Category Archives: Steph Avery

There’ll be Swingin’, Swayin’, and Records Playing*

As this is posted, it’s sixty years since Berry Gordy founded Motown Records. As you’ll know, ‘the Motown sound’ has had a powerful influence on popular music. Even today, it’s easy to see its impact on modern pop, rock, rap, and other music.

But Motown wasn’t universally embraced, at least at first. In its way, it was revolutionary, and many people didn’t want to adjust to it. That in itself is interesting. But the fact is, there’ve been lots of major musical influences that were considered unacceptable at first. And we see that in crime fiction, just as we’ve seen it in real life.

Before there was Motown, there was ragtime, which grew to major popularity at the very end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th. There were, of course, other major changes in society at that time, and not everyone was eager to embrace them. And plenty of people didn’t see ragtime as ‘appropriate’ music. Readers get a look at the ragtime music culture in Larry Karp’s The Ragtime Kid, which begins in 1898. In in, we meet fifteen-year-old Brun Campbell, who loves playing and listening to the piano. One day, he happens to hear Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, and is entranced. He wants to know more about Joplin and ragtime music, and he can’t get that new sound out of his mind. So, a year later, he travels from Oklahoma, where he lives, to Sedalia, Missouri, where Joplin lives. He’s wants to get started there and learn more ragtime, but instead, he gets mixed up in a case of murder. One night, he accidentally trips over the body of a young unknown woman. She is identified as Sallie Randolph, and it turns out that she has what used to be called a ‘checkered past.’ As Brun asks questions about her death, and does some growing in the process, readers also learn quite a lot about Joplin and the world of ragtime.

Jazz was also arguably a revolutionary change in music. As you’ll know, it became popular during the 1920s, a time of many other major changes. And those who loved jazz were often looked at with a lot of suspicion. Certainly ‘nice girls’ didn’t go to ‘those sorts of places,’ and listen to ‘that kind of music.’ And yet, jazz has had a profound impact on the music we listen to now. We see that reflected in crime fiction, too.

For example, in several of Agatha Christie’s novels (I’m thinking, for instance, of Peril at End House, and Dumb Witness), we meet characters who are a part of the Jazz Age culture. They listen to the music and have adopted the styles and culture that are associated with jazz music of that time. And that lifestyle (and the music) are seen by some as not entirely respectable, perhaps even vaguely disreputable. That view of jazz isn’t the reason for the murders in those stories. But it’s interesting to see what the perception is.

There’s a similar perception in Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. In that novel, Lord Peter Wimsey investigates the deaths of two people: General Fentiman (who is a member of Lord Peter’s club), and Fentiman’s wealthy sister, Lady Dormer. At one point, Wimsey is having a conversation with Fentiman’s grandson George and his wife. George has this to say about the effect of jazz and the jazz culture:
 

‘‘In the old days, heaps of unmarried women were companions, and… they had a much better time than they have now, with all this jazzing and short skirts…the modern girl hasn’t a scrap of decent feeling or sentiment about her.’’ 
 

The assumption is that jazz music has had a dangerous influence on the younger generation.

After World War II, there were other music revolutions. The ‘Beat Generation’ changed the way people thought about music and the other arts. We see a bit of that in Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. The novel was published in 1961, a time of great change in Japan. Those changes are an important element in the background for this novel. In it, Tokyo police detective Imanishi Eitaro and his team look into the murder of Miki Ken’ichi, whose body was discovered under a train. After some effort, Imanishi learns that the victim had come from Okoyama to Tokyo, but there’s no clear reason why. He was much beloved in Okoyama, and didn’t really know anyone in Tokyo, so there seems to be no motive for his murder. Little by little, Imanishi and the team discover connections between this death, a suicide, and the Avant-Garde Theatre, which is a haunt for musicians and other artists who are breaking new ground. One of the elements in the novel is the sense of unease about this new revolution in music and culture. These young people want to break with the traditional past. And that’s not always seen as a good thing.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses, much of which takes place in 1966 South East London, a mecca for Mods, Rockers, and lots of social and cultural change. Caught up in it all are sisters Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan. They’ve had a sheltered life and are considered ‘good girls.’ But they want to be a part of the social life of the era. One Friday night, they get their wish. They wangle permission from their mother to go to the Palais Royale, so long as their cousin Jimmy takes them and brings them home. The girls readily agree to this and get ready to go. The music is revolutionary and exciting, although it all makes Bridie a bit nervous. Before the night is over, there’s a tragedy that impacts the girls for the rest of their lives. And it has repercussions years later, when the body of a vagrant is found in a South London Underground station, and the police receive an anonymous letter confessing to the murder.

Whether you like Motown music or not, it’s hard to deny its influence. It really did represent a major change in music and has had a profound impact since it began. And, as we see from crime fiction, there’s often a bit of danger when something revolutionary comes along…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Gaye, William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter’s Dancing in the Streets, made unforgettable by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. I know, fans of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. I’m just saying…

14 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Larry Karp, Matsumoto Seichō, Steph Avery

To Sit Up Straight and be Well Behaved*

One of the characters we see in a lot of crime fiction is the ‘dutiful’ child (whether young or adult). That’s the one who never causes trouble, who looks after the elderly parents, takes over the family business, and so on. On the surface, that sort of character may not seem particularly interesting. But the crime novelist has all sorts of possibilities when it comes to the ‘obedient one.’ That character may seethe with resentment. Or, may be quietly plotting who-knows-what. Or may be the protagonist. Or…  Perhaps that’s the reason there are so many such characters in the genre.

Agatha Christie used ‘dutiful’ characters in a lot of her stories. For instance, in 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), we are introduced to the Crackenthorpe family. Patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe lives at the family home, Rutherford Hall, with his dutiful daughter, Emma, who has never married. He also has three sons, Harold (also dutiful), Alfred (the ‘black sheep’), and Cedric (the family bohemian). Everyone gathers for Christmas, and right away there’s tension. In part that’s because Luther Crackenthorpe resents the fact that his father left the family fortune not to him, but to his children. There are other conflicts, too, and some of them stem from the fact that Emma and Harold have ‘behaved themselves,’ while the others haven’t. But they pale by comparison when the body of a woman is found on the family property. It seems that she was killed on a train, then thrown from it. The murder was witnessed by Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy, a friend of Miss Marple’s, but she couldn’t see the murderer’s face. And no-one knows who the victim is at first. Miss Marple finds out who the victim was, and is then able to work out who killed her and why. That sort of family dynamic shows up in other Christie novels, too, doesn’t it, fans of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas?

One of the main plot points in Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit concerns the conflict between brothers Mason and Gates Hunt. They are both products of an abusive home, but they couldn’t be more different. Mason, the ‘good son,’ has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s gotten. He ended up with a scholarship to law school and has plans for a successful career. Gates, on the other hand, has squandered his considerable natural athletic ability, and now lives on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and on money from the boys’ mother, Sadie Grace. One afternoon, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument is put ‘on hold’ for a while, but flares up again later that night, when the Hunt brothers encounter Thompson again. This time, the outcome is tragic when Gates shoots Thompson. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his brother cover up what happened. But it comes back to haunt him years later. Now, he’s a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Gates has become a drug trafficker and is arrested for selling cocaine. He’s given a long sentence and asks his brother to help get him out. This time, Mason refuses. Gates then threatens to implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. When Mason calls his brother’s bluff, he finds himself indicted for a murder he didn’t commit.

Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses is the story of sisters Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan. It’s 1966 South East London, and the sisters both want to experience the culture of experimentation and liberation going on. But they are very different. Bridie is a devout Catholic, obedient to her parents, and protective of her younger sister. Midge, on the other hand, is more daring, and questions her family’s religious beliefs. One Friday night, they persuade their mother to let them go to the Palais Royale to dance. Her only condition is that their cousin, Jimmy, take them and bring them back. That’s something the girls can easily accept, and the plans are made. The night starts off well but ends in tragedy that impacts Bridie and Midge for the rest of their lives. And the fact that Bridie is ‘the good sister’ plays a role in what happens.

In Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs, we are introduced to the Franco family. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco brings his family from Italy to New York City, to be a part of ‘the American dream.’ He gets a job in a shoe repair shop and, within a few years, has his own repair and sales business. The family prospers, and Ben has hopes for his children. But then one night, he gets into a bar fight with a man called Luigi Lupo and kills him. He’s promptly arrested and jailed. But that’s the least of his problems. It turns out that Lupo was the son of notorious gangster Tonio Lupo, who isn’t about to let this murder go unchallenged. He visits Ben in prison, and curses his family, promising that each of Ben’s sons, Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick,’ and Leonardo ‘Leo,’ will die at the age of forty-two, the same as Luigi was when he was killed. As the story moves on, we see what becomes of the brothers, and how the curse plays out. We also see how their personalities conflict. Al is the ‘good son.’ He works hard, spends wisely, and takes over the family business as expected. Nick becomes an actor and has his own successes and abject failures. And Leo gets into quite a lot of trouble, even though Al tries to take care of him. It’s not until much later that he matures. Those differences do make for some conflicts among the brothers.

And then there’s Charity Norman’s See You in September. Cassy Howells and her boyfriend, Hamish, have just finished university, and decide to spend the summer volunteering and exploring New Zealand before settling down to ‘adult life’ in the fall.  The trip starts off well enough, but when Cassy discovers that she’s pregnant, Hamish lets her know that he doesn’t want to be a father, and that she’s on her own. Broken-hearted, alone, and vulnerable, Cassy becomes the perfect candidate to be taken in by a cult led by an enigmatic man named Justin. At first, she feels loved and accepted. But things start to change, and it becomes clear that the Last Day will be coming. Whatever that actually means, it could be tragedy for Cassy. Meanwhile, Cassy’s parents, Mike and Diana, and her younger sister, Tara, are terribly worried about her. When they discover that she’s joined the cult community and intends to stay there, Mike and Diana try to bring her home. But they may not succeed before the Last Day comes. And, even if they do, she may not be the same. One of the threads that runs through this novel is Tara’s feeling towards her sister. She loves Cassy, but she’s angry. She’s been ‘the good sister,’ trying to help keep things together at home. She’s been there to deal with her parents’ fears, her own concerns, etc., while Cassy hasn’t had to face any of it. And that impacts Tara’s perspective.

A character who’s ‘dutiful’ and ‘obedient’ may seem on the surface to be uninteresting. But things may not be that way just beneath. And that can add layers of character development and plot points to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Maxi Priest’s It Ain’t Easy.

11 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Charity Norman, Martin Clark, 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.

13 Comments

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.

14 Comments

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.

20 Comments

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