Category Archives: Stephen Puleston

I Thank the Lord I’m Welsh*

Wales is a beautiful country with a unique language, culture, and history. And, in the last few decades, there’s been a concerted effort to maintain that culture and teach that language. As you’ll know if you’ve lived there, or even been there, it’s a bilingual country (it’s been officially so since 1998).

But, if you read crime fiction, you’ll soon see that Wales isn’t exactly a peaceful, crime-free place. And it’s interesting to see how the country and its people are portrayed in the genre. Space doesn’t permit more than a quick peek at a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to add others.

One of Rhys Bowen’s series takes place mostly in the fictional Welsh town of Llanfair, in Snowdonia. These novels (there are ten) feature Constable Evan Evans, who was originally from Llanfair, but moved to Swansea as a child. When he gets fed up with life in the city, he decides to move ‘back home,’ where he’s now sometimes known as ‘Evans the Law,’ to distinguish him from others with the same surname. He re-acquaints himself with life in the small town in Evans Above, the first novel in the series. But it doesn’t turn out to be nearly as idyllic a life as he had imagined it would. This is a small-town series, but it’s not a ‘frothy,’ light series. Among other things, it shows how social changes such as immigration, culture clash, family structure changes, and so on don’t affect just the larger cities. They even find their way into small villages.

In The Earth Hums in B-Flat, Mari Strachan introduces readers to twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan. She lives in a small Welsh village in the 1950s, and is just on the cusp of coming of age. Gwenni’s a creative thinker; some people call her a dreamer. She’s certainly not obsessed with clothes, boys, or an active social life. Everything in Gwenni’s life changes when one of the town’s residents, Ifan Evans, goes missing, and is later found dead. For various reasons, Gwenni wants to find out the truth about his death, so she starts to ask questions. As she searches out the truth, she also makes some life-changing discoveries about her own family. Strachan’s second novel, Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers, also takes place in a small Welsh town, just after World War I.

Babs Horton’s A Jarful of Angels has two timelines. One begins in 1962, in an isolated Welsh village, and is the story of four children: Lawrence ‘Fatty’ Bevan; Elizabeth ‘Iffy’ Meredith; Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Tranter; and William ‘Billy’ Edwards. These children don’t have much in common, but there aren’t a lot of other children in town. So, they spend their share of time together. During one eventful summer, they slowly begin to learn some of the town’s secrets, including some things that several people would much rather no-one find out. The other timeline begins some forty years later, when retired detective Will Sloane decides to return to his native Wales. He knows he doesn’t have a lot longer to live, and he wants to spend his last days in his own country. More than that, he finds a clue that’s related to mystery he was never able to solve. A child went missing, and was never found. Sloane was on the team that investigated, and everyone made efforts to find the child, but they had no success. Now, with this new clue, Sloane is hoping he can finally get some answers. As the children’s story moves forward, and Sloane’s backwards, we slowly learn how these children are connected to the secrets people are keeping. We also learn how all of that is related to Sloane’s investigation.

There’s also Cathy Ace’s WISE Enquiry Agency series. This series, in the traditional whodunit style, features four women (one Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish, and one English) who set up an investigation agency. The stories mostly take place in the Welsh town of Anwen by Wye.

One of Elizabeth J. Duncan’s series features Penny Brannigan, who emigrated from Nova Scotia to the small Welsh town of Llanelen, where she lives now. She’s the owner of the Happy Hands Nail Care shop, and as such, gets to hear a lot of what’s going on in town. And, because it’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone, she knows most of the town’s residents. This is a lighter, cosy, series, but it’s not ‘frothy.’

Just in case you were wondering whether all Welsh crime fiction takes place in small towns and villages, think again. Stephen Puleston, for instance, has two crime fiction series. One of them features Inspector Ian Drake, and takes place in North Wales. The other is set in Cardiff. This series features DI John Marco of the Queen Street Police. These novels are sometimes-gritty, fast-paced thrillers, rather than the more traditional-style whodunits.

And I couldn’t do a post about crime fiction set in Wales without mentioning Hinterland (AKA Y Gwyll). This noir television drama takes place in Aberystwyth, and stars Richard Harrington as DI Tom Matthias. One of the interesting things about this particular show is that it’s actually filmed twice: once in English, and once in Welsh. And even in the English version, there are occasional (subtitled) Welsh words and comments.

There are, of course, lots of other mentions of Wales and of Welsh characters in crime fiction. For instance, Ellis Peters’ most famous sleuth, Brother Cadfael, is Welsh. In fact, his Welsh identity plays a role in more than one of the novels in this series. And Cathy Ace’s other sleuth, Caitlin ‘Cait’ Morgan is also Welsh, although she now lives in Canada.

Wales may not be a large country. But it’s got a rich, long history, and a language and culture of which its people are proud. And it certainly features in crime fiction. Which crime novels set in Wales have you enjoyed?

ps. Thank you, wales.com, for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Catatonia’s International Velvet.

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Filed under Babs Horton, Cathy Ace, Elizabeth J. Duncan, Ellis Peters, Mari Strachan, Rhys Bowen, Stephen Puleston

Fastidious and Precise*

OCDMost of us would probably say that we like to keep things in some sort of order. Even people whose desks look like bombsites generally have a sense of where things are. But for some people, the urge to keep things orderly and neat goes much farther than what we’d call ‘normal.’

I’m not a clinical psychologist, so I’m not sophisticated about the most recent definition of and treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But for those who have it, neatness and routine are much more than just that ‘I really should clean up that desk!’ impulse, or the regular housework most people do. Those with OCD are hypersensitive to anything that’s out of order and, sometimes, to any change in their routines. OCD can take different forms, and many argue that it’s a continuum. But it nearly always includes a need for order and cleanliness, and often for a strict routine.

There’s an argument that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would very likely be diagnosed with OCD if he were a contemporary character. Fans will tell you that he’s obsessed with neatness and tidiness, both in dress and in his surroundings. In fact, sculptor Henrietta Savernake mentions it in The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours). She’s a ‘person of interest’ in the shooting death of Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow, so they have several conversations. At one point, she pays him a visit:
 

‘Poirot ushered her into his sitting room…
‘Nice,’ she said, ‘two of everything. How you would hate my studio.’
‘Why should I hate it?’
‘Oh, a lot of clay sticking to things – and here and there just one thing that I happen to like and which would be ruined of there were two of them.’’
 

Poirot’s obsession may be annoying at times, but in more than one case (no spoilers!) it gives him vital clues.

In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we are introduced to fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. His clinical diagnosis is autism, which carries with it a similar obsession with routine and order. He depends on a very specific schedule, and his possessions have to be kept in a certain way. He’s also very particular about the way his food is presented. One day, he discovers the body of the dog that lives next door. He’s suspected of being responsible, but knows that he’s not guilty. So he decides to be a detective like Sherlock Holmes, and find out what really happened. As he does, he finds out some surprising things about himself.

There are other protagonists, too, who have OCD in one of its forms. For example, there’s Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Ian Drake. A member of the Wales Police Service, he’s based in the northern part of Wales. Drake is a skilled police detective who is affected by OCD. He’s very sensitive to any hint of feeling dirty or sweaty. He washes his hands often, and keeps toothbrush and toothpaste in his desk drawer. In fact, he gets counselling for his symptoms to keep them manageable.

And of course, no discussion of OCD and similar disorders would be complete without a mention of television’s Adrian Monk, whose role is acted by Tony Shalhoub. Monk is a former homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department. Grief over the murder of his wife worsened his already-existing OCD symptoms, making it ultimately necessary to suspend him from the department. Now, he operates as a homicide consultant, with his ultimate goal being to return to regular police work. In this case, as in other cases of detectives who have OCD, it’s Monk’s very symptoms that often give him important clues.

Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me introduces readers to Minty Knox. As a result of the terrible 1999 train crash near London’s Paddington Station, she loses her lover Jock Lewis. It turns out that Jock was a good-looking but manipulative con artist, and that Minty isn’t the only victim. As her life intersects with the lives of two other women, we see how powerful psychological manipulation can be. Minty herself is fragile in many ways. She has an obsession with cleanliness that Rendell doesn’t specifically call OCD, but that certainly is reflective of that disorder. And she has an increasing difficulty with distinguishing between fantasy and reality

Sometimes, it’s the fictional criminal who has OCD. For instance, in Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman. In that novel, Chief Nico Sirsky, Head of the Paris CID La Crim’, is faced with a disturbing series of crimes. First, the body of Marie-Hélène Jory is discovered in her Paris home. The body has been mutilated, but very precisely. And everything else is particularly neat – not a thing is out of place. Then there’s another murder. And another. Among other things, this killer seems to focus on being neat, even making sure that slippers belonging to one of the victims are put very neatly in a specific place. It’s not spoiling the story to say that the killer’s penchant for tidiness is not the reason for the murders. But it’s a fact that the CID team has to deal with as they investigate.

Most of the time, we don’t think too much about combing our hair or washing our hands after using the restroom. But for some people, neatness, cleanliness and tidiness mean much more than that. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Killer Queen.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Frédérique Molay, Mark Haddon, Ruth Rendell, Stephen Puleston