Category Archives: Stuart Palmer

Clinging to Your Stocks and Bonds*

investmentThe ‘Roaring 20s’ came to a screeching halt in late October, 1929 with the crash of major stock markets. That crash was one of the main factors that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and, at least in the U.S., to fundamental changes in banking and stock market laws.

Of course, there’s a risk any time you speculate with your money. The company you think will do well may go under. Or, a company you decided not to invest in takes off and does well. Or, the person you thought you could trust turns out to be untrustworthy. Still, people do dream of making money from the market, and some people do well. So, it’s not surprising that so many invest.

And we certainly see investments and tension about them in crime fiction. That makes sense, too, when you consider what’s at stake. Someone who invests money (especially if it’s a considerable sum) expects a return. If things don’t go well, the consequences can be serious…

There’s a mention of investing in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. One day, completely unexpectedly, Holmes says:
 

‘‘So, Watson,’ said he, suddenly, ‘you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”
 

That’s exactly what’s happened, but Watson doesn’t have any idea how Holmes knew – until he hears the explanation. It seems that Watson’s friend, Thurston, wanted him to invest in some South African property, but Watson decided not to do that. It’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if he had invested.

In Stuart Palmer’s The Penguin Pool Murder, we are introduced to New York homicide detective Oscar Piper. One day, he’s called to the New York Aquarium to investigate the murder of stockbroker Gerald Lester. Oddly enough, his body was discovered in the penguin pool by a group of schoolchildren who were there on a field trip. That’s how Piper meets their teacher, Hildegarde Withers. She takes an interest in the case, and she and Piper soon discover that more than one person could have had a motive for murder. This story takes place not long after the Great Crash, and many of Lester’s clients lost all their money. And then there’s Lester’s personal life to consider. He wasn’t exactly a faithful husband, and his wife wasn’t above reproach, either. It’s quite a complicated puzzle; in the end, though, Piper and Miss Withers find out the truth.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories mention investing and its consequences. For instance, in the short story, The Lost Mine, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are having a conversation about money. Hastings suggests that Poirot might want to invest some of his money in the Porcupine Oil Fields, which seems to have a promising prospectus. Poirot refuses, reminding Hastings of how important safe investment is. Then he goes on to say that the only risky investment he has is shares in Burma Mines, Ltd. And that’s only because those shares were a ‘thank you’ for solving a complicated case. It turns out that one of that company’s principals disappeared, and Poirot was able to find out exactly what happened to the man, and who was behind it all. So far, Poirot’s shares seem to have done well. I know, I know, fans of Dead Man’s Mirror and of Taken at the Flood.

At the beginning of Donna Leon’s About Face, Count Orazio Falier is thinking of investing his money in a business owned by Maurizio Cataldo. Before he does, he wants to be sure his investment will be safe, so he decides to have Cataldo ‘vetted.’ And there’s no-one better for that than Falier’s son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is accustomed to doing things in this informal way, and agrees to find out what he can about the man. With help from his boss’ assistant, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, Brunetti gets some information. But then, he’s pulled away to investigate another case – the murder of a trucking company owner who might have been involved in illegal dumping. In the end, Brunetti discovers that there’s a link between the two cases. Among other things, this novel shows how people sometimes go outside ‘official channels’ and don’t exactly use a prospectus to get background on companies they’re considering for investment.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Black Tide, the second in his series featuring sometime-lawyer Jack Irish. In this novel, Irish gets a visit from Des Connors, an old friend of his father’s. He wants Irish’s help with two things. For one thing, he wants a will done that excludes his son, Gary. For another, he wants Irish to find Gary and get back sixty thousand dollars that Des says he’s owed. It seems that Gary had gotten his father to lend him the money for investing in shares of a ‘sure thing’ that was ‘going through the roof.’ Then, Gary disappeared, and so did Des’ money. Irish agrees to see what he can do. The will isn’t difficult, but finding Gary proves to be much more dangerous than Irish would have thought. And in the end, he learns that this disappearance is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to corruption and fraud.

And that’s the thing about buying shares of stock, or otherwise investing in a company. You never really know what’s going to happen. Even safe investments vouched for by people you trust may not work out as planned. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of lots more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Peter Temple, Stuart Palmer

‘Cause I Speak My Mind Sometimes*

bluntnessI’ll bet that, when you were a child, you were taught to be tactful. And most people do try not to be too blunt when they speak. Things just seem to go more smoothly when we temper what we say. And yet, sometimes people say things in a very forthright way. In a sense, it’s refreshing; you know where you are with such folks. At the same time, though, too much bluntness can make for awkwardness or worse. My guess is, you’ve had that experience in real life. And it’s certainly there in crime fiction.

The interesting thing about blunt statements is that they can reveal a lot about a character without the author having to go into too much detail. And bluntness can give clues to a story, too.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal) introduces us to the Abernethie family. Patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died of what seems like natural causes, and his relatives have gathered for his funeral. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle also intends to use the occasion to share the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up; she herself tells the family not to pay any attention to what she’s said. But privately, everyone thinks she may be right. And when she is murdered the next day, it seems clear that what she said is true. Entwhistle visits Hercule Poirot and asks him to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. One thing that’s interesting about Cora’s character is that she’s always been prone to what Entwhistle calls, ‘awkward statements.’ It makes for an interesting layer to that character. I completely agree, fans of The ABC Murders.

Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers can also be quite blunt. In The Penguin Pool Murder, in which she makes her debut, Miss Withers is escorting her fourth-grade class on a trip to the New York Aquarium. They’re at the penguin pool exhibit, getting ready to leave, when they see a man’s body slide into the pool. He’s been murdered, so homicide detective Oscar Piper is called in to investigate. In the course of his work, he interviews Miss Withers. She tells him that she’s a teacher, and how she came to be at the aquarium. Later, he says:
 

‘‘Occupation?’
‘At present, answering foolish questions. Young man, I told you I was a teacher.’’
 
Interestingly, Piper isn’t permanently put off by Miss Withers’ bluntness, as fans of this series will know…

Any fan of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel will tell you that he is not exactly known for his tact or verbal restraint. It’s very much part of his character to be blunt. For instance, in Good Morning, Midnight, he and Peter Pascoe investigate the supposed suicide of Pal Maciver. What’s odd about this death is that it eerily mirrors the death of his father, ten years earlier. When he arrives at the scene, Dalziel finds a bit of chaos. Among other things, one of the people in the house at the time of the death has tried to leave, and gotten into an altercation with PC Bonnick, who’s trying to keep everything secured. Dalziel tries to get some answers from this man:
 

‘‘Look, I’m sorry – I was out of…but I was worried – we’d heard that…and he didn’t show, so I thought that…that…that…’
‘What’s your problem, lad,’ enquired Dalziel. ‘Apart from not being able to finish sentences?’’
 

Later, Dalziel finds out that the man is a PE teacher. Here’s his response:
 

‘‘PE, eh? That explains about the sentences. Pity but.’’
 

Anyone familiar with Dalziel will know that this is quite typical of his way of speaking.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, although he’s high-functioning, and that impacts his interactions with others. He’s not skilled at understanding social cues, so he says exactly what’s on his mind. One day, Christopher comes upon the dog that belongs to the people next door. The animal’s been killed, and he’s curious as to how it happened. The dog’s owners think Christopher might be responsible, but he knows he’s innocent. So he decides to be a detective, just like Sherlock Holmes, and find out the truth. In the course of his search for answers, Christopher finds out some important truths about himself. And as he interacts with others, we see that he is at times very blunt indeed. It’s not to be unkind; he simply doesn’t understand the social skill of choosing one’s words and one’s approach.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s Thea Farmer, a former school principal whom we meet in The Precipice. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that she had bought a piece of property in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a home built there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions meant that she wasn’t able to move in. Instead, she’s had to sell the house and settle for the house next door, a home she calls ‘the hovel.’ When Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy Thea’s dream home (which she still considers hers), matters get even worse. Then, Frank’s niece Kim comes to live with him and Ellice. At first, Thea is prepared to have as much contempt for Kim as she does for Frank and Ellice. But after a bit, she forms an awkward friendship with the girl, and sees real promise in her. That’s why she’s especially concerned when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When the police won’t take any action, Thea makes plans of her own. Throughout the novel, Thea is blunt – sometimes very unkind – in the journal she keeps. She’s not quite as blunt in her interactions, but she certainly has her say.

And that’s the thing about bluntness. Forthright people certainly put things in perspective. Case in point: a conversation I had with my granddaughter:

Miss Five: What kind of books do you write?
Me: I write mystery books.
Miss Five: Can I read them?
Me: Well, they’re for grownups. They aren’t really for kids.
Miss Five: Oh, so they’re boring?

There is nothing like a conversation with a five-year-old to put everything in perspective. Just in case I ever get full of myself… 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rubens’ Lay it Down.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Mark Haddon, Reginald Hill, Stuart Palmer, Virginia Duigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)*

Police in Supporting RolesFor obvious reasons, police characters play critical roles in crime fiction. Even when the main character is a PI or perhaps amateur sleuth, we see a lot of police presence. It’s a bit tricky to write a story where the police play an important role, but aren’t main characters. On the one hand, the author wants the protagonist to be the main focus of attention, which means that character needs to be featured and developed. On the other, readers know that it’s the police who have the authority to make arrests, and who have the resources and government sanction to go after criminals. Most readers want their crime fiction plots to reflect that. And they want their police characters to be more than caricatures. It’s interesting to see how different authors have integrated police character when they are not (co)protagonists.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s police characters are arguably often used to highlight just how skilled his Sherlock Holmes is. Holmes fans will know that he has, in general, little respect for the police. He works most often with Inspector Tobias Gregson and of course with Inspector Lestrade, and refers to them as,
 

‘…the pick of a bad lot.’
 

To Holmes, the police of Scotland Yard are thick-headed and miss obvious evidence. Gergson and Lestrade are, perhaps, less guilty. At least they notice when things don’t add up. But even so, they certainly don’t save the day. That’s Holmes’ role.

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are definitely the ‘stars’ of his series. But Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins also play roles in the stories. Rarely does Wolfe approve of what they do, although both he and Goodwin depend on them for actual arrests. And as fans will know, Cramer, Stebbins and Lieutenant Rowcliff aren’t always happy about what Wolfe and Goodwin do, either. In this series, the police play a more integral role than just making Wolfe, Goodwin and their team look good. And that makes sense, given how important police are to crime detection. They’re not bumbling imbeciles, either (‘though Wolfe might beg to differ at times). Rather, they add tension and sometimes conflict to the stories.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot gets ‘top billing’ in most of the novels and stories that feature him. But the police certainly play integral roles, although not as ‘co-stars.’ And although Poirot is not at all modest about his own powers of deduction, he does have respect for police detectives whom he considers to be good at their jobs. And he often says that the police have more resources at their disposal than he does; in fact, he frequently suggests that his clients go to the police. Chief Inspector Japp is perhaps the best-known of Poirot’s police associates. But he’s not the only recurring police character. There’s also Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence. And of course, other police characters make one-time appearances. In just about all of those cases, the police play a supporting role, but an important one. We may not get much of a look at their home lives or what it’s like at the police station, but they do matter in the stories. It’s interesting too that Christie created a mix of skilled detectives (such as Japp) whom Poirot respects, and detectives for whom he has little liking (Am I right, fans of The Murder on the Links?).

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels feature Wimsey, and later, Harriet Vane, as protagonists. But Inspector Charles Parker is an important supporting character. In Clouds of Witness, where we first meet him, Parker is called in to help the local police find the killer of Dennis Cathcart. The victim was the fiancé of Lady Mary Wimsey, Lord Peter’s sister; and at one point, the evidence seems to implicate her. Luckily for both her and Parker (who has fallen in love with her), it turns out that Cathcart’s murderer was someone else. As the series goes on, Parker marries Lady Mary, and he and Wimsey become friends. That makes things a bit awkward in Strong Poison, when Parker gets solid evidence that mystery novelist Harriet Vane has poisoned her former lover Philip Boyes. Wimsey has fallen in love with the accused, and is determined to clear her name so that he can marry her. And Parker’s made out the case against her. Still, they do work together, and in the end, Parker helps Wimsey find the truth about the murder. In this series, Parker plays the role of friend, sometimes-confidant, and professional resource for Wimsey.

The protagonist of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… mysteries is newspaper columnist James ‘Qwilll’ Qwilleran. Circumstances have placed him in Pickax, a small town in Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ The stories are told from Qwill’s perspective, and he’s the one who often puts the pieces of the puzzle together. But one of the important supporting characters in the series is Police Chief Andrew Brodie. Qwill respects Brodie as an intelligent police professional, and he lets Brodie and his team do the evidence-gathering and arresting. Brodie may not be a main protagonist in this series, but he does have a key supporting role. Especially in series such as this, where the protagonist is an amateur sleuth, the presence of a recurring police-officer character adds realism.

It does in K.B. Owen’s series, too. These historical mysteries, which take place at the very end of the 19th Century, feature Concordia Wells, a teacher at Hartford (Connecticut)’s Women’s College. She herself is, of course, not on the police force. And during the era in which she lives, it’s considered unseemly for ladies to be interested in crime and detection anyway. But she is insatiably curious, and does get drawn into murder as it touches those she knows. She’s made a friend of Lieutenant Aaron Capshaw, who is married to her best friend Sophie. Capshaw isn’t the main character of this series. But he plays an important role, since he has access to information that isn’t available to civilians. In that sense, his presence in the stories makes the series more realistic.

You’ll notice I’m not mentioning series such as Stuart Palmer’s, Elly Griffiths’ or Martha Grimes’, which feature recurring police characters. That’s because in those cases and cases like them, the police character really is one of the protagonists. That dynamic can be highly effective. But it’s also interesting to look at cases where the police are supporting players. Which ones have stayed with you?
 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Elly Griffiths, K.B. Owen, Lilian Jackson Braun, Martha Grimes, Rex Stout, Stuart Palmer

Everyday Things*

Everyday ThingsOne of my very top crime novels** begins this way:
 

‘Crime was out there.’
 

That line makes sense, when you think about it, especially when it comes to crime fiction. Sometimes doing the most ordinary things can get a person involved in a fictional murder. One of the first things that comes to mind is, of course, the stereotype jogger or dog-walker who discovers a body. I won’t mention those examples in this post, because they’re just too easy. Besides, there are a lot of other ordinary, everyday things people do that can get them involved in a crime, whether they want to be or not.

What could be more ordinary than looking out a window when you’re on a train? People do it all the time. But it has a sinister outcome in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!). Elspeth McGillicuddy takes a train to visit her friend Miss Marple. During the trip, another train on a parallel track catches up to and then passes the train. Mrs. McGillicuddy happens to look out the window into the windows of the other train – a very ordinary, even mundane thing to do. But this time, she sees a man strangling a woman. Almost everyone thinks that Mrs. McGillicuddy simply drifted off to sleep and dreamt the whole thing. But Miss Marple knows her friend isn’t fanciful. She does some of her own research and determines that the body was probably pushed off the train and likely landed on the grounds of Rutherford Hall. Knowing she herself doesn’t have an ‘in’ there, she gets a friend of hers, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to take a position at Rutherford Hall. Sure enough, a woman’s body turns up. With Lucy’s help, Miss Marple figures out who the dead woman was, why she was killed and by whom. And all of this comes from one glance out of a window.

Looking out of a window gets Maura Cody involved in a dangerous case in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. Cody is a former Roman Catholic nun who’s left the convent and started again on her own. She lives a very quiet life, and certainly doesn’t look to call a lot of attention to herself. She’s not really the ‘curtain-twitching’ type, either. But when she does happen to look out of her window, she sees something that puts her in a great deal of danger. So Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney have to try to keep her safe as they look for the murderers of banker Emmet Sweetman. As it turns out, Cody is in even more danger than anyone thought. Vincent Naylor and a group that included his brother Noel planned and carried out what was supposed to be the perfect heist. It went tragically wrong, and now Naylor wants revenge. When he suspects that Cody might have seen something, he decides to get rid of his problem.

If you’re a teacher, very little is more ordinary than planning a trip with your class, especially to a local place. But in Stuart Palmer’s The Penguin Pool Murder, a class trip turns out to be anything but mundane for fourth-grade teacher Hildegarde Withers. She and her students have spent the morning visiting the New York Aquarium, and are gathering to leave. But one of the students notices that Miss Withers’ hatpin is missing. It’s finally found at the bottom of a flight of steps. But then, Miss Withers discovers that one of her students is not with the rest of the group. A search leads to the penguin pool, where the child is found watching the animals. Just then, a man’s body slides into the pool. That’s how Miss Withers gets involved in what turns out to be a case of murder.

Getting on a bus is another everyday sort of thing people do. How often have you ridden a bus without even thinking about it? But it’s not so ordinary in Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second. One day, Emma Curtis is taking a bus home from work, as she always does. It’s another regular day for her. Also on the bus is Luke Murray. At one stop, a group of young people get on the bus and begin to bully Murray. Finally, fellow rider Jason Barnes intervenes, telling the group to leave Murray alone. For a time, things quiet down. Murray gets off the bus. So do the young people who’ve been harassing him. So does Barnes. The fight starts up again and in fact escalates. It continues all the way to Barnes’ front yard, where he is fatally stabbed. Emma now finds herself involved in what has turned out to be a case of murder, and all because she took a certain bus on a certain day.

Kate Atkinson makes use of this strategy in One Good Turn. A group of people that includes mystery writer Martin Canning is waiting to purchase tickets for an afternoon comic radio show. It’s the most ordinary thing, if you think about it – waiting to buy tickets. But it’s hardly mundane this time. As the group watches, a silver Peugeot driven by Paul Bradley is hit by a Blue Toyota. Both drivers get out of their cars and start arguing. The argument gets worse; finally, the Toyota driver brandishes a baseball bat and starts to attack Bradley. Almost instinctually, Canning, who’s never done a truly brave thing in his life, hurls his computer case at the Toyota driver, stopping him and saving Bradley’s life. Canning feels a responsibility to make sure that Bradley gets the medical help he needs, so he goes with the man to a local hospital. Before he knows it, he’s drawn into a case of fraud and multiple murder. And it all started with a simple, everyday wait for tickets.

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, involvement in a murder case begins with a simple trip to a dumpster. Academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets an early-morning call from her daughter Mieka, who’s just opened a catering business. Mieka was taking some trash to the dumpster when she discovered the body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin. Bernice was one of Mieka’s employees, so she feels a particular sense of responsibility. At first, the murder looks like one of a series of killings that the police have dubbed ‘the Little Flower Murders.’ But as Kilbourn and her daughter ask questions, it turns out that this murder is different…

So do be careful if you wash dishes, walk the dog, look out a bus or train window, or wait for tickets at the cinema. You never know where it all might lead…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by David Usher.

** Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. If you haven’t read it yet, I heartily recommend it.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cath Staincliffe, Catherine O'Flynn, Gail Bowen, Gene Kerrigan, Kate Atkinson, Stuart Palmer