Category Archives: 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.


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.


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

You’ve Got Forensic Evidence That Never Lies*

A recent interesting post from Rebecca Bradley has got me thinking about how important it is to handle a police investigation as carefully as possible. Bradley, a retired police officer, has been sharing her experience and wisdom in a fascinating feature called Writing Crime. In that feature, she writes about aspects of a police investigation such as securing a crime scene, collecting evidence, and interviewing witnesses and suspects, among other things. If you write crime fiction, or are thinking about it, that feature is well worth your attention. And even if you don’t, Rebecca’s blog is a treasure trove. And she’s a talented crime writer, so you’ll want to try her work.

Rebecca’s right, too, about how important those details (such as collecting evidence) really are. Carelessness can destroy evidence, or at the very least, corrupt it. Among other things, that means that a case won’t hold up in court. It also means that crimes may not be solved. That’s one reason why every police trainee is thoroughly drilled on the rules about collecting, preserving, and using evidence.

It matters just as much in crime fiction as it does in real life. If a crime novel is to be credible, then the evidence is supposed to be handled in a specific way. This gives the author some flexibility, actually. Authors who want to create a plot based on mishandled evidence can do that. Authors who want to use properly-preserved evidence to make a case can do that, too. In either case, it’s an important and interesting aspect of crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit the small French town of Merlinville-sur-Mer at the request of Paul Renauld, who’s made his home there. He’s written to Poirot, claiming that his life is in danger, and asking Poirot to go to France immediately. By the time Poirot and Hastings arrive, though, it’s too late. Renauld has been murdered. Monsieur Giraud of the Sûreté is assigned to the case, and one of his first priorities is to find clues. Admittedly, he is insufferable, rude and arrogant. But he does have a point about preserving the crime scene. Here’s his comment to M. Bex, who has been supervising the local police.

‘‘Is it your police who have been trampling all over the place? I thought they knew better nowadays.’’

To Giraud, getting physical evidence and preserving it is the key to solving the crime.

Small bits of evidence prove very important in Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion, the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. She’s joining at a critical time, too. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder bears several similarities to six other murders, all of women. But there are some differences. For one thing, the other victims were older sex workers; Melissa was young, and not a sex worker. There are a few other little differences, too. Still, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, who leads this team, believes that the same killer is involved. This is a smart murderer, though, who is neat and careful, and doesn’t leave evidence. Still, no-one is perfect. And, in the end, a small piece of evidence that hasn’t been destroyed ends up implicating the real killer. And it’s interesting to see how Travis (who happens to think of where that evidence might be) is able to get it properly collected.

Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream also features the importance of handling evidence carefully. Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone and her team are called in when high school principal Teresa Wyatt is found murdered in her bathtub. Then, there are two other murders. All of the victims were, in some way, connected to Crestwood, a former home for girls. That in itself piques Stone’s interest. But then, Professor Milton, who’s gotten approval for an archaeological excavation on the site, is cruelly threatened, and told to halt his plans. Now, Stone and her team are more interested than ever in what happened at Crestwood. There are several points in the story where evidence comes to light. And Stone has to go through the correct procedures to get approval to look for the evidence, to collect it, and to preserve it properly. She doesn’t always like doing things ‘by the book,’ but she does understand that those rules are there for a reason.

Because the handling of evidence is so important, it’s a serious problem if that evidence is lost or in some way compromised. And that’s what’s suspected in Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life. Cissy Kohler has recently been released from prison, where she served time for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s talk that she was innocent. Worse, there’s talk that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that pointed to her innocence. In fact, a new investigation into the case is launched. This upsets Superintendent Andy Dalziel, who considered Tallentire a mentor. Determined to clear Tallentire’s name, Dalziel looks into the Westrup murder again. And it’s interesting to see how the matter of evidence plays such an important role here.

And then there’s Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, in which Tasmania Police Sergeant John White is stabbed as he is investigating a home invasion. The novel shows how this murder impacts everyone involved, including White’s colleagues, subordinates, and even the suspected killer. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the handling of certain evidence adds a layer of character development and plot to the story.

Handling evidence appropriately is key to any police investigation. So it’s no wonder that the way evidence is gathered and stored plays such an important role in crime fiction. One post is not enough to do justice to the topic, so tell me – what have I forgotten?

Thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stiff Little Fingers’ Forensic Evidence.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Marsons, Lynda La Plante, Reginald Hill, Y.A. Erskine

But Do You Now Represent Anyone’s Cause But Your Own?*

Most causes, movements, etc. have leaders, however informally they’re chosen. Whether it’s environmentalists, student activists, unions/workers’ groups, or something else, people know that they’re not going to be heard, so to speak, without some leadership.

As long as that leadership is responsive to the group members, and really represents their interests, it can be a very productive relationship. Everybody gets something, especially if the cause becomes popular and successful. But what if the leadership doesn’t have the group’s best interests at heart? That conflict can result in a lot of damage to a cause. And it can be an interesting plot line to explore in a crime novel.

For instance, in Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning, Superintendent Andy Dalziel, and Sergeant Peter Pascoe are sent to the campus of Holm Coultram College. The school is undergoing renovations that include relocating a large bronze statue. When that statue is moved, everyone is shocked to discover a woman’s body underneath its base. The dead woman turns out to be Alison Girling, former President of the College. She disappeared five years earlier, and everyone thought she died in a freak avalanche during a ski holiday. But it’s now clear that she never left the school. As Dalziel and Pascoe trace the victim’s last days and weeks, they meet several people, including student activist leaders Franny Roote and his right-hand man, Stuart Cockshut. The novel was published in 1971, a time of student radicals and a great number of student-led movements. As the novel goes on, we get to know these particular student activists, and we see the relationship that the leaders have with their members. And it’s very interesting to speculate about whose interests Roote and Cockshut actually have in mind.

One focus of Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage is a planned road that will pass through Framingham Great Wood, near the town of Kingsmarkham. Plenty of people do not want the road, fearing its impact on the environment. Certainly, Inspector Reg Wexford is no fan of the idea. His wife, Dora, is even a member of a citizens’ group that’s trying to stop the road. Then, a group of environmental activists come to town, seemingly to support the locals in their efforts. That’s when the real trouble starts. One of the groups takes hostages, including Dora Wexford. And then there’s a death. Now, Wexford and his team have to find a way to free the hostages and solve the murder, before anyone else is put it risk. And as the story goes on, we see how group leadership doesn’t always have the group members’ interests as a priority.

In John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, Clanton, Mississippi attorney Jake Brigance gets a case that soon draws national attention. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for shooting Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard. There’s no doubt that he is the killer, but this isn’t the ‘open and shut’ case that it seems on the surface. Cobb and Willard are responsible for beating and raping Hailey’s ten-year-old daughter, Tonya, and there’s a lot of sympathy for him. At the same time, vigilantism cannot be condoned. To complicate matters further, Hailey is black, while Cobb and Willard were white. Hailey asks Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. It’s not going to be an easy case, though. And several different national groups have an interest in the outcome of Hailey’s trial. Their background manipulation raises important questions of whose interests they really represent.

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Full Cupboard of Life, we are introduced to Mma Holonga, who is the very successful owner of a chain of hair salons. She’s ready to choose a husband, and, since she is both attractive and successful, she has plenty of suitors. After narrowing down the list to just a few eligible men, Mma Holonga visits Mma Precious Ramotswe. She wants Mma Ramotswe to ‘vet’ the men on the list and help her choose the best match. Mma Ramotswe agrees and starts to find out about the men. One of them is Mr. Bobologo, a teacher who also runs House of Hope, a home for troubled girls. He is highly respected and is dedicated both to his students and to the residents of House of Hope. But, as Mma Ramotswe does a little digging, she finds that he is a very ambitious person, who may only want to marry Mma Holonga for her money. And there’s a real question of whose interests he really has in mind. It’s especially interesting to see what Mma Holonga says when Mma Romatswe reveals what she’s discovered.

And then there’s Jonothan Cullinane’s Red Herring, which takes place in 1951 Auckland. The dock workers – the wharfies – are planning a strike, and the government wants to do everything possible to stop that happening. There’s no love lost, either, between the government and the union leaders in this era of anti-communist hysteria. Against this backdrop, PI Johnny Malloy is hired for a possible insurance fraud case. It seems that Francis ‘Frank’ O’Phelan, AKA Frank O’Flynn, was reported dead when he went overboard in the Bering Sea. But now, it’s come out that O’Flynn may still be alive. In fact, there’s a photograph of him with several people involved in the upcoming strike. The insurance company that carried O’Flynn’s life insurance policy hires Malloy to find the man in the photograph and establish whether it’s O’Flynn. Malloy takes the case, but soon finds that some powerful people are protecting O’Flynn, and don’t want Malloy to find him. And the closer Malloy gets to the truth, the more he sees who, exactly, has an interest in the upcoming strike. Things are not what they seem, and there’s a real question of whose interests are really being served.

And that’s the thing about the sociology of some groups. Leadership is important if the group’s agenda is going to be furthered. But that doesn’t mean that the leadership always has the members’ best interests as a priority. Not in crime fiction, at any rate…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines.


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, John Grisham, Jonothan Cullinane, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell

Just Picture a Great Big Steak*

One of the things I love about crime fiction is the way it shows how we’ve changed over time. As society changes, so do social attitudes and customs. One of the many kinds of changes we’ve seen is in our diets and the way people eat.

I got to thinking about this after an interesting comment exchange with Brad at ahsweetmysteryblog. By the way, if you like to read crime fiction, especially classic and Golden Age crime fiction, you don’t want to miss Brad’s richly detailed and informative blog. I learn every time I visit. Every time.

Brad and I were mentioning Fritz Brenner, who, as Rex Stout fans know, is Nero Wolfe’s chef. He is world-class, and always creates gourmet eating experiences for his boss. But, by today’s standards, we’d probably say that his cooking is far too rich and too full of calories, fat, and so on. Our views about what people should be eating have certainly changed since Stout was writing. Today’s top chefs know that there are healthful ways to cook that are also unforgettably delicious and beautifully presented. And many restaurants now offer vegetarian/vegan options, smaller servings, and low-fat/low-calorie dishes.

Choices such as low-calorie foods or vegetarianism haven’t always been seen as mainstream as they are now. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the village of Market Basing when one of its prominent residents, wealthy Emily Arundell, unexpectedly dies. At first, her death is put down to liver failure, but soon enough, it turns out that she was poisoned. And that wasn’t the first attempt on her life. Not many months before, she had a fall down a staircase that was deliberately engineered. There are several suspects in this case, since Miss Arundell’s relatives are all in need of money. And there’s the fact that her companion, Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson, has inherited most of her fortune. Two of the witnesses that Poirot talks to are Isabel and Julia Tripp, who are friends of Minnie Lawson, and who were there on the night Miss Arundell died. These are eccentric ladies, to put it mildly. They have many non-conformist beliefs and are avid spiritualists. To add to this, they are vegetarians. While that fact isn’t the reason for Miss Arundell’s murder, it offers a glimpse of how such a diet might have been viewed at the time. Certainly, Poirot, who is a gourmand, is not exactly excited about the prospect of having dinner with the Tripp sisters…

Just because our views of what ‘counts’ as an appropriate diet have changed, doesn’t mean that all fictional sleuths eat healthfully. For instance, Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel isn’t particularly concerned with keeping to a healthy diet. He’s not stupid; he knows that it’s a good idea to limit fat, salt, and so on. But he likes his pub grub and has no intention of cutting things like bacon out of his diet. The same goes for Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and for Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. It’s not that they don’t know what they ought to be eating. Fans of Dexter’s series, for instance, know that Morse’s doctors have told him often enough. But that’s not the way they live their lives. What’s interesting about these sleuths’ attitudes is that they go against the proverbial tide. It’s now considered perfectly normal – even healthy – to eat less meat, less salt and fat, fewer fried foods, and so on.

We see another interesting example of that change in attitude in Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant series. Quant is a Saskatoon-based PI who does enjoy the occasional ‘not-good-for-you-but-delicious’ meal at his ‘watering hole,’ Colourful Mary’s. Still, he tries to watch what and how much he eats. That becomes difficult when his mother, Kay, comes for a visit in Flight of Aquavit. She is a farm wife, who’s spent her life making heavy-duty meals for hard-working farm people. So, her idea of what ‘counts’ as breakfast, for instance, are quite different to her son’s. It’s not that Quant doesn’t enjoy her cooking; he does. It’s delicious. But he also knows it’s got many times more calories, fat, salt, and so on than he should be having. This difference in views isn’t the main plot of the novel, but it does show how our attitudes about diet have changed. It also shows (but this is perhaps the topic for another time), how lifestyle, culture, and other factors influence diet.

Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss is a Göteborg police detective, whose squad investigates murder and other violent crimes. In Night Rounds, we learn that Huss’ daughter, Jenny, has decided to become vegan. In fact, in one sub-plot, Jenny goes out one night with a militant vegan group to do what she thinks will simply be putting up vegan posters. It turns into something far more than that, and things quickly turn ugly. Fortunately for Jenny, Huss has suspected there might be trouble, and is able to get Jenny out of harm’s way. Jenny’s choice to become vegan does set up a conflict with her father, Krister, who is a well-regarded chef. But neither veganism nor a more conventional diet is portrayed as ‘right.’ It makes for an interesting discussion of what we think of when we think of ‘good’ food.

Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura is a half-Japanese/half-American antiques dealer who’s originally based in Tokyo (although her adventures do take her to several other places). She likes and respects some of the Japanese traditions she’s learned, but in many ways, she has a very modern outlook. And that includes her choice to be a vegetarian. What’s really interesting about that is that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow as a rule. It’s simply accepted. And that shows something, at least to me, about the way our views about diet have changed.

That makes sense, too, since society is always changing. Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration. Now, folks, if you’ll be kind enough to go visit Brad’s blog, I’ll excuse myself. It’s time for lunch!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lionel Bart’s Food, Glorious Food.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Colin Dexter, Helene Tursten, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout, Sue Grafton, Sujata Massey