Category Archives: Rex Stout

A Few More Nights on Satin Sheets*

Most of us feel the need once in a while to take a break and get away. And for a lot of people, a stay at a resort is the perfect antidote to life’s stresses. There are all sorts of resorts, too: mountain resorts, safari resorts, beach resorts, and lots more. Resorts can cost an awful lot of money, but they often offer matchless pampering and personal service. And they’re designed to be worlds unto themselves.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, whenever you get a disparate group of people together in the same place, as you do at a resort, there are all sorts of possibilities for crime-fictional mayhem. Add to that resort staff, who may have their own backgrounds and secrets, and you have a custom-made context for a crime novel. So, it’s little wonder that resorts show up in the genre as they do.

In Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, for instance, Miss Marple’s generous nephew arranges for her to visit the Golden Palm Hotel, on the Caribbean island of St. Honoré, so she can have a much-needed rest. The hotel is really more resort than simply hotel with all of the pampering and amenities you’d imagine for the time. One day, another guest, Major Palgrave, tells Miss Marple a story about a man he knows of who lost two wives. The theory in both cases was suicide, but Major Palgrave says he knows that they were murdered. He doesn’t get the chance to finish his story, but it’s soon clear that someone at the resort overheard what he said. The next day, he’s found dead. Miss Marple is sure that someone connected with these cases is either a guest of, or an employee of, the Golden Palm, and she starts searching for the truth. It turns out that the resort has some very dark secrets.

Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that it takes a lot to get him to leave his brownstone and travel. But, in Too Many Cooks, that’s exactly what he does. He and Archie Goodwin travel to the exclusive Kanawha Spa, in West Virginia, so that Wolfe can deliver the keynote address to a meeting of Les Quinze Maîtres, the world’s fifteen greatest chefs. The resort is quite luxurious, but that doesn’t prevent murder. One of the master chefs, Phillip Laszio, is killed, and the most likely killer seems to be another chef, Jerome Berin. But Wolfe doesn’t think Berin is guilty. So, although he’s very reluctant to investigate, Wolfe looks into the matter. Among other things, this novel shows how things work at a very upmarket resort.

There are several resorts in South Africa’s wildlife preserves. I had the real pleasure of staying at one of them some years ago, and it was a wonderful experience. There are, of course, all of the luxury amenities you’d imagine for an upmarket place. And you can travel out into the bush on a camera safari. There’s nothing quite like being out in the bush to give some perspective on modern life. Deon Meyer takes readers into such places in Blood Safari. Cape Town professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer is hired by Emma le Roux to accompany her to the Lowveld to search for her brother, Jacobus. He was working in the Nature and Environmental Conservation Unit of the South African military when he disappeared. It was thought at the time that he was killed in a run-in with animal poaches. But now, twenty years later, Emma sees a man on television who looks just like her brother. She can’t resist trying to find that man and learn the truth. So, she and Lemmer make their way to the Lowveld, where they stay at more than one bush resort. But luxury surroundings aren’t enough to keep them safe from some very dangerous people who do not want the truth about Jacobus to be revealed.

In Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder (AKA The Murder Stone), Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec takes his wife, Reine-Marie, to the Mansoin Bellechasse for their annual anniversary trip. It’s a lovely luxury resort, and the Gamaches are hoping for a relaxing visit. Such is not to be, though. Among the other guests are members of the Finney family. It’s not spoiling the novel to say that they are a very dysfunctional group, and that alone adds tension to the atmosphere. Then, there’s a murder. Now, all sorts of old secrets come out, and Gamache finds a surprising connection in this case to another character in this series.

And then there’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take. Jónas Júlíusson owns an exclusive luxury resort and spa, but he’s facing an unusual problem. He believes the land is haunted. He hires Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to represent him in a lawsuit he wants to bring against the former owners of that land. His claim is that they knew the place was haunted and never told him. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts or haunting. But a fee is a fee. Besides, the case gives her the opportunity to stay at a five-star resort. So, she takes the case and goes to the resort. During her visit, another guest, Birna Hálldorsdóttir, is found murdered on a beach not far from the property. Soon enough, Jónas becomes a suspect in the murder, since he was having a relationship with the victim. He asks Thóra to continue to represent him, this time defending him against the murder charge. She agrees and looks more deeply into the victim’s life. It turns out that several people in the area are keeping some dark secrets, and more than one could have had a reason to want to commit murder.

See what I mean? Resorts are wonderful places – they really are. You can escape the world, get some pampering, and enjoy world-class cooking and other amenities. But safe? Peaceful? Perhaps not so much…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Deon Meyer, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Just Picture a Great Big Steak*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

By Making Donations Just Large Enough to the Correct Charities*

Most of us would like the world to be a better place. We’d like to help the unemployed get jobs, provide support for people with mental health problems, help those who’ve lost homes in floods and other natural disasters, and so on. There’s certainly enough need out there that we can always find plenty of good causes to support.

But, for a lot of people, supporting a cause in the abstract, or at a distance, is one thing. Actually getting close to the cause is different. This is a sort of example of what is sometimes called the ‘Not in My Back Yard’ phenomenon. You might support, for instance, a trash-to-steam plant as a sustainable way to generate power. But would you vote for one close to your home? Many people support the idea of community living options for those with mental health problems. But they might not like the idea of a halfway house on their block.

This tendency can make it very difficult to get things done, but it is a part of life. It’s a part of crime fiction, too. And it can make for some interesting tension and character development.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, for instance, we are introduced to the Abernethie family. The various members have gathered for the funeral of family patriarch Richard Abernethie. During that gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that he was murdered. At first, no-one takes the remark seriously. But privately, the family members wonder. After all, Abernethie’s death was sudden. And, when Cora herself is murdered the next day, everyone begins to believe that she was right. The family attorney, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot’s help in finding out the truth, and Poirot agrees. He wants to ‘vet’ the family, so Entwhistle proposes a weekend get-together for the family members to choose what they want from the family home before it’s sold. Poirot goes in the guise of a representative of an agency that wants to turn the home into a place for war refugees. In the abstract, of course, the family likes the idea of refugees being resettled. But Abernethie’s niece, Rosamund Shane, says,
 

‘‘Oh! Refugees all over again. I’m so tired of refugees.’’
 

And several of the other members of the family privately agree with her.

In Rex Stout’s Champagne For One, we meet socialite/philanthropist Louise Robilotti. She is the benefactor of Grantham House, a home for unwed mothers and their babies. Once a year, she sponsors a dinner dance, to which a few of the Grantham House residents are invited. Also invited are some eligible bachelors. The idea is that the young ladies will learn to be comfortable among ‘the right people,’ and might even find husbands. Archie Goodwin takes a friend’s place at this year’s event, so he’s there when Faith Usher, one of the Grantham House guests, suddenly dies of what appears to be suicide (which she had threatened). But Goodwin suspects it wasn’t suicide, and his boss, Nero Wolfe, supports him as he starts asking questions. As we get to know Mrs. Robilotti, we see that there’s a definite difference for her between funding ‘help for wayward girls,’ and actually working with the women as individuals, to find them jobs, housing, and the like. It’s doubtful she’d invite them to live in her home…

In P.D.James’ A Taste For Death, Commander Adam Dalgliesh has been tapped to lead a special investigation squad that is dedicated to cases that might attract a great deal of media and public attention. He, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Massingham, and Detective Inspector (DI) Kate Miskin, are called into action when Crown Minister Paul Berowne is found murdered in a local church. Of course, the police focus their attention on Berowne’s family, including his mother, Lady Ursula. And they learn that Lady Ursula is very much a traditional sort of aristocrat. In the abstract, she and her family support certain causes (especially given Berowne is a public official). But she doesn’t like the fact that her son took in a young woman named Evelyn Matlock when her father was convicted of a crime and imprisoned. She and the rest of the family treat Evelyn very much like a servant, and not ‘one of us,’ and they make it clear that she is ‘not as good.’

There’s a very clear example of this phenomenon in Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. The setting for a lot of the story is an ultra-exclusive residential community called Cascade Heights Country Club, located about 30 miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before being allowed to do so. On the one hand, it’s considered ‘correct’ to support the cause of helping those less fortunate. In one scene of the novel, for instance, the residents of Cascade Heights contribute to a charity rummage sale, and duly donate the proceeds. At the same time, every measure is taken to ensure that the residents are protected from ‘the rest of us,’ especially those who really are in need. The property is protected by a wall, and there’s a strict procedure for entering the community. There are other ways, too, in which the community keeps ‘those types of people’ out. And it’s successful until the financial woes of the late 1990s (when the novel takes place) find their way into Cascade Heights. And the end result is tragedy.

And then there’s Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday. In it, Judge Harish Shinde brings his law clerk, Anant, along for a two-week holiday in Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. There, they’ll be staying with Shikhar Pant, and old friend of the judge’s. Pant has other guests, too, including his cousin, Kailish Pant, and Ronit and Kamini Mittal, who run an NGO. There are also Pravin Anand and Anand’s son Avinash, as well as Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Right from the beginning of the gathering, there’s a little tension. The Mittal’s NGO has recently produced a report on AIDS in the state’s rural area, and there are people who are not happy about it. The Mittals want to educate people about HIV and AIDS; and, in theory, most people don’t want people to suffer from either. They might even donate to a hospital that treats HIV/AIDS patients. But there’s a line that’s crossed when it comes to bringing information into their area. Some find the information pornographic (in fact, the Mittals get into trouble on just that score). Others are offended at the implication that there is AIDS in their area. It makes for some unpleasant moments among the guests. Then, one afternoon, Kailish Pant is found stabbed to death. Inspector Patel investigates officially. And he benefits greatly from the sleuthing that the judge and Anant do.

For many people, there’s a difference between supporting something in the abstract, and dealing with it ‘close up.’ We see that in real life, and it’s in crime fiction, too. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s The Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines (You’d Like to Hear).

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, P.D. James, Rex Stout

Join Our Club*

Humans are social by our very nature. Of course, some of us are much more socially inclined than others, and some of us aren’t really ‘joiners’ at all. But to an extent, we all need social connections.

That may be part of the reason for which there are so many interest clubs. There are book clubs, travel clubs, wine clubs, and sport clubs, to name just a very few. And people join these groups as much for the social interaction as for anything else. After all, you don’t need to belong to a book club to read and enjoy a novel. But many people enjoy the exchange of ideas and different perspectives. There’s also the fact that someone else may notice something about a story that you didn’t. The opportunity to interact with and learn from other people who share an interest is really appealing.

It’s little wonder, then, that we see so many examples of this sort of shared-interest club in crime fiction. In fact, Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems (AKA The Tuesday Club Murders) combines an interest club with murder. It’s a collection of short stories, each detailing a murder. Each story is told by one member of what’s called the Tuesday Club (the group meets each Tuesday). Then, the club discusses the murder and its solution. Miss Marple is a member of this club, so, as you can imagine, her insights prove quite helpful. You’re right, fans of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case

In Rex Stout’s Gambit, we are introduced to the exclusive Gambit Chess Club. Matthew Blount is a member of the club, so he’s always interested in new opponents. He’s played a few times against magician and party-trickster Paul Jerrin, and decides to have Jerrin match wits against the rest of the club. The plan is that Jerrin will sit in one room, blindfolded, and play twelve simultaneous matches against different club members, who are in other rooms. Moves will be communicated by messenger. All goes well enough at first. But then, Jerrin suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poisoned hot chocolate. Blount’s immediately suspected, since he was the one who brought Jerrin the chocolate. But Blount’s daughter, Sally, is sure that he’s innocent. She hires Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin to find out who’s really guilty.

Tarquin Hall’s The Man Who Died Laughing begins as Dr. Suresh Jha attends a session of the Delhi-based Rajpath Laughing Club. The group meets to use laughter and silliness to relieve the stress of daily life. This morning, though, everything is different. During the group’s meeting, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that she killed him as punishment for his lack of belief, and the story makes a lot of the news headlines. Jha was the founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (D.I.R.E.), which is devoted to debunking superstition, and he’d made his share of enemies. So, when PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri hears about his death, he suspects that this murderer isn’t a goddess at all, but a human. And, since Jha was once a client, Puri decides to find out who’s responsible.

In Jill Edmonson’s The Lies Have It, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson agrees to help her friend, Jessica, tend bar at the Stealth Lounge, which is a private party room in the Pilot Tavern. A fetish club called Bound For Glory has booked the Stealth Lounge for a big party, and some of the staff members aren’t willing to work that event. So, the Stealth needs some extra ‘fill-in’ help. Soon after the party, Ian Dooley, head of the club, is found murdered near Cherry Beach. At first, it looks as though some of the ‘party games’ went too far. But soon enough, it’s clear that Dooley was deliberately murdered. Now, Jackson adds to her case load as she works to find out who the murderer is.

With today’s online capability, there are also plenty of online clubs. And they, too, pose danger – well, at least fictionally. In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, for instance, we are introduced to FBI special agent Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway. She’s an ex-pat New Zealander who has a special love of poetry. In fact, she co-moderates an online chat room/poetry club called Cobwebs. When one of the members, Carter McClaren, behaves inappropriately, Conway sees no choice but to ban him from the club. He then shows up at her home to ‘pay her back.’  He’s arrested, but is able to pay bail. Then, later, he’s murdered, and his body is found in Conway’s car. With it is a Post-It note with a cryptic piece of poetry written on it. Then, there’s another murder, also of a club/chat room member. Again, a piece of poetry is left near the body. Now, Conway and her fellow moderator/lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly have to find out which of the other club members is the murderer.

Interest clubs can be really enjoyable. And they’re often excellent ways to get new ideas and have some social interaction. But peaceful? Not always…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Saint Etienne.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Cat Connor, Jill Edmondson, Rex Stout, Tarquin Hall

What a Cast of Characters*

For the reader, one of the advantages of standalone novels is that each one is a different experience. And that means it’s less likely that a reader will get tired of a given author’s work. At the same time, though, standalones may not give the reader the opportunity to really get to know a group of characters, and see how they evolve. For that, a series can be very appealing.

Developing those characters – especially secondary characters – over time can be tricky. Crime fiction fans generally want their stories to focus on crime at hand. And an effective series welcomes new readers, whether they start at the first novel or not. That said, though, there are plenty of series out there that people read as much for the ‘regular’ characters as they do for the individual plots. In fact, there are too many for me to discuss in one post. But here are a few.

Rex Stout’s main sleuths are, of course, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Most of the attention in the novels is on them, and the way they go about solving mysteries. The mysteries at hand –  the central plots of the stories – are the focus, too. And yet, there are other regular characters we get to know over the course of the series. For instance, Wolfe employs Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather – the ‘teers – to do freelance work for him when he needs information. There are also Fritz Brenner, Wolfe’s world-class Swiss chef, and Theodore Horstmann, his orchid expert. Lily Rowan, Goodwin’s sometimes love interest, is also a regular character. And then there are various police detectives, like Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purly Stebbins, who also play roles in the series. For many people, these other characters, and their interactions, are as important to enjoying the stories as are the actual mysteries.

A similar thing might be said of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. As fans can tell you, Mma Ramotswe has the only female-owned private investigation business in Botswana. Each novel features a few mysteries that she solves. But there’s also a set of other regular characters that readers have come to know well. Those characters arguably add much to the novels, and are part of the reason readers keep coming back. For example, Mma Ramotswe doesn’t investigate every mystery by herself. Her associate is Grace Makutsi, who started as the company’s secretary, and has proven herself a capable detective. On the home front, Mma Ramotswe is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. He’s the proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and is quite handy at fixing all sorts of things. He employs two assistants, who also sometimes figure into the stories. There’s also Mma Sylvia Potokwane, Mma Ramotswe’s friend, and proprietor of the local orphanage. All of these characters develop over time, and sometimes figure into the mysteries that are featured in the novels. And for many readers, they’re an important part of enjoying the series.

The same is arguably true of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series. Montalbano is the lead character, and the novels are told, much of the time, from his perspective. But the series also includes a group of other regular and recurring characters who add to the novels. One of them is Montalbano’s second-in-command, Mimì Augello. There are also Giuseppe Fazio and Sergeant Agatino Catarella, among others, who are Montalbano’s police colleagues. And then there are the people in Montalbano’s personal life: his partner, Livia Burlando; his friend, Ingrid Sjostrom; his housekeeper/cook, Adelina Cirrinciò; and his friend, Nicolò Zito, for instance. All of those characters add layers to the stories, and many fans of this series read the novels as much to keep up with their doings as to read about the crime(s) at hand.

Louise Penny’s Three Pines series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Each of the novels has a focus on a particular case that Gamache and his team investigate, and those cases are central to the novels. But the novels also follow the lives of Three Pines’ residents, and readers get to know them. Gabri and Olivier, who own the local B&B; Clara and Peter Morrow, both artists; resident poet Ruth Zardo; and psychologist-turned-bookshop owner Myrna Landers are just a few. As the series has continued, there’ve been several story arcs involving those characters, as well as Gamache’s wife, Reine-Marie, and his daughter, Annie. And for many fans of this series, those characters add a great deal to its appeal.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s work. One of her series ‘stars’ 1920s socialite Phryne Fisher. The other ‘stars’ modern-day accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman. They’re quite different, but they have some things in common (besides their Melbourne settings). One of them is that they each have a cast of regular and recurring characters. In the Phryne Fisher series, Phryne solves cases with the help of several people. One of them is her assistant, Dorothy ‘Dot’ Williams. She also gets help from her friends, Albert ‘Bert’ Johnson, and Cecil ‘Cec’ Yates. They’re taxi drivers and wharfies who also do quite a lot of ‘legwork’ for Phryne. Phryne shares her home with her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and her staff, Mr. and Mrs. Butler (yes, that’s their name). And, of course, there’s Inspector John ‘Jack’ Robinson, as well as Constable Hugh Collins, who do the police investigations.

Greenwood’s other series also includes a cast of regular characters besides Corinna. There’s her assistant, Jason Wallace, and her two other employees, Gossamer Judge and Kylie Manners. And of course, her lover, Daniel Cohen. Corinna’s home and shop are located in a large, Roman-style building called Insula. The other residents of Insula are also regular characters, who add quite a lot to the series. Professor Dionysus ‘Dion’ Monk, herbalist and Wicca shop owner Miriam ‘Meroe’ Kaplan, and Andy Holliday and his daughter Cherie are just a few of the other people who live in the building. In both series, the novels feature mysteries that form the central plots. But the regular characters are arguably just as important. And many fans will tell you that they follow the series in part because of those characters.

There are many other series, too, that readers follow as much for the cast of characters as for the mysteries. That’s one thing that a well-written series can provide that a standalone can’t always pull off. What about you? Are there series you follow as much for the cast of characters as for the plots? Which ones?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ She Saw Me Coming.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Andrea Camilleri, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Rex Stout