Category Archives: 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.


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

Too Close For Comfort*

Too CLose For ComfortPolice detectives are nothing if not human. And that means they have preferences, biases and so on, just like everyone else. And sometimes, that means they start getting too close to a case. They may develop relationships with the people involved, and that can cloud their judgement.

There are plenty of examples of that risk in crime fiction, but it’s not easy to do well. For one thing, real-life police know that they need to keep their distance from their investigations. Otherwise, they can’t do their jobs well. For another thing, if the ‘too-close-for-comfort’ plot isn’t done carefully, it can come across as clichéd. But there are cases where it’s done very effectively, and it can add an interesting layer of tension and character development.

In Colin Dexter’s The Daughters of Cain, for instance, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of former Oxford don Felix McClure. The most likely suspect is McClure’s former scout Ted Brooks. But everything changes when he goes missing and is later found dead. As Morse and Lewis look into the case, Morse finds himself attracted to one of the ‘people of interest,’ a prostitute who calls herself Ellie Smith. It seems that McClure was one of her clients, and there are other factors, too, that link her to the crimes. Ellie seems to reciprocate Morse’s feelings, and that makes investigating the murders more of a challenge for Morse. But it also adds a layer of interest to both characters.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life features a slightly different sort of closeness. Cissy Kohler has been released from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s a great deal of gossip that she was innocent all along. Worse, the talk is that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, knew she was innocent and deliberately squelched that evidence. Tallentire was a mentor to Superintendent Andy Dalziel, so when Dalziel learns of these stories, he is determined to clear his mentor’s name. He feels all the more strongly about it when he learns that the whole case, including Tallentire’s conduct, is being reviewed. Dalziel isn’t one for the niceties of policy, so he re-investigates, even though the case involves an old friend.

Old friends also figure into Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, the first of his Marseilles trilogy. Marseilles cop Fabio Montale learns that an old friend named Manu has been murdered. That fact shouldn’t be surprising, since Manu had gotten deeply involved in the criminal underworld. Still, it leaves Montale shaken. Then, another friend, Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini, returns to avenge Manu’s death and is himself killed. Now Montale is determined to stay loyal to those friendships and find out who killed Manu and Ugo. He gets uncomfortably close to that case, and to another case he’s working. But he finds out the truth.

We are introduced to Swati Kaushal’s police detective Niki Marwah in Drop Dead. That novel’s focus is the murder of Rakesh ‘Rak’ Mehta, President and CEO of Indigo Books India, Ltd. He arranged a retreat for his senior staff at the luxurious Lotus Resort in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. But on the second morning of the retreat, his body is discovered in a valley not far from the resort. Marwah and her team are called in, and begin the investigation. One person who may be connected to the case is Ram Mathur, who owns a restaurant not very far from the resort. It turns out that he used to be close friends with the victim; so on the one hand, he is a ‘person of interest.’ On the other, Marwah likes him, and feels a sort of attraction to him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that she maintains her professionalism. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the conflict.

Seán Haldane’s’ The Devil’s Making begins as Chad Hobbes arrives in 1868 Victoria, BC. He’s just received his degree in Jurisprudence from Oxford, and, armed with a letter of recommendation, is given a job as a constable. The work isn’t that taxing at first. But then, a group of Tsimshian Indians discovers the mutilated body of Richard McCrory. At first, the case looks quite straightforward. McCrory had been involved with Lukswaas, a Tsimshian woman whose partner Wiladzap is one of the group’s leaders. So he’s the natural choice for suspicion. Wiladzap, though, denies being the killer, and Lukswaas supports him. In order to appear to be doing their jobs, the police have to ask some perfunctory questions, and that task falls to Hobbes. But the more questions he asks, the more doubt he has that Wiladzap is guilty. And the more he learns about the Tsimshian people, and about Lukswaas, the closer he gets to the case. It becomes very risky for him, as this is the Victorian Era, a time of very different attitudes towards indigenous people.

There’s a particularly painful instance of getting too close to a case in Wendy James The Lost Girls. In 1978, fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan disappears during a summer visit to her Aunt Barbara and Uncle Doug Griffin, and their children, Mick and Jane. Not very long after the disappearance, her body is discovered with a scarf wrapped around her head. At first, the police look to the family, but nothing comes of it. They have to be very careful, too, because Doug Griffin is a copper. The theory changes a few months later when another young girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor, is found dead, with a scarf tied around her neck. Now the police begin to believe that a serial killer, whom the press dub the Sydney Strangler, is at work. The case is never solved, though. Years later, journalist Erin Fury is making a documentary about families that have survived the murder of one of their members. She interviews the Griffin family as a part of that project; and, slowly but surely, we learn what really happened to the two victims. One thread that runs through the story is what it’s like for a cop when a family member is the victim. On the one hand, the case is better solved with objectivity. On the other, who can blame a police officer for going all-out to find the killer of a family member?

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. When twelve-year-old Alyssa Merrimon disappears, Detective Clyde Hunt does everything he possibly can to find her and catch the guilty person. But no real leads come up. Still, he keeps trying. So does Alyssa’s twin brother Johnny. A year later, another young girl goes missing. There’s a possibility that the two cases are linked, and Hunt is hoping that by putting all his resources into finding the other girl, he’ll also find out the truth about Alyssa Merrimon. Meanwhile, Johnny has his own plans for finding out what happened to his sister. Throughout the novel, real questions are raised about Hunt’s ability to be objective, and to tend to his other police duties. Those questions put him very much on the edge, and cause more than one person to doubt his ability to do the job.

And that’s the thing about getting too close to a case when you’re a police detective. Police officers are human beings, so it’s not hard to understand how they could lose their objectivity. But it is very, very risky. The same’s true of members of other professionals, such as attorneys. But that’s the stuff of another post.


*NOTE:  The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener, and George David Weiss.


Filed under Colin Dexter, Jean-Claude Izzo, John Hart, Reginald Hill, Seán Haldane, Swati Kaushal, Wendy James

You Wear Smug So Very Well*

SmugnessMost of us know that no-one’s always right, and no-one has all of the answers. Still, there are some people who are so convinced of their own perspective that they’re unwilling to even consider the possibility that they may be wrong, or that there may be other perspectives out there. That sort of smugness can be grating for anyone who has to deal with a person like that. It’s limiting for the person who’s smug, too, if you think about it.

In crime fiction, smugness can even make a person vulnerable. After all, if the only ‘correct’ perspective is your own, you’re not willing to consider that you might have enemies that could get the better of you. Such a character can also add a nice dose of conflict to a series, so that human frailty can be a useful tool for the writer as well.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, ten people accept an invitation to go to Indian Island. On the evening of their arrival, it becomes clear that their host, whoever she or he is, will not be there. That’s odd enough, but things take a darker turn when each person is accused of having been responsible for the death of at least one other person. One of the guests, Miss Emily Brewster, has been accused of being responsible for the suicide of a former housemaid. It comes out that when she discovered that the maid was what used to be called ‘in trouble,’ she fired her, leaving the young woman with no place to live and no options. In her smugness, Miss Brewster believes that she was correct, and that it wasn’t her fault if the maid had ‘loose morals.’ Miss Brewster ends up paying for her smug perspective when she becomes a victim to a killer who seems to be preying on all of the guests.

Louise Penny’s series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. In one story arc in this series, he is assigned a new member of the Sûreté, Yvette Nichol. On the one hand, when she first begins working with Gamache, she’s eager to make the best impression she can. On the other, she is smug. Because of this, she’s unwilling to learn from anyone else, and unwilling to take even the friendliest of advice. This makes for a host of problems for Gamache’s team. Not only does Nichol make mistakes (as we all do), but she isn’t willing to admit she’s wrong, watch and learn, or accept the fact that she doesn’t always know best. This is really limiting for her, as we see in the course of the series. She alienates people who might be real allies for her, and she’s not really welcome socially, either. It’s difficult for everyone.

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School For Men, Mma Precious Ramotswe takes on the case of a client who wants to make amends for wrongs he did years ago. In order to do that, he needs to locate his former landlady. That’s not going to be easy, but Mma Ramotswe thinks of a good starting place. The woman her client is looking for is the widow of a government worker, so it’s quite likely that her address and contact information can be found at the office that deals with government pensions. The clerk at that office is not helpful, though, and at first, refuses to give her any information. In fact, he’s quite smug about it:

‘‘But that is not the rule,’ said Mma Ramotswe. ‘…The rule says that you must not give the name of a pensioner. It says nothing about the address.’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I do not think you can be right, Mma. I am the one who knows the rules. You are the public.’’


Mma Ramotswe has to think quickly, since this clerk is really her only solid lead. But she comes up with a way to best the clerk, and ends up getting the information she needs.

In Wendy James’ The Mistake, we meet Jodie Evans Garrow. As the novel begins, she seems to have the perfect life. She’s married to a successful attorney, she’s the mother of two healthy children, and she herself is both attractive and intelligent. Everything begins to fall apart, though, when a secret from Jodie’s past comes out. Her daughter, Hannah, is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where, years before, Jodie herself gave birth to another child. She’s never told anyone about this, but a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the baby. Jodie says that the child was adopted, but the overcurious nurse can find no formal records. Now, questions begin to be asked, and before long, Jodie becomes a social pariah. Of no help at all is Jodie’s mother-in-law, Helen Garrow. She’s a ‘blueblood’ who wasn’t happy when her son married Jodie, and who certainly doesn’t befriend her very much. She does ‘damage control,’ as far as the media goes, but that’s only to preserve the Garrow reputation. She’s quite convinced she’s right about the kind of person Jodie is, and although she does help to take care of the children, her smugness alienates Jodie, just when Jodie needs support the most.

And then there’s Brian Stoddart’s Arthur Jepson. Jepson is Madras Commissioner of Police in 1920’s Madras (today’s Chennai) during the British Raj. He’s not only very conscious of his position, but he’s absolutely convinced he’s right about the way to investigate. For instance, in The Pallampur Predicament, the Rajah of Pallampur is murdered. Jepson is sure that the victim was killed by disgruntled servants (Jepson is no fan of Indians). And that’s not an impossible explanation. But Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu (Stoddart’s protagonist) and his team believe that this is much more than just a ‘grudge murder.’ And they have more than one possible suspect. Still, Jepson is unwilling to listen to anyone else’s point of view. It all makes the case much more challenging for Le Fanu.

And that’s the thing about smug characters. I’ll bet we’ve all met people like that, and they have a way of making everything more difficult. Such people can be downright annoying in real life, but in crime fiction, characters like that can add interesting layers to a story.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Poliça’s Smug.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Brian Stoddart, Louise Penny, Wendy James

I Know Your Deepest, Secret Fear*

Deepest FearsBoth Ian Rankin and Stephen King have made the point (‘though in different ways) that, among other things, writing helps to exorcise those fears and personal demons that plague just about all of us. And certainly writing can be very cathartic. That’s part of why so many people keep journals.

It’s possible that reading crime fiction can be cathartic, too. There are, of course, many reasons people read crime fiction. One of them might be that it lets us face some of our fears and darker thoughts in a very safe way. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if you look at some of the topics and themes in the genre, you certainly see that it addresses some of our deepest fears.

For example, people are social creatures. We need to depend on each other. That’s especially true for people in our ‘inner circles.’ And that’s why we’re perhaps most vulnerable to family members, partners and close friends. Stories that address that fear quite possibly give us a safe outlet for thinking about it. And there are plenty of them.

Novels such as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, and even Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives explore this sort of fear. In all of them (and many others, too, that I haven’t mentioned), the plot raises the question of how well we really know even those closest to us. Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt is one example of a film that does the same thing. Such stories touch a raw nerve for a lot of people, and bring that fear out into the open.

Along with that is the fear many people have of being outcasts. Most of us don’t mind having our own little quirks and eccentricities, but we still want to be accepted and included. Plenty of crime fiction novels address that deep-seated need we have to belong.

We see this sort of fear in novels such as Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, and Wendy James’ The Mistake. In all of these stories (and plenty of others), part of the plot involves a character who is made a social pariah. That experience adds tension to the stories. But it also speaks to a deeply human fear of being all alone in the world, and the target of others’ contempt (or worse).

One of the biggest fears people have is the fear that they might be mentally ill – that their sanity is slipping away. When some people say, ‘Am I crazy?’ it’s because they want reassurance that others feel the same way, or saw/heard the same thing, or have the same perception. The alternative – questionable sanity – is so deeply frightening that it’s difficult to really comprehend.

Several crime novels address this fear, too. One of the main characters in Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder, for instance, starts to doubt her sanity when she begins to have a sense of déjà vu – about a house she doesn’t ever remember visiting before. And the protagonist in Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is slowly losing a battle with dementia. Since that story is told in first person, readers get a strong sense of what it’s like to feel that one’s losing touch with reality. We also see this sort of fear addressed and explored in Mike Befeler’s Paul Jacobson novels. Jacobson is in his eighties, and has developed short-term memory problems. So he keeps a notebook in which he records everything that happens, so that he’ll be able to recall it later.

It’s hard to imagine a worse nightmare for a caring parent than the loss of a child. That may be particularly true in cases of abduction, where parents don’t know what happened to their child. That makes it even harder to come to terms with the loss.

I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that, in the last few decades, there’ve been several books in which authors address that awful possibility. Just a few examples are William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, and Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill. There are others, too, of course, many more than I have space for in this one post. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it has been explored quite a lot in recent years. And, like our other deep, dark fears, it’s in part a way to explore that darkness in a safe way – a way that allows us to keep our distance, as it were.

These certainly aren’t the only truly dark fears that people have. And it might be the case that crime fiction allows those demons to be called out and sent off in a way that doesn’t do damage. It certainly lets authors flush them out.

What do you think? Do you find it cathartic to read crime fiction? If you’re a writer, do you think people write to let out the demons? I’d be really interested in your opinions.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Doors’ Spy.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Alice LaPlante, Ellery Queen, Garry Disher, Helen Fitzgerald, Ian Rankin, Ira Levin, Mike Befeler, Paddy Richardson, S.J. Watson, Sarah Ward, Stephen King, Wendy James, William McIlvanney

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.



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