Category Archives: Will Thomas

A Tiger is a Tiger, Not a Lamb*

Isn’t this wombat cute? I think so, too. But don’t let that fool you. Wombats are extremely strong, have sharp teeth, and can be very aggressive and destructive. That’s part of why they’re best left in their natural habitat. It’s a big mistake to be blind to what wombats can really be like.

The same is true of people. I think most of us would like to believe the best about the people in our lives. That’s arguably part of the reason we make excuses, at least to ourselves, for the way some people behave (e.g. ‘Yes, she’s very short-tempered, but look how creative she is!’). And sometimes, that way of thinking can allow us to work with others productively, even if we’re aware of their faults. And, in any case, no-one’s perfect.

It can be a mistake, though, to ignore others’ character traits, or to think that someone will change a fundamental trait (e.g. ‘I know he cheated on her, but it’ll be different with me.’). Making those sorts of excuses can lead to all sorts of sad consequences. And in crime fiction, it can lead to disaster.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), Hercule Poirot investigates the sixteen-year-old poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. At the time of Crale’s death, it was believed that his wife, Caroline, was responsible, and she certainly had motive; he was having a very obvious affair. In fact, Caroline was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the murder. But now, their daughter Carla wants to clear her mother’s name. So, Poirot interviews the five people who were on the scene at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts of what happened from each one. Using the interviews and accounts, he works his way towards the truth of the matter.  As the story goes on, we learn more about the victim’s character. For him, his art was the most important part of his life. In fact, he even warned his mistress, Elsa Greer, not to believe in him or trust him, except for his art. She didn’t listen to him, though, and took their relationship far more seriously than he did. She believed they would marry as soon as Crale divorced his wife. Her refusal to see Crale for what he was caused all sorts of conflict and tragedy that play a role in the story.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele. She meets Bill King, a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office, and the two begin a relationship. Bill’s brother, Lora, a Pasadena teacher, isn’t enthusiastic about Alice at first, but she puts that down to her protectiveness about her brother. Even so, as she gets to know Alice, Lora begins to have questions. Alice and Bill marry, and Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law, but the questions and concerns won’t go away. The more she learns about Alice, the more repulsed Lora is by Alice’s life. At the same time, though, she is drawn to it. And she comes to have, as she sees it, fewer and fewer illusions about her sister-in-law. Bill doesn’t share her concerns, though, and Lora knows that he doesn’t see Alice for what she is. Then, there’s a murder, and it looks very much as though Alice might be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s looking out for her brother, Lora starts to ask questions. In the end, refusal to see things as they are ends up wreaking havoc.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry is the sixth in his series featuring London PI Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool goes to Barker with an odd request. It seems that the British government has granted immunity to Sebastian Nightwine, and that he will be returning to London at the government’s request, so as to take part in a top-secret mission. Nightwine has indicated that he’s afraid he’s in danger from Barker. It was Barker’s discovery of some of Nightwine’s crimes that caused him to flee England in the first place. Now that he’s returning, he’s concerned that Barker represents a threat to him. Pool warns Barker to stay away from Nightwine. But Barker strongly suspects that Nightwine has his own agenda, and may even have a major criminal plan underway. To Barker, the government is naïve in not acknowledging the sort of person Nightwine is, and that naivety will lead to disaster. So, he does a little checking, and discovers that he’s right. Before he can do anything about it, though, he’s neatly framed for a murder. Now, the police are after him, and so are Nightwine’s people. So, with help from Llewellyn, Barker’s going to have to clear his name and stop Nightwine if he can.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion is the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently been promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant (DS), and has joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. The team is facing a very perplexing case. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder is similar in many ways to six other deaths the team is investigating. But there are some major differences. For one thing, the other victims were all prostitutes, and Melissa wasn’t. For another, the other victims were all older; Melissa was a teenager. Still, it’s certainly possible that all seven women were killed by the same person. Gradually, the team comes to believe that a man named Alan Daniels is that person. But that possibility presents several challenges. Daniels is a beloved television actor who’s about to ‘make it’ in films. Any public aspersions on him will not be taken kindly. What’s more, there’s no conclusive evidence against the man. And, Daniels is wealthy and well-connected. He can afford the best legal representation, and the team risks a lot of public embarrassment (and more) if they botch this case. As a part of the investigation, Travis gets to know Daniels, even seeing him socially. All of this is planned by her team, but that doesn’t mean it’s not risky. And, as she sees more of him, Travis has to consider what sort of person he is, and whether there’s a ruthless killer underneath his charming surface. He is charming and attractive, and Travis needs to remind herself, more than once, not to make excuses for him.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy, which features a locksmith named Jeet Singh. He’s a former safecracker/lockbreaker who’s ‘gone straight,’ and now operates a keymaking kiosk in Mumbai. One day, he gets an unexpected visit from his former lover, Sushmita, who asks for his help. It seems that her husband, wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, has been killed in a planned murder disguised as a carjacking gone wrong. Sushmita says that she’s being accused of hiring a killer, so she could inherit her husband’s money. Now, she needs her name cleared. For that, she needs money, and that’s why she’s come to Singh. He’s still at least partly in love with Sushmita, so he agrees to do what he can. And that means taking on one more illegal job, so that he can earn some quick money. He knows that Sushmita broke his heart, callously (to him) marrying another man because he was very rich, and Singh is not. But he refuses to really see her for what she is, and that leads to all sorts of trouble in this novel.

And that’s the thing about not seeing people for what they are. Most of us acknowledge that everyone has faults. But we sometimes ignore troubling character traits. And that can cause real trouble. So…be careful if you pet a wombat.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebbs’ Mein Herr.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Lynda La Plante, Megan Abbott, Surender Mohan Pathak, Will Thomas

Plastic Tubes and Pots and Pans*

People invent all sorts of ingenious devices. Some of them become hits, and their inventors do quite well. Others don’t. Either way, it’s really interesting to think about that aspect of human curiosity and innovation.

There are plenty of such devices in fiction, too, even outside of steampunk and other science fiction. And, when you think about it, that makes sense. Inventions and innovations are part of what moves us along as a society. Certainly, you see this in crime fiction.

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, for instance, Peter Barstow, President of Holland University, dies suddenly during a golf game. At first, his death is put down to a stroke. But it’s soon clear that he was poisoned. And the weapon was a specially-designed golf club. Matters get murkier when Carlo Maffei, who designed the club, goes missing and is later found dead. When Maffei’s sister, Maria, becomes concerned about her brother’s disappearance, she hires Nero Wolfe to look into the matter, and he and Archie Goodwin get started. They find that, as you’d expect, Maffei’s and Barstow’s deaths are connected. And it’s all related to past history.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Flora Ackroyd asks for Hercule Poirot’s help when her uncle is stabbed in his study. The most likely suspect in the murder is Flora’s fiancé, Captain Ralph Paton. It seems that Paton, who was Ackroyd’s stepson, had quarreled with Ackroyd about money. What’s more, he went missing on the night of the murder, and hasn’t been seen since. Flora is convinced that Paton is innocent, and wants Poirot to clear his name. Poirot agrees and begins to look into the matter. He finds that Paton is by no means the only possible suspect; in fact, everyone concerned in the case is hiding something. In the end, he finds out who killed Ackroyd. It turns out that the murderer used an ingenious little innovation to try to escape detection.

In Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear, we are introduced to academician and physical anthropologist Gideon Oliver. He’s been invited to give a series of guest lectures over two months at the United States Overseas College (USOC), which serves those who are stationed at US military bases in Europe. Things begin to go wrong very soon, though. First, he’s attacked in his hotel room by two thugs who are apparently looking for something. Then, he’s drawn into a web of espionage and counter-espionage when Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, who work for NATO, ask for his help. They suspect that the USSR (the novel was published in 1982) is trying to steal something, but they don’t know what. They want Oliver to keep them informed, and let them know of any unusual occurrences. Without much choice in the matter, he agrees. And he soon finds himself the target of some ruthless people. It’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s one scene in which an ingeniously-altered umbrella is used as a murder weapon.

While Fellowship of Fear isn’t really a spy thriller, it gives a hint about how very effectively that sub-genre uses inventions and innovations. Fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, for instance will know that Bond has access to any number of devices that protect him, or that can be used as weapons. For some fans, that’s part of the appeal, really. And that’s by no means the only example.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry features his sleuths, London private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, which takes place in the late Victorian Era, Barker gets a visit from Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool. It seems that a certain Sebastian Nightwine has been granted diplomatic immunity, and is soon to arrive in London. Nightwine has expressed concerns for his safety, and wants assurances of protection. He’s even specifically mentioned Barker, so Poole wants Barker’s promise that he will have no contact with Nightwine. It turns out that Barker was responsible for Nightwine’s having to leave England in the first place, as he’d discovered several of his crimes. Now the British government wants Nightwine’s help; hence, his return to London. Barker is convinced that Nightwine has plans of his own, which will probably involve crime. So, he’s going to have to find a way to thwart his nemesis, although he’s forbidden to have any contact with him. Then, there’s a murder, for which Barker is framed. Now, he and Llewellyn are on the run from the police and from Nightwine. And they still have a murder to solve. As it happens, Nightwine is a brilliant scientist. So, throughout the novel, there are all sorts of devices that play roles. I can’t say more without coming too close to spoiling the story, but it’s interesting to see how those innovations are woven into the novel.

There are also novels, such as Charles Stross’ Rule 34, and Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, that take place in a slightly altered near-future. In a sense, you might argue that they’re science fiction, or at least akin to it. But the settings and contexts are very real-world, and life in those novels closely resembles what we’re accustomed to seeing. That said, though, there are some innovations that we don’t yet have, and it’s interesting to see how those authors weave ingenious devices and new innovations into their plots.

It’s arguably human nature to want to innovate, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are all sorts of inventions out there. Some of them are far-fetched, and not particularly practicable. But some are exciting and turn out to be wildly popular. Little wonder we see such things in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Charles Stross, Frankie Y. Bailey, Ian Fleming, Rex Stout, Will Thomas

In The Spotlight: Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Victorian London can be a very effective context for a novel. The physical setting alone can be appealing. And there are all sorts of possibilities for plots and characters. So, it’s little wonder that several series are set in that context. Let’s take a look at one today, and turn the spotlight on Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry, the sixth in his Barker & Llewellyn series.

Cyrus Barker is a private enquiry agent; Thomas Llewellyn is his assistant. One day they get a visit from Inspector Terence Pool of Scotland Yard. He has a very odd sort of commission that he wants to discuss with Barker. It seems that the British government has granted diplomatic immunity to one Sebastian NIghtwine, who’ll soon be returning to London. And Nightwine has expressed concern that he may be in danger from, of all people, Barker.

That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Barker and Llewellyn have crossed paths with Nightwine before; in fact, it was Barker’s discovery of several of Nightwine’s crimes that drove Nightwine to flee the country in the first place. Now, the British government thinks it needs Nightwine’s help for a secret mission. So, he’s been brought back to London.

Barker strongly suspects that Nightwine has his own agenda, which will probably include revenge. What’s more, Barker has no illusions that Nightwine has reformed, so he’s convinced that there’s a criminal plot, too – one that the British government has not discovered. Forbidden by police to go anywhere near his quarry, Barker has to be creative in finding out Nightwine’s real motives. But once he does, he sees that there is real danger if Nightwine isn’t stopped.

Then there’s a murder, for which Barker is neatly framed. Now, Barker and Llewellyn are on the run from the police, who are not without resources. Every officer in London is on the lookout for them, and all of Barker’s funds are cut off.  This leaves Nighwine free to carry out his plot. So, without money or access to ‘the usual channels,’ Barker and Llewellyn have to solve the murder, clear Barker’s name, and thwart Nightwine’s plans. To do that, they’re going to have to use all of their skills.

As I mentioned, this novel takes place in London, and Thomas clearly places the reader there. From Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, to the docks, to the slums, readers follow along as Barker and Llewellyn follow leads, go into and out of hiding, and so on. And it’s the London of 1886. So, readers who are also familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle may find some of the lifestyle described in this book to be familiar.

But if you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson case, it really isn’t. Barker and Llewellyn are a quite different pairing. And the differences go beyond the fact that Holmes and Watson are more or less friends and colleagues, while Llewellyn is Barker’s employee.

For one thing, in most of the Holmes/Watson stories, Watson quite admires his friend. He seldom has a word of criticism for Holmes, although it’s clear in the stories that Holmes isn’t perfect. That’s not the case with Barker and Llewellyn. Llewellyn respects his boss’ intelligence and ability to solve crimes. But he’s hardly blind to Barker’s imperfections, and he certainly doesn’t hero-worship the man. In this scene, for instance, Barker asks Llewellyn to get a list of passengers who will be on the same ship to London as Nightwine:
 

‘‘What are you planning to do with the information?’ [Llewellyn]
‘I intend to board the Rangoon, of course. What odd ideas you get into your head sometimes.’
‘But he warned you off…’
‘Legally, I have the right to enter the vessel, so long as I do not molest Nightwine in any way or keep Poole and his men from performing their duties. My defense will be iron-clad if I can find someone aboard ship with whom I am acquainted and who will vouch for my attendance there.’
‘Hence the passenger list.’
‘Ah, light breaketh.’
I sighed. One does that a lot when working for Barker.’
 

Llewellyn respects Barker, and he’s glad for the job. But to him, Barker is all too human.

The snippet above also hints at another element in this novel: the wit. One the one hand, this isn’t a ‘jolly romp’ sort of mystery. On the other, there are funny comments and moments woven through it. For instance, in this scene, Barker and Llewellyn arrive at the dock when the ship carrying Nightwine arrives. Poole spots them:
 

‘Poole wagged a finger in his [Barker’s] face. He was one of the five people I knew brave enough to get away with it. I was not one of those people.
‘You’re up to something.’ [Poole]
‘Of course I’m up to something. I’m a private enquiry agent. We live by our wits.’’
 

As I mentioned, this isn’t a comic caper sort of novel. But it definitely has funny moments.

It’s also worth noting that, in this series, the police are presented in a more positive way than they often are in the Conan Doyle stories. Barker does say some disparaging things about them, but it’s not a story full of bumbling coppers. And, when he and Llewellyn go on the run, he’s well aware that the police are a force to be reckoned with.

The mystery itself – Nightwine’s plan, the murder, and the frame-up of Barker – is solved, and we learn what’s behind everything. We also, by the way, learn some things about Barker’s backstory. But I can say without spoiling the novel that this isn’t one of those cases where the guilty party is led away in handcuffs. There are some gritty scenes and moments, too. So, you couldn’t really call this a light, cosy sort of story. That said, though, the violence is not extended nor unusually brutal.

Fatal Enquiry gives readers a look at life in late-Victorian London. It weaves the story of the animus between Nightwine and Barker into the crime plot, and features two enquiry agents whose working relationship forms an important part of the story. But what’s your view? Have you read Fatal Enquiry? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 29 May/Tuesday, 30 May – Never Buried – Edie Clair

Monday, 5 June/Tuesday, 6 June – You  – Zoran Drvenkar

Monday, 12 June/Tuesday, 13 June – Red Ink – Angela Makholwa

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Filed under Fatal Enquiry, Will Thomas

Everywhere You Look Now There’s Murder Incorporated*

Changing Bad GuysWell-written crime fiction shows us ourselves – who we are as people. We can learn a lot about what we wish for, fear, and more as we read in the genre. For instance, if you consider the ‘bad guys’ in certain crime novels, you see that they reflect sociopolitical events, societal fears and sometimes prejudices. You also see how those have changed as the world has changed.

For example, if you look at early crime fiction, or historical crime fiction that takes place during the late Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era, you see that the ‘bad guys’ were frequently members or leaders of shadowy syndicates and crime rings. The best known example that I can think of is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty. Fans will know that he is a highly intelligent master-criminal who gives Sherlock Holmes quite a run for the money, as the saying goes. But he’s not the only criminal of that type. You see that influence also in Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry. In that novel, private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn go up against Sebastian Nightwine, a dangerous opponent whom Barker exposed as a criminal years ago. When Nightwine returns to London, Barker is sure that trouble is going to follow, and he’s right. Barker ends up accused of murder and on the run, with all of his assets frozen. Then there’s another murder. He and Llewelyn will have to work hard to clear his name and take down Nightwine’s.  A few of Agatha Christie’s novels (The Big Four being one of them) also set up shadowy syndicates as ‘the enemy).

More modern novels, such as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano stories, have a more contemporary take on the crime syndicate. Sometimes, as in Camilleri’s work and that of authors such as Michael Dibdin and Tonino Benacquista, the syndicate takes the form of what we call the Mafia (sometimes in the US, it’s called the Mob). There are also modern takes on crime syndicates from other places, too, such as the Glasgow underworld that we see in William McIlvanney’s and Malcolm Mackay’s work.

World War I and World War II had profound influences on people’s conceptions of ‘bad guys.’ Several of Agatha Christie’s stories (N or M? and Postern of Fate, for instance) set up first the Triple Alliance, then the Axis powers (specifically the Nazis) as ‘the bad guys.’

And by no means is Christie the only author who’s used Nazis, their associates, and their modern-day incarnations as antagonists. You see that in a lot of crime fiction and thrillers, actually. Just to take a few examples, there’s Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, and Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders.

In fact, the Nazis-as-enemies have had a profound influence even in modern crime fiction that simply touches on the World War II years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Camilla Läckberg’s The Hidden Child, Åsa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath be Past, and Ferdinand von Schirach’s Der Fall Collini (The Collini Case). In those novels (and many more), we see how modern relationships, interactions, and even crime has its roots in the war, in Nazi occupation and in loyalties of that time.  It will be interesting to see what happens to that theme as time goes on, and there are fewer and fewer people whose parents/grandparents/great-grandparents lived through World War II.

In the post-World War II era, one of the most important geopolitical realities was the Cold War between the UK, US and their allies, and the then-Soviet Union and its allies. This arguably set up the KGB and other Soviet-bloc spy agencies as very effective ‘bad guys.’ Read the work of authors such as John le Carré, Len Deighton and Robert Ludlum, and you’ll see that in a lot of those novels, the enemy is usually the KGB or other such agency in some form or another. Sometimes it’s one person who’s a member of such a group, but that person often represents the Soviet Union and its policies. You can even see such sentiments in books that aren’t exactly what you would call spy thrillers. For example, there’s Martin Cruz Smith’s work featuring Arkady Renko. And Walter Mosley’s The Red Death has his sleuth Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins being asked to take down a suspected Communist. As I think about the Cold War era, I often wonder what impression I’d get if I could read Russian well enough to read some of the novels of those years that are written in that language.

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1993, the world changed, and so did crime fiction. There are arguably two kinds of ‘bad guys’ that have populated crime fiction since that time. One is the Eastern European crime gang that we see in novels such as Daniel Pembrey’s The Harbour Master. Another, very closely related, outgrowth is arguably the Eastern European/Russian human trafficking gang (check out Tess Gerritson’s Vanish as an example). The other sort of ‘bad guy’ is the Russian oligarch/shady businessman. With official Communism at an end, these businessmen came to the fore in terms of their power and ruthlessness. Several of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels mention them (especially Exit Music). There are also some thrillers (such as Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules) that touch on such people as ‘the bad guys.’

Another recent development in terms of ‘bad guys’ is the terrorist group, particularly the Middle Eastern terrorist group. Novels such as le Carré’s 1983 The Little Drummer Girl are earlier examples of such crime fiction, but by no means the only ones. Lindy Cameron’s Redback includes such terrorists as ‘bad guys.’ So do many other novels. In the wake of more recent terrorist events, we’ve seen a lot more such ‘bad guys,’ even in novels that aren’t billed as ‘thrillers.’

There’s also been another development in the sort of ‘bad guy’ authors choose: big corporations and their leaders.  I’m sure you’ve read as many novels as I have in which big developers are depicted as antagonists. Some novels (I’m thinking of Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope) present a more complex picture of development. But many depict big companies and developers quite negatively. For instance, there’s Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, several of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels, and more.

Not all crime novels feature this sort of plot. Many are more personal plots, if I can put it that way. They feature crimes where one person (or a group of people) commit murder for reasons such as revenge, fear, or personal greed. That said though, if we look at crime plots over time, we really do see, I think, how they often use certain antagonists to reflect the kind of fears and prejudices that we have. I wonder which group will be next to be depicted in this way…

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Murder Incorporated.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Larsson, C.J. Box, Camilla Läckberg, Daniel Pembrey, Daniel Silva, Ferdinand von Schirach, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Ira Levin, John le Carré, Len Deighton, Lindy Cameron, Malcolm Mackay, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Dibdin, Peter Temple, Philip Kerr, Robert Gott, Robert Ludlum, Tess Gerritsen, Tonino Benacquista, Walter Mosley, Will Thomas, William McIlvanney

There is a Life About to Start When Tomorrow Comes*

Political MovementsThere’s something about political movements that gets people really passionate. Some, of course, are drawn to the potential power involved. But for a lot of people, it’s the vision of what they see as a better future that drives them.

Political movements have been responsible for a lot of positive social change, such as better working conditions, universal suffrage, and anti-discrimination legislation. They’ve also done much to right long-standing wrongs (forced removal of Native American/First Nations children from their homes to attend government schools being just one example).

But political movements have their dark sides too. For one thing, we don’t all agree on what counts as ‘a better future.’ For another, even when a movement has what we might call a positive purpose (e.g. support for the working class), that doesn’t mean that everyone involved in the cause is noble, or that ugly things don’t happen.

Plenty of crime fiction includes or at least touches on political movements and struggles. They’re well-suited to the genre, I think. Space only permits me a sampling; I know you’ll think of lots more.

Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death) introduces us to Howard Raikes. Young and idealistic, Raikes is involved in an activist movement to tear down existing governments and re-build the world. To him, entrenched government officials and those who support them need to be swept away in order for positive change to happen. Raikes is romantically involved with Jane Olivera, niece of powerful banker Alistair Blunt. On most things they agree, although Jane is much less violent in her views and more patient. They both get drawn into a case of murder when Blunt’s dentist Henry Morley is shot in his surgery. One theory of the murder is that someone was trying to get to Blunt, which makes Raikes a natural suspect. Hercule Poirot was also a patient of Morley’s and was at the victim’s office on the morning of the murder. So he works with Inspector Japp to find out who the killer is.

One of the characters we meet in Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourne Shreve series is Riel Delorme, a Regina-based Métis activist. When we first encounter him in Kaleidoscope, he’s trying to put together opposition to a new development in the economically depressed North Central section of Regina. Delorme has a troubled past, and plenty of personal demons. But as the saying goes, his heart’s in the right place when it comes to wanting to improve the lot of the people who live in North Central. He and his group believe that the planned development will disenfranchise the residents, increase the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ and concentrate local wealth and power in too few hands. So he’s a very likely suspect when one the development company’s employees is murdered. Shreve and her attorney husband Zack get involved in this case on two levels. First, his law firm is representing the development company. On another level, her daughter Mieka is romantically involved with Delorme. This isn’t a simple case of ‘greedy developer vs crusading protectors of the downtrodden.’ In this novel, the developer is hardly all ‘bad,’ and the activist group isn’t exactly a chorus of angels. It’s an interesting look at how a smaller-level political movement impacts those involved.

Wendy James’ Out of the Silence: A Story of Love, Betrayal, Politics and Murder is the fictional re-telling of the real-life case of Maggie Heffernan. In 1900, she was convicted of the murder of her infant son. As James tells the story, Maggie meets and falls in love with Jack Hardy. They become secretly engaged, and Jack leaves for New South Wales to find work. When Maggie learns that she’s pregnant, she writes to him several times, but gets no answer. Knowing her family will reject her, Maggie moves to Melbourne and finds work in a Guest House. When the baby is born, Maggie moves both of them to a home for unwed mothers. Then she learns that Jack has moved to Melbourne. She tracks him down, only to have him reject her utterly. With nowhere to go, Maggie tries to find lodging. She and the baby are turned away from six lodging houses, and that’s when the tragedy occurs. Maggie is arrested, imprisoned, and marked for execution. She finds a champion in Vida Goldstein, the first woman to run for Parliament in the British Commonwealth. Vida is a leader in the movement for women’s suffrage and women’s rights, and that group is happy to have Maggie as a sort of ‘textbook case’ of gender inequity. There’s also an interesting look at the women’s suffrage movement in Felicity Young’s The Anatomy of Murder.

Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders takes a look at another political movement, Australia First. On the surface of it, the movement stands for supporting Australian businesses, protecting the country from subversion by outside forces, and so on. It all sounds quite patriotic. But this novel takes place in 1943, when the country is at war with the Axis powers. There’ve been disturbing links between Australia First and Nazism, so the group died out. But when John Quinn and his son Xavier are found brutally murdered, it becomes clear that the group may be re-forming. If so, Melbourne police Inspector Titus Lambert and his second-in-command Joe Sable have a serious problem. One thread of this novel concerns the way idealism and the hope of a better future can be manipulated in appalling and horrible ways.

Glen Peters’ Mrs. D’Silva’s Detective Instinct and the Saitan of Calcutta places readers in 1960’s Calcutta/Kolkata. Joan D’Silva, a teacher at a Catholic school, gets involved in a case of murder when her son discovers the body of a former student Agnes Lal. After the inquest, two other former pupils tell Mrs. D’Silva that the victim was murdered; then they ask her help in finding the killer. Soon afterwards, one of those students is arrested in connection with the stabbing of a factory manager. He claims he’s innocent, and has been forced to confess, and D’Silva begins to look more deeply into the case. That’s when she discovers that all three former students were members of the Workers Revolutionary Movement of Bengal, which is dedicated to overthrowing the current Indian government and stripping high-ranking Anglo-Indians of their power. As Mrs. D’Silva tries to clear her former pupil’s name and solve the murder, readers see how passionate people can be about political movements and righting what they see as society’s wrongs. We also see how that idealism can be used for certain people’s purposes.

There’ve been several novels featuring the IRA and other groups who’ve championed Irish independence and self-determination. Authors such as Brian McGilloway, Bartholomew Gill and Will Thomas, among many others, have looked at the vision those groups have had of a better future for Ireland. As we know, it’s not been as simple as that, and no side of the conflicts in that part of the world has been really innocent.

And that’s the thing about wanting a better future, and agitating for it. It’s messy and complicated; and it sometimes results in conflict and a lot worse. Little wonder such movements are popular contexts for crime novels.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Do You Hear the People Sing?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bartholomew Gill, Brian McGilloway, Felicity Young, Gail Bowen, Glen Peters, Robert Gott, Wendy James, Will Thomas