Category Archives: Virginia Duigan

They Get So Excited*

A lot of people are very much looking forward to the upcoming holidays. Whether it’s the time off from work, visiting with loved ones and friends, the food, the presents….whatever, many people get excited at this time of year. In fact, one of the best things about the season is that eager anticipation.

We all like to have something to look forward to, if you think about it. It might be a big upcoming event, or the arrival of something you’ve ordered, or your top author’s new book, or something else. Whatever it is, that anticipation is, as they say, half the fun.

Anticipation plays a role in crime fiction, too, and that makes sense if you think about it. It’s a very human reaction to life. And it’s interesting the way authors can use that as part of the plot, or as character development.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we meet Jane Grey, a London hairdresser’s assistant. She’s won a sweepstakes lottery, and decides to take a trip to Le Pinet, as a lot of her clients do. The trip itself isn’t a bad one, although she spends
 

‘…the last two (rather disappointing) days in Paris.’
 

But it certainly doesn’t live up to the fantasy. Then on the plane trip back from Paris to London, Jane gets caught up in a murder mystery when a fellow passenger, Marie Morisot, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. The only possible suspects are the other people in the cabin, one of whom is Hercule Poirot. He works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the killer is, and it turns out that more than one of the suspects could have had a motive.

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue begins as Vancouver professor and criminologist Cait Morgan plans a trip to Nice. A colleague had been scheduled to deliver a lecture at a conference there, but has been sidelined by an accident. So, Morgan has been tapped to deliver the paper instead. She goes to Nice, and the presentation goes as planned. Now, she’s looking forward to a few days enjoying the good food, fine wine, and pleasant climate – some ‘me’ time. That’s not how it works out, though. Instead, she gets involved in a murder case when she happens to meet up with a former employer who insists that she attend his wife’s birthday party. Morgan isn’t too thrilled about it, but finds herself going. At the party, her host suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison, and Morgan becomes ‘a person of interest.’ It certainly isn’t the peaceful, relaxing visit she’d planned.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction author Zack Walker is very much looking forward to a big move his family is planning from the city to a new suburban development called Valley Forest Estates. He’s been worried about his family’s safety in the city, and the new development boasts nice houses, safe streets, and so on. And when the family first moves in, all starts off well enough. But very quickly, things start to unravel. For one thing, Walker’s children aren’t nearly as excited as he is. They don’t like their new school, they don’t like where they live, and so on. For another, the new house isn’t all it was promised to be. Then, Walker discovers the body of a local environmentalist near a local creek. He ends up getting mixed up in a case of fraud, murder, and more. It’s not at all the lovely new home he anticipated.

Thea Farmer, whom we meet in Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, also has a dream home in mind. She’s recently retired from her position as a school principal, and has had a home built in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It’s her perfect home, and she’s looking forward to living there. But bad luck and some poor financial decision-making have meant that she has to sell that dream home, and settle for the house next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ As if that’s not bad enough, Thea’s perfect home is bought by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington. They duly move in to the home Thea still considers hers. Then, Frank’s niece, Kim, comes to live with him and Ellice. Against all odds, Thea finds herself forming an awkward sort of friendship with the girl. So, she’s especially upset when she learns that Frank may not be providing an appropriate home for Kim. Thea tries to get the police involved, but there’s not much they can do. So, she decides to take her own action…

Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall introduces readers to TV presenter Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford. She’s had enough of public life and media scrutiny of everything she does. So, she and her mother, Iris, have decided to go into the antique business together. Kat’s looking forward to this next part of her life, and already thinking of plans. Everything changes, though, when she gets a call from her mother. It seems that Iris has moved to the Devon village of Little Dipperton, and has bought the old carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall. Shocked at this change of plans, Kat goes immediately to Little Dipperton, where she finds that her mother has broken one of her hands in a car accident. So, she decides to stay and help out until Iris can manage on her own again. That decision draws Kat into the mystery of a disappearance and a murder.

And then there’s Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Quilt or Innocence, in which we meet Beatrice Coleman. She’s retired from her position at an Atlanta art gallery, and has decided to move closer to her daughter, Piper. So, she moves to Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She’s eagerly anticipating catching up on her reading, taking time to pace herself, and stepping back from the stress of working life. But that’s not what happens. No sooner does she settle in to Dappled Hills than she gets drawn into the local life. It soon seems that every time she thinks she’ll have a few hours to herself, she gets a call, or a visitor, or…  And then one day, there’s a murder. A member of the quilting group Beatrice has joined is killed, and it’s not long before she’s drawn into the case.

And that’s how it is when a big event, or an anticipated package (or visitor), or something else is on the horizon. It’s so much fun to anticipate it, which is probably a good thing. You never know what will actually happen…

 

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Why, yes, that is a receipt for tickets to see Paul McCartney. Talk about eager anticipation…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s Christmas.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cathy Ace, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Linwood Barclay, Virginia Duigan

The Loner*

Not everyone is comfortable being around others. For a variety of reasons, some people are reclusive. Recluses are often regarded as eccentric, to say the least. And some recluses are. Even when they’re not, though, they’re often interesting people with their own unique way of looking at life.

And that can make them appealing characters in novels. Authors can use such characters to add leaven to a story, to create plot points, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see reclusive characters in crime fiction. There are a number of them in the genre; one post won’t do justice to them. But here are a few examples.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to Martin Canning. He is a mystery novelist who’s, in his way, much more comfortable in the imaginary world he’s created for his sleuth than in the everyday, real-life world. In that sense, he is reclusive. But he is also wise enough to know that readers want to make connections with authors. So, he allows his literary agent to persuade him to participate in a panel at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. One afternoon while he’s in Edinburgh, Canning is waiting to get tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. That’s when he witnesses a car accident. A blue Honda hits a silver Peugeot from behind, and the two drivers get out of their cars. During the ensuing argument, the Honda driver brandishes a bat, attacking the Peugeot driver. By instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving the other man’s life. Out of a sense of obligation, Canning accompanies the Peugeot driver, whose name is Paul Bradley, to a local hospital. That act draws the ordinarily reclusive Canning into a web of fraud and murder.

Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret features her sleuth, Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig. As this novel begins, Craig is a sessional lecturer who’s working at Grant McEwan University in Edmonton. When her friend, Denise Wolff, asks Craig to help put together an alumni reunion event for the University of Alberta (where Craig got her M.A.), Craig agrees. Then, she learns that a new novel, Seven Bird Saga, is about to be released. The author is the extremely reclusive and enigmatic Margaret Ahlers. And that’s when Craig starts to get concerned. She did her thesis on Ahlers and knows that the author died years earlier. So, is this new book a recently-discovered manuscript (unlikely, but possible)? Or did someone else write the book? If so, who? As the story goes on, we learn more about Craig’s thesis and her search for the truth about Ahlers. As the time for the alumni even gets closer, Craig becomes more and more convinced that someone who will be attending knows more than it seems about Ahlers and the new book and could pose a real threat to her. In the end, Craig learns the truth about the new book, but not before there’s a murder.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip introduces readers to Mick Stranahan, former investigator for Florida’s Attorney General. He’s quite reclusive now, living on a deserted island. His life of solitude is interrupted when he happens to be out in his boat, and sees a young woman in the water, struggling with exhaustion. She is Joey Perrone, whose husband, Chaz, threw her overboard during a cruise of the Everglades. What Chaz forgot, though, is that Joey is a former champion swimmer. She’s survived in the water because of her skills, but she’s near the end of her strength. Stranahan rescues her, and Joey soon recovers. When she does, she wants to find out why her husband tried to kill her. So, she and Stranahan concoct a plan to unsettle Chaz. It works, and Chaz soon comes to the attention of police detective Karl Rolvaag, who’s trying to solve Joey’s disappearance. If he’s going to avoid arrest, Chaz is going to have to stay one step ahead of his wife and of Rolvaag.

In Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, idealistic young attorney Regina Robichard is working for the NAACP in New York City. One day, the NAACP gets a letter from a reclusive author, M.P. Calhoun. The letter alleges that a black veteran named Joe Howard Wilson was murdered, and it’s clear that Calhoun wants this death investigated. Robichard’s interest is piqued, especially since Calhoun wrote one of her best-loved books from childhood. So, she makes the trip to Revere, Mississippi, where Calhoun lives, and where the murder took place. When Robichard arrives, and starts asking questions, she learns that things aren’t as they seem. To find the answers, she’s going to have to navigate the complicated social ‘rules’ of this small town, and that isn’t going to be easy. Among other things, it’s interesting to see Calhoun’s role in the novel, considering how reclusive this author is.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Former school principal Thea Farmer has decided to retire and have a dream home built in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. She’s purposely chosen the location to be away from everything, as she doesn’t like to be around people very much. Everything changes when bad luck and poor decision-making force her to give up that dream property and settle for the house next door, a place she calls ‘the hovel.’ To make matters worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home that Farmer still thinks of as hers, and they move in. The reclusive Farmer doesn’t want anyone living that close, especially not in that home, so she’s inclined to do everything she can to avoid these new people. That proves impossible when Campbell’s niece, Kim, comes to live with him. Against all odds, Farmer forms an awkward sort of friendship with the girl and becomes concerned when she begins to think that she’s not being given an appropriate home. When the police won’t do anything about it, Farmer makes her own plans.

There may be any number of reasons for which someone might not want to be around others. And, in a story, those reasons can make for interesting character development. They can add plot points, too. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Neil Young.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Deborah Johnson, Janice MacDonald, Kate Atkinson, 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