Category Archives: Robert Crais

Lighten Up While You Still Can*

Light MomentsWit is a funny thing (pun intended😉 ). The thing about it is that what’s funny to some people isn’t to others. And what ‘counts’ as a lighter moment to some people isn’t funny at all to others. So even among members of the same culture, there might not be agreement about whether something is funny or it isn’t.

Because of that, it can be difficult to add in just the right light touch to a crime novel. I’m not talking here of comic caper novels, where the author deliberately adds in absurdity and funny dialogue. Rather, I mean crime novels in which those funny moments add a welcome light touch. It’s not easy to do that and still maintain the tenor of a story. But it can add interest, keep readers engaged, and keep up a certain energy level in a novel. We see it all through crime fiction, too, so there won’t be space in this one post for all of the examples out there. Here are just a few.

The main plot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton concerns a notorious blackmailer who’s gotten hold of an indiscreet letter written by one of Sherlock Holmes’ clients. She’s hired Holmes to get the letter and stop Milverton sending it to her fiancé. Holmes meets with Milverton, who refuses to part with the letter unless he gets an outrageous sum of money. So Holmes decides to take matters into his own hands and get the letter back another way. He learns the layout of Milverton’s home, and the household’s habits. Then he and Watson actually break into the house. Holmes knows he needs ‘inside information,’ so he takes on a disguise, and starts ‘walking out with’ one of Milverton’s housemaids. There’s a very funny scene where he tells Watson that he is engaged:
 

“You’ll be interested to hear that I am engaged.’
‘My dear fellow! I congrat—
‘To Milverton’s housemaid.’
‘Good heavens, Holmes!’
‘I wanted information, Watson.’…
‘But the girl, Holmes?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘You can’t help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned. What a splendid night it is!’’
 

In the end, the information Holmes gets turns out to be very useful.

In Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town, famous director Peter Alan Nelson wants to hire Los Angeles PI Elivs Cole to find his ex-wife, Karen, and son, Toby. After years of not being involved with Toby, Nelson has decided he wants to be a part of the boy’s life. Cole tries to tell him that it’s not that simple, but Nelson insists. And a fee is a fee. So Cole reluctantly starts trying to trace Karen and Toby. When he finds them, he soon learns that his troubles have really just begun. It turns out that Karen has been working for some very nasty people, and now wants to be free of them. That doesn’t sit well with her ‘business associates,’ so Cole and his partner Joe Pike find themselves in a dangerous situation. At one point, Cole and Karen are in her house. Pike has just arrived, and the first thing he does is check the house carefully to ensure the safety of its occupants. He says nothing as he does so, though, so at first, Karen thinks it’s quite odd. It’s a funny scene as she watches Pike go through his security check as Cole tries to explain his rather unusual partner. She gets used to Pike, though, and he turns out to be very useful.

The beginning of Gail Bowen’s The Gifted takes place at Hallowe’en. So political scientist/academician Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her attorney husband Zack are planning to go to a costume party. It’s a light, funny moment as Zack makes the scene in yellow silk pyjamas and sporting an orchid. If you’re a crime fiction fan, that should be enough to tell you which character he’s portraying. And for her part, Joanne dresses in a
 

‘slick vintage suit’
 

to complete the picture. The novel itself isn’t what you’d call a light crime novel. The main plot concerns their daughter, Taylor, who is a gifted artist. In fact, although she’s only fourteen at the time of this novel, two pieces of her art have been included in an upcoming charity auction. She shares one of her pieces with her parents. But she keeps the other hidden until the auction. When it’s revealed, it turns out to have tragic consequences. That light moment at the beginning is an effective counterpoint.

Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache takes place in the small Québec town of Three Pines. Several of the novels have quite a lot of sadness in them, and the stories really aren’t what you’d call light, fun novels. At the same time, they are not unrelentingly bleak. And one of the reasons for that is the set of relationships among the characters. For example, the local B&B/bistro is owned by Olivier Brulé and his partner Gabriel Dubeau. It’s a social hub, so everyone spends at least some time there. One of the regular denizens is poet Ruth Zardo. Ruth has a very acerbic exterior, and never wastes an opportunity to make a snide remark or toss off an insult. But Olivier and Gabri know that underneath that surface, Ruth cares about them and considers them friends. And as far as insults go, they give as good as they get. Those interactions not only lighten the tone of the novels, but they also add a layer of character development.

In Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel investigate the death of Chanida Manakit, who went by the nickname of Pla. Part of the trail leads to the offices of a development company, and Keeney and Patel want to find out more about it. But they know that they won’t learn much by just walking in and introducing themselves as detectives. So they go in the guise of a wealthy investor (played by Patel) and his secretary/assistant (played by Keeney). The funny part about this scene (at least for me; your mileage may vary, as the saying goes) is that in actuality, their relationship is nothing like that. Neither is their style of dress. It lightens up what is in some places a very sad story.

And then there’s Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. In that novel, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce discovers the body of an unknown man in the cucumber patch of the family garden. She doesn’t know who the victim is, but she does know he visited the house the night before. She also knows he had an argument with her father. The police learn that, too, and before very long, Flavia’s father is arrested. She doesn’t believe he’s a killer, so she decides to find out the truth. Flavia is a budding detective, and very knowledgeable about chemistry. But she is also an eleven-year-old child with two older sisters. She decides to get back at one of them by distilling the irritant in poison ivy, and putting it on her sister’s lipstick. That in itself is rather funny; so, in its way, is the eventual outcome.

Those lighter moments and funny scenes don’t always have to do with the actual investigation in a crime novel. And they can be tricky. But when they’re handled well, they can lighten up an otherwise very sad story.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Eagles’ Take it Easy.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Bowen, Louise Penny, Robert Crais

Hooray For Hollywood*

Hollywood SetsThere’s something about Hollywood. Perhaps it’s the magic of how films are made, or perhaps it’s the behind-the-scenes drama that often goes on. Whatever it is, stories set in Hollywood just seem to have a certain mystique about them for many people.

It’s a natural setting for a crime novel or series, too. Behind the glitter and celebrity hype, there’s a lot of personal drama, and sometimes, an awful lot of money. So it’s no wonder there’s plenty of crime fiction set in Hollywood and its counterpart, the world of Bollywood.

Three of Ellery Queen’s adventures take place in Hollywood. The one that (at least for my money) most explores the world of Hollywood filmdom is The Four of Hearts. In that novel, Queen is temporarily under contract with Magna Studios, which is planning a biopic of famous actors Blythe Stuart and John Royle. The two had an extremely stormy but passionate love affair that ended years ago. They’ve not spoken since then, and each married someone else and had a child. Now Magna wants the two to star in the film, and, to everyone’s surprise, they agree. Then, even more shocking, the two re-kindle their love affair and actually plan to marry. So the studio decides to milk the event for all of the publicity it’s worth, and stage a Hollywood-style public wedding, after which the couple will take off in a private plane for their honeymoon. Accompanying them will be their adult children. All goes as planned and the flight takes off. By the time it lands, though, both film stars are dead of what turns out to be poison. Now Queen looks into their pasts and into their dealings with the studio to find out who would have wanted to kill the victims.

Stuart Kaminsky’s Bullet For a Star introduces his sleuth, PI Toby Peters. The novel is set in 1940, during the ‘glory years’ of the major studios and their ‘stables of stars.’ When it’s discovered that Errol Flynn is being blackmailed, Warner Brothers producer Sid Adelman decides that the best thing to do is pay the blackmailer. Apparently, the blackmailer has a very compromising ‘photo of Flynn with a very young girl. Whether or not the ‘photo is real, there’s a lot riding on Flynn’s reputation, and Adelman doesn’t want to risk anything. So he hires Peters to make the exchange of money for the ‘photo. Peters agrees; but, as he’s making the exchange, someone attacks him, takes his gun, shoots the blackmailer, and escapes with the negative and print. Now, Peters has to get the ‘photo and negative back, as that was his original assignment. He also has to find out who the killer really was, since his gun was used for the crime. This novel is peopled with several of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Judy Garland. And readers get a look at the world of film making.

B.C. Stone has written a series of novels featuring Kay Francis. Set in the 1930s, the novels follow Francis as she lives the ‘Hollywood life.’ The third one, Peril in Paradise, especially, captures the world of Hollywood in those years. In that novel, Francis is busy filming a production for Paramount Pictures. Some strange things have been going on at the set, which is enough of a problem. But then, there’s a murder. The victim is Margaret O’Halloran, who was Kay Francis’ understudy. Then, Francis receives a threatening note. Now it looks as though she may be the real victim. And even if she’s not, she needs to finish the picture, not to mention keep out of harm’s way. So she works to find out who the murderer is. Oh, and William Powell features in this novel. And no, he’s not the killer.

Hollywood has changed a lot in the last decades. But it’s still got plenty of sparkle, glitter, and underlying steaminess and drama. And outsized egos. Just ask Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, who has to deal with exactly that sort of ego in Lullaby Town. Cole gets a call from casting director and former client Pat Kyle, asking for his help. Kyle is casting a film for superstar director Peter Alan Nelson, who wants Cole to look into a case for him. Cole is not fond of being summoned in this way, particularly not by a spoiled, self-involved director. But Kyle persuades him to at least listen to what Nelson has to say. It turns out that Nelson was married to Karen Shipley, and they had a son, Toby. After they divorced, Nelson didn’t have much to do with either his ex-wife or his son. Now, though, he’s decided that he wants to be a part of his son’s life. The only problem is, Karen and Toby have disappeared. Cole tries to explain that very often, people disappear because they want to disappear, so Nelson may not be welcome in Toby’s life. But Nelson insists, and a fee is a fee. So Cole agrees to see what he can do. It’s not long before he tracks Karen and Toby down to a small Connecticut town, where she works in a bank. And that’s when the trouble begins. It turns out that Karen’s been working for some very dangerous people who don’t want her to stop being their ‘bank connection.’ If he’s going to help his client, and save Karen and Toby, Cole is going to need help from his partner, Joe Pike…

Bollywood is also home to lots of glitter, hype, and underlying drama. And that shouldn’t be surprising. Just in 2015 alone, a total of 204 Hindi-language films were released. That means a lot of money, stars, and so on. And that’s the backdrop for Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. One night, leading director Nikhil Kapoor dies of electric shock. On that same night, his equally famous wife, Mllika Kapoor, dies of a drug overdose. At first it looks like a case of tragic accidents. But then it comes out that, two days before his death, Kapoor had attended a party where he told the other guests that he knew one of them was a killer – and would kill again. It’s soon clear that these deaths were murders, so Senior Inspector Hossein Sheriyar Khan is assigned to investigate. He finds that there’s more to this than just two people’s deaths; and, after several plot twists, finds out the truth behind what has happened.

See what I mean? Hollywood or Bollywood, there’s an atmosphere of opulence, hype, glitter, and lots of drama. Just perfect for a crime novel. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the cinema…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title a song by Richard A. Whiting, with lyrics from Johnny Mercer.

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Filed under B.C. Stone, Ellery Queen, Robert Crais, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Stuart Kaminsky

You’re So Vain*

EgotistsMost of us know, whether or not we admit it to others, that we’re not perfect. We’re wrong at times, and we make mistakes. And there are plenty of people who know more than we do and can do things better. But not everyone’s like that. There are certain people with very exaggerated senses of their own knowledge and importance. I’ll bet you’ve met people like that, yourself. Such people are sometimes very successful, if you define success as having a lot of money and/or power. And they can be personable, even charming. But they can be dangerous, too. And they can add an interesting texture to a crime story, even if they’re neither the victim nor the killer.

Agatha Christie created several egotistical characters in her novels. Some of them are obvious, and some less so. In Hickory Dickory Death, for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates some odd thefts and other disturbing incidents at a hostel for students. When one of the residents, Celia Austin, admits to some of the thefts, everyone thinks the matter is closed. Then, two nights later, she dies. At first glance it looks like a suicide, but very soon it’s proven to be murder. Now Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who the killer is. They start with the other hostel residents, one of whom is a law student named Elizabeth Johnston. After interviewing her, here is what Inspector Sharpe has to say:

 

‘‘That’s a very interesting girl who just went out. She’s got the ego of a Napoleon and I strongly suspect that she knows something.’’

 

As it turns out, all of the residents are keeping secrets that they aren’t particularly eager to share.

One of the very interesting things about Elizabeth Johnston is that she isn’t the stereotypical egomaniac, who’s impolite to others and who constantly talks about him or herself. Rather, she’s quiet, unassuming, even pleasant. It’s an effective way to show that not all of those with oversized egos are obvious about it.

That’s certainly not true of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. As fans of this series know, he is not in the least bit unassuming, and is positively arrogant in his estimation of his own ability. Stout uses the character of Archie Goodwin in part to serve as a foil to Wolfe. But even Goodwin accepts the fact that Wolfe is brilliant. He may have a Napoleonic ego, but he is very, very good at what he does. Is it really arrogance if you can back it up with success? Wolfe would probably say, ‘no.’ Or Pfui!

Some characters have been surrounded by sycophants and other hangers-on for so long that they’ve come to believe their own hype. This can make people all the more arrogant and convinced of their own worth and importance. Such a person is Kane ‘King’ Bendigo, whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The King is Dead. He is the very powerful owner of a hugely successful munitions firm, so he has become quite wealthy. He, his wife Karla, and his two brothers, Abel and Judah, live on a private, heavily guarded island. When Bendigo begins to receive cryptic threats on his life, he doesn’t take them seriously at first. After all, the people on the island are loyal to him, and in any case, he’s carefully protected. You might say that he’s so convinced of his own hype that he can’t imagine anyone killing him. Abel, however, convinces him to take the threat seriously, so he arranges for Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery to travel from New York City to investigate the matter. The Queens are not exactly enthused about being summoned in that highhanded way, but they are convinced to go. They settle in and begin asking questions. Meanwhile, the threats continue, and get more and more specific about the date and time. It’s finally revealed that Bendigo will be shot on a certain Thursday at midnight. On that night, at that time, he is in his hermetically sealed office/study with his wife. There are no weapons in the office, and no-one can get in or out. Still, he is shot, just as was threatened. What’s even stranger is that the weapon used to shoot him was a gun that Judah fired at exactly midnight – in another room. Judah couldn’t have somehow gone to his brother’s office; he was with Ellery Queen. It’s a very tangled sort of ‘impossible, but not really’ crime.

In Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town, we are introduced to successful Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson. Like many Hollywood moguls, he’s been surrounded by eager hangers-on and sycophants for a very long time, and has come to have a high opinion of himself. More to the point for this novel, he believes that he can manipulate people and events to suit his whims. So when he decides that he’d like to get to know his twelve-year-old son Toby, he doesn’t see why that shouldn’t quickly happen. The only problem is, Toby lives with Nelson’s ex-wife Karen Shipley, and the two of them have disappeared. So Nelson hires L.A. PI Elvis Cole to find his family. At first, Cole demurs. He’s sure, as many people would be, that Nelson’s ex-wife had her own reasons – possibly very good ones – for going away without letting Nelson know. But Nelson insists. So Cole gets started on the case, and traces Shipley and Toby to a small town in Connecticut. He also discovers that Shipley has gotten tangled up with the Mob. Now he’s up against an arrogant director who insists on reuniting with his family, and a Mob group with an interest in that family. It’s going to be a tricky case for Cole and his partner Joe Pike.

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Yvette Nichol. When we first meet her in Still Life, she’s just been named to the Sûreté du Québec. Even better, she’s assigned to work with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who has the best reputation in the agency. It’s an understatement to say that Nichol isn’t perfect. She makes plenty of mistakes, and like anyone new at the job, she has a lot to learn. Fans of this series will know, too, that she turns out to be duplicitous, even malicious, and not trustworthy. Despite Gamache’s attempts to help her learn how to fit in and do her job well, Nichol refuses to take his advice. Part of the reason for that is that she is arrogant. She is convinced that she knows what she’s doing, and that any failures she has are the fault of others. In a sense, she becomes the victim of her own sense of self. What’s interesting about her character is that she combines this egotism with a desperate need to belong.

Egotists aren’t all rich and powerful. But, more or less, they all have an overinflated sense of their worth and importance. That can make life miserable for those around them, but even when it doesn’t, such characters can add to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Carly Simon song. Did you know Carly Simon has a literary connection? That’s right. Her father, Richard Simon, was a co-founder of Simon and Schuster.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Robert Crais

Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size*

Act Your AgeI always love getting inspiration from you folks who are kind enough to read this blog. For me, it’s one of the best parts of blogging, really. The other day, I got a terrific idea for a post from crime writer and fellow blogger K.B. Owen, who writes the historical Concordia Wells series. Her novels reflect the end-of-the-19th-Century culture in which they take place, and her blog has all sorts of interesting information on that time period. You’ll definitely want to check out her site and her books.

K.B. suggested this post’s eponymous song lyric as something to think about, and she’s absolutely right. We all get the message at some point or other that we should ‘grow up,’ or ‘act our age.’ And in some ways, that makes sense. At a certain point in life, we do need to take adult responsibility for what we do. We also need to learn the adult skill of thinking beyond our own perspectives and desires, and consider others. In other ways, too, we need to learn to behave in adult, socially-acceptable ways, given our cultures.

But sometimes, ‘Act your age!’ doesn’t refer to that kind of maturity. It means, ‘Behave in the ways that are stereotyped for your age group.’ And that can be limiting. Is it really so important to stop reading children’s literature just because you’re not longer chronologically a child? Do we have to stop using crayons and markers because we’re adults? Why not blow bubbles or watch a beloved cartoon film?

Certainly this question of how we’re ‘supposed to’ behave comes up in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean; I know you’ll think of lots more.

Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole is a grown man who has a successful L.A. private detection agency with his partner Joe Pike. In many ways he behaves like an adult, takes adult responsibility for what he does, and so on. But he owns and wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, and has a Pinocchio clock in his office. Is that a case of ‘not acting his age?’ I don’t see it as a problem, and neither does he. In fact, there’s an interesting contrast between his maturity and that of a client in Lullaby Town. In that novel, Cole is hired by famous Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson to find his ex-wife Karen and their son Toby. After years of self-involved immaturity, during which he simply didn’t want to be responsible for his share of marriage and parenting (hence, the breakup), Nelson has decided he’s ready to be a parent. Cole knows it’s not that simple, even if he does find Karen and Toby. But he finally agrees to take the case. It turns out that finding his client’s ex-wife and son is only the first part of quite an adventure for Cole and Pike. And the novel shows some interesting perspectives on what ‘counts’ as ‘grown up.’

Hannah Dennison’s Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall features former journalist Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford, who’s living with her mother, Iris, in the former carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall. She’s gotten to know the Honeychurch family (interested readers should check out Murder at Honeychurch Hall for the details), and struck up a sort of friendship with seven-year-old Harry Honeychurch, son of the present earl. Harry’s been sent away to school, as many boys of that social group are. But he’s miserable there and keeps coming back to his home. Kat gets involved as Harry’s parents try to work out what the best choice is for their son, and it’s an interesting debate. Just how ‘grown up’ should a child be before going away to school? At what point is a child supposed to ‘stop acting like a kid?’

Older people, too, are often expected to behave in a certain way, and that can be at least as limiting. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a former English teacher who’s now in her eighties. Her son, who’s the local police chief, really wishes she would ‘act her age,’ and do things such as knit, work crossword puzzles, get involved in church activities and so on. Certainly he doesn’t want her investigating crime. But Myrtle is absolutely not ready to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes.  She wants to be as independent as ever, and has no interest in being restricted to doing things older people are ‘supposed to do.’ So there’s an interesting ongoing tension in this series between Myrtle and her son. From his perspective, it’s a matter of keeping his mother safe; after all, criminal investigation can be very dangerous. From her perspective, it’s a matter of self-determination and not being condescended to, just because she’s elderly.

Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Emily Micallef doesn’t want to be condescended to, either. She is the octogenarian mother of Redhill’s sleuth, Port Dundas, Ontario, DI Hazel Micallef. Emily has retired from service as Port Dundas’ mayor, but that doesn’t mean she wants to slow down. As one example, she plays poker regularly, and as she tells her daughter,
 

‘We don’t play for nickels…’
 

There may be people who don’t think that regular poker nights (and subsequent morning-after hangovers) are ‘acting your age’ for an eighty-plus person. But Emily Micallef doesn’t really care very much whether people think she’s behaving like an elderly woman ‘should.’

And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Sheldon Horowitz, whom we meet in Norwegian by Night. He’s an eighty-plus former New Yorker who’s moved to Norway to be nearer his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband. Instead of settling into life as an old man living with his granddaughter, Horowitz gets drawn into a series of adventures when he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman. He rescues her son, and they go on the lam, since the killers are probably going to go after the boy next. Horowitz certainly doesn’t ‘act his age,’ if you go by stereotypes of what elderly people are ‘supposed to’ do. But that doesn’t stop him.

It’s all very well (in fact, important) to develop some maturity about some things. But is there anything really wrong with hopping on a hopscotch pattern or making a paper plane? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just got this great set of crayons…   Thanks, K.B.!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Prince’s Kiss.

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Filed under Derek B. Miller, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Hannah Dennison, Inger Ash Wolfe, K.B. Owen, Michael Redhill, Robert Crais

Hello Old Friend*

Renewing RelationshipsHave you ever renewed a relationship with someone you hadn’t seen in years? In some cases it seems as though no time at all has gone by, and people pick up the relationship just where it left off. But we all change over time, and we all have life experiences that affect us, sometimes deeply. So sometimes those reunions can be awkward. And it doesn’t make it any easier that we often have mental images, left over from the past, of how the people in our lives ‘should’ act, speak and think. It can be difficult to accept it when someone doesn’t fit that image. Whether they’re easy, even joyful, or awkward, those reunions are full of history, character and so on. And that means that they’re also interesting plot points for stories. There are plenty of them in crime fiction too; let me just give you a few examples. I know you’ll be able to think of many more than I could.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we meet Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. He and his wife Gerda are invited for a weekend visit to The Hollow, the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. During their visit, Christow is shot. Hercule Poirot has taken a getaway cottage nearby, and gets involved in the case. In one of the related sub-plots, we learn that fifteen years earlier, Christow had been involved with now-famous actress Veronica Cray. Their romance ended with Christow getting a broken heart, and he’s never really been able to leave it all completely in the past. When he and Gerda get to The Hollow, he’s shocked to learn that Veronica has taken a cottage in the area, and is eager to renew their relationship. When the two reunite, Christow has a sudden awareness that they’ve both changed and that he has moved on. Here’s what he says to Veronica:

 

‘I’m a man fifteen years older. A man you don’t even know – and whom, I daresay, you wouldn’t like much if you did know.’

 

Veronica has her heart set on Christow though, and her rage at his rejection makes her a suspect in his murder.

There’s an interesting case of reunion in Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town. Famous Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson hires PI Elvis Cole for a delicate domestic case. Years ago Nelson was married to Karen Shipley and they had a son Toby. The marriage fell apart and Karen disappeared, taking Toby with her. Now, Nelson wants to begin to be a father to his son, so he engages Cole to trace Toby and his mother. At first Cole is reluctant. After all, a lot of people disappear precisely because they don’t want to be found, especially in cases like this one. But eventually Cole is persuaded to look into the matter and he and his partner Joe Pike start the investigation. It doesn’t take long to find Karen and Toby; they’ve moved to a small town in Connecticut. But it turns out that a reunion with her ex is the last thing on Karen’s mind. She’s got major problems of her own, including trying to get free of a Mob trap into which she’s fallen. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that there is a reunion, and Crais shows how awkward such experiences can be. Nelson has a mental image of the wife he knew and of his son as a baby. The reality of course is quite different. For her part, Karen has an image of the self-involved man she left, and has to adjust to the fact that perhaps her ex really wants to try to be a father.

In Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess, we are introduced to biographer (later crime writer) Erica Falck. She’s returned to her parents’ home in Fjällbacka to sort through their things after their deaths. Then she learns of the sudden death of her former friend Alexandra ‘Alex’ Wijkner. The two were best friends during their childhoods, but hadn’t really been close for twenty-five years. Erica wants to know the sort of person Alex became, so she decides to write a biography of her former friend. In the process, she learns that the adult Alex is quite different to the friend she knew as a girl, and that a lot happened in the meantime. She also begins to get a sense of who might have wanted to kill Alex. At the same time, police officer Patrik Hedström and his team are officially investigating the death. It’s been made to look like suicide, but of course, it isn’t. In one plot thread of this novel, Erica discovers that the friend she remembers from childhood turned out to be a different person in adulthood. In another, Erica and Patrik, who knew each other years ago, re-discover each other. And that becomes the basis for the relationship that develops between them.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has more than one reunion with the love of his life Eleanor Wish. Early in the Bosch series, she’s an FBI agent. For several reasons, she leaves her position and becomes a professional poker player. When Bosch reunites with her in Trunk Music, they decide to marry. As fans of Angels Flight will know, the marriage doesn’t last and you might say that Eleanor disappears. A few years later the two meet up again in another case, and Bosch learns that he is the father of (then) four-year-old Maddie. Eleanor figures again in 9 Dragons. In all of these reunions, we see how both people have to re-adjust their images of each other. We also see how Bosch has to adjust his mental image of Maddie as she grows up, since she doesn’t live with him until 9 Dragons.

Ian Vasquez’ Lonesome Point also features a reunion of sorts. Brothers Leo and Patrick Varela were born and raised in Belize, but have since moved to Miami. Now, Leo is a poet and a mental health care worker. Patrick has gotten involved in politics and is poised for real success that could lead to a career on the national level. Everything changes when they get a visit from an old friend Freddy Robinson. Robinson grew up in Belize with the Varela brothers and he knows all about their former lives. In fact, he tries to use something he knows about them as leverage when he asks Leo for something. Robinson is working for some very dubious ‘employers’ who want information on Patrick Varela’s political strategy. One person who may know the truth is in the care of the facility where Leo works, and Robinson wants Leo to arrange for that patient’s release. When Leo refuses, Robinson threatens to tell what he knows. Seeing no other option, Leo agrees. And that’s when the real trouble starts. In this novel, it’s interesting to see how Robinson has a mental image of the Varela brothers from their years in Belize, and how different that is to the reality of the brothers’ lives in Miami.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Mistake. During their girlhoods, Jodie Evans Garrow and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan became close friends. Then Bridie moved away and each girl went on with her life. Jodie married successful attorney Angus Garrow and is now the contented mother of two children. Her life seems just about perfect on the surface. Then, her daughter Hannah is involved in an accident and is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child Elsa Mary. Jodie never told anyone, not even Angus, about this baby, but a nurse at the hospital remembers her and asks about the child. Jodie tells the nurse that she gave the baby up for adoption but the overcurious nurse can find no formal records. Now the questions begin. What happened to Elsa Mary? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with it? The gossip evolves into an all-out attack on Jodie, who becomes a social pariah. Then, unexpectedly, she has a reunion with Bridie. Both women have changed over the years of course. And at first, there’s a little awkwardness. But gradually, they renew their friendship and we can see how they get past the mental images they had of each other and re-establish their relationship.

When people who haven’t seen each other in years try to pick up the pieces, there’s often that kind of awkwardness when the mental image they had doesn’t fit the person they see in front of them. But sometimes those relationships can be re-established, and that can provide a welcome continuity in life. Or they can be very dangerous. I’m thinking for instance of Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel. When academic and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn finds out that a former friend Sally Love is having an exhibition of her art at the Mendel Gallery, she decides to attend, and try to re-establish the friendship. That decision has drastic consequences and ends up getting Kilbourn involved in a very sad murder investigation.

These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Eric Clapton.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Gail Bowen, Ian Vasquez, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Wendy James