Category Archives: Tony Hillerman

Teach Me to Be More Adaptive*

AdaptivenessSpecies do best when they can adapt to their surroundings. Species that don’t develop adaptations don’t tend to survive. That’s a basic part of the explanation for a lot of phenomena, from humans’ opposable thumbs to the spines on a cactus. Just take the fellow local resident you see in the ‘photo. These lizards are well adapted to living where I live. They don’t need a lot of water, they do exceptionally well in a fairly warm climate, and they move fast, too, so they’re less vulnerable. They’re even well-camouflaged, so they can hide from both predators and prey.

People need to adapt, too, of course, and I don’t just mean in the evolutionary sense. If you look at crime fiction, you can see all sorts of examples of characters who have to adapt to different environments. Some are successful and some aren’t. Either way, though, that process of adapting (or not adapting) can add an interesting layer of character development and tension to a crime novel.

Adaptation, of course, doesn’t necessarily have to mean a character changes everything. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for instance, has lived in London for many years. His first language isn’t English, but he speaks it quite fluently. He’s adapted to English customs, too, and understands the nuances of life in England. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely changed. He isn’t much of a one for the custom of tea (well, at least not as it was at the time Christie was writing):
 

“If one partakes of the five o’clock, one does not,’ he explained, ‘approach the dinner with the proper quality of expectant gastric juices. And the dinner, let us remember, is the supreme meal of the day!”
 

There are other ways, too, in which he has not stopped being Belgian. But I think one could safely say he’s adapted (I know, I know, fans of Nicolas Freeling’s Arlette Van der Valk).

Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels take place mostly on the Navajo Reservation, where people have had to adapt to the desert climate – not an easy task. Leaphorn and Chee have had to make other adaptations, too, in order to function within the dominant US culture. In fact, Leaphorn attended a high school where,
 

‘The word was, give up the old ways or die.’ 
 

So Leaphorn did. He still identifies as a Navajo, and respects his people’s traditions. He’s thoroughly adapted to desert life, too, and is well able to deal with its harshness. But he’s quite secular, and his customs are more dominant-culture than Navajo. For his part, Chee hasn’t adapted in quite the same way, although he certainly functions well within the dominant culture. In fact, he has more than one opportunity to join the FBI and other dominant-culture law-enforcement agencies. But Chee is Navajo and doesn’t really belong anywhere else. He’s more traditional in his thinking than Leaphorn, and that makes for an interesting contrast between the two.

Eva Dolan’s DS Melinda ‘Mel’ Ferreira, whom we first meet in Long Way Home, is a member of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. She’s originally from Portugal, although she’s been living in England for quite some time. She’s had to adapt to much more than the English language (although she certainly speaks it fluently). She’s also had to adapt to all sorts of other English ways, and it hasn’t been easy for her. For one thing, her schoolmates didn’t make life particularly easy. For another, she lives with her parents, who in some ways, have retained their own customs (although her father is determined to assimilate, and uses British wit to try to do so). Ferreria has at times had her issues with life in England, but she’s adjusted, and does her job well.

In Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Crhis’ Le Fanu series, we see an interesting contrast in the way people adapt (or don’t) to a different environment. The series takes place in 1920’s Madras (today’s Chennai) during the British Raj. Le Fanu is English, and in some ways, he retains his ‘Englishness.’ But he’s adapted effectively to life in India. He’s made adjustments for the very different climate, he enjoys the local food, and so on. He’s also learned to work with the local people to do his job. Here’s an example from A Strait Settlement:
 

‘A senior official eating local food and mixing with Indians bucked the normal pattern.’
 

By contrast, the series also features Arthur Jepson, Madras Commissioner of Police. In several ways, he is Le Fanu’s nemesis, and is all too eager to sabotage him in any way possible. But beyond that, Jepson hasn’t adapted to life in India. He certainly doesn’t mix with the locals, enjoy the local food, or in other ways adjust. And it’s interesting to see the different ways in which the two men react to the environment.

In Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark, we are introduced to secondary school teacher Ilse Klein and her mother Gerda. They moved from Leipzig in then-East Germany to New Zealand when Ilse was a child. For Gerda, the move represented escape from the Stasi – the East German secret police. Ever grateful to her adopted home, she adjusted to life there, and so did her husband, who’s since died. She remembers what it was like to live under the East German regime, and is very glad she’s adapted to life in New Zealand. Ilse, on the other hand, left Leipzig when she was too young to really appreciate how dangerous it was to live there. She has a different perspective on the situation, and didn’t adapt as easily to New Zealand. Her point of view makes for an interesting contrast to that of her mother. Both views play their roles when Ilse becomes concerned about a pupil, Serena Freeman, who seems to have disengaged from school. What’s especially worrisome is that Serena was one of the most promising students in Ilse’s class, so her detachment marks a major change. Matters get even worse when Serena disappears…

There are plenty of other examples – more than I have space for here – of crime-fictional situations where characters have to adapt. Some do so relatively easily, and some not so easily. Either way, adaptation can add a layer to a crime novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Green Finch and Linnet Bird.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Brian Stoddart, Eva Dolan, Nicolas Freeling, Paddy Richardson, Tony Hillerman

Looking For the New World*

ColonialismOne of the factors that’s shaped our lives in profound ways has been what I’ll call cultural domination. It’s also been called empire-building, imperialism, and expansionism, among other things. Whatever you call it, it’s had a lasting impact on both/all cultures involved. And, interestingly, just about every culture has been a colony at some point in time; many have also created colonies of their own.

The process has been going on for millennia, and we see its effects in crime fiction, just as we do in real life. There are so many instances that it would be impossible for me to mention them all. But here are a few examples; I know that you’ll think of others.

Many people think of England as an empire-builder, and it certainly has been (more on that shortly). But of course, it’s also been a colony, During the Roman Empire, what we now think of as England was the Roman province of Britannia. To the north was Caledonia (today’s Scotland), and to the west was Hibernia (today’s Northern Ireland and Irish Republic). Lindsey Davis’ A Body in the Bathhouse gives readers a look at the UK and Ireland of that time. In that novel, her sleuth, Marcus Didius Falco, travels to Britannia with his family. He’s there on commission from Emperor Vespasian, with orders to investigate a building project that’s been running late, and over budget. The project involved building a granary and supply station for the Roman army, as well as a home and bathhouse for the local British chieftain, Togidumnus. It seems clear that there’s corruption involved, and Falco’s mission is to get to its source. He finds himself involved in a case of murder, though, when Pomponius, the chief architect on the project, is found murdered in the newly-built bathhouse. You can still see Roman palaces, baths, roads and so on in Fishbourne, Bath, and other places in England.

England went on to become an empire-builder, too, and that impact is still felt today. In Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, for instance, readers follow the lives of London bargeman William Thornhill and his family. In 1806, he’s caught stealing a load of wood and is sentenced to transportation to Australia. Thornhill, his wife Sal, and their children arrive at Sydney Cove and try to start life again. Sal opens a makeshift pub, while Thornhill earns a living working for Thomas Blackwood on Blackwood’s boat The River Queen. When Thornhill finds the perfect piece of land by the Hawkesbury River, he persuades a reluctant Sal to relocate. There’ve been people in that area for many thousands of years, and Thornhill and other settlers are going to have to deal with the fact that the indigenous people were there first. Not all of them are willing to do that; and of course, the indigenous people are none too pleased at the newcomers who are claiming the land and making no effort to acknowledge those who already live there. As you can imagine, this leads to some brutal crime.

The impact of this cultural domination is still felt, as we see in Nicole Watson’s The Boundary, which takes place in contemporary Brisbane. One plot thread of that novel concerns a land dispute between the Corrowa people and a development company, both of which lay claim to Meston Park. Judge Bruce Brosnan rules against the Corrowa people, and not many hours later, he’s killed. Then there are other murders, each of someone involved in the case against the claim. Police officers Jason Matthews and Andrew Higgins investigate; as they do, we see the influence both of empire-building and of the Aboriginal people.

Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making takes place in 1868/69 Victoria, British Columbia. Chad Hobbes has recently finished his studies at Oxford, and has come to Victoria armed with a letter of introduction to the Governor. That letter results in his appointment to the position of police constable. For the most part, the job consists of such things as settling drunken quarrels and, sometimes, removing prostitutes from the area. Then, the body of Richard McCrory is discovered. At first, it looks to be an easy case. The victim had been involved with Lukswaas, a member of the Tsimshian people. Her partner, Wiladzap, is a leader among the Tsimshian, and it’s assumed he murdered McCrory both as an act of vengeance and as a means of asserting his leadership. Wiladzap says he’s innocent and, as a matter of form, the police have to make a superficial attempt to seem fair. So Hobbes is given the task of asking questions of people who knew McCrory. The more he does so, the more he begins to believe that Wiladzap is telling the truth. In this novel, we see the impact of colonialism in several ways. There’s the British influence, of course. And there’s the influence of the Tsimshian people who were in the area first. There’s also the American influence, and the strong hint of American expansionism.

Tony Hillerman’s novels show clearly the impact of American colonialism on the Native Americans who were in the country first. In those novels, we see the way in which the dominant culture has impacted education, infrastructure and much, much more. But we also see the influence of the indigenous people on the dominant culture. Stan Jones’ Nathan Active novels, which take place in Alaska, show that mutual influence as well.

As you’ll already know, the British Empire also included, for many years, India. And there are lots of Golden Age crime fiction novels that include characters who served in the military in India. Sometimes they’re the subject of gentle ridicule; sometimes not. Either way, you can see how their experience there impacted them. And there’s plenty of Indian influence today in England. Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu novels capture that colonial experience in India. They take place in 1920’s Madras (today’s Chennai), where Le Fanu works among the various groups of people who live there. In his life, we see the influence of his own British background and the local culture within which he works. On the one hand, there are certain very English customs he retains. On the other, though, he’s adopted the local customs in other ways. He enjoys the local food, he’s adapted his schedule to accommodate the sometimes-intense heat, and so on.

Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper novels take place in 1950’s South Africa, a place with a long history of colonialism. Cooper himself is English. But in his work, he interacts quite a lot with the Afrikaners, who are, of course, descendants of Dutch colonists. He also works with the indigenous people. As he does, we see the strong influence in language, food, and other ways of colonialism. And what’s fascinating is that that influence doesn’t just work in one direction.

And that’s the thing about colonialism. Empire-building has, of course, deep and lasting effects on colonies. But those who build those empires are also heavily influenced by the places and cultures they encounter. I know there are many, many examples of colonialism in crime fiction that I haven’t mentioned here. Space doesn’t come near to acknowledging all of them. Over to you.

ps. The ‘photo is of John Hall’s engraving of Benjamin West’s painting, The Treaty of Penn With the Indians.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer.

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Filed under Brian Stoddart, Kate Grenville, Lindsey Davis, Malla Nunn, Nicole Watson, Seán Haldane, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman

We Are the Secret Society*

Secret SocietiesSecret societies have been a part of several cultures for a long time. They take many different forms, too, from criminal societies to religious societies to more esoteric groups. Regardless of the kind of society or its purpose, its membership is usually limited, and there are rituals and secrets to which only initiated members are privy.

There are a lot of examples of such groups in crime fiction. That’s not surprising when you think about all of the possibilities for conflict, tension and worse. And, since some societies are criminal in nature, there’s that aspect as well that makes them a natural fit for the genre. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Five Orange Pips, Sherlock Holmes gets an intriguing case from his new client John Openshaw. Openshaw’s Uncle Elias, with whom he lived, was found dead in a pool on his estate. His death seems to have been the culmination of a bizarre series of events that began when he received a letter containing five orange pips. Now the victim’s brother (and Openshaw’s father) Joseph has also received a letter containing five orange pips. He’s thoroughly frightened, but he won’t go to the police. Holmes investigates, and finds that the strange and tragic events on the Openshaw property are connected with the Ku Klux Klan, which had formed in the US after the Civil War there, and had been thought disbanded.

In Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery, Sir Oswald Coote and his wife have rented out a manor house owned by the Marquess of Caterham so they can host a house party. Everyone duly arrives and all goes well at first. Then, some of the guests decide to play a trick on fellow guest Gerald ‘Gerry’ Wade, who has a bad habit of oversleeping. They buy eight alarm clocks, time them to go off at different intervals, and hide them in Wade’s room. To everyone’s shock, the next morning, Wade is found dead in his bed of what turns out to be poison. One of the alarm clocks is missing, too. Needless to say, the house party ends and Lord Caterham returns to the property. One day, his daughter, Lady Eileen ‘Bundle’ Brent, finds a half-finished letter that turns out to be a clue to the murder. She gets involved in the investigation, which so far, hasn’t gotten very far. In the end, she and Superintendent Battle connect Wade’s death with another death, and with a secret society.

In Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police gets involved in a disturbing case. A young Zuñi teen named Ernesto Cato has been murdered. And his friend, a Navajo named George Bowlegs, has gone missing. That’s where Leaphorn comes in. If George isn’t guilty of murder, he may be in grave danger. At the very least, he may have important information. So it’s imperative to find him. By the time the boy is found, though, it’s too late: he’s been killed, too. Leaphorn and fellow Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee work to find out what’s behind these murders. They’re not going to find it easy, though, because the information they need about Ernesto’s last days and weeks is related to a kiva, a religious society, he was joining. Only members are privy to the kiva’s secrets, and it will be difficult for Leaphorn and Chee to get anyone in the group to really talk to them. I can say without spoiling this story that the boys’ murders are not ritual killings. The kiva is not to blame, if you will. But it adds a layer of complexity to the case.

There’s a different sort of secret group in Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights. Accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman gets drawn into a strange mystery when she discovers Suze MacDonald, a local junkie, outside on her ventilation grate. The girl has overdosed on heroin, and it takes an emergency crew and some Narcan to revive her. Then, Corinna learns of other cases of junkies who haven’t been so lucky. It’s soon clear that this is a pattern, and that someone may be deliberately targeting junkies. Corinna is reluctant to get involved, but she’s persuaded by her new lover, Daniel Cohen, to help. Together, they learn that the key to these deaths is a Goth club called Blood Lines. One night, they go to the club, and once there, they are invited to the club’s private room. That’s where they put together the pieces of the puzzle, and learn how the club and its secrets are connected to the deaths.

I don’t think it’d be possible to do a post about secret societies in crime fiction without mentioning the Mafia. It’s taken various forms throughout history, and has had different purposes. The one constant, though, is the emphasis on secrecy. And members know the consequences if they betray that secrecy. For instance, in Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas, we are introduced to Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children. The Blake family are ex-pat Americans who have recently moved to a small town in Normandy. They have their share of ‘culture clash’ as they learn to fit in there, but as we soon learn, they have other, bigger problems. Fred Blake is really Giovanni Manzini, a member of the New Jersey Mafia, who joined the Federal Witness Protection Program when he testified against his former colleagues. The family was moved to Normandy for their safety. And the plan works well enough until word of their whereabouts gets back to New Jersey…

And that’s the thing about secret societies. They can be fascinating, and for members, they provide a real support network. But they have their dangers, too…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Todd Rundgren’s Secret Society.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Kerry Greenwood, Tonino Benacquista, Tony Hillerman

Yours is so Distinctive*

Distinctive SeriesThe thing about crime fiction is that there’s a lot of it. Every year, new novels are released, too. All of this means that nobody can read all of the crime fiction that’s out there. And yet, despite all of the options and all of the reading we do, there are some series that really seem to stand out. There’s something about those series that makes them unique. I’m not talking here of just an interesting plot and characters; any well-written crime series has those. I’m talking more of something special that sets those series apart.

In some cases, it’s a unique sort of sleuth. These are sleuths who are distinctive enough that if you see a caricature, you know exactly which sleuth it is. For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is like that. He has enough eccentricities that he’s quite distinctive. And his personality and detection style are part of what set those stories apart.

One might say the same thing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, too. Both of those detectives are distinct from other detectives, both in physical appearance and in their approaches to solving crime. So the novels featuring them stand out, too. This isn’t to say that that mysteries themselves aren’t interesting, or that there’s nothing else appealing about those series. Rather, it’s to say that those characters are important parts of what sets those series apart from others.

For some series, it’s the cultural context that sets them apart. We see that, for instance, in Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels. Both of those characters are members of the Navajo Tribal Police, and the Navajo Nation. So, many of these stories take place in that culture. In fact, Hillerman was awarded the distinction of being named ‘A Special Friend of the Navajo’ for his thoughtful and respectful, but honest, depiction of the Navajo.

Fans of Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder novels will know that that series, too, is set apart by its depiction of a unique culture. In this case, it’s the Amish of the US state of Ohio. Burkholder is chief of police in the small town of Painters Mill. She is also Amish by background, although she no longer lives that life. So readers get a look at the distinctive way of life of the Amish, and that’s part of what makes this series different to others.

Many readers like a strong sense of setting in their novels. And any well-written crime series gives the reader a sense of what it’s like to live in the place where the stories are set. But in some series, that sense of setting is distinctive. I’m thinking, for instance, of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels. Longmire is the sheriff for fictional Apsaroka County, Wyoming, so in those novels, readers get a real sense of rural Wyoming. The physical setting, the climate, and the people who live there are all depicted in these novels. That’s not to say there’s nothing else about the series that makes it worth reading. It is to say, though, that for fans of these novels, the setting is one factor that sets them apart.

That’s also arguably true of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway/Harry Nelson series. Galloway is a forensic anthropologist with the University of North Norfolk; Nelson is a local chief inspector. Among many other things that fans of this series enjoy, the setting is distinctive. As the novels go on, readers learn about the history of this part of East Anglia, and about the climate, geography, and so on that make the place unique. And, of course, there’s Cathbad…

Peter May’s Lewis trilogy takes place in the Lewis and Harris part of the Outer Hebrides. Right from the beginning, readers are placed there in terms of climate, geography and so on. Certainly the character and plot are part of what appeal to fans of May’s writing. But the setting is definitely one of the things that sets this trilogy apart. May’s depiction of setting is also really clear in his standalone Entry Island.

Another element that sets some series apart for readers is the depiction of a profession. In those cases, readers learn what it’s really like to be a lawyer/doctor/paramedic/etc. John Grisham’s novels, for instance, just about always focus on an attorney or a group of attorneys. So they give readers an ‘inside look’ at the life of an attorney. And what sets these novels apart is that they go beyond the TV-and-film stereotypes of what an attorney does. The same is arguably true of Robert Rotenberg’s novels.

Katherine Howell’s novels feature New South Wales police inspector Ella Marconi. But they also include major characters who are paramedics. Among the things that set these novels apart is the way they depict the life of a paramedic. Readers get to ‘go behind the scenes’ and really see what it’s like to become a paramedic, to do the job, and to live the life. It’s interesting to note, too, that Grisham, Rotenberg and Howell are all, or have been, members of the professions that feature in their stories. This may be just my opinion, but I think that lends something to their series. And that depiction of profession sets them apart.

Of course, these are just a few examples of ways in which a series can distinguish itself from all the good series out there. As you think about the series that most stand out for you, what is it about them that draws you? If you’re a writer, what do you find easiest to do to make your stories unique?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sense Field’s Voice.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Craig Johnson, Elly Griffiths, John Grisham, Katherine Howell, Linda Castillo, Peter May, Rex Stout, Robert Rotenberg, Tony Hillerman

Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park*

Trailer ParksCaravans, mobile homes, trailers, they’re different names for the same kind of home. Whatever you call them, these homes can move from place to place. Sometimes their owners live in a community with other trailer/caravan owners. Other times they live by themselves. Either way a trailer/caravan is a really affordable alternative to owning a home or a condominium.

There are plenty of mobile homes in crime fiction. That shouldn’t be surprising, since lots of people find them both affordable and convenient (they can be moved, after all). Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of others.

Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels will know that Chee lives in a trailer. He prefers to live more or less away from other people, in the Navajo custom, and he’s placed his trailer so that it faces east, also in the Navajo tradition. It turns out to be not such a safe place in Skinwalkers, when he finds himself the target of a would-be assassin. When a series of murders connected with the Bad Water Clinic occurs, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn looks into the case, and Chee gets involved after he is attacked. One of the interesting layers in this novel is the discussion of Navajo beliefs about skinwalkers, witches who can change shape. Those traditional beliefs still impact the culture in some ways.

In Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit, we are introduced to brothers Gates and Mason Hunt. They’ve had a difficult start in life, being the children of an abusive, alcoholic father. But Mason takes advantage of every opportunity he has to get out of that situation. He winds up getting a scholarship to university and goes on to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his natural athletic ability. He ends up living on money he gets from his mother, and from his girlfriend’s Denise’s welfare allotment. One afternoon, the Hunt brothers are at Denise’s trailer when Gates’ romantic rival, Wayne Thompson, stops by. He and Gates get into a serious argument, and Wayne ends up storming off. Later that night, the brothers are on their way home from a night out when they encounter Wayne again. The argument heats up again, this time fueled by alcohol. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot his rival. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his Gates cover up what happened, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason has become the commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. Gates, meanwhile, supplements his income with drug dealing. Then, he’s arrested for trafficking in cocaine. He’s convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. He begs his brother to help him get out of prison, but this time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens to incriminate Mason for the still-unsolved Thompson murder if he doesn’t help, and now Mason faces criminal indictment for a crime he didn’t commit.

Sophie Littlefield’s Stella Hardesty is quite familiar with trailers. Her official business is a sewing supply shop. But she also has another business, with a certain kind of client. Women who’ve been abused know that they can count on Stella to help them even the score. She’s not a murderer, but she can be extremely persuasive. Her ‘parolees’ know after one visit that they’d better leave their victims alone. Anyone who doesn’t heed that first warning gets an even more unpleasant second visit. In A Bad Day For Sorry, for instance, Stella goes to the trailer of one of her ‘parolees,’ Roy Dean Shaw, to remind him of how he’s supposed to behave. All goes as expected, and Stella thinks she has the matter in hand. Until the next day, when she finds out from Dean’s ex-wife Chrissy that he’s disappeared, and he may have her son Tucker with him. Stella starts asking questions to try to track down her quarry and the boy, and finds that the trail leads to some very dangerous people. Still, Chrissy is determined to get her son back, and the two women go up against some very difficult odds to do just that.

David Liss’ The Ethical Assassin begins with a visit to a Florida trailer park. Lem Atlick is trying to save money to pay for Columbia University, so he’s taken a job as a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesperson. One hot day, he visits the trailer of a woman named Karen and her husband, nicknamed Bastard. He’s making his sales pitch when Melford Kean comes into the trailer and kills both Karen and Bastard. Kean didn’t expect a witness, but he thinks quickly. He offers Lem this deal: Lem can keep his mouth shut, or Kean will implicate him for the murders, and Lem won’t have much of an alibi. Lem soon finds himself drawn into Kean’s world, and discovers that this is no ordinary shooting spree.

Wendy James’ The Mistake features Jodie Evans Garrow, who grew up on the proverbial poor side of town. She’s done well for herself, though, and gotten a university education. Now she’s married to a successful attorney, Angus, and is the mother of two healthy children. One day the past comes back to haunt her, though. Her daughter Hannah is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where Jodie gave birth years earlier to another child – one she never mentioned, even to Angus. A nurse there remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says that she was adopted, but the nurse can’t find any formal records. Now, questions begin to arise, first in whispers, and then in a full-out smear campaign. Is the child still alive? If so, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Now, Jodie is a social pariah. It’s all too much for her daughter, Hannah, who decides to take off with her boyfriend. One of Hannah’s visits is to her grandfather (Jodie’s father) who now lives in a caravan in a rural area. She’s hoping that he can give her some insight into her mother’s past. On the one hand, the visit’s a failure, as he’s hardly helpful. On the other, Hannah’s disappointment is a lesson in itself.

And then there’s Kate Ellis’ The Merchant House. In one plot thread of that novel, Jonathan Berrisford disappears from the yard of the summer cottage where he’s been staying with his mother, Elaine. The Tradmouth CID, of course, mount a major search effort, but don’t immediately find the boy. In the meantime, the body of a young woman has been discovered, so the CID has plenty on its plate, as the saying goes. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the police get some useful information on both cases from some people who are staying at a nearby caravan park.

In that novel, and in others that feature such places, you can see that the trailer/caravan life is a unique culture. It’s sometimes a relatively closed culture, but even when it’s not, it makes for an interesting context.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Cowboy Junkies song.

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Filed under David Liss, Kate Ellis, Martin Clark, Sophie Littlefield, Tony Hillerman, Wendy James