Category Archives: Sulari Gentill

Who Could Imagine I’d be Wandering So, Far From the Home I Love*

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how important it is for a lot of parents and other adults to pass on traditions. And it is. That’s how cultures are perpetuated, and many families see those traditions as legacies.

As always happens on this blog, the discussion was a lot more interesting than the post itself. And one of the topics that came up was: what about children who don’t choose to carry on those traditions? It’s a good question, and certainly it’s a plot point in a lot of crime fiction. That makes sense, too, since that choice can add interesting layers of character development (to say nothing of plot threads) to a story.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), for instance, we meet the members of the Abernethie family. As the novel begins, family patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died, and his family attends the funeral. Afterwards, they gather at the family home, Enderby, to hear the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, that suggestion is brushed aside. But when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems all too plausible. Mr. Entwhistle, the family attorney, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the case, and Poirot agrees. One of the main motives, of course, would be money, since Abernethie was a wealthy man. So, Mr. Entwhistle tries to find out the different family members’ financial situations. At one point, he has a conversation with Timothy Abernethie, brother of both victims. Here’s what Timothy has to say about the family:
 

‘‘Our father left us all a perfectly reasonable share of his money–that is, if we didn’t want to go into the family concern [a company that makes foot preparations]. I didn’t. I’ve a soul above corn-plasters, Entwhistle!’’
 

Timothy’s choice to break with the family company tradition means he and his wife, Maude, haven’t had as much access to the family fortune. It’s an interesting look at the later consequences of not staying in the family business.

S.J. Rozan’s Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by Lydia Chin, is a Chinese-American PI, based in New York City. Her family is very traditional, and her mother in particular would like her to settle down, marry a Chinese man, and raise a family, in the traditional Chinese way. But that’s not what Chin wants. For one thing, she hasn’t found a person she wants as a partner, and she would rather make that choice herself. For another, she likes what she does, although no-one in her family approves. She’s good at her job, too. Because she’s multilingual (mostly using English and Cantonese), she can work with a wide variety of clients. And she knows New York City very well. Breaking with family tradition isn’t always easy for Chin, but she’s almost always content with her choice.

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair is a member of a wealthy New South Wales family. At the time that this series takes place (the early/mid 1930s), the worldwide Great Depression is in full force, and millions of people are hard-hit.  Plenty of them want major changes in the government and economic systems; some even call for a revolution. The Sinclair family, now headed by Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred, is well-off and politically conservative. Rowly himself isn’t overly interested in politics, but he has plenty of friends on the left, even the far left. And he doesn’t really have a desire to take over the family businesses. Instead, he’s an artist, as are several of his friends. Wilfred doesn’t exactly approve of his brother’s lifestyle, companions, or choices, and he is concerned about the family reputation. Here’s what he says to Rowly about it in A Few Right Thinking Men:
 

‘‘Why can’t you just drink too much like everybody else’s wayward brother?’’
 

For his part, Rowly is mostly content with his choices. He can’t bring himself to agree with Wilfred on politics, and certainly won’t be lectured to about his life. The conflict sometimes leads to tension, and that adds to the plots in this series. It also adds to the characters.

Geraldine Evans’ Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty works with the Elmurst CID in Essex. He’s hardly perfect, but he’s good at what he does, and he likes police work. That career isn’t what his family would have liked, though. Rafferty comes from a large, Irish working-class family, some of whose members are involved in not-exactly-legal ‘enterprises.’
 

‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’
 

Rafferty’s career is tolerated, because it’s convenient to have a police officer in the family when you’re arrested. But in many ways, the family would prefer if he had a ‘regular’ sort of working-class job, ‘like everybody else.’

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel. When we first meet him, in The Half-Child, Patel is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop in the ‘Little India’ section of Bangkok. His family’s plan is for him to spend some time there, then return to his native India, marry someone of whom his family approves, and settle down there. But that’s not what Patel wants. His dream is to see some of the world, to explore. And he wants to start by seeing a great deal more of Thailand than just the small part of Bangkok where others from India live. So, when he meets PI Jayne Keeney, he’s intrigued. She’s an ex-pat Australian who speaks fluent Thai, and who has had her share of travel experiences. And, when he helps her solve the mysterious death of a young volunteer at a children’s home, he sees an opportunity for the sort of interesting life he wants. He ends up becoming her business partner as well as her partner in life.

Sometimes, making the choice to part with family traditions and expectations has really positive consequences. But it’s never easy to do, even in the best of situations. And it can cause plenty of conflict.

Thanks to those of you who suggested this post: I appreciate the ‘food for thought.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick’s Far From the Home I Love.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Geraldine Evans, S.J. Rozan, Sulari Gentill

They Say He’s Got to Go*

monstersOne of the most enduring plot types in any sort of writing is what I’ll call overcoming the monster. One example, for instance is the story of Beowulf and the monster called the Grendel. Of course, you don’t have to go back that far to find stories where protagonists have to overcome monsters.

If you think of monsters in the figurative sense, there are a lot of instances of this sort of plot in crime fiction. By the way, you’ll notice as this post goes on that there won’t be any instances of ‘crazed serial killer’ plots. Too easy.

In Cecil Day-Lewis/Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, we are introduced to Frank Cairnes, a detective novelist who writes under the name of Felix Lane. Six months before the events of the story, his son Martin ‘Martie’ was killed in a hit-and-run incident, and he’s been inconsolable since then. His grief has driven him to the point where, as he puts it,
 

‘I am going to kill a man.’
 

He’s referring, of course, to the man who killed his son. And he regards that person as a kind of monster. He sets out to find the identity of the driver, and put an end to him. Cairnes moves to the town where he and Martie were living at the time of the boy’s death, and starts his sleuthing. He finds out that the driver of the car was likely a man named George Rattery. With that information, Cairnes wangles his way into the Rattery household and looks for an opportunity to kill the man. He gets his chance one afternoon when he and Rattery go sailing together. But, as it turns out, Rattery has found Cairnes’ diary, and knew about the plot to kill him. As he tells Cairnes, if anything happens to him, the police will immediately suspect Cairnes. That’s exactly what happens when, later that afternoon, Rattery dies of poison. Cairnes seeks out poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways, and asks for his help. He claims that he’s innocent (after all, why would he have planned to poison Rattery when he was going to push him overboard?) and Strangeways goes to work finding out who the real killer was. In this case, Cairnes’ grief has made him think of Rattery as a monster.

Sometimes, the monster that characters seek to overcome is in themselves (perhaps that’s another blog topic in itself…). In Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, for instance, we meet Lou Ford, deputy sheriff of Central City, Texas. He’s a quiet sort of man, a little on the ‘plodding’ side, but not stupid. He investigates when a local prostitute, Joyce Lakeland, is viciously beaten. While he’s working on that case, there’s a murder. Now it’s clear that something is going on in Central City. And all along, what people don’t know about Ford is that he’s hiding something he calls ‘the sickness’ – something he tries to overcome. And that ‘sickness’ plays its role in the story.

Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men features her sleuth, artist Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair. The story takes place in 1932 in New South Wales. It’s a time of great hardship, with the worldwide Great Depression hitting everyone very hard. Siinclair’s family is relatively safe, as they’re wealthy and powerful. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe from tragedy. When Sinclair’s uncle, also named Rowland, is murdered one night, Inspector Biquit and his team investigate. Slowly, Sinclair comes to suspect that his uncle’s killers might be members of the New Guard, a far-right group led by Colonel Eric Campbell. The group’s aim is to stamp out all liberal and left-wing thinking, and establish a new government in Australia, that will protect the current class system, and re-establish very traditional ways of life. The more Sinclair learns about the New Guard, the more dangerous he finds them to be. In fact, they’re already plotting against New South Wales’ government, and the rest of the country will likely not be far behind. As Sinclair and his friends try to find out who murdered his uncle, they also have to work to prevent the New Guard, and Campbell, from succeeding. In this case, it’s a dangerous political group that’s seen as a sort of monster that must be stopped.

Most children are no strangers to the concept of a monster and the desire to overcome it. And for some children, it’s all too real. For instance, in Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, fourteen-year-old Adam Vander finally works up the courage to escape his abusive father, Joe. He’s always thought of Joe as a kind of monster, and with good reason. But until now, he’s always been too small and too frightened to leave. When he finally does, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who happens to be at the house when Adam makes his escape. The two spend the next week together, and form a sort of friendship. They learn, too, that they are connected in ways they’re not really comfortable discussing, but that are undeniable. And it all stems from a past incident. Still, they work together, and face real danger as the week goes on, and in the end, there’s a sense of resolution. Several parts of the story are told from Adam’s perspective, so we see how he regards Joe. It’s not exactly like Beowulf trying to defeat the Grendel, but there’s a very similar sort of sentiment.

And then there’s Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol’s Cemetery of Swallows. That novel begins as Manuel Gemoni travels from France to the Dominican Republic. There, he kills a Dominican citizen named Tobias Darbier. There’s no doubt that Gemoni is the killer, but what’s missing is a motive. All he says about it is that he killed Darbier,
 

‘‘…because he had killed me.’’
 

Gemoni has been badly injured, so Police Commissioner Amédée Mallock of the Paris CID is sent to the Dominican Republic to bring Gemoni back to France as soon as his condition allows. When he has fully recuperated, the agreement is that he will be returned to the Dominican Republic to face trial. Mallock is particularly interested in this case, since one of his colleagues is Gemoni’s sister. As the novel goes on, we slowly learn the history of Gemoni and Darbier. And we see that the theme of overcoming a monster is woven into the plot.

It’s woven into many plots, actually. And that’s not surprising. That plot type can be very suspenseful and tense. And it’s something that resonates with readers.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blue Öyster Cult’s Godzilla.

 

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Filed under Cecil Day-Lewis, Honey Brown, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, Jim Thompson, Nicholas Blake, Sulari Gentill

They’re Only Made of Clay*

PotteryFor thousands of years, people have merged beauty and practicality in many ways (blankets, clothing, furnishings, etc.). And in doing so, they’ve left behind real windows into their lives. We see this in a lot of ways; I’d never be able to do justice to it in a book, let alone a blog post. But we can get a hint just by looking at pottery.

If you have handmade pottery, then you know it really can be seen as a form of art. If you’ve made it, you may feel even more strongly about that. But pottery also serves lots of practical uses. Potters and pottery certainly turn up in crime fiction, and that makes sense. There are all sorts of possibilities for including interesting information, linking past and present in a mystery, and even creating conflict.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, pottery is used as a way for Dr. Watson to help Sherlock Holmes prevent a disaster. Sir James Damery is worried about his daughter, Violet, who’s fallen in love with Baron Adelbert Gruner. Both Holmes and Damery are certain that this marriage will end in disaster, since the baron is a philanderer who sees women merely as conquests. The problem is that the Baron has a way of getting a hold over people, so that they do anything he wants. That includes thuggery against anyone who tries to get in his way. Holmes learns from one of Gruner’s former mistresses that he has a book in which he’s chronicled his amorous adventures, and it’s hoped that, if Violet sees that book and learns the truth, she’ll break off the engagement. But getting the book proves to be harder than it seems. The Baron has one weakness, though: he is a renowned expert on and collector of Chinese pottery. So Holmes has Watson study up on Chinese pottery and go to Gruner’s home in the guise of someone wishing to sell a Ming piece. Watson’s visit has some unintended consequences, but it certainly plays a role in helping Holmes’ client.

Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours) introduces London potter and sculptor Henrietta Savernake. One weekend, she’s invited to the home of a cousin, Lady Lucy Angkatell. Among the other guests is Henrietta’s lover, John Christow, and his wife, Gerda. Also present are some of Lucy’s other relatives: Midge Hardcastle, Edward Angkatell (who is in love with Henrietta), and David Angkatell. As you can imagine, the weekend does not bode well. On the Sunday afternoon, Hercule Poirot, who has taken a nearby cottage, is invited to lunch. When he arrives, he sees what he thinks is a macabre sort of joke, set up for his ‘benefit.’ John Christow has been shot and is lying by the pool. His killer is standing nearby, holding the weapon. Within seconds, it’s clear to Poirot that this isn’t a tableau: it’s a real murder scene. But does it tell the truth? Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who really killed Christow and why. And it’s interesting to see how pottery plays a role in solving the crime. You’re quite right, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia and of The ABC Murders.

In Mary Kelly’s The Spoilt Kill, PI Hedley Nicholson is hired by Luke Shentall, of the Shentall Pottery Factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Someone’s been stealing pottery designs from the factory and selling them to foreign competitors. One of the main suspects is the firm’s top designer, Corinna Wakefield. On the one hand, she’s a likely possibility; she’s quite talented, and has access to everything she’d need to be ‘the mole.’ And, since she’s an ‘outsider,’ no-one knows much about her. On the other hand, there are other possibilities. And the very fact that she’s an ‘outsider’ could prejudice people against her. Then one day, Corinna is on the spot when a body is discovered in a kiln. She says she’s innocent, and Nicholson wants to believe her, especially since he’s fallen for her. But is she? And are the two crimes connected?

Margaret Maron’s Uncommon Clay introduces readers to the Nordan family, a dynasty with a long history of pottery-making. Now the family’s being torn apart by a messy, ugly divorce. James Nordan and Sandra Hitchcock, both highly skilled potters, are separating after twenty-five years. Judge Deborah Knott is in the Asheboro (North Carolina) area to visit the potters’ festival there, and see if she can find a piece that she wants. While she’s there, she’s also on temporary assignment; her role is to oversee the distribution of the Nordan/Hitchcock property and ensure that it’s as equitable as possible. Everything changes, though, when Nordan’s body is found in a kiln. Sandra is the natural most likely suspect, but this case turns out to be more complex than that.

And then there’s Stephen E. Stanley’s Pottery and Poets, which features his sleuth, Luke Littlefield. He is an academic who also writes crime fiction (hmm…). His specialty is cultural anthropology, so, in one plot thread of this novel, he is consulted when a major find is reported in the Cape Cod area. Littlefield is from Maine, so besides his academic credentials, he knows New England and a lot of its history. He is sent a collection of pottery and other relics, and uses it to establish that the dig may be a long-buried 17th Century village. Apparently, a fire swept through the village. It wasn’t a brush fire or a lightning strike, so one mystery concerns how the fire started. The other concerns the unexplained death of the village’s cleric, Reverend Josiah Babbage. It was believed he committed suicide, but did he? In this plot thread, it’s really interesting to see how Littlefield’s knowledge of pottery helps him to draw some conclusions about the village and its people.

And I don’t think I could do a post on pottery without mentioning Sulari Gentill’s Edna Higgins. She is a sculptor, potter, and sometime-model who is very much a free spirit. But she is quite loyal to her friends, among whom is Gentill’s protagonist, Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair. In fact, she’s his muse. During the time when this series takes place (the 1930s), it’s a bit unusual for a woman to chart her own artistic and personal course, but that’s exactly what Edna Higgins does.

Pottery really is fascinating, and so are the people who create it. They have a unique perspective on the world, and the things they make reflect that world. Little wonder we see that perspective in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George and Ira Gershwin’s Love is Here to Stay.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Maron, Mary Kelly, Stephen E. Stanley, Sulari Gentill

Get Away From These Demagogues*

DemagoguesLet’s face it: the world can be a very scary place. Tragedies happen, changes happen; and sometimes, life seems to be full of frightening news. At times like that, some people try to use others’ uncertainty and fears to gain power, or at least ascendency, over others. And that sort of demagoguery can have devastating and lasting consequences. We certainly see it happen in real life. We’re seeing it now.

It’s certainly not unique to real life, though. There’s plenty of demagoguery in crime fiction, too. And that makes sense. For one thing, the use of rhetoric and bigotry instead of reasoned debate has been going on for a lot time. For another, the sort of conflict that demagogues exploit can serve as a very useful tool for building tension in a story. There are a lot of examples of this in the genre. I’ll just mention a few.

Some novels and series explore the consequences of the actions of real demagogues. For instance, both Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series and Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series are set (at least partly) in Berlin just before and then during the Nazis’ rise to power. In both of those series, there are good reasons for people to be uncertain and afraid. It’s the height of the worldwide Great Depression, there’s little food, and the currency isn’t worth very much. There aren’t many jobs, either. Against this background, as you’ll know, Hitler rose to power in part through exploiting people’s fears, and setting up easy targets for them to blame. You’ll also know just how horrible the consequences of that demagoguery were.

We also see that pattern in William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series, which begins in Moscow just before World War II. Josef Stalin is firmly in power, and has consolidated his control of the Communist Party. He’s done that in part through playing his political rivals off against one another, and by preying on people’s fears of what might happen if he’s not there to steer the proverbial ship of state. And that’s not to mention the fears people have already had about securing life’s basic necessities. The consequences of that demagoguery have been tragic, too, as hundreds of thousands of people have died in Stalin’s purges and other oppressions. Against this background, Korolev and his assistant, Sergeant Slivka, have to move very carefully. One wrong move and they could be next on the list, so to speak. At the same time, they are charged with upholding the law and catching criminals. It’s not an easy balance to strike, and Ryan acknowledges that fact.

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was also arguably a demagogue. He exploited Americans’ fears of Communism to the point where many people were jailed and worse. Others lost their jobs (and any chance of getting another one), were shunned by others in their communities, and more. We see part of the impact of that demagoguery in Walter Mosley’s A Red Death. Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins is a sort of unofficial PI in post-WWII Los Angeles. One day, he gets a letter from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax agent Reginald Lawrence. The letter says that Rawlins owes thousands of dollars in back taxes – money he has no way of paying. He’s resigning himself to prison when FBI agent Darryl Craxton offers him a way out. If Mosley helps the FBI bring down suspected Communist Chaim Wenzler, Craxton will make those tax problems go away. Mosley has little choice but to accept. And in any case, he, too, has been taught to fear Communism, and Craxton appeals to his patriotism on that issue. The case turns out to be much more complicated than Rawlins imagined when he finds himself becoming friends with Wenzler. It’s even more complicated when he’s framed for two murders.

Argentina has had more than its share of demagogues. Many of the military rulers have used people’s fears, as well as their concerns about meeting their basic needs, to get and maintain power. For instance, Juan Perón came to power with the backing of (and a great deal of appeal to) the working classes. Once in power, he maintained his position through increasingly authoritarian decisions. The impact of that demagoguery lasted for many decades, long after Perón was no longer in office. Ernesto Mallo’s Venancio ‘Perro’ Lascano series takes place in late 1970’s Argentina, a time when a military dictatorship is in control of the country. People have been taught to fear the political left; and those who are suspected of having leftist sympathies are brutally silenced. So are those who are suspected of questioning or, worse, opposing, the existing government. It’s a very difficult political landscape for a police officer who’s just trying to do his job, and Mallo depicts this faithfully.

In Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men, artist Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair runs directly into demagoguery when he gets involved in finding out who murdered his uncle, also named Rowland. There’s a good possibility that Uncle Rowland was killed by members of the New Guard, an ultra-right political group led by Colonel Eric Campbell. Campbell’s been taking advantage of people’s misery (the novel takes place in 1931, and the Great Depression is taking a toll) and fear, and appealing to their patriotism to gain power. He and the New Guard are planning to install a new government in Australia, one run by ‘a few right thinking men’ who will preserve traditional ways of life and the current class order. He’s gotten plenty of people afraid of Communism, working-class revolts, and other perceived threats, and is set to gain real power. The radical left isn’t taking this lightly, and is preparing for an all-out battle. Rowly wants not only to find out whether Campbell sanctioned his uncle’s murder, but also to prevent violence if he can. But it won’t be easy.

And then there’s Robin Cook’s Seizure, in which we are introduced to US Senator Ashley Butler. He’s a demagogue who’s used people’s fear of the unknown to gain quite a bit of power. He’s strongly opposed to stem-cell research and other, similar, scientific advances. He’s also a staunch supporter of the ‘traditional’ family and ‘traditional family values.’ And he’s used his constituents’ worries about societal change, the economy, and other issues for his own purposes. Then, he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Butler knows that if the facts of his medical condition are made public, he’ll never succeed at becoming president, which is his goal. So, despite the rhetoric he’s used, he reaches out to Dr. Daniell Lowell, who’s been doing exactly the kind of research Butler has publicly opposed. Lowell is no friend to Butler, as he’s seen quite a lot of scientific progress stymied by Butler. He’s also not a fan of Butler’s rightist social leanings. But when Butler offers to withdraw his opposition to stem cell research, Lowell can’t resist the opportunity to use his controversial procedure to see if he can help Butler. Technically speaking, this is more a thriller than a crime novel. But the character of Ashley Butler was too good an example of a demagogue not to mention it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, demagoguery is alive and well. In crime fiction, it almost always has unfortunate, sometimes tragic consequences. I think it does in real life, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Nettie Moore.

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Filed under Ernesto Mallo, Philip Kerr, Rebecca Cantrell, Robin Cook, Sulari Gentill, Walter Mosley, William Ryan

Hoping For the Best But Expecting the Worse*

Early AdulthoodAn interesting post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about those early years of adulthood. It can be a stressful time as you’re trying to figure out the adult world. You’re on your own, but at the same time, not necessarily settled. You may be trying out different jobs, dating different people, and in other ways experimenting. It’s an interesting, if sometimes awfully anxious, time of life.

It certainly figures into crime fiction, and that makes quite a lot of sense. For one thing, the background atmosphere of the stress of those years can add tension to a story. For another, it’s often easy for readers to identify with those early-adulthood years. And beginning adults are often not yet settled into their lives, which allows them all sorts of encounters that are made-to-order for a crime novel.
One post is not nearly enough space to mention all of the examples of this sort of character. But here are just a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who tells him she may have committed a murder. But she abruptly changes her mind about engaging his services, and even admits that part of the reason is that he’s too old. Then she leaves without giving her name. Through his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot learns that the young woman’s name is Norma Restarick. She’s the daughter of a successful business magnate, but she’s grown now, and living in London with two roommates, Claudia Reece-Holland and Frances Cary. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver want to follow up on what Norma said to them, but by the time they start asking after her, she’s disappeared. Her roommates say they don’t know where she is, and her family says she’s returned to London. Now Poirot and Mrs. Oliver have two mysteries to solve. One is, of course, Norma’s whereabouts. The other is the story behind the murder (if there was one). Among other things, the novel gives readers a look at the lives of young adults in London during the mid-1960s. I know, I know, fans of Hickory Dickory Dock.

Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series features an interesting group of young people on their own. Tamar is a law professor who acts as a sort of mentor/role model to former student Timothy Shepherd, as well as to his friends, Michael Cantrip, Desmond Ragwort, Selena Jardine, and Julia Larwood. These young people do have steady jobs and promising careers. But in some ways, they’re still very young and sometimes quite vulnerable in their ways. So they turn to each other for friendship and support. And it’s interesting to see how they look to Tamar for guidance at times. The series has a light touch, but Caudwell also shows some of the anxiety that young people often feel at this time of life.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, is not only an academician and political scientist, she’s a mother (and now, a grandmother). As the series moves on, Bowen follows the lives of Joanne’s children as they finish school and start their own lives. For instance, at the beginning of the series (Deadly Appearances), Joanne’s daughter Mieka has just begun her university studies. It’s a time of real transition for her, and she decides that what she really wants to do is open her own catering company. It’s not what Joanne would have wanted her to do, but Mieka is determined. And she seems to have a sense of what she may be in for, as the saying goes. As the series goes on, Mieka starts to grow into her adult roles, and it’s interesting to see how she slowly develops adult confidence and competence. It’s also interesting to see how her relationship with her mother evolves as she moves from university student to professional.

In Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, we are introduced to three young men, Axel Frimann, Philip Reilly and Jon Moreno. All three are more or less on their own, and just getting started with life. Jon has recently been released from a mental hospital, where he’s been dealing with severe anxiety problems. His friends think it might be a good idea if he gets the chance for some ‘down time.’ So the three decide to spend a weekend at a cabin by Dead Water Lake. Late one night, they take a moonlight boating trip on the lake, but a terrible tragedy happens, and only two young men come back. Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer, and his assistant Jacob Skarre, investigate. They know that the two young men who were there that night could probably tell them everything, but they’ll have to get them to open up. In the meantime, another body is discovered. This time, it’s the body of a teenaged boy who’s found in Glitter Lake. As Sejer and Skarre look into the cases, they discover that the two tragedies are connected. Fossum explores this time of life in some of her other novels, too.

Fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series can tell you that those novels feature a cast of ‘regulars’ who share the building in which Chapman lives and has her bakery. In fact, two of them, Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, are employees at the bakery. These two young women are in those early years of adulthood. They live on their own, sharing an apartment, but they’re not what you’d call really settled. They’re trying to forge acting careers for themselves, so they go to plenty of auditions, and take whatever acting jobs they can get. On the one hand, they do have a certain amount of confidence. But on the other, they’re sometimes quite vulnerable. And the way they live certainly reflects both their youth and their lifestyles (this is taken from Devil’s Food):
 
‘Those girls had more makeup than a theatre company. It was everywhere, stuffed into every corner of the bathroom. I did find some soluble aspirin, some contraceptives, something called bikini line wax, that made me shudder, and a lot of miscellaneous instruments that I did not recognise.’
 

And this is a description of their kitchen:
 

‘They had a lot of dried soups and so on, all guaranteed 150% fat free (and how much sugar?). They did have real coffee and tea, and a lot of herbal teas in pretty packets featuring dragons and unicorns. And a whole box of hangover remedies…There were plenty of cups, but the dishes had not been done recently.’
 

It’s a very interesting example of the way people in those early-twenties years live their lives.

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair series also shows what those early years of adulthood can be like – at least what they were like in Australia in the early 1930s. Sinclair is the third son of the wealthy Sinclair family, with his older brother Wilfrid much the more settled. Rowly is an artist, and although he doesn’t completely live the bohemian life, he has collected a motley crew of friends and acquaintances. His close friends are Elias (who’s usually called Milton, because he wants to be a poet), Edna Higgins (sculptor and sometimes-model), and Clyde Watson-Jones (also an artist). While they’re not in the very earliest stages of adulthood, these four are still not really settled. And while Rowly, at least, has money, none of the group has really created an established life. They’re an interesting mix of optimism and anxiety, and we see both their confidence and their vulnerability.

And then there’s Chad Hobbes, whom we meet in Seán Haldane’s Victorian-Era historical novel The Devil’s Making. Hobbes has just finished his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford, and has arrived in Victoria, BC. With some help from a letter of introduction, he gets a job as a police constable, under the command of Augustus Permberton. When the body of Richard McCrory is discovered, Hobbes gets a real awakening, and not just about murder. He learns some of life’s lessons about prejudice, religion, politics and philosophy. As the novel goes on, we see how Hobbes shows that youthful blend of energy and optimism with vulnerability.

And that’s the thing about those early adult years. They can be a time of great self-involvement. They’re also a time of idealism, sometimes heartbreak, often vulnerability, and always change.

Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. And now, folks, please give yourselves a treat and visit Marina Sofia’s excellent blog. Fine book reviews, powerful poetry, and great photography await you.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alphaville’s Forever Young.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Karin Fossum, Kerry Greenwood, Sarah Caudwell, Seán Haldane, Sulari Gentill