Category Archives: Tarquin Hall

What Are We Going to Do About the Other Generation?*

Sandwich GenerationAs people live longer, we’re seeing more and more of what’s sometimes called ‘the sandwich generation.’ By that I mean adults who are taking care of their elderly parents, but at the same time helping to launch their young adult children into their own lives. Sometimes those young people are still living at home.

It can all get very complicated, especially if the young people run into job, drugs, or relationship problems, or have unexpected children of their own. It’s even more complicated if the elderly parent involved has dementia or other health problems. Put all of that together and you have the potential for a great deal of stress. It’s a fact of life for many people, and we certainly see it in crime fiction.

One of the more famous such characters is Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, Wallander also deals with his elderly father, who has dementia. Their relationship is complicated already, and is made all the more so by the older man’s illness. It doesn’t help matters that Wallander’s sister doesn’t live close by, so she can’t step in and help. At the same time, Wallander is also concerned about his daughter Linda. She’s grown and out of the house as the series begins, but he worries about her, and thinks that at times, she’s not making wise decisions. Their relationship, too, is complicated, and they’ve had their share of estrangement. But he does care about her and tries to be a part of her life.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a retired teacher who’s now in her eighties. Although she’s in relatively good health, and certainly of sound mind, that doesn’t mean her son Red doesn’t worry about her. He’s the police chief of Bradley, North Carolina, so he’s all too aware of how much risk there is, especially for an elderly woman. But Myrtle is not the type to be ‘put out to pasture,’ and she’s intrigued by solving crimes. So she’s a constant source of concern to her son. At the same time, Red and his wife Elaine are raising their young son, Jack. He’s a healthy boy, but very active, and of course, his parents want to keep him safe. The Clovers certainly don’t have a restful life, but being in the ‘sandwich generation’ means that life’s never boring for them.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we are introduced to TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and the proud father of eight-year-old Mo. But he’s gotten to a sort of crossroads in his life. For one thing, he can’t let go of the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who was killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. Allcroft finds himself drawn to the place where Smedway died, and can’t help asking questions about what really happened. At the same time, he’s concerned about his mother, who has recently moved to an elder care home. She’s having trouble adjusting to live in that new environment, and that adds stress to their already complicated relationship. Still, he cares about her, and wants to make sure that she’s as comfortable and well cared-for as possible.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is a successful Delhi PI. Much of his business is concerned with ‘vetting’ potential spouses for each other’s families. But sometimes, he gets involved in much more serious cases. In his private life, Puri is a proud father (his children are grown and on their own) and a dutiful son to his beloved Mummy-ji. Although the family is a healthy, loving family, that doesn’t mean that Puri never feels the pressure of being between two generations. For one thing, his daughter’s just recently had a baby boy of her own, so there are all kinds of family events connected with that. And new parents often need grandparent-ly help. And then there’s Mummy-ji. She’s energetic and active, and gets involved in more than one investigation of her own. Puri loves his mother, but she certainly causes him concern (not that that stops her).

Michael Redhill (who writes as Inger Ash Wolfe) has created an interesting ‘sandwich generation’ character in the form of DI Hazel Micallef. She and her team work out of Port Dundas, Onatrio. Hazel is in early sixties, and thinking about the transition between a full-time life of work, and retirement. She is also very much caught between two generations. For one thing, there’s her octogenarian mother Emily, who is Port Dundas’ former mayor. Emily is very much her own person, and absolutely not one to sit around and knit. But at the same time, she is in her eighties, and her health and stamina aren’t what they were. So Hazel is concerned about her. It doesn’t help matters that she and Emily don’t always agree, and both are very strong-minded. On the other end, so to speak, is Hazel’s younger daughter Martha. Here’s how Hazel describes her in The Taken:
 

‘Jobless, loveless, dogged by depression and unable to make a constructive choice…’
 

Hazel loves her children, but it’s not always easy to be Martha’s mother. It’s not always easy to be Emily’s daughter, either.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Documentary maker Erin Fury has decided to do a film detailing the impact of murder on families. As a part of that, she wants to look into the 1978 murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. So she asks Angela’s now-middle-aged cousin, Jane Tait, and Jane’s brother Mick, as well as their parents, for interviews. No-one in the family really wants the murder raked up again. But Jane’s daughter Tess wants to know the truth. So the interviews go forward. As we learn about the murder (which was never solved), we also learn more about the family. Jane is very much a ‘sandwich generation’ parent. She is the mother of a university student, and that has its own challenges. But she is also the daughter of Doug and Barbara Griffin, and that adds more challenges. Doug has dementia, and rarely speaks. In fact, he’s just been moved to a care home. Barbara is in reasonable health, but she needs support as she gets accustomed to life without the husband she’s known. Against this backdrop, we learn what really happened when Angela died, and who really killed her.

More and more, as life spans increase, adults find themselves very much between two generations. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is real life. And it can add important character development and plot layers to a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Other Generation.

 

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James

The Pursuit of Happiness Just Seems a Bore*

Privileged Lives and LimitationsPlenty of people dream about what it might be like to have a lot of money and be a member of the upper class. After all, many of us can’t afford to travel whenever we want, buy what we want on a whim, or send our children to the ‘best’ schools. But if you think about it, the lives of those people who seem to ‘have it all’ can be just as restrictive.

Crime fiction shows us clearly that that lifestyle can be at least as limiting as the lifestyle most of us have – perhaps more so. And being among that group of people is absolutely no guarantee against tension, conflict and tragedy. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.

Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime gives a witty, but biting, look at the upper-class life. In that novel, Catalonia politician Lluís Font hires Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep ‘Pep’ (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez. Font believes that his wife Lídia is having an affair, and he wants to know if he’s right. It’s not just that Font wants to know if his wife has betrayed him; he’s also concerned that any scandal could threaten his political career (he represents the Catholic Conservative party). The Martínez brothers take the case, but a week of surveillance doesn’t turn up anything. It does, however, offer a look at the lives of people of that class. Lídia Font spends her days visiting hairstylists and salons, going shopping, and having coffees and lunches with friends and acquaintances. Her husband, of course, has his political reputation to uphold, so he makes the ‘right’ speeches, goes to the ‘right’ meetings and so on. Then one evening, Lídia dies of what turns out to be poison. The police suspect Font of killing his wife, so he asks the Martínez brothers to stay on the job and clear his name.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack also explores the lives of ‘people of a certain class.’ That novel takes place in 1970’s Buenos Aires, a time when the military is in full control. Speaking out on anything is a very dangerous thing to do, so few people dare it. One day, police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano gets an early-morning call about two bodies left by a riverbank. He goes to the scene and, sure enough, finds the bodies. The two people are victims of an Army ‘hit,’ and Lescano knows better than to ask too many questions about that. But then, he finds a third body. This victim, too, seems to bear the hallmarks of a ‘hit,’ but there are small pieces of evidence that suggest that this is a different kind of murder. Lescano starts to ask questions, and opens quite a proverbial can of worms. The victim is Elías Biterman, a successful pawnbroker and moneylender, who counted among his clients some very wealthy and powerful people. As we get to know some of those characters, we see how restrictive that upper-class life is. One is expected to be at the ‘right’ events, behave in the ‘right’ way and so on. And one is expected to have a great deal of money to do all of that.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows addresses what happens when that protective ‘bubble of money’ is taken away. That novel takes place at the end of the 1990s, in the exclusive Cascade Heights Country Club. Only the wealthy can afford to live there, and prospective residents are thoroughly ‘vetted’ before being accepted. The story begins one September evening in 2001, when a tragedy occurs at the home of El Tano Scaglia and his wife Teresa. Then the story takes readers back to where it all began, and tells the events that have led to that tragedy. As those events unfold, we learn about the lives of the people who live in Cascade Heights. The men have ‘the right kinds of jobs,’ as high-level business executives, bankers, attorneys and so on. The women shop at the ‘right’ exclusive places, raise money for the ‘correct’ causes, host expensive parties, get cosmetic surgery and send their children to the best schools. Some have careers (one, for instance, is a real estate professional). Everything changes with the economic downturn at the end of the 1990s. People can no longer rely on a steady supply of easy money. And this has devastating consequences for everyone.

In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, we are introduced to successful attorney Ajay Kasliwal and his wife. They live in an upmarket part of Delhi, have a beautiful home and a staff of servants. They also have a reputation and lifestyle to uphold, so the family’s good name is extremely important. Disaster strikes when Kasliwal is accused of raping and murdering a family servant, Mary Murmu. She disappeared a few months ago, and there’s been quite a lot of talk about her fate. He claims that he’s innocent, but the police arrest him. They don’t want to give the appearance of toadying to the rich and powerful, so it’s decided to make an example of this case. Kasliwal hires PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri to find out the truth about his servant’s disappearance, and clear his name. As we get to know the family, we see how limiting that upper-class status can be, despite the privilege associated with it.

And then there’s Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel. It’s the late 1950s, and Evelyn ‘Eve’ Hobart has always been acquisitive. But she grew up with little money and no privilege. Things change when she meets Hank Moran at a college dance. He comes from a wealthier family with a reputation. Eve isn’t rich, but she is beautiful and seductive, and it’s not long before they’re married. Now she becomes a part of the ‘better class’ of Philadelphia-area society. Women of that class take day trips into the city to shop, spend money on their suburban homes, and belong to clubs and societies. For Eve, though, the real spark of life is getting and having things, especially taking things she hasn’t bought. It gets her in trouble more than once, and eventually, lands her in The Terraces, an expensive ‘special place’ where she can be ‘cured’ of her compulsions. But Eve remains completely dysfunctional and toxic, doing whatever it takes, including murder, to get what she wants, whether it’s clothing, jewels, or men. As her daughter Christine grows up, Eve draws her into that web, and Christine, being so dependent on her mother, can do little about it. As the years go by, that dysfunction continues to dominate their relationship until Christine notices that her younger brother Ryan is starting be drawn in to their mother’s life, too. Now, she decides she will have to rescue Ryan, and set herself free, too.

By the way, it was a conversation with Patti Abbott that got me thinking about this topic. Thanks for the inspiration!

On the outside, the life of those who have a privileged existence can seem very alluring. But it really is as limiting as any other life. And it can be at least as deadly.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper.

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Filed under Claudia Piñeiro, Ernesto Mallo, Patricia Abbott, Tarquin Hall, Teresa Solana

We Love to Cut You Down to Size*

Tallest PoppyAgatha Christie’s Death on the Nile begins with a conversation between Mr. Burnaby, landlord of the Three Crowns, and a friend of his. They’re talking about wealthy and beautiful Linnet Doyle, who’s just bought nearby Wode Hall. At the end of the conversation, Mr. Burnaby’s friend says,
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‘Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’
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And she does. Linnet is intelligent, stunning-looking, and one of the richest young women in England. Those ‘pluses’ don’t save her, though, when she’s shot on the second night of her honeymoon cruise of the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he and Colonel Race, who is also aboard, look among the various other passengers and crew members to see who would have had a motive for murder. Among other things, one of the elements we see more than once in this novel is a sense of resentment because Linnet ‘has it all.’ She’s smart in business, attractive, and very well-off. This makes more than one person speculate on how unfair it is; you can even call it an example of the ‘tallest poppy’ syndrome, the urge to cut down those who do well.

We see that element in a lot of other crime fiction, too. For example, in Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau investigates when the body of an unknown woman is found in a canal. The victim turns out to be Guang Hongying, a national model worker and, therefore, somewhat of a celebrity. Ironically, she’s become a celebrity because she’s not a ‘tall poppy.’ She works as many extra shifts as needed, she lives as humbly as any other worker does, and so on. In the 1990s Shanghai culture in which this novel takes place, there’s a great deal of social pressure not to stand out or have a lot of personal possessions or wealth. Those outward signs of success aren’t really welcome. And there’s a lot of private resentment against the members of the High Cadre – the top members of the Party – and their families, in part because they have a lot of success. We see that again in Enigma of China, in which Chen and his team investigate a supposed suicide. It turns out that the victim was under investigation for corruption, and part of the evidence against him comes from photographs of the outward signs of his success.

In Peter May’s The Blackhouse, Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod returns to his family home on the Isle of Lewis. He’s been seconded there after the discovery of the body of Angel Macritchie, whose death bears a striking resemblance to a murder MacLeod is investigating in Edinburgh. It’s thought that this second murder might have been committed by the same person. MacLeod grew up with the people of Lewis; in their eyes, he’s a local ‘made good.’ And that, for some, is a problem. Here, for instance, is what his old friend Artair says:
 

‘And you’d…escaped…the island, everything. And here was me, stuck looking after a mother who needed to be fed through a straw…’
 

Artair has a lot of resentment against his old friend, and part of the reason for that is that MacLeod’s ‘made good.’

Tarquin Hall’s The Missing Servant introduces readers to Delhi private investigator VIshwas ‘Vish’ Puri. Most of his business comes from ‘vetting’ prospective spouses for their future families-in-law; but one day, he gets another sort of client. Successful attorney Ajay Kasliwal has been accused of the rape and murder of a household servant, Mary Murmu. She disappeared a few months earlier, and no trace of her has been found. There’s reason to suspect Kasliwal, and the police are under pressure to make an example of him, so as to show that they do not toady to the rich and well-placed. Kasliwal claims that he is innocent, and hires Puri to find out the truth about his missing servant. This Puri agrees to do, although he’s not exactly drawn to this client. As news of the case gets out, there are many people who are pleased to see Kasliwal in a lot of trouble, and part of the reason is that he’s wealthy and successful. They’re only too happy to see him ‘brought down to size.’ So, among other things, Puri has to go up against this popular dislike as he searches for the truth.

We see that sort of resentment in Wendy James’ The Mistake, too. Jodie Evans Garrow has what seems to be an idyllic life. Although she was raised on the proverbial wrong side of town, she’s done well for herself. She’s married to a successful attorney, and is the mother of two healthy children who have solid futures. She herself is smart and attractive, too. Everything begins to fall apart when it’s discovered that years earlier, she gave birth to another child – a child even her husband didn’t know existed. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal records of that. Now, the questions begin, and before long, people begin to suspect openly that Jodie might have had something to do with her baby’s disappearance. Soon, she becomes a social pariah. It’s all made even worse by the fact that Jodie’s mother Jeannie very publicly sides against her. Here’s what she says in one letter to an editor:
 

‘She is a social climber who couldn’t wait to get away from her background and who has always been ashamed of her parents and her family.’ 
 

Now that Jodie’s found some success, her mother is very quick to try to cut her down, and her comments become quite popular in the media and in the public’s opinion.

There are a lot of other examples, too, of that ‘tallest poppy’ syndrome. Many people do feel resentful when someone of their group ‘makes good,’ shows skill, or has real success. Whether it’s jealousy or something else, it can bring out the almost irresistible urge to cut that person down. It may not be the most appealing of human traits, but it does make for solid conflict and tension in a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Peter May, Qiu Xiaolong, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James

They Told Me to Diet*

DietingThis time of year brings with it all sorts of holiday gatherings and parties. That means, of course, all sorts of scrumptious food that you don’t find at other times of the year. And that’s probably a good thing, when you consider how easy it is to indulge more than you should.

It’s all enough to make you absolutely determined that this coming year will be the year you get back into shape. If you do make that promise to yourself, you’re not alone. A lot of people start setting their goals for the new year at this time. A lot of crime-fictional characters do the same thing (or, more often, are pushed into the same thing), and it’s interesting to see just how human they are as they go about it.

For example, in one sub-plot of John Mortimer’s short story Rumpole and the Boat People, criminal lawyer Horace Rumpole visits Dr. MacClintock at the behest of his wife Hilda, She Who Must Be Obeyed. The doctor suggests that Rumpole might do well to lose some weight:
 

‘‘Just two or three stone, Rumpole, that’s all you have to lose.’ Hilda was warming to her latest theme, that there was too much Rumpole.’
 

The diet isn’t all that appealing, at least to Rumpole:
 

‘‘No fat, of course.’… ‘Because it makes you fat. No meat, too rich in protein. No bread or potatoes, too many calories. No pastries, puddings, sweetmeats or sugar. No biscuits. No salt on the food. Steer clear of cheese. I don’t recommend fruit to my patients because of its acid qualities. Eggs are perfectly all right if hard-boiled.’’
 

Needless to say, Rumpole is not particularly pleased about this diet. Hilda suggests that they take a seaside holiday to make things a bit easier, and since she must be obeyed, Rumpole accedes. It doesn’t turn out to be a peaceful trip, though, as Rumpole gets involved in the case of a man who has drowned – or has he??

Fans of Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel will know that he enjoys his food and his whisky (or pint). In one plot thread of Ruling Passion, he isn’t feeling well and finally visits a doctor. As you can imagine, the doctor immediately puts Dalziel on a diet and on the proverbial wagon. So he’s not at all in the best of tempers as he and Peter Pascoe investigate a string of home invasions. Of course, this is only the third in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and fans will know that Dalziel doesn’t exactly stay on the culinary straight and narrow path…

Tarquin Hall’s Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri enjoys his food. In fact, his wife Rumpi’s nickname for him is ‘Chubby.’ She’s always concerned about his weight, and he doesn’t care much for her pestering him. So in The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, he decides to do something about it. He gets ZeroCal, a diet formula that, according to its maker,
 

‘…absorbs fat molecules and converts them into a form the human system doesn’t absorb.’
 

Convinced that he’ll be able to lose weight without changing his regimen, Puri makes a mechanical ‘adjustment’ to his wife’s bathroom scale so she won’t annoy him as he’s starting with his new pills. As you can imagine, things don’t turn out the way he plans…

Puri isn’t the only one who gets family pressure about his diet. So does Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík Police Inspector Erlendur. He doesn’t have a young family, or even a spouse to come home to, so he frequently eats food that’s not very good for him. In one plot thread of Jar City, his adult daughter Eva Lind comes to visit. Although she’s hardly a model of good health and a nutritious diet, she makes a very tasty homemade stew one night that reminds Erlendur of what good food is like. Later in the novel, he admits to Eva Lind that he’s been having some chest pains, but doesn’t want to see a doctor. Here’s her response:
 

‘‘Hang on, you’ve got chest pains, you smoke like a chimney, you live on deep-fried junk food and refuse to get yourself looked at.’’
 

It’s not spoiling the story to say that, although Erlendur doesn’t really adopt a fully healthy lifestyle, he does visit the doctor. In this case, it’s interesting to see how Erlendur and his daughter have very similar attitudes towards their own and each other’s health.

And then there’s Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s DI Hazel Micallef of the Port Dundas, Ontario, Police. She lives with her mother, Emily, who still gets concerned about her daughter’s well-being, despite the fact that Hazel is in her early sixties. And she shows that concern in the way she manages (or tries to!) Hazel’s diet. Here’s an example from The Calling:
 

‘Hazel smelled bacon. ‘Eat,’ said her mother.
‘I’ll wait for the bacon.’
‘No meat for you, my girl, this is for me.’
Hazel stared down at the anemic omelet on the plate. ‘This isn’t food for a grown woman, Mother,’ she said.
‘Protein. And fiber. That’s your breakfast. Eat it.’ She stared at her daughter until she picked up a fork.’
 

Hazel finds ways to eat what she wants, at least sometimes, but it’s interesting to see how her mother manages what she eats at home.

Keeping to a healthy diet at this time of year isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not always fun. But it’s better than having to start from the very beginning when the new year starts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a piece of chocolate. What?! It’s just the one piece. Ooh, but wait, there’s the kind with macadamias in it… 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Allan Sherman and Lou Busch’s Little Butterball.

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Filed under Arnaldur Indriðason, Inger Ash Wolfe, John Mortimer, Michael Redhill, Reginald Hill, Tarquin Hall

We Have Come to Relate Many Stories*

Separate Plot ThreadsIn many crime novels, the focus is on one main case. There may be sub-plots related to the case, but the novel really features one major investigation. But there is some crime fiction where several cases come under investigation. A few have completely separate plot lines.

It takes a deft hand to do that sort of novel well, as it can be difficult to follow separate plot lines through effectively. And it can be tricky for the reader to keep the plot lines straight. But when it’s done well, this approach can add some richness to a story. What’s more, if you think about modern police precincts, for instance, it’s realistic. The police don’t usually have just one case going, and most PIs don’t, either.

Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee stories often take this format. For instance, in The Chinese Maze Murders, Judge Dee has been newly appointed as District Magistrate for Lan-fang, on China’s northwestern border. He soon discovers that the area is more or less run by a local tyrant Chien Mow, who expects Dee to serve as his puppet. This Dee will not do, so the first order of business is finding a way to best Chien Mow. With that completed, Dee takes on three major cases. One concerns a former blacksmith named Fang, whose daughter White Orchid has gone missing. Another has to do with a cryptic message left to the widow of the late Governor Yoo. She was told that if she was ever in need, she should bring the scroll with the message to the magistrate, who would help her interpret it. In the third case, retired general Ding Hoo-gwo has been murdered. His son, Ding Yee, has accused Woo Fang, Commander of the Board of Military Affairs, of the crime. But Woo says he’s innocent. So Judge Dee investigates this ‘locked room’ mystery to see who is responsible.

Fans of ‘ensemble’ police series such as Ed McBain’s 87the Precinct novels, Dell Shannon’s Luis Mendoza series, or Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series will know that these often feature more than one case at a time. For instance, in Vargas’ The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, Adamsberg travels to the small town of Ordebec to investigate a series of strange events and a disappearance. At the same time, his team back in Paris is investigating the murder of the wealthy and well-connected Antoine Clermont-Brasseur. He was burned, along with his car, and the official theory is that a local arsonist named Momo is responsible, but he claims that he’s innocent. And Adamsberg is inclined to believe him. So along with solving the mysterious occurrences in Ordebec, Adamsberg and his team also look into Clermont-Brasseur’s death.

Tarquin Hall’s Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri and his team frequently have more than one case going at the same time. Much of their day-to-day business involves ‘vetting’ potential spouses for families who want to be sure their son or daughter is marrying the right person. So, for example, in The Case of the Missing Servant, Puri takes on the case of an attorney, Ajay Kasliwal, who’s been accused of rape and murder. But at the same time, he’s looking into the background of Ramesh Goel for the family of Goel’s intended bride Vimi Singla. He’s also investigating Mahinder Gupta at the behest of Brigadier Kapoor, whose granddaughter Tisca is planning to marry Gupta. These cases aren’t closely related to each other; they’re separate plot threads. But Hall explores all three. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe series will know that those novels, too, follow several cases, rather than just one mystery at a time.

Sometimes, authors explore separate plot threads even when the story doesn’t include an ensemble police or PI team. For example, Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective has two distinct plot threads. Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill is an Edinburgh oceanographer and Ph.D. student whose specialty is tides and wave motion. He’s using his expertise to find out the truth about his grandfather Uilliem, who disappeared during a sea voyage years earlier. The trail leads to ilean Isagaich Mor, Great Fishing Island, where his grandparents met, and where they lived until Uilliem’s disappearance. At the same time, readers follow the story of Preeti and Basanti, members of India’s Bedia group. They’ve agreed to become part of the sex trade for a few years, so that their families can earn money. They’re sent to Scotland where they’re separated. After a time, Basanti escapes from the people who brought her to Scotland, and goes looking for her friend. That’s how she finds McGill, who has expertise she thinks can help her find out what happened to Preeti. While both of these plot lines involve McGill, they are separate stories, really.

So are the two stories in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Diane Rowe is a Wellington-based missing person’s expert whose sister Niki was murdered a year before the events in this novel. When Rowe learns that James Patrick ‘Snow’ Wilson has been murdered in the same way, she wants to find out more. Not long before Snow was murdered, he confessed to having murdered Niki, and having been paid for it. Rowe reasons that if she finds out who hired Snow, she’ll learn who killed her sister. So one plot line in this novel is her search for the truth about Niki’s death. The other concerns a missing person case for which she’s been hired. Some human remains have been found in the Rimutaka State Forest, and Inspector Frank McFay wants Rowe to find out whose they are. These cases don’t really intermix, beyond the fact that Rowe investigates both. But they are both followed to their conclusions.

And that’s the thing about crime novels where more than one major plot thread is explored. When it’s done effectively, both (or all) stories are followed, so that the reader has a sense of conclusion. It’s not always easy to manage, but it can work quite well.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steeleye Span’s A Calling-On Song.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Dell Shannon, Donna Malane, Ed McBain, Fred Vargas, Robert Van Gulik, Tarquin Hall