Category Archives: Robert Pollock

Foreman Says These Jobs Are Going, Boys, and They Ain’t Coming Back*

If you’ve ever been fired, you know how awful an experience that is. Even if you’re made redundant because of cutbacks (and not, say, job performance), it hurts. A lot. And a wise employer doesn’t fire someone on a whim. It’s a very serious step to take.

Being fired/terminated/separated is very hard, but it is a part of life. So, it makes sense that we’d see it in crime fiction, too. It can be the basis for tension and conflict, or it can be a plot point. It can also add a layer of character development.

For instance, in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to architect Stephen Booker. When he is made redundant, it’s a real blow for him and his wife. He likes his profession; so, at first, he tries to get another job in the field. He isn’t successful, though, and as time goes by, he begins to feel more and more desperate. Finally, he takes a job driving cab at night, thinking he can still use the days to look for a new position. One night, he meets professional thief Mike Daniels. Before long, Daniels becomes one of Booker’s regular fares and they get to know each other. When Daniels finds out that Booker is an architect, he decides to let him in on a secret. Daniels and his team have been planning a major heist: the robbery of the City Savings Deposit Bank. The bank is, of course, carefully guarded, so the team needs to find a way to work around the security. For that, they need an architect, and Daniels thinks he’s found his man. It takes some persuading, because Booker is basically a law-abiding person. But he’s also desperate for a job – any job – and falls in with the group’s plans. Everything goes along well, until a sudden rainstorm comes up and changes everything.

In the ‘Emma Lathen’ team’s Murder to Go, a big merger is in the works. Southeast Insurance is planning a merger with an up-and-coming fast food company called Chicken Tonight. The Sloan Guaranty Bank is involved in the merger, so it’s got an interest in making sure everything goes smoothly. But it doesn’t. Several people are sickened by one of Chicken Tonight’s new recipes. One of them even dies. This puts the merger in grave doubt and raises all sorts of questions about Chicken Tonight. So, the company wants to find out right away how the poisonings happened and do ‘damage control.’ At first, it looks very much as though the culprit is a man named Clyde Sweeney. He is a former delivery driver for the company, and he had access to the spices and food. What’s more, he had been fired recently and was bitter and angry about it. That certainly gives him motive to sabotage the company. It doesn’t help Sweeney’s case that he’s gone missing. But when he turns up dead, it’s clear that something more is going on. Sloan Vice President John Putnam Thatcher gets involved in the case and starts asking questions. He finds that the solution lies in behind-the-scenes greed and manipulation.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed begins just after bank manager Martin Carter is made redundant. With his marriage falling apart, and now no job to provide stability, Carter hasn’t got much to lose. On his last day of work, he can’t resist the lure of a million-dollar payroll and takes the money. He makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and is soon on his way. But that act of desperation is only the start of Carter’s adventures. Along the way, he meets a New Age bike gang, a librarian who’s get her own secrets and past, and plenty of other characters as well.

Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake introduces John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own Stuart Lake Lodge, a holiday fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan. They live in the small town of Crooked Lake, where everyone knows everyone else. And one of those people is Nick Taylor, head greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. One day, Taylor is fired from his job. He’s devastated and furious, especially since he sees no specific reason for being let go. He blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who has never liked him and has been looking for a reason to get rid of him. Later that day, Kristoff’s body is discovered on the green near the golf course’s seventh hole. Taylor is, of course, the most likely suspect, and he admits that he was very angry about being terminated. But he says that he’s not guilty of the murder. Taylor’s lawyer asks Bart’s help in clearing his client’s name, and Bart is happy to oblige, as he and Taylor are long-time friends. When the killer finds out that Bart’s asking questions, this spells danger for the Bartowski family. But Bart feels a strong obligation to an old friend, so he persists. And, in the end, he finds out the truth.

And then there’s Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord, which introduces his protagonists, Miami lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. As the novel begins, they’re on opposite sides of a case involving illegal smuggling of animals. Solomon’s defending; Lord’s prosecuting. They can’t stop scrapping with each other and bickering, though, which annoys the judge so much that they’re held on charges of contempt of court. When they’re finally released, they go back to the case, which is soon decided. The whole incident does nothing for Lord’s reputation, and she is summarily fired, publicly and in a humiliating way. It’s very upsetting for her, of course, and even Solomon feels compassion for her. Besides, as Solomon sees it, she may be a rookie, but Lord is a good lawyer who will develop into a truly great lawyer. So, he invites her to work with him in a new case he’s trying to get. Katrina Barksdale has been accused of killing her extremely wealthy husband, Charles. She claims she’s innocent, and Solomon knows that if he gets the case and wins it, there’s a large fee in it for him. He needs Lord’s ‘blueblood’ connections and her skills; she needs a job. So, they start working on the case together. And it turns out this case is more complicated then just a wife who kills to get her husband’s fortune.

Losing a job is hard, often painful, and always disruptive. It can have all sorts of consequences, too. So, it makes sense that this plot point would show up in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.

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Filed under Emma Lathen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Nelson Brunanski, Paul Levine, Robert Pollock

And No Doubt Everything Will Go As Planned*

Many crimes are opportunistic, and don’t involve a lot of advance planning. Other crimes, though, are very carefully planned. Those preparations are necessary to make sure that the crime can be pulled off successfully. And the planning can take a long time.

That sort of crime can be a little tricky to do well in a crime novel. Readers don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of planning. But when they’re woven effectively into the story, those details can be interesting, and can add to the suspense of a story.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, The Red-Headed League introduces a pawnbroker named Jabez Wilson. One day, he learns of a group called the Red Headed League, which is offering employment. The only pre-requisite is that the successful candidate must have red hair (which Wilson does). He decides that there’s no harm in applying, and that the extra income would come in handy. So, he applies for the position and is hired. His task is to copy the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and at first, all goes well. Then, he reports for work one day, only to find that the office locked, and a sign indicates that the Red-Headed League has disbanded. He visits Sherlock Holmes to ask for the detective’s insight on the matter. Holmes agrees to investigate, and finds out that Wilson has been a pawn in a very carefully-orchestrated plan to rob a local bank.

A bank robbery is also at the core of Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank. Professional thief Mike Daniels and his team want to plan a heist. Their target is London’s City Savings Deposit Bank. But, of course, the bank is equipped with plenty of security features, and it won’t be easy to get in. What they need is an architect, and that’s where unemployed architect Stephen Booker comes in. He hasn’t worked in several months, and is desperate for money. So, although he’s reluctant to get involved in an illegal scheme, he eventually falls in with the thieves. Everything is meticulously planned, and quite a bit of time is spent making sure that everything is ready, down to the last detail. The day of the robbery arrives, and, at first, all goes well. But no-one planned on a sudden storm coming up and changing everything…

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, ten people are invited for a stay on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. For different reasons, each accepts. Then, on the first night, each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long afterwards, one of the guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, there’s another death. Soon, the remaining people see that they have been lured to the island by someone who’s trying to kill them. Now, they’ll have to catch the killer – and stay alive. In the end, we learn who the killer is and what the motive is. And we learn the details of the meticulous planning that went into this scheme.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes is the story of a plan to rob an entire building full of apartments. John ‘Duke’ Anderson has recently been released from prison, and has been legitimately employed at a printer’s. But, when he visits a very posh East Side Manhattan apartment building, he starts thinking about all of the wealth in the building, and decides to put together a plan to rob it. Anderson knows he can’t do the job on his own, so he gets in touch with various contacts to get the supplies, help, and financing he’s going to need. And the book includes detailed information on what’s involved in this sort of heist. What Anderson and his confederates don’t know is that various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have been monitoring several of the people involved. So, much of the group’s plan is recorded in some way or another. The question is: will the police put the pieces together and stop the thieves before they pull off the robbery?

There’s also a lot of meticulous planning in Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. A far-right French group, Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS), wants to plot to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle. But, of course, he is well-protected. What’s more, most of the members of OAS are known to the police. So, the group decides to hire an ‘outsider’ to do the job. For this, they choose an Englishman who’s known only as the Jackal. No-one knows what this person looks like, nor what his real name is. So, he’s a good choice, from OAS’ perspective. Detective Claude Lebel has the task of trying to find and stop the Jackal, if he can, before the killer gets to de Gaulle. A main focus of the book is the set of preparations the Jackal makes to carry out his mission, and the set of preparations that Lebel and his team make to try to prevent that.

And then there’s Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow trilogy: The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence. All three feature paid assassin Calum MacLean, a man who’s earned a good reputation in the underworld.  Part of the reason he’s good at what he does is that he plans carefully. He observes his targets, picks his times and places carefully, and knows what he’s getting into as best he can before he carries out a job. The books include the details about the preparations MacLean makes, and they add to the suspense of the stories.

Putting too much emphasis on the details can take away from the tension of a story. But careful planning is important to a successful plot. Of course, even careful planning doesn’t always present disasters – right, fans of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Angry World.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donald Westlake, Frederick Forsyth, Malcom Mackay, Robert Pollock

Unexpected Things Happen*

unexpectedthingsI’m sure you’ve had this happen to you. You make plans to do something or go somewhere, and then something happens that you couldn’t have anticipated. A sudden rainstorm soaks the plans you made for an outdoor lunch. Or, you wake up with a fever and upset stomach on the day you’d planned to leave home to take a trip. Those sorts of things happen to us all, and they act as reminders that we can never completely control things.

That’s just as true in crime fiction as it is in real life. And, when they’re done well (i.e. not contrived), those unexpected things can add a great deal to a story. Certainly, they can add suspense and plot layers.

Agatha Christie wove unexpected happenings into her stories and novels more than once. In Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, Hercule Poirot is en route from the Middle East back to London. He gets a berth on the famous Orient Express train, and prepares for the three-day trip across Europe. On the second night of the journey, wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed in his bunk. Poirot is asked to find out who the killer is, so that that person can be handed over to the police at the next border crossing. He agrees, and takes part in interviewing the suspects (all of whom are berthed in the same train car as the victim). In this case, a snowstorm that stopped the train disrupted the killer’s plans. And it’s interesting to see how other plans have had to be hastily put together. The fact of the snowstorm doesn’t immediately tell Poirot who the murderer is. But it’s the one thing the murderer couldn’t control.

Unexpected weather also plays a role in Robert Pollock’s Loophole. In that novel, professional thief Mike Daniels and his team have targeted London’s City Savings Deposit Bank for a heist. To do the job well, though, they’ll need the services of an architect. So, Daniels enlists out-of-work architect Stephen Booker to join the team. Booker is desperate for money, so he goes along with the plan, albeit reluctantly at first. Everything is carefully put together, and all starts well enough. The team members think that every detail is in order. But they haven’t counted on a sudden rainstorm that comes up during the heist. And that storm changes everything. Speaking of heist stories, fans of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder novels know that Dortmunder and his team often run up against unexpected problems when they’re trying to pull off a job.

It’s not always storms that unexpectedly alter plans. For instance, much of the action in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. One of the customs of the local church is a New Year’s Eve change-ringing, and one of the ringers is Will Thoday. As luck would have it, Thoday falls ill with influenza just before New Year’s Eve, so he can’t do his share of the ringing. As it so happens, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant, Mervyn Bunter, have had a car accident in the area. They are rescued by the local vicar, Theodore Venables, and invited to stay at the rectory until their car is fixed. When Wimsey discovers that Thoday is ill, he offers to take the man’s place at the change-ringing. Venables gratefully accepts the offer, and the change-ringing goes off as planned. Both of these incidents (Thoday’s illness and Wimsey’s car trouble) are things that that couldn’t have been controlled. And they play their role in what happens when, a few months later, an extra body is discovered in a gravesite intended for the local squire.

Michael Collins’ short story Who? features his PI sleuth Dan Fortune. One day, a seventeen-year-old boy named Boyd Conners collapses suddenly and dies of what seems to be a heart attack. Boyd was young, and in quite good health, with no congenital medical problems. So, his mother has begun to question the official theory. She visits Fortune, asking him to look into the matter, and Fortune agrees. He traces the boy’s last days and weeks, and finds out that there are a few people who might be considered enemies. Still, there doesn’t seem to be a really clear suspect. But then, Fortune makes a small discovery that changes the course of the investigation. It turns out that Boyd was what you might call an accidental victim. The murderer had planned to kill someone else, but due to something that person couldn’t control, and couldn’t have foreseen, Boyd died instead.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning begins with one of those unexpected happenings that alter the course of a story. Journalist Jack Parlabane has recently returned to Edinburgh from Los Angeles, and is settling in. He wakes up one morning to a great deal of commotion, and decides to see what’s going on. He leaves his flat, only to learn the hard way that he’s forgotten his key. The door locks automatically, so now, Parlabane can’t get back inside. He knows that the downstairs flat has a window that corresponds to one of his own. So, he decides to go through that flat, if he can, climb out that window, and up into his own place. When he enters that downstairs flat, Parlabane finds out the source of the commotion that woke him up: there’s a dead body there. DC Jenny Dalziel, who’s on the scene, catches Parlabane trying to sneak through the window, and draws the obvious conclusion. When Parlabane convinces her that he is innocent, they begin to co-operate, and in the end, they find out who the dead man was, who the killer is, and what the motive is. And it all happens because neither Parlabane nor the killer could have anticipated forgetting the key.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. As the story begins, five days of rain have soaked the city of Dunedin. Then, an unexpected twister roars through. The police are already stretched thin, as the saying goes, because of a ‘flu epidemic that’s making the rounds of the city, and the weather is making a bad situation completely miserable. Then, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who went missing a few weeks ago, is discovered. Her body was in some underbrush, and it might never have been found – or not for a very long time. But the twister knocked down trees and spurred a general cleanup that the killer couldn’t have anticipated. DSS Leo Judd is assigned to find out what happened to Tracey. Ordinarily, the job would have been given to someone else, since Judd lost his own beloved daughter, Beth, nine years earlier, and is still coping with that. But there is no-one else, because of the ‘flu epidemic. Now, Judd has to put his own grief aside and try to find some closure for Tracey’s family.

There are many other examples of those unexpected things that change plans. The trick is to weave them into a plot as naturally and authentically as possible. Otherwise, they can seem too contrived. When they’re done well, though, they can add a layer of suspense, to say nothing of plot twists, to a story.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of the aftermath of an unexpected pinhole leak in our plumbing. That certainly changed my plans when it happened…

 
 
 
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Ruta Antana.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Donald Westlake, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Woodham, Michael Collins, Robert Pollock

Multi-Million Dollar Heist*

HeistsHave you ever seen George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)? If you have, then you know its focus is an outlaw gang called the Hole in the Wall Gang. One of their goals is to rob the Union Pacific’s Overland Flyer, and the gang makes preparations to do so – twice, on both the eastward and westward run of the train. The first time they’re successful. The second train’s arrival, though, sets off a chain of events that changes the story dramatically. Throughout the story, though, the two lead characters, played by, respectively, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, are portrayed sympathetically.

More than that, Hill built the tension in this film not through a murder (or murders) and the investigation, but through the plans and execution of a heist. And that makes sense. Fictional heists can add at least as much conflict and tension as a murder can, not to mention another layer to a plot. It’s little wonder, then, that they figure so often in crime fiction.

Many heist novels do include murders or other deaths. It’s just that it’s the heist that’s the main plot, rather than the murder(s). There are a lot of heist novels out there. I’ll just mention a few; I know you’ll think of more.

In Robert Pollock’s Loophole, or: How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to professional thief Mike Daniels and his teammates Harry and Gardner. They decide to pull off a difficult, but potentially very lucrative job – a theft from the City Deposit Bank. It’s a heavily guarded bank with the latest in security, so it’s not going to be easy. In fact, in order to carry their plan out, the thieves will need the services of an architect. They find one in the person of Stephen Booker, who’s recently been laid off from his job and hasn’t been able to find another. In fact, he’s been driving cab at night to pay the bills. That’s how he meets Daniels, who finally convinces Booker to join the thieves. They prepare very carefully for the heist, and on the day of the job, all goes well at first. Then a sudden storm blows up, and changes everything for the men.

In Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, we are introduced to professional thief John Dortmunder. He’s recently been released from prison, and the plan is that he’ll ‘go straight.’ But that’s before he meets up with his old friend and co-conspirator Andy Kelp. Kelp tells Dortmunder that a new heist is in the works, one that’s worth ten thousand dollars to each member of the team. The target is a valuable gem called the Balabomo Emerald, currently on display at the Coliseum in New York. While the African nation of Akinzi claims ownership, another African nation, Talabwo, contests that claim. Talabwo’s Ambassador to the US, Major Patrick Iko, wants the gem, and is willing to pay the heist team to get it. Dortmunder, Kelp, and the rest of the gang meet and plan the heist very carefully. But almost from the beginning, things don’t go at all as the team planned…  Westlake’s Dortmunder series sees the heist team get in several serious situations as they plan and try to carry out difficult heists.

Fans of Lawrence Block will tell you that one of his series features Bernie Rhodenbarr, who’s a New York bookseller. But he’s also a burglar. In fact, he served a prison sentence as a young man. Now he’s determined not to get caught again, so he’s very careful when he plans a heist. He’s good at what he does, but he sometimes has a habit of finding bodies when he’s actually on the trail of some other prize. Bernie is well aware that it’s illegal to break and enter, but he’s what you might call addicted to the thrill. This series is lighter than Block’s Matthew Scudder series. Although I don’t usually like to compare series, it has a hint of similarity to Westlake’s Dortmunder series on that score.

In one plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage, we are introduced to Vincent Naylor. He’s recently been released from prison, and has no desire to go ‘back inside.’ So he’s careful about avoiding risk unless the payoff is very much worth it. He meets up with this girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother Noel, and some other friends; together, they come up with an idea for a heist that will set them all up for life. The target is Protectica, a company that provides secured transportation of cash among different banks. The heist is planned down to the last detail, and everyone is hoping it’ll go smoothly. At first, things do go well. But then, there’s a tragic turn of events that changes everything.

And then there’s Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State. Gary Chance is, among other things, a professional thief who’s been lying low in South Australia. A union leader friend of his named Lawrence convinces him to work a robbery so he can have money to care for his wife Faye, who has cancer. When that robbery goes wrong, Chance knows he has to get out of the area. So he heads for Brisbane. There, he meets Dennis Curry, who runs certain non-casino poker games. Curry wants to rob wealthy Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao, who’s one of his high rollers. Chance meets the rest of Curry’s team and takes the job. Not one of the other team members is a reliable, straightforward sort of thief, but they’re the people Curry has picked. Despite the fact that he doesn’t really trust them, Chance has to work with them to plan the heist with as few risks as possible. But this doesn’t turn out to be anything like the sort of job Chance thought he was taking.

There are, of course, many other kinds of heist novels. Some, such as Gunshine State, are a little grittier. Others are lighter. But all of them have an added layer of tension that comes from the heist and the planning that leads up to it. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blue Meanies’ Big Brother’s Watching.

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Filed under Andrew Nette, Donald Westlake, Gene Kerrigan, Lawrence Block, Robert Pollock

Am I My Resume?*

Job SearchIf you’ve ever looked for a new job, you know how difficult it can be. To begin with, people don’t usually look for work actively unless they’re unhappy in their present job (which is a stress in and of itself) or they’re unemployed (also a major stressor). So it can be hard to muster the energy you need to present yourself at your very best. And even when times are good and jobs are available, there’s sometimes a lot of competition.

And then there’s the fact that a lot of potential employers don’t treat applicants particularly well. Some keep applicants waiting for a long time, and some are all but rude during interviews. And then there are those who never follow up to let you know whether you’ve gotten the job. If you add to that the very real power imbalance of a job interview, it’s easy to see why the process of finding a new job is so difficult.

That pressure is hard on anyone, but it’s exactly that challenge that can add an interesting layer of tension to a novel. And the job search can be a compelling plot thread. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s short story Jane in Search of a Job, we are introduced to Jane Cleveland, a young woman who is, as the title would suggest, looking for work. She’s up against competition from many other young women with a decent education; and most have more work experience. So she’s at a point of real concern when she sees an unusual employment advertisement. After a thorough ‘vetting,’ she is hired as a ‘double’ for Her Highness, Grand Duchess Pauline of Ostrova. The grand duchess believes that revolutionaries from her homeland may try to kidnap her, and the idea is that Jane will impersonate her on certain public occasions, as a decoy, in case those enemies strike.  All goes well enough until a charity bazaar at Orion House. At that event, Jane finds herself in more danger than she imagined.

People don’t always consider John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to be a crime novel. But there’s definitely a murder in it, and deeply involved in the whole thing is Tom Joad, who’s recently moved with his family from Oklahoma to California. It’s the time of the Great Depression, and, combined with the ‘Dust Bowl’ in certain parts of the US, these years have been almost more than the Joad family can survive. They left their Oklahoma farm because of the dust storms, and were told there was plenty of work on California’s farms. But when the Joads arrive, they find that conditions are abysmal. Those who can find work are given the barest of essentials when it comes to living quarters (and not even always that much). And there are so many people looking for work that the Joads face a lot of competition. One of the elements that comes through in this novel is the power imbalance between farm owners and managers, who are in a position to hire, and job applicants. This sort of job search is among the most humiliating there is, and it doesn’t help matters that there is no legislative or other support for farm workers. Basically employers can hire and fire whomever and whenever they wish, and pay whatever they wish.

There’s also Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank. Stephen Booker is an architect who’s recently been made redundant. At first, he and his wife do their best to take matters in stride; after all, people do lose their jobs. And he believes that it won’t be long before he finds something else. So he applies, goes on interviews, and endures the difficult process of trying to look for work. Nothing pans out though, and he’s forced to take a night job driving a cab. The idea is that he can still use daytime to keep applying. But he gets a whole different perspective when he meets professional thief Mike Daniels, who takes his cab one night. Bit by bit, Daniels and Booker become friendly, and Daniels finds that Booker could be a real asset. Daniels and his team are planning a major bank heist, and they can use the services of an architect to help them plan the break-in. Booker is reluctant at first, but money is money. So he eventually agrees to Daniels’ plan. Everything goes smoothly, even on the day of the robbery, until a sudden storm comes up and changes everything…

Much of the focus of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola is on Kingsmarkham’s Employment Bureau. Twenty-two-year-old Melanie Akande has a meeting there one day with her employment counselor. After that meeting, she disappears. When she doesn’t return, her father, Dr. Raymond Akande, asks for help from Inspector Reg Wexford, who is one of his patients. Wexford isn’t overly concerned at first. After all, there are many reasons a young woman might take off for a few days, and it doesn’t mean anything’s wrong. But when she remains missing, Wexford decides to look into the matter. Part of trying to find the young woman is tracing her movements, so Wexford and his team interview the staff at the Bureau. They want to talk to Annette Bystock, the counselor with whom Melanie had her meeting. But by the time they track her down, she’s been murdered. As Wexford and the team unravel the mystery, we see the inner workings of an employment office. Rendell also shows readers what it’s like to be looking for work.

And then there’s P.J. Parrish’s Dead of Winter. Louis Kincaid has come to Loon Lake, Michigan, for an interview with the police department there. He’s looking for a new start, and he’s hoping that he’ll get this job. When he gets to the department’s building, he’s interviewed by Police Chief Brian Gibraltar. It’s an odd interview (some of them really are!), and doesn’t last long. To Kincaid’s surprise, he is hired within moments, and arrangements are made for his start date. Although it is strange, Kincaid doesn’t want to turn the job down, so he accepts. Soon enough, he is drawn into two murder cases. One is the killing of his predecessor; the other is the murder of a retired police officer. It turns out to be a complex investigation that puts Kincaid in a great deal of danger.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Grace Makutsi graduated from the Botswana College of Secretarial and Office Skills with the highest score of any other graduate. At first, she thinks that will get her a good job. But as she starts applying for work, she finds out that the women who get those jobs are more often hired for their looks than for their skills. But Mma. Precious Ramotswe is different. Mma. Ramotswe sees that Mma. Makutsi is willing to work hard and is skilled. Besides, she needs a secretary for her new detective agency. So she hires Mma. Makutsi. As fans will know, it’s a very good match for both of them. Still, at one point (in The Good Husband of Zebra Drive), Mma. Makutsi considers leaving the agency. She goes looking for a new job, only to be reminded that applying for work is enervating and can be humiliating. It’s not a pleasant lesson, but McCall Smith does remind readers of what it’s like to be a job applicant.

No matter the circumstances, it’s never fun to look for work. But it is a part of life for a lot of people, and it can make for an effective plot thread.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban’s I Hope I Get It.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, John Steinbeck, P.J. Parrish, Robert Pollock, Ruth Rendell