Category Archives: Sue Younger

After All This Time You’re Still Asking Questions*

Even after a jury renders its verdict, that doesn’t mean a case goes away. The real truth about some cases doesn’t always come out, which means there are lingering questions about its outcome. We’ve certainly seen that in real life. For example, in 1892, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. And there are several theories as to who was really responsible. But at the same time, plenty of people continued to believe she was guilty. And there are historians who think the same thing.

The same questions come up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see the roles they can play in the genre. Those lingering questions can be the basis for a legal appeal. Or, they can prompt Cold Case teams to look into the case again. Sleuths, too, can be drawn into cases because of those questions.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned one afternoon. His wife, Caroline, is the main suspect, and she certainly has motive. She is tried for the crime, and is defended by a very skilled lawyer. But she’s found guilty and sent to prison, where she dies a year later. Most people don’t question the jury’s verdict, either. But years later, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, does. She believes that her mother was innocent, and she questions the outcome of the trial. She hires Hercule Poirot to take the case and find out who the real killer is. Slowly, he learns that there were a few questions at the time, but even those who thought Caroline Crale might be innocent faced one major challenge: if it wasn’t Caroline, then who else had a motive? Poirot gets written accounts of the murder from the people who were there at the time; he interviews them, too. That information leads him to the truth about the murder.

In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Superintendent Andy Dalziel returns to a 1963 case – the murder of Pamela Westrup. At the time, Cissy Kohler was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the crime. But there were always some questions about whether she was guilty. Now, she’s been released from prison, and the questions continue to mount. There’s talk that she was innocent, but that the investigator in charge of the case, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that would have supported her case. Dalziel is sure that’s not true, though, and it’s no small matter that Tallentire was his mentor, so he has a personal stake in the case. Dalziel goes back over the events in questions, and slowly gets to the truth about the Westrup murder.

Michael Robotham’s Lost features the case of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle. Three years earlier, Mickey went missing. Everyone thinks that she was abducted and killed by a paedophile named Harold Wavell. In fact, Wavell was arrested, tried and imprisoned for the crime. But there are still questions about the case. Was Wavell really guilty? If not, what happened to the child?  Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is looking into the case, when he is badly injured. After the injury, he has little memory of what happened. But, with help from psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, Ruiz slowly begins to recover his memories of the case. Once he does, he is able to find out the truth about Mickey.

Paddy Richardson’s Wellington-based journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of lingering questions about a case in Traces of Red. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for murdering his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the murders. There are lingering questions about the case, though. Was Bligh really guilty? There is some evidence that suggests he might be innocent. If he is, then this could be the story to ensure Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. She starts looking into the case again and finds herself getting much closer to it than even she thinks is wise. In the end, she learns the truth, but it’s definitely at a cost.

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She’s not particularly eager to make the trip, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with the plan. There’s a good reason, too, for which Claire doesn’t want to go back to Auckland. In 1970, her father, Patrick, was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the disappearance of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. There was never enough evidence to make a conviction stick, so he didn’t remain in prison. But there are still plenty of people who think he’s guilty. And there are a lot of questions about the trial and about the disappearance. Still, Claire goes back to Auckland with her family. Then, she gets involved in a very high-profile case. A two-year-old in her care is diagnosed with a tumour. His parents object to any surgery on religious grounds, and this puts them squarely up against the hospital. It’s a difficult matter, and it puts Claire in exactly the situation she didn’t want: under the proverbial microscope. Her father’s case is made much of in the media, and all of the questions surrounding it are dragged out again.

There are certain cases like that, though – cases where there’s been an arrest, and possibly a trial and conviction, but there are still questions. Such situations can make for interesting plot lines in a crime novel. And in real life, those cases can make for much speculation.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Goldfinger’s Anything.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Michael Robotham, Paddy Richardson, Reginald Hill, Sue Younger

The Account Of the Capture Wasn’t in the Papers*

An interesting post from Tim at Informal Inquiries has got me thinking about the different ways in which the media and the public react to a murder investigation. In some cases, there’s a great deal of hype and attention, sometimes to an almost frenzied level. In other cases, though, there’s very little attention paid to a case. Either it’s not seen as sensational enough, or some other major news story eclipses the case, or something else happens.

We see that distinction in a lot of crime fiction, too. And that means that the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to the plot. Will the case by hyped for some reason? That can add plot threads and suspense. Will it go nearly unnoticed? That, too, can add different sorts of plot threads, and a tension of its own.

One of the most eagerly followed cases of the early 20th Century was the Crippen case. In 1910, Harvey Hawley Crippen was convicted and executed for the murder of his wife, Cora. The details of the murder, of Crippen’s flight from England with his lover, Ethel ‘Le Neve’ Neave, and his subsequent arrest, made headlines all over the world. On the one hand, people have murdered spouses for a very long time, and most of those cases don’t get into the papers, or at least not beyond a few lines. On the other, the Crippen case included lurid details. There was the love triangle, Crippen’s attempted escape, and more. All of this combined to catch the public’s attention. There’s an interesting look at this case in Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman. That’s a fictional account of the Crippen case, told from Crippen’s point of view. Among other things, it raises an interesting possible account of what really happened to Cora.

The real action in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders begins as Hercule Poirot receives a cryptic warning note that tells him to
 
‘Look out for Andover…’
 

Sure enough, on the day specified in the note, Alice Ascher is murdered in her small tobacconist/newsagent shop.  Not much attention at all is paid the crime. It is, after all, what looks like a case of a robbery gone wrong. Terrible, of course, but hardly worth media hype. Then, after another warning note is sent to Poirot, twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard is strangled. Her body is discovered on a beach, and an ABC railway guide is found nearby. Now, there’s some interest, especially after it comes out that an ABC guide was also found near Mrs. Ascher’s body. Before long, and after another murder, the media begin to carry all the details of the case, and the public is enlisted to help catch the killer. It’s interesting to see how the case of Mrs. Ascher doesn’t get any attention at all until it’s linked to others.

Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass begins as pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns to her native Auckland from London. With her are her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ Claire’s reluctant to make the move, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with it. And we soon find out why she’d rather have stayed in London. In 1970, seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips disappeared. There was a great deal of media attention to the case, as you can imagine. Some of the evidence pointed to Claire’s father, Patrick Bowerman. In fact, he was arrested and imprisoned in the matter. But there was never enough evidence to really make the case, so he wasn’t convicted. Still, plenty of people think he’s guilty. Claire doesn’t want this old case raked up again. That’s exactly what happens, though, when she gets involved in another case. A two-year-old patient of hers has a tumour that needs to be removed. But his parents refuse the surgery on religious grounds. The conflict between the hospital and the family thrusts Claire into the spotlight, and brings up the old case again.

In Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, we are introduced to Buenos Aires police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. The novel takes place in the late 1970s, a very dangerous time in that place. The military government is in firm control, and anyone seen as dissenting or ‘making trouble’ is quickly imprisoned. Many simply disappear. Those murders don’t make the news or get a lot of public discussion. It’s too dangerous to bring the topic up. Even Lescano, who is a good cop, knows better than to go up against the army. So, one morning, when he’s called out to a scene where two bodies were found, he’s inclined to leave the matter alone. The bodies bear all the hallmarks of an army ‘hit.’ But then, he sees a third body. This one’s a little different, and Lescano looks into the matter further. The dead man turns out to be a moneylender named Elías Biterman, and his death doesn’t look like a typical army killing. The murder doesn’t get any attention; after all, who cares about ‘just a Jew?’ But Lescano persists, and finds that looking into this murder might cost him his life.

Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke features Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel. The novel is set in 1931, during the last years of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis have already started to become powerful, and people know how dangerous it is to go up against them. Against this background, Vogel makes a shocking discovery one morning. She happens to be at the police station when she looks at the photographs displayed in the station’s Hall of the Unknown Dead. Among those ‘photos is one of her brother, Ernst. His death hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else; in fact, this is the first Vogel has heard of it. She wants to find out what happened to her brother, but in this place at this time, it’s very dangerous to call attention to oneself. So she’ll have to move very quietly. As she looks for the truth, we see how certain deaths get absolutely no media or public notice at all.

That’s the case with the death in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. The body of an unknown man is found in the ruins of a fire that broke out in a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. When it’s established that the dead man might have been a foreigner, DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira, of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit are assigned to the case. There’s plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment in the area, so this could be a hate crime. As Zigic and Ferreira look into the matter, we see how little public and media attention is really paid to that death and to some other things that the sleuths uncover.

And that’s the way it is with some cases. They get very little media hype and public attention. Others, though, make headlines, sometimes for a long time. Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Smackwater Jack.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ernesto Mallo, Eva Dolan, Rebecca Cantrell, Sue Younger

My Mama Once Told Me of a Place With Waterfalls and Unicorns Flying*

It’s interesting how legends, if that’s what you want to call them, are built up around certain places. The reality seldom lives up to the promise of the legend, and most people know that intellectually. But the allure is often still there. So, people ‘buy into’ those legends. That’s why people can be sold on timeshares, ‘that perfect little place,’ and so on.

In crime fiction, those legends can add an interesting layer of tension as characters discover the truth behind the legend. And there are possibilities for character development, too. And that atmosphere, where reality and legend clash, can make for a solid background to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we are introduced to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use the money to take a trip to Le Pinet, which she’s heard about from clients. Jane’s neither gullible nor unintelligent, but the place does have a mystique about it. She finds, though, that Le Pinet isn’t anything as magical as the legends suggest. And on the flight back to London, she gets mixed up in a case of murder. One of the fellow passengers, a Parisian moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight (and, incidentally, quite suspicious as far as the coroner’s jury is concerned!). He works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who would have wanted the victim dead. I agree with you, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

There are all sorts of legends built up around the ‘perfect suburban place, with white picket fence.’ And we see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Walter and Joanna Eberhart decide to move from New York City to the small Connecticut town of Stepford. The story is that it’s a lovely town with low taxes and good schools, and they want to be part of that dream, so to speak. They and their two children settle in, and all promises to go well. But soon, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe begins to suspect that something is wrong with Stepford. Joanna doesn’t believe her at first, but soon some strange and frightening things show all too clearly that Bobbie was right. Some very dark things are going on in the town…

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move introduces readers to sci-fi novelist Zack Walker and his journalist wife, Sarah. He’s been concerned for some time about the safety of the city where he and his family live. Convinced by the legends of idyllic suburban life, Walker wants to move his family to a new development called Valley Forest Estates. Soon after they arrive, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t the ‘perfect suburban community’ Walker had thought it was. For one thing, the new house needs several repairs. Walker soon discovers, too, that all is not as it seems in this community. Matters come to a head one day when he discovers the body of a local environmentalist in a nearby creek. The more Walker tries to keep himself and his family safe, the more danger he seems to find. The ‘white picket fence’ suburban dream turns out to be nothing like the sales brochures…

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice takes place mostly in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Former school principal Thea Farmer has bought land there, and had a custom-made house built. For her, this is going to be the perfect home in the perfect place. It’s something she’s dreamed of doing. Then, bad luck and poor financial decision-making mean she has to settle for the house next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ Worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home Thea still thinks of as hers. As if that weren’t enough, Frank’s niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Now, Thea has to cope with the loss of her beautiful home as well as the fact that ‘invaders’ have taken it over. Unexpectedly, though, she forms an awkward sort of friendship with Kim, and sees promise in her. That’s why it’s so upsetting for Thea when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for the girl. When the police won’t do anything about it (they really can’t without clear evidence), Thea decides to take her own measures…

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi,’ and her partner, Yossi Shalev, move from London to Claire’s native Auckland. For Yossi, New Zealand is an almost ideal setting. He wants to live as far away as possible from the war and conflict he knew in Israel. And he’s excited to start over in what, to him, seems like the perfect place. Roi is happy about the move, too. Her mother has said very little about her background (and Roi’s), and Roi is curious to learn more. But Claire is not at all eager for the move, she had good reasons for leaving New Zealand in the first place. Her father, Patrick, was arrested and tried for the 1970 murder of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. Although there was never enough evidence to keep him in prison, plenty of people think he was guilty. Claire doesn’t want to go back to those memories. But, for Yossi’s sake, she goes along with the plan. Everything works well enough at first. Then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. Claire wants to plan an operation to remove the growth, but Rory’s parents refuse on religious grounds. The conflict between them gets media attention and before long, Claire’s in the public spotlight. And that’s when some journalists bring up the Kathryn Phillips murder. Now, Claire will have to fight to keep her family safe from the media blitz, and try to do the best she can for her patient.

And that’s the thing about ‘buying into’ stories about perfect places and lifestyles. In real life, and in crime fiction, the reality can be quite different from the ideal. And that can lead in all sorts of dangerous directions.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Sal Tlay Ka Siti.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay, Sue Younger, Virginia Duigan

Few of the Sins of the Father are Visited Upon the Son*

When a crime is committed, especially something like murder, it’s not just the victim and the perpetrator who are affected. The public’s memory can be long; so, even a generation or two (or more) later, a family can be associated with a crime. And that can impact family members, and even be very difficult for them (e.g. ‘Are you any relation to that man/woman who…?’).

Having an infamous crime or ancestor in one’s past can make for an interesting layer of character development. How, for instance, do you deal with the fact that your parent, or grandparent, or great-grandparent, etc., killed someone? Or stole a lot of money? This sort of plot point can add tension to a story, too. So, it’s little wonder we see it in crime fiction.

For example, Ruth Rendell’s first novel as Barbara Vine was A Dark-Adapted Eye. In it, Faith Longley Severn has to come to terms with a terrible crime in her family’s past. Many years earlier, Vera Longley Hilliard was arrested, convicted, and executed for murder. The Longley family had always prided itself on its respectability, so this was an especially hard blow. No-one’s spoken of it since. But now, a journalist, Daniel Stewart, finds out about the story, and decides to write a book on the family and the hanging. He approaches Faith to see if she’ll cooperate, and provide him with whatever family history she may have. It’s a wrenching topic, but Faith agrees. And, as she and Daniel look into the past, we learn what happened in the Longley family, and how and why the death happened.

John Grisham’s The Chamber features the Cayhall family. Former Ku Klux Klansman Sam Cayhall is in prison in Mississippi, on death row for a bombing murder. He says he’s not guilty of the bombing. In fact, he’s had several stays of execution, but has run out of options, and is scheduled to be executed. His case is taken pro bono by a Chicago law firm. They send one of their attorneys, Adam Hall, to their Memphis office to defend Cayhall. As we soon learn, Hall was born Alan Cayhall, and is actually Sam Cayhall’s grandson. It turns out that Adam/Alan’s father, Eddie, was disgusted with his father’s Klan activities and bigotry, and left for California, never to return. He didn’t want to be associated with the Cayhall name. As the novel goes on, and Adam/Alan works on behalf of his grandfather, we learn the family’s history, and we learn the truth about the bombing.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of the Franco family. At the turn of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family leave their native Italy to settle in New York. He gets a job at a shoe repair shop, and starts to do well. In fact, he ends up opening his own shoe repair and sales company, and the family prospers. Unfortunately, he starts drinking, and ends up killing a man in a bar fight one night. He’s arrested and taken into custody. Then he discovers that the victim was Luigi Lupo, son of notorious crime boss Tonio Lupo. When Lupo finds out who killed his son, he visits Franco in jail, and curses his three sons, saying that they’ll die at the same age as his son was when he died. As the story goes on, we learn what happens to those three sons, and how they deal with being the sons of a man who committed murder.

Steve Robinson’s In The Blood introduces his sleuth, genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In this novel, business executive Walter Sloane hires Tayte to trace his wife’s ancestry. Her family, the Fairbornes, split into two branches, one of which returned to their native England during the American Revolution. So, Tayte travels to England to contact the modern-day Fairbornes and see what he can learn. He discovers that some of the family members when missing, so he decides to find out what happened to them. Soon enough, he’s warned off, and it’s clear that someone does not want the truth about the family to come out. It turns out that even things that happened as long ago as the late 1700s still impact the family today.

We see a bit of similarity in Hannah Dennison’s Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall. In one plot thread of this novel, the small Devon town of Little Dipperton is preparing for a Skirmish – a re-enactment of a battle between the Cavaliers, who supported King Charles I, and the Roundheads, who supported Oliver Cromwell. As it happens, the Honeychurch family were Cavaliers; so Rupert Honeychurch is taking on that role. His wife, Lavinia, was a Carew before she married; and the Carews were Roundheads. As the story goes on, it’s interesting to see how crimes that were committed (or alleged to have been committed) by one side or other still play roles today.

There’s also Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass. Pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She had her reasons for leaving Auckland in the first place, so she’s reluctant to go back. But it’s very important to Yossi, so she agrees. At first, all goes well enough. But then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. From Claire’s perspective, it’s best to remove the growth as soon as possible. But the child’s parents, Isa’ako and Kate, refuse the procedure on the grounds of their religious beliefs. The media take an interest, and before Claire knows it, she’s the focus of publicity – some thing she didn’t want. Years earlier, her father, Patrick, was arrested and convicted for the 1970 murder of Kathryn Philips. Although he was jailed, there was never enough evidence to truly determine whether he was guilty, so he was released. Still, plenty of people think he was guilty, and they associate Claire’s name with that case. For Claire, it’s as though she can’t shake the stigma associated with her father.

And that does happen when a family member commits a crime. Sometimes it even happens when there’s just suspicion. Either way, it can cast a very long shadow.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Forgotten Years

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Barbara Vine, Hannah Dennison, John Grisham, Ruth Rendell, Steve Robinson, Sue Younger

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

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

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

 

Prompts

Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:

You

Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:

Nunslinger

An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud

Greenlight

My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem

 

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

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

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!

 
 
 

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

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