Category Archives: Wendy James

What Are We Going to Do About the Other Generation?*

Sandwich GenerationAs people live longer, we’re seeing more and more of what’s sometimes called ‘the sandwich generation.’ By that I mean adults who are taking care of their elderly parents, but at the same time helping to launch their young adult children into their own lives. Sometimes those young people are still living at home.

It can all get very complicated, especially if the young people run into job, drugs, or relationship problems, or have unexpected children of their own. It’s even more complicated if the elderly parent involved has dementia or other health problems. Put all of that together and you have the potential for a great deal of stress. It’s a fact of life for many people, and we certainly see it in crime fiction.

One of the more famous such characters is Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, Wallander also deals with his elderly father, who has dementia. Their relationship is complicated already, and is made all the more so by the older man’s illness. It doesn’t help matters that Wallander’s sister doesn’t live close by, so she can’t step in and help. At the same time, Wallander is also concerned about his daughter Linda. She’s grown and out of the house as the series begins, but he worries about her, and thinks that at times, she’s not making wise decisions. Their relationship, too, is complicated, and they’ve had their share of estrangement. But he does care about her and tries to be a part of her life.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a retired teacher who’s now in her eighties. Although she’s in relatively good health, and certainly of sound mind, that doesn’t mean her son Red doesn’t worry about her. He’s the police chief of Bradley, North Carolina, so he’s all too aware of how much risk there is, especially for an elderly woman. But Myrtle is not the type to be ‘put out to pasture,’ and she’s intrigued by solving crimes. So she’s a constant source of concern to her son. At the same time, Red and his wife Elaine are raising their young son, Jack. He’s a healthy boy, but very active, and of course, his parents want to keep him safe. The Clovers certainly don’t have a restful life, but being in the ‘sandwich generation’ means that life’s never boring for them.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we are introduced to TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and the proud father of eight-year-old Mo. But he’s gotten to a sort of crossroads in his life. For one thing, he can’t let go of the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who was killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. Allcroft finds himself drawn to the place where Smedway died, and can’t help asking questions about what really happened. At the same time, he’s concerned about his mother, who has recently moved to an elder care home. She’s having trouble adjusting to live in that new environment, and that adds stress to their already complicated relationship. Still, he cares about her, and wants to make sure that she’s as comfortable and well cared-for as possible.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is a successful Delhi PI. Much of his business is concerned with ‘vetting’ potential spouses for each other’s families. But sometimes, he gets involved in much more serious cases. In his private life, Puri is a proud father (his children are grown and on their own) and a dutiful son to his beloved Mummy-ji. Although the family is a healthy, loving family, that doesn’t mean that Puri never feels the pressure of being between two generations. For one thing, his daughter’s just recently had a baby boy of her own, so there are all kinds of family events connected with that. And new parents often need grandparent-ly help. And then there’s Mummy-ji. She’s energetic and active, and gets involved in more than one investigation of her own. Puri loves his mother, but she certainly causes him concern (not that that stops her).

Michael Redhill (who writes as Inger Ash Wolfe) has created an interesting ‘sandwich generation’ character in the form of DI Hazel Micallef. She and her team work out of Port Dundas, Onatrio. Hazel is in early sixties, and thinking about the transition between a full-time life of work, and retirement. She is also very much caught between two generations. For one thing, there’s her octogenarian mother Emily, who is Port Dundas’ former mayor. Emily is very much her own person, and absolutely not one to sit around and knit. But at the same time, she is in her eighties, and her health and stamina aren’t what they were. So Hazel is concerned about her. It doesn’t help matters that she and Emily don’t always agree, and both are very strong-minded. On the other end, so to speak, is Hazel’s younger daughter Martha. Here’s how Hazel describes her in The Taken:
 

‘Jobless, loveless, dogged by depression and unable to make a constructive choice…’
 

Hazel loves her children, but it’s not always easy to be Martha’s mother. It’s not always easy to be Emily’s daughter, either.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Documentary maker Erin Fury has decided to do a film detailing the impact of murder on families. As a part of that, she wants to look into the 1978 murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. So she asks Angela’s now-middle-aged cousin, Jane Tait, and Jane’s brother Mick, as well as their parents, for interviews. No-one in the family really wants the murder raked up again. But Jane’s daughter Tess wants to know the truth. So the interviews go forward. As we learn about the murder (which was never solved), we also learn more about the family. Jane is very much a ‘sandwich generation’ parent. She is the mother of a university student, and that has its own challenges. But she is also the daughter of Doug and Barbara Griffin, and that adds more challenges. Doug has dementia, and rarely speaks. In fact, he’s just been moved to a care home. Barbara is in reasonable health, but she needs support as she gets accustomed to life without the husband she’s known. Against this backdrop, we learn what really happened when Angela died, and who really killed her.

More and more, as life spans increase, adults find themselves very much between two generations. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is real life. And it can add important character development and plot layers to a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Other Generation.

 

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James

If You Help Us Solve This Crime*

Armchair DetectionThere is something about, especially, unsolved crimes that gets people’s interest. I’m talking here more of the intellectual challenge of solving a mystery than of anything else, and it seems to come up whenever there’s a difficult case in the news. People talk about it, and all kinds of people try to solve the case. Sometimes their ideas are helpful to the police; sometimes the police find them a nuisance.

It shouldn’t be surprising that we see that interest in crime fiction, too. People can’t help being curious, so it makes sense that they would want to put their hands in, so to speak, when there’s an investigation.

Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems certainly reflects that tendency. This is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by an overarching context. A group of people meet each Tuesday night. At each meeting, one person tells the story of a crime, and the rest of the group tries to solve the case. It’s an interesting example of ‘armchair detection.’ Of course, Miss Marple is one of the members of this club, so as you can imagine, the cases get solved. I know, I know, fans of The ABC Murders.

There’s a similar kind of, if you will, detection club in Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Journalist Roger Sheringham runs the Crimes Circle, a discussion group for those interested in crimes and their solutions. When DCI Moresby is invited to address the club, he presents the members with a difficult case. Famous chocolatiers Mason & Sons have come out with a new variety of chocolates. To help spread the word (and, of course, generate sales), they send a courtesy box of the new chocolates to a variety of influential people. One of them is Sir Eustace Pennefather. Since Pennefather himself doesn’t eat chocolate, he gives the box to an acquaintance, Graham Bendix. Bendix, in turn, gives it to his wife. Joan. Hours after they have some of the chocolate, Joan dies of what turns out to be poison. Her husband, too, is poisoned, but survives. So the question before the club becomes: who poisoned the chocolates and why? And who was the intended victim?

There’s a different take on this sort of group in Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog. Inspector Jules Maigret is called to the seaside town of Concarneau to investigate the attempted murder of prominent wine dealer Monsieur Mostaguen. It seems that Mostaguen was on his way home from the Admiral Hotel when he stopped to light a cigar. The night was windy, so he stepped into the shelter of a doorway. Someone on the other side of the door shot him while he was trying to light his cigar. Maigret and his assistant Leroy take up temporary residence at the Admiral, where it’s been Mostaguen’s custom to spend a great deal of time with a small group of friends: Dr. Michoux, newspaper editor Jean Servières, and Monsieur le Pommerat. On the very night they meet Maigret, the whole group is sickened by a bottle of wine that someone has poisoned. Now it’s clear that someone is targeting the group; and, of course, it’s in their interest to find out who it is. As you can imagine, the investigation becomes the main topic of discussion for this group.

Jodie Evans Garrow finds herself in the middle of a hotly-debated case in Wendy James’ The Mistake. At the beginning of the novel, Jodie has what most people would call a near-perfect life. She’s got good looks and good health, she’s married to a successful attorney, and she’s the mother of two healthy children. Disaster strikes when word gets out that years ago, she had another child. Not even her husband knows about this birth. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal adoption records. Soon, questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she’s alive, what’s happened to her? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Both privately and very publicly, people argue about whether Jodie is innocent or a murderer. One night, she’s invited to join a book club discussion group. Delighted at this show of kindness, Jodie attends. To her dismay, though, the group is discussing the famous Lindy Chamberlain case (did Lindy Chamberlain kill her baby, or did she not?), and wants Jodie there more as a specimen than a person. It’s an unsettling example of the negative consequences of people trying to solve cases.

Things are just as unsettling in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from her native Scotland to his home in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. The idea of the move is that Alistair will be in a better position to get custody of his teenaged daughter Chloe, who lives in Victoria with her mother. On the way from the airport in Melbourne to Alistair’s home town, the couple face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, but the baby isn’t found. At first, the Australian media is very sympathetic, and several different people set up ‘Find Baby Noah’ websites and online pages where there’s plenty of discussion and attempts to unravel the mystery. You might even say it’s a case of an international group trying to solve the case. Little by little, though, questions begin to arise about the parents, particularly Joanna. And it isn’t long before suspicion soon falls on her. Among other things, this novel shows how today’s technology has made it possible for people to be in these crime-solving, even if they live on different continents.

There are all kinds of real-life and fictional cases where people try to get involved in solving a crime. There’s even an Ellery Queen short story (The Adventure of the African Traveler) in which  Queen is teaching a university class, and some of his students form a sort of ‘detection group’ to solve a  murder. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Kinks’ Missing Persons.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Ellery Queen, Georges Simenon, Helen Fitzgerald, Wendy James

We Drank a Toast to Innocence, We Drank a Toast to Now*

ReunionsA really well-written post from Marina Sofia, who blogs at Finding Time to Write, has got me thinking about meeting up again with people from the past. In these days of easy access to social media, it’s not very difficult to track down someone you were friends with years ago, or your first love, or someone else who used to mean a lot to you. But even so, sometimes years go by without having any contact with those people.

What happens when, after many years, you meet up again with someone from the past? Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience. It can be awkward, though. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the past instead of realistic. And people do change over time, not always for the better. So sometimes these sorts of reunions don’t turn out well. But they’re always interesting, and they can add a layer of character development to a story.

There are a few such reunions in Agatha Christie’s work. One of them is between Rosamund Darnley and Captain Kenneth Marshall, whom we meet in Evil Under the Sun. Rosamund is a successful clothing designer who’s built a reputation for herself. She’s taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay, when she gets a ‘blast from the past.’ Kenneth, his wife Arlena, and his daughter Linda unexpectedly come to the same hotel. Rosamund and Kenneth grew up together, but hadn’t seen each other for more than fifteen years. They’re very happy to meet again, and they enjoy each other’s company. Then, Kenneth’s wife Arlena, who’s a famous actress, is murdered. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the local police to find the killer. Both Kenneth and Rosamund come under their share of suspicion, too. His marriage was not particularly happy; in fact, his wife was having a not-well-hidden affair. And Rosamund might have had her own reasons for wanting Arlena dead. You’re absolutely right, fans of Five Little Pigs and of The Hollow!

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn has a reunion in Murder at the Mendel. She and Sally Love were close friends when they were young. But then, Sally’s father died and the family moved away. Sally became an artist, and Joanne went on to a career in academia and political science. Then, word comes that Sally will be having a show of her work at the Mendel Gallery. Joanne wants to see the exhibit and, if possible, renew the friendship. The two women start talking again. But Sally isn’t the person Joanne wants to remember, and it’s not an easy reunion. Then, gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered and Sally becomes the chief suspect. The case turns out to be very painful, and has closer personal connections to Joanne’s past than she’d thought.

Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black is the first of her series featuring DI Jimmy Perez. Perez grew up in Fair Isle, Shetland, and was sent to school on Lerwick. It was a lonely time for him, mostly due to homesickness. And matters got worse when two bullies began to make his life miserable. At the time, fellow student Duncan Hunter befriended Perez and made boarding school a much better experience. But Perez and Hunter haven’t seen each other in years. Then, Hunter becomes a suspect in the murder of seventeen-year-old Catherine Ross. And Perez has to come to terms with the fact that Hunter has turned out to be an unpleasant person. That fact, plus the fact that Perez is investigating this crime, makes that reunion extremely awkward for both men.

Wendy James’ The Mistake includes a fascinating reunion. Jodie Evans Garrow grew up in a poor and dysfunctional family. But there was one bright spot in her life: her friend Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. While they were friends, the two were inseparable. Years have gone by since then; Jodie has married a successful attorney and is now mother to two healthy children. Everything seems to be going just about perfectly, until the day her daughter Hannah is involved in an accident. She’s rushed to the same Sydney hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child. No-one, not even her husband, knows about the baby. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says she gave her up for adoption, but there are no formal records. So questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she is dead, did Jodie have something to do with it? It turns out to be a nightmare for the Garrow family. Then one day, Jodie meets Bridie again at a book club meeting. The two renew their friendship, and it turns out to be a good experience for both.

There’s a different sort of reunion in Roger Smith’s Dust Devils. Cape Town journalist Robert Dell and his wife and children are on a car trip one day when they are ambushed. The car goes over into a gorge, and Dell’s family is killed. Dell survives, though, and manages to make it back to Cape Town. He soon finds himself in terrible trouble, though, when he is arrested for the murders of his family members. It’s a trumped-up charge, and it’s clear Dell’s being framed. But he gets no cooperation from the police, and is soon jailed. His father, Bobby Goodbread, finds out about what’s happened and engineers his son’s escape. The reunion between father and son isn’t exactly friendly, as the two had been estranged for some time. Goodbread was pro-apartheid, while Dell was very much against it. That’s had all sorts of consequences for both, and makes meeting up again a difficult experience. But each man has reasons of his own to go after the person who really did ambush the Dell family. So they join forces. As the story goes on, they at least understand each other a little better, even though neither comes close to changing the other’s mind.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse, the first of his Fiionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod novels. MacLeod is an Edinburgh police detective who’s been seconded to the Isle of Lewis. The murder of Lewis resident Angel Macritchie closely resembles a murder that MacLeod’s investigating already, so it’s hoped that if he works with the Lewis police, they’ll find out who the killer is. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on the island, But it’s not one he relishes. There’ve been some very painful moments in his past. What’s more, he’s gone on to a different sort of life, while many of the people he knew as a child have stayed on the island. Some people have changed considerably; others haven’t. And to complicate matters, MacLeod still sees things with a young person’s perspective, which isn’t always accurate. It all makes for some real awkwardness as he gets back in contact with people he knew years ago.

And that’s the thing about renewing ties with someone you knew many years ago. People change, they get older, and their perspectives evolve. What’s more, when you have this sort of reunion, it can be difficult to accept the difference between the nostalgic view you may have had of someone, and the reality. But still, those bonds can be strong, and renewing them can add much to our lives.

Thank you, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, folks, may I suggest you make Finding Time to Write your next blog stop? Excellent poetry and flash fiction, lovely ‘photos, and terrific book reviews await you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Gail Bowen, Peter May, Roger Smith, Wendy James

Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

We Love to Cut You Down to Size*

Tallest PoppyAgatha Christie’s Death on the Nile begins with a conversation between Mr. Burnaby, landlord of the Three Crowns, and a friend of his. They’re talking about wealthy and beautiful Linnet Doyle, who’s just bought nearby Wode Hall. At the end of the conversation, Mr. Burnaby’s friend says,
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‘Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’
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And she does. Linnet is intelligent, stunning-looking, and one of the richest young women in England. Those ‘pluses’ don’t save her, though, when she’s shot on the second night of her honeymoon cruise of the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he and Colonel Race, who is also aboard, look among the various other passengers and crew members to see who would have had a motive for murder. Among other things, one of the elements we see more than once in this novel is a sense of resentment because Linnet ‘has it all.’ She’s smart in business, attractive, and very well-off. This makes more than one person speculate on how unfair it is; you can even call it an example of the ‘tallest poppy’ syndrome, the urge to cut down those who do well.

We see that element in a lot of other crime fiction, too. For example, in Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau investigates when the body of an unknown woman is found in a canal. The victim turns out to be Guang Hongying, a national model worker and, therefore, somewhat of a celebrity. Ironically, she’s become a celebrity because she’s not a ‘tall poppy.’ She works as many extra shifts as needed, she lives as humbly as any other worker does, and so on. In the 1990s Shanghai culture in which this novel takes place, there’s a great deal of social pressure not to stand out or have a lot of personal possessions or wealth. Those outward signs of success aren’t really welcome. And there’s a lot of private resentment against the members of the High Cadre – the top members of the Party – and their families, in part because they have a lot of success. We see that again in Enigma of China, in which Chen and his team investigate a supposed suicide. It turns out that the victim was under investigation for corruption, and part of the evidence against him comes from photographs of the outward signs of his success.

In Peter May’s The Blackhouse, Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod returns to his family home on the Isle of Lewis. He’s been seconded there after the discovery of the body of Angel Macritchie, whose death bears a striking resemblance to a murder MacLeod is investigating in Edinburgh. It’s thought that this second murder might have been committed by the same person. MacLeod grew up with the people of Lewis; in their eyes, he’s a local ‘made good.’ And that, for some, is a problem. Here, for instance, is what his old friend Artair says:
 

‘And you’d…escaped…the island, everything. And here was me, stuck looking after a mother who needed to be fed through a straw…’
 

Artair has a lot of resentment against his old friend, and part of the reason for that is that MacLeod’s ‘made good.’

Tarquin Hall’s The Missing Servant introduces readers to Delhi private investigator VIshwas ‘Vish’ Puri. Most of his business comes from ‘vetting’ prospective spouses for their future families-in-law; but one day, he gets another sort of client. Successful attorney Ajay Kasliwal has been accused of the rape and murder of a household servant, Mary Murmu. She disappeared a few months earlier, and no trace of her has been found. There’s reason to suspect Kasliwal, and the police are under pressure to make an example of him, so as to show that they do not toady to the rich and well-placed. Kasliwal claims that he is innocent, and hires Puri to find out the truth about his missing servant. This Puri agrees to do, although he’s not exactly drawn to this client. As news of the case gets out, there are many people who are pleased to see Kasliwal in a lot of trouble, and part of the reason is that he’s wealthy and successful. They’re only too happy to see him ‘brought down to size.’ So, among other things, Puri has to go up against this popular dislike as he searches for the truth.

We see that sort of resentment in Wendy James’ The Mistake, too. Jodie Evans Garrow has what seems to be an idyllic life. Although she was raised on the proverbial wrong side of town, she’s done well for herself. She’s married to a successful attorney, and is the mother of two healthy children who have solid futures. She herself is smart and attractive, too. Everything begins to fall apart when it’s discovered that years earlier, she gave birth to another child – a child even her husband didn’t know existed. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal records of that. Now, the questions begin, and before long, people begin to suspect openly that Jodie might have had something to do with her baby’s disappearance. Soon, she becomes a social pariah. It’s all made even worse by the fact that Jodie’s mother Jeannie very publicly sides against her. Here’s what she says in one letter to an editor:
 

‘She is a social climber who couldn’t wait to get away from her background and who has always been ashamed of her parents and her family.’ 
 

Now that Jodie’s found some success, her mother is very quick to try to cut her down, and her comments become quite popular in the media and in the public’s opinion.

There are a lot of other examples, too, of that ‘tallest poppy’ syndrome. Many people do feel resentful when someone of their group ‘makes good,’ shows skill, or has real success. Whether it’s jealousy or something else, it can bring out the almost irresistible urge to cut that person down. It may not be the most appealing of human traits, but it does make for solid conflict and tension in a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Peter May, Qiu Xiaolong, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James