Category Archives: S.J. Rozan

If I Were Truly to Be Myself, I Would Break My Family’s Heart*

Many families have what you might call a family culture. Members are a part of that culture, and live by its values. Sometimes, though, a family member decides not to be a part of the family culture – to be a nonconformist. That can be difficult, since that can cause a rift in a family. But it can add richness to a group, too.

That plot point – the family ‘oddball,’ if you will – can add to a story, as well. There are all sorts of possibilities there for conflict, for a ‘whodunit’ plot, and so on. And there are plenty of examples in crime fiction. Here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder For Christmas and A Holiday For Murder) we are introduced to the Lee family. Patriarch Simeon Lee is both malicious and tyrannical, so no-one in the family enjoys his company. Still, he is also very wealthy, and has a strong personality. So, when he invites his children and their spouses to spend Christmas at the family home, Gorston Hall, no-one refuses the invitation. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is in the area, spending the holiday with a friend, so he works with Superintendent Sugden to find out who the killer is. As he does, he gets to know the various members of the Lee family. One of them is David Lee, who’s an artist. In many ways, he’s a family nonconformist. He’s not in the family business, like his brother Alfred; and he’s not in a ‘respectable’ line of work, like his brother George, who’s an MP. He doesn’t even physically resemble his siblings, really. And his father makes it clear that he has little but contempt for David. All of this definitely makes David a ‘person of interest’ in the novel.

Leonardo Padura’s Havana Red features Havana police detective Mario Conde. It takes place in 1989, during the full heat of a Caribbean summer. Conde’s been in ‘exile’ in the police bureaucracy; but his boss, Major Antonio Rangel, gives him a reprieve when a delicate murder case comes up. The body of a young man dressed in a woman’s red dress has been discovered in Havana Park. The victim is soon identified as Alexis Arayán, son of powerful and well-connected diplomat Faustino Arayán. Because of Arayán’s position, this case will have to be handled very quietly and carefully. One possibility is that the victim committed suicide, and that’s not out of the question. At that time, and in that place, to be a homosexual (or even perceived as one) brings with it all sorts of awful social consequences. That’s especially true in a family like this one. There’s also the possibility that this was a murder – the hate crime that it seems on the surface. There are other leads, too. In the end, we learn who killed Alexis Arayán. As we do, we also learn about his life, and about what it’s like to be a nonconformist, especially in a high-profile family.

Larry Watson’s Montana 1948 is the story of the Hayden family. The Hayden name is very respected in Mercer County, Montana, and family patriarch Julian Hayden is proud of that. One of his sons, Frank, is a decorated World War II veteran, and the highly-esteemed local doctor. The other son, Wesley, is the local sheriff – also respected. With him live his wife, Gail, and his son, David. Everything changes for the Haydens during one terrible summer. Wesley’s housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, falls ill with pneumonia. She refuses to have Frank called in, and at first, won’t explain why. Then, she finally admits the reason. For years, Frank has been raping his female patients at the Fort Warren (Sioux) Reservation. No-one ever spoke out because the family is too powerful. Besides, who would believe the story? Then, Marie suddenly dies. At first, it looks like a sudden relapse, although she had been doing better. But there are also hints that it might have been murder. And Frank was seen near the house on the day of Marie’s death. Now, Wesley’s faced with a terrible set of choices. If Marie’s allegations are true, then his brother is a serial rapist. He may be a murderer, too. At the same time, this is Wesley’s brother, and a well-respected doctor. What’s more, Julian Hayden strongly supports Frank. Wesley has to decide whether to conform to the family culture, or arrest his brother. It’s an awful dilemma, and it changes the family permanently.

There are also plenty of fictional sleuths who don’t conform to their family’s culture, and that can present real challenges for them. For instance, there’s Geraldine Evans’ Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty of the Elmhurst CID in Essex. He’s from a large, working-class Irish family, most of whom have no use for the police. Several, in fact, are involved in somewhat dubious ‘enterprises’ that wouldn’t stand up under scrutiny. Rafferty knows quite well that he’s a nonconformist, and that does make life difficult for him at times:
 

‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’
 

Unfortunately for his family, he’s not ‘bent.’

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair is a member of a very wealthy, ‘blueblood’ New South Wales family. At the time the novels take place (the 1930s), the worldwide Great Depression is in full force, and millions of people are out of work or worse. Families like the Sinclairs, though, are more or less insulated from much of the financial upheaval. They’re aware of what’s going on, and they’re certainly not unaffected. But they are in a good position, and families like that want to keep it that way. Rowly’s brother, Wilfred, has that attitude, and tends to be conservative in his thinking. He’s also conscious of the family’s name and reputation. But Rowly doesn’t conform to that view. He’s got friends in all social categories, and with all sorts of political leanings. It sometimes makes for conflict between the brothers. But it also makes for an interesting dynamic.

There’s also S.J  Rozan’s Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by the name Lydia Chin. She’s an American-born Chinese PI, who lives and works in New York’s Chinatown. Her mother and siblings live more or less traditional Chinese lives, and their family culture reflects those values. So, as you can imagine, Chin’s mother would like her to find a Chinese husband, marry, and settle down, like a ‘proper’ daughter does. On the one hand, Chin does love and respect her mother, and she appreciates her Chinese culture. She shares some of the beliefs, too. But she is a nonconformist. She is in no rush to find a husband, and she really likes the PI work she does. It all makes for some tense moments, but that nonconformity also adds both to Chin’s character and to the layers of plot.

Characters who don’t conform to the family culture can bring all sorts of trouble on themselves. But they can also be really interesting. And that sort of dynamic can add much to a story or series.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Matthew Wilder and David Zippel’s Reflection. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Geraldine Evans, Larry Watson, Leonardo Padura, S.J. Rozan, Sulari Gentill

I Drank a Cup of Herbal Brew*

Many people prefer natural remedies when they’re ill, and natural solutions for well-being. So, they go to herbalists and herbal shops, rather than to regular pharmacies. In fact, those sorts of health care products are so popular that lots of pharmacies stock them as alternatives to other sorts of medicines.

Herbalism has a long history, too. For millennia, people relied on herbalists, because there weren’t antibiotics and other modern medicines. And even now that there are, people still use herbal remedies. So, it’s not surprising that herbalism and herbalists have found their way into crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of more than I ever could.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, we are introduced to Meredith Blake. As the older of two brothers, he inherited his family’s home and property. He had a real passion for herbs and herbalism, even dedicating a room to his special interest. He’d collected all sorts of information on the topic, too; and, although he wasn’t sought out for cures, he had a lot of background. Then, disaster struck. A long-time friend of the family, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon. And it turned out that the poison came from Meredith’s own supplies. He himself wasn’t accused of the murder, but has felt responsible since then. In fact, he shut up his room and stopped working with herbs and other plants. Crale’s wife, Caroline, was arrested, tried, and convicted in the matter, and died in prison a year later. There was plenty of evidence against her, and everyone assumed she was guilty.  Now, sixteen years later, the Crale case is being re-opened. Crale’s daughter, Carla, believes her mother was innocent, and wants her name cleared. She asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. To find out the truth, he interviews the five people (including Blake) who were on the scene at the time of the murder. From those interviews, and from written accounts that each person writes, Poirot finds out who really killed Amyas Crale, and why.

Fans of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael can tell you how important his skills as an herbalist are. He’s a 12th Century Benedictine monk who lives in the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury. A former soldier, he’s seen his fair share of life, and has traded it in, as they say, for the cowl. His specialty is herbs and other medicines, and he’s in charge of the abbey’s infirmary. In his line of work, he’s come to know a great deal about many different sorts of plants, and what they do. He uses them for healing, and he’s familiar with the effects of those that are poisonous. That background helps him in many of the mysteries he encounters.

Much of Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph takes place in the small town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James plan a trip there after Deborah meets the town’s vicar, Robin Sage, and is deeply impressed with him. By the time the couple get to the town, though, it’s too late. Sage has been killed. It seems that local herbalist Juliet Spence had invited Sage for a meal, and prepared a salad with water hemlock that she thought was wild parsnip. Since the food that she gave Sage was the last thing he was known to eat or drink, Spence is the most likely suspect. Simon St. James isn’t so sure it’s that simple, though, and asks his friend, Inspector Thomas Lynley, to investigate. One of the interesting things about this novel is the way that Juliet Spence is perceived because she is an herbalist. Not everyone is enthused about her interest…

Herbal and other natural approaches to healing and health are an important part of many African cultures. And plenty of people swear by the power of such medicines. For example, Kwei Quartey’s Darko Dawson series takes place in contemporary Ghana. Especially in urban areas such as Accra, people are familiar with, and make use of hospitals, modern antibiotics, and so on. But even those people also visit herbalists and makers of traditional remedies. In fact, Dawson’s own mother-in-law is a believer in herbalism, and takes her grandson (and Dawson’s son) to a traditional healer for a heart problem he has. And, as we learn in Wife of the Gods, this doesn’t exactly please Dawson, who is hoping to be able to afford the operation the boy needs. It’s an interesting look at the different perspectives on herbalism.

S.J.Rozan’s Lydia Chin is a Chinese-American PI who works in New York City’s Chinatown. On the one hand, she’s a 21st Century American, who lives a contemporary life. On the other, her family is traditionally Chinese, and her mother would like nothing better than for her to settle down, find a ‘proper’ Chinese husband and get married. That’s not the life that Chin wants, though. Still, she does respect her mother, and there are times when the traditional Chinese approach to healing is quite helpful. For instance, in China Trade, the first in this series, Chin is investigating a theft from a local art gallery. She knows that Mr. Gao, who owns the local apothecary, is ‘tuned in’ to all of the local gossip and knows everyone. His shop is popular, and he knows all of the traditional remedies, so he’s also quite well respected. And Chin finds that he’s a useful source of information. At one point in the novel, she’s injured (not life-threatening), and Mr. Gao sends over some herbal medicines. They work very well, and it’s an interesting look at how herbalists do their jobs.

And then there’s Miriam Kaplan, who goes by the name Meroe. She’s one of the regular characters in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. Meroe is Wiccan, and also has a thorough knowledge of herbs and natural remedies. She has a way, too, of responding calmly in an emergency, and that, too, is helpful when someone is ill. In more than one of the Corinna Chapman mysteries, Meroe shows her knowledge of herbs, and it proves very helpful.

Herbs and herbalists have been around for a very long time, and their expertise is valuable. There’s certainly an important place for modern antibiotics, surgery, and so on. But many people also believe in the healing power of herbs.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Spirit Voices.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Ellis Peters, Kerry Greenwood, Kwei Quartey, S.J. Rozan

Who Could Imagine I’d be Wandering So, Far From the Home I Love*

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how important it is for a lot of parents and other adults to pass on traditions. And it is. That’s how cultures are perpetuated, and many families see those traditions as legacies.

As always happens on this blog, the discussion was a lot more interesting than the post itself. And one of the topics that came up was: what about children who don’t choose to carry on those traditions? It’s a good question, and certainly it’s a plot point in a lot of crime fiction. That makes sense, too, since that choice can add interesting layers of character development (to say nothing of plot threads) to a story.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), for instance, we meet the members of the Abernethie family. As the novel begins, family patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died, and his family attends the funeral. Afterwards, they gather at the family home, Enderby, to hear the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, that suggestion is brushed aside. But when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems all too plausible. Mr. Entwhistle, the family attorney, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the case, and Poirot agrees. One of the main motives, of course, would be money, since Abernethie was a wealthy man. So, Mr. Entwhistle tries to find out the different family members’ financial situations. At one point, he has a conversation with Timothy Abernethie, brother of both victims. Here’s what Timothy has to say about the family:
 

‘‘Our father left us all a perfectly reasonable share of his money–that is, if we didn’t want to go into the family concern [a company that makes foot preparations]. I didn’t. I’ve a soul above corn-plasters, Entwhistle!’’
 

Timothy’s choice to break with the family company tradition means he and his wife, Maude, haven’t had as much access to the family fortune. It’s an interesting look at the later consequences of not staying in the family business.

S.J. Rozan’s Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by Lydia Chin, is a Chinese-American PI, based in New York City. Her family is very traditional, and her mother in particular would like her to settle down, marry a Chinese man, and raise a family, in the traditional Chinese way. But that’s not what Chin wants. For one thing, she hasn’t found a person she wants as a partner, and she would rather make that choice herself. For another, she likes what she does, although no-one in her family approves. She’s good at her job, too. Because she’s multilingual (mostly using English and Cantonese), she can work with a wide variety of clients. And she knows New York City very well. Breaking with family tradition isn’t always easy for Chin, but she’s almost always content with her choice.

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair is a member of a wealthy New South Wales family. At the time that this series takes place (the early/mid 1930s), the worldwide Great Depression is in full force, and millions of people are hard-hit.  Plenty of them want major changes in the government and economic systems; some even call for a revolution. The Sinclair family, now headed by Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred, is well-off and politically conservative. Rowly himself isn’t overly interested in politics, but he has plenty of friends on the left, even the far left. And he doesn’t really have a desire to take over the family businesses. Instead, he’s an artist, as are several of his friends. Wilfred doesn’t exactly approve of his brother’s lifestyle, companions, or choices, and he is concerned about the family reputation. Here’s what he says to Rowly about it in A Few Right Thinking Men:
 

‘‘Why can’t you just drink too much like everybody else’s wayward brother?’’
 

For his part, Rowly is mostly content with his choices. He can’t bring himself to agree with Wilfred on politics, and certainly won’t be lectured to about his life. The conflict sometimes leads to tension, and that adds to the plots in this series. It also adds to the characters.

Geraldine Evans’ Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty works with the Elmurst CID in Essex. He’s hardly perfect, but he’s good at what he does, and he likes police work. That career isn’t what his family would have liked, though. Rafferty comes from a large, Irish working-class family, some of whose members are involved in not-exactly-legal ‘enterprises.’
 

‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’
 

Rafferty’s career is tolerated, because it’s convenient to have a police officer in the family when you’re arrested. But in many ways, the family would prefer if he had a ‘regular’ sort of working-class job, ‘like everybody else.’

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel. When we first meet him, in The Half-Child, Patel is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop in the ‘Little India’ section of Bangkok. His family’s plan is for him to spend some time there, then return to his native India, marry someone of whom his family approves, and settle down there. But that’s not what Patel wants. His dream is to see some of the world, to explore. And he wants to start by seeing a great deal more of Thailand than just the small part of Bangkok where others from India live. So, when he meets PI Jayne Keeney, he’s intrigued. She’s an ex-pat Australian who speaks fluent Thai, and who has had her share of travel experiences. And, when he helps her solve the mysterious death of a young volunteer at a children’s home, he sees an opportunity for the sort of interesting life he wants. He ends up becoming her business partner as well as her partner in life.

Sometimes, making the choice to part with family traditions and expectations has really positive consequences. But it’s never easy to do, even in the best of situations. And it can cause plenty of conflict.

Thanks to those of you who suggested this post: I appreciate the ‘food for thought.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick’s Far From the Home I Love.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Geraldine Evans, S.J. Rozan, Sulari Gentill

We Stand as One…Undivided*

pi-partnershipsWhen we think of fictional PIs, the ones who may quickly come to mind are ‘lone wolves,’ such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. There are plenty of other examples, too, and it makes sense that we’d think of them. A lot of PIs have their own businesses. And some, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, work with associates who aren’t business partners.

But there are benefits to having an official PI partner. For one thing, the costs and risks are shared. For another, two PIs can work on more cases than can one PI. That means more business. So plenty of PIs, both real and fictional, work with a partner rather than go it alone. It’s not always an easy relationship, of course. There are logistics, matters of finance, and decision-making that have to be worked out between people who are bound to disagree at times. But a PI partner can add a variety of strengths to a business. After all, no one person can do everything, let alone do it well.

There are plenty of PI partnerships in the genre, too. For instance, technically, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is Archie Goodwin’s employer. So in that sense, they are not partners. But any fan of the series can tell you that Goodwin makes plenty of the decisions, has plenty of autonomy, and actually runs the business to a much greater extent than Wolfe would probably care to admit. So, although you may disagree with me (and feel free to if you do), I think of Wolfe and Goodwin as PI partners more than employer and employee.

Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike offer an interesting contrast when it comes to a PI duo. Cole is more personable and outgoing than his partner. He has his quirks (do you know another fictional PI who wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and has a Disney clock in his office?). But he’s the one, in general, who interacts with clients. He can be snarky at times, but he’s the one who does the talking. Pike, on the other hand, is taciturn. He’s a former US Marine who now owns a gun shop. He is, in a way, the ultimate ‘bad boy’ who wears sunglasses all the time, always carries weapons, and so on. But at the same time, he’s got his own code. And he’s the only one who can interact with the feral cat that shares Cole’s home. In many ways, he and Cole couldn’t be more different. But they respect each other and they depend on one another’s skills.

Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, a Scottsdale, Arizona PI firm. Jones is a former police officer with her own history and personal scars. She’s able to use her police background and the grit that comes from her personal past as she investigates. Sisiwan is a member of the Pima Nation. He lives in a trailer on the Reservation, and prefers a simple, uncomplicated life. He’s the computer expert of this PI team (in fact, in Desert Run, Sisiwan is lured away from the PI world by Southwest Microsystems). Jones and Sisiwan have a number of differences, but their skills are complementary, and they make an effective team.

S.J. Rozan has chosen an interesting approach to writing her Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series. Each is an independent PI, but they do work together on some cases. And in many ways, they’re very different people. Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by the name of Lydia Chin, is an American-born Chinese PI. She lives and works in New York City’s Chinatown. She keeps some of the traditions of her Chinese family, but she’s also American. Her family strongly disapproves of her occupation, and her mother would like very much for her to find a Chinese man and settle down. But Chin has other plans. She’s as comfortable speaking English as she is speaking Cantonese, and her ability to negotiate both cultures is an asset. Bill Smith, twelve years older than Chin, lives alone over a bar. He’s seen plenty of life, and is much more cynical than Chin is, although he’s not hardened. Fans of this series will know that the books are written from alternating points of view, in first person. Some are written from Chin’s perspective; others are written from Smith’s. This allows readers to get to know both PIs, and lets readers in on how they perceive each other.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel. They’re a Bangkok-based PI team, and partners in life as well. Their partnership has taken adjustment on both sides. Keeney is Australian by birth and culture, but has adapted to living in Thailand. She speaks fluent Thai, and is very much accustomed to living independently and making her own business and personal choices. Patel is originally from India, but moved to Bangkok in part to help in his uncle’s book shop (that’s how he and Keeney met).  Learning to work as a team isn’t always easy for these two PIs. They’re both bright, strong-willed people who have very different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. But they’ve found that they have complementary skills and knowledge. And they care deeply for each other.

And that’s the thing about PI partnerships. In the most successful ones, the partners bring different strengths to the job, and learn to trust each other. They know that they do much better working together than either could do alone. They might argue from time to time; but in the end, they respect each other and work together, rather than at cross purposes. This post has only allowed space for me to mention a few PI teams. Which ones do you like best?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bon Jovi’s Undivided.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Betty Webb, Rex Stout, Robert Crais, S.J. Rozan

Working on a Building*

constructionWhere I live, the climate allows for construction throughout the year. So there’s quite a lot of ongoing building/tearing down/painting, and so on. That means, of course, work for local construction firms and their workers. It also has got me thinking about how neatly construction projects fit in with crime fiction plots.

For one thing, there’s the site itself. There are lots of opportunities for ‘accidents’ on construction sites. For another, there are the people who work on the site. Construction projects, especially large ones, draw all sorts of people from different backgrounds. So there’s lots of opportunity for the author to create different character portraits and plot threads. And there’s a lot of money at stake in construction projects. So companies sometimes go to all sorts of lengths to get bids for the work. And the less they have to spend on doing the work, the better they do. That lends itself to all sorts of plot threads. So it’s little wonder that construction projects figure the way they do in crime fiction.

There’s an interesting example of a construction project in Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning. There’s a major project taking place on the campus of Holm Coultram College, that involves moving an eight-foot bronze memorial from one part of campus to another. When the memorial and its base are lifted, everyone is shocked to discover that there’s a body underneath. It’s even more shocking when the body turns out to be former College President Alison Girling, to whom the memorial was dedicated. Everyone had assumed that she was killed in a freak avalanche during a skiing trip five years earlier, but now it’s clear that either she never left campus, or her body was brought back there for some reason. Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate. They find that this death has everything to do with the complicated network of relationships on campus.

In Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters, we are introduced to DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla. The novel begins with the death of Meredith Winterbottom, one of three sisters who live in a home in London’s historic Jerusalem Lane. At first, the death looks like a suicide, but Kolla notices a few things that don’t add up. So, with Brock’s support, she starts asking questions. It turns out that a large construction and development company wants to buy out all of the residents of Jerusalem Lane in order to create a new entertainment and shopping/dining district. The victim and her sisters were the last holdouts, and there’s a lot of money at stake. So that’s one very likely lead. So is the fact that Meredith’s son Terry, who inherits the house at his mother’s death, is very much in need of money. The proceeds from the sale of the property could be just what he needs. There are other leads, too. And it’s interesting to see throughout the novel how the coming construction impacts both the people of Jerusalem Lane and the local area.

In S.J. Rozan’s No Colder Place, PI Bill Smith gets an interesting case from a colleague, former cop Chuck DeMattis. Someone’s stolen a backhoe from Crowell Construction, the general contractor building a new high-rise building in Manhattan. What’s more, Lenny Pelligrini, the crane operator has disappeared. Smith’s task will be to go undercover as a mason and find out what’s going on. He starts on the job, and begins to ask questions. Then, Pelligrini’s body is discovered. And foreman Joe Romeo meets with a convenient ‘accident’ during a very carefully orchestrated riot. There’s clearly more going on here than a case of theft, and Smith works with his occasional business partner, Lydia Chin, to find out what’s behind the murders.

Many large construction projects attract immigrant workers, and that’s been another fruitful avenue for crime novelists to explore. For example, in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home, we meet DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The body of an unknown man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Emma and Paul Barlow. The evidence suggests that the man had been living there, and that’s not out of the question, since migrant workers often take up temporary residences in places like sheds, until they can afford somewhere else to live. If the man was a foreigner, this could be a hate crime, which is why Zigic and Ferreira get the case. The man is soon identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov. Now, the detectives trace the victim’s last days and weeks to find out who would have wanted to kill him and why. And as they do, they learn about the inner workings of construction companies and contractors who hire migrants to do the work. It’s an interesting, if sometimes tragic, look at the lives who come to work on construction projects.

And then there’s Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club, which takes place in 1950’s Auckland. In one plot thread of that novel, Istvan Ziegler emigrates from his native Hungary to New Zealand. He’s got a line on a job working on a new bridge that’s being constructed, and he’s hoping to make a new life for himself. He believes that working on construction sites, even though it’s difficult, will offer more than staying in Hungary. He connects with his new employer, settles into a cheap hotel and gets ready to begin his job. One day, he discovers a young woman in another room of the hotel, who seems to have been badly injured. He stays with her until she’s out of danger and learns some things about her. She is Judith Curran, who’s come to Auckland to have an abortion. The procedure left her badly hurt, and of course, she doesn’t want to admit what happened to more people than is absolutely necessary. She and Ziegler get drawn into a dangerous mystery surrounding a group of orphan girls who’ve just arrived in New Zealand. Admittedly, the new bridge going up isn’t the main point of the novel. But readers get to see what it’s like for construction workers as they settle into new places. And there’s an interesting bit that shows how workers heard about such jobs in the days before the Internet.

Construction sites draw all sorts of people together. They also mean work and commerce. But they can be at the very least annoying, and at worse, lethal. But don’t take my word for it; just check crime fiction and you’ll see.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Cowboy Junkies.

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Filed under Barry Maitland, Eva Dolan, Jen Shieff, Reginald Hill, S.J. Rozan