Category Archives: Ruth Rendell

There is Good and Bad in Everyone*

DualNatureThere’s an old Cherokee story (you can read it here) in which a grandfather explains human nature to his grandson. He portrays it as a battle between our own good and evil tendencies, and claims that the side that wins is, as he puts it, ‘the one you feed.’

There’s a lot to that perspective if you think about it. We can look at human nature and good and evil from several points of view (philosophical, religious, anthropological, etc.). But, I’m not a philosopher, a member of the clergy, or an anthropologist. And besides, it’s a very large topic, and this is a very small blog. But even keeping the focus on crime fiction, we see plenty of examples of characters who ‘feed’ their ‘better angels’ as well as those who do just the opposite. In both cases, there are consequences.

G.K. Chesterton’s Hercule Flambeau begins as a notorious thief. In fact, in the short story The Blue Cross, we learn that he has gone from France to England, and is on his way to steal a valuable religious artifact. Flambeau has bested many people, including the French police. But Father Brown proves to be more than a match for him. Flambeau then chooses to ‘feed’ the better side of his nature. He gives up his larcenous career and becomes a private investigator. He doesn’t start going to religious services, and he enjoys a good wine as much as the next person. It’s not those outer trappings of what some people think of as ‘morality’ that change. Rather, it’s his decision to nurture the ethical side of his nature.

We see that sort of conversation and struggle in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, too. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Among the other hotel guests are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall; her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall; and Marshall’s teenaged daughter Linda. It’s soon hotel gossip that Arlena is having a not-very-well-hidden affair with another guest, Patrick Redfern. So, when she is found murdered one day, her husband Kenneth comes under suspicion. He has a solid alibi, though, so Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. One of the people they talk to is Linda Marshall. As it turns out, she hated her stepmother, and cannot be ruled out as the killer. At one point, she and Poirot have an interesting conversation about the difference between the urge to kill someone and actually going through with the act. That conversation, and one other one, suggests that, while Poirot is not naïve about the existence of evil, he does believe that people can choose to ‘feed’ their better natures, too. I see you, fans of Death on the Nile.

In Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, we are introduced to fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. He’s finally managed to escape his abusive father, Joe. But Adam has been kept locked away for many years, so he has little knowledge of the world and no good skills to survive in it. Fortunately, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who’s at the house when Adam makes his escape, and who becomes his ally. The two spend the next week together, and Billy provides Adam with a great deal of ‘street knowledge,’ as well as basics like a place to stay, clothes, and food. As they spend time together, the two also become friends, and begin to confide in each other. It turns out that both of them are haunted by the past, and by their connections to the tragic disappearance of a small boy from a crowded market ten years earlier. As the story evolves, both Adam and Billy learn something about ‘feeding one’s better nature,’ and about starting over, if I can put it that way.

Of course, people sometimes ‘feed’ their worse – even evil – side as well. After all, where would crime fiction be if they didn’t? And when they do, the result can be disastrous.

In Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair, we are introduced to Gilbert Hand, who works for a publishing firm. He’s recently moved to a very respectable London hotel, where he’s hoping to start over after the tragic death of his wife. Shortly after his arrival, he makes a bizarre discovery: in the davenport in his room, he finds a long coil of dark hair, wrapped in a scarf. Hand gets curious about the room’s former occupant and soon learns that it was man named Freddie Doyle. Now he’s even more curious, especially when Doyle pays him a visit to ask for the coil of hair (which request Hand refuses). Little by little, Hand becomes obsessed with Doyle, at the same repulsed and fascinated by him. He imagines a sort of ‘chess game’ between them. As his obsession grows, Hand starts to ‘feed’ his darker side, and the result leads to real tragedy.

A similar thing happens in Ruth Rendell’s 13 Steps Down. Mix Cellini takes a flat in a home owned by Gwendolyn Chawcer. They don’t really like each other, but it’s a business arrangement; and on that level, it works. Through his profession (he repairs exercise equipment), Cellini meets supermodel Merissa Nash. He’s immediately smitten, and soon goes beyond that to obsession. At the same time, he learns about the life of notorious killer Richard Christie. The more he reads, the more obsessed Cellini becomes with Christie, too. Little by little, he starts to ‘feed’ his darker side, and the end result, as you’d expect, is disastrous.

It does in Megan Abbott’s Bury Me Deep, too. Dr. Everett Seeley has lost his medical license due to his drug problems. He decides to go to Mexico to start over; but until he gets settled, he doesn’t want to bring his wife Marion with him. So he establishes her in a Phoenix apartment, and sets her up with a job as a file clerk in the exclusive Werden Clinic. At first, all goes well enough. Marion even makes two friends: Louise Mercer (a nurse at the clinic) and Louise’s roommate Ginny Hoyt. It’s not long before Marion starts spending more time with them, and getting more and more involved in their edgy, even dangerous, lifestyle of wild parties, drugs and drinking. As time goes on, Marion begins to ‘feed’ her own darker and more dangerous side. The end result is an awful tragedy that impacts everyone involved.

Oh, and speaking of Abbotts, you’ll also want to check out Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel as a really interesting example of making choices between which side of our nature we ‘feed.’ Eve Moran has always nurtured her selfish side, letting nothing – not even someone’s life – get in the way of what she wants. Her daughter Christine’s been brought up with this influence, and has been caught in her mother’s web, so their relationship is truly dysfunctional. But everything changes when Christine sees that her little brother Ryan is at risk. Now she’s going to have to find a way to free herself and her brother from their mother’s influence.

And that’s the thing about human nature. People generally aren’t all good or all bad. The choices we make – the side of our nature that we ‘feed’ – plays a major role in what we do. And those choices can have far-reaching consequences.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, G.K. Chesterton, Honey Brown, Megan Abbott, Patricia Abbott, Ruth Rendell

I Was Thinking That Maybe I’d Get a Maid*

Domestic WorkersOne of the interesting things about social class is the way the different classes depend on one another. When you read Golden Age crime fiction, for instance, you might think at first that members of the domestic staff depend utterly on the whims of their employers. And it’s true that even today, it’s in the interest of your cleaning person, your au pair/nanny, or your landscaper to do a good job. That’s how those people earn their money, your references for future employment, and so on.

But the relationship works the other way as well. That’s particularly true for domestic staff who are very good at their jobs. A quick look at crime fiction is all it takes to show just how dependent members of the ‘better class’ have been on the people who work for them.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), we are introduced to professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow. She is at the top of her profession and, quite frankly, could have her pick of any number of well-paid situations with whatever benefits she asked. That’s how good at her job she is. But Lucy likes keeping her own schedule, and she likes some variety in her work. So she picks and chooses among the many people who want to hire her while their housekeeper is away, or sick, or there’s a large house party coming, or… Lucy is intrigued when her friend Miss Marple makes her an interesting proposition. Miss Marple’s friend Elspeth McGillicuddy witnessed a murder, and there is a good possibility that the body may be on the property of Rutherford Hall, which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. Miss Marple wants Lucy to do some sleuthing under the guise of working for the Crackenthropes as a temporary housekeeper during the Christmas season. Lucy agrees, and, of course, has no trouble getting a position at Rutherford Hall. It’s soon very clear to everyone that Lucy knows her way around a household, and everyone is soon very much under her spell. As it turns out, there is, indeed, a body on the property, and Miss Marple works with the police to find out the truth about who the victim was and how the body ended up at the Crackenthorpe home. Although that’s the major plot thread of the novel, it’s also interesting to see how very dependent the Crackenthropes are on someone who is supposed to be their social inferior and employee. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Hollow.

We see a very similar dynamic in the relationship between Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/servant Mervyn Bunter. Wimsey, of course, has the title and the money. He is Bunter’s employer and, technically, his social superior. But the reality is that he depends very much on Bunter, and he knows it. Bunter may not be the one paying the bills, but he has his own way of exercising power when he needs to, and Wimsey pays heed.

There’s a disastrous example of how easy it is to take domestic staff for granted in Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. The Coverdale family (George, his wife Jacqueline, his daughter Melinda, and Jacqueline’s son Giles) are well off and well educated. They’re not consciously snobby, but they certainly take certain things for granted. And when they decide to hire a housekeeper, they assume that they’re going to be the ones ‘in charge.’ That’s arguably a bit of the reason why they don’t do much of a check on their prospective housekeeper, Eunice Parchman. After all, as long as she does the job, it doesn’t matter, does it? As it turns out, that’s a fatal mistake. Eunice is keeping a secret, and she is determined to do anything to prevent her employers from finding out. When her secret is revealed, the results are tragic. As the plot unfolds, we see, too, how much power Eunice actually has in the Coverdale household. It’s subtle, but real.

Barbara Neely’s sleuth, Blanche White, could tell you all about how much power domestic staff members have. She’s a black professional housekeeper who, for most of the series, works for Southern (usually, but not always, white) employers. So on the one hand, she knows that her employers have a lot more social power than she does. She can get fired on a whim, with no chance of getting hired by anyone else in the same social circles. But she does have her share of power – more than most of her employers want to admit. For one thing, because she’s often not thought of as a person in her own right, she can ‘fade into the background.’ And that means she often finds out all sorts of secrets. Her employers know that subconsciously, and sometimes they are intimidated by it. What’s more, she has her methods of getting the household to run the way she wants it to run, without seeming to do so. She hears all of the local gossip, too, and makes use of it.

And then there’s Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders. Hilla Driver has inherited a beautiful seaside villa in Mumbai, and decides to host a weekend house party, in part to celebrate her niece Ramona’s eighteenth birthday. She’s invited a group of celebrities, including a dancer, an author, a food critic, a doctor and his wife, and an actress/model. Also invited are Hilla’s friend Lalli, a former police officer who’s still consulted regularly; and Lalli’s niece.  With such disparate personalities, there’s bound to be conflict, so Hilla is hoping for the best. The one person she’s going to utterly depend on this weekend will be her cook, Tarok Ghosh. It’s to be a ‘foodie’ weekend, and everything will have to be just right. One night, there’s a formal, seven-course dinner at which it comes out that Tarok seems to know secrets about several of the guests. So when he is found murdered the next day, Lalli isn’t completely shocked. She and her niece work together to find out which of the guests is the killer. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how, even though Tarok is an employee, his rule is law in some ways. He is certainly not someone who accepts being ordered around, and Hilla knows his importance too well to let that happen.

And that’s the thing about domestic staff. On the surface, it looks as though they’re at the whims of their employers. But if you look a little more closely, it’s not quite as uneven a balance of power as it seems.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Man Needs a Maid.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Dorothy Sayers, Kalpana Swaminathan, Ruth Rendell

Fastidious and Precise*

OCDMost of us would probably say that we like to keep things in some sort of order. Even people whose desks look like bombsites generally have a sense of where things are. But for some people, the urge to keep things orderly and neat goes much farther than what we’d call ‘normal.’

I’m not a clinical psychologist, so I’m not sophisticated about the most recent definition of and treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But for those who have it, neatness and routine are much more than just that ‘I really should clean up that desk!’ impulse, or the regular housework most people do. Those with OCD are hypersensitive to anything that’s out of order and, sometimes, to any change in their routines. OCD can take different forms, and many argue that it’s a continuum. But it nearly always includes a need for order and cleanliness, and often for a strict routine.

There’s an argument that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would very likely be diagnosed with OCD if he were a contemporary character. Fans will tell you that he’s obsessed with neatness and tidiness, both in dress and in his surroundings. In fact, sculptor Henrietta Savernake mentions it in The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours). She’s a ‘person of interest’ in the shooting death of Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow, so they have several conversations. At one point, she pays him a visit:
 

‘Poirot ushered her into his sitting room…
‘Nice,’ she said, ‘two of everything. How you would hate my studio.’
‘Why should I hate it?’
‘Oh, a lot of clay sticking to things – and here and there just one thing that I happen to like and which would be ruined of there were two of them.’’
 

Poirot’s obsession may be annoying at times, but in more than one case (no spoilers!) it gives him vital clues.

In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we are introduced to fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. His clinical diagnosis is autism, which carries with it a similar obsession with routine and order. He depends on a very specific schedule, and his possessions have to be kept in a certain way. He’s also very particular about the way his food is presented. One day, he discovers the body of the dog that lives next door. He’s suspected of being responsible, but knows that he’s not guilty. So he decides to be a detective like Sherlock Holmes, and find out what really happened. As he does, he finds out some surprising things about himself.

There are other protagonists, too, who have OCD in one of its forms. For example, there’s Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Ian Drake. A member of the Wales Police Service, he’s based in the northern part of Wales. Drake is a skilled police detective who is affected by OCD. He’s very sensitive to any hint of feeling dirty or sweaty. He washes his hands often, and keeps toothbrush and toothpaste in his desk drawer. In fact, he gets counselling for his symptoms to keep them manageable.

And of course, no discussion of OCD and similar disorders would be complete without a mention of television’s Adrian Monk, whose role is acted by Tony Shalhoub. Monk is a former homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department. Grief over the murder of his wife worsened his already-existing OCD symptoms, making it ultimately necessary to suspend him from the department. Now, he operates as a homicide consultant, with his ultimate goal being to return to regular police work. In this case, as in other cases of detectives who have OCD, it’s Monk’s very symptoms that often give him important clues.

Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me introduces readers to Minty Knox. As a result of the terrible 1999 train crash near London’s Paddington Station, she loses her lover Jock Lewis. It turns out that Jock was a good-looking but manipulative con artist, and that Minty isn’t the only victim. As her life intersects with the lives of two other women, we see how powerful psychological manipulation can be. Minty herself is fragile in many ways. She has an obsession with cleanliness that Rendell doesn’t specifically call OCD, but that certainly is reflective of that disorder. And she has an increasing difficulty with distinguishing between fantasy and reality

Sometimes, it’s the fictional criminal who has OCD. For instance, in Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman. In that novel, Chief Nico Sirsky, Head of the Paris CID La Crim’, is faced with a disturbing series of crimes. First, the body of Marie-Hélène Jory is discovered in her Paris home. The body has been mutilated, but very precisely. And everything else is particularly neat – not a thing is out of place. Then there’s another murder. And another. Among other things, this killer seems to focus on being neat, even making sure that slippers belonging to one of the victims are put very neatly in a specific place. It’s not spoiling the story to say that the killer’s penchant for tidiness is not the reason for the murders. But it’s a fact that the CID team has to deal with as they investigate.

Most of the time, we don’t think too much about combing our hair or washing our hands after using the restroom. But for some people, neatness, cleanliness and tidiness mean much more than that. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Killer Queen.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Frédérique Molay, Mark Haddon, Ruth Rendell, Stephen Puleston

I Really Need This Job*

InterviewsOne of the facts of life for most working adults is the job interview. Whether the job is bagging groceries, managing a warehouse, or performing cardiac surgery, getting it usually involves at least one interview. Sometimes there’s more than one interview, and sometimes, the interview process involves talking to several different people.

Interviews seldom go as planned. If I may share two personal examples, at one interview, I happened to have a terrible cold. At another, the interview ended just as a severe snowstorm moved in, and it was quite a harrowing trip back home. But even if the interview goes very well, it’s still a nerve-wracking experience. For the company or institution that’s hiring, it’s time-consuming and can be a real drain on resources. But that’s the way new people are usually hired.

Job interviews figure a lot in crime fiction, which shouldn’t be surprising, since they happen so often in real life. And that tension can add much to a crime novel’s plot or character development.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, for instance, Violet Hunter is interviewed by Jephro Rucastle for the position of governess to his six-year-old son. It’s an odd interview, as he asks her some unusual questions. In fact, she’s not sure she should take the job. But then, Rucastle raises the salary offer so much that she really can’t resist. So she visits Sherlock Holmes to ask his advice. Among other things, he tells her that if she ever needs him, all she has to do is contact him. It’s not long, either, before that’s exactly what happens. As it turns out, she’s been hired as a part of a larger plan, and she’s in very grave danger.

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) introduces readers to London hairstylist’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins some money in a sweepstakes, she decides to take a trip to Le Pinet. She’s on the flight back to England when one of the other passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find the murderer. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on that flight, so it’s a relatively small circle of suspects. Among them are famous archaeologist Armand Dupont and his son Jean. For various reasons, Poirot wants Jane to get to know the Duponts. He even manages to wangle a spot for her on an upcoming dig. She knows nothing about archaeology, but Poirot convinces the Duponts to at least consider her. Here’s what Poirot says to Jane about it:
 

‘‘By the way, I must obtain for you in the morning a handbook on prehistoric pottery of the Near East. I have said that you are passionately interested in the subject.’’
 

Later, he suggests this:
 

‘‘If M. Jean Dupont should ring up or call, be amiable to him. Talk of buttons and socks, but not as yet of prehistoric pottery. He admires you, but he is intelligent!’’
 

It certainly makes for an interesting job opportunity.

In Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary, we meet Glenn Hadlock. He’s a convicted felon who’s recently been released from prison, so his job chances are limited. But one day he sees an advertisement that interests him. Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Hadlock goes to the Scofield home on the appointed day, and waits with a group of other applicants. When he meets Scofield, he learns more about the family. Scofield himself is completely disabled and unable to leave his room. But, as he tells Hadlock, he doesn’t want that fact to restrict his wife unnecessarily. Hadlock gets the job, and at first, all is well. The pay is good, the working conditions excellent, and Eileen Scofield is pleasant company. But Hadlock soon learns that this job is going to be much more dangerous than he thought.

Megan Abbott’s Die a Little is the story of Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s always been very close to her brother, Bill, and protective of him. So when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, Lora isn’t too happy about it. But even she admits to herself that it’s probably because of her protectiveness. When Bill and Alice marry, Lora tries to be happy for them. But little by little, she begins to have some real questions about Alice. For example, Bill asks her to get an interview for Alice at the school where she teaches. He says that Alice has her teaching certificate, and could do the job. The school’s principal, Don Evans, is eager to replace a teacher who’s getting ready to leave, so he doesn’t do a thorough check. Before anyone knows it, Alice is working at the school. She doesn’t know anything, really, about teaching, and it turns out she’s lied about having her teaching certificate, too. As Lora learns more about Alice’s life, she is at the same time repulsed by it and drawn to it. Then there’s a murder, and Alice is very likely mixed up in it. It just shows you have to be careful whom you interview. Am I right, fans of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone?

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen’s Winemaker Detective series features noted oenologist Benjamin Cooker. In the first of this series, Treachery in Bordeaux, he is preparing to meet Virgile Lanssien, who wants a job as Cooker’s assistant. Here’s a little of how the interview goes:
 

‘Virgile Lanssien tried to hide his apprehension and answered as distinctly as possible the volley of questions that descended on him.’
 

Cooker isn’t unpleasant, but he does want to know just how much Lanssien understands about winemaking. The interview goes very well, and Lanssien is hired. He turns out to be very helpful, too, when Cooker is asked to find out who has sabotaged some of a fellow winemaker’s harvest.

And then there’s P.J. Parrish’s Dead of Winter. This story begins as Louis Kincaid travels to Loon Lake, Michigan for a job interview with the Loon Lake police force. To his surprise, Police Chief Brian Gibraltar hires him after a very short conversation. He’s given his assignment and he prepares to get to work. It’s not long before he learns the reason for which there was an opening on the police force. Just a few weeks earlier, Officer Thomas Pryce was killed in his home. Kincaid gets Gibraltar’s permission to look more deeply into the case, and he gets to work. Then, there’s another death, this time of a retired officer. Kincaid soon learns that several of the people involved are not telling everything they know. It turns out that this is much more than just someone who’s targeting police offers.

Job interviews can be successful, disastrous, funny, and a lot else. They have interesting dynamics, and there’s always a lot of tension around them. Little wonder we see so many of them in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*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, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Megan Abbott, Noël Balen, P.J. Parrish, Robert Colby, Ruth Rendell

And With This Cat, it’s Curiosity*

CuriosityI’ll bet you know the feeling. You’re walking by someone’s door and see a notice on it. What does the notice say? Or you see a piece of paper someone’s dropped. Only take a second to read it. Perhaps you’re visiting someone’s house and see a drawer half-opened. No harm in peeking in for just a second, right?

Of course, most of us wouldn’t dream of, say, opening someone’s handbag and going through it, or looking through someone’s computer files. But humans are curious by nature as a rule. So it’s perfectly understandable that we sometimes have the urge to just have a peek, even we don’t follow through on it.

That curiosity is a very common plot point in crime fiction for a number of reasons. One is that it’s realistic. People do get curious. Another is that it can be a very effective premise for a story. Whether it’s looking through a drawer, overhearing a conversation, or something else, curiosity is a very useful to set up a motive for murder.

Agatha Christie used that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive charwoman. Everyone thinks that her lodger, James Bentley, is responsible, but Superintendent Spence has begun to think otherwise; hence Poirot’s presence. It’s not long before Poirot discovers that,
 

‘‘Of course she snooped a bit. Had a look at one’s letters and all that.’’
 

That curiosity turned out to be fatal for Mrs. McGinty, when she found out something it wasn’t safe for her to know. I see you, fans of Hickory, Dickory Dock.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone is the story of the well-off and well-educated Coverdale family. George and Jacqueline Coverdale are in need of a housekeeper, and they quickly settle on Eunice Parchman. Unfortunately, Jacqueline hasn’t done the research she should, because Eunice is hiding a secret. Still, all goes well enough at first, and Eunice settles into her job. Then, George’s daughter Melinda happens to be home from university when she accidentally discovers Eunice’s secret. It’s not that she goes through handbags or drawers, but her curiosity helps her to put two and two together as the saying goes. And that spells disaster for the family.

In one plot thread of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Inspector John Rebus and his team investigate the death of Allan ‘Mitch’ Mitchison, an Aberdeen-based oil worker. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for him to have been murdered. But as Rebus traces the victim’s last days and weeks, he learns that Mitch had found out some secrets it wasn’t safe for him to know. And when powerful, wealthy people don’t want others to know things, they have ways of making their wishes known…

Chris Grabenstein’s Hell Hole is the story of the murder of Corporal Shareef Smith, who’s recently returned from service in Iraq. His body is discovered in the men’s room of a highway rest stop, apparently a successful suicide. But Sea Haven, New Jersey police officer Danny Boyle isn’t so sure, and he convinces his boss John Ceepak to ask some questions. Smith’s commanding officer wants the case solved quickly; in fact, he’d rather mete out ‘vigilante’ justice. But Ceepak convinces him to wait for 24 hours before taking matters into his own hands. Ceepak and Boyle’s search for the truth pit them against some very influential people who are determined to keep some secrets that Smith had found out.

In Martin EdwardsThe Serpent Pool, Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the case of the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. That death turns out to be connected to two more recent deaths. And all three turn out to be related to some work that Oxford historian Daniel Kind is doing on Thomas De Quincey. In one sub-plot of this novel, Scarlett is going through a rough patch with her partner, rare book dealer Marc Amos. Matters aren’t helped when she accidentally leaves her telephone at home one day. Amos can’t resist the opportunity to just have a peek at her texts, and sees one from Kind. That discovery doesn’t solve the murders, but it plays its role in what happens in the story.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Television star Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has been planning to leave TV behind and open an antiques business with her mother, Iris. Everything changes, though, when she gets a call from Iris. It seems that Iris has changed her mind about the business, and has abruptly moved to the village of Little Dipperton, Devon. She’s purchased the carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall, and plans to stay. Shocked at this news, Stanford goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken one of her hands in a car accident. So Stanford decides to stay and help out, at least until her mother can manage on her own again. In one plot thread of this novel, Stanford discovers a locked door in the cottage. Then, she finds the key to it:
 

‘I knew it was wrong, but I just had to find out what was behind that locked door.’
 

When she opens the door, Sanford discovers some things about her mother than she never knew. And what she learns gives her a whole new perspective on the mother she thought she knew.

And that’s the thing about just opening that door a crack, or having a quick look at that letter. You never know what you’ll find…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Little River Band’s Curiosity (Killed the Cat).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Chris Grabenstein, Hannah Dennison, Ian Rankin, Martin Edwards, Ruth Rendell