Category Archives: 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 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

Never Mind, I’ll Be Around*

Staying AroundAn interesting review from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about how we invest ourselves in fictional characters. The review itself isn’t precisely about that, but one of the (well-taken) points that FictionFan makes has to do with learning about things before they’ve actually happened. You’ll most definitely want to visit FictionFan’s great blog and see for yourself why it’s a must-have on your blog roll.

Right. Investing ourselves in fictional characters. If you know a fictional character is going to die, does that affect the way you think about that character, and how invested you are in the plot? Are you willing to stay around? It’s tricky to invite readers along for the ride, so to speak, if they already know a key piece of information such as, ‘X is going to be the (first) victim.’ When the author makes that choice, there need to be other aspects of the novel that keep the reader engaged and absorbed and wanting to know more.

Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress begins at the trial of Elinor Carlisle. She’s been charged with the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard. So we know right from the start that Mary is at least one victim in that novel. Then, the novel ‘flashes back’ to the beginning of the series of events that led up to this trial. We learn that Mary is the daughter of the lodgekeeper at Hunterbury, the home of the Welman family. Elinor’s aunt, wealthy Laura Welman, has taken a real interest in Mary and paid to have her educated. In fact, Elinor receives an anyonymous note warning her that Mary may be playing on the old lady’s feelings in order to benefit from her will. Elinor isn’t greedy, but she is very accustomed to a comfortable life. So she and her fiancé Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman travel to Hunterbury to visit Aunt Laura and, if they’re being honest, to see how much truth there is to the note. They renew their acquaintance with Mary during their visit, and to Elinor’s chagrin, Roddy is soon besotted with her. In fact, Elinor and Roddy end their engagement. Then, Aunt Laura dies. Shortly afterwards, Mary is killed. There’s ample evidence against Elinor, but local GP Dr. Peter Lord wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. In this novel, we don’t learn anything about Mary until after we know she is going to die. The suspense lies in what the outcome of the trial will be, and whether Elinor is or is not really guilty.

We know from the first sentence of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone that the members of the Coverdale family will be killed. We are even told who the killer is. It’s not until after learning this that we find out that George and Jacqueline Coverdale are well-off, well-educated people who are looking to hire a new housekeeper. Without doing much background research (quite different to today’s searches), they hire Eunice Parchman. She begins her duties and all seems to go well enough at first. But Eunice is hiding a secret – something she is desperate that the family not discover. When one of the family members accidentally finds out what Eunice is hiding, this spells disaster for everyone. In the end, it costs the lives of George, Jacqueline, George’s daughter Melinda and Jacqueline’s son Giles. In this novel, the suspense is built, and the reader is invited to stay around, as we learn about Eunice’s background, and as the Coverdale family gets unwittingly closer and closer to their fate.

In L.R. Wright’s The Suspect, we are told right from the beginning of the story that eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke is the murder victim. We know who the killer is too; he is eighty-year-old George Wilcox. One might ask the question, then: if we know Burke is the victim, why get invested? Why follow along? In this novel, Wright invites the reader to become invested by slowly revealing those two characters’ histories. As RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg and his team investigate, we learn bit by bit how the two elderly men know each other and what their relationship has been like. It’s that history that has ultimately led to the killing, and since Wright reveals it layer by layer, the reader is invited to get more and more engaged as the story goes on.

Liza Marklund’s The Bomber also informs the reader, right from the start, who is going to be killed. In that story, Stockholm is slated to host the Olympic Games and, as you can imagine, a lot’s at stake with the upcoming competition. So it’s an especially terrible shock when a bomb goes off in Olympic Village. It’s an even greater shock when the body of civic leader Christine Furhage is pulled from the wreckage. Terrorism is suspected at first, especially since the victim was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Stockholm. Soon, though, other possibilities arise. Journalist Annika Bengtzon and her team follow the case and investigate to find out who killed Christine Furhage, and why. In this novel, we know from the beginning who the victim will be. But Marklund reveals her character and history more slowly, inviting the reader to stay around and become invested in her (or choose to dislike her) as the story goes on.

David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight is the story of the murder of brothel owner Ruby Devine. It’s the mid-1970s in Perth, and Superintendent Frank Swann has returned to town after some years away. He’s come back because he was friends with the victim although they were on opposite sides of the law. And it’s not long before he begins to suspect that the crime was the work of a corrupt group of police officers known as ‘the purple circle.’ It’s going to be hard to prove, though. For one thing, the ‘purple circle’ has a bad reputation for making life truly awful for anyone who gets in their way. For another, there’s an unwritten code that police protect each other. Swann has already called for a Royal Commission hearing on corruption in the ‘purple circle’ so as it is, he’s a ‘dead man walking.’ But he persists and in the end, he does find out who killed the victim and why. We know from the first page of the story that Ruby Devine is the victim. But as Swann talks to her friends, her partner and her business associates, we get a more complete picture of what she was like. And that invites readers to care about her (or choose to dislike her).

And then there’s T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton. Elton Spears is a young man with mental problems who’s had more than one brush with the law. So when evidence connects him to the murder of Sarena Gunasekera, everyone thinks he’s the murderer. But solicitor Jim Harwood has worked with Spears before and knows the young man. So he takes Spears’ case and works with barrister Harry Douglas to defend him at trial. In this story, we know from very early on – before we know anything about her – that Sarena Gunasekera is killed. So on the surface, it might seem that it would be difficult to become invested in her and care why she was murdered, much less stay around for the rest of the story. But Cooke invites the reader to do that by making her character just enigmatic enough to be interesting, and by revealing aspects of that character a little at a time.

So, does knowing a character is going to be a victim make one less invested in that character? It can. When that information isn’t well-managed, it can amount to spoiling the story. But if it’s handled effectively, authors can do several things to encourage readers to stay around and remain interested, even in characters they know are not long for this world.

Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The North’s Any Days Fine.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Whish-Wiilson, L.R. Wright, Liza Marklund, Ruth Rendell, T.J. Cooke