Category Archives: Vicki Delany

And Who Was Wrong? And Who Was Right? It Didn’t Matter in the Thick of the Fight*

MemorialDay2015Most people will likely say that they don’t like war. War is ugly, dirty, bloody and brutal, and no-one leaves unscathed, even if one makes it home from the war. And there’ve been conscientious objectors to armed conflict for a very long time.

But some wars give rise to especially strong controversy, and feelings run very high about them. Yet, those who serve their country in the military have to participate in those wars, whether they want to or no, whether they think their country should be involved or no.

Among the modern wars generating perhaps the most controversy has been the Vietnam War. Emotions about that war still are still strong; and at the time, conflicts between those who opposed involvement in the war and those who supported it sometimes turned deadly.

Caught in the middle, as you might say, were members of the military. Whatever their own feelings about the war, they were expected to go. And those who came back often received far from a hero’s welcome. Add this to the not-very-surprising struggles they had with the trauma of surviving a bloody conflict, and it’s not surprising that many Vietnam veterans have had serious difficulties.

The controversy over the war in Vietnam has also, not surprisingly, found its way into crime fiction. Here are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of many, many more than I could, anyway.

Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian By Night treats this theme. Sheldon Hororwitz is an octogenarian, originally from New York, who’s gone to live in Oslo to be nearer his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars. One plot thread of this novel concerns Horowitz looking back on his life and, especially, on the death of his son Saul in Vietnam. Horowitz feels a great deal of guilt about Saul’s death, because as he sees it, he’s responsible. He persuaded his son to go, telling him that it was his responsibility to support his country – to show how loyal he was, to put it another way. During his first stint there, Saul experienced some horrible things that made him question everything about the war. But he went back for a second tour; this time he didn’t come home. Among many other things, this profoundly affects Horowitz’ feelings about Rhea. And it impacts what he does when he gets mixed up in a case of murder.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch comes face to face with his memories of service in Vietnam in The Black Echo. In that novel, the body of an unidentified man is found stuffed in a drainpipe. The dead man turns out to be Billy Meadows, whom Bosch knew when both served in the war in Vietnam. Both men were ‘tunnel rats,’ responsible for finding and destroying the Viet Cong’s underground bunkers and supplies. Like many veterans, Meadows struggled with heroin addiction, so at first, his death is put down to an accidental overdose. But Bosch still feels the connection from the war, and starts asking questions. It turns out that Meadows’ death is more than just a junkie who overdosed. It’s connected to a large bank heist and to wartime events. In both Bosch and Meadows, we see how people came back from Vietnam physically alive, but bearing a lot of scars from service. Fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux will know that he also is a Vietnam veteran. Like Bosch, he saw more than his share of ugliness in the war, and it still haunts him.

Service in Vietnam was hard enough for those who volunteered for military service before the war began. It was even harder for those who were conscripted. Many people were so opposed to the war that they chose not to fight. Instead, they went to Canada, rather than be drafted. Vicki Delany treats this theme in In the Shadow of the Glacier. Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith is a fledgling constable for the Trafalgar, BC Police. She gets her first ‘trial by fire’ when she discovers the body of controversial developer Reginald Montgomery. Once it’s clear that Montgomery was murdered, Smith and her superior, Sergeant John Winters, investigate. In one plot thread of this novel, the town of Trafalgar is faced with a dilemma. Ex-pat American Larry O’Reilly has recently died. He came to Canada to avoid being drafted in the war in Vietnam and felt strongly that those who acted according to their consciences should be honoured. So in his will, he’s bequeathed a large sum of money to the town on condition that the money be used to create such a memorial. On the one hand, many citizens, including Smith’s mother Lucy ‘Lucky’ want to do as O’Reilly wanted and create a Peace Garden. Others (and Montgomery was among these) oppose the idea. They’re afraid that it might be too controversial (and therefore, bad for business), since many Americans viewed those who went to Canada as traitors. It’s not an easy question, and still causes a lot of hurt on both sides. And it’s a source of real tension in the story.

And then there’s George Pelecanos’ Hard Revolution, which serves as a prequel to his Derek Strange series. In this novel, Strange is a rookie cop in 1968 Washington, DC, a town on the point of revolution sparked by racial tension and controversy over the war in Vietnam. Burning, rioting and so on are convulsing the city; and it seems as though society is coming apart at the proverbial seams. Strange is a Black cop in a dangerous situation, and it gets even worse when his older brother Dennis gets drawn into a scheme to rob a local shop. Meanwhile, another person Strange knows, Dominic Martini, gets involved with a group of White thugs in the drunken murder of a young Black man and a planned bank robbery. The two events play out against the turbulent times, and Strange has to do his best to negotiate all of the high emotion as he tries to do his job. Both Dennis Strange and Dominic Martini have served tours in Vietnam, and it’s scarred both of them. Here’s what Martini has to say about his return from service:
 

‘In bars, he no longer talked about Vietnam. It didn’t help him with women and sometimes it spurred unwelcome comments from men. When he mentioned his tour of duty, it seemed to lead to no good.’
 

Many Vietnam veterans had a similar experience.

Today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) the US observes Memorial Day, a time to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do that in any case, let alone in the case of an unpopular war. Whatever your feelings about Vietnam, I think it’s important to honour the memories of those who died there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is from Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon.

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Filed under Derek B. Miller, George Pelecanos, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Vicki Delany

The Shouts of Joy Skiing Fast Through the Woods*

SkiingDo you enjoy skiing? For people who do, there’s nothing like the feeling of almost flying as you go along. It’s good physical activity and it can be a lot of fun. But is it really healthy? Not if you read crime fiction. If you think about it, a ski lodge and ski slopes are terrific contexts for mysteries. You have a disparate group of people and lots of opportunity on the ski lift or slopes for a murder to occur. So it’s little wonder we see skiing pop up in crime fiction as much as we do. Here are just a few examples.

In Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski, we are introduced to Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In the novel, they take a skiing trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. While they’re there, they’ll be staying at the Bella Vista Hotel. Shortly after their arrival, one of the other hotel guests, Austrian-born businessman Fritz Hauser, is shot and his body found on one of the ski lifts. Local police Capitano Spezzi and his team arrive to investigate. When they learn that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he is included in the team. Tibbett thinks he’s settled on the right suspect when there’s another murder. And this murder calls into question Tibbett’s entire theory. Once he re-thinks matters, he’s able to work out who the murderer is. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there are several impressive ski scenes in the novel.

There’s also some memorable skiing in the ‘Emma Lathen’ writing duo’s Going For the Gold. The 1980 Winter Olympic Games are set to start in Lake Placid, New York. The Sloan Guaranty Trust has won the bid to provide banking services to the athletes and their coaching staff, as well as to those there to see the competitions. John Putnam Thatcher has been sent to Lake Placid to oversee the setup of the three Lake Placid branches of the Sloan and ensure that all goes smoothly during the games. Shortly after the games begin, French ski jumper Yves Bisson is shot by a sniper as he’s making his jump. Then, one of the Sloan’s branch managers, Roger Hathaway, reports that the Sloan has lost half a million dollars in a counterfeit scheme. A counterfeit traveler’s check signed by Bisson is an important clue that those two events are related. It’s not long before Thatcher discovers that Bisson was quite possibly part of a major swindling ring. Then, another competitor, Tilly Lowengard, is disqualified when it’s discovered she was under the influence of drugs during one of her runs. She says that she’s innocent, and it’s not long before it’s clear that she’s also been a victim of the killer. Then a blizzard strikes, trapping everyone in Olympic Village. Thatcher will have to work fast to catch the killer before there’s another murder.

In Beth Groundwater’s To Hell in a Handbasket, gift basket designer Claire Hanover travels to Breckenridge, Colorado, for a ski trip with her family. One day, the group is out on the slopes when Claire hears her daughter Judy shriek. She finds Judy distraught and her brother’s girlfriend Stephanie dead of what looks like a terrible accident. The police investigate, and it’s not long before they begin to suspect that Stephanie was murdered. Since Judy was with her at the time, she becomes a ‘person of interest.’ She claims that she’s innocent and Claire is determined to prove that she is. Soon enough, Claire finds herself and her family the targets of some very ruthless people.

Skiing is also popular of course in Canada. But it’s no safer there. Just ask the Wyatt-Yarmouth family, whom we meet in Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets. Wendy Wyatt-Yarmouth, her brother Jason and four friends take a ski trip to Trafalgar, British Columbia. Tragedy strikes when the SUV the group rented goes off an icy road and into the Upper Kootenay River. Inside are Jason and his friend Ewan Williams. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and her boss Sergeant John Winter investigate and soon find something very strange. Jason was killed as a result of the accident. But Ewan, as it turns out, was dead for some hours before the SUV went off the road. Now it looks as though Ewan might have been murdered, and Smith and Winters look into the deaths more closely. I can say without spoiling this story that Smith is a very accomplished skiier, and we get to see her on the slopes in a very memorable couple of scenes.

And then there’s Jo Nesbø’s The Leopard (Could I really do a post about skiing without including Scandinavia?). At the beginning of this novel, Harry Hole is in self-imposed exile in Hong Kong. His plan is not to go back to Oslo, but then two women are found dead, killed in similar ways. It looks like the kind of case that Hary is especially good at solving, and so far, the police haven’t got any good leads. So police detective Kaja Solness is sent to Hong Kong to escort Hole to Oslo. He is, to put it mildly, reluctant. But in the end he goes with Solness when she tells him his father is severely ill. Still, he’s not eager to get involved in the investigation. Then, there’s another murder, this time of a female MP. Although it doesn’t seem so on the surface, Hole believes the cases are connected, and so they are. One of the links in the case is that all three women enjoyed skiing and went to the same ski lodge.

You see? Skiing can be an exhilarating pastime. But you do need to be careful. Which ski mysteries have you enjoyed?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Afterimage.

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Filed under Beth Groundwater, Emma Lathen, Jo Nesbø, Patricia Moyes, Vicki Delany

Gonna Climb a Mountain*

MountainsThe ‘photo shows one of the real natural treasures of Colorado – the US Rocky Mountains. Little wonder Colorado’s called the Rocky Mountain State, and Denver’s baseball team is the Colorado Rockies. The mountains are breathtaking, even from a distance. But of course, mountains can be awfully dangerous too, even if one’s accustomed to living in them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s plenty of mountainous crime fiction out there. Space only allows for a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I leave.

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski introduces readers to Scotland Yard inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In this novel, they take a trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, where they stay at the Bella Vista Hotel. This hotel caters mostly to skiers, and it’s only accessible via a long ski lift. That ski lift becomes a crime scene when of the hotel’s guests Fritz Hauser is shot and his body found on one of the downward facing cars. Capitano Spezzi and his team take on the investigation, and when Spezzi finds out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he gradually takes takes Tibbett into his confidence. Together they begin to investigate, and as they do, they learn that several people at the hotel have been hiding things. It turns out that there are several people who had a motive to murder the victim. Then there’s another murder. Now the two sleuths have to find out how those two deaths are connected.

In Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming investigates the murder of Cody Pritchard. The victim’s body was found on public land, and there’s not much evidence at first to connect him with the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Jacob Esper is shot by what appears to be the same gun. Now Longmire suspects he knows what may be behind these deaths. The two victims were part of a group of four young men who gang-raped then-sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. All four got off with what many people thought was far too light a sentence. That fact, plus some of the evidence, suggests that the killer might be a member of the Cheyenne Nation out for revenge. If so, most people won’t be in a hurry to go after that person, and the killer could be planning to target the other two young men involved in the earlier crime. So Longmire decides to track them down and try to prevent more murders. That proves to be far more difficult than he thinks, and he and his friend Henry Standing Bear end up following the trail of one of them into the mountains. When a sudden storm comes up, they end up in as much danger from nature as from the killer.

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat is set mostly in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to work at that park, and she’s settled into her job. One day Pigeon discovers the body of fellow Ranger Sheila Drury. She immediately reports the death and the police machinery is put into motion. It looks at first as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon’s hoping that’s not so. If the news gets out that a mountain lion was responsible for killing a human, it’s likely that all of the other mountain lions in the area will soon become targets for the locals. And that might put the lion population in real danger, since many of the area’s residents are none too fond of them. Besides, Pigeon has noticed a few things that aren’t consistent with murder by a big cat. So she begins to ask questions about Drury’s death, and comes up against something going on at the park that’s bigger than she had imagined.

Sam Hilliard’s Mike Brody is a former Special Forces operative who now operates an extreme adventure company S&B Outfitters. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife Jessica Barrett had arranged a holiday at Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. Despite the awkwardness, they decide to go ahead with that plan, hoping that it’ll be good for their son Andy. While they’re there, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson disappears from the ranch, where he was staying with his family. It turns out that Sean witnessed the murder of David St. John, and he’s afraid that the killer might have seen him and might come after him. So he’s run off without thinking things through – straight into some very unforgiving country. Detective Lisbeth McCarthy has found out that Brody is in the area and asks for his help in tracking Sean before the killer, or the elements, find him.

And then there’s Anne Holt’s 1222. A group of passengers is en route by train from Oslo to Bergen when there’s a crash that kills the conductor. The passengers are rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. Among those stranded by the crash is former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson, who simply wants to be left alone to live her life. But when there’s a murder at the hotel, she’s drawn into it very much against her will. Then there’s another death. And another. Now she’ll have to use her detection skills to catch the killer if there are to be no more murders.

There’s also Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone, which features Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable) decide to have a private getaway. Their plan is to take a trip to Banff, Alberta and enjoy the natural beauty – and each other’s company. Everything changes though when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. It’s not going to be easy to find him either, as he’s a very experienced camper who’s accustomed to outdoor life. What’s more, he could well be guilty of a murder that’s recently been committed, so he has to be found as quickly as possible. Lucky’s daughter, Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, doesn’t have jurisdiction in the Banff area, but she goes there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. While she’s there, Matt Keller’s girlfriend asks her to find him and help clear his name. So Smith begins to ask questions. She soon finds out that the natural dangers on a mountain are far from the only threats to her…

So as you see, mountains are beautiful. They’re important parts of the ecosystem too, and they’re delightful holiday destinations too. But safe?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See?

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Filed under Anne Holt, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, Patricia Moyes, Sam Hilliard, Vicki Delany

And You Know it Don’t Come Easy*

Investigating FriendsOne of the difficult things about being a detective is having to investigate people you know and perhaps like very much. In larger police forces in larger places, it’s easy enough to simply pull oneself or be pulled from a case (although that certainly doesn’t always happen). But in smaller communities, it’s sometimes unavoidable. It’s very hard on the suspect or witness, and it’s no easier for the detective. That tension and awkwardness can add a layer of suspense to a story, though, and it does happen. So it’s little wonder we see this plot point in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple faces this situation at times. In novels such as The Body in the Library and The Murder at the Vicarage, it’s clear that someone who lives in or near Miss Marple’s village of St. Mary Mead is a killer. In that sort of community, at least at the time these novels were written, everyone knows everyone and that includes Miss Marple. On the surface, Miss Marple is a harmless elderly spinster whom some people dismiss easily. But under that surface she’s really not that sentimental when it comes to finding out who committed a crime. But that doesn’t mean she enjoys suspecting someone who’s lived in the village for a long time. She’s sometimes in a very awkward position when it turns out that someone she’s known has committed murder.

Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith faces the same sort of awkwardness. She grew up in Trafalgar, British Columbia, and now serves the community as a police constable. Many of the people she interacts with watched her grow up, or went to school with her, or in some other way have known her for a long time. And that can make things difficult when she’s on a murder case. For instance, in In the Shadow of the Glacier, Smith discovers the body of developer Reginald Montgomery in an alley. It’s soon established that he was murdered, and Smith works with Sergeant John Winters to find out who the killer is. For Smith, part of the process involves interviewing suspects and witnesses that she’s known for a long time. And there are several possibilities; Montgomery was a partner in a new resort/spa that’s planned for the area. Many of the local people don’t want the resort, as they’re concerned about its effect on the environment and on the local culture. And like everyone else, Montgomery had a personal life that also needs to be explored. That aspect of the case is awkward for Smith, especially since she’s new on the job. Despite that though, Smith and Winters find out the truth about Montgomery’s murder.

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, we meet fishing lodge owner John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife Rosie live in the small Saskatchewan town of Crooked Lake, where they’re raising their two children. Bart gets involved in a murder investigation when his friend Nick Taylor is accused of murder. Taylor was recently fired from his job as Head Greenskeeper at the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. When he learned of his separation, Taylor had a loud and public argument with Harvey Kristoff, who’s on the course’s Board of Directors. He believes Kristoff is behind a move to ‘railroad’ him and blames him for what’s happened. So Taylor is the most logical suspect when Kristoff is found murdered on the golf course. But Taylor claims that he’s innocent. Bart was one of the last people to speak to Taylor before the crime, so his insights are important, and Taylor’s lawyer wants his help in clearing his client’s name. Bart agrees to help, but there is evidence against his friend and that makes him uncomfortable. And matters don’t improve even after he learns things that cast real doubt on Taylor’s possible guilt. If Nick Taylor is innocent, it means someone else – quite probably someone Bart has lunch with or does business with – is guilty. That tension adds a real layer of interest to this novel as Bart goes about finding out who killed Harvey Kristoff.

Several entries in Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series take place in the small French town of St. Denis, in the Périgord. Bruno has lived there for some time, and in a town like St. Denis, everyone knows everyone anyway. He’s established solid ties with the local residents and in turn, they more or less trust him. On the one hand, that makes for strong community relations, which does make it easier to do police work. On the other, it means that sometimes Bruno has to deal with the awkwardness of interviewing witnesses and suspects he knows well and likes. We see a situation like this in Black Diamond, which begins with the closing of a local sawmill that has been in business for a long time. New pollution regulations from the EU, plus a vocal and active group of environmentalists, have meant that the factory is having to close. Bruno isn’t looking forward to the event, because it will mean job losses for the area. It’ll also mean very hard feelings since he has to protect the factory’s owner, whom he knows and with whom he has some sympathy. It doesn’t help matters that the factory owner’s chief critic is his own estranged son. As Bruno fears, the closure doesn’t end well, and it means trouble for St. Denis. So does the discovery that illegal smuggling may be undercutting the valuable local truffle trade. When one of Bruno’s good friends is murdered, it seems this death may be connected with that smuggling, since he was tracking it. But as you can imagine, it’s not that simple…

And then there’s Julia Keller’s Bitter River, which takes place mostly in the small West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap. When the body of sixteen-year-old Lucinda Trimble is pulled from Bitter River, it looks on the surface as though she drowned as the result of her car plunging into the river. But soon enough it’s proven that she was dead of strangulation before the car went in. Now it’s a murder investigation and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong has to interview people he’s known for years – people he doesn’t want to believe are guilty. For example one of the people Fogelsong has to talk to is Lucinda’s mother Maddie, with whom Fogelsong had a relationship many years earlier. Prosecuting attorney Belfa ‘Bell’ Elkins works with Fogelsong to find out who killed Lucinda and why. Elkins is from Acker’s Gap, so she too faces the uncomfortable prospect of interviewing people she’s known all her life.

And that’s the thing about working among people one knows. On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for strong community relations. They’re important. On the other hand, that means that sometimes, the detective ends up having to investigate acquaintances and friends, even very good friends. And that can be terribly difficult. I’ve mentioned a few examples. Over to you.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ringo Starr’s It Don’t Come Easy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Julia Keller, Martin Walker, Nelson Brunanski, Vicki Delany

It’s a Light and Tumble Journey*

Wildlife SanctuariesI’ve been fortunate enough to visit animal preserves and sanctuaries on three different continents. They can be breathtakingly beautiful places, and certainly give one a perspective on a lot of things. At least they do me. And it is fascinating to see all sorts of animals that you can’t see anywhere else.

But animal preserves and sanctuaries have a dangerous side to them too. There are all sorts of political and economic issues around them, and that’s to say nothing of the animals themselves. So it’s no wonder that this setting comes up in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you can think of lots more than I could.

Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger. In that capacity, she is sent to a variety of different US parks and preserves, and she knows first-hand how dangerous those places can be. For instance, in Track of the Cat, she’s been assigned to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There she discovers the body of a fellow ranger Sheila Drury one morning. At first, it looks as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, and there’s the local outcry about it that you’d expect. It doesn’t help matters that the locals have never liked the fact that mountain lions living within the boundaries of the national park are off limits to hunters. They resent what they see as the damage caused by the animals and the government’s unwillingness to protect their land. Pigeon isn’t so sure that the culprit was a lion though, and she certainly doesn’t want mountain lions to become the targets of hunters. So she begins to ask questions. In the process she discovers that the victim’s death had a very human cause…

Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, features in Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable of Police) have decided to take a trip to Banff, in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Their plan is for some relaxing ‘just the two of us’ time. But that’s not how it works out. Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. And since he’s experienced at camping and living in the outdoors, he could be anywhere and it would be very hard to find him. What’s more, he may very well be guilty of murder. Banff isn’t within the jurisdiction of Lucky’s daughter, Trafalgar Police Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. But she travels there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. Then Matt’s girlfriend begs her to clear his name, claiming that he’s innocent. So Molly begins to ask some questions. And you thought bears, cougars and wolverines were the biggest living threats in the park…

In Michael Sears’ and Stanley Trollip’s (AKA Michael Stanley) A Carrion Death, Professor of Ecology Benani Sibisi has taken a trip to Dale’s Camp, on the verge of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. He’s out in the field one day when he discovers the body of an unknown man. At first it looks as though the man was killed by wild animals; certainly hyenas have already paid the body a visit. Botswana CID Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu is called to the scene and supervises sending the remains for forensics testing, mostly to try to identify the victim. Results of that testing suggest that the man was murdered. Now it’s even more important to find out who he was and what he was doing at the Reserve. So Kubu and his team begin to look more closely into the case. They find a connection between the dead man and the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC), a powerful voice in the country’s economic and political arenas. That connection makes this case delicate, since the Botswana government has a major interest in making sure that the company remains a going concern. In the end, though, Kubu is able to find out who the dead man was and how his murder is related to events and interactions at BCMC.

Much of Michael Allan Mallory and Marilyn Victor’s Killer Instinct takes place at the Minnesota Wolf Institute (MWI), which in part functions as a preserve for wolves. Zookeeper Lavender ‘Snake’ Jones is invited to the MWI to film an episode of her television documentary series Zoofari. When she arrives, she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous controversy. Her friend Gina Brown, a biologist associated with the MWI, is a passionate defender of wolves and their preservation. That pits Brown against several locals, led by Ivar Bjorkland, who want to see the wolves exterminated. In fact, they have a very public dispute about the matter when four wolves are illegally killed. Then, Bjorkland is found murdered. Jones is worried that her friend might have been involved in the killing, although she doesn’t want to think so. Then there’s another murder. And another. Now Jones has to help clear her friend’s name and stop the killer before there’s another death. Wolves are by no means the most dangerous species in this novel…

In Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, Emma le Roux hires professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer to accompany her from Cape Town to the Lowveld to find out the truth about her missing brother Jacobus. He disappeared twenty-five years earlier in what everyone thought was a skirmish with poachers. But now Emma thinks he’s still alive. So she wants to trace his history from Kruger National Park, his last known whereabouts. She and Lemmer arrive in the area only to find out that this is much more than the case of a man who was killed by dangerous poachers. In the end, they find out that the truth about Jacobus le Roux is related to coverups, corruption and ugly realities about politics and environmentalism. Along the way, they visit more than one animal preserve, and it’s interesting to read the different perspectives and views on taking care of South Africa’s unique ecosytems while at the same time nurturing the economy.

New Zealand’s Rimutaka State Forest is the scene of some of the action in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Wellington missing person expert Diane Rowe is hired by Inspector Frank McFay to trace the identity of a ‘John Doe’ whose body has been found in the forest. There isn’t much to go on at first, but with the help of pathologist Grant ‘Smithy’ Smith, Rowe slowly learns that the man was in his twenties when he died, and that he died sometime during the early1970s. Bit by bit, Rowe puts the pieces together and finds out who the man was. At the same time, she’s on another case of her own choosing. Her sister Niki was murdered a year ago. Now, the man who claims he was paid to kill Niki has himself been murdered in the same way. Rowe believes that if she can find out who killed the ‘hit man,’ she’ll find out who’s responsible for her sister’s murder. Although the wildlife in the forest doesn’t hold the key to Niki’s death, the forest does have its role to play in the events in the story.

And that’s thing about animal preserves and sanctuaries. They can seem like peaceful places, and their natural beauty is practically unmatched. But safe? Erm – possibly not. I’ve only had space here to mention a few examples (I know, I know, fans of Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap and Blue Lightning). Which stories with this context have stayed in your mind?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s At the Zoo.

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Filed under Ann Cleeves, Deon Meyer, Donna Malane, Marilyn Victor, Michael Allan Mallory, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Nevada Barr, Stanley Trollip, Vicki Delany