Category Archives: Reginald Hill

All Day Long, Wearing a Mask of False Bravado*

Hiding Behind MasksWe all wear masks, if you think about it. A person may be honest and straightforward, for instance, in business, but does anyone really need to know about the knee-knocking fear that person feels every time a major presentation comes up? When people go on first dates, they want everything to go smoothly and to make a good first impression. So, they take pains with appearance, try to keep the conversation to things they know about, and so on.

Sometimes those masks are deliberately deceptive of course. We’ve all read stories, both real and fictional, of people who pretend to be something they most definitely aren’t. More often, though, the masks we wear are meant to preserve privacy or to hide our insecurities and weaknesses. Because that’s such a human thing to do, it’s no surprise that we see it in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), for instance, Hercule Poirot is present at a cocktail party during which one of the guests, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. He didn’t have any enemies, and certainly no fortune to leave, so it’s hard to establish the motive at first. Not very long afterwards, there’s another, similar poisoning, this time at another house party. Many of the same people were at both events, so it’s hard to argue that the two cases are not connected. One of the ‘people of interest’ here is Oliver Manders, a young man who’s just getting started in his career. He has all of the insecurities that a lot of young people have as they move out into the world. So he wears a mask of jaded boredom and sarcasm. It certainly doesn’t endear him to others, but Poirot sees that he’s really just an unhappy young man who’s no more pleased with his annoying mask than anyone else is.

Fans of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant (later Inspector) Peter Pascoe will know that Sergeant Edgar Wield wears a sort of mask, at least at first. Wield is a part of Dalziel’s team, and does his job well. But he’s gay at a time and in a place where it’s not wise to let that fact be widely known. Everything changes in Child’s Play, though. In that novel, the team is investigating the strange case of the Lomas family. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas left her considerable fortune to her long-lost son, provided he returned by 2015. When she died, a man claiming to be that son came to her funeral, so now it looks as though he is set to inherit the money. Then he’s killed, and his body found in a car at the police station. In one of the sub-plots of this novel, Wield comes out as gay. It’s awkward for him, but as it turns out, not nearly as difficult for his bosses as he thought it might be.

We see a similar kind of mask in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. Successful (and married) accountant Daniel Guest has been leading a sort of double life. He’s also had several trysts with men, and in that sense, identifies as gay. But he doesn’t want to come out. That choice has gotten him into trouble, as he’s being blackmailed. Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who the blackmailer is and get that person to stop. Quant thinks it would be better for his client to come out as gay, but Guest refuses to do that. So Quant starts asking questions. The trail leads him to New York City – and to an unexpected murder.

Megan Abbott’s Die a Little introduces readers to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King and her brother Bill, who’s a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office. It’s the 1950’s, when everyone is expected to get married, settle down and have a family. So when Bill meets former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, it seems that ‘suburban dream’ is about to come true for him. Lora tries to be happy for her brother, but right from the start, she’s not too fond of Alice. Still, Bill is in love, and the two get married. For Bill’s sake, Lora tries to get along with her new sister-in-law. And on the surface, Alice is a happy suburban wife. She becomes the ‘star’ of their circle of friends, and takes great pains to ensure that every event she hosts comes off perfectly. Behind that mask, though, Lora senses something dark. As she starts to learn more about Alice’s life, she is both repelled by it and drawn to it. Then there’s a murder, and a good possibility that Alice may be mixed up in it. Now Lora worries for her brother’s safety. Alice isn’t what she seems, but what, exactly, is she?

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Yvette Nichol. When we first meet her in Still Life, she’s just been made a member of the Sûreté du Québec, and is excited about this promotion. Even more, she’s been assigned to work with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who has a strong reputation. Nichol has had an unfortunate background with a dysfunctional family. That in itself puts her at a disadvantage. She also has the insecurities that any young person might when starting a career with a prestigious leader. She doesn’t want to appear weak, and wants desperately to belong. But instead of asking questions, listening to advice, and doing as she’s asked, Nichol hides her insecurity behind a mask of smugness and arrogance. Her decision not to be honest with herself and others leads to a tense story arc (which I won’t spoil by revealing).

Masks may not always be the wisest choice. But we all wear them. We all present ourselves (as best we can) in the way we want others to see us. So it’s no wonder that there are so many masks in crime fiction.

Thanks to Tim, who blogs at Beyond Eastrod, for the inspiration for this post. Now, do go visit his blog. Lots of interesting ‘food for thought’ awaits you there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Player’s Baby Come Back.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Louise Penny, Megan Abbott, Reginald Hill

I Will Never Rest*

Fixations on SuspectsWhen professionals investigate a crime, they’re supposed to keep an open mind – as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot puts it, to ‘suspect everybody’ – until there’s a reason to go after one particular suspect. But that’s a whole lot easier to say than it is to do. For one thing, detectives are human. They have prejudices and biases as we all do. So it can be difficult to be objective about suspects. That’s especially true if a suspect has a history with a detective.

It doesn’t often go as far as Inspector Javert’s pursuit of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Still, there are plenty of examples of crime novels where the sleuth fixates on one suspect or theory, for whatever reason. And this can lead the sleuth right down the proverbial garden path. Even when the sleuth happens to be right, that sort of obsession can add an interesting layer of tension to a story, and a layer of character development. There are a lot of examples of this kind of fixation in crime fiction. I’ll just mention a few of them.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld wrote to Poirot, saying that his life was in danger and asking for Poirot’s help. But by the time Poirot and Hastings got to Renauld’s home, it was too late. Now Poirot feels that he owes it to his client and his client’s widow to find out what happened. Also investigating the case is Inspector Giraud of the Sûreté. To put it mildly, Poirot and Giraud are not compatible. Most of that is because Giraud has become fixated on one theory of the murder. And in fact, I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that he arrests the victim’s son Jack as a part of that theory. He is so obsessed with Jack Renauld that he doesn’t listen to what Poirot has to say about the matter until it’s almost too late.

In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Cissy Kohler is released from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s a lot of not-very-flattering talk that she was innocent, and that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, know that. In fact, so goes the gossip, he tampered with evidence to ensure she’d be imprisoned. Tallentire has since died, but Superintendent Andy Dalziel, whom Tallantire mentored, is sure that his boss behaved appropriately. He’s just as certain that Cissy Kohler was guilty. So he re-opens the case in his own way and goes into the events again. It’s mostly to clear his mentor’s name, but he also wants to show, once and for all, that Cissy Kohler was a killer.

In Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning, DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn of the Elmhurst CID, Essex, investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is found on the grounds of the exclusive Elmhurst Sanatorium. As you can imagine, they look closely into the backgrounds and doings of the people who live and work there. So one of their ‘people of interest’ is the hospital’s owner, Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs. Rafferty takes an instant dislike to Melville-Briggs, and it’s not hard to see why. Melville-Briggs is arrogant, insufferable, malicious, a serial adulterer and more. Nonetheless, as Llewellyn points out, there are other possibilities. When the victim is identified as a sex worker named Linda Wilks, the duo begin looking into her contacts with clients, her family, and other people she knew. But Rafferty is certain – too certain, if you ask Llewellyn – that the man they want is Melville-Briggs. That fixation plays its role in the way the investigation proceeds, and it adds an interesting layer of character.

Peter James’ Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove CID falls prey to the same sort of fixation in Not Dead Yet. In one plot line of that novel, Grace learns that Amis Smallbone has just been released from prison. In Grace’s opinion, Smallbone is,
 

‘…the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with.’
 

So he’s not too pleased to hear the news. One day, Grace’s partner Cleo Morey finds that her car has been sabotaged and a taunting sign painted on it. Grace is certain Smallbone is responsible, and wastes no time tracking the man down. When he finds him, let’s say that Grace wastes no time following up on his assumption. His certainly that Smallbone is the vandal blinds Grace to any other possibility.

And then there’s DS Bev Morriss, whom we first meet in Maureen Carter’s Working Girls. In that novel, she and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. It turns out that Michelle was a sex worker whose pimp was a man named Charlie Hawes. There are all kinds of stories about him, so Morriss is prepared to dislike him already. And when she finally gets the chance to meet him, she is even more certain that he is the murderer. In fact, she determines to do whatever she needs to do to get him. Her fixation on Hawes as the killer means that she’s not as open to other suspects as she might otherwise be, and it affects the investigation.

Of course, no discussion of this kind of fixation would really be complete without a mention of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and his fixation with Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. As fans will know, Cafferty is an Edinburgh crime boss who’s been a thorn in Rebus’ side for a long time. And every chance he gets, Rebus is all too happy to go after his nemesis. It sometimes leads him in the wrong direction (no spoilers here), but it always adds a layer of tension to the novels.

Sometimes police can have that sort of fixation about one of their own. For example, in Brian Stoddart’s 1920’s-era A Madras Miasma, Superintendent Christian Le Fanu and his assistant Muhammad ‘Habi’ Habibullah investigate the murder of Jane Carstairs. One morning her body is discovered in the Buckingham Canal in Madras (now Chennai). Le Fanu and Habi get to work on the investigation, and are almost immediately hampered by Madras Commissioner of Police Arthur Jepson. Jepson dislikes and distrusts Le Fanu for several reasons, not least of which is that he thinks Le Fanu is ‘too soft’ on Indians. So he takes every opportunity to sabotage the investigation and make things difficult for Le Fanu and Habi.

Everyone has biases and strong beliefs. When they get in the way of objectivity, they can hamper, and even ruin, police investigations. Still, they can add an interesting layer of conflict to a story or series.

 
 
 
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Stars.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Geraldine Evans, Ian Fleming, Maureen Carter, Peter James, Reginald Hill, Victor Hugp

When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping ;-)

When Sleuths Shop for ChristmasIt’s the last week before Christmas, and a lot of people are doing their final rounds of shopping and preparation. Everyone’s got a different way of buying gifts, so I thought it might be enlightening (or at least entertaining!) to think about how some of crime fiction’s sleuths go about it. So now, if you’ll kindly have your disbelief stay home and watch some holiday films, let’s take a look at what happens…

 

When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping

 

I. Andy Dalziel (Reginald Hill)

Dalziel and Sgt. Wield are in Dalziel’s office.

Dalziel: One more thing, Wieldy. I’m needing a Christmas present for Ellie.
Wield: Ellie, Sir?
Dalziel: Aye, Ellie. Soothe some ruffled feathers, that sort of thing.
Wield: What’ll you get her?
Dalziel: I dunno, lad! Think I’d ask you if I did?
Wield: Right. Well, a food gift basket’s always welcome. You can find some nice ones, too. And not too expensive.
Dalziel: All right, then. What store, do you think?
Wield: I know just the one. She loves it. Here, I’ll write it for you. Scribbles a name and address on a piece of paper and pushes it across the desk to his boss. Dalziel nods his thanks.

Later that day, Dalziel goes into the store Wield suggested…

Shop Assistant: Welcome to The Good Life. How may I help you?
Dalziel: Do you have gift baskets?
Shop Assistant: We certainly do, Sir. We offer only all-organic, gluten-free, planet-friendly baskets. Now, would you be interested in our Orchard Treasures basket? Our Green Tea and Rest basket? We also have a lovely Natural Grains basket. Or perhaps (pointed look at Dalziel’s waistline) our Refresh and Fit basket?

 

II. Walt Longmire (Craig Johnson)

Longmire and Ruby are in his truck.

Longmire: Thanks for coming with me, Ruby. It’s getting harder and harder to buy Cady something she wants.
Ruby: No problem. I don’t want to hear you complain for the rest of the year that Cady didn’t like what you got her.
Longmire: I really wish we hadn’t had to drive into Sheridan for this, though.
Ruby: What do you care? You drive a lot further than this all the time.
Longmire: Guess so.

They arrive at the store.

Longmire (Looking askance at the store): You serious, Ruby? A cosmetics store?
Ruby (Smiling): You should thank me. Vic wanted me to take you to Victoria’s Secret…

 

III. Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell)

Wallander is having coffee with his sometimes-lover, Baipa Liepa.

Walander: That’s the thing. I want to get something for Linda’s baby, but Mona always handled those things when Linda was that age. I have no idea what to get.
Baipa: Let’s take a walk. It’s not too cold, and maybe we’ll see something.
Wallander: All right.

The two are walking….

Baipa: How about here?
Wallander: I’m not sure about that.
Baipa: We don’t have to stay long, and I’ll bet you’ll find something.
Wallander, looking none too happy, nods in a resigned way and they walk in.
Christmas carols are playing loudly on the store’s sound system. A determinedly cheerful young man, dressed as a Christmas elf, greets them:
Welcome to Lattjo Toys, where all your Christmas dreams come true!
Just then, a small child rushes by, brushing against Wallander and smearing chocolate on his sleeve.

 

IV. Annika Bengtzon (Liza Marklund)

Annika is having a glass of wine with her friend Anne.

Anne: So, have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?
Annika: No, not yet. I still need to get something for my cousin Klara.
Anne: Any ideas?
Annika: I don’t know. She’s getting married in a few months, and I was thinking of getting her something for their home.
Anne: Good idea! I know just the place, too. It’s called Lilian’s. They’re supposed to have all kinds of bridal things there.
Annika: All right. Go with me?
Anne: Sure. I might even look around. I’ve never been in.

Later, the two go into Lilian’s.

Shop Assistant: May I help you?
Annika: Thanks. I’m looking for the right gift for my cousin, who’s getting married in a few months.
Shop Assistant: Wonderful! I have just the thing. We’ve got some lovely treasures in our ‘Together Forever’ collection.
Annika (Looking a bit doubtful): Could you show me a few things?
Shop Assistant: Absolutely. Right this way. Here we’ve got some things I really love. The ‘Together Forever’ collection has everything from matching ‘his and hers’ hand towels, to these heart-shaped ‘photo frames, to these beautiful wine glasses. See? They’ve got ‘Bride’ and “Groom’ etched on them. Perfect for those special nights. She winks knowingly.

 

V. Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie)

Poirot is talking to George.

Poirot: And so you see, Georges, I would like to get something special for Miss Lemon.
George: A very good idea, Sir. Perhaps I might suggest something?
Poirot: Ah, non, merci. I already have the best idea. I want to give Miss Lemon a new desk and office chair. Something that will be comfortable for her.
George: An excellent idea, Sir. I was thinking something along the same lines myself.
Poirot: Bon. Now, I must choose the furniture and arrange for delivery. Putting his hat on. Please arrange for a taxi for me, Georges, as I do not know how far this place is.
George: Yes, Sir. If I may ask, where are you planning to go?
Poirot: I have heard that Asda sells the sort of thing I want.
George: But, Sir…
Poirot: Not now, Georges. I am in a hurry. Puts his coat on and gets ready to leave.
George: Shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering to himself. I don’t know what he’ll do when he learns that Asda’s owned by WalMart.

 

So there you have it. What sort of shopping experience do you think your top fictional sleuths would have??

ps. You may notice that I didn’t include Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe here. Now that he’s learned to shop online, he has no need to go out… ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Reginald Hill

They Told Me to Diet*

DietingThis time of year brings with it all sorts of holiday gatherings and parties. That means, of course, all sorts of scrumptious food that you don’t find at other times of the year. And that’s probably a good thing, when you consider how easy it is to indulge more than you should.

It’s all enough to make you absolutely determined that this coming year will be the year you get back into shape. If you do make that promise to yourself, you’re not alone. A lot of people start setting their goals for the new year at this time. A lot of crime-fictional characters do the same thing (or, more often, are pushed into the same thing), and it’s interesting to see just how human they are as they go about it.

For example, in one sub-plot of John Mortimer’s short story Rumpole and the Boat People, criminal lawyer Horace Rumpole visits Dr. MacClintock at the behest of his wife Hilda, She Who Must Be Obeyed. The doctor suggests that Rumpole might do well to lose some weight:
 

‘‘Just two or three stone, Rumpole, that’s all you have to lose.’ Hilda was warming to her latest theme, that there was too much Rumpole.’
 

The diet isn’t all that appealing, at least to Rumpole:
 

‘‘No fat, of course.’… ‘Because it makes you fat. No meat, too rich in protein. No bread or potatoes, too many calories. No pastries, puddings, sweetmeats or sugar. No biscuits. No salt on the food. Steer clear of cheese. I don’t recommend fruit to my patients because of its acid qualities. Eggs are perfectly all right if hard-boiled.’’
 

Needless to say, Rumpole is not particularly pleased about this diet. Hilda suggests that they take a seaside holiday to make things a bit easier, and since she must be obeyed, Rumpole accedes. It doesn’t turn out to be a peaceful trip, though, as Rumpole gets involved in the case of a man who has drowned – or has he??

Fans of Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel will know that he enjoys his food and his whisky (or pint). In one plot thread of Ruling Passion, he isn’t feeling well and finally visits a doctor. As you can imagine, the doctor immediately puts Dalziel on a diet and on the proverbial wagon. So he’s not at all in the best of tempers as he and Peter Pascoe investigate a string of home invasions. Of course, this is only the third in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and fans will know that Dalziel doesn’t exactly stay on the culinary straight and narrow path…

Tarquin Hall’s Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri enjoys his food. In fact, his wife Rumpi’s nickname for him is ‘Chubby.’ She’s always concerned about his weight, and he doesn’t care much for her pestering him. So in The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, he decides to do something about it. He gets ZeroCal, a diet formula that, according to its maker,
 

‘…absorbs fat molecules and converts them into a form the human system doesn’t absorb.’
 

Convinced that he’ll be able to lose weight without changing his regimen, Puri makes a mechanical ‘adjustment’ to his wife’s bathroom scale so she won’t annoy him as he’s starting with his new pills. As you can imagine, things don’t turn out the way he plans…

Puri isn’t the only one who gets family pressure about his diet. So does Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík Police Inspector Erlendur. He doesn’t have a young family, or even a spouse to come home to, so he frequently eats food that’s not very good for him. In one plot thread of Jar City, his adult daughter Eva Lind comes to visit. Although she’s hardly a model of good health and a nutritious diet, she makes a very tasty homemade stew one night that reminds Erlendur of what good food is like. Later in the novel, he admits to Eva Lind that he’s been having some chest pains, but doesn’t want to see a doctor. Here’s her response:
 

‘‘Hang on, you’ve got chest pains, you smoke like a chimney, you live on deep-fried junk food and refuse to get yourself looked at.’’
 

It’s not spoiling the story to say that, although Erlendur doesn’t really adopt a fully healthy lifestyle, he does visit the doctor. In this case, it’s interesting to see how Erlendur and his daughter have very similar attitudes towards their own and each other’s health.

And then there’s Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s DI Hazel Micallef of the Port Dundas, Ontario, Police. She lives with her mother, Emily, who still gets concerned about her daughter’s well-being, despite the fact that Hazel is in her early sixties. And she shows that concern in the way she manages (or tries to!) Hazel’s diet. Here’s an example from The Calling:
 

‘Hazel smelled bacon. ‘Eat,’ said her mother.
‘I’ll wait for the bacon.’
‘No meat for you, my girl, this is for me.’
Hazel stared down at the anemic omelet on the plate. ‘This isn’t food for a grown woman, Mother,’ she said.
‘Protein. And fiber. That’s your breakfast. Eat it.’ She stared at her daughter until she picked up a fork.’
 

Hazel finds ways to eat what she wants, at least sometimes, but it’s interesting to see how her mother manages what she eats at home.

Keeping to a healthy diet at this time of year isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not always fun. But it’s better than having to start from the very beginning when the new year starts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a piece of chocolate. What?! It’s just the one piece. Ooh, but wait, there’s the kind with macadamias in it…  ;-)

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Allan Sherman and Lou Busch’s Little Butterball.

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Filed under Arnaldur Indriðason, Inger Ash Wolfe, John Mortimer, Michael Redhill, Reginald Hill, Tarquin Hall

Like Looking at My Mirror and Seeing a Police Car*

Resistance to PoliceIf you read enough crime fiction, you find that a lot of fictional characters – even those who are not guilty of a crime – do not like the police. Even in cases where the police characters are ‘the good guys,’ there’s a tendency not to want them around. There are even plenty of characters who would rather try to manage a very dangerous situation on their own than involve the police. I’m no expert on sociology or psychology, but I think there are some basic, underlying patterns that drive a wedge between the police and the people they are supposed to protect. Those wedges can mean that even when the police are ‘on the side of the angels,’ people don’t trust them.

 

Police Aren’t Always ‘The Good Guys’

There are plenty of stories in which characters have good reason to distrust the police. For example, in cases such as Nicole Watson’s The Boundary and Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road (Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising, too), characters have had unfortunate, even terrible experiences with the police. The police have acted in racist, bullying ways. Or they’ve abused their authority because of a ‘power rush.’ In cases such as Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark or Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, you see police who are part of a larger, dangerous state system where people ‘disappear.’ There are plenty of other examples, too, of course.

When this sort of thing happens, especially if you see it happen multiple times, it’s only natural to believe that the police cannot be trusted. Why would you speak to anyone who could very well end up abusing you or worse? In this case, even a copper who’s on the ‘side of the angels’ has a hard time getting anyone to talk. No-one is willing to take that risk.

 

There’s Community Resistance to the Police

In some communities, the police are seen as meddlers and officious busybodies. People in those communities want the police to just go somewhere else and arrest someone else, rather than tell them what to do. Anyone who is regarded as being too friendly with the police is seen as a threat, or at least someone who isn’t quite ‘one of us.’

We see that sort of community in Peter May’s Lewis trilogy. Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod grew up on the Isle of Lewis, but left as a very young man, and has been serving as a police officer in Edinburgh. He’s seconded back to Lewis at the beginning of the trilogy, and it’s interesting to see how everyone reacts to him. For some, that reaction is because of personal history. Others, though, can’t resist commenting on the fact that he’s ‘polis’ now, the implication being that he’s no longer ‘one of them.’ We also see this attitude in several of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel/Peter Pascoe novels. In those cases, the police have to penetrate rather closed communities, where the police are simply seen as not belonging. Even those who aren’t guilty of any crime would rather not be seen as talking to the coppers.

Related to this are the novels in which the police have to work within a closed religious community, where members don’t usually interact with ‘outsiders.’ I’m thinking, for instance, of Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder novels, where the Amish community of Ohio figures largely.
 

Fear of Retribution

In some cases, the police are up against a dangerous enemy – one with at least as much power (or so it seems) as they have. In these cases, people know what will happen to them if they talk to the police. So they keep quiet in the hopes of staying out of trouble, calling no attention to themselves, and (hopefully) staying alive.

We see that, for instance, in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. Some very dangerous people are seen as more threatening than the police who are investigating a murder. So people say as little as they can. That’s also true, to an extent, in Maureen Carter’s Working Girls. That story takes place among Birmingham’s sex workers, who have more to fear from powerful pimps, as they see it, than from the police. So it’s very hard to get information from them, especially for those who don’t have an ‘in.’
 

There is Risk to One’s Reputation

There’s less of this, I think, in modern crime novels than in classic or Golden Age crime novels. I haven’t gathered the data to support myself on this, but I do think people are less concerned about ‘what everyone will say!’ if they call the police than in times past.  But certainly a lot of fictional characters hire a private detective rather than call the police for just that reason.

For example, in several of Agatha Christie’s novels (I’m thinking, for instance, of Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client)), Poirot is hired because his client doesn’t want to involve the police. It’s considered to be a family matter, and therefore, not something the client wants made public. There’s even a mention in The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours) that
 

It’s common to be mixed up with the police, and don’t you forget it.’
 

And Christie is by no means the only author who weaves this prejudice into her stories.

 

Characters are Guilty

There is, of course, also the fact that people don’t want the police around because they are guilty. They may not be guilty of murder; in fact, many aren’t. But they are guilty of something, and they would rather the police not find that out. You see that in many, many novels, and I don’t want to spoil stories by mentioning particular titles or authors. But if you read enough crime fiction, you know that lots of people dodge the police because they have ‘side businesses,’ or skim from company funds, or perhaps don’t exactly mind the legal drink limit, or something of that sort.

All of this, of course, makes it very hard for the police to go after a killer. Trying to get through all of these side issues and resistance can be extremely difficult. But it also adds to the tension and complexity in a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Almost Cut My Hair.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Attica Locke, Ernesto Mallo, Eva Dolan, Garry Disher, Linda Castillo, Maureen Carter, Nicole Watson, Paddy Richardson, Peter May, Reginald Hill