Category Archives: Reginald Hill

Boy, You’ll Be My Foil*

foilsOne interesting way to show what a character is like is by using a foil. Fictional foils contrast with other characters, so their personalities are more sharply defined. As with anything in crime fiction, foils have to be handled carefully. Otherwise, they can become too cartoonish. But when they’re well-crafted characters in their own right, foils can bring out other characters, and can add a layer of interest to a story. There are plenty of examples of foils in crime fiction; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA A Holiday For Murder and Murder For Christmas), we are introduced to the Lee family. Family patriarch Simeon Lee decides that he wants his relatives to gather at the family home, Gorston Hall, for Christmas. No-one in the family wants to make the trip; Lee is a malicious, unpleasant old man who takes pleasure in others’ discomfort. But no-one dares to refuse the invitation. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is staying nearby, and works with the police to find out who the killer is. In this novel, there’s an interesting contrast between two of Simeon Lee’s sons: Alfred and Harry. Alfred’s always been ‘the good son,’ who went into the family business (which he never wanted to do), and who has stayed at the family home to help care for his father. Harry is the wild adventurer, who’s been all over the world, and in trouble more than once. Where Alfred is more reserved and cautious, Harry is extroverted, and he can be witty. Their father knows all too well that Alfred and Harry’s differences will likely lead to conflict; that’s a big part of the reason he invited Harry. And it’s interesting to see how these two serve as foils for each other. You’re absolutely right, fans of Five Little Pigs. There’s an interesting contrast between brothers there, too.

Fans of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series will know that there are plenty of foils there. To take the most obvious example, we can look at the characters of Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant (later, Inspector) Peter Pascoe. Where Pascoe is educated, intellectual, and in some ways, highbrow, his boss is the opposite. Dalziel is a brilliant detective, but he doesn’t have a university background or gentrified tastes. They have other differences, too, and Hill used those differences to make them foils for each other. What’s interesting is that Pascoe’s wife, Ellie, also serves as a foil. In her political and social views, she often differs with Dalziel. She resents what she sees as his way of commandeering her husband, too. Part of what makes these characters work as foils is that all of them are well-developed and ‘fleshed out.’ They see one another’s positive traits, too, so their interactions are rich and complex.

Geraldine Evans’ DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn are also police partners who serve as foils for each other. Rafferty has Irish, working-class roots. He’s outgoing, and sometimes tends to jump to conclusions (although he usually isn’t overly rash).  Rafferty sometimes gets drawn into his family’s drama, too. On the other hand, Llewellyn is more intellectual and long-headed, as the saying goes. He’s quiet, and his personal life isn’t complicated in the way that his boss’ is. They’re both smart detectives, and bring complementary strengths to their investigation. And that’s arguably why they make successful foils for each other. They highlight one another’s personalities, and respect each other despite their differences.

And, of course, I don’t think it would be possible to discuss foils in crime fiction without mentioning Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. As fans know, they are, in many ways, a study in contrasts. Wolfe has a rigid routine and a taste for luxury, and can be both arrogant and temperamental. But he is a brilliant detective, and he has a compassionate side in his way. By contrast, Goodwin is energetic, pragmatic and down-to-earth. He does quite a lot of the ‘legwork’ for his boss, and is an accomplished detective in his own right. He sometimes gets himself into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by wisecracking when that isn’t the safest choice to make. But he is at heart a person of integrity. Wolfe and Goodwin often spar. But they do respect each other, and their skills are complementary. Again, that’s part of what makes them good foils for each other.

If you think about it, foils really don’t have to be characters. Other sorts of contrasts can work, too. For instance, in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, we are introduced to Mary Yellan. As the story begins, she’s on her way from her home village of Helford to stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss at their establishment, Jamaica Inn. Mary’s mother has recently died, and Mary’s fulfilling a last promise to her by going to her relatives. Du Maurier presents Helford as a start contrast – a foil – for Jamaica Inn:

‘How remote now and perhaps hidden for ever were the shining waters of Helford, the green hills and the sloping valleys, the white cluster of cottages at the water’s edge. It was a gentle rain that fell at Helford…

This was a lashing, pitiless rain that stung the coach, and it soaked into a hard and barren ground.’  
 

The contrast between the two places becomes even more pronounced when Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn. It’s eerie, dilapidated, and lonely. It’s out by itself on the moor, and certainly not the welcoming, friendly place that Helford is. And the differences add to the sense of place in the novel, and the sense of foreboding. And if you’ve read the novel, you know just how dangerous and creepy Jamaica Inn turns out to be.

That’s really one of the most important purposes of foils. They serve to highlight aspects of a place or a character, because they provide contrasts with other characters and places. And that can be an effective to show what a character or a place is like without a lot of verbiage. Which fictional foils have you liked best?

 

ps. The ‘photo is of Jim Hutton (L) and John Hillerman (R), who had the roles, respectively, of Ellery Queen and private investigator/radio host Simon Brimmer in the 1975-76 series. Brimmer sees Queen as a rival, and often serves as his foil in this series, and Hillerman played the role quite well, I think.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Driving With Andy’s Sugar, Sugar.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Geraldine Evans, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout

‘Cause I Speak My Mind Sometimes*

bluntnessI’ll bet that, when you were a child, you were taught to be tactful. And most people do try not to be too blunt when they speak. Things just seem to go more smoothly when we temper what we say. And yet, sometimes people say things in a very forthright way. In a sense, it’s refreshing; you know where you are with such folks. At the same time, though, too much bluntness can make for awkwardness or worse. My guess is, you’ve had that experience in real life. And it’s certainly there in crime fiction.

The interesting thing about blunt statements is that they can reveal a lot about a character without the author having to go into too much detail. And bluntness can give clues to a story, too.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal) introduces us to the Abernethie family. Patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died of what seems like natural causes, and his relatives have gathered for his funeral. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle also intends to use the occasion to share the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up; she herself tells the family not to pay any attention to what she’s said. But privately, everyone thinks she may be right. And when she is murdered the next day, it seems clear that what she said is true. Entwhistle visits Hercule Poirot and asks him to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. One thing that’s interesting about Cora’s character is that she’s always been prone to what Entwhistle calls, ‘awkward statements.’ It makes for an interesting layer to that character. I completely agree, fans of The ABC Murders.

Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers can also be quite blunt. In The Penguin Pool Murder, in which she makes her debut, Miss Withers is escorting her fourth-grade class on a trip to the New York Aquarium. They’re at the penguin pool exhibit, getting ready to leave, when they see a man’s body slide into the pool. He’s been murdered, so homicide detective Oscar Piper is called in to investigate. In the course of his work, he interviews Miss Withers. She tells him that she’s a teacher, and how she came to be at the aquarium. Later, he says:
 

‘‘Occupation?’
‘At present, answering foolish questions. Young man, I told you I was a teacher.’’
 
Interestingly, Piper isn’t permanently put off by Miss Withers’ bluntness, as fans of this series will know…

Any fan of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel will tell you that he is not exactly known for his tact or verbal restraint. It’s very much part of his character to be blunt. For instance, in Good Morning, Midnight, he and Peter Pascoe investigate the supposed suicide of Pal Maciver. What’s odd about this death is that it eerily mirrors the death of his father, ten years earlier. When he arrives at the scene, Dalziel finds a bit of chaos. Among other things, one of the people in the house at the time of the death has tried to leave, and gotten into an altercation with PC Bonnick, who’s trying to keep everything secured. Dalziel tries to get some answers from this man:
 

‘‘Look, I’m sorry – I was out of…but I was worried – we’d heard that…and he didn’t show, so I thought that…that…that…’
‘What’s your problem, lad,’ enquired Dalziel. ‘Apart from not being able to finish sentences?’’
 

Later, Dalziel finds out that the man is a PE teacher. Here’s his response:
 

‘‘PE, eh? That explains about the sentences. Pity but.’’
 

Anyone familiar with Dalziel will know that this is quite typical of his way of speaking.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, although he’s high-functioning, and that impacts his interactions with others. He’s not skilled at understanding social cues, so he says exactly what’s on his mind. One day, Christopher comes upon the dog that belongs to the people next door. The animal’s been killed, and he’s curious as to how it happened. The dog’s owners think Christopher might be responsible, but he knows he’s innocent. So he decides to be a detective, just like Sherlock Holmes, and find out the truth. In the course of his search for answers, Christopher finds out some important truths about himself. And as he interacts with others, we see that he is at times very blunt indeed. It’s not to be unkind; he simply doesn’t understand the social skill of choosing one’s words and one’s approach.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s Thea Farmer, a former school principal whom we meet in The Precipice. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that she had bought a piece of property in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a home built there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions meant that she wasn’t able to move in. Instead, she’s had to sell the house and settle for the house next door, a home she calls ‘the hovel.’ When Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy Thea’s dream home (which she still considers hers), matters get even worse. Then, Frank’s niece Kim comes to live with him and Ellice. At first, Thea is prepared to have as much contempt for Kim as she does for Frank and Ellice. But after a bit, she forms an awkward friendship with the girl, and sees real promise in her. That’s why she’s especially concerned when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When the police won’t take any action, Thea makes plans of her own. Throughout the novel, Thea is blunt – sometimes very unkind – in the journal she keeps. She’s not quite as blunt in her interactions, but she certainly has her say.

And that’s the thing about bluntness. Forthright people certainly put things in perspective. Case in point: a conversation I had with my granddaughter:

Miss Five: What kind of books do you write?
Me: I write mystery books.
Miss Five: Can I read them?
Me: Well, they’re for grownups. They aren’t really for kids.
Miss Five: Oh, so they’re boring?

There is nothing like a conversation with a five-year-old to put everything in perspective. Just in case I ever get full of myself…😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rubens’ Lay it Down.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Mark Haddon, Reginald Hill, Stuart Palmer, Virginia Duigan

Working on a Building*

constructionWhere I live, the climate allows for construction throughout the year. So there’s quite a lot of ongoing building/tearing down/painting, and so on. That means, of course, work for local construction firms and their workers. It also has got me thinking about how neatly construction projects fit in with crime fiction plots.

For one thing, there’s the site itself. There are lots of opportunities for ‘accidents’ on construction sites. For another, there are the people who work on the site. Construction projects, especially large ones, draw all sorts of people from different backgrounds. So there’s lots of opportunity for the author to create different character portraits and plot threads. And there’s a lot of money at stake in construction projects. So companies sometimes go to all sorts of lengths to get bids for the work. And the less they have to spend on doing the work, the better they do. That lends itself to all sorts of plot threads. So it’s little wonder that construction projects figure the way they do in crime fiction.

There’s an interesting example of a construction project in Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning. There’s a major project taking place on the campus of Holm Coultram College, that involves moving an eight-foot bronze memorial from one part of campus to another. When the memorial and its base are lifted, everyone is shocked to discover that there’s a body underneath. It’s even more shocking when the body turns out to be former College President Alison Girling, to whom the memorial was dedicated. Everyone had assumed that she was killed in a freak avalanche during a skiing trip five years earlier, but now it’s clear that either she never left campus, or her body was brought back there for some reason. Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate. They find that this death has everything to do with the complicated network of relationships on campus.

In Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters, we are introduced to DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla. The novel begins with the death of Meredith Winterbottom, one of three sisters who live in a home in London’s historic Jerusalem Lane. At first, the death looks like a suicide, but Kolla notices a few things that don’t add up. So, with Brock’s support, she starts asking questions. It turns out that a large construction and development company wants to buy out all of the residents of Jerusalem Lane in order to create a new entertainment and shopping/dining district. The victim and her sisters were the last holdouts, and there’s a lot of money at stake. So that’s one very likely lead. So is the fact that Meredith’s son Terry, who inherits the house at his mother’s death, is very much in need of money. The proceeds from the sale of the property could be just what he needs. There are other leads, too. And it’s interesting to see throughout the novel how the coming construction impacts both the people of Jerusalem Lane and the local area.

In S.J. Rozan’s No Colder Place, PI Bill Smith gets an interesting case from a colleague, former cop Chuck DeMattis. Someone’s stolen a backhoe from Crowell Construction, the general contractor building a new high-rise building in Manhattan. What’s more, Lenny Pelligrini, the crane operator has disappeared. Smith’s task will be to go undercover as a mason and find out what’s going on. He starts on the job, and begins to ask questions. Then, Pelligrini’s body is discovered. And foreman Joe Romeo meets with a convenient ‘accident’ during a very carefully orchestrated riot. There’s clearly more going on here than a case of theft, and Smith works with his occasional business partner, Lydia Chin, to find out what’s behind the murders.

Many large construction projects attract immigrant workers, and that’s been another fruitful avenue for crime novelists to explore. For example, in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home, we meet DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The body of an unknown man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Emma and Paul Barlow. The evidence suggests that the man had been living there, and that’s not out of the question, since migrant workers often take up temporary residences in places like sheds, until they can afford somewhere else to live. If the man was a foreigner, this could be a hate crime, which is why Zigic and Ferreira get the case. The man is soon identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov. Now, the detectives trace the victim’s last days and weeks to find out who would have wanted to kill him and why. And as they do, they learn about the inner workings of construction companies and contractors who hire migrants to do the work. It’s an interesting, if sometimes tragic, look at the lives who come to work on construction projects.

And then there’s Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club, which takes place in 1950’s Auckland. In one plot thread of that novel, Istvan Ziegler emigrates from his native Hungary to New Zealand. He’s got a line on a job working on a new bridge that’s being constructed, and he’s hoping to make a new life for himself. He believes that working on construction sites, even though it’s difficult, will offer more than staying in Hungary. He connects with his new employer, settles into a cheap hotel and gets ready to begin his job. One day, he discovers a young woman in another room of the hotel, who seems to have been badly injured. He stays with her until she’s out of danger and learns some things about her. She is Judith Curran, who’s come to Auckland to have an abortion. The procedure left her badly hurt, and of course, she doesn’t want to admit what happened to more people than is absolutely necessary. She and Ziegler get drawn into a dangerous mystery surrounding a group of orphan girls who’ve just arrived in New Zealand. Admittedly, the new bridge going up isn’t the main point of the novel. But readers get to see what it’s like for construction workers as they settle into new places. And there’s an interesting bit that shows how workers heard about such jobs in the days before the Internet.

Construction sites draw all sorts of people together. They also mean work and commerce. But they can be at the very least annoying, and at worse, lethal. But don’t take my word for it; just check crime fiction and you’ll see.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Cowboy Junkies.

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Filed under Barry Maitland, Eva Dolan, Jen Shieff, Reginald Hill, S.J. Rozan

We’re For Our Team, Yeah*

team-membersHave you ever played on a sports team? Oh, not necessarily a professional team. But perhaps you played football (no matter how you define that term), baseball, rugby or hockey in school. Or you might have played for a local club. If you did (or still do), then you know that there’s a unique relationship among the players on a team. They share the wins and losses, of course. But they also share a certain kind of intimacy that goes beyond that. And that’s the way coaches like it, since the best teams work together and support each other.

That team relationship can make for a really effective context for a crime novel, if you think about it. For one thing, there’s a disparate group of people who have to live at close quarters with each other. And that (plus the competition) can make for all sorts of effective conflict and tension. For another, team members often know things about each other that friends and families may not. So they’re often useful sources of information and good repositories of all sorts of secrets. Here are just a few examples of how the team dynamic can work in crime fiction. I’ll bet you’ll know of dozens more than I could remember.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Sherlock Holmes gets an ‘inside view’ of a rugby team. Cambridge’s rugby coach, Cyril Overton, comes to Holmes with the news that his three-quarter, Godfrey Staunton, has gone missing. Of course Overton is concerned about the young man’s well-being. Beyond that, Cambridge is to face Oxford in a match the next day, and there’s little chance of Cambridge winning if Staunton doesn’t play. Holmes agrees to take the case, and starts to trace Staunton’s movements. Overton, of course, consults with Staunton’s teammates, but gets no help there. And other leads aren’t helpful, either. It’s not until Holmes makes sense of a cryptic telegram and a scent-dog that we learn what really happened to Staunton.

The first of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel/Peter Pascoe series, A Clubbable Woman, has a rugby club as its focal point. One day, veteran player Sam Cannon is badly roughed up during a match, and suffers a concussion. He goes home and falls into a deep sleep. When he wakes, he finds that his wife, Mary, has been bludgeoned to death. As you might expect, Sam himself is the most likely suspect in her murder. But he claims to be innocent. As Dalziel and Pascoe begin to look into the matter, they find out that the key to this mystery lies with the rugby club. Once they untangle the network of relationships, and the backgrounds of the team members, they learn the truth.

As Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter begins, Toronto sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry is returning to Toronto with the (American League) Toronto Titans baseball team. They’re about to host the Boston Red Sox for an important series of games that could get them into the championship series. After one key win, everyone’s celebrating when word comes that one of the players, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is dead, and his body’s been found in his home. On the surface, it looks as though Sanchez surprised a burglar, and Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro and his team begin their investigation. Then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered. Now, Munro changes the focus of the investigation to the members of the team. And he and Henry find that they can be of help to each other. She can provide him with inside information on the team members, their interactions, and so on. And he can give her exclusive information on one of the most important baseball stories she’s written. It turns out that things happening on the team play a major role in the case.

In Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, we are introduced to Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. They’ve been best friends for a very long time, with Addy serving as Beth’s trusty lieutenant. Now, Beth is captain of the cheerleading squad, and Addy is still her second-in-command. Together, they rule the school as the saying goes. That is, until the new cheerleading coach, Collette French, starts working with them. Before long, the other girls on the squad, including Addy, are drawn into the new coach’s world, and form a tightly-knit group. Beth, who’s been more or less left out of this new social group, naturally resents both the exclusion and her loss of power as the cheerleaders’ ‘queen bee.’ Addy, though, feels the ‘pull’ of the new coach and of the group of other cheerleaders who spend time with her. Everything changes for Addy when there’s a suicide – or is it? Among other things, this novel explores the intensity of teammate relationships, and the different (and not always) healthy forms they take.

And then there’s John Daniell’ The Fixer. In this novel, we meet Mark Stevens, who was one of the (New Zealand) All Blacks’ stars during his best playing years. Now that he’s getting a little older and closer to the end of his career, he’s taken a job with a French rugby club where the pay is good, and he can ensure that he’ll retire comfortably. Things go well until he meets Brazilian journalist Rachel da Silva. She’s in France to do a story on rugby for her magazine, and wants to do an in-depth piece. She wants Stevens to help her meet the other players and, of course, to give her his perspective. It’s not long before they’re in a relationship, but it turns out to be much more than Stevens bargained for originally. Rachel slowly convinces him that he can make a lot of money betting on matches. Then it becomes hints about fixing matches. And it’s not just a matter of his sense of ethics, either. The stakes get very high when his family back in New Zealand are threatened. One of the important plot lines in this novel is the set of relationships among the players in the club. They have a unique kind of a bond; and, in a way, that’s a big part of the problem for Stevens as he starts to walk a very blurred ethical line.

Teammates really do know each other in ways that lots of other people don’t. That relationship can get intense, and there can even be conflict (or worse). But that sense of team identity is part of what wins games.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Our Team.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Daniell, Megan Abbott, Reginald Hill

Too Close For Comfort*

Too CLose For ComfortPolice detectives are nothing if not human. And that means they have preferences, biases and so on, just like everyone else. And sometimes, that means they start getting too close to a case. They may develop relationships with the people involved, and that can cloud their judgement.

There are plenty of examples of that risk in crime fiction, but it’s not easy to do well. For one thing, real-life police know that they need to keep their distance from their investigations. Otherwise, they can’t do their jobs well. For another thing, if the ‘too-close-for-comfort’ plot isn’t done carefully, it can come across as clichéd. But there are cases where it’s done very effectively, and it can add an interesting layer of tension and character development.

In Colin Dexter’s The Daughters of Cain, for instance, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of former Oxford don Felix McClure. The most likely suspect is McClure’s former scout Ted Brooks. But everything changes when he goes missing and is later found dead. As Morse and Lewis look into the case, Morse finds himself attracted to one of the ‘people of interest,’ a prostitute who calls herself Ellie Smith. It seems that McClure was one of her clients, and there are other factors, too, that link her to the crimes. Ellie seems to reciprocate Morse’s feelings, and that makes investigating the murders more of a challenge for Morse. But it also adds a layer of interest to both characters.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life features a slightly different sort of closeness. Cissy Kohler has been released from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s a great deal of gossip that she was innocent all along. Worse, the talk is that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, knew she was innocent and deliberately squelched that evidence. Tallentire was a mentor to Superintendent Andy Dalziel, so when Dalziel learns of these stories, he is determined to clear his mentor’s name. He feels all the more strongly about it when he learns that the whole case, including Tallentire’s conduct, is being reviewed. Dalziel isn’t one for the niceties of policy, so he re-investigates, even though the case involves an old friend.

Old friends also figure into Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, the first of his Marseilles trilogy. Marseilles cop Fabio Montale learns that an old friend named Manu has been murdered. That fact shouldn’t be surprising, since Manu had gotten deeply involved in the criminal underworld. Still, it leaves Montale shaken. Then, another friend, Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini, returns to avenge Manu’s death and is himself killed. Now Montale is determined to stay loyal to those friendships and find out who killed Manu and Ugo. He gets uncomfortably close to that case, and to another case he’s working. But he finds out the truth.

We are introduced to Swati Kaushal’s police detective Niki Marwah in Drop Dead. That novel’s focus is the murder of Rakesh ‘Rak’ Mehta, President and CEO of Indigo Books India, Ltd. He arranged a retreat for his senior staff at the luxurious Lotus Resort in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. But on the second morning of the retreat, his body is discovered in a valley not far from the resort. Marwah and her team are called in, and begin the investigation. One person who may be connected to the case is Ram Mathur, who owns a restaurant not very far from the resort. It turns out that he used to be close friends with the victim; so on the one hand, he is a ‘person of interest.’ On the other, Marwah likes him, and feels a sort of attraction to him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that she maintains her professionalism. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the conflict.

Seán Haldane’s’ The Devil’s Making begins as Chad Hobbes arrives in 1868 Victoria, BC. He’s just received his degree in Jurisprudence from Oxford, and, armed with a letter of recommendation, is given a job as a constable. The work isn’t that taxing at first. But then, a group of Tsimshian Indians discovers the mutilated body of Richard McCrory. At first, the case looks quite straightforward. McCrory had been involved with Lukswaas, a Tsimshian woman whose partner Wiladzap is one of the group’s leaders. So he’s the natural choice for suspicion. Wiladzap, though, denies being the killer, and Lukswaas supports him. In order to appear to be doing their jobs, the police have to ask some perfunctory questions, and that task falls to Hobbes. But the more questions he asks, the more doubt he has that Wiladzap is guilty. And the more he learns about the Tsimshian people, and about Lukswaas, the closer he gets to the case. It becomes very risky for him, as this is the Victorian Era, a time of very different attitudes towards indigenous people.

There’s a particularly painful instance of getting too close to a case in Wendy James The Lost Girls. In 1978, fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan disappears during a summer visit to her Aunt Barbara and Uncle Doug Griffin, and their children, Mick and Jane. Not very long after the disappearance, her body is discovered with a scarf wrapped around her head. At first, the police look to the family, but nothing comes of it. They have to be very careful, too, because Doug Griffin is a copper. The theory changes a few months later when another young girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor, is found dead, with a scarf tied around her neck. Now the police begin to believe that a serial killer, whom the press dub the Sydney Strangler, is at work. The case is never solved, though. Years later, journalist Erin Fury is making a documentary about families that have survived the murder of one of their members. She interviews the Griffin family as a part of that project; and, slowly but surely, we learn what really happened to the two victims. One thread that runs through the story is what it’s like for a cop when a family member is the victim. On the one hand, the case is better solved with objectivity. On the other, who can blame a police officer for going all-out to find the killer of a family member?

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. When twelve-year-old Alyssa Merrimon disappears, Detective Clyde Hunt does everything he possibly can to find her and catch the guilty person. But no real leads come up. Still, he keeps trying. So does Alyssa’s twin brother Johnny. A year later, another young girl goes missing. There’s a possibility that the two cases are linked, and Hunt is hoping that by putting all his resources into finding the other girl, he’ll also find out the truth about Alyssa Merrimon. Meanwhile, Johnny has his own plans for finding out what happened to his sister. Throughout the novel, real questions are raised about Hunt’s ability to be objective, and to tend to his other police duties. Those questions put him very much on the edge, and cause more than one person to doubt his ability to do the job.

And that’s the thing about getting too close to a case when you’re a police detective. Police officers are human beings, so it’s not hard to understand how they could lose their objectivity. But it is very, very risky. The same’s true of members of other professionals, such as attorneys. But that’s the stuff of another post.

 
 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener, and George David Weiss.

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Filed under Colin Dexter, Jean-Claude Izzo, John Hart, Reginald Hill, Seán Haldane, Swati Kaushal, Wendy James