Category Archives: Shirley Jackson

I’m Talking to Myself*

An interesting post by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about inner dialogue. Sometimes, a certain amount of inner dialogue is helpful. It can add some richness to a story, and add to character development. But, like everything else, inner dialogue is probably best given in measured doses.

Too much inner dialogue can slow a story down, and lead to ‘telling, not showing.’ And the wrong sort of inner dialogue can even be melodramatic if it’s not handled effectively. So, it’s important that any inner dialogue be carefully managed.

Inner dialogue is used in a very interesting way in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In that novel, we are introduced to eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood. She, her sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in a large house not far from a small Vermont town. Almost from the beginning of the story, we get the sense that something is very, very wrong with the family, and we soon learn what that something is. Six years before the events in this novel, three other members of the Blackwood family died of poison. No-one was ever convicted, but the villagers are convinced that one of the Blackwoods is guilty. So, they give the family a very wide berth, as the saying goes. Still, the Blackwoods have managed to get along. Then, the outside world intrudes in the form of a family cousin, Charles Blackwood. He visits Julian, Constance, and Merricat, and his stay touches off a series of incidents that ends in real tragedy. The story is told from Merricat’s point of view, and it’s interesting to see how her internal dialogue is woven into the novel. Among other things, it gives the reader insight into her psychology, as everything is filtered through her thought processes.

Zoran Drvenkar’s You follows several plot threads, including the friendship among four teenage girls: Sunmi ‘Schnappi’ Mehlau, Ruth Wassermann, Isabell ‘Stink’ Kramer, and Vanessa ‘Nessi’ Altenburg. They’re concerned because the fifth member of their group, Taja, hasn’t been seen or heard from in several days, and they decide to check on her and make sure she’s all right. Their search for Taja, and what happens when they find her, involves them in the other two plot threads – and into serious danger. All of the plot threads are narrated in the second person, and in present tense, so the reader is drawn into what the characters are thinking in a different sort of way. Although there is plenty of action in the novel, there is also reflection, as we learn about the different characters’ backstories and interactions. So, there is plenty of inner dialogue; it’s told in second person, though:

‘You look at your wrist, the tattoo gleams dully. Gone. You can’t take your eyes off those four letters and wonder what would happen if you saw all the things in your dreams that you don’t want to see in real life.’

Some of the characters reflect on heir pasts in this way, too.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the long trip from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. With them is their nine-week-old son, Noah. The flight itself is awful, but when they land and start the journey to Alistair’s home town, the real nightmare begins: they lose baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media and public are quite sympathetic at first. But there’s no trace of Noah. After a time, questions about, especially, Joanna, begin to come up. Could she or Alistair (or both) have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance? As more suspicions are raised, matters get worse and worse for the family. The novel is told from a few different perspectives, including Joanna’s, Alistair’s daughter, Chloe’s, and his ex-wife, Alexandra. As we see these different points of view, there’s plenty of inner dialogue. So, we learn how the different characters feel about each other, about the situation, and so on.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is the fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people to be executed for murder in Iceland. The story begins in 1828, when Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. All three suspects are found guilty, and it’s decided they will be hanged. In the months before the execution, Agnes will stay with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. It’s hoped that, by living with a ‘proper Christian family,’ Agnes will repent of what she’s done and talk about it. At first, it’s awkward for the family to have a convicted murderer with them. But gradually, they get to know Agnes, and they learn a little more about her. And, as Agnes reflects, we learn about her life, and about what happened that led to the murders. And part of that information comes from Agnes’ inner dialogue as she thinks about the family she’s with, and about her situation.

And then there’s Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. That’s the story of thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell, who’s reached a crossroads in his life. His marriage has ended, and he’s in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident.  He decides he needs a new start, and chooses the town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island, to do so. The cottage he’s bought was previously owned by the Cotter family, and Bell soon finds out the tragedy in that family’s past. In 1988, Alice Cotter, who was then a child, disappeared and was never found. A year later, her father also went missing. Little by little, Bell gets drawn into the mystery of what happened to the Cotters. At the same time, he’s working with a therapist, Betty Crowe, to put the pieces of his life back together. As Bell works to find out the truth about the Cotter family, he discovers that some very dangerous people want the mystery buried. He also finds himself slowly coming back to life, as the saying goes. And readers follow that progress through inner dialogue, as Bell processes what he’s discovering.

And that’s the thing about inner dialogue. As Cleo points out, it can drag a story down, and it has to be used very carefully. But when it’s handled effectively, it can be very effective.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Cleopatra Loves Books? Excellent reviews await you there!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George Harrison’s Stuck Inside a Cloud.


Filed under Finn Bell, Hannah Kent, Helen Fitzgerald, Shirley Jackson, Zoran Drvenkar

No Compassion*

Early in life, most of us develop the capacity to take another’s viewpoint, and have sympathy – even empathy – for others. All of the religions and spiritual traditions I know about make a point about the importance of compassion. And even if you don’t believe in any religion or religious tradition, you’ve probably been taught the importance of sympathy for others. It’s part of the glue, if you will, that holds society together.

But not everyone has that sense of sympathy and compassion for others. Psychologists don’t agree on why a person might not have that capacity. And, in any case, there are any number of possible causes. Whatever the reason, the end result – a person who doesn’t have sympathy for others – can bring sorrow and tragedy. And in crime fiction, such a character can be truly chilling.

Agatha Christie included several such characters in her stories. For instance, in Lord Edgware Dies, famous actress Jane Wilkinson asks Hercule Poirot to approach her husband, Lord Edgware, regarding a divorce. She tells Poirot that she wants a divorce, but that her husband won’t agree to it; she wants Poirot to get Edgware to change his mind. This isn’t Poirot’s usual sort of case, but he agrees to at least speak to the man. When Edgware says he has no objection to the divorce, Poirot thinks the matter is done. That night, though, Edgware is murdered in his study. The most likely suspect is his wife, and there’s evidence against her. But she claims to have been at a dinner party in another part of London at the time. And twelve other people are ready to swear that she was there. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the killer. They find that this killer has no conscience, really, and no sense of sympathy for others. Here’s a tiny snippet of a letter that the killer sends to Poirot:

‘I feel, too, that I should like everyone to know just exactly how I did it all. I still think it was all very well planned…I should like to be remembered. And I do think I am really a unique person.’

And that matters more to this killer than does any consideration for anyone else.

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family. Eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ lives with her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian in the family home just outside a small New England town. We soon learn that the Blackwoods are a very isolated family. No-one in the village wants anything to do with them, and the feeling is mutual. Gradually, we learn of a tragedy that took place six years earlier, in which three other members of the Blackwood family died. Almost everyone in town thinks that one of the remaining Blackwoods is responsible, which is why the local people shun the family. Still, life goes on, more or less. Then one day, a cousin, Charles Blackwood, unexpectedly comes for a visit. His visit touches off a series of events that ends up in more tragedy. Throughout this novel, the lack of conscience and real sympathy for others plays an important role in what happens. And it adds to the tension and suspense.

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, we are introduced to John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own a fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan, but live in the small town of Crooked Lake, further south in the province. It’s not the sort of place where a lot of violent things happen as a rule. But then one day, Harvey Kristoff is murdered. The weapon seems to be a golf club, and his body is discovered on the grounds of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. The most likely suspect is Nick Taylor, who was recently fired from his position as Head Greenskeeper, and who blames Kristoff for his termination. But he claims he’s innocent, and asks Bart, who’s a good friend, to clear his name. Bart doesn’t want to think his friend is a murderer, so he agrees to look into the matter. And he soon learns that there were plenty of other suspects. Then, there’s another murder. Bart finds out who the killer is and in the end, we find that the murderer,

‘…took the lives of two men as if they were nothing more than annoyances.’

It’s a disturbing look at what someone with no sympathy and no compassion is really like.

Peter Robinson introduces us to that sort of character, too, in A Dedicated Man. In that novel, archaeologist Harry Steadman retires from his position at the University of Leeds. He and his wife, Emma, then move to Yorkshire, where he plans to excavate some Roman ruins in the area. He gets the necessary permissions, and then begins the work. Then, tragically, he is murdered by blunt force trauma. DCI Alan Banks and his team investigate, and they soon discover more than one possibility. For one thing, not everyone in the area was best pleased about the excavation. For another, there’s the matter of Steadman’s former colleagues at Leeds. There are other possibilities, too. In the end, Banks and his team find that this killer has no real regrets and, really no sympathy either for Steadman or anyone else.

And then there’s Kalpana Swaminathan’s Greenlight. In that novel, five children from a Mumbai slum called Kandewadi go missing, one by one. And, one by one, their bodies are returned to their families. Once the media outlets get hold of the story, pressure is put on the police to solve the murders, and Inspector Savio is assigned to investigate. He is in the habit of consulting with retired detective Lalli on his cases, and this one is no exception. Savio, Lalli, his assistant Shukla, and Lalli’s niece, Sita, investigate the killings. They discover that behind these deaths is a complete lack of sympathy for others or compassion. And it’s that lack of humanity that makes the killings even more disturbing, if that’s possible.

And that’s the thing about sympathy for others, and compassion. They help most of us control what we do, even if we do get angry or resentful. Without those qualities, the result can be truly chilling.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Talking Heads.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Kalpana Swaminathan, Nelson Brunanski, Peter Robinson, Shirley Jackson

Buried in the Family Well*

Have you ever researched your family? Some families don’t have a long history, but others have a very long history indeed. And those families that have been around for a hundred years or more collect all sorts of stories. Some of them can still have an impact, too, even after generations.

Family histories are interesting in and of themselves, and they can add a real dimension to a crime novel. They can build suspense, add layers of character development, and even make for a motive for murder. They can also add context to a story.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, for instance, we learn the history of the Baskerville family. The story goes that, in the 1600s, Hugo Baskerville sold his soul to the Powers of Evil in exchange for a young woman with whom he’d become infatuated. Since that time, there’ve been several strange deaths in the Baskerville family. They’re said to be caused by a curse on the family that takes the form of a phantom hound. And the latest victim seems to be Sir Charles Baskerville, who’s been found dead in the park on the Baskerville property. Is the Baskerville history really the cause of Sir Charles’ death? If so, then there is real danger ahead for the newest Baskerville, Sir Hugh, who is coming from Canada to take on the title and property. An old family friend is concerned about Sir Hugh’s safety, and asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate. He agrees, and he and Dr. Watson look into the matter. They find that this mystery has a very prosaic explanation. I know, I know, fans of The Musgrave Ritual.

Agatha Christie wove family histories into several of her novels and stories. One of them is Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). In that novel, we are introduced to wealthy Miss Emily Arundell, the last of her generation of the Arundell family. She’s well aware that the next generation is eager for her money, and she’s often told them that they’ll get everything when she dies. But, when she takes a fall down a set of stairs, Miss Arundell begins to wonder whether someone isn’t willing to wait that long. During her recuperation, Miss Arundell writes a letter to Hercule Poirot, asking him to look into a delicate matter for her (‘though she doesn’t specify just what that is). By the time Poirot and Captain Hastings get to the Arundell home, though, it’s too late: Miss Arundell has died of what her doctor claims is liver failure. Poirot isn’t so sure, though, and he and Hastings search for the truth. In the course of their investigation, they meet Miss Caroline Peabody, who knows quite a bit about the Arundell family history. What she tells them doesn’t solve the case, but she gives them helpful background information. I see you, fans of After the Funeral.

The Blackwood family is the focus of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As the story begins, we meet Mary Katherine ‘Merricat,’ Blackwood, her older sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian, who live a rather isolated life in their old Vermont home. As the story moves on, we learn about a tragedy in the Blackwood history: the deaths of three other family members. And it’s soon clear that the other residents of the village think that one of the remaining Blackwoods is responsible. Still, Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian go on with their lives, doing as much as much as they can to keep the outside world at bay. Then, Charles Blackwood, a cousin to Merricat and Constance, pays a visit. His arrival triggers a series of events that spins out of control and ends in more tragedy.

In Shona (S.G.) MacLean’s A Game of Sorrows, we are introduced to Maeve O’Neill. She is the matriarch of the old and once-powerful Irish O’Neill family, and what she wants most is to see her family once again dominate Ireland. But it’s the 17th Century, and the English have taken control of Ulster, where she lives. This has led to several conflicts and a lot of scheming, as some people have sided with the English in exchange for power within the new order. Others resist, determined to maintain their Irish identity and religion. Against this background, there’s a wedding in the O’Neill family, to which a traditional Irish poet has been invited. Instead of using his poetry to celebrate the occasion, though, the poet curses the O’Neill family. What’s worse, parts of the curse seem to be coming true. So, Maeve sends her grandson, Sean Fitzgarrett, to Scotland to ask his cousin, Alexander Seaton, to help lift the curse. Seaton is reluctant, but is finally persuaded to go to Ireland, where his mother was born. He soon finds himself drawn into the religious and political conflicts of the day, and learns that the deaths and tragedies mentioned in the curse have more to do with greed and politics than with the curse. Despite everything, Maeve O’Neill still dreams of her ancient family’s return to power.

Peter May’s Entry Island is the story of the Mackenzie family. Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec lives and works in Montréal. But he’s sent to Entry Island, one of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine/Magdalen Islands, to help investigate the murder of James Cowell. It’s believed that, since Mackenzie is a native speaker of English, he’ll find it easier to get information from the island’s mostly English-speaking residents. As soon as he arrives, Mackenzie is struck with a sense of déjà vu, although he’s never been to Entry Island. What’s more, he begins to have vivid dreams about stories his grandmother used to tell him about his Scottish ancestor, also called Sime, who lived in the mid-19th Century. In one plot thread, we follow the investigation into Cowell’s murder. In another, we learn the history of the Mackenzie family, and how that history has impacted the present-day Sime.

And then there’s Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte mysteries. Tayte’s a genealogist, so he’s very accustomed to looking into family backgrounds. And sometimes, what he finds there is dangerous. More than once in this series, Tayte uncovers secrets from the past that still impact modern-day descendants. And that puts him at grave risk.

Long family histories can often include fascinating stories and people. There’s a lot of opportunity there for character development, too. But there’s also risk, and sometimes, motive for crime.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chris Ward and David Michael Tyson’s Family Secret.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Peter May, S.G. MacLean, Shirley Jackson, Steve Robinson

Living in Michigan With Uncle Ray*

‘Family’ often consists of a lot more than just parents, siblings, or spouses/partners and children. In many cultures, the concept is a lot more extensive, and may include aunts, uncles, distant cousins, great-grandparents, and more. Even in cultures with a more nuclear concept of family, the belief is often that ‘blood is thicker.’

Because of this, there are a lot of cases of people staying with aunts, uncles or cousins, either for a certain period of time, or even permanently. Those situations can certainly be awkward, but they’re interesting. And we see them a lot in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie used that plot point in several of her stories. For instance, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the killing of retired magnate Roger Ackroyd, who is stabbed in his study one night. The prime suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson, Captain Ralph Paton. And it doesn’t help matters that Paton has disappeared. But his fiancée, Flora, doesn’t believe he’s guilty; it’s she who asks Poirot to look into the matter. As the investigation goes on, we learn about the Ackroyd household. Living with the victim are Flora and her mother, Ackroyd’s widowed sister-in-law. They are what used to be called ‘poor relations,’ and both are very much in need of money. So, they certainly become ‘persons of interest’ as the story goes on.

In John Bude’s Death on the Riviera, DI William Meredith and Sergeant Freddy Strang are sent to the French Riviera to follow up on an investigation into a counterfeiting scheme. It’s believed that an Englishman named Tommy ‘Chalky’ Cobbett is behind the operation, so the French authorities want support from their English counterparts as they go after Cobbett. The trail leads to a place called the Villa Paloma, which is owned by Nesta Hedderwick. Staying with her is a motley crew of people, including her niece, Dilys Westmacott. Dilys’ parents were killed in a WW II air raid; and, since that time, her aunt has been her guardian. Now that she’s done with finishing school, she’s moved in to the Villa Paloma. Meredith and Strang begin to get to know the people at the villa, and they discover that just about everyone, including Dilys, is keeping secrets. Then, murder strikes…

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family. Constance Blackwood and her younger sister, Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ live with their Uncle Julian. We soon learn that they are isolated from the small community in which they live, so they really only have each other. We also learn that, six years earlier, there was a tragedy in which three other members of the family were killed. No-one was convicted, but it’s clear that that villagers believe that one of the Blackwoods was responsible. Still, Constance, Merricat and their uncle have made a life for themselves. Everything changes, though, when a cousin, Charles Blackwood, comes to stay. His unexpected arrival touches off a chain of events that ends in disaster.

Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn begins as twenty-year-old Mary Yellan travels from her home in Helford to a place called Jamaica Inn, which is owned by Mary’s Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn. In making this trip, Mary is fulfilling a deathbed promise to her mother, Aunt Patience’s sister. When she arrives, Mary is dismayed to find that the place is dilapidated and forbidding. Things get even worse when she meets her relatives. Uncle Joss is unpleasant and abusive, and Aunt Patience is frightened and completely submissive. Still, Mary tries to settle in. Little by little, she begins to suspect that something is going on at the inn, and it turns out she’s right. Mary ends up being drawn into a web of crime that includes murder.

There’s an interesting instance of going to stay with relatives in Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness. There’s been a horrible set of murders in the small village of Highfield. Colonel Charles Fletcher, his wife, Lucy, their maid, Sally Pepper, and the nanny, Alice Crookes, have all been killed. The only survivor is the Fletchers’ daughter, Sophy. She’s a very young child, so she isn’t in a position to help the police at the moment. So, the local physician, Dr. Helen Blackwell, wants Sophy to be sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Scotland. At first, DI John Madden, who’s sent from Scotland Yard to investigate, wants Sophy to remain in Highfield. But Blackwell insists that the child has been through far too much to stay, at least for the present time. Finally, Madden agrees. And in the end, as Sophy begins to accept what has happened, she provides some useful information.

There’s also Rob Pierce’s Uncle Dust, which features a bank robber named Dustin ‘Dusty.’ Dusty isn’t exactly cut out for domesticity, but it’s not a bad thing for him to have a sort of ‘cover story’ family. And Theresa, the woman he’s sleeping with, fits the bill, since she has a ten-year-old son named Jeremy. To Jeremy, Dusty is ‘Uncle Dust,’ and he develops a kind of friendship with his ‘sort of uncle.’ I’ll admit, I’ve not (yet) read this one, but it’s an interesting look at how the relative-moving-in dynamic can happen. I was alerted to it by Col, who blogs at Col’s Criminal Library. I look forward to your review, Col! In the meantime, folks, do pay a visit to Col’s fine blog. Lots of well-written, honest reviews await you there!

There are all sorts of possibilities when a relative (or a ‘might as well be a relative’) moves in. Sometimes, it all goes beautifully. But not always….


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Josh Rouse’s Michigan.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, John Bude, Rennie Airth, Rob Pierce, Shirley Jackson

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.


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