Category Archives: Tarquin Hall

Join Our Club*

Humans are social by our very nature. Of course, some of us are much more socially inclined than others, and some of us aren’t really ‘joiners’ at all. But to an extent, we all need social connections.

That may be part of the reason for which there are so many interest clubs. There are book clubs, travel clubs, wine clubs, and sport clubs, to name just a very few. And people join these groups as much for the social interaction as for anything else. After all, you don’t need to belong to a book club to read and enjoy a novel. But many people enjoy the exchange of ideas and different perspectives. There’s also the fact that someone else may notice something about a story that you didn’t. The opportunity to interact with and learn from other people who share an interest is really appealing.

It’s little wonder, then, that we see so many examples of this sort of shared-interest club in crime fiction. In fact, Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems (AKA The Tuesday Club Murders) combines an interest club with murder. It’s a collection of short stories, each detailing a murder. Each story is told by one member of what’s called the Tuesday Club (the group meets each Tuesday). Then, the club discusses the murder and its solution. Miss Marple is a member of this club, so, as you can imagine, her insights prove quite helpful. You’re right, fans of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case

In Rex Stout’s Gambit, we are introduced to the exclusive Gambit Chess Club. Matthew Blount is a member of the club, so he’s always interested in new opponents. He’s played a few times against magician and party-trickster Paul Jerrin, and decides to have Jerrin match wits against the rest of the club. The plan is that Jerrin will sit in one room, blindfolded, and play twelve simultaneous matches against different club members, who are in other rooms. Moves will be communicated by messenger. All goes well enough at first. But then, Jerrin suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poisoned hot chocolate. Blount’s immediately suspected, since he was the one who brought Jerrin the chocolate. But Blount’s daughter, Sally, is sure that he’s innocent. She hires Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin to find out who’s really guilty.

Tarquin Hall’s The Man Who Died Laughing begins as Dr. Suresh Jha attends a session of the Delhi-based Rajpath Laughing Club. The group meets to use laughter and silliness to relieve the stress of daily life. This morning, though, everything is different. During the group’s meeting, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that she killed him as punishment for his lack of belief, and the story makes a lot of the news headlines. Jha was the founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (D.I.R.E.), which is devoted to debunking superstition, and he’d made his share of enemies. So, when PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri hears about his death, he suspects that this murderer isn’t a goddess at all, but a human. And, since Jha was once a client, Puri decides to find out who’s responsible.

In Jill Edmonson’s The Lies Have It, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson agrees to help her friend, Jessica, tend bar at the Stealth Lounge, which is a private party room in the Pilot Tavern. A fetish club called Bound For Glory has booked the Stealth Lounge for a big party, and some of the staff members aren’t willing to work that event. So, the Stealth needs some extra ‘fill-in’ help. Soon after the party, Ian Dooley, head of the club, is found murdered near Cherry Beach. At first, it looks as though some of the ‘party games’ went too far. But soon enough, it’s clear that Dooley was deliberately murdered. Now, Jackson adds to her case load as she works to find out who the murderer is.

With today’s online capability, there are also plenty of online clubs. And they, too, pose danger – well, at least fictionally. In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, for instance, we are introduced to FBI special agent Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway. She’s an ex-pat New Zealander who has a special love of poetry. In fact, she co-moderates an online chat room/poetry club called Cobwebs. When one of the members, Carter McClaren, behaves inappropriately, Conway sees no choice but to ban him from the club. He then shows up at her home to ‘pay her back.’  He’s arrested, but is able to pay bail. Then, later, he’s murdered, and his body is found in Conway’s car. With it is a Post-It note with a cryptic piece of poetry written on it. Then, there’s another murder, also of a club/chat room member. Again, a piece of poetry is left near the body. Now, Conway and her fellow moderator/lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly have to find out which of the other club members is the murderer.

Interest clubs can be really enjoyable. And they’re often excellent ways to get new ideas and have some social interaction. But peaceful? Not always…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Saint Etienne.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Cat Connor, Jill Edmondson, Rex Stout, Tarquin Hall

With All the Force of a Great Typhoon*

Age often brings with it a certain amount of self-confidence and strength of character. That’s arguably why so many fictional characters we think of as indomitable are also no longer young. They have whatever wisdom experience brings, and they’re no longer overly concerned with what people think of them or their opinions.

Those characters can add a lot to a crime novel. Sometimes they serve as mentors; sometimes they simply add to a context. Either way, they can be very interesting in and of themselves. In some cases, they even steal the limelight, so to speak, from the sleuth or other protagonist. Space won’t permit me to mention all of them; here are just a few. Oh, and you’ll notice I’m specifically not mentioning indomitable sleuths who are no longer young. Too easy.

Agatha Christie included several indomitable characters in her stories. One, for instance, is Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, whom we meet in Murder on the Orient Express. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is en route across Europe on the famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed. Poirot is asked to investigate, and he starts looking into the case. The only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same car, and one of those people is Princess Dragomiroff. Here is how one character describes her:
 

‘‘She is a personality…Ugly as sin, but she makes herself felt.’’
 

And she does. She cooperates with the investigation, but it’s clear throughout that she isn’t in the least bit – at all – intimidated by Poirot or by the process.

Tarquin Hall’s sleuth is Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri.  He owns Most Private Investigators, Ltd., and supervises several employees. He’s not easily threatened or intimidated. But even Puri has learned that it’s often best to defer to his indomitable mother, Mummy-ji. It’s not that she’s particularly autocratic (she’s not), or overbearing. But she has a strong force of will, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s smart, too. For instance, in one plot thread of The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, Mummi-ji and her daughter-in-law (Puri’s wife), Rumpi, attend a kitty party. Every guest brings a little money which is pooled. Then one guest’s name is drawn, and that guest wins the money. This party is different, though, because a thief breaks in and steals the money. The quick-thinking Mummy-ji finds a way to scratch the thief, though, and insists that DNA samples be taken of her hand, and prints lifted from her purse, where the money was, so as to identify the robber. And she’s not at all intimidated by the lab attendant who tells her she’s been watching too much crime television.

Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant is a Saskatoon PI who’s lucky enough to have several people in his life who care about him. One of them is Anthony Gatt, owner of an extremely successful upmarket men’s clothing company. Gatt isn’t domineering or high-handed. But he has a way of making his presence felt. And he knows everyone who is anyone, especially among Saskatchewan’s gay community. In one scene in Flight of Aquavit, for instance, Quant stops in at one of Gatt’s stores, and Gatt happens to be there. At one point, Gatt says,
 

‘‘I can’t have you in here like that…or at least I can’t have you leaving like that.’’
 

Before Quant knows it, he’s got new clothes. Gatt makes his personality felt in other ways, too, including to mentor Quant.

There’s also Lucian Connally, who features in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series. Connally is the former sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. He’s elderly now, but he is still very much a force to be reckoned with. He lives in an elder care home, but he’s by no means intimidated by the staff there. And he’s one of the few people who can get away with telling Longmire what to do, if I can put it that way. He’s got his own past and his own secrets, as we all do, and they come out in a few story arcs. In some ways, he serves as a mentor for Longmire, and he has a good memory. So, he also is a sort of living history of the county.

Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay introduces her sleuth, Victoria-based PI Caleb Zelic. In the novel, Zelic and his business partner, Frankie Reynolds, investigate the murder of Senior Constable Gary ‘Gaz’ Marsden. He and Marsden have a long friendship, and he was found with Marsden’s body. So Zelic is very much a ‘person of interest.’ He knows he didn’t commit the murder, and he wants to find out who did. So, he and Reynolds start asking questions. The trail leads to a very dangerous person known only as ‘Scott.’ And the closer he gets to Scott, the more dangerous things become for him. Zelic and his ex-wife, Kat, may be divorced, but they still communicate, and they still do care a lot about each other. This means that Kat, too, is in danger, and that plays its role in the novel. But Kat is not easily intimidated. Nor is her mother, Maria. Both are indomitable people, with powerful personalities. Maria in particular has a way of exerting her personality, although she’s not pushy or rude.

There are plenty of other characters, too, who have that quality of being indomitable. They can add to a story in many ways, and they can certainly be interesting characters. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Matthew Wilder and David Zippel’s I’ll Make a Man out of You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Emma Viskic, Tarquin Hall

To See the Total Eclipse of the Sun*

Yesterday (as this is posted), the US was treated to that astronomical rarity: a total solar eclipse. Scientists took full advantage of the opportunity to study that phenomenon, and so did teachers and professors and their classes. And, of course, millions of people watched the big event in a more casual way.

The more we learn about science, the better we understand phenomena such as eclipses. Still, there’ve also been some fascinating non-scientific explanations, too. And what’s just as interesting (at least to me) is that plenty of societies still have those other beliefs woven in somehow, even as they also embrace more scientific approaches to explaining things.

In real life, there are certainly misunderstandings about eclipses that almost resemble those more ancient beliefs. And that’s true even in today’s world, where the latest scientific developments are easily accessible for a lot of people. For instance, E.C. Krupp, Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, says the observatory gets plenty of calls from people asking whether the eclipse presents a danger to pregnant women or their unborn children. We see that juxtaposition of older beliefs and more modern understanding in crime fiction, too. And that can add interest to a story, as well as insight into a culture.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot is taking what he thinks will be a simple holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. He gets involved in a murder case when fellow hotel guest, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is killed. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, seems to be the most likely suspect, but he’s soon proven to have a solid alibi. So, Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. At one point, there’s an interesting conversation about different ancient beliefs of the area (Devon); one of them is belief in pixies. In fact, even as recently as this novel, people still tell stories about them.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation, as well as a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. He certainly accepts modern science, and has a university education. But at the same time, he is a spiritual person who, for a time, studies to be a Navajo singer/healer. And he’s not alone in accepting both modern science and traditional Navajo beliefs. In Skinwalkers, for instance, we are introduced to Bahe Yellowhorse. He’s a doctor who runs the Badwater Clinic. He is also known as a ‘crystal gazer,’ who uses traditional ways to diagnose and treat patients. Interestingly, he uses both approaches to healing to work with patients, directing them to whichever paths to healing work for them. When the Badwater Clinic becomes the focus of a murder investigation, Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn get to know Yellowhorse, and we learn how he tries to balance different views of medicine.

Colin Cotterill’s series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun takes place in 1970s Laos. Dr. Siri is Laos’ only medical examiner, and as such, he is expected to use modern science to explain phenomena that he finds. And he does. Even though his equipment is outdated and he doesn’t have access to all of the modern technology available, he does believe in the scientific method. And he uses it to solve mysteries. However, there are deep spiritual traditions in Laos that go back thousands of years, and Dr. Siri is aware of them, too. And some of those traditions find their way into his perspective and experiences. What’s more, those more ancient explanations for phenomena reflect the way the people of Laos have thought for a long time. So, despite the current government that insists on atheism and disparages ancient beliefs, Dr. Siri finds that those less prosaic beliefs play an important role in what he does.

They do in the world of Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri, too. He’s a PI who lives and works in Delhi. Puri believes in science and in scientific explanations for things, although he has a spiritual side. But he also understands that there are other ways of looking at the world. For example, much of the ‘bread and butter’ of his business is ‘vetting’ potential spouses for his clients’ children and grandchildren. So, he sees a lot of what goes into choosing a partner. And one aspect of that choice, for a lot of people, is astrology. It’s believed that successful marriages are at least in part the result of compatible horoscopes. That ancient tradition leads many people to cast horoscopes of promising partners before they do anything else. It’s an interesting case of people who study, contribute to, and believe in science, but who still have ancient explanations woven into their cultures.

And then there’s Fred Vargas’ Seeking Whom He May Devour. In that novel, which takes place in the French Alps, the residents of Ventebrune and Pierrefor are upset when nine sheep are discovered with their throats slashed. At first, it’s believed that a wolf is responsible, and that’s dangerous enough. But then, a sheep breeder named Suzanne Rosselin is found murdered in one of her sheep pens, killed the same way as the sheep. Now, despite modern beliefs in science and in forensics, whispers start that all of this is the work of a werewolf. In fact, those who believe that say that the werewolf is a loner called Auguste Massart, who’s gone missing. Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg travels to the Alps to investigate. As you can guess, there isn’t a werewolf involved. But it’s interesting to see how those ancient beliefs and explanations survive alongside modern science.

Phenomena such as eclipses are fascinating on a lot of levels. One of them is what they say about human thinking. We have modern science, and modern explanations for a lot of what we experience. But those ancient accounts, whether they’re of sky-wolves eating the sun (that was a Viking belief) or of the sun and moon fighting (that belief comes from Togo), are still woven into our psyche at some level.

ps. I don’t live in the path of totality of this latest eclipse, so this beautiful ‘photo comes courtesy of ABC News.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Cotterill, Fred Vargas, Tarquin Hall, Tony Hillerman

It’s Only an Illusion*

In Agatha Christie’s short story, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, a series of mysterious deaths is associated with the excavation of an important ancient tomb. More than one person believes that those deaths happened because there’s a curse on anyone who disturbs the tomb. Hercule Poirot looks into the matter, and finds a very prosaic explanation for the deaths. He himself doesn’t believe in spiritualism or ancient curses. But he does say this:
 

‘Once get it firmly established that a series of deaths are supernatural, and you might almost stab a man in broad daylight, and it would still be put down to the curse, so strongly is the instinct of the supernatural implanted in the human race.’
 

And he has a point. Millions of people believe in the supernatural, or at least want very badly to believe. And that makes them vulnerable to charlatans and cheats.

There are plenty of people out there, though, who make it their business to call out those charlatans. One of those was Harry Houdini, born Erich Weiss, whose 143rd birthday would have been today, as this is posted. Houdini was a skilled magician who knew all of the ‘tricks of the trade’ for getting people to believe they saw whatever he wanted them to believe they saw. But he knew it was all illusion – all deception. And he was determined that others wouldn’t prey on the vulnerable.

He’s not the only one, either, at least not in crime fiction. In Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit, for instance, we are introduced to Svetozar Vok. He’s a well-known and successful stage magician, who’s taken to unmasking fake mediums and spiritualists. So, he’s very interested in the proceedings when Frank and Irene Ogden, together with Frank’s business partner Luke Latham, decide to hold a séance. Their purpose is to contact Irene’s first husband, French émigré Grimaud Désanat. Irene is a medium, so it’s decided to hold the séance at the Ogden home, and invite several other people, including Vok. The séance is held, and is truly eerie. But shortly afterwards, Vok exposes Irene as a fake. Even so, there are things about the event that can’t be explained. Later that night, Irene is found dead. Does the death have a supernatural explanation? If not, then who among the group is the murderer?

In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, we meet Dr. Suresh Jha, founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (D.I.R.E.). A devotee of scientific research, he has dedicated himself to debunking spiritual charlatans and others who claim paranormal power. One morning, Jha attends a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club when an extraordinary event occurs. As witnesses later tell the police, the goddess Kali appears, and stabs Jha. Believes claim that she did so as a punishment for Jha’s infidelity and for his leading others away from worship. And, in fact, the death leads to a resurgence of interest in matters religious. But Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri isn’t sure this death is what it seems. He has spiritual beliefs of his own, but he doesn’t really believe in paranormal explanations for murder. Since Jha was once a client of his, Puri takes an interest in the case and begins asking questions. And he soon learns that more than one person had a good reason for wanting Jha dead.

There’s also Alan Russell’s The Fat Innkeeper. Am Coulfield is house detective at San Diego’s very upmarket Hotel California. He has enough on his hands when the hotel is bought by a Japanese firm. But then, disaster strikes. The hotel has been playing host to a Union of Near Death Experiences Retreat, and several New Age mentalists are present. Also staying at the hotel is Dr. Thomas Kingsbury, who’s made a career out of unmasking fraudulent mentalists. And he’s targeted some of the people who are at the retreat. So, when Kingsbury is poisoned, there are plenty of suspects for Coulfield to consider.

Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief sees Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti serve as a sort of debunker. His second-in-command, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello comes to him with a family problem. It seems that Vianello’s aunt, Zia Anita, has been withdrawing money from the family business and giving it to a man named Stefano Gorini. The money is hers to do with as she wishes, so she’s not stealing. But Vianello is concerned that Gorini is cheating her. So, he asks Brunetti to look into the matter. Brunetti agrees and starts doing a little research into Gorini. He finds that the man has been in trouble with the law before over matters of possible fraud. In fact, he lost his medical license. Now, it seems he’s back, once more taking money for what seem to be fake cures. And Brunetti will need to find a way to stop Gorini before more people are bilked.  

And then there’s Elly Griffiths’ Max Mephisto. He’s a magician who lives and works in the 1950’s UK. He may not be known all over the world, but he knows what he’s doing onstage. And those skills were important during WWII, when Mephisto was one of the Magic Men, a special-operations group that used their stage tricks to fool the enemy. Now that the war’s over, Mephisto is ‘on the circuit’ with circus performers, fortune tellers and the like. He works with a fellow former Magic Man, DI Edgar Stephens, and his expertise turns out to be very useful. Mephisto may not be specifically committed to unmasking charlatans. But he certainly knows that murders don’t happen by magic, and he helps to unwrap the layers of fakery, and get to the truth.

And that’s exactly what Houdini did. He’s no longer with us, but his brilliance on stage, and his commitment to keeping people from being hoodwinked, will be remembered. He’s also inspired generations of illusionists since his time.

 
 
 

The ‘photo is of two of those illusionists, Penn Jillette and his magic partner, Raymond Teller. Both are outstanding, world-class illusionists. And both are committed, as Houdini was, to uncovering fraud and charlatanism. In fact, in their shows, Jillette, the ‘voice of the duo,’ often tells members of the audience that the pair is going to use trickery to confuse them. He then reminds the audience that it’s all sleight-of-hand and other illusion. But it still works. Gentlemen, if you’re reading this, I’m sure Houdini would have been proud to be your colleague.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Uriah Heep’s Illusion.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Russell, Donna Leon, Elly Griffiths, Hake Talbot, Tarquin Hall

Every Time She Find a Minute, That’s the Time When They Begin It*

cinderella-charactersDo you remember the story of Cinderella? You know, the young girl who’s made to work like a slave by her evil stepmother and stepsisters? Well, the story may not be real, but it resonates. For instance, many countries have laws that require all employees, including domestic employees, to be paid. And the vast majority of people who employ, say, au pairs, cleaning staff, and so on do pay them. But that doesn’t mean such staff have an easy time of it. And there are cases where even paid domestic staff are overworked or worse.

If you look at crime fiction, there are plenty of examples, too, of characters who fall into that vague ‘fuzzy’ category between paid employees (such as a nanny) and family/dependents (such as children, foster children, and so on). Those characters can be particularly vulnerable, and it’s interesting to see how crime fiction treats them.

In Anna Katharine Green’s short story, The House of Clocks, Violet Strange gets an unusual case from her employer. Wealthy Arabella Postlethwaite summoned a lawyer to draw up her will. When he got to her home, that lawyer discovered that his new client lives in a strange, even eerie, home with her stepdaughter, Helena. The lawyer fears that Helena may be in grave danger. Her stepmother despises her, for reasons that become clear in the story, and expressly says that Helena will get nothing when she dies. That means she’ll have no place to go. What’s more, Helena is ill and getting worse. The lawyer is hoping that someone might look into the matter, and Violet begins to investigate, using the guise of a nurse/maid. She discovers that, while Helena is technically Mrs Postlethwaite’s dependent, she’s treated much more like a slave. If Helena is to be rescued, Violet’s going to have to learn the story of this family, and get Helena to co-operate with her.

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile introduces us to wealthy, elderly Marie Van Schuyler. She plans a trip that includes Egypt, and decides that her young cousin, Cornelia Robson, should accompany her. As she sees it,
 

‘There are many little things that Cornelia can do for me.’
 

And for Cornelia, it’s a chance to travel. The two go on a cruise of the Nile, but Cornelia gets very little time to explore. Her cousin is both demanding and impatient, to say nothing of rude. But Cornelia gets more than she bargained for when a fellow passenger, Linnet Doyle, is shot on the second night. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he works with Colonel Race to find out who the killer is. Throughout most of the novel, Cornelia acts as a sort of unpaid servant to her cousin. She does everything she’s asked to do (although never quite as fast as Miss Van Schuyler would like), and has to put up with a great deal of indignity. And yet, although everyone else on the boat seems to notice it, Cornelia doesn’t mind. It’s an interesting look at the ‘poor cousin/rich cousin’ relationship.

In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, we learn the story of Mary Murmu. A girl from a very poor family, she went to Delhi, where she worked for the family of Ajay Kasliwal, a well-to-do attorney. She disappeared, though, and the story was that Kasliwal raped and killed her. The Indian police don’t want to be seen as too soft on the wealthy and the powerful, so they’ve decided to make an example of Kasliwal. He’s arrested, and is going to stand trial. He claims that he doesn’t know what happened to Mary, and hires PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri to find out the truth. Puri needs to learn what was really going on in the Kasliwal home. For that, he taps his employee ‘Facecream,’ so called because of her ability to blend in anywhere. Her job will be to get work as a maid in the Kasliwal household, and investigate. This she does quite effectively, and discovers that there are several possibilities for what might have happened to Mary. As she looks into the matter, we see how Mary was treated (and how Facecream herself is now). Servants in Mrs. Kasliwal’s employ are not given much dignity or any respect; and, even though they are paid, it’s very little, and the money isn’t really theirs to spend. It’s not a pleasant home in which to work.

Neither is the home in which Evelyn Matlock works in P.D. James’ A Taste For Death. In that novel, Commander Adam Dalgliesh works with DCI John Massingham and DI Kate Miskin to find out who murdered Crown Minister Sir Paul Berowne. His body, together with the body of a local tramp named Harry Mack, was found in a local church. Naturally, the team looks into the dynamics of the Berowne house, and they find a very unhappy place. Evelyn was taken in (at Paul Berowne’s insistence) when her father was convicted of a crime and imprisoned, and now she serves as housekeeper and nurse to Lady Ursula. Here’s what she has to say about life in that household:
 

‘‘I’m tired, I’m overworked and I hate you all. You didn’t know that, did you? You thought I was grateful. Grateful for the job of washing you like a baby, grateful for waiting on a woman too idle to pick up her own underclothes from the floor, grateful for the worst bedroom in the house, grateful for a home, a bed, a roof, the next meal. This place isn’t a home…And you think of no one but yourselves. Do this, Mattie, fetch that, Mattie, run my bath, Mattie. I do have a name. I’m not a cat or a dog. I’m not a household pet.’’
 

Evelyn’s views reflect just how much she’s been taken for granted.

And then there’s Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, which is a fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people in Iceland to be executed for murder. In this story, Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. Agnes is found guilty, and now awaits her execution. It’s decided that it would be best for her to stay with a ‘proper Christian family’ until her execution, so she is sent to live with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. The idea is that the family will benefit from Agnes’ work, while she will benefit from staying with ‘Godly’ people. The family will be compensated, as well. And the government won’t have the responsibility of feeding and housing the prisoner. At first, Agnes is treated as not much more than a slave. She’s told what to do and she does it. Very gradually, she gets to know, especially, Steina and Margrét, and they learn that there’s much more to their temporary live-in help than they thought.

There are other cases, too, of people who fall into that vague area between family members and ‘official’ employees. That position can make one very vulnerable, but there are some interesting examples in crime fiction.

Cinderella, of course, is a fairy tale, but it’s got a long history.  Want to know more about the history of such tales? Try D.D. Storyteller! There, you’ll find all sorts of discussion of different stories and their origins.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman’s  Cinderella (The Work Song).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anna Katherine Green, Hannah Kent, P.D. James, Tarquin Hall