Category Archives: Simon Beckett

Oh, Let’s Go Back to the Start*

In a recent post, crime writer and fellow blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig made an interesting point about taking a story full circle. She suggested that one way to do this is to end a story by going back to the beginning. For instance, her Pretty is as Pretty Dies begins one morning at the home of Myrtle Clover. She’s a retired teacher who isn’t ready to be ‘put out to pasture’ yet. So, when she discovers the body of real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church, she can’t resist getting involved in the investigation, much to the chagrin of her son, who happens to be the local chief of police. As Myrtle starts to ask questions, she finds that there are plenty of people who had a good reason to want the victim dead. She was, to say the least, malicious and vindictive, and had alienated just about everyone in town. Myrtle discovers who the killer is, and in the final scene, is back at her home. In that sense, the story goes full circle, beginning and ending at Myrtle Clover’s home. But a lot of things have happened in the interim, and we see that as the final scene plays out.

And that’s one way in which that ‘full circle’ approach to storytelling can be useful. It allows the author to show character changes, but at the same time bring the story to some closure. And there are plenty of examples of how this works in crime fiction. Here are just a few.

In one of the very first scenes in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, sculptor Henrietta Savernake is in her studio, creating a piece for an upcoming show. We soon learn that she is one of several guests invited to spend a weekend at the home of some cousins, Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Two of the other guests are to be Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow and his wife, Gerda; and for Henrietta, this makes the visit all the more special, since she is Christow’s mistress. On the Sunday afternoon, Christow is shot. Hercule Poirot has been invited for lunch, and arrives just after the murder. He and Inspector Grange work to find out who murdered Christow. At the very end of the novel, there’s another scene, again in Henrietta’s studio. It brings the story round to the beginning again, and shows some of what’s happened to Henrietta as a result of the events in the novel.

Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead more or less begins at the London home of forensic anthropologist David Hunter. He’s recovering from the physical and mental trauma he suffered as a result of events in Written in Bone, and now he’s preparing to leave for a trip to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, often called The Body Farm. For Hunter, this is a welcome trip, as he wants to get out of London for a time. He’s looking forward to doing some research as well as to renewing his acquaintance with his mentor, Tom Liebermann. Hunter arrives in Tennessee just in time to hear the news of the discovery of a decomposed body in a cabin not far from the laboratory. Hunter gets involved in the investigation, and it turns out to be a wrenching case. At the end of the novel, he returns to his London apartment. There’s a final scene in which he has a short conversation with the woman who lives in the flat above his. That conversation, and his return, really only take up a few sentences. But they bring the story back to the beginning to give some closure to it. And the scene shows some of what’s happened to Hunter in the course of the novel.

Ilsa Evans’ Nefarious Doings is the first of her series featuring Victoria journalist Nell Forrest. As the story opens, she’s at the home she shares with two of her five daughters (the other three are adults who have their own homes). She gets a visit from the police, who inform her that there’s been a fire at her mother’s house, not far away. Nell’s mother, Lillian ‘Yen’ is safe, but the fire has done considerable damage. And the body of a man has been found in the garage. It turns out that this man is Dustin Craig, who lived next door to Yen. And it turns out that he was murdered before the fire started. Now, Yen is a suspect in a murder investigation. Nell doesn’t believe her mother is guilty. And there’s no lack of other suspects. So, she starts looking into the matter, and ends up getting into real danger. At the very end, there’s a scene where Nell is back at her home. She’s having a glass of wine with DS Ashley Armistead, who’s the official investigator on the case. In a way, the scene takes us back to the beginning of the novel. But it’s not the same Nell Forrest at the end, if I can put it that way. She’s learned a few things about herself, and sees the world a little differently.

And then there’s Donald Smith’s The Constable’s Tale. This story begins in 1758 in the British colony of North Carolina. Plantation owner Henry ‘Harry’ Woodyard is serving his term as a Royal Constable for Craven County. His work mostly involves breaking up drunken quarrels, levying fines on people who don’t attend church services, and catching petty thieves. Everything changes when Edward and Anne Campbell and their son are discovered brutally murdered at their home. Only their infant survived. On the surface, it looks like it might be the work of Indians. And, considering that this novel takes place during the Severn Years/French and Indian War, that wouldn’t be out of the question. But there are hints that that might not be what happened. A broach found at the murder scene provides a clue, and Woodyard decides to follow up on it. He believes that if he can find its owner, he can find the killer. So, he starts to follow the trail. In fact, it leads on a four-month journey all the way into Canada. In the end, though, Harry finds that the truth is closer to home than he would have imagined. The last scene in the novel has him back in Craven County, getting ready to resume his duties. He’s gone through some changes, though, and Smith makes that clear.

And that’s one of the advantages of using this sort of plot structure. Going back to the beginning can help the reader see how a character has grown or changed. It also allows the author to ‘tie up’ the novel and give some closure to it. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Coldplay’s The Scientist.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donald Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Ilsa Evans, Simon Beckett

I Want to Find Out, I Want to Find Out Now*

wanting-to-learn-moreAn interesting post from Tim at Beyond 221B Baker Street has got me thinking about context. Every book is written within a sociocultural and historical context, and that is often reflected in the book. As I’ve been reflecting on that, it’s got me thinking about the way people’s curiosity can be aroused when they read. To put it another way, sometimes, we read books (or, at least, I do) that make us curious about the context, and wanting to read more.

Everyone gets curious about different things, of course, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s read a book and then wanted to know more about something. It might be details about an incident, an era, or something else. Whatever it is, the author’s presented it in a way that makes you want to know more. As I say, everyone’s different, but here are a few things I’ve wanted to know more about because of the crime fiction I’ve read.

As Agatha Christie fans know, her second husband was an archaeologist, and she accompanied him to the Middle East. Several of her stories are set there, including Appointment With Death. That story’s focus is the Boynton family, a group of Americans who are on an extended trip through the Middle East. One of their stops is a trip to the famous red city of Petra. On the second afternoon of their visit, Mrs. Boynton dies of what looks like a heart attack. Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, though. He asks Hercule Poirot, who’s in the area, to investigate, and Poirot agrees. Even ardent Christie fans admit that this isn’t her best. But it does have an interesting setting – Petra – and I got curious about that. So, I did a little reading on the place. Am I an expert? Not even close. Not at all. But I did learn some interesting things, and it’s because the book piqued my curiosity.

After I read Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, I got interested in Australia’s 1972-75 Gough Whitlam government. Here’s why. In the novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen and his team investigate two murders. One victim is Alec Dennet, who was a member of the Whitlam government, and is now writing his memoirs. The other is Dennet’s editor, Lorraine Starke. The two were killed at Uriarra, a Canberra-area writers’ retreat. One very good possibility is that Dennet was killed because of what might be written in his upcoming book. There are plenty of people in some high places who wouldn’t want what he had to say to come out. So, Chen and his team pursue that lead. Robertson gives some interesting information about the Whitlam government – enough to leave me wanting to know more. So, I looked up a few things. I couldn’t quote you anything like chapter and verse on the ins and outs of that government, nor all of the details of the events that brought it down. But I found the reading I did do fascinating.

Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead takes place mostly at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, also known as The Body Farm. Anthropologist David Hunter wants some time away from London to recover from the events of Written in Bone. So, he decides to go to Tennessee to do some research and catch up with his former mentor, Tom Liebermann. When the lab receives word of a decomposed body found at a cabin not far from the lab, Hunter is persuaded to get involved in the investigation. And that leads to a complex and difficult case. After I read this novel, I got interested in The Body Farm and what it does. It’s actually a fascinating place where a great deal of forensic and other scientific research is conducted. So, I did a bit of reading. It certainly got the crime writer in me very interested.

As fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series can tell you, many of his books have been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. His translations go beyond simply expressing Camilleri’s stories in another language (as though that weren’t enough). He also adds notes and commentaries to the novels, to give readers background information on everything from history, to the origins of certain sayings, and much more. Several times, I’ve found myself reading a little more about one or another topic Sartarelli’s mentioned. I always find them interesting, and they add context to the series.

Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series takes place in the early 1920s, during the last years of the British Raj, in Madras (today’s Chennai). Le Fanu is assisted by the very capable Sergeant Muhammad ‘Habi’ Habibullah. I knew a little about those years before I started reading this series. But some of the information Stoddart provides made me curious to learn more. So, I did a bit of reading on the topic, and I’m glad I did. I learned things that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, and (I hope) I have a better perspective on that period of time.

Those are just a few books and series that have gotten me curious to learn more. The things that pique your interest are bound to be different. Which novels and series have inspired you to find out more?

Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration. Folks, do check out Tim’s blog. It’s a fascinating place for rich discussion about crime fiction and other literature.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian Stoddart, Kel Robertson, Simon Beckett

We Could Learn From Digging Down*

Archaeoloists and AnthropologistsA recent article I read reported on the discovery of the 430,000-year-old remains of a murder victim in a cave in Spain. One of the things this finding suggests is that people have been killing one another for a very, very long time. That violent aspect of human nature is (at least) another post in itself.

Another thing that the article made clear is that modern science can reveal a great deal about ancient life – but not everything. In this case, experts have established how the victim was probably killed, and what the likely weapon might have been. But with an ancient murder like that, there’s no way to tell who the killer was or what the motive was. We can suppose, but there’s no longer any evidence to bear on those matters.

And in real life, that’s the sort of unanswered question that forensic archaeologists often face. How does that translate into crime fiction? After all, crime fiction fans usually want answers to the who/how/whydunnit questions that come up in a novel. Not every tiny thread needs to be knotted, but most fans want to know what’s behind a murder.

Some authors manage that balance by writing about murders that aren’t so ancient. For instance, Aaron Elkins’ Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist whose main interest when the series starts is the study of ancient human remains and fossils. He’s very good at what he does, and in Fellowship of Fear, that skill helps him solve a very modern mystery involving international intrigue and espionage. In Twenty Blue Devils, he is called to Tahiti to help solve the murder of coffee plantation manager Brian Scott. Oliver has the skills to make very solid deductions about ancient remains. But the murders he investigates are recent enough that he can also draw conclusions about motives and so forth as well.

Simon Beckett’s David Hunter is also a forensic anthropologist. When the series featuring him begins (with The Chemistry of Death), he’s given up his work in forensics and become a small-town doctor in the village of Manham. But he’s drawn back into the profession when one of the town’s residents, Sally Poole, is found brutally murdered. Hunter is somewhat of an outsider, since he’s only been in town for three years. So a certain amount of suspicion comes his way. Then, another woman goes missing. Hunter works with the police both to clear his own name and to find the killer before there’s another victim. In this novel, as well as in the other novels in this series, Hunter investigates murders that are modern enough so that witnesses can be interviewed and so on. The same is true of Kathy Reichs’ Temperence ‘Tempe’ Brennan novels.

What about fictional murders that take place in the more distant past? How can an author credibly ‘fill in the gaps’ as to killer, motive and the like? One way is to use letters, diary entries and other written records. Humans have been using written symbols for many thousands of years, so it’s logical a forensic anthropologist or archaeologist might use those records. That’s what Beverly Connor’s Lindsay Chamberlain does. Chamberlain is a University of Georgia forensic anthropologist whose specialty is archaeology. Beginning with A Rumor of Bones, Chamberlain investigates old (sometimes very old) murders as well as newer murders. She certainly uses forensics clues such as skeletal evidence. But she also uses clues such as diary entries to piece together the whole story of even an ancient murder. Kill Site, which hasn’t been published yet, will focus on a Paleo-Indian dig site. Many Native American nations don’t have what we generally think of as written languages, so it’ll be very interesting to see how Connor approaches that story.

Fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series will know that Galloway is a forensic archaeologist associated with the University of North Norfolk. As such, she is interested in ancient sites, and is skilled at reading the stories that remains have to tell. In The Crossing Places, for instance, she uses her knowledge and skills to determine that some newly-discovered bones are not the remains of Lucy Downey, whose disappearance DCI Harry Nelson is investigating. Instead, the bones belong to a girl from the Iron Age, and they suggest all sorts of interesting lines of research for Galloway. At the same time, she also gets caught up in Lucy’s disappearance and investigates that as well as the disappearance of Scarlet Henderson, who’s just recently gone missing. This novel doesn’t tell the reader who the Iron Age girl really was, what her family was like or precisely why she died. Instead, the focus is more on the modern cases. Yet, a lot is suggested by the original discovery, and I can say without spoiling the story that Galloway draws some interesting conclusions based on those ancient remains. Her conclusions are realistic, though.

Some authors, such as Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, take another approach to telling stories of ancient murders. In their Anasazi trilogy, for instance, there are actually two plot lines. One concerns archaeologist William ‘Dusty’ Stewart, who takes a team on a dig in New Mexico’s Sonoran Desert. His goal is to find out more about the Anasazi people who lived in that desert’s Chaco Canyon. When he and his team discover the remains of eight women who seem to have been buried in a mass grave, forensic anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole joins the group. Her role will be to study the remains and try to establish how the women died. There isn’t much evidence to suggest who the women were or why they died. But both Cole and Stewart use their skills, as well as what they know about that period of time, to deduce what probably happened. The other plot line ‘fills in the gaps’ about those deaths. It’s the story of 13th Century Anasazi War Chief Browser and his deputy and closest friend Catkin. When they discover an unexpected body in a gravesite intended for Browser’s son, they start to ask questions. Then there’s another attack. Now it seems that a very dangerous force is at work among the Anasazi, and Browser and Catkin work to find out the truth. In this case, the modern-day scientists don’t really have letter, diaries or other written evidence; and they certainly can’t interview suspects or witnesses. So the authors chose to tell the story from the perspective of someone who might have been able to talk to witnesses and suspects. It’s a dual timeline approach, and admittedly, we can’t know precisely what one 13th-Century member of this group might have said to another. But it’s credible because the story is based on things that we do know.

Authors who choose to tell stories of ancient murders do face the challenge of finding credible ways to solve them. There are certainly different approaches to meeting that challenge in a plausible way. It’s interesting to see how authors go about it. Oh, and in an interesting note, Elkins, Reichs, Connor and both Gears are or have been professional archaeologists or anthropologists. It’s fascinating to watch as they weave their experiences into their stories.

ps. I can’t help but think that the late and sorely-missed Maxine Clarke would have found this latest discovery to be really interesting. I wish she were here to read up on it…MC

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jack Johnson’s Traffic in the Sky.

 

 

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Beverly Connor, Elly Griffiths, Kathleen O'Neal Gear, Kathy Reichs, Simon Beckett, W. Michael Gear

Get On Back to School*

Professional DevelopmentNo matter what profession one’s in, it doesn’t usually stay static. Because of that, professionals often have to update their skills and knowledge. Sometimes it’s called ‘training,’ sometimes it’s called, ‘seminar’ and sometimes ‘professional development.’ Whatever it’s called, it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.

Sometimes those sessions are very useful, and they can give one the chance to get together with colleagues and other people in the field. Other times…it’s exactly the opposite. If you’you’ve ever been to a really dreadful one, you know exactly what I mean.

Police (and private detectives too) are no different when it comes to professional development. They’re expected to go to training classes, update their skills and so on. But at least in crime fiction, a lot of them aren’t that happy about it. Sometimes it’s because they think those sessions are a waste of time. Other times it’s because they’d rather do things their way, if I can put it like that. Those sessions may not always be productive, but they’re woven into a lot of crime fiction.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo for instance, Harry Bosch investigates the suspicious death of a former Vietnam War comrade Billy Meadows, whose body is found stuffed into a large municipal drainpipe. At first the death looks like a case of a junkie who overdosed, but Bosch doesn’t believe it. So he investigates more deeply. It turns out that Meadows’ death is connected with plans for a major bank robbery. At one point, he and FBI agent Eleanor Wish are interrogating someone who may know more than he’s saying. Bosch wants to use some police training he got in, of all things, hypnosis. By this time the LAPD isn’t using that tactic any more, and Bosch mentions that he was in the last class of cops who took it. You never know what skills you can learn at a professional development seminar.

Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is not much of a one for departmental-level training sessions or professional development. He’s a rather independent thinker (to say the least) and doesn’t like to conform to what the top brass says. But that doesn’t mean he can escape professional development. In Resurrection Men, for instance, Rebus is required to attend a ‘last chance’ course at Tulliallan Police College along with a group of other cops who have trouble working with others, especially authority figures. The team is assigned to investigate a ‘cold case,’ the murder of gangster Rico Lomax. The idea of this training is that the men will learn to work together and solve the case. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t’t happy about this, especially since he and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke were in the middle of investigating the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. But he goes along with the decision. His time in this special program proves useful once he and Clarke find that the two cases are related.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter decides to update his skills and see if he still ‘has it in him’ in Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead. Hunter is healing both physically and emotionally from the events in Written in Bone, and wants some time away from London anyway, So he goes to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, otherwise known as ‘The Body Farm,’ to get away for a bit and to hone his skills. He did his training there and is looking forward to re-connecting with his mentor Tom Liebermann. Shortly after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed body is discovered at a deserted cabin not far from the lab. Then another body is discovered. Hunter is soon drawn into a difficult and dangerous investigation that’s quite different to his plan for skill development.

Not all professional are that eager for professional development. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhangen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a traumatic line-of-duty shooting and is just getting back to work. But going back to work doesn’t mean he’s back to his old self. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly-formed department devoted to investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad look into is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thought she’d drowned in a tragic ferry accident, but Mørck and Assad soon suspect she may still be alive. If she is, they may have very little time in which to find her. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss informs him that his promotion will mean he has to take a qualification course. Mørck refuses to do so, and there’s an interesting thread running through this story of their running battle about it.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, in which we are introduced to Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Chen and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the rape and murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in Baili Canal. It turns out that the woman was Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and a Party member, so the authorities want this case handled very delicately. Chen, on the other hand, wants to find out who killed the victim and why. He and Yu begin work on the investigation but at first no leads turn up. Then there’s an added complication. Chen is invited to attend and present at the Central Party Institute’s annual seminar. It’s an important honour and it indicates that Chen is well regarded. To refuse the invitation is out of the question, but it means that Chen has to prepare his presentation at the same time as he’s working on this difficult case.

And that’s the way it is with most professional development. It’s not that it’s always bad. Some professional development is actually very useful. But it always seems to come when the sleuth least wants to take the time…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Domino College.

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Filed under Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong, Simon Beckett

On an Island in the Sun*

As any crime fiction fan can tell you, the setting for a novel can add as much to the suspense of a story as anything else. Take islands for instance. There are lots and lots of crime fiction novels that take place on islands and if you think about it, it’s not really surprising. Islands offer a kind of “closed” atmosphere that can add to the suspense of a story. After all, if there’s a murderer on an island there aren’t as many places to escape as there on a mainland. And an island also offers a sense of claustrophobia that can add to the suspense in a story too. Islands are also subject to weather extremes and that can add a layer of tension as well. There isn’t space in this one post to mention all of the “island-themed” crime fiction there is; I’ll just make reference to a few novels to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie uses the island setting in several of her novels and short stories.  Perhaps the best-known are A Caribbean Mystery, And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians) and Evil Under the Sun. In all of these novels a disparate group of people is brought together for what’s supposed to be a holiday or at least a break from normal life. In A Caribbean Mystery Miss Marple’s generous nephew arranges for her to take a holiday in the West Indies. There she meets Major Palgrave who tells her the story of a man who was married twice and lost both of his wives to what was said to be suicide. The next morning Major Palgrave is dead and it’s not long before Miss Marple suspects that someone on the island is connected with the case Major Palgrove was describing and doesn’t want the truth to come out. In And Then There Were None, arguably the darkest of the three novels, ten people travel to Indian Island off the Devon coast, each for a different reason. When everyone arrives and settles, they are all accused of having been responsible for the death of at least one other person. Then one by one the guests begin to die. The survivors now have to figure out who the murderer among them is before everyone is killed. Evil Under the Sun is the story of the murder of Arlena Stuart Marshall, a well-known actress with a reputation as a “man eater.” This novel takes place mostly at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay, where Marshall, her husband Kenneth and her stepdaughter Linda have gone for a holiday. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel and as it happens he’s possibly the last one to see the victim alive. So he works with Colonel Weston to find out which of the other guests is the murderer. In all of these novels the island setting brings together a group of people who otherwise might not be gathered (that’s even specifically mentioned in Evil Under the Sun). That fact adds much to the plots actually. So does the “closed” setting. And although the weather isn’t a major plot point in Evil Under the Sun or A Caribbean Mystery, it certainly is in And Then There Were None.

A great deal of the action in Ellery Queen’s The King is Dead also takes place on an island, in this case a private island owned by Kane “King” Bendigo. In that novel Queen and his father Inspector Richard Queen are summoned peremptorily to Bendigo Island to investigate a series of threatening notes that Bendigo has received. Neither Queen really wants to go but it’s made clear to them that this is a “command performance” because Bendigo’s a very powerful munitions dealer and has quite a lot of “clout” with various governments. When the Queens arrive on Bendigo Island they discover that it’s virtually an armed encampment. Bendigo lives there with his wife Karla and his brothers Judah and Abel. The rest of the residents are closely-supervised factory workers and a large and well-supplied security force. One night Bendigo is shot while he and his wife are closed up in his private office which is hermetically sealed and seemingly impregnable.  The most likely suspect is Judah Bendigo, who had already threatened his brother and who actually fired the weapon used in the shooting. But Judah was with Queen at the time of the murder. Besides, the gun he fired wasn’t loaded when he fired it. Now the Queens quite literally have a locked-room mystery to solve. Queen discovers that the root of the mystery lies in the Bendigos’ home town of Wrightsville so he travels there to uncover the past events that led to what happens on Bendigo Island and in the end, he puts together the pieces of the mystery.

Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet is a set of novels set in different places in Scotland’s Shetland Islands. The novels feature Inspector Jimmy Perez, who was worn and raised on Fair Isle but lived and worked in Aberdeen until he returned to the Shetlands. In all four of the novels Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones and Blue Lightning, Cleeves makes use of the tendency for islands to become insular. There’s a real gulf between the locals, many of whom have lived there all their lives, and incomers. And because of the insularity of islands they also often hold secrets. Those secrets and the network of relationships among the islanders play important roles in this series. So does the unpredictable weather. Storms, snow, autumn rain and fog all figure into the ways in which this set of stories play out.

Another series that takes place on an island is Johan Theorin’s Öland series. Those novels (so far Echoes From the Dead, The Darkest Room and The Quarry) all have to do with past tragedies and other mysteries that affect the present. They also feature a focus on the inter-relationships among the islanders and the realities of living in a place that depends heavily on the sea. Oh, and there’s the delightful Gerlof Davidsson, who’s lived there all his life and who knows just about everyone. In fact he’s what you might call a repository of island history and his knowledge is often key to solving the mysteries in this series.

Simon Beckett’s Written in Bone plays out on Runa, a remote island in the Outer Hebrides. In that novel forensic anthropologist David Hunter is called to Runa when the remains of a woman are found in a burned out building. Her death was meant to look like a tragic accidental burning but Hunter soon establishes that she was murdered. Now the task is to identify her and find out who murdered her and why. As he investigates, Hunter discovers that the island of Runa is hiding several secrets and as an incomer, he’s not going to be privy to them without digging deeper.

There are lots of other novels and series that feature islands (I’m thinking for instance of Roderic Jeffries’ Inspector Enrique Alvarez novels which are set on Mallorca).  It’s easy to see why. Island settings can be exotic and even when they aren’t they offer a “closed” context, some terrific opportunities for deep, dark secrets and good places too for all sorts of people to gather. Which are your favourite “island mysteries?”

 

ps. The ‘photo was taken on the lovely island of Aruba, which I can recommend for a quiet holiday. I promise – when I was there, there were no murders.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Weezer’s Island in the Sun.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Ellery Queen, Johan Theorin, Roderic Jeffries, Simon Beckett