So, it’s little wonder that a lot of, particularly less recent, crime novels include that sort of scene.

The book that Cleo was referring to, Reginald Hill’s Child’s Play, is a really clear example of a scene where a will is read. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas dies, and, as you might expect, her relatives look forward to benefiting from her will. When her will is read, though, the family members are shocked to learn its terms. According to the will, all of Geraldine Lomas’ considerable fortune is to go to her son, who disappeared during WW II, providing he can be found before 2015. If he’s not, then the fortune is to be divided among three charities. At the funeral, an unknown man shows up, claiming to be that long-lost son. Before his claim can be evaluated, though, he’s found dead in his car. Now, Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his team have to find out who had the most to gain by the murder.

Agatha Christie included several will-reading scenes in her work. In After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal), for instance, wealthy Richard Abernethie dies, and the members of his family gather for the reading of his will. All of his relatives are in need of money, some more than others, so they’re all eager to hear what family attorney Mr. Entwhistle has to say. According to the terms of the will, everyone gets some of the fortune. And that means everyone’s under suspicion when Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, says that he was murdered. Everyone hushes her up, but privately, everyone wonders whether she was right. When Cora herself is found murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was. Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. He finds that more than one person might have wanted both family members dead.

Ellery Queen’s The Dragon’s Teeth includes a very unusual will and reading. Eccentric and wealthy Cadmus Cole has spent most of his life at sea. He’s had little contact with his relatives and doesn’t even know where most of them are. But, he wants to make arrangements for the disposition of his fortune. So, he hires Queen, who’s recently set up a PI firm with his friend, Beau Rummel. The agency’s charge is to find any living relatives of Cole’s, and the two men set about it. It turns out that one relative is Kerrie Shawn, who’s eking out an existence in Hollywood as she tries to become a film star. The other is Margo Cole, who’s mostly lived in Paris. When the will is made public, everyone’s surprised to learn its main terms. The two heiresses will have equal shares of Cole’s fortune, but only provided they live together in Cole’s home on the Hudson River for one year. It’s a strange provision, but both women agree, and they travel to New York. Shortly after they settle in, Margo is shot. Kerrie, of course, becomes the prime suspect. Beau Rummel has become infatuated with her, though, and wants to clear her name. So, he starts investigating the murder, and he finds that Kerrie is by no means the only person who might have killed the victim.

Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine features the members of the Lawson family. Mallory Lawson, his wife, Kate, and their daughter, Polly, all benefit greatly when Mallory’s wealthy Aunt Carey dies. Mallory is burned out from his job, and he and Kate have wanted to start their own small publishing firm for a while. So, for them, the money is a dream come true. When the will is read, Polly learns that she, too, will inherit a very generous share of the fortune when she turns twenty-one (she is twenty at the start of the novel). The Lawsons also learn that, under the terms of the will, they will need to move to Carey Lawson’s home, and provide a permanent home on the property for Benny Frayle, who was Carey Lawson’s companion. This the family is only too happy to do, as they like Benny. Everyone’s excited about the future, and it’s not long before the family settles in. Then, the Lawsons’ financial advisor, Dennis Brinkley, dies in what looks like a tragic accident. Benny doesn’t think it’s an accident, though, and tries to get the police to investigate. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby looks over the files, but he doesn’t see anything that warrants a closer look. Then, there’s another death that’s very likely connected to the first. Now, it’s clear that Brinkley’s death was no accident.

And then there’s Minette Walters’ The Scold’s Bridle. The body of Mathilda Gillespie is discovered in her bathtub. Her wrists have been slashed, and on her head is a ‘scold’s bridle,’ a medieval device with tongue clamps that was used to punish women branded as nags. At first, her death is put down to a bizarre suicide. She’d been suffering from several ailments, so it’s not out of the question. Then, her will is read. It turns out that she left all of her fortune to her doctor, Sara Blakeney. Now, questions begin to be raised. Did Sarah know about this provision? If so, did she kill the victim? In order to clear her own name, Sarah looks into the case. She finds the victim’s diaries, and they start to provide some of the answers. This death turns out to be connected to the past.

There’s something about a will, and the revelation of its terms, that can be quite suspenseful. That’s especially true if there’s something unusual about it. Little wonder that we see scenes like this in crime fiction.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration. Now, give yourself a treat and go visit Cleo’s excellent blog. Lots of fine reviews await you there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marc Almond’s Widow Weeds.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Ellery Queen, Minette Walters, Reginald Hill

After All This Time You’re Still Asking Questions*

Even after a jury renders its verdict, that doesn’t mean a case goes away. The real truth about some cases doesn’t always come out, which means there are lingering questions about its outcome. We’ve certainly seen that in real life. For example, in 1892, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. And there are several theories as to who was really responsible. But at the same time, plenty of people continued to believe she was guilty. And there are historians who think the same thing.

The same questions come up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see the roles they can play in the genre. Those lingering questions can be the basis for a legal appeal. Or, they can prompt Cold Case teams to look into the case again. Sleuths, too, can be drawn into cases because of those questions.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned one afternoon. His wife, Caroline, is the main suspect, and she certainly has motive. She is tried for the crime, and is defended by a very skilled lawyer. But she’s found guilty and sent to prison, where she dies a year later. Most people don’t question the jury’s verdict, either. But years later, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, does. She believes that her mother was innocent, and she questions the outcome of the trial. She hires Hercule Poirot to take the case and find out who the real killer is. Slowly, he learns that there were a few questions at the time, but even those who thought Caroline Crale might be innocent faced one major challenge: if it wasn’t Caroline, then who else had a motive? Poirot gets written accounts of the murder from the people who were there at the time; he interviews them, too. That information leads him to the truth about the murder.

In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Superintendent Andy Dalziel returns to a 1963 case – the murder of Pamela Westrup. At the time, Cissy Kohler was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the crime. But there were always some questions about whether she was guilty. Now, she’s been released from prison, and the questions continue to mount. There’s talk that she was innocent, but that the investigator in charge of the case, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that would have supported her case. Dalziel is sure that’s not true, though, and it’s no small matter that Tallentire was his mentor, so he has a personal stake in the case. Dalziel goes back over the events in questions, and slowly gets to the truth about the Westrup murder.

Michael Robotham’s Lost features the case of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle. Three years earlier, Mickey went missing. Everyone thinks that she was abducted and killed by a paedophile named Harold Wavell. In fact, Wavell was arrested, tried and imprisoned for the crime. But there are still questions about the case. Was Wavell really guilty? If not, what happened to the child?  Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is looking into the case, when he is badly injured. After the injury, he has little memory of what happened. But, with help from psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, Ruiz slowly begins to recover his memories of the case. Once he does, he is able to find out the truth about Mickey.

Paddy Richardson’s Wellington-based journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of lingering questions about a case in Traces of Red. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for murdering his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the murders. There are lingering questions about the case, though. Was Bligh really guilty? There is some evidence that suggests he might be innocent. If he is, then this could be the story to ensure Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. She starts looking into the case again and finds herself getting much closer to it than even she thinks is wise. In the end, she learns the truth, but it’s definitely at a cost.

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She’s not particularly eager to make the trip, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with the plan. There’s a good reason, too, for which Claire doesn’t want to go back to Auckland. In 1970, her father, Patrick, was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the disappearance of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. There was never enough evidence to make a conviction stick, so he didn’t remain in prison. But there are still plenty of people who think he’s guilty. And there are a lot of questions about the trial and about the disappearance. Still, Claire goes back to Auckland with her family. Then, she gets involved in a very high-profile case. A two-year-old in her care is diagnosed with a tumour. His parents object to any surgery on religious grounds, and this puts them squarely up against the hospital. It’s a difficult matter, and it puts Claire in exactly the situation she didn’t want: under the proverbial microscope. Her father’s case is made much of in the media, and all of the questions surrounding it are dragged out again.

There are certain cases like that, though – cases where there’s been an arrest, and possibly a trial and conviction, but there are still questions. Such situations can make for interesting plot lines in a crime novel. And in real life, those cases can make for much speculation.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Goldfinger’s Anything.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Michael Robotham, Paddy Richardson, Reginald Hill, Sue Younger

Say That We’ll be Nemeses*

A recent post from Sue at Novel Heights has got me thinking about fictional nemeses. I’m not talking here of one antagonist in one novel. Rather, I mean a recurring character who serves as a ‘bad guy,’ or at least an antagonist, in more than one novel.

It’s not easy to create such a character. By and large, crime fiction fans want their characters to be believable. So, if a character is going to, say, be arrested in one novel and imprisoned, there’d have to be a credible reason that character would show up in another.

Sue’s post (which you really do want to read) mentions Dean Reeve, whom we first meet in Nicci French’s Blue Monday. That series’ protagonist is London psychologist Frieda Klein, who encounters Reeve in the course of linking a decades-old disappearance with a contemporary one. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers. Reeve’s role in the series doesn’t end with that novel, though. He returns later in the series and upends Klein’s life. And his role in the novels is a clear example of the way nemeses can add to a series.

But Reeve is hardly the only example of a fiction nemesis. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will know that his Sherlock Holmes goes up against Professor Moriarty more than once in the course of his career. In fact, he has what Conan Doyle originally thought of as a final showdown in The Adventure of the Final Problem. In that story, Holmes and Watson have to leave London, and end up in Switzerland. There, Holmes has a confrontation with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Fans of the Holmes stories didn’t want them to end, though, and Conan Doyle was persuaded to bring Holmes back in further stories.

In Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning, Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe are sent to the campus of Holm Coultram College. A body has been discovered in the course of some campus renovations, and Dalziel and Pascoe investigate the death. One of the people they encounter is brilliant and enigmatic student activist leader Franny Roote. He’s a thorn in both detectives’ sides during this novel, and his role doesn’t end there. Roote makes appearances in A Cure For All Diseases, Death’s Jest-Book, and Dialogues of the Dead. And in each one, he proves to be a more-than-worthy adversary, especially to Pascoe. Roote’s an interesting character in his own right, and his presence in the novels arguably adds leaven to the series.

We might say the same thing about Ian Rankin’s Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Caffery. As fans of Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus series know, Cafferty is an Edinburgh crime boss, who makes his first appearance in Tooth and Nail. He goes on to appear in several other Rebus novels, and the two have an interesting relationship. On the one hand, they are antagonists. Cafferty is a criminal and Rebus is a copper. Rebus will do whatever it takes to put Cafferty behind bars, keep him there, and stop his operations. And, of course, Cafferty has no intention of letting that happen. On the other hand, the two develop a grudging respect for each other over time. And there are cases in which they end up helping each other. As time goes on, we also see how the face of Edinburgh crime and law enforcement change. Those changes impact both men, so that each one wonders, in his own way, where he’s going to fit in in the new order of things.

Not all fictional nemeses are criminals. For instance, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch contends with Irvin Irving in more than one of the Bosch novels. Irving is a very politically astute member of the LAPD, who’s involved in several of Bosch’s cases. For various reasons, mostly to protect himself or other, highly-placed, members of the police force, he often tries to limit what Bosch does. He’s been responsible for disciplining him, having him transferred, and so on. Later in the series, Irving runs for, and is elected to, political office. But that doesn’t mean he and Bosch no longer interact. Irving isn’t an evil, twisted serial killer, nor a crime boss. But he isn’t above squashing investigations and muzzling the police detectives who want to pursue them, especially if his name is connected to anything. And he’s not at all afraid to threaten Bosch’s job and career if that’s what it takes. Bosch, of course, isn’t willing to shut up and go away, or ‘rubber stamp’ an investigation. It makes for an interesting adversarial relationship as the series goes on.

And that’s the thing about nemeses. When they’re well drawn as characters, they can add suspense and strong story arcs to a series. They can also be interesting characters in their own right, so that we want to know more about them, even if we want the protagonist to ‘win.’ These are only a few examples of nemeses; I know you’ll think of more.

Thanks, Sue, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest you pay a visit to Sue’s excellent blog? Fine reviews and news await you there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jonathan Coultron and John Roderick’s Nemeses.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Nicci French, Reginald Hill