Category Archives: Tony Hillerman

Scotland Yard Was Trying Hard*

National Police ForcesMany countries have a national police force or other law-enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the entire country. There are also sometimes local, province/state/department-level, or regional police as well.

National police forces and agencies are often the subject of crime fiction novels, for obvious reasons. And it’s fascinating (at least to me) to look at how they’re treated. Of course, a lot of that depends on the protagonist of a given novel or series, and it’s interesting to look at the different lenses through which those agencies are viewed.

The Met (formerly Scotland Yard), for instance, gets some very different treatments depending on the perspective of a given book or series. You’ll probably already know that the Met is not a national police force per se. But the agency does include expert special branches and services that other regional police forces tap. And in series such as Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan novels, Elizabeth George’s Lynley/Havers novels, or James Craig’s John Carlyle novels, Met police are treated sympathetically. In all of those cases, we have a protagonist who’s a member of that police force, so that makes sense. It’s not that there are no unpleasant Met characters in those novels. But the agency itself is viewed as competent and, overall, a positive force. Not so, though, if one reads, for instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Fans of those novels will know that Holmes has little patience with Scotland Yard. There are other novels too where there’s friction between Met branches and regional police.

We see a similar sort of disparity when it comes to the way the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s national police force, is treated. In L.R. Wright’s The Suspect for instance, we meet RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg, who investigates the murder of eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. It’s a very puzzling case; soon enough, Alberg begins to suspect eighty-year-old George Wilcox, but he can’t find a motive. Readers know from the beginning of the novel that Wilcox is, indeed, guilty. The suspense in the story really comes from the slow reveal of the motive and from Alberg’s dogged pursuit of the truth about the case. In this novel, the RCMP is not portrayed as perfect in the least. But it’s presented as an overall solid agency with competent law enforcers. Scott Young’s novels featuring Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak are also more sympathetic than unsympathetic towards Matteesie’s employer, the RCMP. But we get a very different picture through reading the work of Inger Ash Wolfe/Michael Redhill, Giles Blunt or Robert Rotenberg. Those series feature police protagonists who are in local or provincial police forces, and their perceptions of RCMP involvement are not exactly positive. At best, RCMP involvement is irritating. At worst, RCMP ‘players’ are slow, incompetent and counterproductive.

There’s an interesting ‘inside’ look at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Kel Robertson’s novels featuring Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen. As a member of the AFP, Chen participates in investigations that have federal (and sometimes international) implications. He works with competent and dependable team members, too. They aren’t always perfect, and they like a night off work as much as the next person. But they do their jobs well and they are committed to their work. What’s more, they form an important support network for Chen. They’re as much his mates as they are his colleagues.

There’s a less positive portrayal of the AFP in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, which introduces her Bangkok-based PI sleuth Jayne Keeney. In this novel, Keeney travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend, Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. When his partner Nou is murdered, Didi is devastated. The police visit him, supposedly because he was considered a suspect. During their visit he’s shot, and the police report is that he was in fact guilty, and tried to resist arrest. The report alleges that he represented an immediate threat to the arresting officers. But Keeney is sure that her friend was innocent, and works to clear his name. In the process of looking into the case, she crosses paths with AFP agent Mark D’Angelo. He’s in Thailand on special assignment with a group that’s looking into human trafficking and the child sex trade. D’Angelo is not portrayed as stupid, incompetent or corrupt. But Keeney does find him unwilling to really consider all the implications of what he’s doing. And without spoiling the story, I can say that for Keeney, it’s very difficult to reconcile herself to the perceptions he and his task force represent.

Talking of Bangkok, the Royal Thai Police have jurisdiction in Thailand. There are several novels (Andrew Grant’s Death in the Kingdom is one of them) in which this agency is depicted as corrupt and greedy at best. But other novels (including Savage’s work) show things differently. Savage’s Jayne Keeney knows that doing her job successfully depends on a rapport with the police. So she’s worked to get to know them. She finds some of the Royal Thai Police to be just as venal as their reputation suggests. But most do their jobs the best they can. And the hard-working police Keeney knows have encountered at least as many problems caused by farangs (foreigners) as those caused by the police. We also see a generally positive portrayal of the Royal Thai Police in John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series. Sonchai is a member of the police force and a very observant Buddhist. As he investigates cases, readers get an ‘inside look’ at some of the challenges the police face and some of the ways in which they make a very positive impact. That’s not to say of course that there are no corrupt or even dangerous police in those novels. And even the ‘good guys’ have their faults. But we do see a more or less sympathetic depiction of this national police force, and one that shows readers what goes on ‘behind the scenes.’

Fred Vargas’ Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a member of the Police Nationale, one of France’s two national police forces. The Police Nationale have jurisdiction in large cities, and Vargas’ novels portray at least Adamsberg’s team as competent, if eccentric (to say the very least). They do their jobs and they care about their work in their way. The Gendarmerie has jurisdiction in smaller towns, rural areas and borderlands. This group gets a less positive treatment from Vargas, although she doesn’t portray each member in a terribly negative way. Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series isn’t very flattering to the Gendarmerie either. In fact. Bruno, who is Chief of Police of the village of St. Denis, very often finds himself at odds with Captain Duroc of the local gendarmerie. In fact, he works better with the Police Nationale. As an aside, you’ll probably know that the Police Nationale used to be known as the Sûreté. Fans of Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links will know that her Hercule Poirot is no big fan of that group…

You’ll notice that until now, I’ve not mentioned the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That’s because there are dozens and dozens of crime novels and series that mention that agency, either in a positive or negative light. P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson is an FBI agent, and as you can imagine, the agency is portrayed more or less positively in those novels. There are many others too that depict the FBI in a sympathetic way. But if you read Tony Hillerman’s work or some of James Lee Burke’s novels, you soon see that it’s not at all that simple. There are dozens of novels and series in which the FBI is portrayed as officious, heavy-handed, and sometimes corrupt.

So what can we say about national police agencies (or those that provide national-level services)? They’re large, sometimes complicated, and therefore, complex. As with many groups, the answer depends on whom you ask.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Grant, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth George, Fred Vargas, Giles Blunt, Inger Ash Wolfe, James Craig, James Lee Burke, Jane Casey, John Burdett, Kel Robertson, L.R. Wright, Martin Walker, Michael Redhill, P.D. Martin, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Young, Tony Hillerman

But the Cowboy and the Rancher Knew His Name*

WesternsMany people find a real appeal in what I’ll call Westerns, whether books, film or television. Even if you don’t care for them yourself, you no doubt know that they have a strong following. There are arguably several reasons so many people love Westerns, just as there are a lot of reasons for which people have moved to ‘the wide open spaces.’

One of the allures of Westerns and their settings is the chance to start over in beautiful, open land. We see that, for instance, in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. It’s 1806, and William Thornhill, his wife Sal and their children have just arrived in Sydney Cove, Sydney, to start their lives over. Thornhill is a former London bargeman who was sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing wood. He and his family have experienced real poverty in London, so even though transportation is nerve-wracking, it’s also a chance to build new lives. Before very long, Thornhill finds work delivering goods up and down the local waterways; his wife opens a makeshift pub. One day, Thornhill finds a piece of irresistibly beautiful land, and sets about to claim it. And therein lies the problem. People have been living in what is to become New South Wales for many thousands of years, and it’s not long before there are serious, even bloody and brutal, conflicts between the two groups. Grenville doesn’t make light of the crimes committed in the name of new land and new opportunities. At the same time, we see just how tempting that land can be.

Even today, people are drawn to the prospects of open land, the chance to put the past behind, and the opportunity to start all over. That’s arguably part of what makes Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series popular. It’s also, of course, highly regarded as a well-written set of novels. But as we learn about the characters, we see a pattern of people who’ve chosen to live in Absaroka County, Wyoming because it’s beautiful, because it gives them a chance to build their own kinds of lives, and because the open land appeals to them. For instance, Longmire’s deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti is originally from Philadelphia, where she served as a police officer. She’s had her share of ups and downs in life, but she’s found a certain kind of contentment if you will in Absaroka County. Philadelphia may at times offer more conveniences, but Moretti has chosen to start over in the west. I know, I know, fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series and of Margaret Coel’s Wind River series…

‘Going West’ offers other kinds of opportunities too. As you’ll no doubt know, many people have taken the risks involved in starting over because of the discovery of gold and other precious metals. Vicki Delany’s historical Klondike series, set during the Klondike Gold Rush, has this theme as a backdrop. These novels feature Savoy Dance Hall owner Fiona MacGillivray, who’s originally from Scotland. She’s got a past that she’d just as well leave behind, and a teenage son Angus. Together, they’ve started over in Dawson, Yukon, just as the area is feeling the full effects of the gold rush. She herself isn’t in search of gold, but she knows that there are a lot of other ways to profit from the surge of newcomers. Taverns, restaurants, food and supply purveyors, dance halls, and of course assayers are all benefiting from the search for riches.

Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn isn’t really a westerner. She’s a retired judge who lives in Florida. But in The Desert Hedge Murders, she certainly gets a taste of the Old West. She travels with her mother’s traveling club, the Florida Flippers, on a sightseeing tour to Laughlin, Nevada. The group gets caught up in a case of murder when the body of a dead man is found in the bathroom of one of hotel rooms the club is using. Then, one of the members disappears and is later found dead in an old mine now used as a tourist attraction. As Thorn helps her mother and the rest of the group, she also experiences ghost towns, information about mining and prospecting, and legends. And burros.

For some people, the appeal of Westerns also comes from the ‘good guys v bad guys’ tension. Cattle rustlers, sheriffs, posses, outlaws and so on can tap the desire a lot of us have to see the ‘good guys’ win and the ‘bad guys’ get their due. Of course, it certainly wasn’t that simple; a quick glance at history makes that clear. But for a lot of readers and viewers, there’s a real appeal to following the adventures of ‘larger than life’ characters.

And it’s that sense of adventure that also draws many people to the Western. A lot of series and novels feature the sort of cliffhangers that you might see in old-style Western serials; one of them is Stark Holborn’s Nunslinger series. The protagonist in these stories is Sister Thomas Josephine, a Roman Catholic Vistitandine nun from St. Louis, Missouri. As the series begins, she is making her way to start a new life in Sacramento. Everything changes when the wagon train she’s on is attacked in Wyoming. Left stranded there, Sr. Josephine ends up being falsely accused of murder. She goes on the run and is drawn into all sorts of dangerous situations. Sr. Josephine is definitely not your ‘garden variety’ nun…  I admit I’ve not (yet) read these stories. But I’ve already gotten a solid sense of them from the terrific Col, who blogs at Col’s Criminal Library. You’ll want to check out his great blog and see for yourself why it’s one of my must-visits.

There are also plenty of readers/viewers who are interested in Westerns because they want to know more about the people who have always lived in those areas. Novels that depict the lives of Indigenous people in the West can give readers a window on a fascinating perspective on life. And they fulfil the important role of sharing information that doesn’t always make it to the textbooks. Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series, for instance, will know that those novels depict life in the modern US West/Southwest, often from the point of view of members of the Navajo Nation. Those stories give an important perspective on aspects of Western life such as mining, oil prospecting, and land and water rights. They also share the culture and lifestyle of the people who’ve lived in that area for a very long time.

We also see that perspective in Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte novels. Those stories give readers a look at mining, ranching and prospecting in Australia. Very often they feature the point of view of Bony, who is half White/half Aboriginal. So we see several ways of looking at the same places and events. Adrian Hyland’s books feature Emily Tempest, who’s an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) in Australia’s Northern Territory. Those novels give readers a look at modern life in the ‘great wide open’ parts of Australia.

Whether it’s the myths of the Western or the actual history of settlement, there’s something about the Western in all its forms that can draw people in. Does it have that effect on you? If so, what appeals to you about the Western? If not, what puts you off?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Ballad of Billy the Kid, a song he refers to as ‘completely historically inaccurate.’ Still, for my money, it captures all of the adventure, danger and myth of the Western.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Kate Grenville, Margaret Coel, Patricia Stoltey, Stark Holborn, Tony Hillerman, Vicki Delany

Make of Our Hearts One Heart*

Intercultural RelationshipsAll couples have to make adjustments; it’s what happens when two different people share their lives. That’s especially true of intercultural couples. They face the same issues as other couples, and they have to bridge sometimes vast cultural gaps. Although it’s not always easy, many such couples do build successful relationships. Other intercultural relationships don’t work out as well.

In crime fiction, an intercultural relationship can add a fascinating layer of depth to a character, even if the novel’s central focus isn’t the sleuth’s home life. It also allows the author to explore different cultures and cultural interaction in a very personal way.

Agatha Christie touches on this plot point in Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Wealthy Emily Arundell suspects that one of her family members is trying to kill her. She’s even more convinced of this when she has what seems to be an accidental fall down a flight of stairs late one night. It’s no accident though, so she writes to Hercule Poirot to ask for his help. By the time Poirot receives the letter and travels to Market Basing, where Miss Arundell lives, it’s too late. She’s died of what the doctor termed ‘liver failure.’ But Poirot suspects otherwise and continues to investigate. Just about everyone in the Arundell family circle had something to gain by the victim’s death. One of the interested parties is Miss Arundell’s niece Bella, who is married to Dr. Jacob Tanios. It’s an intercultural relationship, as Tanios is Greek. And it’s interesting to see how wide that gap is perceived to be in this novel. There are actually several comments about the wisdom (or lack theoreof) of marrying someone from a different culture.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn also has an experience with an intercultural relationship. In A Colder Kind of Death, she meets Inspector Alex Kequahtooway of the Regina Police. He’s investigating the murder of Kevin Tarpley, who was killed during an exercise break in the prison yard where he’s serving time for murder. Kilbourn has a strong motive for hating Tarpley, since the murder he committed was of her husband Ian. So at first, she and the Inspector are not exactly friendly. But before long he comes to believe that she’s innocent. Later, the two become romantically involved, and that presents challenges for both. He is a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation; she is Anglo. To the two of them, their differences don’t matter as much as their relationship does. But not everyone feels that way, and both have to deal with the ‘baggage’ of being involved with someone from a very different culture.

So do Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Mary Landon. Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation, and an officer in the Navajo Tribal Police. He is also studying at the time to become a yata’ali, a Navajo singer/healer. In People of Darkness, he meets Mary Landon, who teaches at Crown Point Elementary School. The two begin to date and then fall in love. At first it doesn’t matter to either that he is Navajo and she is White. As time goes by, though, they face a real obstacle. Chee loves Landon, but couldn’t really be happy living in the dominant-culture world. Landon loves Chee, too; but she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life on the Reservation. As time goes by, she finds herself more and more drawn back to her own community. At the same time, though, as she writes to him in The Ghostway,

 

‘I won’t force my Jim Chee to be a white man.’

 

In the end, those differences separate them permanently, but not without a deep sense of loss on both sides.

Does this mean that all intercultural relationships are doomed? Not in crime fiction, at any rate. Just ask Nicolas Freeling’s Amsterdam Inspector Piet Van der Valk and his wife Arlette. Van der Valk is thoroughly Dutch, with that culture’s background, values and so on. His wife Arlette is French, and her cultural identity reflects that background.  There are certainly some cultural differences between them, and adjustments to be made on both sides. But as Van der Valk puts it in Double Barrel, being married to Arlette helps him to be

 

‘…not quite so Dutch….’

 

in his thinking. It helps a lot too that Arlette is an excellent cook.

More recently, there’s Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Raffterty series. Those novels take place mostly in Bangkok, where Rafferty lives and works. He’s an ex-pat American travel writer who’s also good at finding people who don’t want to be found. Rafferty’s wife Rose is thoroughly Thai, a former bar girl who now owns her own apartment cleaning company. Together, they’re raising Miaow, a former street child they’ve adopted. Rafferty and his wife come from very different backgrounds, and they see the world differently. Sometimes this gets in the way of their communication. But each respects and is devoted to the other, and both want the best for Miaow. So they do everything they can to understand each other and resolve the differences they sometimes have.

So do Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel. Keeney is Australian, although she’s quite content to live in Bangkok. In The Half-Child, she meets Patel, who at the time helps to run his uncle’s bookshop. Patel is from India, at first only staying in Bangkok temporarily. But things change when he meets Keeney and the two strike up a friendship. They become business partners and, later, lovers as well. There are certainly cultural differences between them, even in terms of things like non-verbal communication. But as time goes on, it becomes clear to each that they respect each other and depend on each other. They are better together than they are alone.

There are of course a lot of other intercultural couples in crime fiction. Freeling, for instance, wrote another series featuring Henri Castang, who is originally French, but lives and works in Brussels. His wife Vera is Czech. And this is by no means the only example. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s One Hand, One Heart.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Gail Bowen, Nicolas Freeling, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman

It’s No Good, There’s No Way Out*

CorneredIn Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, Hercule Poirot investigates the shooting death of Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow, who was spending the weekend at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell when he was killed. The case seems very clear-cut at first. As Christie fans will know, though, things aren’t exactly as they appear to be. At one point, Poirot is discussing the actions of one particular character. Here’s what he says:
 

‘Have you not seen a dog caught in a trap-it sets its teeth into anyone who touches it.’
 

He has a point. When people (and other animals) feel cornered, they often strike out. That instinct for self-preservation is very strong. Certainly the character to whom Poirot is referring does that; other crime-fictional characters do, too.

For instance, in Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police is assigned to find sixteen-year-old Margaret Billie Sosi, who has gone missing from the school she attends. Her disappearance turns out to be connected to the murder of a distant kinsman Albert Gorman. A Los Angeles Navajo, Gorman had moved to the Reservation not very long before he was killed. Chee tracks Sosi to Los Angeles, but she disappears again. When Chee learns what, exactly, links the missing teenager to the murder, he finds out the truth about both. As he does, we see the effect that feeling cornered has on Sosi. I can say without spoiling the novel that she’s not a ‘demon seed’ ‘baddie.’ But like anyone else, she has an instinct to stay alive.

That same instinct is woven into Walter Mosley’s A Red Death. In that story, Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins gets a threatening letter from IRS agent Reginald Lawrence. The letter claims that Rawlins owes thousands of dollars to the agency; if he doesn’t pay, he’ll be imprisoned. Rawlins knows that he can’t pay the debt, and prepares to go to jail. Then, a solution comes in the form of FBI agent Darrell Craxton. Craxton wants Rawlins to help bring down suspected communist Chaim Wentzler. In return, Craxton will make those tax problems go away. Seeing no other choice, Rawlins reluctantly agrees. As he gets to know Wentzler, he forms a friendship with the man and becomes less and less inclined to be a part of Craxton’s plans. Then, one of the other residents in Rawlins’ apartment building apparently commits suicide. And there are two other deaths, both clearly murders. Rawlins is innocent, but he was present at both crime scenes, so the LAPD have him in their sights. At the same time, he’s doing his best to resolve his dilemma about Chaim Wentzler. Feeling very much cornered, Rawlins does what he feels he has to do to deal with both issues.

In one plot thread of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Death of a Nightingale, Natasha Doroshenko flees the Ukraine with her daughter Katerina after the murder of Natasha’s husband Pavel. He was a controversial journalist whose stories had angered the wrong people. At first, Natasha thinks she and her daughter have found safety in Denmark. She even falls in love again with Michael Vestergaard. Then, everything changes. Natasha is imprisoned for attempting to murder her fiancé. During her time in police custody, she overhears a conversation that convinces her she hasn’t escaped danger from the Ukraine. She manages to elude the police and heads for Coal House Camp, a Red Cross facility where Katerina has been staying. Natasha’s goal is to retrieve her daughter and flee again. As she tries to do so, we see the effect of feeling cornered on the choices she makes and the things she does.

There are also examples of what people do when they feel cornered in Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Digger’s Rest Hotel. It’s 1947, and Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin has recently returned from harrowing service in World War II. He’s seconded to the town of Wodonga, where the local police are dealing with a series of robberies committed by a motorcycle gang. The most recent one has ended in serious injury, so there’s a lot of pressure to solve these crimes as quickly as possible. In the process of working this case, Berlin gets involved in another: the body of fifteen-year-old Jenny Lee has been found in an alley. At first, Berlin thinks that her death is connected with the robberies. But he learns that the motorcycle gang was not involved. Now he has to find out the truth about both cases. And I can say without spoiling the story that that sense of feeling cornered, with no way out, plays an important role.

It does in Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, too. Fourteen-year-old Adam Vander has finally managed to escape his abusive father, Joe. But Adam’s been so kept away from the world that he’s completely unprepared for life ‘on the outside.’ This makes him extremely vulnerable. He finds a protector in Billy Benson, a young man who visits the house just as Adam’s preparing to make his escape. Billy takes Adam under his wing, as the saying goes, and helps him with basics like a place to stay, clothes and food. During the week they spend together, the two become friends. They also get mixed up in some very real danger that threatens both of them. As the story goes on, Adam and Billy have to face some very unsettling truths about themselves and their pasts. And throughout the novel, the suspense is built as both of them react to both the danger and those truths. In more than one place, that sense of being cornered plays an important role in what they do.

When people believe they’re trapped, the instinct to stay alive sometimes takes over, as it does when any animal senses that it’s cornered. And the impact of that feeling can make for a solid layer of tension in a novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jeff Lynne’s No Way Out.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Geoffrey McGeachin, Honey Brown, Lene Kaaberbøl, Tony Hillerman, Walter Mosley

‘Cause When It’s All For One, It’s One For All*

CollectivismTo a greater or lesser extent, cultures tend to be either collectivist or individualist. In collectivist cultures, the emphasis is on group membership and group achievement. The individual gets her or his identity from the group, and in turn is responsible to that group. Collectivism also often includes a strong sense of duty to family, including extended family.

It’s more complex than that, as most concepts involving people are, and cultures and groups do vary greatly in the degree to which they are collectivist. Sound boring? It’s not, when you think of what it means on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully a few examples from crime fiction will show you what I mean.

There are several intances of the way collectivism works in Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn novels. In The Ghostway, for instance, Chee is assigned to locate a missing sixteen-year-old Navajo teen Margaret Billy Sosi, who’s disappeared from her school. This case turns out to be related to the death of Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo who’s recently moved to the Big Reservation. What these cases have in common is kinship. Margaret Billy Sosi is distantly related to Albert Gorman, who at one point stays with Margaret’s grandfather. Chee uncovers this relationship, and since he is also a member of the Navajo Nation, he understands the ties that bind extended families. He tracks Margaret to the Los Angeles area where he gets important information about both investigations. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t occur to Margaret to avoid danger, stay in school, focus on her studies, and so on. She is a part of the web that links all Navajos and her family in particular. So naturally she does what she can to help. And I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that the Navajo community takes responsibility for her, too, when she is in need of them.

We also see collectivism in action in Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. One plot thread concerns two young girls, Preeti and Basanti, who are members of India’s Bedia group. Their families are in desperate need for money, and their one sure way out is if the girls enter the dhanda, a name for India’s sex trade. The idea is that their families will be paid money for their services. After working for a few years, they’ll return to their villages with yet more money, and be ready to settle back into community life. Instead of being seen as ‘cheap whores,’ young women who do this actually command a type of respect for fulfilling their duties to their families and helping to see that their siblings don’t starve. Preeti and Basanti are taken to Scotland, where they are separated. Basanti gets free of the people who are keeping her as soon as she can, and goes looking for her friend. She soon discovers that the key may be oceanographer Calladh ‘Cal’ McGill. With his help, she finds out what happened to Preeti.

One of Timothy Hallinan’s series features ‘rough travel’ writer Phillip ‘Poke’ Rafferty, an ex-pat American now living in Bangkok. His wife Rose is a former bar girl who has opened up her own apartment-cleaning company. Rose has much to teach Rafferty about the Thai culture in which they live, and one of those lessons has to do with her sense of collective identity and duty to friends and family. She left her home village and ended up as a bar girl so that she could make money to send back to her family. It would never occur to her to do anything else with any extra money she has. And although she’s endured more than her share as a bar girl, it would also not occur to her not to contribute to her family’s welfare. As an aside, Rose’s employees are all former bar girls she’s known who want to get out of that life. Her sense of group membership is strong enough that their welfare is her welfare. So they’re the natural choice when she is ready to hire people.

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney takes on a new client, Jim Delbeck. His daughter Maryanne was a volunteer at New Life Children’s Center, a Pattaya home for adoptable babies and young children whose families can’t take care of them. She jumped, or fell, or was pushed, from the roof of the building where she lived, and Delbeck’s been trying to find out how it happened. The police theory is that she committed suicide, but Delbeck doesn’t believe it. So Keeney travels to Pattaya to investigate. As she does, she gets to know several of the volunteers at New Life, and some of the young women whose children are ‘boarders’ there. In their lives, we see how important kinship and extended family networks are in this society. Not to have such a network is devastating to someone who’s been brought up in a collectivist culture.

We also see collectivism in Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels. Tempest is half-Aboriginal, but has spent several years away from her roots at Moonlight Downs. When she returns to her home in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs) she is welcomed as a family member and taken in. There isn’t much at the Moonlight Downs encampment, but Tempest is welcome to what there is. She is part of the community. For her part, Tempest feels just as responsible to that community. In Gunshot Road, for instance, she briefly takes in Danny Brambles, a fifteen-year-old who’s going through some personal difficulties. It never occurs to her to do anything else. The Brambles family is part of her group – her mob – so she has a responsibility to them.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen novels take place mostly in Shanghai. While there are many cultures in China, one dominant cultural force is the traditional Confucian belief in filial duty. And in several novels in this series, we see examples of characters (including Chen) who place a premium on caring for loved ones. Other characters send money to their families, or promote the careers of family members. Sometimes that works very well; sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s a clear example of how collectivism has become infused into the Chinese culture. We also see that in another way too. A high degree of loyalty to the state is expected of everyone, and it’s also expected that everyone will make many personal sacrifices to further the good of China. Individuals are strongly discouraged from amassing great personal wealth or calling a lot of attention to themselves. The collective is more important.

Readers of series such as Stan Jones’ Nathan Active novels, M.J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk novels or Scott Young’s Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak novels will know know that collectivism is an important part of many Arctic and Far North Native/First Nations communities. In those novels, among many groups, people do take responsibility for each other. Doors are left unlocked, food and supplies are gladly shared and so on. Of course, it’s not quite so simple as that, but there is a sense that one person’s welfare impacts everyone’s. And that makes sense in a place like the Far North, where it’s well nigh impossible to go it alone.

These are by no means the only examples of collectivism that we see in crime fiction (I know, I know, fans of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte). But they serve to illustrate how that cultural dimension can add richness to a character or a community.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bryan Adams, Robert John Lange and Michael Kaman’s All For Love.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Angela Savage, Arthur Upfield, M.J. McGrath, Mark Douglas-Home, Qiu Xiaolong, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman