Category Archives: Simon Brett

Still Trying to Clear My Name*

One of the tropes we see in crime fiction is the plot point where the sleuth is accused, or at least, suspected, of the crime that’s under investigation. It’s not easy to pull off, since readers know that the sleuth is not likely to be guilty (and didn’t Agatha Christie turn that one on its head!).

When it’s done well, though, having the sleuth suspected of crime adds tension to the story. And it gives the sleuth an added incentive to investigate. This trope turns up in all sorts of crime fiction, too. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to London when one of the other passengers, Marie Morisot, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. The only possible suspects are the other people in the cabin, so Chief Inspector Japp concentrates his attention on them. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Poirot isn’t guilty. But at the coroner’s inquest, he’s considered quite a suspicious character, and the jury returns a verdict against him. The coroner doesn’t accept the verdict, and Poirot is at no risk of being arrested. But, as he says,
 

‘‘…I must set to work and clear my character.’’
 

And that’s exactly what he does.

In Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is That?, Charles Paris gets a new acting job – a ‘play as cast’ part in the Pintero Theatre’s upcoming production of The Scottish Play. One day, rehearsals go particularly badly, and the entire cast goes out to drown their sorrows. Paris comes back to the theatre afterwards, quite a bit the worse for wear, and falls asleep there. He wakes up just after three in the morning, to find that he’s been locked in to the building. And then he finds the body of Warnock Belvedere, who had the role of Duncan. Paris knows that things don’t look good for him. He’s innocent, but he doesn’t expect the police to believe him. So, he avoids them as much as he can, for as long as he can. He also starts looking for the real murderer, so he can clear his name. It’s not going to be easy, though, as just about everyone in the production had a reason to want the victim dead.

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, we are introduced to psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. When the body of a former patient is pulled from London’s Grand Union Canal, Inspector Vincent Ruiz investigates. As it happens, O’Loughlin was close to the scene when the body was discovered. And the victim is someone he knew. So, Ruiz asks for his help in finding a possible motive. But the more evidence he finds, the more it seems that O’Loughlin knows more than he is saying about this murder. Then, there are other murders, and O’Loughlin is implicated. Now, he’s going to have to find out the truth and persuade Ruiz of it if he’s to clear his name. And that truth turns out to be very dangerous.

Denise Mina’s Maureen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell begins with Garnethill. In it, O’Donnell wakes up one morning after a long night of drinking. She discovers the body of her former boyfriend, Douglas Brodie, in her living room. It’s not long before she comes ‘a person of interest,’ and then an official suspect, in the case. For one thing, there’s the obvious: the body was found in her home, and she can give no explanation. For another, she’d recently found out that Brodie was married. And then there’s the fact of her fragile mental health. She knows that the police aren’t going to believe she’s innocent, and that she’ll likely end up in prison. So, she decides to find out who the killer is, so she can clear her name.

When we first meet her, in The Salaryman’s Wife, Sujata Masesy’s Rei Shimura is an antiques dealer and expert who lives and works in Tokyo. She also teaches English to help make ends meet. She decides to treat herself to a New Year’s holiday at a traditional B&B near Shiroyama, in the Japanese Alps. All goes well enough until the morning when Shimura discovers the body of Setsuko Nakamura, one of the other guests. Captain Jiro Okuhara is assigned to the case, and he and his team begin their work. Shimura is a ‘person of interest’ to begin with, since she discovered the body. And Okuhara isn’t entirely convinced that her account of what happened is really the truth. Still, there are several other suspects, and Shimura isn’t immediately accused. Soon, however, another guest, attorney Hugh Glendinning, is. In fact, he’s charged with the crime. He says he’s innocent, and Shimura wants to believe him, not least because she is attracted to him. Partly to clear her own name, and partly to clear Glendinning’s, if he is innocent, Shimura starts her own search for the truth. And it turns that search is a lot more dangerous than she’d thought.

And then there’s Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue, which introduces her sleuth, Caitlin ‘Cait’ Morgan. She’s a criminologist and academician who teaches at the University of Vancouver. When an injury leaves a colleague unable to deliver a paper at an upcoming symposium, Morgan takes his place. The symposium is in Nice, so she’s looking forward to the trip. While she’s in Nice, she encounters a former employer, Alistair Townsend. Townsend remembers her, and invites her to his wife, Tamsin’s, birthday party. Morgan doesn’t want to attend, since her relationship with Townsend was not at all a pleasant one. He insists, though, so she finally agrees. During the party, Townsend collapses and dies of what turns out to be digitalis poisoning. Captain Moreau and Lieutenant Bertrand take over the investigation. Morgan is the only ‘outsider.’ She had no regular access to the victim (and so, would take advantage of an event like the party) and has made no secret of the fact that she hated him. So, the police pay a fair amount of attention to her as a likely suspect. Mostly to clear her own name, Morgan starts asking questions, and finds that plenty of people had a good reason to want Townsend dead.

Being accused of murder can add a strong motive for the sleuth to investigate. And it can add tension to a story. There are plenty of examples in the genre; these are just a few…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Chris Rea.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cathy Ace, Denise Mina, Michael Robotham, Simon Brett, Sujata Massey

They Think Me Macbeth, and Ambition is My Folly*

More then 400 years after its first known production, Shakespeare’s Macbeth still plays an important role in theatre, literature, and in Western culture. There are, of course, many books, commentaries, and other pieces of writing that reflect on the play and its significance.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that Macbeth (we’re not in a theatre, so I can use the play’s proper name) also shows up in crime fiction. It is, after all, a play about a crime, among other things. And it shows how that crime impacts the people who are mixed up in it.

Fans of Agatha Christie will know that she was a fan of Shakespeare’s work, and that includes Macbeth. In Hallowe’en Party, for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a young girl who had boasted that she saw a murder. Only hours after she made her claim, someone drowned her in the apple-bobbing bucket at a Hallowe’en party. As Poirot gets to know the people in the village of Woodleigh Common, where the victim lived, he also learns the history of the place, and the history of some of the characters’ interactions. And that leads him to some important clues about the murder. At one point, he compares one of the characters to Lady Macbeth, saying,
 

‘‘I have always wondered…exactly what sort of woman Lady Macbeth was. What would she be like if you met her in real life?’’
 

Poirot is not a fanciful person; it’s just that that Lady Macbeth is a strong and well-developed character who’s not easy to forget. There’s also, of course By the Pricking of My Thumbs, which takes its title from a line in the play.

Ngaio Marsh’s last Inspector Alleyn novel, Light Thickens, features Macbeth, a play that Marsh directed more than once. In the story, Sir Dougal Macdougal is set to play the lead in a production of the Scottish Play, to be held at London’s Dolphin Theatre. As theatre fans will know, this is considered an unlucky play, and there are people who won’t produce or act in it. But Peregrine Jay, who owns the Dolphin, wants to go ahead with it. Some odd things happen (missing equipment, for instance), but all of the rehearsals go well, and cast is ready for opening night. Six weeks into the play’s run, Macdougal is murdered on stage. Inspector Alleyn investigates, looking into the victim’s relationships with fellow cast members, as well as his personal life. And in the end, he finds out who the killer is, and how this murder is related to the other strange events at the theatre.

James Yaffe wrote a short series featuring Dave, an investigator for the Mesa Grande, Colorado, Public Defender’s Office. He does his job well, but the real sleuth in the series is his mother, who’s moved from their native New York City to Mesa Grande. In Mom Doth Murder Sleep, the local amateur theatre group decides on a production of Macbeth, with Martin Osborn set to take the lead role. Sally Michaels has the role of Lady Macbeth. Dave’s friend and co-worker, Roger Meyer, is also in the cast. On opening night, Osborn is stabbed onstage, and Sally is the most likely suspect. In fact, she is arrested and charged with the crime. When Dave finds out about the case from Roger, he sees no reason to doubt that Sally is the killer. But his mother sees things differently and persuades him to look into the case more deeply. When he does, Dave finds that more than one person had very good reason to want to kill Martin Osborn.

There’s also Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is That? (Oh, come on! Could I resist the chance to add a Charles Paris mystery with a topic like this?). In that novel, Paris is ‘resting between roles’ when his agent calls to tell him he’s gotten a ‘play as cast’ contract. The production is Macbeth, and the location is the Pintero Theatre, Warminster. ‘Play as cast’ roles are notorious for being time-consuming and difficult, but Paris doesn’t have much choice. So, he accepts the contract and work on the play begins. The role of Duncan has been given to the legendary Warnock Belvedere. He’s gifted on the stage, but in real life, is arrogant, egotistical, sexist and high-handed. So, as you can imagine, he manages to alienate just about everyone in the cast and crew. There are other hurdles, too, with this production, but little by little, the cast and crew get ready. One day, rehearsal goes especially badly, and everyone decides to drown their sorrows. Paris has quite a lot more to drink than is judicious, so he lurches back to his dressing room to try to get some rest. He sees Belvedere, who’s also had quite a bit to drink. Paris falls asleep and wakes up at three in the morning. He soon sees that he’s been locked in to the theatre. He also discovers that Belvedere has died. He calls the police, and they begin to investigate. Once they establish that Belvedere’s been murdered, Paris sees that he will be a suspect, since he was in the theatre all night, and can’t account for his actions. In order to clear his name, he decides to do a little investigating on his own – and to avoid the police as much as he can until he finds out the truth.

One of K.B. Owen’s protagonists is Concordia Wells. She is a teacher at Hartford Women’s College, in the last years of the 19th Century. And, although she doesn’t set out to be an investigator, she finds herself drawn into more than one murder. In Dangerous and Unseemly, for instance, she is supervising the school’s upcoming production of Macbeth, something she hadn’t planned to do, but has ended up doing by default, so to speak. While she’s busy with the details of the play, the college’s Bursar, Ruth Lyman, dies in an apparent case of suicide. It’s not, though, and it’s not the only bad thing happening at the school. Some malicious pranks, and even arson, also happen. Concordia knows that if someone doesn’t act, her school may have to close. So, she decides to find out the truth behind what’s been going on, even though criminal investigation is simply not ‘ladylike.’

See what I mean? Macbeth has been a part of our culture for a very long time and shows up in all sorts of different ways in crime fiction. Considering the play’s themes and plot, that isn’t surprising.

ps. Thank you, Royal Shakespeare Company, for this fabulous ‘photo of Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth! Their production will be on at Stratford-Upon-Avon until September, and then it moves to London.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lin-Manual Miranda’s Take a Break.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, James Yaffe, K.B. Owen, Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett

Pressure, Pushing Down on Me*

In the US, one of the last major hurdles for Ph.D. candidates is defending their dissertations. I understand it’s the same in many other places, too. If you have a Ph.D. yourself, or you’ve sat in on one of these events, then you know it’s a very intense experience. As this is posted, it’s my ‘dissertation anniversary,’ which has me thinking about the process. Candidates spend weeks or even months preparing their presentations of their material, as well as responses to possible questions they may get from members of their dissertation committees (and, at times, the audience). And, of course, those questions may be about any aspect of the dissertation, so the candidate needs to be thoroughly familiar with every bit of the material. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least.

The thing about defending a dissertation is that it’s a bit difficult to describe, since it doesn’t have a lot of obvious parallels in other fields. But a look at crime fiction can help give a few insights.

Getting ready to defend a dissertation is a little like rehearsing for a performance. Just as actors must know their lines and musicians must know their pieces, Ph.D. candidates have to have their presentations well-prepared. We see the intensity of rehearsal in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, Christine Poulson’s Stage Fright sees her protagonist, Cassandra James, asked to adapt a Victorian novel, East Lynne, for a stage production. She’s Head of the English Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, and her specialty is Victorian literature. So, she’s the right choice for the job. All starts out well enough, and rehearsals begin. But then, Melissa Meadows, who is to take a leading role in the play, tells James that someone is stalking her. Then, she goes missing. This throws rehearsals into chaos, and, when she doesn’t return, leads to the investigation of a possible murder.

Fans of Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett, and Deborah Nicholson, among others, will know that their novels also take the reader ‘backstage.’ In such novels, we see how many times material has to be prepared and how important timing is. We also see the suspense, nerves and tension that come out under so much pressure. It’s the same when one’s preparing to defend a dissertation.

Defending a dissertation isn’t really entertainment, though. Candidates need to be prepared to address challenges to everything about their work. They need to examine each aspect of their dissertations, from the topic, to the data collection, to the data analysis, and more. In that sense, preparing to defend a dissertation is a little like preparing for a trial. A good attorney prepares thoroughly for each trial. That includes working with witnesses and, possibly, the defendant. It also includes looking carefully at each aspect of the case, and addressing possible weaknesses. Attorneys know that any serious weaknesses in a case will be exploited by the other side. So, they do everything possible to prevent that. Admittedly, the Ph.D. candidate doesn’t risk prison. But it’s still quite a high-stakes process.

We see that sort of preparation in work by, for instance Scott Turow, John Grisham, Robert Rotenberg, and Paul Levine. The writing team of ‘Perri O’Shaughnessy’ also explore this sort of pre-trial work in their Nina Reilly novels.

Presenting one’s material before the dissertation committee, and fielding questions, isn’t exactly like a trial. The role of the dissertation committee is to support the candidate. After all, if the candidate doesn’t do well, this reflects on the committee, too – in particular on the candidate’s advisor/tutor, who generally chairs the committee.

In that way, defending a dissertation is a bit like a major sports competition. On the one hand, the player has to work very hard, and coaches can be difficult to satisfy. The Olympic Games, the World Series, the World Cup, and other such contests, all require discipline and focus. And coaches and trainers push and challenge players to get the most from them. At the same time, their role is to be allies and support systems.

Alison Gordon’s crime novels give readers a good look at what it’s like to play for a Major League baseball team. Readers see how important the actual games can be, and what the roles of coaches and trainers are. John Daniell’s The Fixer offers some similar insight into the world of rugby. And there’s Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series, which takes the perspective of a sports agent. In all of these novels and series, we see how pivotal a game or series of games can be. That stress and tension is quite similar to what it’s like to defend a dissertation.

As I say, it’s a little difficult to describe getting ready to defend a dissertation. It’s a singular experience, and it challenges Ph.D. candidates to think about their work in ways they probably wouldn’t otherwise. But there is nothing quite like being informed you’ve passed, and having your committee address you as ‘Doctor.’ I often think it would actually be a solid context for a crime novel. There’s tension, intense preparation, possible ego clashes, and there’s no telling what the candidate might uncover in pursuit of that all-important data set. If you went through this process, I’d love to hear your experiences. I still remember mine, even after a number of years.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Deborah Nicholson, Harlan Coben, John Daniell, John Grisham, Ngaio Marsh, Paul Levine, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Turow, Simon Brett

I’m Going to Some Place Where I’ve Never Been Before*

Field TripsClassrooms aren’t always the best places to learn things. After all, if you’re going to teach a science lesson about salamanders and other amphibians, what better way than for students to actually see some in their natural environments? If you’re teaching a unit on The Scottish Play, why not take students to see a production of it?

If you went on field trips yourself, or you’ve sent your children on them, then you know how much of an impact a field trip can have. They’ve been a part of schooling for a long time. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we also see field trips woven throughout crime fiction, too.

When we first meet Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers in The Penguin Pool Murder, she is escorting her fourth grade students on a field trip to the New York Aquarium. Her plan was an enjoyable and educational outing, as field trips are supposed to be. But that’s not how it works out. First, Miss Withers’ handbag is nearly stolen by a pickpocket. Miss Withers manages to trip up the would-be thief, and he is caught by security guards. Later, the class is gathering to leave the aquarium when one of the students notices that Miss Withers’ hatpin is missing. It’s just been found at the bottom of a flight of stairs when Miss Withers sees that one of her students is not with the group. The class soon finds him staring avidly into the penguin tank. And that’s when they see the body of a man sliding into the tank. It turns out to be a complicated case for Miss Withers and for New York Police Inspector Oscar Piper, who investigates the crime. Certainly it’s not the field trip Miss Withers had imagined!

Much of the action in Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons takes place at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. In that novel, what starts out as an ordinary summer term becomes anything but that when the new games mistress, Grace Springer, is shot one night in the school’s new Sports Pavilion. Then there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. One of the pupils, Julia Upjohn, goes to visit Hercule Poirot. She’s heard of him because he knows Maureen Summerhayes (yes, fans of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, that Maureen Summerhayes), who is a friend of Julia’s mother. Poirot returns to the school with Julia, and works with the police to find out what’s behind the events at the school. Although these events rock the school, it is still an established girls’ school, so there are several field trips. One chapter of this book takes the form of letters that various characters write; they speak of trips to see ballet, opera and other performances. It’s an interesting look at life in such a school at that time.

Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear is the first in his series featuring cultural anthropologist Gideon Oliver. He’s been invited to do a series of guest lectures and classes for the United States Overseas College (USOC), which provides higher education for those associated with US military installations in other countries. Instead of the peaceful lecture series he thinks he’s going to give, Oliver gets drawn into a web of international conspiracy, espionage and murder. But there are still the lectures to give and the other educational plans he’s made. One of his lecture stops, for instance, is in Spain. He’s made a reservation at a local museum for a private tour for him and his students. But when the group gets there, they are told the museum is closed. Oliver is trying to work out what he’s going to do to complete this part of his lecture series when his students make a grisly discovery: the bodies of two men. As it turns out, Oliver can’t avoid the web he’s been drawn into even on a field trip…

And then there’s Dana Stabenow’s A Grave Denied. When Ms. Doogan takes her eighth-grade students to Alaska’s Grant Glacier, she thinks it’s going to be an opportunity for them to add to the richness of what they’re learning about the glacier and its history. In fact, she’s asked them to keep a journal of this trip and other things that they do. But instead, the class finds the body of a dead man frozen in the glacier. He is Len Dreyer, a local handyman and ‘fix-it’ person. He didn’t have any family or close friends, so no-one really noticed his disappearance, much less knew that he was dead. Alaska State Trooper Jim Chopin investigates the case, and works with PI Kate Shugak. She has a personal stake in it, since she is acting as guardian for one of the students who found the body. And she knew the dead man, although not well. Certainly Ms. Doogan’s students have more to write about than she expected.

One of the funnier field trips in crime fiction (at least from my perspective; your mileage, as they say, may vary) is in Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is This?  Down-and-out actor Charles Paris is ‘resting between roles’ when his agent gets him a ‘play as cast’ position with the Pintero Theatre, Warminster. They’re doing a production of The Scottish Play, and Brett ends up having half a dozen minor roles. He also ends up deeply involved when Warnock Belvedere, who has the role of Duncan, is killed. Paris is ‘a person of interest,’ since he was in the theatre building at the time of the murder. But he is by no means the only likely suspect. At one point, a group of students attend a matinee performance of the play, and Paris is asked to talk to them after the performance, and field their questions:

 

‘Charles persevered. ‘So for them, you see, the theatre provided everything. Tragedy, comedy…’
‘Where’s the comedy?’ demanded an aggressive recently broken voice.
‘Well, even in Macbeth there’s comedy.’
‘Where?’
‘The Drunken Porter. He’s a comic character.’
‘But he’s not funny.’
‘No, I know he’s not funny, but he is a comic character.’
Dear, oh, dear, this is uphill work, thought Charles… ‘You see, you have the latest sit com, but in the same way the people of Shakespeare’s time had the Drunken Porter….’
‘Poor sods,’ said a voice from the back.
The short bearded teacher leapt up in fury. ‘Who said that? Come on, who said it? We are not leaving this theatre until the boy who said that word owns up.’
Oh God, thought Charles. We could be here all night.’

 

Paris probably didn’t imagine that his thespian duties would involve field trips…

Field trips are an important part of education. Fortunately most of them go much more smoothly than these!

Speaking of field trips, the ‘photo you see was taken at Carlsbad, California’s beautiful Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center. I had the privilege of co-presenting a two-part workshop on Writing in Nature the past two weekends. Many thanks to our hosts! It was a great experience!

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Canned Heat’s Going Up the Country.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Dana Stabenow, Simon Brett, Stuart Palmer

It’s a Dirty Story of a Dirty Man*

Stories within StoriesOne interesting plot strategy that authors sometimes use is to fold one story within another. The ‘story within a story’ plot thread needs to be handled very carefully; otherwise the result can be confusing, plodding or meandering. But when it’s handled well, a story within a story can richness to a novel. It can also add suspense and tension.

The main plot of Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, concerns detective novelist Ariadne Oliver’s trip to Nasse House in Nassecomb. She’s there on commission to create a Murder Hunt as an attraction for an upcoming fête. She soon suspects, though, that more is going on than preparations for the event. So she asks Hercule Poirot to join her and investigate; this he agrees to do. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s been playing the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Mrs. Oliver and Inspector Bland to find out who would have wanted to kill her. Wrapped within this story is the plot of Mrs. Oliver’s Murder Hunt. We learn the plot through the synopsis and character profiles she provides, and that folded-in story plays its role in the larger plot.

In Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead, Inspector Morse has developed a bleeding ulcer (not particularly surprising given his lifestyle and – er – diet). During his hospital recovery, he is given a copy of Murder on the Oxford Canal, which tells the story of the 1859 murder of Joanna Franks on a canal boat. At the time, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime, and duly executed. But as he reads the book, Morse becomes convinced that they were innocent. As soon as possible, he sets out to discover who the real killer was. So at the same time as we follow the main plot of Morse’s recovery and search for the truth in this case, we also follow Joanna Franks’ story. Fans of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time will know that that novels is structured in a similar way. Inspector Alan Grant is recovering from a broken leg when he becomes interested in the history of Richard III and the story of the Princes in the Tower.

James Yaffe’s Mom Doth Murder Sleep is the story of what happens when the Mesa Grande, Colorado amateur theatrical troupe puts on a production of The Scottish Play. The cast includes Roger Meyers, who also works for the local Public Defender’s office. On opening night, Martin Osborn, who has the lead role, is murdered. His leading lady Sally Michaels is arrested for the crime; she had motive, too, as he’d recently ended a relationship with her. But there are other suspects, too, and Meyer’s boss Dave works with him to find out who was really guilty. Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is This? also folds in the plot of the The Scottish Play with the main plot of the murder of the lead actor.

Sometimes, a ‘story within a story’ plot line can be very effective at building tension. Fans of Stephen King’s Misery, for instance, will know that this story’s main plot concerns novelist Paul Sheldon, and what happens to him when he is rescued after a car accident that happens during a bad snowstorm. His savior, Annie Wilkes, is a fanatic devotee of his work. And that’s the problem. She gets deeply involved with the plot of his latest novel, which is still in manuscript form. And when certain plot events don’t go the way she wants them to, she takes her own kind of action about it. In this novel, the story told in the manuscript plays a role in the larger plot. Admittedly, this isn’t, strictly speaking, a crime fiction novel; it’s more psychological horror. But it really was too good an example not to include…

P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail also shows what can happen when the plot of a novel is folded into a larger plot. FBI profiler Sophie Anderson meets best-selling crime novelist Loretta Black when Black pays a visit to Anderson’s department as a part of researching a new novel. Not very long afterwards, Anderson transfers to the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. She’s settling in there when she learns that Black has been murdered in an eerie re-enactment of the murder in her latest novel. That case is under investigation when there’s another murder, again of a novelist who is killed in the same way as the fictional character is killed. Then another novelist disappears. Now Anderson works with the local FBI team and the LAPD to find out who has targeted crime writers.

More recently, Renée Knight’s Disclaimer tells the story of what happens when documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft decides to read a new book called The Perfect Stranger. She soon discovers that the book is about her, and tells a terrifying secret that she’s kept for twenty years. But how did anyone know that secret? And why would anyone want to ruin her life? Now she’ll have to go back to the past to find out who is threatening her now.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples here; I know you can think of a lot more. Folding one story into another is an interesting way to add depth and keep readers engaged. When it works well it can also add a great deal of suspense. Which stories like this have you enjoyed? If you’re a writer, have you used this plot point?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Paperback Writer. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

Paperback Writer_6126

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, James Yaffe, Josephine Tey, P.D. Martin, Renée Knight, Simon Brett, Stephen King