Category Archives: Steph Avery

I’ll Be There For You, Like I’ve Been There Before*

If you have siblings, then you know that the dynamics can be complicated. But what’s interesting is that siblings tend to protect each other. You’re allowed to tease your brother or sister, but you wouldn’t likely put up with it if someone outside the family did that.

That protectiveness about siblings plays a big role in crime fiction, too. There are a lot of examples of how this plays out in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see how it works. Space only permits me to mention a few instances; I know you’ll think of plenty of others.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder With Mirrors (AKA They Do it With Mirrors), we are introduced to Ruth Van Rydock. She’s concerned about her sister, Carrie Louise, whose health seems to be poor. And Ruth is worried that her sister might be in real danger. When her old school friend, Miss Marple, pays her a visit, Ruth shares her thoughts, and Miss Marple agrees to check on Carrie Louise, who is also an old school friend. Carrie Louise lives with her third husband, Lewis Serrocold, in a house called Stonygates, which includes a home and school for delinquent boys. There are some other family members who also live there as well, and a few who visit while Miss Marple is at Stonygates. One day, one of those visitors, Carrie Louise’s stepson, Christian Gulbrandsen, is shot. Out of concern for both of her friends, Miss Marple extends her visit to help find out who the killer is, and what the truth is about Carrie Louise’s health. I see you, fans of Appointment With Death.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit is the story of Virginia brothers Mason and Gates Hunt. They were raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who fell in for her own share of abuse. Gates tried to protect his younger brother from their father’s attacks, and Mason is grateful for that. That protectiveness comes back to haunt the brothers later, though. As they grow, Mason takes advantage of every opportunity that comes his way. Eventually, he gets a university scholarship and goes to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his considerable athletic ability, and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments, and on money he gets from his and Mason’s mother, Sadie Grace. One day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument is put ‘on hold’ for a while, but it flares up later when the Hunt brothers encounter Thompson that night. Tempers flare more and more, and before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of loyalty and his own kind of protectiveness, Mason helps his brother hide the evidence of the crime, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason has become a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Gates has turned to drug trafficking and is arrested on cocaine-related charges. When he receives a long prison sentence, he begs his brother to help get him out. This time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens that if he doesn’t get out of prison, he’ll implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. Mason calls his brother’s bluff, and before long, finds himself accused of murder. Now, he’s going to have to clear his name, and it’s not going to be an easy process.

In Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel, Christine Moran grows up in a toxic environment. Her mother, Eve, has always wanted to acquire. And she’s never been afraid to do whatever it took, including murder, to get what she wanted. Christine’s been profoundly impacted by this environment, and she’s developed a dysfunctional relationship with her mother. Then everything changes. Christine sees that her younger brother, Ryan, is at risk of being caught in the same web, and she doesn’t want that to happen. She has to find a way to free herself and her brother if they’re going to have a chance to survive.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs features the members of the Franco family. At the turn of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family emigrate to the United States from Italy. They start life again in New York, where Ben gets a job in a shoe repair shop. Within a few years, he’s got his own shoe sales and repair company, and the family prospers. Tragedy strikes one night when Ben gets into a bar fight and ends up killing his opponent, Luigi Lupo. It turns out that Lupo is the son of notorious gangster Tonio Lupo, and that spells disaster for the Franco family. Lupo curses the family, promising that each of Franco’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was when he was killed. And Lupo has the connections and the will to make good on that curse. As the story goes on, we follow the three Franco sons, Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick’ and Leonardo ‘Leo,’ and we learn how the curse plays out. We also see how, in their ways, the brothers try to protect each other. There’s a strong sense of family loyalty here.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses. This novel begins when the South London police get an anonymous letter in which the writer confesses to the murder of a vagrant whose body was found on the tracks in an underground station. The police can’t do very much about the letter, even if it is genuine (which it soon proves to be). The story then moves to 1966 South East London. Mods, Rockers, and all sorts of experimentation are the rage, and teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan want to be a part of it. They’re sheltered ‘good girls,’ but they want to see a bit of life. One Friday night, they coax and plead, and finally get their mother to let them go to the Palais Royale to dance. Her condition is that their cousin, Jimmy, will need to take them there and bring them back. That’s not a problem for Midge and Bridie, who think their cousin is ‘cool,’ so plans are made. The night turns tragic, though, and impacts the girls for the rest of their lives. Throughout the novel, we see how Bridie and Midge try to take care of each other, and that plays its role in the novel.

And that’s the thing about siblings. It’s one thing for one sibling to pick on another. It’s another if someone from the ‘outside’ does. And, even when that protectiveness goes too far (or is even toxic in itself), it’s often there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rembrandts’ I’ll Be There For You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Martin Clark, Patricia Abbott, Steph Avery

I Position My Precious Assortment of Pencils and Powders and Paint*

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but the cosmetics industry is doing very well. Even ‘drugstore’ cosmetics aren’t cheap, and that’s to say nothing of the more upmarket brands. And let’s not even talk about good nail salons and the like. Let’s face it; looking good comes at a price. It takes time, too.

But it’s awfully popular. From organic skin preparations, to perfume, to myriad other things, there’s quite a market for makeup. Flip open any magazine, paper or online, and you’ll find all sorts of cosmetics ads. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we see cosmetics in crime fiction, too. There are all sorts of examples out there; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal), we are introduced to Susan Banks. When her wealthy Uncle Richard Abernethie dies, she stands to inherit quite a bit of money. And for her, this offers the opportunity to start her own enterprise – a cosmetics and beauty business. Her husband, Greg, works in a chemist’s shop, so the plan is to also have a laboratory for special beauty preparations. It’s a major undertaking, so she’s eager for her inheritance. And that’s what makes her a ‘person of interest’ when Uncle Richard dies. At first, everyone’s prepared to say that the death was natural – sudden, but not unexpected. But then, at the gathering after the funeral, Susan’s Aunt Cora Lansquenet says that it was murder. Everyone hushes her, but privately, everyone also begins to wonder. And then, when Cora herself is murdered the next day, everyone is sure she was right. The family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he agrees. He finds that Susan Banks is by no means the only one who might have wanted to kill Abernethie and his sister.

In Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, we are introduced to Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths, of the Cardiff Police. She’s tapped to join a murder investigation team when the bodies of Nancy Mancini and her six-year-old daughter, April are found in their apartment. The victim was an occasional sex worker, and at first, the evidence suggests that she might have been murdered by a client. But then, there’s another death. And another. It’s now clear that something very much more is going on than it seems on the surface. And it turns out that the closer Fiona gets to the truth, the darker that truth turns out to be. Fiona battled mental illness as a teenager; and, although she doesn’t wallow in it, she finds it hard to live on what she calls ‘Planet Normal.’ And part of that ‘planet’ is the world of dating. At one point in the novel, she does begin to date someone, and it’s interesting to see how she thinks about the way girlfriends are ‘supposed to’ dress, wear makeup, and so on when they’re on dates.

Elizabeth J. Duncan’s Penny Brannigan is the owner of a nail salon – the Happy Hands Nail Care shop – in the Welsh town of Llanelen. In The Cold Light of Mourning, she gets involved in a case of murder when a young bride, Meg Wynne Thompson, goes missing and is later found dead. As it turns out, Penny was possibly the last person (other than the killer) to see the victim alive. Meg Wynne had come to the shop to have her nails done on the morning of her wedding. She left the shop afterwards, and never returned. So, although Penny isn’t really considered a suspect, her information is important. And she is curious about what happened. The police, in the forms of Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Gareth Davies, and Detective Sergeant (DS) Bethan Morgan are the official investigators. In her own way, Penny investigates, too. Each in a different way, they get to the truth. Many parts of the story are told from Penny’s point of view, so we learn what pride she takes in doing nails. She knows that having beautiful-looking hands and nails makes a difference, and she always works with her clients to choose exactly the right shade for whatever the occasion may be. It’s a lot more than just a paycheck for her.

Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses is the story of teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan. It’s East London, 1966, a time of Mods, Rockers, and all sorts of experimentation. The Dolan sisters have been sheltered most of their lives, raised in a ‘good’ home. But that doesn’t mean they’re not curious about the world around them. They read the fashion and popular culture magazines and want to be a part of it all. One Friday night, they persuade their mother, Eileen, to let them go to the Palais Royale to dance. Her one condition is that their cousin, Jimmy, take them and then bring them home. Jimmy is ‘cool,’ so the sisters agree.  They choose their clothes and makeup carefully, as they want to make a good impression. Then, they show their mother:
 

‘‘My, but you two are a pair of beauties…’
‘You don’t think the makeup’s too much, Mam?’ Bridie, still uncertain.
‘It’s no more than I used to wear. We all wanted to look like Joan Crawford when I was your age and when I look at pictures of me, Sweet Baby Jesus, I look like a painted doll. It makes you look bonny – not that you need it, but no, it’s not too much.’’
 

With that approval, the girls go to the dance. Later that night, a tragedy occurs that will change both of their lives.

And then there’s Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which introduces his sleuth, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. She lives in the small, 1950s English village of Bishop’s Lacey with her father and her two older sisters, Ophelia ‘Feely’ and Daphne ‘Daffy. They’re interested in makeup, clothes, and boys. Flavia, on the other hand, is interested in chemistry. In fact, she’s quite an accomplished chemist, especially for someone her age, and has a real passion for the subject. The main plot of this novel revolves around a stranger who visits the de Luce home and is found dead the next morning. But woven through the story is the ongoing sibling ‘war’ between Flavia and her sisters. They play nasty tricks on her, and she is not one to back away from a challenge. So, she comes up with a plan. She ‘borrows’ one of Feely’s lipsticks and injects it with poison ivy. But her trick ends up having an unexpected outcome…

Cosmetics and the beauty culture have been a part of life for thousands of years. So it’s no surprise that we see their impact in crime fiction, too. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Herman’s A Little More Mascara.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Elizabeth J. Duncan, Harry Bingham, Steph Avery

No, You Could Not See it Coming*

Although it isn’t really true, there are some major changes that seem to come ‘out of nowhere.’ Those changes often have a strong and lasting impact, too. But, as the saying goes, a lot of people never see them coming. And coping with those changes, especially if one’s not prepared for them, can be difficult.

Authors have, of course, explored those changes in a lot of their work, and that includes crime writers. That makes sense, too, as coping with those changes can add to a plot line, a character, or the tension in a story. There are far too many examples for me to list in this one post, but here are a just a few.

One of the big changes that plenty of people didn’t see coming was what I’ll call the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. This revolution challenged the idea that sex should be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. There are certainly people who still believe that ought to be the case. Bu the sexual revolution questioned that belief, and it became much more socially acceptable, for instance, to live together without marriage, to be involved in a homosexual relationship, and so on. We see this new attitude of sexual liberation in Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle. In that novel, we are introduced to famous fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s single, and in no hurry to get married. Here’s what she says about it:
 

‘‘My notion of love doesn’t require marriage to consummate it, that’s all. In fact – I’m speaking only for myself – I reject the whole concept of marriage. I’m no more capable of being happy as a housewife, or a country club gal, or a young suburban matron than I am of renouncing the world and taking the veil.”
 

She doesn’t lack for companionship, though. Although she’s not promiscuous, she has had several relationships. One of them is with wealthy businessman Ashton McKell. When McKell’s son, Dane, discovers this, he decides to meet her himself and force an end to her relationship with his father. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with her. They begin an affair, but that ends one night when Grey is shot. Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, of course, his son Ellery gets involved. There really are only three major obvious suspects: McKell, his son, and his wife. As it turns out, the victim leaves a cryptic clue as to her killer, and when Queen interprets it correctly, he’s able to catch the murderer.

Although people had been using drugs for a long time, many people didn’t see the counterculture/drug culture of the 1960s coming. There are several crime novels that explore this (right, fans of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses?). One of them is Agatha Christie’s Third Girl. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and detective novelist Ariadne Oliver work to solve a murder that may or may not have happened. A young woman named Norma Restarick believes she may have committed a murder. But she can’t give many details, and in any case, she thinks Poirot is too old (her words) to help her. Then, she goes missing. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver think that if they can find out about the murder, that will tie into Norma’s disappearance. As they look into Norma’s life, friends, and so on, they meet several members of London’s 1960s counterculture, including one of Norma’s roommates, who’s an artist, and the young man Norma’s dating.

Developments in technology have brought about many important changes, several of which a lot of people didn’t see coming. The use of computers in everyday personal and business life seemed to mushroom, beginning in the 1980s. Peter Lovesey explores this in The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. In that novel, we are introduced to Superintendent Diamond, who has his eccentricities (he’s been known to take naps on mortuary gurneys, for instance). He believes firmly in old-fashioned detective work: ‘legwork,’ interviewing witnesses and suspects, and actually looking for physical evidence. His skills are put to the test when the body of Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is pulled from Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. Diamond uses more old-fashioned methods to get to the truth, but many in his office use computers to collect data, run fingerprints, and so on. While it’s Diamond who eventually gets to the truth, we also see the advantages of more technologically modern tools.

Even after the advent of the Internet, many people didn’t see the coming of the social networking revolution that began in the early 2000s. People had learned to access information on the Internet, but to produce it, add to it, comment on it, and so on was brand new then. And it has dramatically changed the way we use the Internet. We see that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to Robertson’s native Victoria, they bring along their nine-week-old son, Noah. Shortly after their arrival, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. At first, there’s a lot of sympathy for them as a massive search for Noah is undertaken. Social media erupts in a frenzy of web sites, speculation, and more. Then, people begin to wonder whether the parents, in particular Joanna, might have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance. Now, the same social media that supported them starts to turn against them. And it’s fascinating to see how people all over the world use social media to weigh in on the case, in ways that hadn’t been possible just a few years earlier.

And then there’s the banking and financial collapse of 2007/2008. Prior to that, many economies had been booming, not least of which was Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. While there had been some predications of trouble ahead, most people weren’t prepared for the great crash of 2008. And we see that in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. In one plot thread, Dublin Detective Sergeant (DS) Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate when banker Emmet Sweetman is murdered in his own home by two hired thugs. It turns out that he had made some dangerous deals during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, not imagining that things would unravel. When the crash came, he owed too much money to some dangerous people, and couldn’t pay it back.

And that’s the thing about some of the big changes that have come along. Sometimes we can see them coming. Other times, they catch a lot of people unawares. What do you think? What will be the next big change?

ps. The ‘photo was taken during a freak hailstorm that struck my area about a year ago. Nobody saw that one coming.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles New Year’s Flood.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gene Kerrigan, Helen Fitzgerald, Peter Lovesey, Steph Avery

And I’ll Have to Play the Game*

Most of us, I’d guess, have some relationships that we maintain out of duty, rather than out of a deep attachment to a person. We may visit relatives we aren’t really connected to, but know we should visit. Or, we send Christmas cards and presents to cousins or other family members we don’t even really know. It doesn’t mean we dislike those people; it’s just that the bond we have is more out of a sense of obligation than anything else.

There are plenty of those relationships in real life, and they’re there in crime fiction, too. Sometimes, they provide solid contexts or plot points. They can also provide character development, minor characters, and even suspects in whodunits.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence asks Hercule Poirot’s help in solving the murder of a charwoman. All of the evidence points to her lodger, James Bentley. In fact, he’s been convicted, and is due to be executed. But Spence has come to believe that he may be innocent. Poirot agrees to look into the matter, and travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate. One of the people he meets is Mrs. McGinty’s niece, Bessie Burch, who lives with her husband, Joe, in a nearby village. On the one hand, the Burches do inherit a little money by the terms of the victim’s will. So, one could consider them suspects. On the other hand,
 

‘It had been a family tie, honoured as such, but without intimacy.’
 

And neither Bessie nor Joe is so desperate for money as to be willing to kill for it. Bessie and her husband remain ‘people of interest,’ but their relationship with Bessie’s aunt was much more because of ‘family duty,’ than anything else.

In one plot thread of Tony Hillerman’s Coyote Waits, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn gets a visit from a woman named Mary Keeyani. He doesn’t know her, but she is a member of the same Navajo Nation clan as his now-deceased wife, Emma was. That alone makes her a relative. So, Leaphorn feels an obligation to listen to what she has to say. A similar sense of duty has motivated the visit for Mary. One of her kinsmen, Ashie Pinto, has been arrested for murdering Delbert Nez, a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. She claims that Pinto isn’t guilty, that he wouldn’t do such a thing. Leaphorn understands all too well that she might be saying that out of a sense of obligation. But his own sense of duty drives him to agree to look into the matter. It turns out that Pinto has been framed for murder, and Leaphorn works with Sergeant Jim Chee to find out who really killed Nez.

Stan Jones’ White Sky, Black Ice introduces Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. In this novel, he’s recently moved back to the small, far-north town of Chukchi, where he was born (he grew up in Anchorage). He is Inupiaq, but was raised in a white adoptive home, so he’s not tightly connected to his people’s culture. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect it. In one plot thread, he meets Clara Stone, who is a relative of Active’s biological mother; she is therefore, related to him. She tells Active that her husband, Aaron, went on a hunting trip and hasn’t returned. She’s convinced that something has happened to him, and wants Active to search for him. Active is reluctant, but she is a relative, and even though he doesn’t know her, he feels a sense of duty. So, he gets a bush pilot to take him out to where Aaron Stone would likely be camped. There, they find Stone’s body. It looks at first as though he’s committed suicide, but soon enough, it’s identified as a case of murder. And it turns out that this murder is related to another that Active is investigating.

Much of the action in Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses takes place in 1966 South East London. Teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan want very much to be a part of the music and fashion scene of the times. So, they beg their mother to let them go dancing at the Palais Royale. Finally, after some persuasion, she agrees. Her only condition is that their cousin Jimmy take them to the dance and bring them back later. Midge and Bridie don’t mind, as they consider Jimmy to be ‘cool.’ Jimmy’s got, as the saying goes, other fish to fry. But he does feel a sense of obligation to his aunt and cousins. And, even though he doesn’t really have a close bond with Midge and Bridie, he agrees to take them and make sure they get home safely. What happens at the Palais Royale that night changes everything, and has repercussions that last for the rest of the girls’ lives. It’s even related to a murder that happens decades later…

Of course, a ‘duty relationship’ doesn’t have to be familial. For instance, in Robert Barnard’s Death of an Old Goat, Professor Bobby Wickham and the rest of the English faculty at Australia’s University of Drummond are scheduled to play host to a very distinguished guest. Oxford Professor Belville-Smith is doing a lecture tour of Australia, and will be visiting Drummond to do a series of lectures. Belleville-Smith is insufferable, condescending, and, quite frankly, a boring lecturer. But out of a sense of duty, everyone starts out by trying to make him welcome. Things fall apart, though, and it’s soon clear that this visit is a disaster. Then, on the morning after a ‘greet the guest’ party, Bellville-Smith is found murdered in his hotel room. Inspector Bert Royle has never investigated a murder before. But he’s going to have to look into this one. And it turns out that this murder has to do with something from the past.

I’d guess we all have those ‘duty’ relationships. They have their benefits and drawbacks, but they’re woven into our lives whether we like them or not. And they’re woven into crime fiction, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Great Suburban Showdown. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Robert Barnard, Stan Jones, Steph Avery, Tony Hillerman

All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away*

Not long ago, Brad, who blogs at Ah, Sweet Mystery Blog, did a very interesting post on the way the past catches up with fictional characters. His focus was Agatha Christie’s work, and he gave some fine examples. G’wan, then, check it out for yourself. And as you’ll be there anyway, do have a look at Brad’s excellent blog. You won’t regret it!

That trope of the past catching up with a person is woven through a lot of crime fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. It can make for a suspenseful story and interesting character development. And in real life, one really can’t run away from the past. So, there’s an element of authenticity, too, in a story that uses that plot point.

As I say, Brad mentioned a few Agatha Christie novels. One that comes to my mind is Appointment With Death. In it, the Boynton family goes on a sightseeing trip through the Middle East.  We soon learn that family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is cruel and malicious, and uses that to keep her family under control. They’re all so cowed that none of them dares defy her. As a part of the trip, the family members visit the ancient city of Petra. On the second day there, Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies. At first, her death looks natural enough; she wasn’t in good health, and the trip has been exhausting. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied. Since Hercule Poirot is in the area, Carbury asks him to investigate, and Poirot agrees. He finds that the colonel’s suspicions were entirely justified. And it turns out that this murder has everything to do with the past catching up, if I can put it that way. Go read Brad’s excellent post for more Christie examples.

By no means is Christie the only crime writer who uses that trope, of course. In fact, there are so many fine examples of this plot point in the genre that I’m hard-put to choose just a few, I know you’ll have your own list to share.

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, for instance, we are introduced to London psychotherapist Joe O’Loughlin. In this story, he gets involved in the investigation when the body of Catherine McBride is pulled out of the Grand Union Canal. It turns out that she was a former client, so Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is interested in whatever O’Loughlin may know about her. Then, there’s another murder. This one very much implicates O’Loughlin, and now Ruiz begins to actively suspect him. There are soon other deaths, too. If O’Loughlin is going to clear his name, he’s going to have to find out who the killer is, and how it all connects with him. Trite as it sounds, O’Loughlin will have to go back to the past, as it were, and use all of his clinical skills, to stop this murderer.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy is the first in his ‘Department Q’ novels. In it, we meet Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a line-of-duty incident in which he was gravely wounded, and a colleague killed. Another colleague was left with paralysis. Mørck, has always been difficult to work with, and it’s only gotten worse since the shooting. Eventually, his bosses see no choice but to transfer Mørck – they refer to it as a ‘promotion’ – to a new department. ‘Department Q,’ as it’s called has been set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest.’ In part, it’s an attempt to respond to some media and public concerns that the police aren’t doing enough to solve murders. In part, it’s a political move. Mørck gets started in his new job, and soon meets his assistant, Hafez al-Assad. It’s actually Assad who calls Mørck’s attention to the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, it was assumed that she went overboard and died in a terrible ferry accident. But there are little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. If she is alive, then there may not be much time to rescue her, so Mørck and Assad feel a sense of urgency about this case. And in the end, they find out the truth. It turns out that it’s all connected with a past that didn’t let go.

The past doesn’t let go in Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, either. In that novel, we meet eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. She lives with her two older sisters and her father in a large old house in the village of Bishops Lacey, in 1950s England. One evening, Flavia’s father gets a visit from a stranger. Flavia doesn’t hear much of what passes between the two men, but she knows that their exchange is acrimonious. The next morning, she finds the body of the strange visitor in the cucumber patch. And it’s not long before word gets to the police about the argument. This puts Flavia’s father at the top of the list of suspects, and he’s soon arrested. Flavia knows her father is no killer, and decides to find out the truth. And, with her unusually strong knowledge of chemistry, she’s in a good position to do so. It turns out that this murder has everything to do with something in the past that has caught up, so to speak.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses, which begins in the modern day, when police receive an anonymous letter. In it, the writer takes responsibility for the murder of a vagrant whose body was found on the tracks of an underground station. The story behind the letter starts in 1966, in London’s East End. It’s a time of Mods, Rockers, and experimentation of every kind. And teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan want to be a part of it. They’re from a working-class home, and have been brought up to be ‘nice young ladies,’ so they’re quite sheltered. But they want a little freedom. So, they cajole their mother into letting them go out one Friday night to the Palais Royale. The one condition is that their cousin Jimmy must take them and bring them back. That’s not a problem for the girls, who consider Jimmy to be ‘cool.’ The big night arrives, and Bridie and Midge go to the dance. What starts out as an exciting evening ends up tragically, and changes everyone’s life. And, as it turns out, that evening is behind the murder that takes place some fifty years later.

And that’s the thing about the past. Even many years or decades later, it doesn’t necessarily go away. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Yesterday – also Brad’s idea.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Robotham, Steph Avery