Category Archives: Virginia Duigan

My Mama Once Told Me of a Place With Waterfalls and Unicorns Flying*

It’s interesting how legends, if that’s what you want to call them, are built up around certain places. The reality seldom lives up to the promise of the legend, and most people know that intellectually. But the allure is often still there. So, people ‘buy into’ those legends. That’s why people can be sold on timeshares, ‘that perfect little place,’ and so on.

In crime fiction, those legends can add an interesting layer of tension as characters discover the truth behind the legend. And there are possibilities for character development, too. And that atmosphere, where reality and legend clash, can make for a solid background to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we are introduced to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use the money to take a trip to Le Pinet, which she’s heard about from clients. Jane’s neither gullible nor unintelligent, but the place does have a mystique about it. She finds, though, that Le Pinet isn’t anything as magical as the legends suggest. And on the flight back to London, she gets mixed up in a case of murder. One of the fellow passengers, a Parisian moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight (and, incidentally, quite suspicious as far as the coroner’s jury is concerned!). He works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who would have wanted the victim dead. I agree with you, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

There are all sorts of legends built up around the ‘perfect suburban place, with white picket fence.’ And we see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Walter and Joanna Eberhart decide to move from New York City to the small Connecticut town of Stepford. The story is that it’s a lovely town with low taxes and good schools, and they want to be part of that dream, so to speak. They and their two children settle in, and all promises to go well. But soon, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe begins to suspect that something is wrong with Stepford. Joanna doesn’t believe her at first, but soon some strange and frightening things show all too clearly that Bobbie was right. Some very dark things are going on in the town…

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move introduces readers to sci-fi novelist Zack Walker and his journalist wife, Sarah. He’s been concerned for some time about the safety of the city where he and his family live. Convinced by the legends of idyllic suburban life, Walker wants to move his family to a new development called Valley Forest Estates. Soon after they arrive, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t the ‘perfect suburban community’ Walker had thought it was. For one thing, the new house needs several repairs. Walker soon discovers, too, that all is not as it seems in this community. Matters come to a head one day when he discovers the body of a local environmentalist in a nearby creek. The more Walker tries to keep himself and his family safe, the more danger he seems to find. The ‘white picket fence’ suburban dream turns out to be nothing like the sales brochures…

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice takes place mostly in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Former school principal Thea Farmer has bought land there, and had a custom-made house built. For her, this is going to be the perfect home in the perfect place. It’s something she’s dreamed of doing. Then, bad luck and poor financial decision-making mean she has to settle for the house next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ Worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home Thea still thinks of as hers. As if that weren’t enough, Frank’s niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Now, Thea has to cope with the loss of her beautiful home as well as the fact that ‘invaders’ have taken it over. Unexpectedly, though, she forms an awkward sort of friendship with Kim, and sees promise in her. That’s why it’s so upsetting for Thea when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for the girl. When the police won’t do anything about it (they really can’t without clear evidence), Thea decides to take her own measures…

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi,’ and her partner, Yossi Shalev, move from London to Claire’s native Auckland. For Yossi, New Zealand is an almost ideal setting. He wants to live as far away as possible from the war and conflict he knew in Israel. And he’s excited to start over in what, to him, seems like the perfect place. Roi is happy about the move, too. Her mother has said very little about her background (and Roi’s), and Roi is curious to learn more. But Claire is not at all eager for the move, she had good reasons for leaving New Zealand in the first place. Her father, Patrick, was arrested and tried for the 1970 murder of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. Although there was never enough evidence to keep him in prison, plenty of people think he was guilty. Claire doesn’t want to go back to those memories. But, for Yossi’s sake, she goes along with the plan. Everything works well enough at first. Then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. Claire wants to plan an operation to remove the growth, but Rory’s parents refuse on religious grounds. The conflict between them gets media attention and before long, Claire’s in the public spotlight. And that’s when some journalists bring up the Kathryn Phillips murder. Now, Claire will have to fight to keep her family safe from the media blitz, and try to do the best she can for her patient.

And that’s the thing about ‘buying into’ stories about perfect places and lifestyles. In real life, and in crime fiction, the reality can be quite different from the ideal. And that can lead in all sorts of dangerous directions.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Sal Tlay Ka Siti.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay, Sue Younger, Virginia Duigan

I Hope You’re Enjoyin’ the Scenery*

Have you ever visited a place (even locally to you) just for the scenery? Or taken a longer (but more scenic) route to get somewhere? There are many places with breathtaking scenery, so it’s not surprising that people visit them, spend holidays in those places, and so on.

Scenery can be a good reason for a real-life trip (or ‘road stop’). But in crime fiction, it doesn’t always work out well. Just because the scenery is interesting (or even gorgeous) doesn’t mean a place is safe…

For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Katherine Grey. She’s spent the last ten years in the village of St. Mary Mead, serving as a paid companion. When her employer dies, Katherine is shocked to learn that she’s inherited a fortune. One thing Katherine wants to do with her new-found wealth is to travel. She wants a change of scenery, at least for a while, so she decides to accept a distant relative’s invitation and go to Nice. Part of her journey takes her on the famous Blue Train, where she meets Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. The two strike up a conversation, which turns out to be one of the last interactions Ruth has. She’s found strangled the next day, and the police are called in. Katherine isn’t really a suspect, but she is a ‘person of interest,’ so she gets involved in the murder investigation. Hercule Poirot is on the same train, and he works with the police to find out who the killer is. Nice doesn’t turn out to be the restful, lovely trip it might seem on the surface…

In Dorothy L. Sayer’s Have His Carcase, mystery novelist Harriet Vane decides to take in some scenery on a hiking holiday. At first, she enjoys the trip. The scenery is beautiful, and it’s good to get away for a break. Everything changes one afternoon when she stops near the town of Wilvercombe. It’s been a tiring morning, so she decides to take a rest by the beach. When she wakes, she discovers a dead man. She alerts the authorities, and an investigation begins. It turns out that the dead man is Paul Alexis, a Russian-born professional dancer who works at a local hotel. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet discovers the truth about the victim, and finds the murderer.

Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair begins when publisher/bookseller Gilbert Hand decides to take the advice of his doctor and move to London, so he can get a change of scenery. He’s still coping with the death of his beloved wife, Rachel, and it’s hoped that the move will help. Hand takes a room in a very respectable hotel, and settles in. One day, he opens the davenport in the room he’s been given, and discovers a silk scarf in which is wrapped a coil of long, dark hair. Curious about whose hair it might be, and how it got there, Hand begins to ask some questions. He learns that the man who had his room previously is named Freddie Doyle, and sets about to learn who Doyle is. He becomes even more curious when Doyle shows up at the hotel, asking for the ‘package.’ Little by little, Hand becomes obsessed with Doyle, and begins to see them as opponents in a sort of chess game. Before long, things spin out of control, and the result is tragedy.

Things turn tragic in Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, too. Three young men, Jon Moreno, Axel Frimann, and Philip Reilly, decide to spend a weekend at a cabin by Dead Water Lake. The scenery is lovely, and it’s hoped that a break will do them all good. They’re especially concerned about Jon, who’s recently been released from a mental institution, and is still quite fragile. At first, all goes well. But one night, the three men go out on the lake and a tragedy occurs. Only two come back. Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate. In the meantime, another body is recovered, this time from Glitter Lake. So, the detectives also have to determine whether the two incidents are related. Very slowly, they piece together what happened. In this case, the cabin by the lake doesn’t turn out to be peaceful at all…

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. In it, former school principal Thea Farmer buys some property in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. Partly, she wants to live away from a lot of people. She also loves the scenery. So, she has the perfect home custom-built. Then, bad luck and poor financial decision-making leave her with no choice but to sell the house she’s bought, and settle for the one next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ As if that’s not bad enough, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home that Thea still thinks of as hers. Now, she has to put up with people nearby, and in ‘her’ house!  Then, Frank’s niece Kim moves in with him and Ellice. At first, Thea thinks that will make things only worse. But to her surprise, she finds herself forming a kind of awkward friendship with the girl. And that’s one reason she gets so upset when she begins to believe that Frank isn’t providing an appropriate environment for Kim. Thea tries to tell the police, but there’s nothing they can do. So, she makes her own plans. The Blue Mountains may be breathtaking, but that doesn’t mean they’re peaceful and friendly…

And that’s the thing about scenery. No matter how gorgeous it is, you never know what might lurk. So be careful if you go out for a ‘Sunday drive.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Come Monday.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Dorothy L. Sayers, Karin Fossum, Virginia Duigan

You’re Kidding Yourself*

self-deceptionIt’s said that the biggest lies, and the most difficult to get past, are the ones we tell ourselves. To an extent, we all do a bit a self-deception (e.g. ‘It’s just one piece of cake, after all;’ ‘It’s not my fault! ____ made a complete mess of this project;’ ‘Why are all these people such bad drivers?’). And just a little self-deception is usually harmless enough (it is, after all, just the one piece of cake, right?). But the less honest we are with ourselves, the more trouble we can find.

Don’t believe me? There are plenty of examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean. Crime-fictional characters who deceive themselves can add a solid source of tension to a novel. What’s more, they can be interesting reflections of our human nature.

For instance, in Megan Abbott’s 1950’s-era historical novel Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She has a close relationship with her brother, Bill, who’s a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office. Lora’s life may not be overly exciting, but she’s content. Then, Bill meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele. From the very beginning, Lora doesn’t think much of Alice, and she’s very uncomfortable with what she sees as Alice’s dubious past. But, for Bill’s sake, she tries to make her relationship with Alice work. That gets more difficult, though, when Bill and Alice marry. The more Lora learns about Alice, the more questions she has about her new sister-in-law, and that doesn’t help matters, either. At the same time as Lora is repelled by Alice’s life, though, she is also drawn to it. And it’s interesting to see how she doesn’t really admit that to herself. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could be involved in it. In what she tells herself is an attempt to protect Bill, Lora begins to ask questions about the murder. But what, really, are her motives? And what does she really want from her life?

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice features former school principal Thea Farmer. When she left her position, her plan had been to have a house built for herself in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. But a combination of bad luck and poor financial judgement changed everything. Now, Thea’s had to settle for the house next door – a home she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ What’s worse, the home she still thinks of as hers has been purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington – a couple she refers to as ‘the invaders.’ Then, Frank’s niece, Kim, comes to live with him and Ellice. To her surprise, Thea finds herself developing an awkward sort of friendship with the girl. She sees real writing promise in Kim, and even takes the girl to the writing class she’s been attending. When Thea comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim, she learns that the police are unlikely to do anything about it as things are. So, Thea decides to take matters into her own hands. Thea is a strong, intelligent character. But it’s interesting to see how she is also able to deceive herself. Her story is told through a series of journal entries that she makes for her writing class; and in those entries, we see how she views people and events in her life. But what is the real truth about the reason she left the school where she was principal? And what about the circumstances that led to her financial difficulties? There are solid hints here that Thea isn’t entirely honest with herself.

That’s also true of Gates Hunt, whom we meet in Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit. He and his brother, Mason, were raised in poverty, in an abusive home. But each had the means to get out. Mason has taken advantage of scholarships and other opportunities, and now has a ‘free ride’ to law school. Gates has a great deal of natural athletic ability, and has been told he could go far with that. But he’s chosen to squander his talent, and has ended up living on money he gets from his mother, and on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments. One, night, the Hunt brothers are driving home after a night out when they encounter Gates’ romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. An argument they had earlier in the day flares up again, and before anyone really knows it, Gates has shot Thompson. Mason helps his brother cover up the crime, and life goes on for the Hunt brothers. Years later, Mason has become the commonwealth (of Virginia) prosecutor for Patrick County. Gates has gotten involved in drug dealing. When he’s arrested and handed a very long sentence, he begs his brother to get him out. This time, Mason refuses to help. Gates retaliates by implicating Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder, and now Mason may stand trial for the killing. Throughout this novel, we see how Gates deceives himself. He blames others for his bad choices, and he doesn’t consider his own role in what’s happened to his life.

There’s a lot of self-deception in Herman Koch’s The Dinner. One night, Paul Lohman and his wife, Claire, have dinner at an exclusive Amsterdam restaurant with Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. As the story goes on, and each different course is brought, we slowly get to know these characters. And we learn that these couples have a very dark secret. Their fifteen-year-old sons went in together in a terrible crime. The real purpose of the meal was to work out what they’re going to do about it. And in their conversations, we see how much these people are deceiving themselves about their children, their own roles in the crime, and more.

In Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs, we are introduced to Niccolo ‘Nick’ Franco. His family came to New York from Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. At first, all went well enough, and the family began to prosper. But then, Nick’s father ended up killing Luigi Lupo in a bar fight. Unfortunately for the family, the victim turned out to be the son of notorious mobster Tonio Lupo. The bereaved father has cursed the family, promising that all three Franco sons (including Nick) will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was at his death. As we follow Nick’s story, we learn that he gets ‘the Hollywood bug’ and tries to make a name for himself in the silent films. He does well enough at first. But he has grandiose ideas about his future, and he’s not honest with himself about his mediocre acting. It doesn’t help matters that he’s fond of drugs, drink, and women. Nick’s refusal to see his own limitations end up costing him dearly.

And then there’s Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which tells the story of Piriwee Public School, near Sydney, and the families that send their children there. The story’s focus is three families in particular. Trouble starts when the son of one of those three mothers is accused of bullying. He claims he’s innocent, but the accuser’s mother is adamant. Matters get worse as other families choose sides. One night, everything comes to a boil, as the saying goes, and there’s a tragedy. As the families cope with what’s happened, we see just what lies people tell themselves – especially when it comes to their own families and children.

See what I mean? Some of the ways we deceive ourselves aren’t so bad. But some can lead to disaster. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to work on my new novel. It’s only going to take me a couple of weeks, and I know it’s Nobel-worthy – way better than anything else out there.  What?! It is!  😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Herman Koch, Liane Moriarty, Martin Clark, Megan Abbott, Virginia Duigan

‘Cause I Speak My Mind Sometimes*

bluntnessI’ll bet that, when you were a child, you were taught to be tactful. And most people do try not to be too blunt when they speak. Things just seem to go more smoothly when we temper what we say. And yet, sometimes people say things in a very forthright way. In a sense, it’s refreshing; you know where you are with such folks. At the same time, though, too much bluntness can make for awkwardness or worse. My guess is, you’ve had that experience in real life. And it’s certainly there in crime fiction.

The interesting thing about blunt statements is that they can reveal a lot about a character without the author having to go into too much detail. And bluntness can give clues to a story, too.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal) introduces us to the Abernethie family. Patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died of what seems like natural causes, and his relatives have gathered for his funeral. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle also intends to use the occasion to share the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up; she herself tells the family not to pay any attention to what she’s said. But privately, everyone thinks she may be right. And when she is murdered the next day, it seems clear that what she said is true. Entwhistle visits Hercule Poirot and asks him to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. One thing that’s interesting about Cora’s character is that she’s always been prone to what Entwhistle calls, ‘awkward statements.’ It makes for an interesting layer to that character. I completely agree, fans of The ABC Murders.

Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers can also be quite blunt. In The Penguin Pool Murder, in which she makes her debut, Miss Withers is escorting her fourth-grade class on a trip to the New York Aquarium. They’re at the penguin pool exhibit, getting ready to leave, when they see a man’s body slide into the pool. He’s been murdered, so homicide detective Oscar Piper is called in to investigate. In the course of his work, he interviews Miss Withers. She tells him that she’s a teacher, and how she came to be at the aquarium. Later, he says:
 

‘‘Occupation?’
‘At present, answering foolish questions. Young man, I told you I was a teacher.’’
 
Interestingly, Piper isn’t permanently put off by Miss Withers’ bluntness, as fans of this series will know…

Any fan of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel will tell you that he is not exactly known for his tact or verbal restraint. It’s very much part of his character to be blunt. For instance, in Good Morning, Midnight, he and Peter Pascoe investigate the supposed suicide of Pal Maciver. What’s odd about this death is that it eerily mirrors the death of his father, ten years earlier. When he arrives at the scene, Dalziel finds a bit of chaos. Among other things, one of the people in the house at the time of the death has tried to leave, and gotten into an altercation with PC Bonnick, who’s trying to keep everything secured. Dalziel tries to get some answers from this man:
 

‘‘Look, I’m sorry – I was out of…but I was worried – we’d heard that…and he didn’t show, so I thought that…that…that…’
‘What’s your problem, lad,’ enquired Dalziel. ‘Apart from not being able to finish sentences?’’
 

Later, Dalziel finds out that the man is a PE teacher. Here’s his response:
 

‘‘PE, eh? That explains about the sentences. Pity but.’’
 

Anyone familiar with Dalziel will know that this is quite typical of his way of speaking.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, although he’s high-functioning, and that impacts his interactions with others. He’s not skilled at understanding social cues, so he says exactly what’s on his mind. One day, Christopher comes upon the dog that belongs to the people next door. The animal’s been killed, and he’s curious as to how it happened. The dog’s owners think Christopher might be responsible, but he knows he’s innocent. So he decides to be a detective, just like Sherlock Holmes, and find out the truth. In the course of his search for answers, Christopher finds out some important truths about himself. And as he interacts with others, we see that he is at times very blunt indeed. It’s not to be unkind; he simply doesn’t understand the social skill of choosing one’s words and one’s approach.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s Thea Farmer, a former school principal whom we meet in The Precipice. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that she had bought a piece of property in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a home built there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions meant that she wasn’t able to move in. Instead, she’s had to sell the house and settle for the house next door, a home she calls ‘the hovel.’ When Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy Thea’s dream home (which she still considers hers), matters get even worse. Then, Frank’s niece Kim comes to live with him and Ellice. At first, Thea is prepared to have as much contempt for Kim as she does for Frank and Ellice. But after a bit, she forms an awkward friendship with the girl, and sees real promise in her. That’s why she’s especially concerned when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When the police won’t take any action, Thea makes plans of her own. Throughout the novel, Thea is blunt – sometimes very unkind – in the journal she keeps. She’s not quite as blunt in her interactions, but she certainly has her say.

And that’s the thing about bluntness. Forthright people certainly put things in perspective. Case in point: a conversation I had with my granddaughter:

Miss Five: What kind of books do you write?
Me: I write mystery books.
Miss Five: Can I read them?
Me: Well, they’re for grownups. They aren’t really for kids.
Miss Five: Oh, so they’re boring?

There is nothing like a conversation with a five-year-old to put everything in perspective. Just in case I ever get full of myself… 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rubens’ Lay it Down.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Mark Haddon, Reginald Hill, Stuart Palmer, Virginia Duigan

But Nothing on Earth Could Ever Divide Us*

Children's Friendships with AdultsThere’s an old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Certainly children are influenced not just by their parents and siblings, but also by a lot of other people, too. And sometimes they form friendships with people you wouldn’t expect. There’s even a certain bond that develops sometimes between children and older people.

That may be because older people have the time and patience to hear what children have to say. And for their part, children often have a different perspective on what their grandparents and other older people have to say.  Those friendships are woven into crime fiction, and they can add interesting layers of plot and character development to a story.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun introduces readers to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She and her father, Captain Kenneth Marshall, take a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. With them is Marshall’s second wife, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. Linda’s going through all of the awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. And things are not made any easier by the fact that her stepmother is beautiful and graceful. Linda’s very unhappy, but doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about what’s on her mind. One day, Arlena is found strangled not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot, who’s taking a holiday at the same place, works with the police to catch the killer. As a part of the investigation, he has to find out what Linda knows and whether she might have been involved in some way. And it’s interesting to see how he reaches out to her. In her own awkward way, Linda reaches out, too, and that adds to this story. I agree with you, fans of Dead Man’s Folly.

In Arthur Upfield’s The Bushman Who Came Back, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte investigates a murder that takes place at Mount Eden, a homestead belonging to Mr. Wooten. One day, Wooten’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bell, is found shot in the kitchen. What’s worse, her seven-year-old daughter Linda has gone missing. There’s evidence that a local bushman nicknamed Ol Fren Yorky was at the scene of the crime. He knew the people living at the ranch, too, and is thoroughly familiar with the area.  So it wouldn’t have been hard for him to take the child and disappear. No-one wants to believe that Yorky would have committed this crime or hurt Linda, since he’s well-liked. But it is a possibility, so he has to be found. Boney works with the local police to find out the truth behind this case; and, as he does, we learn that Linda and Yorky are friends in that way that children make friends with older people. It adds both a plot point and a layer of interest to the novel. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death of a Swagman.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his longtime lover, Livia Burlando, make friends with a young boy named François in The Snack Thief. In one plot thread of that novel, Montalbano investigates the murder of a retired business executive who was killed in the elevator of his apartment building. The key to this mystery, and to another murder that Montalbano and his team are investigating, may be Karima, a housekeeper and sometimes-prostitute who could be a connection between the two cases. By the time Montalbano discovers this link, though, Karima has disappeared, leaving behind her son François. While the police team is looking for the boy’s mother, he has to stay somewhere safe, so Montalbano and Livia (who happens to be visiting) take him in. In the process, they strike up a friendship with him, and Livia in particular begins to bond with him. François isn’t the reason for the murders, but that friendship adds character depth to Montalbano and to Livia, and an interesting plot thread.

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice features former school principal Thea Farmer. She bought a piece of land in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a dream home built, with the idea of living out her retirement there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions have changed her plans. Now, she lives in the much smaller house next door to the home she used to own. What’s worse, the home she still considers hers has been purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, people she refers to as ‘invaders’ and ‘aliens.’ Thea’s just getting used to that when Frank’s twelve-year-old niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Oddly enough, considering that Thea tends to be a misanthrope, she and Kim form an odd sort of friendship. They begin to spend time together, and Kim even attends a writing class that Thea’s taking. In fact, Thea sees real promise in the girl. So when she suspects that Frank and Ellice may not be providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea gets concerned. She has no real evidence, though, so the police aren’t likely to do anything about it. So, Thea decides to make her own plans. The relationship between Thea and Kim is a really engaging (and important) plot thread in this novel.

And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. Sheldon Horowitz has moved from his native New York City to Norway, to be closer to his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars. One day, he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman who lives upstairs from Rhea and Lars. He rescues her young son, and he and the boy go on the lam. Horowitz knows that the killers could be after the boy, and wants to keep him safe. Neither speaks the other’s language, but the two form a sort of friendship as they try to elude the murderers. For the boy, Horowitz represents a kind of safety. For Horowitz, the boy adds a purpose to his life.

And that’s the thing about the friendships that can develop between children and older people. Each fulfills a need that the other has, and that bond can do much for both. And in novels, such friendships can add character development and interest.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Derek B. Miller, Virginia Duigan