Category Archives: Ruth Rendell

A Brand New Book*

If you’re a bibliophile, or even simply love reading, it’s probably in part because you had access to books when you were young. There’s a great deal of research that suggests that a print-rich environment is associated with earlier literacy, more time spent reading, and so on. And there’s other research that suggests that cultivating a habit of reading is helpful on a lot of levels (not just academic). But I’ll bet you probably already knew or suspected all of that.

There are a lot of places where it’s so easy to get books that we don’t think very much about it. We may complain about the price of a book, or get annoyed if we’re far down on the ‘hold’ list at the library. But we do have easy access to books.

That’s not the case everywhere. Some people live remotely. There isn’t a nearby library or bookshop, and it’s harder than you think to get books delivered. Other people simply don’t have the money to buy books, and they don’t live near a library. Still others (mostly young people) simply don’t have good role models for reading, and don’t have access to books at home. They may be literate, but that doesn’t mean they can easily get books. And, there are those who are incarcerated, in hospital, in shelters and so on, places that may not have many books.

As this is posted, it’s World Book Night, a time to focus on making books available to people who might not otherwise get them. I’m always happy to talk about this issue, as I’m utterly convinced by the research that links reading to many, many benefits. And, besides, reading’s fun – why not share that fun?

To help celebrate World Book Night, I thought it might be fun to look at some crime-fictional cases of people who share books and the love of them with others. They’re out there in real life (and they’re heroes to me), and they pop up in the genre, too.

In Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo, for instance, we are introduced to Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham. She’s originally from the Lake District, but now lives and teaches in London. Higher education, especially for young academicians, doesn’t pay well. Trust me. So, Jane lives in an economically depressed former council block. One of the other people who live there is thirteen-year-old Tenille Cole. She has, to say the least, a disastrous home situation, and has befriended Gresham as a mentor. She shares Gresham’s love of poetry, and is extremely bright, but she has little access to books and other learning materials at home. Gresham lends her whatever she can, and is always happy to ‘talk books.’ That support means a lot to Tenille, who becomes quite devoted to her mentor. When Gresham learns that there may be an unpublished Wordsworth manuscript, she can’t resist the opportunity to try to find it. Such a discovery would make her career as a scholar. So, she travels to the Lake District, where the manuscript is said to be, to look for it. Unbeknownst to Gresham, Tenille has run away from home, and follows her mentor. And she turns out to be very helpful.

Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series features Israel Armstrong. Originally from London, Armstrong dreamed of a career as a professional librarian, perhaps even someday working for a prestigious university, or even the British Library. As a first step, he takes a job with the Tumdrum and District Library in Ireland. And, as he soon learns, it’s hardly the British Library. He’s engaged to drive the area’s bookmobile to a series of remote stops, and as the series goes on, he gradually gets to know the area and the people who live there. These may not be wealthy people, and they live in a very rural place. But they want access to books, and the municipality is obliged to provide it. So, Armstrong becomes that link.  And, over time, he learns to see his role as providing books to people who might not otherwise find it easy to get them.

Jaqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series begins just before World War I. As soon as Maisie is old enough, she begins work as a domestic in the home of Sir Julian and Lady Rowan Compton. At that time, domestic servants aren’t expected to be intellectual, to pursue education, and so on. In fact, plenty are not even literate. But it doesn’t take long for Lady Rowan to see that Maisie is very bright and intuitive. So, she arranges for Maisie to meet her friend Maurice Blanche, who is a doctor and psychologist. Together, Blanche and Lady Rowan mentor Maisie, sponsor her through her university studies, and prepare her for a professional adult career. Maisie spends World War I serving as a nurse at military field hospitals, but after the war, becomes a private investigator. And her success owes much to the access she’s had to books and ideas because of her mentors.

There are other examples, too, of characters who work to make books and reading available to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access. And the alternative – no access to reading – is tragic. In real life, it means not being able to keep up with current events, not having access to some of humankind’s great ideas, discoveries, and so on, and not being able to manage one’s life. Ruth Rendell shows a bit of what that’s like in A Judgement in Stone. As we learn about one of the main characters, Eunice Parchman, we discover that she doesn’t know how to read. She’s intelligent, but for several reasons, never learned. She is so cut off from everyone because she can’t learn what’s in books that it has tragic effects on her. And that, in turn, has disastrous effects on the family who hires her as their housekeeper.

On this World Book Night, I invite you to stop for a moment and think about how easy it is for you to access something to read. And then I invite you to do something to make it a little easier for others to have that same access. There are a lot of individuals and agencies that work hard to make books an everyday reality for people who wouldn’t otherwise get them. You can check some of them out on the ‘Literacy’ tab right here on my site. Or, feel free to ask me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) if you’d like ideas.

 

‘Books are a uniquely portable magic.’ – Stephen King

‘Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.’ – Malala Yousafzai

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Graham Parker.

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Filed under Ian Sansom, Jacqueline Winspear, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid

I Went Down to the Demonstration*

Lots of us want to see change in the world, or at least in our part of it. Many of us vote for what we want. Others get involved in some sort of activism, whether it’s protesting, a letter campaign, or something else. Still other people are even more deeply involved in activism.

Activists can make quite a difference in the real world, and they can be very interesting fictional characters. They’re often passionate, and the author can use such characters as protagonists or antagonists, depending on where the story is going. And there’s often suspense when there’s a conflict between activists and those against whom they protest.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we are introduced to Harold Raikes. He wants major societal changes, and protests people and institutions he feels hold back progress. One of his targets, if you will, is powerful banker Alistair Blunt. Blunt has conservative views about government and finance, and believes in careful, prudent steps and slow decision-making. To Raikes, he represents all that is wrong with the current British system of things. One day, Blunt finally gives in to the pain of a toothache and goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley. When Morley is shot in his surgery, the police and the Home Office believe that this was really an attempt on Blunt (after all, he’s certainly made plenty of enemies). And Raikes comes in for his share of suspicion, since he was in the building at the time of Morley’s murder. Hercule Poior was also a patient of the victim’s, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed Morley.

In Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope, we are introduced to Riel Delorme, a Regina-based Métis activist. Delorme has his own issues to deal with, but he is committed to bettering the lives of the people who live in Regina’s North Central district. When a development company proposes a project in North Central, Riel is one of the leaders of the opposition to it. He believes the project will disenfranchise the people who live in that area, and will force them out of their homes. So, when one of the development company’s employees is murdered, Delorme is a very likely suspect. Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in the case for two reasons. First, her husband is the attorney who represents the development company. Second, her daughter, Mieka, is romantically involved with Delorme. In this case, the investigation strikes quite close to home.

Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage features activists from several groups who converge on the town of Kingsmarkham when a new road is announced. The road will run through Framhurst Great Wood, and plenty of people are strongly opposed to it. That includes Inspector Reg Wexford’s wife, Dora. Wexford is hoping that the protests and activism won’t get out of control, but that’s not to be. First, a group of hostages – including Dora – is taken. Then, there’s a murder. The stakes get very high as Wexford and his team have to solve the murder and try to get the hostages free without a bloodbath.

Eco-activist Samuel Spender finds out just how dangerous activism can be in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move.  A development company has put up new suburban housing in a community called Valley Forest Estates. Spender and his group are very much against the development, and have been proverbial thorns in the company’s side. One day, Spender goes to the company’s sales office, and has a loud argument with one of the executives. Witnessing that argument is science-fiction writer Zack Walker, who moved his family to the community for greater safety and security. When Walker finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek later that day, he learns just how unsafe and unsecure a suburb can be…

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts introduces his sleuth, PI Jack Irish. Irish is also a sometime-lawyer. One day, one of his former clients, Danny McKillop calls, asking to meet him as soon as possible. Irish doesn’t get around to it right away, and by the time he does, McKillop is dead. As it is, Irish felt guilty about McKillop’s case; he didn’t do a good job of defending his client against a hit-and-run murder charge. Now he feels even more guilty. So he starts to look into the case. McKillop had originally been convicted of killing Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson. But, the more deeply Irish looks into the case, the more he suspects that his former client was framed, and that Jeppeson was killed by someone who wanted to shut her up.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass Darkly, we meet Venice activist Marco Ribetti. He and his group are convinced that the local glass-blowing factories are major polluters, and very dangerous for the environment. So, one day, Ribetti and his group stage a protest in front of a factory owned by his own father-in-law, Giovanni de Cal. Ribetti is arrested and jailed. Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is a friend of Ribetti’s, so Ribetti asks him for help. Vianello agrees and asks his boss, Commissario Guido Brunetti, for support. Together, the two arrange for Ribetti’s release. Not long afterwards, Giorgio Tassini, who works as night watchman at de Cal’s factory, dies in what looks like a terrible accident. But, when Brunetti learns that Tassini, too, was convinced the factories pollute the environment, he begins to wonder whether it was an accident.

And then there’s legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan, whom we meet in Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. He’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been monitoring a company called Vestco, which claims to have created a seed coating that will increase world food production by a substantial factor. Millbrook doubts both the company’s claims and the safety of the seed coating, but hasn’t been able to prevent its release. Now, with nine days to go, the foundation has decided not to fight the release any longer. Duggan decides to leave the foundation and return to his native New Zealand, and invites two colleagues to join him for a visit before they return to work. All three leave on their flight, with no idea that a Vestco employee has just been murdered. When they land in Auckland, they learn about the death. They also learn that they’ve been framed for it, and have become international fugitives. Now, they have to find out who the killer really is, and avoid the police if they can. There’s also the matter of stopping the release of the seed coating, which is imminent.

Activism is an important part of what makes our society look at itself and, hopefully, reflect and improve. And activists are involved in a number of different causes. They are important in real life, and they make interesting fictional characters.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey Robert, Linwood Barclay, Peter Temple, Ruth Rendell

I Can’t Do My Homework Anymore*

It’s Sunday as this is posted, a day when young people everywhere are scrambling to finish up those school assignments before they have to be turned in on Monday. It can be a frantic time, especially for students who – ahem – don’t feel the need to rush into things without reflection. It’s all got me thinking about school assignments.

Most school assignments, at any level, are fairly straightforward, if not exactly benign. Students are expected to do activities, write things, create things, and so on. If the assignments are engaging and relevant, they can serve student understanding and growth. If not, they can end up being a major bone of contention at home and at school.

You might not have thought about it (I know I didn’t until I started reflecting on it), but schoolwork does play a role in crime fiction. And that makes sense, if you think about it. After all, you never do know what a student may turn up in the course of doing research.

For instance, in Ellery Queen’s The Adventure of the African Traveler, Queen has agreed to teach a master’s degree course in applied criminology. Of the many who applied to take the course, only two have been selected. A third is the daughter of the professor who persuaded Queen to teach the class, so she’s been admitted, too. Queen takes seriously the term ‘applied,’ and takes the group to the scene of a murder. The victim, Oliver Spargo, was a representative for a large exporting company. After a year in Africa, he’d recently returned, and was staying at the Fenwick Hotel when he was bludgeoned to death. Queen makes the case a sort of laboratory for the students, and each of them tries to use the clues to work out who the killer is. This one may not be regarded as Queen’s best, but it’s certainly an interesting take on coursework…

In Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, we are introduced to Melinda Coverdale. A university student, she is the daughter of wealthy and successful George Coverdale, and step-daughter to his wife, Jacqueline. When the Coverdales decide to hire a new housekeeper, Melinda doesn’t think too much about it; she’s quite busy, as university students are, with her own life. But Eunice Parchman isn’t like other housekeepers. She has a secret – one she is terrified will get out. Unbeknownst to Eunice, Melinda’s done some work in school that allows her to find out more than she should know. And when she comes home for a visit, the result is tragic.

In one plot thread of Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo, Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham learns that an unidentified body has been pulled from a bog not far from her home village in the Lake District. There is evidence that the body could very well be that of Fletcher Christian. If it is, it means that he didn’t die on Pitcairn Island, as had always been assumed. And, if he made it back to the Lake District, what would be more natural than that he should contact his close friend, Wordsworth? And if that happened, it would only make sense that Wordsworth would have written something about Christian’s adventures. This logic tallies with the stories Gresham’s heard about an unpublished manuscript. Finding such a treasure would make her academic career, so Gresham immediately travels to her home town and starts trying to track down the manuscript, if it exists. Oddly enough, she gets some very valuable assistance from an assignment that her schoolteacher brother, Matthew, has given to his class, and one student’s response to it. Jane follows all of the leads, but the closer she gets to the truth about the manuscript, the more danger there is. And a strange series of deaths seems to follow along…

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring concerns the murder of Reed Gallagher, whose body is discovered in a seedy hotel room. Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn, is a university colleague of Gallagher’s, and acquainted with his widow. So, it’s not long before she’s involved in the murder investigation. Not long after Gallagher’s murder, journalism student Kellee Savage goes missing after an argument at a bar. Kellee is a also student in one of Kilbourn’s classes, so this deepens her involvement in the case. It turns out that Gallagher’s death and Kellee Savage’s disappearance are related. And part of it has to do with Kellee’s work as a journalism student.

A school assignment turns out to have major implications for three families in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. This story’s focus is Piriwee Public School, on the Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney, where a tragedy occurs on a much-anticipated Trivia Night, which is supposed to be a fundraiser. The novel follows the lives of three families, all of whom have children enrolled in the school. One family consists of Madeline Mackenzie, her second husband Ed, and their children Fred and Chloe. There’s also Madeline’s daughter, Abigail, whose father, Nathan, has recently remarried. Another family is the White family: Perry, his wife Celeste, and their twin sons Max and Josh. The third is Jane Chapman and her son, Ziggy. As the story unfolds, we learn how these families interconnect when Ziggy is accused of bullying – an accusation he denies, but doesn’t protest. That accusation, and some other conflicts, touch off a series of incidents that lead to the tragedy. In one plot thread, the Kindergarten teacher assigns her students to create a family tree. It seems a simple enough assignment, but it isn’t. Ziggy doesn’t know who his father is, and his mother says she doesn’t, either. In Madeline’s family’s case, the assignment is complicated by the fact that Abigail has a different father to Fred and Chloe, and that creates difficulties for Madeline. And Celeste has her own issues with the assignment. It’s not the reason for the tragedy, but it shows how complex even a simple school project can be.

And that’s the thing about schoolwork. One never knows where it’ll lead. Perhaps it’s little wonder so many people leave it to the last moment to complete their homework.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fleetwood Mac’s Homework.

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Filed under Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen, Liane Moriarty, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid

Living in a World of Make-Believe*

Have you ever known people who lived very much in what we sometimes call a world of their own? Sometimes, it seems as though people like that have lost touch with reality, even if they can function in the actual world.

In some cases, that disconnect is because of a mental health problem. In some cases, it has other bases. Either way, characters like that can add an interesting touch to a crime novel. Is the character really as ‘out of touch’ as it seems? Is the character hiding something sinister? Characters who live in a world of their own can add a particularly interesting layer to a psychological thriller, too, and there are a lot of examples of that. Here are just a few examples from thrillers and crime fiction to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, for instance, we are introduced to the Boynton family. They’re taking a tour of the Middle East – their first visit outside their home in America. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is unpleasant, malicious and controlling. In fact, she has her family so much under her control that no-one dares do anything without her approval. When she is murdered on the second day of the family’s trip to the ancient city of Petra, Hercule Poirot (who is in the area) investigates. He soon discovers that every member of the family had a good motive for murder. One of those members is seventeen-year-old Ginevra Boynton. Of all of the family, she’s the one who seems to be suffering most from her mother’s influence. She has a very tenuous connection with reality, and doesn’t always seem lucid. Yet, she is very sure of what she does believe. Without spoiling the story, I can also say that she is not as ‘out of touch’ as it seems.

In Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, Queen is staying in a rented house in the Hollywood Hills. He’s there for some peace and quiet – and some writing. Everything changes when nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill asks him for help. Her father, Leander Hill, has recently died of a heart attack, and Laurel is convinced that it was brought on deliberately. Queen’s reluctant to investigate at first. But Lauren tells him that, just before his death, her father received a series of macabre ‘gifts’ that she thinks were a message to him. What’s more, Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving ‘gifts.’ The puzzle is irresistible for Queen, so he starts asking questions. And one of the people he meets is Priam’s stepson, Crowe ‘Mac’ McGowan. Mac doesn’t live with his mother and stepfather; rather, he lives in a tree. He wears as little as possible – frequently nothing at all. And, in the world he lives in, there’s about to be a nuclear blast, so everyone has to get ready for life after ‘The Bomb.’ He may seem eccentric – even mentally ill. But to Mac, the way he lives makes perfect sense.

As Barbara Vine, Ruth Rendell introduces us to the Cosway family in The Minotaur. Swedish nurse Kerstin Kvist accepts a job with the Cosways who live in an old, Victorian home called Lydstep Old Hall. Her role will be to care for 39-year-old John Cosway, who is said to be schizophrenic. Soon after settling in, Kvist begins to see that this family is not a typical family (if there even is such a thing). For one thing, Mrs. Cosway, the family matriarch, insists that Kvist’s patient be kept under heavy sedation – something Kvist isn’t sure is necessary. For another, the entire family lives and behaves as though it’s still the Victorian Era. They seem to live in a world of their own in that sense. Kvist decides that she’ll have to take some action with regard to her patient. So, without informing anyone, she begins to withhold his medication. That decision has tragic consequences for several people. Throughout the novel, we see how the Cosways have their own, insular little world, quite apart from the real world. I know, fans of 13 Steps Down

So do the Blackwoods, whom we meet in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story is narrated by eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood, who very much lives in her own world, and seems quite out of touch with reality at times. For her, any little action can be an omen, and she has several rituals that make sense to her, but aren’t at all connected with reality. We soon find out that her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian, have their own psychological issues. All of them live in a rather isolated house near a small Vermont village. And it’s not long before we learn that a tragedy took place there six years earlier. As the story goes on, we find out what that tragedy was, and we learn some dark truths about the family and the village. One of the plot threads in the story is the disconnect between the members of the family and what most people would call reality.

And then there’s Teresa Solana’s A Shortcut to Paradise. In that novel, noted Catalán novelist Marina Dolç has just received the very prestigious Golden Apple Fiction Award. There’s a glittering event to celebrate the award, and, of course, Dolç attends. After the event, she returns to her hotel room, where she is brutally murdered. Her top rival, Amadeu Cabestany, is the most likely suspect. In fact, he’s arrested for the crime. But he says he’s innocent. Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez, get involved in the investigation when Borja claims they’ve been hired to find the killer. As they look for the real murderer, they find that more than one person could have wanted the victim dead. And when they get to the truth, we learn that Dolç was killed because someone lived in a separate world, so to speak, not very connected with reality.

Sometimes living in a world of one’s own can bring on real surges of creativity. Ask any writer and you’ll find that imagination plays a big role in writing. But sometimes, the price of not being connected with the real world is very high…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan O’Day’s Angie Baby.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Ellery Queen, Ruth Rendell, Shirley Jackson, Teresa Solana

Changing Times, Changing Rules*

changing-rulesSocial and other changes often mean different roles for just about everyone. In some ways, that can be very liberating. But it also means that the rules people had always lived by no longer apply in the same way as before. As much as that frees people up, it can also cause awkwardness and uncertainty. When two people go out on a date, who asks for the date? And who pays? What clothes are appropriate for a given event? And what about rules for written communication in this world of texting and email? These are just a few examples of the sorts of questions that used to have very easy answers. Not in today’s world.

All of this can cause anxiety, even as it means that we are evolving as a society. And that anxiety can add some interesting tension to a novel. For a crime novel, the uncertainty as rules change can add interesting background. It can sometimes add a layer of character development, too.

There’s an interesting discussion about social ‘rules’ in Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts). Famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright hosts a cocktail party, to which he’s invited several guests, including some ‘locals.’ One of those guests is the village vicar, Reverend Stephen Babbington. When Babbington suddenly collapses and dies, it’s soon established that he was poisoned with pure nicotine. Hercule Poirot is one of the party guests, and he works to find out who the killer is. Then there’s another death, also from nicotine poisoning. This time, the victim is noted specialist Sir Bartholomew Strange. As you can imagine, all of the people who were at both events are suspects, or at least ‘people of interest.’ That group includes Hermione ‘Egg’ Lytton Gore. In one plot thread of the novel, we learn that Egg is romantically interested in Sir Charles. Partly for that reason, she wants a hand in investigating the murder. For her Victorian-Era mother, Lady Mary, it’s bad enough that Egg’s chosen to get mixed up in a murder. But the fact that Egg’s finding ways to flirt with Sir Charles is of even more concern. In Lady Mary’s day, ‘proper’ young ladies simply did not do such things. Egg’s interest in Sir Charles isn’t the reason for the murders. But it adds a layer of interest, and a look at the changing landscape of the world of dating.

The social rules that govern dating have changed a great deal over the years, especially in the last fifty years or so. Before that, there were major changes during the 1920s, as automobiles became popular (so that couples could go somewhere, rather than ‘court’ in someone’s drawing room). And, as women’s social roles changed, so did the rules that they were ‘supposed to’ follow. For instance, it became more common for women to smoke during the 1920s, to go out without a chaperone, and so on. We see this reflected in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, which takes place during those years. For more on the social changes of that decade, let me also suggest you visit The Old Shelter, the terrific blog of author Sarah Zama, who’s an expert on that era. There’s a really interesting post there on dating during the ‘20s, that explains it all better than I could.

It’s not just rules about romantic relationships that change, though. In the last fifty years, there’ve been major social changes with respect to race. Ruth Rendell takes a look at that issue in Simisola. In one plot thread of that novel, Inspector Reg Wexford and his team are searching for a missing young woman, Melanie Akande. At one point, they think they’ve found her when the body of a young black woman is found in a nearby woods. But it turns out that this is another woman. Now, along with two cases to solve, Wexford has to confront his own assumptions about race. And at one point, he has an interesting conversation with his second-in-command, Mike Burden, about how to refer to black people. On the one hand, the pejoratives people used in the past are no longer acceptable. On the other, to say absolutely nothing about race, not to notice that race exists, does nothing to overcome racism. It’s really not an easy issue, and Wexford doesn’t resolve it in the novel. It really is a question of, ‘what do you do when the thing you’ve always done isn’t done anymore?’

We see that also in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a crime novel, although there is a crime in it. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch returns to her home town, Maycomb, Alabama, for a visit. During her stay, one of Maycomb’s residents, old Mr. Healy, is struck and killed by a car. This death strikes close to the Finch family; the driver is a young man named Frank, grandson of the Finches’ long-time maid/cook, Calpurnia. Since the victim was white, and the driver black, the case is racially charged. Jean Louise’s father, Atticus, takes Frank’s case, and plans to defend him in court. The case is set against backdrop of a South that’s changing in many ways. And there are plenty of people who find those changes very difficult to accept. It’s not always because they are actively, consciously racist. Rather, it’s because the rules they’ve always lived by don’t apply any more. The place they’ve always known isn’t what it was, and among other things, this causes a lot of anxiety.

We see just a bit of that in Walter Mosley’s Little Green, too. In that novel, Los Angeles-based PI Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins is persuaded to go in search of a black man nicknamed Little Green. This is 1967 Lost Angeles, and the rules about interactions between men and women, and between blacks and whites, have changed dramatically. In fact, one of the people Rawlins hopes may help him is a young white woman named Coco. He makes arrangements to meet her at a restaurant, and the two eat together. That, in itself, represents a major shift in the rules that governed the relations between blacks and whites, at least in the US. When those rules no longer apply, this causes a little awkwardness, at least on Rawlins’ part.

There are many, many other examples of rules that simply don’t apply. Rules for what women and men ‘are supposed to’ do, rules for interactions among people, and even rules for dress, communication, and activities, have all changed as society has evolved. And that means people have more options than ever. That’s very liberating, but it can also cause awkwardness and tension. And that can add an interesting layer to a novel.

 

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Notice that the car’s left-turn indicator light is on? I was testing it after I’d removed the light housing panel on the back of the car, opened up the light bulb panel, and changed a burned-out bulb. The rules about what women and men are ‘supposed to’ do have certainly changed, even within my adulthood. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I broke a nail bolting that panel back into place, and I want to fix it before I start cooking dinner… 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chris Rae’s Changing Rules.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Harper Lee, Kerry Greenwood, Ruth Rendell, Walter Mosley