Category Archives: Rex Stout

Sleuth Celebrity Shows ;-)

We’re all familiar with our top fictional sleuths’ skill at solving mysteries. But they have other talents, too, if you think about it. What if those other talents were celebrated? Wouldn’t it be great if the fictional sleuths we like best got their own TV shows, designed to showcase those skills? No, I mean it – it could work. If you’ll park your disbelief in front of the laptop to do some online shopping, I’ll show you what I mean with these

 

Sleuth Celebrity Shows
 

Restaurant Rescue

Struggling restaurants everywhere get a new lease on life as master gourmand Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie) offers them his singular expertise. Join M. Poirot as he pays a visit to a different restaurant each week, and gives the owner and chef the benefit of his deep knowledge of ambiance, food, wine, and service. The end result? A restaurant and staff that provide an unforgettable dining experience. You won’t want to miss it!

[We hear from our sources that Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout) had been considered for this show, but his spokesman has said that Wolfe would not be taking the role. The spokesman neither confirmed nor denied that Wolfe said the show was ‘flummery.’]

 

Refashion Yourself

If you’ve ever felt you wanted a new look, but weren’t sure where to start, you’ll want to tune in as Paris’ own Aimée Leduc (Cara Black) transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each week, she takes charge of a different lucky client’s wardrobe, and brings it alive with the best in clothes, shoes, outerwear, accessories, and more. She also offers valuable tips to viewers on how to put together simple but sophisticated looks for every occasion. Don’t miss a single episode!

 

Save My Kitchen

Straight from the heart of France’s gastronomic culture, Bruno Courrèges (Martin Walker) brings the Périgord to homes everywhere. Tune in each week as this skilled chef transforms his guests’ everyday meals into something special. With the right ingredients and simple cooking strategies, Courrèges makes even a quick lunch memorable. Each episode brings you a treasure trove of advice for your own kitchen. No more ho-hum meals!

 

Live With Less

The show for people who want to de-clutter and start living simpler, less hectic, and less expensive lives. Let natural living expert Rebecka Martinsson (Åsa Larsson) be your guide to a more sustainable, more budget-conscious, and less frantic lifestyle. Each week, Rebecka visits the home of a different family, and gives them sustainable and inexpensive solutions for clothing, cooking, cleaning, and much more. Each episode teaches easy ways to cut down the waste, tone down the non-stop stress of modern life, and make the most of what nature offers. Don’t miss a single one!

 

The Big Event

Starring one of the world’s foremost entertainment experts, Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood), this show covers everything involved in planning and hosting the perfect event. Each week, Phryne coaches her guests as they put together weddings, reunions, corporate events, and other special occasions. Watch as the guests plan themes, decorations, music, food and drink, and all of the other unique touches that make an event unforgettable. Then, see the event itself, and get some great ideas for your own big day.

 

Pub Crawl

Renowned pub expert E. Morse (Colin Dexter) takes you on a tour of the UK’s best pubs and watering holes. Each week, Morse visits a different local, and shares his experiences. Learn how the UK’s pubs compare on selection, price, quality, ambiance, and much more. Enjoy Morse’s critiques, and pick your own new places to try!

 

See what I mean? These TV shows could really take off, don’t you think? And it would mean our sleuths could earn some welcome extra income. These are just a few of my own ideas. Got any of your own to share?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Cara Black, Colin Dexter, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Rex Stout

The Way She Brushed Her Hair From Her Forehead*

Not very long ago, I had an author portrait taken. I don’t usually care much for ‘photos of myself – at all. But part of getting the word out about one’s writing is….an author portrait (am I right, fellow crime writers?). I asked my daughter fashion and image expert which of several shots to choose, and she mentioned that I looked angry in one. I asked her what made her think that. After a second’s pause she said, ‘It’s your upper lip.’ Turns out I have a certain facial mannerism I didn’t even know about that gives away irritation.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. We all have unique mannerisms that are part of our equally unique identities. Sometimes they are very subtle. Other times they’re more obvious. Either way, they help to define us. And they can be really useful to the crime writer. Mannerisms help to make characters distinctive. Readers might not necessarily remember a character’s name, but they might remember, ‘Oh, yeah, the one who tilts her head back to look at you.’

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a very distinctive character. His pipe, his violin, and so on have served to make him familiar to millions. But he also has some physical mannerisms that distinguish him from others. Here’s what Dr. Watson says about it in A Study in Scarlet:
 

‘Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.’
 

As time goes by, Watson learns to ‘read’ Holmes’ mannerisms to determine when he’s feeling sociable, when he’s deep in thought, and so on.

Agatha Christie used mannerisms in more than one of her stories. In at least two novels that I can think of (Sorry – no titles. I don’t want to give away spoilers), characters’ distinctive physical mannerisms help the sleuth identify the criminal. Sometimes, Christie used mannerisms to lead readers down the proverbial garden path, too. And of course, her sleuths have mannerisms of their own. Any fan of Hercule Poirot, for instance, can tell you that he has plenty of physical quirks. He absently straightens anything that’s not in perfect alignment. He smooths his moustache unconsciously, too. And those are only two examples.

Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that he has several physical mannerisms. One of them is that, when he’s deep in thought, his lips show it. Here’s a description from Champagne For One:
 

‘…his lips started to work. They pushed out and went back in, out and in, out and in…’
 

Wolfe may not always be consciously aware that he’s doing that, but Archie Goodwin knows to leave him alone when he does. It means he’s pondering a case, and will not take it kindly if he’s interrupted.

Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios / A Coffin For Dimitrios introduces us to mystery novelist Charles Latimer. When he hears about a notorious character named Dimitrios Makropoulos, he gets interested. And when he finds out the man has been found dead, Latimer gets even more interested. He decides to trace Makropoulos’ history, and find out how and why he committed the crimes that he did, and how he met his end. It’s a very dangerous undertaking, but Latimer is too curious to stop. Slowly, he gets drawn into the dead man’s story. Along the way, he meets a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Peters. Peters has the mannerism of smiling – a lot. His smiles change, depending on the circumstances, but he smiles quite often. Latimer finds the smile disconcerting, and it’s interesting to see how that adds to the suspense in the story.

Anne Zouroudi’s Hermes Diaktoros is a somewhat enigmatic sleuth. When he’s on a case, he tells people that he’s been sent ‘from Athens’ to help investigate. But it’s never clear exactly where he’s from or what his actual job is (although he is a sort of private detective). In appearance, he’s not overly distinctive. But he does have the distinctive mannerism of keeping the white tennis shoes he habitually wears pristine.

James W. Fuerst’s Huge is the story of Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls. It takes place in a small 1980’s New Jersey town, where twelve-year-old Huge lives with his mother and his sister, Eunice ‘Neecey.’ Huge has his problems in school, but he’s highly intelligent, and dreams of being a private detective, just like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the elder care facility where she lives. Huge goes to work on the case; and in the process of finding out who the guilty person is, he learns a lot about himself. The story takes place, as I say, in the 1980s, and Fuerst places the reader in that time period in some interesting ways. For instance, Neecey has a habit she’s probably not even aware of, of wrapping the family’s extra-long telephone cord around her waist when she’s having a ‘phone conversation. It’s an unconscious mannerism, and it adds a layer of character and of setting (remember those super-long cords?).

There are lots of other examples of crime-fictional characters who have distinctive physical mannerisms (right, fans of Andy Breckman’s Adrian Monk?). Those mannerisms can add layers of character development, and make it easier to distinguish among characters. If they’re overdone, they can take away from a story, but when they’re written well, they can be interesting.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Graceland. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andy Breckman, Anne Zouroudi, Arthur Conan Doyle, Eric Ambler, James W. Fuerst, Rex Stout

I Have a Thick Skin*

Life teaches most of us to develop a thick skin, as the saying goes, at least professionally. Criticism isn’t always fun, and dealing with it takes skill. And it helps – a lot – to have a thick hide. Having one doesn’t mean you enjoy criticism, or think it’s fun. It means you learn not to take it personally.

In crime fiction, having a thick (or thin) hide can add a really interesting layer of character development. It can also add to a plot, if you think about it. After all, a thin skin can lead to all sorts of interesting conflict and suspense.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, for instance, we are introduced to Elsa Greer (later, Lady Dittisham). She is one of the five people ‘on the scene’ on the day that famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned. His wife, Caroline, is the main suspect, and there’s plenty of evidence against her. In fact, she is arrested, tried, and convicted in the matter. A year later, she dies in prison. Sixteen years after the murder, the Crales’ daughter, Carla Lemarchant visits Hercule Poirot. She is convinced that her mother was innocent, and wants Poirot to clear her name. Poirot agrees, and looks into the matter. In order to get to the truth, he interviews the five people most closely concerned (including Elsa), and gets written accounts of the murder and the days leading up to it from each one. We soon learn that Elsa was Crale’s mistress, a fact which certainly came out at the trial. She’s described as ‘hard boiled,’ and tells Poirot that she didn’t care about the insults she got from people who thought of her as a ‘home wrecker.’ In fact, she developed a tough hide about all that sort of thing, even though ‘ladies’ were supposed to shrink from public criticism. On that level, she’s an interesting character.

Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel also has a very thick skin. Like most of us, he doesn’t think criticism is fun. But he doesn’t take it personally, and fans of this series knows that he gives as good as he gets, as the saying goes. In fact, that’s one thing that Peter Pascoe, Edgar Wield, and the other members of Dalziel’s team have to learn. When you work with Dalziel, you have to have a thick hide. He’s hardly gushing in his praise, and he doesn’t mince words when he dresses people down. It takes Dalziel’s staff some time to get used to his forthright ways, and not take it personally. When they do, they learn that he is also loyal to them, and willing to take on ‘the top brass’ on their behalf if necessary.

Another character with a thick skin is Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin. And for him, that’s a job requirement. His boss is Nero Wolfe, who can be very caustic in what he says, and isn’t afraid to say it. But many people think of Archie as an employee in name only. Really, he’s more of a partner, even though Wolfe pays his salary. Archie has learned not to take Wolfe’s diatribes personally, and he’s not afraid to give it right back, as the saying goes. He’s one of the few people whom Wolfe doesn’t intimidate. Archie’s not overly intimidated by the police, either, and doesn’t take their remarks to him personally. Sometimes, he even gets himself into trouble because he doesn’t react in an ‘appropriately’ humble way when the police lay into him. In fact, fans of this series know that some of the funnier lines in these novels come from Archie.

Of course, not all fictional characters are thick-skinned. And sometimes, characters can hide that thin skin beneath false bravado. For example, in Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town, we are introduced to famous director Peter Alan Nelson. On the one hand, he is a well-known director, and every word he says counts. He’s waited on hand and foot, and is very accustomed to getting his way. But he doesn’t handle demurrals or criticism well at all; underneath, he has a thin skin. He does not like to be wrong, and doesn’t deal well with objections. Years earlier, he was married to Karen Shipley, and they had a son, Toby. The marriage ended, and Karen and Toby left. Now, Nelson wants to re-establish a relationship with his son, and he hires Los Angeles PI Elvis Cole to find them. At first, Cole demurs. After all, there are any number of reasons that these people might want to go on with their own lives. But Nelson insists, and a fee is a fee. So, Cole tracks Karen and Toby down, and discovers that they’re living in a small town in Connecticut. It seems like a straightforward case – until he also discovers that she’s mixed up with some very dangerous Mob types…

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Yvette Nichol. When we meet her in Still Life, she’s recently been named to the Sûreté du Québec, and she’s thrilled about it. She’s also determined to ‘make good,’ as much because of her personal situation as anything else. So, when she is appointed to work with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache on a murder case, she does everything she can at first to ingratiate herself with him. But she is new at her job, and knows a lot less than she thinks she does. What’s worse, she has a thin skin and doesn’t deal well with criticism. She’d rather blame others than reflect on her own actions. When she makes mistakes, as we all do, Gamache tries to counsel her and help her become a productive part of the team. She won’t listen to him, though, in part because she can’t deal with criticism. That causes all sorts of problems which, as fans know, are part of a story arc in this series.

For most of us, it’s important to develop a thick skin, at least in our professional lives. We all have to handle criticism, and sometimes it can hurt. It’s healthy to learn deal with it in ways that don’t debilitate us. Some fictional characters can do that well – some can’t…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joy Ike’s Nomad.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Louise Penny, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout, Robert Crais

The Shocking Truth About Sleuths! ;-)

We’ve all seen them. Maybe you even glance at the stories as a guilty pleasure. Yes, I’m talking about tabloids. They may not get the story right, but they can be fun. That is, until they twist the truth about you. It’s all got me wondering what it would be like if a tabloid started getting interested in our best-known fictional sleuths. Hmmmm….

If you’ll send your disbelief out for a film and some popcorn, here’s …

 

The Shocking Truth About Sleuths!

 

Who do you call when you need to solve a mystery? We depend on our sleuths to solve crimes, but what do we really know about them?  We at The Weekly Messenger have the shocking story in this exclusive article.

 

‘For all we know, he could be running a brothel or something.’

 

On the outside, the New York City brownstone occupied by Nero Wolfe seems like a quiet, pleasant building. But inside, it’s a completely different story. Wolfe has spent years living in the building, rarely appearing in public. ‘Who knows what goes on in there?’ said the owner of the building next door. ‘It’s always seemed quiet, but that guy is a little weird. For all we know, he could be running a brothel or something.’ Wolfe himself has dismissed that allegation as ‘flummery,’ but did not invite our reporter into the house. Wolfe’s business partner, Archie Goodwin, says everything’s strictly legal. He claims that Wolfe runs his detective agency from his home. But Goodwin has had more than one brush with the law. And we’ve learned that Goodwin handles a great deal of money, and has been seen letting people into the house at all hours. When we asked the police whether the brownstone might actually be a brothel, Inspector Cramer refused to discuss the situation. And that leads to an interesting question: why aren’t the police investigating this?

 

‘A moustache like that couldn’t be real!’

 

Whitehaven Mansions, London, is home to one of the world’s most famous detectives, Hercule Poirot. He’s been solving crimes for years, but we’ve found some shocking evidence that there may be no such person. We spoke to the doorman at Whitehaven Mansions, who had this to say. ‘I’ve always wondered about M. Poirot. A moustache like that couldn’t be real. Why’s he wear a fake moustache? It’s not for me to say, but you can’t help but wonder.’ Other residents of the building have mentioned Poirot’s habit of going outdoors carefully muffled up, no matter what the weather. M. Poirot claims to be from Belgium, but our sources haven’t been able to find out much information about his career there. The Belgian authorities say that a great deal of that sort of information was lost in the war. So who is the person who lives at Whitehaven Mansions and calls himself Hercule Poirot? We contacted Poirot’s valet, Georges, but he has not responded to telephone calls or emails.

 

‘Who knows what she could be capable of doing?’

 

One of the most respected police detectives in Venice is Commissario Guido Brunetti. He’s been responsible for bringing a number of criminals to justice, and has a reputation for being incorruptible. But a closer look at his life and career calls that shiny exterior into question. Brunetti’s wife, Paola Falier, is the daughter of some very powerful people, Count Orazio Falier and his wife, Donatella. Through her, Brunetti has access to the highest levels of society. And that almost always means the chance to line one’s pockets. What’s more, Paola Falier has her own history. She’s on record as having committed vandalism at a local travel agency (for which she didn’t serve a long prison sentence, as she should have). And in one case Brunetti investigated, she was heard to say that she would give the murderer a medal. She’s known as a political leftist with a very strong sense of independence. We talked to her colleagues, who admitted she has strong opinions. As one put it, ‘She isn’t one to do as she’s told without what she sees as a good reason. Who knows what she could be capable of doing?’ With such a strong connection to such a questionable person, it’s debatable whether Brunetti can really be as law-abiding as he seems to be. In fact, The Weekly Messenger is pursuing this case further. We’ll be reporting on Brunetti’s relationship with his questura colleague, Elettra Zorzi, soon.

 

‘Those boys are always getting into mischief! And she knows it!’

 

Almost everyone in Botswana’s capital, Gabarone, has heard of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the famous detective. She has a solid reputation for getting cases solved, and for restoring order and peace. But The Weekly Messenger has uncovered some disturbing things about Mma Ramotswe. She has a close association with Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And that company employs two assistant mechanics who’ve caused plenty of trouble for their boss and for the area. According to Mma Ramotswe’s associate, Mma Grace Makutsi, the two assistants do not typically work with Mma Ramotswe. But interviews with some of the people who have nearby businesses suggest a troubling possibility: that Mma Ramotswe actually encourages these young men in their destructive pranks. One nearby resident said this: ‘It is true. Mma Ramotswe is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs that garage. She knows those assistants very well and sees them every day. Those boys are always getting into mischief! And she knows it!’ If it’s true that Mma Ramotswe is corrupting minors in this way, she could be in serious violation of the law.

 

‘Holmes has to be running that gang.’

 

Our last stop was at crime solving’s most famous address, 221B Baker Street, in London.  Sherlock Holmes has quite a reputation for being eccentric. But The Weekly Messenger has uncovered evidence that Holmes’ lifestyle may be a lot more than just eccentric. Sources say that Holmes is a regular drug user, of both morphine and cocaine. As if that’s not troubling enough, there are reports that he runs a street gang who traffic those drugs. The owner of the house next door, who asked not to be identified, said, ‘I see these boys going in and out of there. His landlady calls them the Baker Street Irregulars. They’re irregular all right! The big one goes up to see Holmes, then he tells the others what they’re supposed to do. Holmes has to be running that gang.’  If that proves to be true, then Holmes could be responsible for distributing drugs all over the city. This is an ongoing investigation, and we’ll have more for you as it develops.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Rex Stout

Plastic Tubes and Pots and Pans*

People invent all sorts of ingenious devices. Some of them become hits, and their inventors do quite well. Others don’t. Either way, it’s really interesting to think about that aspect of human curiosity and innovation.

There are plenty of such devices in fiction, too, even outside of steampunk and other science fiction. And, when you think about it, that makes sense. Inventions and innovations are part of what moves us along as a society. Certainly, you see this in crime fiction.

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, for instance, Peter Barstow, President of Holland University, dies suddenly during a golf game. At first, his death is put down to a stroke. But it’s soon clear that he was poisoned. And the weapon was a specially-designed golf club. Matters get murkier when Carlo Maffei, who designed the club, goes missing and is later found dead. When Maffei’s sister, Maria, becomes concerned about her brother’s disappearance, she hires Nero Wolfe to look into the matter, and he and Archie Goodwin get started. They find that, as you’d expect, Maffei’s and Barstow’s deaths are connected. And it’s all related to past history.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Flora Ackroyd asks for Hercule Poirot’s help when her uncle is stabbed in his study. The most likely suspect in the murder is Flora’s fiancé, Captain Ralph Paton. It seems that Paton, who was Ackroyd’s stepson, had quarreled with Ackroyd about money. What’s more, he went missing on the night of the murder, and hasn’t been seen since. Flora is convinced that Paton is innocent, and wants Poirot to clear his name. Poirot agrees and begins to look into the matter. He finds that Paton is by no means the only possible suspect; in fact, everyone concerned in the case is hiding something. In the end, he finds out who killed Ackroyd. It turns out that the murderer used an ingenious little innovation to try to escape detection.

In Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear, we are introduced to academician and physical anthropologist Gideon Oliver. He’s been invited to give a series of guest lectures over two months at the United States Overseas College (USOC), which serves those who are stationed at US military bases in Europe. Things begin to go wrong very soon, though. First, he’s attacked in his hotel room by two thugs who are apparently looking for something. Then, he’s drawn into a web of espionage and counter-espionage when Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, who work for NATO, ask for his help. They suspect that the USSR (the novel was published in 1982) is trying to steal something, but they don’t know what. They want Oliver to keep them informed, and let them know of any unusual occurrences. Without much choice in the matter, he agrees. And he soon finds himself the target of some ruthless people. It’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s one scene in which an ingeniously-altered umbrella is used as a murder weapon.

While Fellowship of Fear isn’t really a spy thriller, it gives a hint about how very effectively that sub-genre uses inventions and innovations. Fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, for instance will know that Bond has access to any number of devices that protect him, or that can be used as weapons. For some fans, that’s part of the appeal, really. And that’s by no means the only example.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry features his sleuths, London private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, which takes place in the late Victorian Era, Barker gets a visit from Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool. It seems that a certain Sebastian Nightwine has been granted diplomatic immunity, and is soon to arrive in London. Nightwine has expressed concerns for his safety, and wants assurances of protection. He’s even specifically mentioned Barker, so Poole wants Barker’s promise that he will have no contact with Nightwine. It turns out that Barker was responsible for Nightwine’s having to leave England in the first place, as he’d discovered several of his crimes. Now the British government wants Nightwine’s help; hence, his return to London. Barker is convinced that Nightwine has plans of his own, which will probably involve crime. So, he’s going to have to find a way to thwart his nemesis, although he’s forbidden to have any contact with him. Then, there’s a murder, for which Barker is framed. Now, he and Llewellyn are on the run from the police and from Nightwine. And they still have a murder to solve. As it happens, Nightwine is a brilliant scientist. So, throughout the novel, there are all sorts of devices that play roles. I can’t say more without coming too close to spoiling the story, but it’s interesting to see how those innovations are woven into the novel.

There are also novels, such as Charles Stross’ Rule 34, and Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, that take place in a slightly altered near-future. In a sense, you might argue that they’re science fiction, or at least akin to it. But the settings and contexts are very real-world, and life in those novels closely resembles what we’re accustomed to seeing. That said, though, there are some innovations that we don’t yet have, and it’s interesting to see how those authors weave ingenious devices and new innovations into their plots.

It’s arguably human nature to want to innovate, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are all sorts of inventions out there. Some of them are far-fetched, and not particularly practicable. But some are exciting and turn out to be wildly popular. Little wonder we see such things in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Charles Stross, Frankie Y. Bailey, Ian Fleming, Rex Stout, Will Thomas