Category Archives: Robert Galbraith

I Knew I Needed Representation*

When you think of famous film stars, athletes, authors, and so on, you probably don’t think of their agents. But the fact is, an agent can be a very powerful person. Many of the best-known publishers won’t even consider an author who doesn’t have an agent (trust me). And if a sports team wants a certain player, that team has to work the details out with the player’s agent. The same thing goes for a producer or director who wants a certain star in a film or stage performance.

Agents are an important part of life for certain professions, so it’s little wonder we see them in crime fiction, too. And, since there are all sorts of agents, and they play different roles, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to plots, character types, and so on. They can make effective sleuths, suspects, sources of information, and even murderers.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld’s letter says that his life is in danger, and pleads with Poirot to go to France and help. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the small town of Merlinville sur Mer, where the Renaulds live, but by the time they get there, it’s too late: Renuald has been murdered. Poirot works with the police to find out who killed the victim and why. One line of questioning leads to an acrobat act that was playing in Paris. Poirot wants to find the acrobats, so he visits a theatrical agent, Joseph Aarons. Aarons quickly gives Poirot the information he needs about the act and its members, which proves very helpful. Christie fans will also know that Aarons makes appearances elsewhere in Christie’s work, including The Mystery of the Blue Train.

One of Harlan Coben’s most popular series features Myron Bolitar. He’s a former basketball star whose career ended after an injury. He wanted to stay in the world of sport, though, and became an agent (later in the series, he becomes an investigator). In the early novels, Bolitar often gets drawn into cases through his clients. For example, in Drop Shot, one of Bolitar’s clients, Duane Richwood, is competing in a tennis tournament. During the event, former tennis great Valerie Simpson is found dead. Richwood could have known her, and could have a motive for murder. What’s more, Bolitar had been getting calls from Simpson, who wanted to resurrect her career. With those personal connections to the case, Bolitar starts asking questions, and we find out who killed Simpson and why.

There’s another look at a sports agent in Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter, the first of her Kate Henry series. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, so she follows the Toronto Titans team to all of their games. When one of their members, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is murdered in his home, it looks like a home invasion gone wrong. But then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered at the team’s clubhouse. Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro works both cases, and he finds that Henry has useful information. For her part, Henry wants to find out who the killer is, and not just because it’ll be a big story for her. She’s gotten to know the players, and she wants to know the truth about what happened. One of the ‘people of interest’ is Sam Craven, who represented Thorson. It turns out that Thorson wanted to end their contract, and Craven had refused. In fact, they had a major argument about it. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how he and what he does are portrayed.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to literary agent Melanie Lenehan. Part of her job is to keep her clients’ names ‘out there,’ so she encourages them to attend literary events, signings, and so on. That’s a tall order for one of her clients, mystery novelist Martin Canning. He’s a basically shy, introverted writer who’d much prefer, in many ways, to live in the 1950s world he’s created for his sleuth. It’s a bit of a struggle for her, but Lenehan finally convinces Canning to appear at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, join a panel, and answer some reader questions. During his trip, Canning gets ready to attend a lunchtime radio comedy broadcast, for which he’s gotten complimentary tickets. He’s waiting to pick up those tickets when he witnesses a blue Honda crash into the silver Peugeot in front of it. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. When the Honda driver starts to attack Paul Bradley (who’s driving the Peugeot), Canning acts out of instinct, and throws his computer case at the Honda driver. Out of a sense of obligation, he accompanies Bradley to a local hospital, and gets drawn into a strange case of fraud and murder. Certainly not what Melanie Lenehan had in mind when she booked Canning for the event!

In one plot thread of J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm, private investigator Coromoran Strike gets a new client. Leonora Quine wants him to find her husband, famous – well, notorious, really – author Owen Quine, who’s gone missing. He’s always been a ‘fringe’ sort of writer; his last novel, Bombyx Mori, is considered unpublishable because of some of its unpleasant themes and scenes. The manuscript for the novel was leaked at about the same time as Quine went missing, so there’s a good possibility that his disappearance has something to do with what’s in the novel. One of the people Strike meets as he searches for his client’s husband is literary agent Elizabeth Tassel, who handles Quine’s work. She’s an unsuccessful writer who deeply resents the London literary community that wouldn’t accept her and won’t accept her client. As you can imagine, she has a rather pessimistic attitude about writing success. In the end, and with information he gets from Tassel and the other people in Quine’s life, Strike finds out who the killer is and what the motive is.

Whether their specialty is films, sport, music, books, or something else, agents are an important part of many professions. And they can have a lot of power. Little wonder they make so many appearances in the genre…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s You’ll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Harlan Coben, J.K. Rowling, Kate Atkinson, Robert Galbraith

Traveling in the World of My Creation*

As this is posted, yesterday would have been Roald Dahl’s 101st birthday. As you’ll know, Dahl was famous for his children’s books (e.g. James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many others). It’s a tribute to his talent that his children’s books are still popular several decades after they were written.

But Dahl didn’t just write children’s books. He also wrote other sorts of stories, and that versatility arguably shows just how talented a writer he was. One of the genres in which he wrote is crime fiction. In fact, he wrote a collection of short stories, Tales of the Unexpected, which includes several crime stories.

In one of them, The Landlady, we are introduced to Billy Weaver. He’s just arrived in Bath to start a new job, and is on his way to the Bell and Dragon to try to get a room. He happens to notice an inviting-looking B&B as he’s walking along; and, on impulse, goes there instead. That choice has drastic consequences for him. If you don’t know the story, you can read it for yourself right here.

Also included in this collection is Lamb to the Slaughter. In that story, police officer Patrick Maloney comes home one evening and gives his wife, Mary, some shocking news. Not very long afterwards, he is killed. Mary alerts the police, who come immediately. They’re determined to find the culprit; after all, Maloney was ‘one of them.’ The only problem is, they can’t find the murder weapon. So, they can’t connect the crime with the criminal. If the story’s new to you, or you haven’t read it lately, you can read it right here.

Dahl included other crime and crime-related stories in this collection, too, such as The Man From the South (which you may find familiar, as it was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and The Way Up to Heaven. A year later, Dahl’s More Tales of the Unexpected was published. Again, there are some crime and crime-related stories among them.

Dahl is, of course, not the only children’s author to also write crime fiction. As you’ll know, J.K. Rowling first achieved fame and success with her novels featuring Harry Potter. Since 2013, she’s been writing a crime series featuring London PI Cormoran Strike. So far (to my knowledge), there’ve been three Cormoran Strike novels: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. The date of publication for the fourth, Lethal White, hasn’t been confirmed. The Strike novels are quite different to the Harry Potter series, and show Rowling/Galbraith’s versatility.

Another author who made the move from children’s books to crime fiction is Eoin Colfer. As an author of children’s books, he is famous for, among other things, the Artemis Fowl series. This 8-novel series features Artemis Fowl, who is a teenage criminal mastermind. It’s billed as a science fantasy series – what Colfer himself has called, ‘Die Hard with fairies.’ Colfer’s also written crime fiction for adults. He’s got a (so far) 2-novel series (Plugged and Screwed), featuring Irish ex-pat Daniel McEvoy. He’s a former member of the military, who now works as a bouncer at Slotz, a seedy, dirty, bar/casino in the fictitious town of Cloisters, New Jersey. The novels are suspenseful and sometimes gritty. But they also have a lot of dark wit in them. Although I don’t usually go for comparisons, these novels have been compared to the work of Elmore Leonard, so you can get an idea of both the grit and the wit. And, by the way, Leonard’s mentioned in Screwed.

Of course, it can work the other way, too. You’ll most likely be familiar with Adrian McKinty’s name from his Sean Duffy novels. Duffy is a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during the worst of the Troubles. This series was actually only supposed to be a trilogy, but has been expanded to six books, the most recent of which is Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.  But, did you know that he’s also written a YA trilogy? Called the Lighthouse Trilogy, it features 13-year-old Jamie O’Neill. These novels are billed as YA science fiction, and take place in Ireland, the US, and the fictional planet, Altair.

When you think of spy stories, you probably include Ian Fleming’s James Bond series among them. Bond is, of course, the dapper British agent who’s always equipped with all sorts of useful gadgets. He moves in the highest circles, and has all sorts of handy skills. And there are the women… Bond’s been brought to life on the screen many times, by a variety of actors. But Bond wasn’t Fleming’s only creation. He also wrote the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car for his son. In the book, the Potts family goes on all sorts of adventures with their car that looks like a wreck at first, but can actually fly and swim. The book was adapted for film in 1968 – in part by Roald Dahl!

We don’t always think of children’s literature and crime fiction as being written by the same people. But sometimes, they are. And one such author, Roald Dahl, left an indelible impression in both genres. He is missed.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Pure Imagination.

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Filed under Adrian McKinty, Eoin Colfer, Ian Fleming, J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Galbraith

Sometimes a Fantasy is All You Need*

tolkien-and-fantasy-seriesAs this is posted, it would have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s 124th birthday. Whether or not you’re a fan of Tolkien’s work, it’s hard to deny the influence he’s had on generations of readers and writers. And, if you think about it, Tolkien set himself quite a task. He didn’t just create plots and characters, as all writers do. He invented whole new realities and sets of assumptions. And that’s to say nothing of the variations on languages that he invented.

And we could say a similar thing about more modern fantasy series, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Roger Zelazney’s Chronicles of Amber series, or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. Those who write fantasy series create all sorts of alternate realities, relationships and so on.

What’s the appeal of fantasy series? If they’re well-written, then the characters are appealing. We care what happens to them. And fantasy series can be very effective as escapes from daily life. Underneath, though, the good ones address issues that we all face: love, loss, quests, conflicts, human traits, and so on. So, even though they don’t describe the real world we know, they are realistic in the sense of the way the characters interact and evolve.

This is a crime fiction blog, of course, so one question we could ask is: do series such as the Lord of the Rings novels ‘count’ as crime novels? Strictly speaking, they may not. But there are certainly crimes aplenty in them.

As Tolkien tells us in The Fellowship of the Ring, the One Ring was the motive for more than one murder (I’m not talking here about conflicts between warring factions). As an example, two Stoor Hobbits find the ring in a river, and one falls so much under the spell of the ring that he kills the other to get it. There are plenty of other examples, too, in these novels, of different crimes that are committed to get the ring, or because of it. And that’s to say nothing of crimes committed for other reasons. So, although you might not think of this as a crime series – and it isn’t, by most people’s estimation – it certainly features its share of criminal acts.

What about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series? These novels have become classics, and not just in the YA/young reader market. Millions of adults love them. The adventures of Harry Potter and his friends take place mostly at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The plots involve many different sorts of fantasy creatures, magic, and so on. But they also capture the lives of the young people who attend the school. And in that sense, they resonate with readers who are going through (or remember) the same sorts of challenges.

But are they crime novels? Again, most people would say, ‘no.’ At least, not strictly speaking. But if you think about it, there are certainly crimes committed in them. As fans of this series can tell you, Harry Potter’s parents were murdered when he was a baby. Harry was almost a victim, himself. There are several other plot points in the series that involve murder, conspiracies, and other crimes. So, although most people don’t think of the Harry Potter novels as crime fiction – and they really aren’t, in the sense that we often think of that genre – they certainly have crimes woven through the plots. Perhaps it’s little wonder that Rowling has also written crime fiction under the name of Robert Galbraith.

Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series is a set of novels featuring Corwin, Prince of Amber, and later, his son, Merlin. Amber is ‘the one true world,’ of which Earth is only a shadow. The early novels focus on Corwin’s gradual (re)discovery that he is one of the potential heirs to the throne of Amber, although his brother Eric rules it at the beginning of the series. As the novels go on, we follow Corwin’s return to Amber, the conflicts among the rivals for the throne, and the adventures that the various family members have. It is very much a fantasy series. It’s also an interesting look at family struggles, dysfunctional relationships, and the human nature that’s behind greed, power grabs, and so on.

The series become very popular in the 1970s and 1980s as a set of fantasy novels. But are these books crime novels? They don’t focus on particular crimes and their investigations, as ‘typical’ crime novels do. However, there’s plenty of crime in this series. There are murders, conspiracies, abductions, and more. It’s by no means the peaceful story of a magical kingdom…

Nor is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. As fans know, this series features an epic struggle for power among several families. But it’s a lot more than that. The series features rival fictional Houses, supernatural beings, and other elements of fantasy. It’s also a gritty look at jealousy, greed, dysfunction, and more. So, in that sense, you might argue that the series resonates with readers on a very human level.

And there’s plenty of crime, too. There are planned assassinations (some of which are, and some of which aren’t successful), other murders, and arson, among many other crimes. In fact, many people consider it a very violent series. So, while it’s usually classified as a fantasy series, there’s a strong argument that there are elements of crime novels in it, too.

And that’s the thing about these well-known fantasy series (and many others I haven’t had space to mention). They may not be, strictly speaking, crime series. But they do contain plenty of crime. More than that, they’ve had a great deal of influence on our culture. And, put quite simply, many people think of them as well-written stories that sweep the reader away.

What do you think? Are you a fan of fantasy series? Do you see elements of the crime novel in them? If you’re a writer, do you write fantasy?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Sometimes a Fantasy.

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Filed under George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Galbraith, Roger Zelazny

Don’t You Feel Like Trying Something New?*

trying-a-new-seriesNot long ago, I asked you to share your thoughts about authors who write more than one series. I wondered whether you actively look for other series by an author whose work you love. Many thanks to those of you who responded!

 

Now, let’s take a look at what you told me:

 

trying-an-authors-new-series

 

As you can see, of the 25 of you who responded, 10 of you (40%) told me you’re eager to try another series by an author whose work you really love.  That in itself isn’t an overwhelming majority. So, on the surface, it might seem that attachment to a particular author doesn’t make you rush out and try that person’s new series.

But then, I noticed something interesting. Of those who responded, 11 of you (44%) said that you actively look for a top author’s other series if that series is the sort of crime novel you like. What that suggests to me is that sub-genre (or style) of crime novel is at least as important (perhaps a bit more) as the fact that it’s an author you love. If you think about it, this means that 21 of you (84%) actively seek out a new series by an author you love. Admittedly, for many of you, that depends partly on the sort of series it is. Still, that’s a hint of some loyalty to your top authors.

But you’re not blindly loyal. You also think about what sort of book you want. What does this all mean? To me, it shows there are several factors that impact your decision of which series to read. One important factor is your feelings about the author. Another is your taste in crime fiction. In other words, it’s not just one thing that guides your decision making, even if that thing is your love for a particular author’s work. And that makes sense. Someone who really likes pitch-black noir might think twice before picking up a light, fun, ‘frothy’ cosy mystery, even if both books were by the same author.

And, consistent with that, 2 of you (8%), said that you actively seek out a new series by an author you love if it’s a similar sort of series (e.g. both PI series). This tells me that sub-genre also impacts what you’ll read.

What conclusions does this suggest? One conclusion that I’ve drawn is that your choices of what to read are affected by several factors. It’s not only a matter of whether or not you love a given author’s work. It’s more multidimensional than that. That said, though, it seems that your feelings about a given author do impact your reading choices. If you’ll notice, only 2 of you (8%) told me that your feelings for an author don’t influence your choice of what to read. What this means to me is that the impression an author leaves on you does matter. If that’s true, then I’ll bet you probably avoid a series by an author whose work you’ve really disliked. I don’t have the data to support that conclusion (yet), but that sort of finding wouldn’t be surprising, given what you told me about authors whose work you do like.

What might this mean for authors? If all of this reflects the way readers really make their choices (and remember, this is a very, very limited set of data), then it might suggest something about the sort of branching-out authors consider. Some authors, such as Elly Griffiths and Timothy Hallinan, have been quite successful writing two different sorts of series. The same is true for J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith, Kerry Greenwood, and others. But it is a risk. When two series are very different, readers might not be eager to make the move to the new series, even if they’re fans of that particular author. That’s not to say it’s impossible to have two very successful, but very different, series. Several authors have done so. But it takes planning, strong writing (of course!) and some luck.

What do you folks have to say about this? I’d really like your reactions. If you’re a writer, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on branching out to another series.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joe Jackson’s Breaking Us In Two.

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Filed under Elly Griffiths, Kerry Greenwood, Robert Galbraith, Timothy Hallinan

So Christian Dior Me, From My Head to My Toes*

Fashion DesignFashion design is big business. Whether you’re a fan of a certain designer, or you couldn’t care less what name you’re wearing, it’s hard to deny the influence designers have. The most successful designer houses make billions each year; and buyers for large and small companies know that at least some of their profits depend on having the latest creations. The fashion design business is highly competitive, too.

With that tension, and with so much at stake, it shouldn’t be surprising that fashion designers and design houses would play a role in crime fiction. Fashion design’s a very effective context, and there’s plenty of opportunity for conflict and worse.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), we are introduced to successful fashion designer Cynthia Dacres. Always alert to the newest trends, she’s built her business on cutting-edge clothes. Her fashion design company, Ambrosine, Ltd., seems on the surface to be doing quite well. One evening, she and her husband, Captain Freddy Dacres, attend a cocktail party at the home of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. All goes well until another guest, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be a poisoned drink. Hercule Poirot is also at the party, and takes an interest in what happened. Not long afterwards, there’s another, similar murder. This time, well-known specialist Dr. Bartholomew Strange is murdered at his home in Yorkshire during a dinner party. Several of the same guests (including the Dacres) attended both parties; and it’s very likely that the murders are related. Cynthia Dacres becomes a suspect when Poirot takes an interest in this case and works with the police to find out who the killer is.

Margery Allingham’s Fashion in Shrouds features fashion designer Valentine ‘Val’ Ferris, sister of Allingham’s sleuth, Albert Campion. In this novel, Campion discovers the body of Richard Portland-Smith, who disappeared three years previously. The trail leads to Portland-Smith’s former fiancée, famous actress Georgia Wells. Since Wells is good friends with Campion’s sister, and her best client, Campion asks his sister for an introduction. That meeting takes place at a major event during which Ferris’ newest designs are to be revealed. The evening is ruined when it’s discovered that the design for the main creation has been leaked. Then, there’s a murder. And another. And Ferris is implicated. So Campion works to find out who’s really responsible.

Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle introduces readers to successful fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s passionate about creating new clothing designs. She’s not just talented; she also has strong business skills. So she’s not dependent on anyone, and she has no desire to marry and have children. In fact, she’s gained a certain amount of something like notoriety for her series of affairs. Dane McKell meets her when he discovers that she’s in a relationship with his father, wealthy business mogul Ashton McKell. Then one night, she is murdered, and Inspector Richard Queen investigates, as does his son, Ellery. The most likely suspect is Ashton McKell, but he is soon cleared of suspicion. Then, McKell’s wife Letitia becomes a suspect. So does Dane. It turns out that the victim’s fashion designs contain an important clue to her murderer.

There’s another sort of look at the fashion design industry in Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike, which takes place at the very beginning of the 20th Century. Molly Murphy has emigrated from Dublin to New York City. There, she’s decided to continue operating the PI business her former mentor left behind when he died. Most of her cases consist of following adulterous spouses, and she can’t stomach that for much longer. Then, in one plot thread of the novel, she gets a different sort of case. Clothing designer Max Mostel has determined that someone’s been stealing his designs and selling them to his biggest competitor, Lowenstein’s. Mostel and Murphy put together a plan for finding out who’s guilty. Murphy goes undercover briefly at Mostel’s, to learn the trade and get to know some of the people who work there. Then, she goes undercover at Lowenstein’s, so she can catch the guilty person. Among other things, this novel gives a ‘behind the scenes’ look at what it was once like to produce those design creations and sell them to shops.

Fans of J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels will know that, in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike gets involved in the death of supermodel Lula Landry. She fell (or was it pushed? Or did she jump?) from her balcony three months previously. At the time, the police claimed it was a case of suicide, and the victim did have a history of depression. Still, her adoptive brother John Bristow hires Strike to find out the truth about her death, claiming that he’s not convinced it was suicide. Part of the trail leads to Guy Somé, a well-known fashion designer whose creations the victim modeled. She and Somé were close friends; in fact, she’d recently signed a lucrative contract to model his clothes. It’s hoped that he can provide some insight into why she might have died. At the very least, Somé can help Strike trace her last days and weeks. It’s an interesting look at the world of today’s high-powered fashion designing.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s Hanging By a Thread, a YA standalone featuring fledgling clothes designer Clare Knight. At the beginning of the novel, she and her mother have just moved back to her home town of Winston, California, a quiet beach community. There, she sets up a business with her best friend, Rachel, selling the one-of-a-kind vintage clothes she designs. On the surface, life in Winston seems idyllic. But the town has had its share of tragedy. For the last two years, a young person has disappeared during the July Fourth celebrations. One was ten-year-old Dillon Granger. The second was a high school student, Amanda Stavros. Gossip has started that someone else will disappear this year, but Clare doesn’t believe it, and tries to enjoy life in Winston. Until she discovers a denim jacket that Amanda owned. Clare is a synthaesthete, who senses people’s pasts when she touches clothes they’ve worn. When she finds the jacket, Clare knows that Amanda was murdered. Now she looks into the reason why, and uncovers some dark secrets about her home town.

See what I mean? Fashion design can be exciting. For some very lucky and talented designers, it can also be lucrative. But it can also be dangerous…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Rainbow High.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, J.K. Rowling, Margery Allingham, Rhys Bowen, Robert Galbraith, Sophie Littlefield