Category Archives: T.J. Cooke

A Few of Your Buddies, They Sure Look Shady*

The late Steve Irwin is credited with a really interesting comment about humans:
 

‘Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they try to be your friend first.’
 

If you’ve ever had the experience of being badly hurt by someone you thought was a friend, you’ll probably agree with Irwin.

That plot point has become an important part of many crime fiction novels; and, if you think about it, it’s a natural fit for the genre. Sadly, it’s an all-too-realistic scenario. And it can make for suspense and tension in a plot.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock introduces Celia Austin, who lives in a hostel for students. When some troubling events happen at the hostel, Hercule Poirot investigates. At first, it looks as though the solution is easy. Celia admits to being responsible for some of what’s happened, and everyone thinks the matter is closed. Then, two nights later, she dies. It’s soon proven that she was murdered. And Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who was responsible. It turns out that Celia made the tragic mistake of trusting that someone at the hostel was a friend, and paid a very high price for that. Christie uses that in several of her other stories, too (right, fans of Death on the Nile?).

In James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, insurance representative Walter Huff is drawn into a web of deceit and murder by someone he thinks he can trust. He happens to be in the Hollywood area one day, and decides to visit one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger, who lives nearby. He arrives at the house to find that Nirdlinger isn’t home. His wife, Phyllis, is, though, and she and Huff strike up a conversation. Soon enough, Huff falls for her, and she does nothing to discourage him. Before he knows it, he’s so besotted that he falls in with her plan to kill her husband for his life insurance money. Huff even writes up the sort of policy that she needs. The murder goes as planned – at first. Then it hits Huff that he has actually been responsible for killing someone – because of someone he thought was more than a friend. And things spiral out of control from there.

They do in Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, too. In that novel, Fabien Delorme is distressed to learn that that his wife, Sylvie, has been killed in a car accident. He’s even more upset to learn that she wasn’t alone in the car. Unbeknownst to him, she had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, and that bothers him even more than does the fact that she is dead. Delorme finds out that his rival left a widow, Martine, and becomes unhealthily obsessed with her. He stalks her, and finally gets to meet her. They begin a relationship which spins completely out of control and ends up in ugly tragedy all around. I don’t want to give away too much, but I can say that, like most noir stories, there’s plenty of betrayal and hurt from people who seem trustworthy at first.

T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton introduces readers to solicitor Jim Harwood. He gets a very difficult case when a young man named Elton Spears is accused of murder. According to the prosecution, Spears killed an enigmatic woman named Sarena Gunasekera, and threw her body off a cliff at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. There’s plenty of evidence against him, too. He was seen in the area, and it’s already well-known that he’s a troubled person. What’s more, he’s had brushes with the law before because of inappropriate contact with girls and women. Harwood knows Spears, and agrees to take the case. Together with barrister Harry Douglas, Harwood sets out to prove that Elton Spears is innocent. If he is, then someone else must be guilty. It turns out that that someone had seemed to be a person Spears could trust…

And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? Yvonne Mulhern and her husband, Gerry, have recently moved from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín. It’s a major disruption, but it means that Gerry can take advantage of an important career opportunity, and that means a great deal more money for the family. Everyone settles in as best they can, and Gerry digs into his new job. Yvonne is exhausted, as new parents tend to be. What’s more, she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin, so she feels isolated. Then she discovers an online forum for new mums called Netmammy. She joins the group and soon feels much of the camaraderie and support that she’s been missing. She gets to know the other members, too, and feels a real sense of friendship with them. And that’s why, when one of them seems to go ‘off the grid,’ Yvonne gets concerned. She’s worried enough to go to the police, but there’s not much they can do. Then, the body of an unidentified young woman turns up in an abandoned apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle, herself an expectant mother, investigates the death. The victim’s profile is similar enough to Yvonne’s missing friend that it could be the same person. If it is, then that has frightening implications for Netmammy. Little by little, and each in a different way, the two women find out the truth. Throughout this novel, there’s a strong thread of people one thinks are friends, who turn out to be anything but…

And that’s the thing. There are people who seem to be friends, but aren’t at all to be trusted. And when they show themselves for what they are, it can change everything.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leon Huff, Gene McFadden, and John Whitehead’s Back Stabbers.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, James M. Cain, Pascal Garnier, Sinéad Crowley, T.J. Cooke

And a Man is Held in a Foreign Jail*

international-arrestsWith travel as straightforward (if not always easy!) as it is in now, there’s more international travel than ever. And in crime fiction, that means it’s more likely that a suspect might easily be from another country. That can present some legal issues, which can add an interesting layer of complexity to a story. And then there are the cultural issues, too. So it’s not surprising that this sort of story has made its way into the genre.

In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, for instance, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney works to find out the truth behind two murders. One is the killing of her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. The other is the murder of his partner, Nou. The trail puts Keeney on an intersecting course with Australian Federal Police (AFP) agent Mark D’Angelo. He’s in Thailand as a part of an effort to put a dent in the child sex trafficking industry by going after Australian perpetrators. It’s a challenge to begin with, made all the more difficult by the cultural differences between Australia and Thailand. Admittedly, D’Angelo is not the reason for the two murders. But his reason for being in Thailand sheds an interesting light on facing the issue of crimes that are committed by citizens of another country.

We also see that in Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana, the second of his trilogy featuring Stockholm County police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge. In this novel, the German police are working on a case in which four scientists have been murdered. They suspect a Swedish man named Leo Brageler, who’s currently in Germany. However, there doesn’t seem to be a real motive for the crime. The German authorities are hoping that they can get some background on the man from Swedish authorities, and ask for help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation. Then Brageler goes missing, and the case gets much more complicated…

The real action in T.J. Cooke’s Kiss and Tell begins when Bella Kiss, a Hungarian national, arrives at Heathrow Airport. She’s trying to smuggle in drugs, but she’s caught and quickly arrested. She admits to having the drugs, but she won’t say who paid or coerced her into bringing them to the UK. Once in custody, she asks to speak to London attorney Jill Shadow. Shadow has never heard of Bella Kiss before, but she goes to the prison where the young woman is being held. There, Bella asks for her help and seems very much afraid for her life. But she’s uncooperative, so Shadow soon sees that she’ll have to find the answers for herself. The closer she gets to the truth, the more in danger she finds herself. And it turns out that this case goes far beyond a woman trying to earn a little extra money by smuggling drugs. There’s an interesting look in this novel at the legalities of working with clients from other countries who’ve been arrested in the UK.

In Marla Cooper’s Terror in Taffeta, San Francisco- based event planner Kelsey McKenna is in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, managing the destination wedding of Nicole Abernethy and Vince Moreno. During the festivities, Dana Poole, one of the bridesmaids, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. For several reasons, the police suspect the bride’s sister Zoe, and she is duly arrested and imprisoned. She claims to be innocent, and Kelsey believes her. So she starts to ask questions. One of the plot threads in this novel is the challenge of being arrested while one’s in a foreign country.

Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release introduces readers to the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation, an environmentalist watchdog group. Along with many others, the Millbrook people are concerned about a new, genetically modified seed coating that a company called Vestco is about to release. Millbrook’s people are suspicious of Vestco’s claims and its agenda, and have worked to stop the release. They haven’t been successful. With nine days to go, the foundation’s leaders have decided to stop fighting Vestco, and turn their energies elsewhere. Legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan has taken this opportunity to retire to his native New Zealand, and has invited Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT Director Matthew Liddell to visit him in New Zealand before they return to work. Then, Vestco employee Henry Beck is found murdered, and Duggan, Taylor and Liddell are framed for the killing. Unaware of this, they land in New Zealand, and soon find that they’re considered international fugitives. Now, they have to go up against some very powerful people, to say nothing of the police of two countries, as they work to find out who really killed Beck and what the truth is about the release of the new seed coating.

And then there’s Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol’s The Cemetery of Swallows. That novel begins as Manuel Gemoni travels from France to the Dominican Republic. There, he kills an old man named Tobias Darbier, a Dominican citizen. He’s been badly injured, so Police Commissioner Amédée Mallock of the Paris CID has been sent to bring Gemoni back to France as soon as his condition allows. Then he’ll face justice for what he’s done. Mallock is especially interested in this case because Gemoni’s sister, Julie, works for the CID as well. When he gets to the Dominican Republic finds that the only thing Gemoni says about the killing is that he killed Darbier,
 

‘…because he had killed me.’
 

That response doesn’t help Mallock at all, so he has to start digging to find out the history of the two men. One of the plot threads running through this novel is the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in taking Gemoni into French custody without causing problems with the Dominican authorities. It makes for an interesting layer in this novel.

With more people than ever going to different countries, it makes sense that this plot point would find its way into crime fiction. And it certainly has. Which novels with this motif have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Graham Parker’s Everything Goes.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Geoffrey Robert, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, Marla Cooper, Stefan Tegenfalk, T.J. Cooke

Look At Me, I’m Falling Off Of a Cliff Now*

CliffsThe thing about crime-fictional murders is that they work best if they’re realistic. I don’t just mean credible in terms of motive (‘though that’s certainly important!). I also mean credible in terms of things such as the weapon that the killer uses. It’s important for credibility that the author choose a weapon and other circumstances that are believable given the killer’s size, gender, age and the like.

Enter the cliff. If you’ve ever taken a walk on a cliff, or driven on a narrow, mountainous road, then you know that cliffs can be very dangerous places. And that’s exactly why they can be useful for the crime writer. Besides, a push off a cliff doesn’t require a great deal of special skill or extra strength. And, pushes off cliffs can serve as useful ‘disguises’ for other kinds of murders. So they offer a lot of possibilities for the crime writer. Little wonder that we see pushes off cliffs in a lot of crime novels.

Agatha Christie uses the cliff motif in more than one of her stories. In the short story The Edge, for instance, we are introduced to Clare Halliwell, a ‘pillar of the community’ in the village of Daymer’s End. She’s been friends with Gerald Lee for a very long time; in fact, Clare thinks their relationship is more than friendship. But then, Gerald shocks her by marrying Vivien Harper. Vivien is not particularly well-liked in the village; still, Clare tries to get on with her at first. It doesn’t work out well, though, and Clare finds herself disliking Vivien more and more. Then, she accidentally finds out that Vivien is having an affair.  Now, she’s faced with a dilemma: should she tell Gerald what she knows about his wife? Vivien begs Clare not to tell, and it’s interesting to see how Clare gradually comes to enjoy having Vivien in her power. The tension mounts between the two women, and it ends in tragedy, and a fall from a cliff. But the real question is: what, exactly, caused the fall? You’re absolutely right, fans of The Boomerang Clue (AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?).

In Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery, journalist and newspaper correspondent Roger Sheringham gets a new commission. His employer, The Daily Courier, wants him to travel to Ludmouth Bay in Hampshire to report on the investigation into the death of Elise Vane, whose body has been found at the bottom of a cliff. At first, her death looked like an accident, but soon enough, evidence comes to light that suggests she was murdered. Sheringham’s assignment is to investigate that possibility. That’s how he meets Inspector Moresby, who’s investigating the death. Between them, Sheringham and Moresby discover that the victim was a very unpleasant person who’d made her share of enemies. As it turns out, more than one person had a strong motive for killing her.

Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night also involves a cliff. In that novel, rare book expert Henry Gamadge is staying at Ocean House, a resort in Ford’s Beach, Maine. While he’s there, Eleanor Cowdean and her children, Amberly and Alma, come to the resort as well. With them is Amberly’s tutor, Hugh Sanderson. Amberly is set to inherit a large fortune when he turns 21. But there’s a very good chance that he won’t, as he has a very serious heart condition. He’s insisted on coming along, though, and everyone settles in on the night of their arrival, which also happens to be his birthday. The next morning, Amberly is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. The first explanation is that he died of heart failure. And that makes sense, given his poor health. But if that’s what happened, what was he doing at a cliff in the middle of the night? And in whose interest was it that he should die just after inheriting a large amount of money? Gamadge works with police detective Mitchell to find out the truth behind his death.

Anne Zouroudi’s The Messenger of Athens introduces her sleuth, Hermes Diaktoros. He’s a rather enigmatic detective who travels from Athens to the island of Thiminos after Irini Asimakopoulos falls, or jumps, or is pushed, off a cliff. The local police believe this death was an accident, and they don’t want any further investigation into it. But Diaktoros turns up some evidence that calls that into question. As he looks into the matter more deeply, he learns more of the history, both of the victim and of the other people on the island. As it turns out, the island’s culture, and the intersecting relationships among its residents, have everything to do with what really happened to Irini Asimakopoulos.

In T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton, solicitor Jim Harwood gets a difficult case. The body of Sarena Gunasekera has been found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne. The police soon settle on a suspect, Elton Spears. He’s a mentally ill young man who actually has a history of inappropriate contact with a young woman. And he was in the area at the time of the murder. So there’s every possibility that he’s responsible for the crime. Harwood has worked with Spears before, and takes his case. Together with barrister Harry Douglas, Harwood prepares to defend his client. In this novel, we know the truth about the victim’s death from the beginning of the story; the question is whether the person responsible will get away with the crime.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead tells the story of the death of Christopher Drayton, who dies from a fall (or was it a jump? Or a push?) from Scarborough (Ontario) bluffs. Under normal circumstances, this would be a matter for local police, or Ontario Provincial Police. But this isn’t an ordinary case. There is a good chance that Drayton was really Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal who was responsible for many deaths during the Bosnian War. If he was, this raises important questions about how a war criminal managed to get permission to live in Canada. What’s more, if he was Krstić, this changes the whole complexion of the case. So it’s given to Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. This group is concerned with investigating bigotry, hate crimes, and other community relations issues, so it’s a good fit for this case. As Khattak and Getty look into the matter, they find that there are several angles to this death, and more than one possible explanation.

See what I mean? Cliffs are not exactly the safest places to be. But they are very handy for crime writers. They can provide a straightforward means to an end for the murderer, and an effective way to ‘hide’ a murder that was committed in another way.  I see you, fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Offspring’s I Choose.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anne Zouroudi, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Elizabeth Daly, T.J. Cooke

The Truth Has Become Merely Half-Truth*

HalfTruthsMost of us don’t like to lie, so we’re not particularly good at it. And even those who are fairly good liars generally prefer to tell the truth. There’s less cognitive stress involved. So, when people do lie, they sometimes settle on a kind of not-quite-a-lie. ‘It’s true as far as it goes’ is an expression that captures that rather neatly.

That’s why, when real-life or fictional sleuths investigate, they have to be as alert to what is not said as to what is said. So do crime fiction fans. After all, crime writers can be quite good at hiding clues in those things that aren’t said.

Agatha Christie, for instance, used that sort of strategy in several of her stories. For instance, in Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), Hercule Poirot takes on a sixteen-year-old case, the poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. At the time of the murder, everyone assumed that Crale’s wife Caroline was the killer. There was certainly evidence against her, and she had motive, too; her husband had said he was going to leave her for another woman. But the Crales’ daughter Carla, who was a small child at the time, has always believed her mother to be innocent. So she hires Poirot to find out the truth. To do that, he interviews the five people who were present on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each about the murder and the days leading up to it. From that, he is able to work out who really killed Amyas Crale and why. What’s very interesting about this novel is the number of things that those five people don’t say and write. In some cases, it’s deliberate. In others, it’s forgetfulness or the belief that something or other wasn’t important. But it all adds up. There’s even an Agatha Christie novel (a different one) where one particular sentence highlights some very crucial things that are not said. Readers who don’t pay attention to that are easily led up the proverbial garden path.

In Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways investigates the poisoning murder of George Rattery. As the story goes on, we learn that there are several suspects. The victim was an abusive husband and father, so his widow, Violet and son Phil had motive. He was also having an affair with his business partner’s wife, so there’s motive there, too. And he was responsible for a hit-and-run incident that killed Martin ‘Martie’ Cairnes; Cairnes’ father Frank therefore has a motive as well. As it turns out, everyone has something to hide. Part of Strangeways’ task, then, is to learn what is unsaid, and there’s plenty of that. So he pays attention to things people don’t mention, things they gloss over, and so on, to get to the truth.

A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife takes a slightly different approach to the things left unsaid. In that novel, we meet successful developer Todd Gilbert and his psychologist partner Jodi Brett. They’ve been married in everything but name for twenty years when everything changes. Todd begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, who is the daughter of his business partner. He’s strayed before, but this time, things are different: Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant. She wants to keep the baby, get married and have a family, and Todd tells her that’s what he wants, too. But as he reflects on it, he wants to keep his options open, as the saying goes. So he also tries to ‘mend fences’ with Jodi. For Jodi, it’s humiliating enough that Todd has left her. It’s even more so that he’s not being honest with her (or, for the matter of that, with himself). Matters reach a head when, on the advice of his lawyer, Todd serves Jodi with an order of eviction from their home. The order is, so the attorney says, perfectly legitimate, since the couple is not legally married. And it will protect Todd. With her options running out, Jodi becomes increasingly withdrawn and unhappy. And life’s not any better for Todd, who is finding that living with Natasha and planning their wedding is not turning out as he’d planned. Then, Todd is killed in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone wrong, but the police soon begin to suspect otherwise. As it turns out, someone hired Todd’s murderers, and there are several people who had motive. This novel is told from both Todd and Jodi’s perspectives. And in both cases, there are half-truths that these characters tell each other and themselves that are important to understanding their relationship as well as what happens in the novel.

T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton is the story of the murder of Sarena Gunasekera, and enigmatic young woman whose body is found at the bottom of a cliff near Beachy Head in Eastbourne. The police soon have a very likely suspect. He is Elton Spears, a mentally troubled young man who’s had brushes with the law before. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against him, too. But Spears’ solicitor, Jim Harwood, knows his client and has worked with him previously. Determined to prove his client innocent, Harwood gets started on the case. Throughout this novel, readers know who the killer really is. The question is more whether the killer will get away with the crime. And part of doing that will involve saying things that are true as far as they go, but don’t really tell the whole truth. It’s very delicate balance for the murderer.

Angela Savage’s The Half Child takes another sort of look at things left unsaid. In that novel, Jim Delbeck hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to find out what happened to his daughter, Maryanne. Police reports say that she committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the building where she lived. But Delbeck doesn’t believe his daughter killed herself. Keeney agrees to look into the matter, and gets started on the investigation. She knows that she won’t make much progress, and she will potentially cause a lot of trouble, if she doesn’t pay due respect to the local authorities in Pattaya, where the victim died. So she visits Police Major General Wichit, who has a family connection in Pattaya. They have a very delicate, but ‘loaded’ conversation, with much more implied than said. Keeney once helped Wichit with a very difficult family situation, thereby saving him and his family from ‘losing face.’ So he owes her. On the other hand, it’s very bad form, even insulting, to outright remind him of his debt. So the two refer to it in only the vaguest terms. The reader is aware of the underlying messages, though, and it’s interesting to see how what is not said is at least as important as what is said.

Part of the reason that detectives are able to ‘read between the lines’ is that they are, by and large, able to pick up on subtle nuances of communication, both written and oral. But not everyone can do that. Mark Haddon’s Christopher Boone can’t. As we learn in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, he has autism. He’s high-functioning, but he doesn’t pick up on unspoken cues very well, and he doesn’t understand subtleties of speech. So he’s at a real disadvantage when he decides to conduct an investigation. He discovers the body of the dog that lives on his street one night, and ends up being accused of killing it. He knows he’s innocent, and wants to clear his name. He also wants to be a detective, like Sherlock Holmes. So he begins asking questions. The story is told from his perspective, so it’s really interesting to see how he interprets what is said to him versus what readers can make of it. It’s soon clear that much more is going on in this story than people actually say to Christopher, and that adds layers to the novel.

It’s often easier to tell the truth as far as it goes than it is to outright fabricate. So when people feel the need to hide something or lie, that’s what they often do. It’s no surprise, then, that those unsaid things and half-truths play such an important role in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Depeche Mode’s Lie to Me.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Mark Haddon, Nicholas Blake, T.J. Cooke

Sometimes I Don’t Speak Right*

Difficult InterviewsInterviews with witnesses and suspects are critical to any investigation. Certainly those people can lie or be wrong; still, what they say and don’t say often provides important information about a case. Some witnesses (and suspects too) are particularly challenging to interview. They may have mental or emotional limitations that make it hard to reach them; and it may be difficult to make sense of what they say. Sleuths have to be especially careful in those cases, and use all of their interviewing skills to get the information they need.

In crime fiction, this challenge can add a layer of interest and suspense to a story. It’s got to be done carefully, or the witness/suspect can seem more of a ‘curiosity object’ than a real human being. But in deft hands, such a plot point can add some depth to a novel.

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders has a few interesting examples of this sort of interview. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate a series of killings. The only things the murders seem to have in common is that Poirot receives a cryptic warning note before each death, and that an ABC railway guide is found near each body. In the course of the investigation, Poirot interviews Lady Clarke, who is the widow of the third victim, retired throat specialist Sir Carmichael Clarke. She has cancer, and is kept under sedation most of the time because of the pain. This means that arranging a conversation with her requires planning, so that she can remain lucid during the interview. When Poirot speaks with her, she does ‘drift off’ at times. But she also has moments of clarity; and she says some things that turn out to be very helpful.

Interviewing children nearly always requires delicacy and care. That’s especially true in the case of seven-year-old Melody Quinn, whom we meet in Jonathan Kellerman’s When the Bough Breaks. Melody is the only witness to the murders of psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez, so LAPD detective Milo Sturgis wants to find out what she knows. But she’s not always coherent, and Sturgis is sure there’s more she could tell the police. He asks his friend, child psychologist Alex Delaware, for help. Delaware is reluctant at first; but in the end he agrees to at least speak to the child. When he does, he discovers that she’s heavily medicated with Ritalin and other drugs intended for children with ADHD. After considerable effort, Delaware convinces her mother Bonita to allow him to reduce her daughter’s medication so he can communicate with her. When he does, the child starts having nightmares and showing other symptoms of distress, so neither Bonita nor Melody’s doctor allow him any more access to her. But what she says during their short time together turns out to be significant.

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn takes an interest in the murder of a colleague Reed Gallagher, who headed the School of Journalism. One of Gallagher’s students, Kellee Savage, may have important information about the murder. As she’s also in one of Kilbourn’s classes, the two talk about the death. But Kellee has psychological and emotional conditions; and it’s not easy to interact with her. So at first, Kilbourn doesn’t take seriously some of the things Kellee says. Then one night, Kellee disappears. As the investigation goes on, Kilbourn learns that Kellee had some valuable knowledge about Gallagher’s death.

Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is the story of Chicago surgeon Dr. Jennifer White. She’s been diagnosed with dementia, and has had to leave her profession. But as the story begins, she still has many more good days than bad days. One night, the woman next door, Amanda O’Toole, is murdered. Her body has been mutilated in a skilled way that only a surgeon would be likely to know, so police detective Luton naturally takes an interest in White. And as she investigates, Luton finds more and more reason to think White is guilty. But at the same time, the evidence doesn’t completely add up; there are enough inconsistencies that it’s also quite possible White is innocent. But she is gradually slipping away from coherent thinking, so Luton finds it very hard to interact with her at times. In the end we discover what really happened to the victim, and it’s interesting to see how Luton goes about finding out the truth.

Martin EdwardsThe Hanging Wood introduces readers to Orla Payne, a troubled young woman who is haunted by the disappearance of her brother Callum twenty years earlier. Everyone’s always thought their uncle had something to do with what happened, but Orla’s never really believed that. Still, Callum hasn’t returned and his body was never discovered. Orla wants the case re-opened, so she calls the Cumbria Constabulary to ask DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team to look into it. But she is drunk when she calls, and emotionally very fragile in any case, so Scarlett finds it difficult to talk to her. Then Orla dies, apparently a suicide. Now Scarlett feels guilty for not having worked harder to communicate with Orla, and commits herself to finding out the truth about Callum’s disappearance.

There’s a very interesting case of a witness/suspect with limitations in T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton. The body of a mysterious young woman Sarena Gunasekera is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. There’s good reason to believe that Elton Spears is responsible for her death. For one thing, he’d already been in trouble with the law before for inappropriate contact with young girls. For another, he was known to be in that area at the time of the murder. Solicitor Jim Harwood knows Spears, and takes on his case. Working with this client isn’t easy though. Spears is a mentally troubled man who isn’t always coherent. He can’t do much to defend himself; he can’t even really explain his movements on the night in question. But Harwood wants to clear Spears’ name, so he and barrister Harry Douglas, who will defend the case in court, work to prove the young man innocent.

In real life, police and attorneys (and other investigators) sometimes have to work with witnesses or suspects who can’t be coherent and don’t seem reliable. And yet, those people can sometimes have important insights and valuable clues. So part of the task of solving a case is to find ways to reach those witnesses and suspects. That plot point can add a real layer of suspense to a crime story, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from War’s Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alice LaPlante, Gail Bowen, Jonathan Kellerman, Martin Edwards, T.J. Cooke