Category Archives: Wendy James

You’re Keeping Secrets From Me*

secrets-children-keepHow well do you really know your children? Loving and caring parents want to believe that they know their children very well, and perhaps they do. But how well can you truly know anyone, even someone you love? We all have private thoughts, and most of us have our own personal secrets. So, in real life, it’s not surprising that we might not know everything about our children. And sometimes, the things we don’t know can be quite unsettling.

In crime fiction, that fact can add a great deal to a novel. It can add tension to a plot as parents discover things about their children, and as children keep their secrets. It can also add a layer of character development and interest. And in whodunits, the secrets children keep can add to the list of suspects or ‘red herrings.’

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, for instance, we are introduced to Captain Kenneth Marshall. He’s come for a holiday to the Jolly Roger, on Leathercombe Bay. With him is his wife, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Linda. One day, Arlena is strangled, and her body found not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the Jolly Roger, and he works with the local police to find out who the killer is. As Poirot gets to know the other hotel guests, he learns things about Linda – things her father didn’t know. For instance, Linda hadn’t adjusted well at all to her stepmother, and felt very awkward around her. Her dislike of the victim makes her a possible suspect, even though her father really didn’t know that she was unhappy.

In Ross Macdonald’s The Far Side of the Dollar, PI Lew Archer gets a very challenging case. Dr. Sponti, head of Laguna Perdida School, has hired Archer to find one of his pupils, Tom Hillman, who’s gone missing. Tom’s parents are wealthy and well-connected, so Sponti wants Archer to solve this case as quickly and as quietly as possible. Archer is in Sponti’s office, discussing the matter with him, when Tom’s father, Ralph, bursts in. It seems that Tom’s been abducted, and his captors are demanding ransom money. Archer returns with Ralph to the Hillman home to see what he can do. Soon enough, he comes to believe that all is not as it seems on the surface. For one thing, the Hillmans are surprisingly reticent about Tom, and about the reason for which he’s at Laguna Perdida. There are also hints that Tom might not have been kidnapped at all, but left of his own accord. If so, then there could very likely be things about Tom that his parents don’t know. Certainly there are things they’re not telling Archer. Those secrets turn out to be crucial to what’s happened to Tom.

In Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark, we are introduced to fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. She’s one of the most academically promising students at her secondary school, and her teacher, Ilse Klein, has high hopes for her. Then, Serena begins skipping school. And when she is there, she shows little interest in her lessons or in participating in class. Ilse begins to be concerned for the girl, and speaks to the school’s counseling team. A visit to Serena’s home does little good, as her mother isn’t much interested in the girl. And it’s soon clear that she doesn’t know much about her daughter’s life. Then, Serena disappears. Ilse soon finds that she is more drawn into Serena’s situation than she had imagined she would be.

Wendy James’ The Lost Girls deals with the 1978 death of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. At the time, she was spending the summer with her aunt and uncle, Barbara and Doug Griffin and their two children, Mick and Jane. There wasn’t much to do, so Angela spent a lot of time with Mick and his friends, playing pinball at a local drugstore. Then one day, she went missing. She was later found dead, with a scarf tied around her head. At first, the police concentrated on Angela’s family and Mick’s friends. But there was never any clear evidence against any of them. Then, a few months later, another girl was found dead, also with a scarf around her neck. The police began considering the possibility of a serial killer (the press dubbed the murderer the Sydney Strangler), but the murderer was never caught. Now, years later, journalist Erin Fury wants to do a documentary on families who’ve lost someone to murder. She wants to interview the Griffin family, and gets reluctant permission. As she talks to the various people involved, we learn that there were sides to Angela that her parents didn’t know. And those things played their role in her death. James’ new novel, The Golden Child, also has as one of its themes the things that parents don’t know (or perhaps, don’t accept) about their children. I confess I’ve not read this one yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to reading it when it becomes available where I live.

And then there’s Theresa Schwegel’s The Good Boy. Featured in this novel is the Murphy family. Pete Murphy is a Chicago police officer with the K-9 team (his furry partner is Butch). He loves his wife, Sarah, but they’ve had some hard times lately. He also loves his teenage daughter, McKenna, and eleven-year-old son, Joel. But McKenna has started living her own life, a lot of which she keeps secret. Joel, too, has made his own life. When Joel learns that McKenna is planning to go to a party at the home of Zack Fowler, he gets concerned. He already has good reason to hate and fear Zack, and he is convinced McKenna’s going to get into trouble. So, he takes Butch and goes to the Fowler house to try to help her. It all backfires badly when there’s a shooting. Joel and Butch go on the run, and now Pete has two big problems. For one thing, he’s involved in another investigation. For another, he’s got to find his missing son, and protect his daughter from the consequences of being at a house where there was a shooting. As Pete and Sarah try to find their son and help their daughter, they learn things about their children that neither one knew.

And that’s probably true of a lot of parents. We may know our children very well, and they may never get into trouble at all. But there are always pieces of them that they keep to themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised; we do the same.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Xavier Rudd’s Secrets.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Paddy Richardson, Ross Macdonald, Theresa Schwegel, Wendy James

Must Have Been the Right Month*

januaryA lot of people see January as the time to start anew. It’s the beginning of the year, it’s a chance to ‘do it right this time,’ and it’s a time when many people set positive goals for themselves. You’d think it’d be an optimistic time of year, right?

Not exactly. For one thing, there’s the weather. In some places, it’s the dead of winter, with freezing temperatures, bad weather and little light. In others, it’s mid-summer, with intolerable heat and the onset of wildfire season. And there are plenty of crime novels that take place in January, too.

For example, Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train begins in January. In one plot thread, we are introduced to Katherine Grey, who has served as paid companion to wealthy Mrs. Harfield for ten years. When Mrs. Harfield dies, Katherine unexpectedly inherits a large fortune. One of her decisions, now that she has money, is to do what many other people with money do at that time of year: escape the January winter weather and head for a warmer climate. She decides to accept an invitation from a distant relative, Lady Rose Tamplin, to stay with her in Nice for a while. Katherine arranges to take the famous Blue Train to Nice, and that turns out to be a fateful decision. On the way, she gets drawn into a case of theft and murder. Hercule Poirot is also on the train, and Katherine works with him to help find out who the murderer is.

One focus of Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill is a case from 1978. One January day, Sophie Jenkins and Rachel Jones walked to school together. Only Rachel returned. A massive search was undertaken, but no trace of Sophie was ever found. Now, years later, there’s another death, this time of Yvonne Jenkins. At first it looks like a tragic, but straightforward case of suicide. But DI Francis Sadler suspects it might be more than that when a discovery is made that links this death to the 1978 case. With help from Superintendent Llewellyn, who investigated the original case, Sadler and his team look into the 1978 disappearance again, and discover how it is related to the present death.

Bitter January weather sets the scene for the end of a difficult case for Martin Beck and his team in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna. One summer day, the body of a young woman is dredged from Lake Vättern. At first, the police find it hard to identify her, since she wasn’t Swedish. But in time, they learn that she was twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw, an American who was on a cruise tour of Sweden when she was killed. Little by little, and after several false starts, Beck and his team trace the victim’s last days and weeks, and they find out who was on board the cruise ship when she died. It takes months of hard work, and some lucky breaks, but they finally narrow down the list of suspects, and discover who was responsible for the murder. Then, they set up a ‘sting’ operation to catch that person. The operation takes place during bitterly cold January weather, which adds to the atmosphere. In the end, the team solves the crime, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

In some places in the world, January is the middle of summer. But that doesn’t make things any safer. For instance, Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood takes place in January. In that novel, Tasmania Police Sergeant John White goes to the scene of a home invasion. With him is Probationer Lucy Howard. She’s at the front of the house, and White goes to the back, where he’s stabbed to death. The suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in trouble with the law before. The police are more than eager to avenge the murder of one of their own, but they’ll have to tread lightly. For one thing, the suspect is a juvenile. For another, he may be able to claim Aboriginal identity. If he and his lawyer choose to do that, then the media will put everything the police do under very close scrutiny. It isn’t usually particularly hot in Hobart in January, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of tension in this novel…

There is in Geoffrey McGeachin’s St. Kilda Blues, too. That novel takes place in January, 1967 – the ‘Summer of Love.’ Melbourne police detective Charlie Berlin has been shunted aside, so to speak, in the police hierarchy because he doesn’t ‘play politics.’ But he’s pulled into action when fifteen-year-old Gudrun Scheiner goes missing. Her father is a wealthy and well-connected developer, and is desperate to get his daughter back if possible. So, the police are motivated to get to a solution quickly. As Berlin soon comes to believe, this isn’t an isolated case. Gudrun is one of nine girls who’ve disappeared, and it could be that Melbourne is up against a serial killer. With summer in full swing, and young people not in school, it’s even more difficult to track people’s whereabouts, but Berlin and his partner/former protégé Rob Roberts search for the truth. And the truth turns out to be very unexpected…

And then there’s Wendy James The Lost Girls. This story’s focus is in part the murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. It’s January, 1978, and Angela’s been given (reluctant) permission to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle, Barbara and Doug Griffin. There isn’t much to do, so Angela, her cousin Mick, and Mick’s friends spend plenty of time at the local drugstore, playing pinball. Then, one horrible day, Angela goes missing. She’s later found dead, with a scarf around her head. At first, the police concentrate on family and friends, as is only logical. But they don’t have enough evidence to charge anyone. Then, a few months later, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor is also found dead, also with a scarf around her head. Now, it looks as though the same person committed both crimes, and the press begin to dub this killer, ‘The Sydney Strangler.’ The case is never solved, and it leaves the family with lasting scars. Years later, documentary filmmaker Erin Fury decides to do a film on families who’ve survived the murder of one of their members. She wants to include the Griffin family, and interviews the various members. Little by little, and partly through these interviews, we learn the truth about Angela’s fate, and about Kelly’s.

See what I mean? January is not really a safe month. Perhaps it’d be best to follow the lead of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and shut up shop for the month, as she does in Cooking the Books

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s January.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kerry Greenwood, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Wendy James, Y.A. Erskine

It’s Better to Burn Out Than it is to Rust*

burning-the-candle-at-both-endsEdna St. Vincent Millay’s First Fig goes like this:

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

 

I’m sure we’ve all known people like that. They live life to the absolute fullest, and sometimes, they burn out. Characters like that can add a lot to a crime story (or any story, really). They can add zest to a plot, and they can be interesting in and of themselves.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, we are introduced to Anthony Marston. Young, good-looking, and fond of driving fast and living life to the utmost, he is one of ten people who are invited for a stay at Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Like the others, Marston accepts the invitation. Oddly enough, when the guests arrive, they find that their host isn’t there to greet them. Still, they settle in and dinner that night is both successful and delicious. Everything changes after that, though. Each guest is accused of having been responsible for the death of at least one other person. Then, Marston suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that someone is targeting all of the guests. So, the survivors have to find out who the killer is if they’re to stay alive.

Margaret Millar’s Mermaid features attorney Tom Aragon. One day, he gets an unusual visitor. Twenty-two-year-old Cleo Jaspar wants to ask him about her rights. It’s soon clear that she’s got special needs, although she is high-functioning. As she tells Aragon, she attends an exclusive special school, and lives with her much-older brother, Hilton. According to Cleo, her life is far too conscripted, and she never gets to do what she wants. Aragon can’t help her much, and she soon takes her leave. Not long afterwards, Aragon learns that Cleo went missing not long after her visit, and that her brother is trying to find her. In fact, Hilton wants Aragon to find his sister and persuade her to return. Aragon agrees, and starts to ask questions. As he tries to trace her whereabouts, Aragon slowly builds a picture of Cleo. And he learns that she wanted very much to experience life to the fullest. She was quite well aware that there’s a big world out there, as the saying goes, and wanted to see it. That aspect of her personality plays an important role in what happens in the story.

Natsuo Kirino’s Real World features five teens who are caught up in a tragedy when one of them, Ryo, is accused of killing his mother, and goes on the run. Toshiko, who lives next door, hears a crash at the time of the murder, and is, therefore, a witness. But she chooses not to tell the police what she knows. Among her reasons for not cooperating with the police is that she’s afraid she’ll be considered an accomplice. She’s even more drawn into the case when she learns that Ryo has stolen her bicycle and her telephone. Then, he begins to contact her other three best friends, Kazuko, Yuzan, and Kirari. Each in a different way, this group of friends gets involved in what’s happened, and no-one discusses the matter with the police, or with any other adult. Before long, things spin out of control for all of the characters, and the end result is tragedy. The murder isn’t committed because of ‘burning the candle at both ends.’ But for one character in particular, the desire to experience life – to really live – plays an important role in the story. And for all of the teen characters, there’s at least some feeling of restlessness, and of wanting to see all that life has to offer.

That’s also the case with Niccolo ‘Nick’ Franco, whom we meet in Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. This novel tells the story of the Franco family, who emigrated from Italy in the first years of the 20th Century. Patriarch Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco made a success of the shoe repair and sales business, and the family started to live out what’s sometimes been called ‘the American dream.’ One night, though, Ben got into a bar fight, and ended up killing Luigi Lupo, son of notorious mobster Tonio Lupo. Ben was imprisoned, but that wasn’t enough for Lupo, who cursed the family. He visited Ben in prison, and promised that each of his three sons would die at the age of forty-two – the same age Luigi was at his death. The story goes on relate what happened to those sons, one of whom is Nick. As it happens, Nick is attractive enough, and star-struck enough, to go to Hollywood and get started on a film career. For a while, his career goes very well, as he slowly gets bigger and bigger parts. It doesn’t last, though, especially after the advent of ‘the talkies.’ He doesn’t have as much talent as he thinks he does, but he is convinced that he’s going to make a comeback as a great actor. And he wants to experience the exciting ‘Hollywood life.’ And for him, that involves women and drugs. That personality trait – wanting to live ‘on the edge’ – turns out to be disastrous for Nick.

And then there’s fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan, whom we get to know in Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. It’s 1978/1979, and Angela is spending the summer with her aunt and uncle, Barbara and Doug Griffin, who live not far from Sydney. There’s not much to do there, so Angela, her cousin Mick, and Mick’s friends, spend quite a lot of time playing pinball at the local drugstore. One day, Angela goes missing, and is later found dead, with a scarf around her head. At first, the police focus on Mick and his friends, as well as Mick’s family. But a few months later, another young girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor, is also found dead, also with a scarf around her head. Now, the police begin to believe that there’s a serial killer out there, someone the press has dubbed the Sydney Strangler. The cases remain unsolved, and life goes on as best possible. Years later, a documentary filmmaker, Erin Fury, decides to do a film about the families of murder victims, and asks to work with the Griffin family. Little by little, the truth about the Angela’s death comes out as Fury puts the film together. And readers learn what Angela was like. She wanted some excitement out of life – to live as much as she could. And that plays a role, both in how she’s treated and in what happens to her.

Characters who burn the proverbial candle at both ends can be self-destructive. But they can also be fascinating, and can add leaven to a story. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Margaret Millar, Natsuo Kirino, Wendy James

Interview, Who’s Interviewing Who?*

eyewitness-interviewsBeing mixed up in a major crime, especially murder, can be harrowing enough. For many people, it’s only made worse when members of the press want interviews and access. Lots of people have no desire to make their lives public, so they avoid contact with the press if they can.

But there are people who actually do enjoy talking to the press. They like their time in the limelight, and seem to gravitate to wherever the cameras and microphone are. I’m sure you know the kind; you’ve seen them on news shows (e.g. ‘I still can’t believe this happened. He lived across the street for ___ years, and I never suspected a thing….’).

They’re in crime fiction, too. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigate the death of Poirot’s dentist, Henry Morley. There seems no reason for him to have committed suicide; at the same time, though, there seems no real motive for murder. Japp and Poirot talk to the people who visited on the day he was killed. One of those witnesses is Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, a rather eccentric woman who’s involved in amateur theatrics as well as missionary work. At first, she’s not overly enthusiastic about Japp interviewing her. But then she begins to enjoy it, even saying:
 

‘and if, by chance, my name should be in the papers – as a witness at the inquest, I mean – you will be sure that it is spelled right?…And of course, if they did care to mention that that I appeared in As You Like it at the Oxford Repertory Theatre…’
 

The mystery only deepens when Miss Sainsbury-Seale herself goes missing…

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill shows another reason people might be happy to talk to the press: it can be career-enhancing. In that novel, Carl Lee Hailey and his family are devastated when his ten-year-old daughter, Tonya, is brutally raped and left for dead. The police quickly catch the two men responsible: Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard. Hailey is concerned that these men will get away with their crime, and that’s not out of the question. The Haileys are black; Cobb and Willard are white. And this is small-town Clanton, Mississippi. Added to that is his rage over what happened to his daughter, and his sense of helplessness. So, he arranges to get a gun, ambushes Cobb and Willard, and shoots them. There is no choice but to arrest Hailey, although there is a great deal of sympathy for him. He asks local attorney Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. It’s not going to be an easy case, though. For one thing, a black man has shot two white men. For another, there’s the very real issue of taking the law into one’s own hands. As you can imagine, the media soon get hold of the story, and both Brigance and his counterpart for the prosecution get plenty of requests for interviews. Interestingly, each accuses the other of using the media (and the case) to get the kind of national attention that can catapult a lawyer to the top.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry novels offer a very interesting perspective on interviews. Henry is a sports reporter for the Toronto Planet. So, she spends quite a lot of time with baseball players, their coaches and managers, and other sports figures. In The Dead Pull Hitter, she’s drawn into a case of two murders of members of the Toronto Titans. Not only does she feel their loss personally, but she also senses an exclusive story. So, she starts asking questions. And in the end, she and Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro find out the truth behind the murders. One of the threads that runs through this novel is the relationship between the baseball players and the press. Here’s what Henry says about one of them:
 

‘The television guys love him, because he’s always glad to see them. It might have something to do with the money they slip him for interviews, but I think it’s also a matter of control. They only want thirty second clips and feed him soft questions.’
 

Professional athletes know that giving interviews is an important part of what they do; And the more willing they are to talk to the press, the better their public perception. But even these veterans of the interview have a harder time talking to the press when it’s about murder. And Henry has her work cut out for her, as the saying goes, to get the story.

Wendy James’ The Mistake introduces readers to Jodie Evans Garrow. She seems to have the perfect life: she’s well-off, she’s the mother of two healthy children, and she has a successful husband. Everything changes when the past catches up with her. It comes out that, years ago, Jodie gave birth to another child. She’s never told anyone about this birth, not even her husband. Soon, people start to ask questions, first privately, and then very publicly. Where is the child? If she’s alive, what’s become of her? If she’s not, did Jodie have something to do with it? The media make much of the story, and plenty of people have their say and give interviews. One of them is Jodie’s mother, who’s only too happy to heap criticism on her daughter. She writes a public letter that’s harshly judgmental of Jodie, and then goes on television, too, to be interviewed. She’s doing it as much for the money as she is for anything else. But that doesn’t make her very public rejection of her daughter any easier to take.

Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers features Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. In one plot thread of the novel, it’s the 30th anniversary of the (South Africa) Springboks’ rugby tour of New Zealand (it’s often called The Tour). This happened in 1981, while apartheid was still very much in force in South Africa. Many people thought that the tour shouldn’t take place because of that policy, and there were plenty of protests. The police wanted to keep order. Rugby fans simply wanted to see some good rugby matches. It all ended up in some very ugly scenes, and those who were there still remember it clearly. Thorne knows it was important, but she also knows that it’s already been covered. Then she finds a story hidden in the larger story. Two dancers dressed as lambs came to some of the games, entertained the crowd, danced, and so on. Then they stopped coming. Later, it was discovered that one was killed. As Thorne looks into what happened that day, she uncovers a lot about the protests, the police and the onlookers. She conducts interviews with several people on both sides, and those interviews are woven into the narrative.

Not everyone’s reluctant to talk to the press. Sometimes people are looking for what Andy Warhol is said to have called their 15 minutes of fame. Others want money or something else. And it’s interesting to see how they behave when the cameras are on.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carly Simon and Don Was’ Interview.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, John Grisham, Paddy Richardson, Wendy James

Try to Find Equilibrium*

equilibrium-and-disequilibriumIf theorists such as Jean Piaget are right, it’s human nature to want equilibrium. We want things to be in balance and to make sense. We want some sort of order. If you think about it, that drive for equilibrium arguably fuels many of our actions. We’re curious (which throws us into disequilibrium because we don’t know something). So, we seek to learn, or to find out about something. Or, perhaps we move to a new home. That throws us into disequilibrium until we unpack, put our things where we want them, and find out where the local library and the grocery stores are. Then, as we settle in, we impose new order on our lives and are back into equilibrium. And the list of examples could go on.

For any story, the drive for equilibrium can be an effective way to construct the action. The protagonist starts out in equilibrium, a conflict happens (which throws the story into disequilibrium), and the protagonist seeks to restore order. Or, perhaps, the story starts out in disequilibrium, and the protagonist sets out to restore equilibrium. There are other possibilities, too. And we see this very obviously in crime fiction. After all, in crime fiction, there’s usually a murder or other crime (disorder), and an investigation (the attempt to explain it and restore order). But even if you put that overarching conflict aside, there are a lot of other ways in which we see the drive to restore equilibrium.

For instance, in Agatha Chrirstie’s Sad Cypress, we are introduced to Mary Gerrard. She’s the daughter of the lodgekeeper at Hunterby, the home of wealthy Laura Welman. As it happens, Mrs. Welman has taken a particular interest in Mary, and has educated her ‘above her station.’ This decision has upset what you might call the social equilibrium of the village where they live. For one thing. Mary no longer feels sure of where, exactly, she belongs, if I can put it that way. For another, it’s upset those who feel that Mary is now ‘above herself.’ In fact, one day, Mrs. Welman’s niece Elinor Carlisle gets an anonymous letter that hints that Mary is actively manipulating the situation to ensure that she, not Elinor, inherits when the older woman dies. Elinor and her fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ decide to go to Hunterby and see for themselves what’s going on. This further upsets the equilibrium when Roddy finds himself smitten with Mary. With her engagement broken and her comfortable assurance of money in question, Elinor has more than one motive for wanting Mary out of the way. So when Mary is poisoned, she’s the most likely suspect, and she’s duly arrested and charged. Local GP Peter Lord wants Mary’s name cleared, and he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. In this novel, it’s not just the whodunit and whydunit that reflect that drive for equilibrium. I know, I know, fans of Ordeal by Innocence. Yes, indeed, fans of Taken at the Flood.

In Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, we are introduced to Emma la Roux. She’s watching television one day when she sees a news story on television about a man named Cobie de Villiers, who’s wanted in conjunction with the murder of a traditional healer and three other men. The man the newscasters call de Villiers looks eerily like Emma’s brother Jacobus, who disappeared twenty years earlier. At the time, everyone said he was killed in a skirmish with poachers. Now, though, it seems he may still be alive, and that throws Emma’s world into disequilibrium. She wants to make sense of it all, so she hires professional bodyguard Marin Lemmer to accompany her from Cape Town to the Lowveld. As they search for answers, they find that this case goes deeper than just a man who may have stayed under the proverbial radar. It involves murder, fraud, and corruption in very high places.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist/academician. She is also the mother of four children, and of course, cares about them deeply. So she’s quite concerned when, in The Wandering Soul Murders, her son Peter’s old girlfriend, Christy Sinclair, comes back into his life. For several reasons, she’d thought Peter was well rid of Christy, and life had gotten back into equilibrium. But one day Christy re-appears. She invites herself along on a family trip to celebrate the engagement of Joanne’s daughter, Mieka, and even says that she and Peter are getting back together. Needless to say, this is discomfiting for Joanne. Then Christy dies in what looks like a successful suicide, but turns out to be murder. And Joanne discovers that this murder is related to another case that’s been proverbially dropped into her lap.

Equilibrium is particularly important for those who have autism and other spectrum disorders. We see that in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This story is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, who has autism, although he functions on a high level. One day, he comes upon the dog that belongs to the people next door. The animal’s been killed, and its owners think he might be responsible. Christopher knows he’s not, though, and sets out to prove it, just like Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, he makes a personal discovery that throws his carefully-ordered life into complete disequilibrium. And one important plot thread in this novel is how he reacts to that change, and what happens as a result.

Wendy James’ The Mistake introduces readers to Jodie Evans Garrow. Although she’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ Jodie has made a very good life for herself. She’s smart and attractive, and is married to a successful attorney whose name is being suggested as the next mayor of their small New South Wales city. She’s got two healthy children, and life is content – even idyllic. Then, Jodie’s daughter Hannah is involved in accident that sends her to the same Sydney hospital where, years ago, Jodie gave birth to another baby girl. She’s never told anyone, even her husband, about that other baby. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. When Jodie says she gave her up for adoption, the over-curious nurse looks into it, but can find no records of a formal adoption. Now, questions start to come up. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Jodie’s well-ordered life falls into disarray as an investigation begins to loom. In this novel, there is certainly the plot thread of the mystery surrounding the baby. But there’s also the plot thread of what happens to the Garrows when they are thrown into disequilibrium, and have to find some sort of order in it all.

Human nature seems to be like that. We like equilibrium and balance. We want things to make sense. So when they don’t, this drives us to want to put things right. And that drive can add a lot to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bush’s The Sound of Winter.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Deon Meyer, Gail Bowen, Mark Haddon, Wendy James