Category Archives: Sinéad Crowley

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:

 

Prompts

Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:

You

Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:

Nunslinger

An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud

Greenlight

My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem

 

As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).

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Filed under Babs Horton, Beryl Bainbridge, Christopher Abbey, Don Winslow, Edney Silvestre, Finn Bell, Gordon Ell, Hannah Dennison, Hannah Kent, Harry Bingham, Jane Haddam, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, John Clarkson, Julian Symons, Katherine Dewar, Kwei Quartey, Lynda La Plante, Meg Gardiner, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Rhys Bowen, Robin Blake, Sinéad Crowley, Stark Holborn, Sue Younger, Surender Mohan Pathak, Zoran Drvenkar

Sleeping in That Old Abandoned Beach House*

There’s something about abandoned places. They have a certain allure, especially for people inclined to explore. And they often have good stories to tell, too. Since they’re abandoned, such places are also very appealing for people who want to hide evidence of a crime – namely, a body. Perhaps that’s why abandoned places are so appealing for crime writers…

For instance, in John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook, we are introduced to Tad Rampole, an American who’s recently finished his university studies. He’s been encouraged by his mentor to visit Dr. Gideon Fell, so he decides to go to the UK. When he gets there, he meets Dorothy Starberth, and the two take a liking to each other. Soon, Rampole finds out more about the Starberths from Fell. It seems that several generations of Starberth men were Governers of nearby Chatterham Prison, which is now disused. The prison is abandoned, but it still plays a role in a Starberth family ritual. On the night of his twenty-fifth birthday, every Starberth male spends the night in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. Now, it’s the turn of Dorothy Starberth’s brother, Martin. He’s anxious about it, because there seems to be a curse on Starberth males, several of whom have died in strange circumstances. Still, he goes through with the plan. Late that night, Martin Starberth dies in what looks like a horrible accident. But Fell discovers that this death was no accident at all, and works to find out who the killer is.

Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow is the first of his novels to feature Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) Police. In this novel, he is called in when a body is discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. The body is very possibly that of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine, who disappeared five months ago. Cardinal investigated that disappearance, but was never able to find out what happened to the girl. When the body is positively identified as Katie’s, Cardinal has the thankless task of informing her mother, and of re-opening the investigation. In the end, he finds out the truth about Katie and about other disappearances, too.

In Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders, retired Florida judge Sylvia Thorn accompanies her mother and a group of other retirees on a sightseeing trip to Laughlin, Nevada. The group (they call themselves the Florida Flippers) gets involved in a case of murder when the body of an unknown man turns up in the bathtub of one of the group’s hotel rooms. Matters get more complicated when another Florida Flipper goes missing, and is later found dead in an abandoned mine. Now, the Flippers are ‘people of interest’ in a double murder, and Sylvia works to keep them out of trouble, and to find out who the real killer is, and what the motive is.

Tana French’s The Likeness is the second in her Dublin Murder Squad series. In it, a young woman is found stabbed to death in an abandoned house. Cassie Maddox, who’s recently returned to the Murder Squad after some time away, is shocked to discover that the woman is identified as Lexie Madison, an alias Maddox once used. The victim bears a strong resemblance to Maddox, too. Now, the squad has two serious questions. One, of course, is, who killed the victim? The other is about the victim’s identity. Since there never really was a ‘Lexie Madison,’ the squad has to find out who the woman really was, and why she hid her identity. Maddox is persuaded to go undercover as Lexie Madison to find out the truth.

One of the plot threads in Peter James’ Not Dead Yet concerns an unknown man whose body is found in an abandoned chicken coop. The only part of the body that’s been discovered is the torso, so identifying the victim will be a challenge. Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove Police and his team trace the man through his clothes, and find out who he was. And, in the end, they connect this murder with another case they’re working: a superstar whose life’s been threatened. It turns out that someone is willing to stop at nothing to ‘win.’

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? Dublin Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle investigates when the body of an unknown woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Boyle and her team try to trace the victim’s identity through the apartment’s manager and owner, but they don’t get very far at first. Then, another possibility arises. Yvonne Mulhern and her family have recently moved to Dublin from London. She’s a brand-new mother, and at first, has no real support system. She doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin, and her relationship with her husband’s family isn’t particularly good. She soon finds solace in Netmammy, an online forum for new mothers. Then, she notices that one of the members has gone ‘off the grid.’ She’s concerned enough to contact the police, but there’s not much they can do. Boyle, though, starts to wonder whether there is a connection between the case she’s investigating, and the disappearance of Yvonne Mulhern’s online friend. If there is, this could have real implications for Netmammy.

There are a lot of other novels, too, in which bodies are found in abandoned houses, apartments, warehouses, and other places. And that makes sense. Hiding a body in an abandoned place gives the fictional killer time to hide any connection with the murder. And it gives the author the opportunity for a really creepy setting.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Backstreets.

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Filed under Giles Blunt, John Dickson Carr, Patricia Stoltey, Peter James, Sinéad Crowley, Tana French

Golden Opportunity*

I’ll bet you know the feeling. An opportunity comes along, and it seems like the proverbial answer to a prayer. Or your credit line at your bank is increased, just when you’re planning to get a car or some new furniture. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

But beware. Those pieces of good fortune have to be handled carefully. That’s certainly true in real life, and if crime fiction is anything to go by, it’s true there, too. And when things go wrong in a crime novel, they can go very wrong indeed.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lady Cicely Horbury. She’s a former chorus girl who married Lord Stephen Horbury. At first, all went well enough. But Lady Horbury has developed a gambling problem, so she’s incurred a lot of debt. And she uses cocaine – another costly habit. Then, she finds a solution that she thinks will work. She meets Marie Morisot, AKA Madame Giselle, a Paris moneylender, who agrees to lend to her. It starts with small enough sums that Lady Horbury can repay. Then, Madame Giselle lends her larger sums – as much as Lady Horbury wants. In fact, as she later tells Hercule Poirot,
 

‘‘It seemed like a miracle at the time.’’
 

Then, the time comes when Lady Horbury can’t repay her debt. That’s when Madame Giselle threatens to use her ‘collateral’ – private information that she intends to give to Lord Stephen. Now, Lady Horbury is desperate, and Madame Giselle is unyielding. That’s the situation when Madame Giselle is murdered aboard a flight that Lady Horbury is also taking. So, she becomes a ‘person of interest’ as Poirot investigates.

Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary is the story of Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from prison, and he knows that, because he’s an ex-convict, his opportunities are very limited. But he’s got to pay the bills. So, he starts looking for whatever sort of job he can get.  One day he sees an advertisement that especially interests him. Wealthy Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/escort/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Scofield is permanently disabled, so he can’t leave the house. But, as he tells Hadlock during the interview, he doesn’t want to restrict his wife similarly. Hadlock gets the job; and, at first, all goes very well. The position comes with a nice apartment, use of the Scofield cars, and a good salary. It’s not long, though, before things start to go wrong. And Hadlock soon learns that this job is fraught with a great deal of danger.

Walter and Joanna Eberhart get what they think is a golden opportunity when they discover the small suburban town of Stepford, Connecticut. The taxes are low, the schools are good, and the housing is affordable. So, the Eberharts and their two children make the move from New York City to Stepford. At first, all goes well. The family settles in, the children make new friends, and the house is everything they hoped it would be. But all is not as it seems. It starts when Joanna’s new friend, Bobbie Markowe, suspects that something might be very wrong with the town. At first, Joanna doesn’t believe her. But as time goes by, more and more things happen that suggest that Bobbie might be right. If she is, then something sinister is lurking beneath Stepford’s picture-perfect surface.

In Pascal Garnier’s novella How’s the Pain, we meet twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. He doesn’t have a university education or clear career goals. In fact, he’s a bit aimless. He gets what seems to be the perfect opportunity when ageing contract killer Simon Marechall offers him a job. Marechall wants Ferrand to serve as his driver for one last trip to the French coast, where he has some business to do. Ferrand doesn’t know what his new employer’s business is at first, but it’s an opportunity he can’t pass up. So, he goes along with the plan. Before he knows it, he’s in much, much deeper than he thought, and involved with a very dangerous business.

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? In it, Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern and their newborn daughter, Róisín, move from London to Dublin, so that Gerry can take advantage of a very attractive job opportunity. At first, it seems like the right choice. Then, things start to go wrong. For one thing, Gerry works a lot, so he can’t do much baby minding or housework. And Yvonne is exhausted from the work of taking care of Róisín mostly on her own. What’s worse, she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. So, there’s no-one to confide in or to pitch in and help. Then Yvonne discovers Netmammy, an online forum for new mums. It seems like the perfect solution; Yvonne finds new friends among the other forum members, and gets answers to many of her questions. All goes well until one of the members seems to go ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne’s concerned enough to go to the police about it, but there’s really nothing they can do. Then, the body of an unidentified woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle investigates, and finds that the woman’s description is similar enough to that of Yvonne’s online friend that it could be the same person. If so, what does that mean for Netmammy? If not, then who is the dead woman? In the end, we learn that sometimes, what seems like a perfect solution…isn’t.

And that’s the thing about those golden opportunities. You have to be very careful before taking them. And even then, they don’t always work out as planned…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Ian Hunter song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Pascal Garnier, Robert Colby, Sinéad Crowley

Oh, the Joy of You Close to Me*

As this is posted, it’s 63 years since the initial release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. As you’ll know, the film’s focus is L.B. Jefferies. When he’s laid up with a broken leg, Jefferies occupies himself watching the people in the other apartments surrounding the courtyard where he lives. He soon gets suspicious of one of them, a man named Thorwald, and the suspense builds as we learn the truth about Thorwald, and about some of the other characters.

But Jefferies is far from the only fictional character who witnesses something and then has suspicions that may or may not be true. In fact, it happens quite a lot in crime fiction. And it gives the author some interesting possibilities for plots. Is the suspicious character really a criminal? Is the witness reliable? All of these can add to a crime plot.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington, we are introduced to Elspeth McGillicuddy. Just a few days before Christmas, she takes a train to visit her friend, Miss Marple. While she’s on the train, she happens to look out the window and into the windows of another train going in the same direction. As that other train passes, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a man strangling a woman. Or does she? Elspeth McGillicuddy is not a fanciful person, or a liar. She knows what she saw. At the same time, when she alerts the authorities, no corpse is found, and no-one has filed a missing person report on a woman matching the victim’s description. Despite this, Miss Marple believes her friend, and works out where the body probably is. With the help of her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Miss Marple finds out who the woman was, how she came to be on the train, and what happened to her body. She also, of course, discovers who killed the woman.

In one plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Kingsmarkham Police Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the murder of Annette Bystock. She was found strangled in her bed, but there’s very little evidence as to who the killer might be. And there doesn’t seem to be a compelling motive (like money, fear, etc..). There is a witness, though. Elderly Percy Hammond lives next door to the victim, and spends more than his share of time looking out of his window at the goings-on around him. He doesn’t hear very well, so it’s a little difficult at first to communicate with him. In fact, he’s all but dismissed as a witness. But, as it turns out, he saw something very important. And once the police pay attention to him, they get a vital set of facts. As it turns out, this murder is connected to another case that Wexford is investigating.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Snack Thief features the murder of semi-retired executive Aurelio Lapècora. One day, he’s murdered in the elevator of his own apartment building. Commissario Salvo Montalbano and his team investigate. And of course, they look into the victim’s business matters as well as his personal life. Some interesting light is shed on both by Signora Clementina Vaile Cozzo, who has occasional insomnia, and the habit of looking out her window. She watches what goes on through the other windows on the street, one of which is the window to the dead man’s office. And what she tells Montalbano gives him some important and interesting information.

There’s a very unusual case of a witness to something suspicious in Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead. Garda Ben Devlin lives and words in Lifford, close to the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. In one plot thread of this novel, Devlin is asked to investigate a very strange occurrence. Christine Cashell has reported hearing a baby cry on her baby monitor. However, she and her partner have no children. They’d bought the monitor because Christine was pregnant, but the baby was stillborn. So, why would there be baby cries on the monitor? One explanation is that Christine is still far too fragile after the stillbirth to be a reliable witness, so there may have been no cries. But Devlin doesn’t think that’s true. So, he agrees to look into the matter. As it turns out, Christine knows very well what she heard, and this phenomenon is connected to another case he’s investigating.

There’s also Yvonne Mulhern, whom we meet in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? She and her husband, Gerry, have recently moved from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín, so that Gerry can take advantage of an important job opportunity. The move goes smoothly enough, but Yvonne doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin, and she’s overwhelmed by the demands of new parenthood. To make things worse, Gerry’s not home very often to do his share. Soon enough, Yvonne finds solace in Netmammy, an online support group and forum for new mums. She soon finds herself very attached to the group members, although she’s never met them. That’s why she gets concerned when one of them seems to go ‘off the grid.’ In fact, she’s worried enough to contact the police about it. But there’s not much they can do at first. Then, the body of an unknown woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle and her team investigate. The dead woman could be Yvonne Mulhern’s missing friend. If she is, then that has frightening implications for Netmammy. If she isn’t, then what happened to Yvonne’s friend? Among other things, this is an interesting case of an online witness, if I can put it that way.

It can be hard to avoid being curious about the other people who live and work around you. Sometimes, that curiosity can be very helpful to the police when they’re investigating. But it can also be quite risky…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Franz Waxman and Harold Rome’s Lisa. Fans of Rear Window will know why I chose this one, even if the lyrics don’t seem to quite fit.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian McGilloway, Ruth Rendell, Sinéad Crowley

A Few of Your Buddies, They Sure Look Shady*

The late Steve Irwin is credited with a really interesting comment about humans:
 

‘Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they try to be your friend first.’
 

If you’ve ever had the experience of being badly hurt by someone you thought was a friend, you’ll probably agree with Irwin.

That plot point has become an important part of many crime fiction novels; and, if you think about it, it’s a natural fit for the genre. Sadly, it’s an all-too-realistic scenario. And it can make for suspense and tension in a plot.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock introduces Celia Austin, who lives in a hostel for students. When some troubling events happen at the hostel, Hercule Poirot investigates. At first, it looks as though the solution is easy. Celia admits to being responsible for some of what’s happened, and everyone thinks the matter is closed. Then, two nights later, she dies. It’s soon proven that she was murdered. And Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who was responsible. It turns out that Celia made the tragic mistake of trusting that someone at the hostel was a friend, and paid a very high price for that. Christie uses that in several of her other stories, too (right, fans of Death on the Nile?).

In James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, insurance representative Walter Huff is drawn into a web of deceit and murder by someone he thinks he can trust. He happens to be in the Hollywood area one day, and decides to visit one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger, who lives nearby. He arrives at the house to find that Nirdlinger isn’t home. His wife, Phyllis, is, though, and she and Huff strike up a conversation. Soon enough, Huff falls for her, and she does nothing to discourage him. Before he knows it, he’s so besotted that he falls in with her plan to kill her husband for his life insurance money. Huff even writes up the sort of policy that she needs. The murder goes as planned – at first. Then it hits Huff that he has actually been responsible for killing someone – because of someone he thought was more than a friend. And things spiral out of control from there.

They do in Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, too. In that novel, Fabien Delorme is distressed to learn that that his wife, Sylvie, has been killed in a car accident. He’s even more upset to learn that she wasn’t alone in the car. Unbeknownst to him, she had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, and that bothers him even more than does the fact that she is dead. Delorme finds out that his rival left a widow, Martine, and becomes unhealthily obsessed with her. He stalks her, and finally gets to meet her. They begin a relationship which spins completely out of control and ends up in ugly tragedy all around. I don’t want to give away too much, but I can say that, like most noir stories, there’s plenty of betrayal and hurt from people who seem trustworthy at first.

T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton introduces readers to solicitor Jim Harwood. He gets a very difficult case when a young man named Elton Spears is accused of murder. According to the prosecution, Spears killed an enigmatic woman named Sarena Gunasekera, and threw her body off a cliff at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. There’s plenty of evidence against him, too. He was seen in the area, and it’s already well-known that he’s a troubled person. What’s more, he’s had brushes with the law before because of inappropriate contact with girls and women. Harwood knows Spears, and agrees to take the case. Together with barrister Harry Douglas, Harwood sets out to prove that Elton Spears is innocent. If he is, then someone else must be guilty. It turns out that that someone had seemed to be a person Spears could trust…

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? Yvonne Mulhern and her husband, Gerry, have recently moved from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín. It’s a major disruption, but it means that Gerry can take advantage of an important career opportunity, and that means a great deal more money for the family. Everyone settles in as best they can, and Gerry digs into his new job. Yvonne is exhausted, as new parents tend to be. What’s more, she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin, so she feels isolated. Then she discovers an online forum for new mums called Netmammy. She joins the group and soon feels much of the camaraderie and support that she’s been missing. She gets to know the other members, too, and feels a real sense of friendship with them. And that’s why, when one of them seems to go ‘off the grid,’ Yvonne gets concerned. She’s worried enough to go to the police, but there’s not much they can do. Then, the body of an unidentified young woman turns up in an abandoned apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle, herself an expectant mother, investigates the death. The victim’s profile is similar enough to Yvonne’s missing friend that it could be the same person. If it is, then that has frightening implications for Netmammy. Little by little, and each in a different way, the two women find out the truth. Throughout this novel, there’s a strong thread of people one thinks are friends, who turn out to be anything but…

And that’s the thing. There are people who seem to be friends, but aren’t at all to be trusted. And when they show themselves for what they are, it can change everything.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leon Huff, Gene McFadden, and John Whitehead’s Back Stabbers.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, James M. Cain, Pascal Garnier, Sinéad Crowley, T.J. Cooke