Category Archives: William Deverell

Somehow I Got Stuck*

Part of investigating a crime is talking to anyone who might have any knowledge about it. That sometimes means that a lot of innocent people, who didn’t have anything to do with the crime, get mixed up in it, at least to some extent. That can lead to annoyance and drains on time (e.g. if one is deposed or summoned as a witness at a trial). It can also lead to embarrassment (e.g. the person who is in a hotel with a lover and happens to witness something related to a crime that takes place there). And, although there are some people who feel a certain amount of excitement about being deposed or summoned to court, the process can be nerve-wracking, too.

People’s differing reactions to getting mixed up in an investigation can add some interesting layers to a crime novel. They can also add character development. It’s also realistic that innocent people get mixed up in criminal investigations. So, it’s no wonder that we see this sort of plot thread in a lot of crime fiction.

Agatha Christie used such reactions in many of her stories. For instance, The ABC Murders begins with the murder of a shop owner, Alice Ascher. She’s killed in her shop late one afternoon, and, of course, the police want to talk to anyone who might have been there at the approximate time of her death. So does Hercule Poirot, who actually received a warning note about this murder. Two of the customers they speak to are James Partridge and Bert Riddell, and it’s interesting to see how they react to being drawn into the case. Partridge made a purchase just before Mrs. Ascher was killed, and he goes to the police of his own accord with his story once he learns of the murder. He’s not at all ghoulish, but he does enjoy being able to provide evidence. Riddell, on the other hand, doesn’t come forward. When he is interviewed, he blusters a bit as he tells his story, and wonders out loud (and rather angrily) whether the police suspect him. Soon enough, it’s established that neither man is likely to be the killer, but it’s interesting to see how they respond to giving their stories. I see you, fans of Death in the Clouds.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel has his sleuth, Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk, seconded to the small town of Swinderen. Someone has been sending vicious anonymous letters accusing the different residents of all sorts of things. It’s the sort of town where everyone knows everyone’s business, so no-one is comfortable talking about the letters. But they’ve wreaked havoc. In fact, they’ve caused two suicides and a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to find out who’s responsible, so Van der Valk’s been sent in to see what he can learn. Slowly, he gets to know the people of the town, and begins to talk to some of them. Most are terrified to reveal they got letters, because they don’t want anyone suspecting that what’s in the letters is true. And, although everyone wants the letters to stop, no-one really appreciates being drawn into the case and interviewed. It’s a challenge for Van der Valk, but in the end, he gets to the truth.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, mystery novelist Martin Canning is among a group of people who are in Edinburgh, waiting to buy tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. As they’re waiting, they see a blue Honda crash into a silver Peugeot. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. Then, the Honda driver brandishes a bat, and starts to attack the Peugeot driver. Canning sees this, and instinctively throws his computer case at the Honda driver to stop the attack. Out of concern, Canning accompanies the Peugeot driver to the nearest hospital, and ends up getting drawn into a case of fraud and multiple murder. All of the other people who were waiting for tickets get drawn into the case, too, to some extent or other, simply because they were witnesses to the accident.

In Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness, attorney Guido Guerrieri gets a new client. It seems that Abdou Thiam, who emigrated to Bari from Senegal, has been arrested for the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Francesco Rubino. He claims that he is not guilty, but he’s not very hopeful of getting a fair trial. Still, Guerrieri promises to do everything he can, and goes to work on the case. One of the witnesses he speaks to, and later questions in court, is a bar owner named Antonio Renna. It seems that Renna saw Thiam pass by his bar shortly before the abduction and murder, although Thiam has said that he was in another town at the time. Naturally, Guerrieri wants to know everything he can about that incident. For his part, Renna never really wanted to be involved in the investigation in the first place. He’s drawn into it, and it turns out that what he has to say figures into the real truth about the murder.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, which introduces retired Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s hoping to enjoy retirement in his new home on Garibaldi Island, but he is drawn back into the courtroom when some of his former colleagues persuade him to take the case of Professor Jonathan O’Donnell. He’s been charged with the rape of a law student named Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell isn’t satisfied with the representation he’s gotten, and he wants Beauchamp to defend him. Of course, O’Donnell and Martin tell different stories about the night of the alleged rape, but there are some facts that are not in dispute. On that night, the Law Students Association (of which Martin is a member) held a dance, to which O’Donnell and some other faculty members were invited. After the dance, a group of several people went on to another party, and then back to O’Donnell’s house. A great deal of alcohol was consumed, and not just by the two parties to the case. As Beauchamp and his opponent prepare their cases, they speak to several of the other students who were present at the dance, the party, and at O’Donnell’s house. In the end, we find out what really happened that night, and it’s interesting to see how those young people, who were simply out to have a good time, get drawn into this investigation.

And it’s like that with many witnesses. They may be entirely innocent, even in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the saying goes. But they can be drawn into murder cases just the same.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Warren Zevon’s Lawyers, Guns and Money.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gianrico Carofiglio, Kate Atkinson, Nicolas Freeling, William Deverell

Till You Turn it All Upside Down*

If you read enough crime fiction, you start to develop expectations about crime stories. That’s natural enough, as we all have assumptions and expectations that help us make sense of the world. For instance, unless you know your car’s not working, you expect that, when you start the car, the engine will engage, and the motor will run. When you open a book, you expect that the first page of the story will be the first page you encounter. That’s part of how we humans sort out all of the stimuli we experience.

Crime writers know this, too. And sometimes, crime writers use those expectations to misdirect the reader. It’s not easy to pull that sort of misdirection off and still, ‘play fair.’ But it can be done, and when it is, it can be very effective.

For example, one expectation most readers have is that the sleuth is not also the killer. Sometimes the protagonist is, but most readers assume that the sleuth won’t turn out to be the murderer. Agatha Christie was well aware of that expectation and turned it on its head. I won’t mention title or sleuth, for fear of spoilers. But she did violate that expectation. And she’s not the only one (no more names – no spoilers).

Crime fiction readers also often make assumptions about the identity of a victim. When the police are called to a murder scene, they (and readers) believe that the dead person is, well, actually dead. But that isn’t always the case. For instance, in Vera Caspary’s Laura, New York police detective Lieutenant Mark McPherson is called to the scene when the body of successful advertising executive Laura Hunt is discovered in her apartment. She was killed with a shotgun blast which has obliterated her face, so there’s no question that this was a murder. With that information, McPherson starts to investigate. It’s not spoiling the story to say that McPherson is shocked when Laura returns to the apartment one day while he’s there. It turns out that the dead woman wasn’t Laura at all, but a woman named Diane Redfern, whom Laura knew, and to whom she’d given permission to use the apartment. Laura’s arrival turns the whole investigation on its head and changes the course of the story.

Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone is the story of what happens when four-year-old Amanda McCready goes missing. She disappears from her Dorchester, Massachusetts, home one night, and the police and public soon start a massive search. Dozens of police officers from more than one department do the ‘legwork’ of trying to trace the child. Many volunteers join in the search, too. Still, there are no traces of the child – not even a body. The child’s aunt and uncle, Lionel and Beatrice McCready, hire PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro to find her. At first, Kenzie and Gennaro aren’t sure what they can do that the police can’t, but the McCreadys insist, so the two PIs get started. Reader expectations about what they will eventually find are turned upside down when the truth about Amanda’s disappearance is revealed. And that violation of expectations adds several layers to the story.

William Deverell’s Trial of Passion introduces his protagonist, Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. As the story begins, he’s just retired and decided to start life again in the peace and quiet of Garibaldi Island. He’s no sooner settled into his new home when his former colleagues press him back into service. It seems that Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of the School of Law at the University of British Columbia, has been arrested and charged with rape. His accuser is a law student, Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell isn’t happy with his current representation and wants Beauchamp to take his case. At first, Beauchamp is reluctant to get involved. But, he’s finally persuaded, and he and his team start looking into what happened. Both parties agree about some of the facts. On the night in question, the Law Students’ Association (Martin is a member) held a dance, to which several members of the faculty (including O’Donnell) were invited. Then, a group of people went on to another party, and then to O’Donnell’s home. A great deal of alcohol was consumed, and not just by O’Donnell and Martin. Beyond that, the two parties disagree. Martin claims O’Donnell raped her; O’Donnell eventually admits that he and Martin had sex, but that it was completely consensual. As the story goes on, we learn more about each of the parties, and we see how their lawyers manage the case. Without giving away spoilers, I can say that the final bit of the story turns a reader expectation upside-down.

And then there’s Jock Serong’s The Rules of Backyard Cricket. As the story begins, Darren Keefe is bound up and locked in the boot/trunk of a car. He’s not sure where he’s going, but he knows that the people who have him are planning to kill him. He sees this as inevitable, so we know right away that something terrible has happened. Keefe then begins to tell his story, beginning with scenes from his childhood backyard near Melbourne, where he and his older brother Wally are playing cricket. As the novel goes on, we see what happens as the brothers grow into adults. Both are natural cricketers. Wally has discipline, focus, and determination along with his talent, and those serve him as he rises to the top of Australian cricket. Darren has unusual talent for the game, but he is less disciplined and more impulsive. He is, to put it mildly, uninhibited. But he can be superb – once-in-a-generation superb. As the Keefe brothers get older, they experience the dark side of cricket – and there is a very dark side to it. And their different personalities have a real impact on what happens to them when they do. Here is what the late Bernadette, who blogged at Reactions to Reading and Fair Dinkum Crime (and who is very sorely missed) said about the ending:
 

‘The resolution to the story was the second surprise. In the way that being struck from behind with a brick might be.’
 

I couldn’t have said it better. Certainly, it turns readers’ expectations inside out.

The expectations we have as crime fiction readers help us a lot in making sense of a story and following it. They can also be useful tools for the author who wants to manipulate them. It’s got to be done carefully, but when it is, such a strategy can make a story memorable.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Devo’s Spin the Wheel.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Jock Serong, Vera Caspary, William Deverell

And the Newspapers, They All Went Along For the Ride*

As this is posted, it’s 23 years since the beginning of the famous O.J. Simpson trial. As you’ll know, he was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and the murder of Ron Goldman. The trial made world headlines, and every detail that could be shared in the press, was. In part, the trial caught people’s interest because of the lurid details. In part, it was arguably because Simpson was famous. Little wonder that it was called ‘the Trial of the Century,’ whether or not it actually deserves that status.

Certainly, Simpson’s trial wasn’t the first or last sensational murder trial. There’s just something about certain trials that get the press’ and public’s attention. That’s true in real life, and it’s certainly true in fiction.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman bridges the gap between fiction and real life. It’s a fiction re-telling of the story of Harvey Hawley Crippen, who was arrested, tried, and executed in 1910 for the murder of his wife, Cora. The arrest and trial were a media sensation, and papers all over the world carried regular news about the Crippen case. It’s not surprising that the trial caught the public’s interest as it did, even though Crippen wasn’t famous. There was a love triangle involved, which always adds to the ‘spiciness’ of a case. What’s more, the murder itself was considered sensational. There was also doubt (still is, if the truth be told) as to whether Crippen was actually guilty. All of this added to the media frenzy. And it helped make the career of pathologist Bernard Spilsbury.  Edwards tells the story from Crippen’s point of view, and suggests a possibility for what might have really happened.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Marie Morisot, a French moneylender who goes by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned during a flight from Paris to London. The only possible suspects are other people in the cabin, one of whom is Hercule Poirot. A few of the passengers are ‘society’ people, which in itself garners a lot of public interest. What’s more, the murder itself is considered sensational. It turns out that the victim was poisoned by what seems to be a dart from a blowgun – an exotic sort of crime. The coroner’s inquest is well attended, and all of the papers cover the story.
 

‘The reporters wrote: “Peer’s wife gives evidence in air-death mystery.” Some of them put: “in snake-poison mystery.”
Those who wrote for women’s papers put: “Lady Horbury wore one of the new collegian hats and fox furs” or “Lady Horbury, who before her marriage was Miss Cicely Bland, was smartly dressed in black, with one of the new hats.”
 

It’s not spoiling the story to say that at first, the coroner’s jury accuses Poirot of the crime, since the blowpipe was found by his seat. Needless to say, Poirot isn’t happy about that finding, and neither is the coroner. Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the guilty person is.

Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town takes place mostly in the small New England town of Wrightsville. Queen’s gone there for some peace and quiet, so he can write, and he’s staying in a guest house owned by social leaders John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. That’s how he gets involved in family drama when the youngest Wright daughter, Nora, rekindles an old relationship. She’d been engaged to Jim Haight, but he jilted her and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back, and Nora shocks everyone by agreeing to marry him. The wedding goes off as planned, but shortly afterwards, suspicion arises that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister, Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, is poisoned by a drink that was intended for Nora. Now, Haight finds himself arrested and on trial for murder. The trial is a major media event, and all of the papers cover it. After all, the Wrights are social elites. And there’s the whole ‘romance-gone-wrong’ angle. In the end, only Queen and Nora’s older sister, Pat, actually believe that Haight may be innocent. And they are determined to clear his name.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill also tells the story of a sensational murder trial in Clanton, Mississippi. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for the murders of two men, and the wounding of another. There’s a lot to this case that generates interest. The two men that Hailey shot were responsible for raping his ten-year-old daughter, so there’s a lot of sympathy for him. At the same time, though, he killed two people. The man he wounded is a sheriff’s deputy, and that complicates matters. There’s also the fact that Hailey is black and his victims white. This adds fuel to the media-frenzy fire, and news outlets from all over the country cover the trial. And some powerful forces have an interest in the outcome of the case, and aren’t afraid to use that power to do so.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s decided to retire and move to Garibaldi Island, and he’s looking forward to stepping back from the stress of big-firm work, and the failure of his marriage. Then, his former colleagues ask for his help. Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, has been arrested and charged with raping a law student, Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell claims to be innocent, and wants Beauchamp to defend him. Beauchamp refuses at first, but is finally persuaded. The trial gets a great deal of media attention. There’s the ‘he said/she said’ angle, and there’s the fact that O’Donnell is well known in the academic community. And there are the lurid details that come out during the trial. Through it all, Beauchamp works to find out what really happened on the night in question, and try to do his best for his client.

There are lots of other trials, too, both real and fictional, that get a great deal of media attention, even hype. Testimony from both sides gets splashed in the headlines, and daily updates of these cases are passed along. Some cases just seem tailor-made to become sensations.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, John Grisham, Martin Edwards, William Deverell

People Livin’ in Competition*

A recent post from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, has got me thinking about competitiveness. Bill’s post, which you really should read, discusses competitiveness in attorneys. His point, which is very well-taken, is that trial lawyers have to be competitive. Otherwise, they don’t keep the ‘fire’ they need to do all of the work that’s involved in preparing for a trial and seeing it through.

There are many, many legal mysteries that bear him out, too. In John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, and Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, to name just three, we see examples of attorneys who take on difficult cases – and want to win. There are far too many more examples of such novels for me to mention in this one post, so I won’t.

There’s plenty of competitiveness in other crime fiction, too, and it can add a healthy dose of character development, suspense, and plot to a novel. And, since there’s competitiveness in many different professions, the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to integrating it into a story.

Competitiveness is certainly important in the world of athletics. That’s a major part of the plot in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent, and her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture it. So, when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour approaches them with a proposition, they’re happy to listen:
 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up]  and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’
 

Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (which might not have been an accident) occurs, and changes everything. Devon is gifted, but the question becomes: how far are she and her family willing to go to get to the Olympics? After all, there are only a limited number of young people who can join the US team. So, when one person earns a place, it often means others lose.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry series also explores athletic competitiveness (and for the matter of that, journalistic competitiveness as well). Like her creator, Henry is a sportswriter. She works for the Toronto Planet. Henry especially follows the doings of the Toronto Titans baseball team, so she goes along with them on ‘away’ tours, attends the home games, and gets locker-room interviews with players, coaching staff and the like. When the team is in a slump, it’s devastating. When the team does well, it’s euphoric. These players work hard and train intensively to go as far as they can in the World Series competition. Gordon doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mystery series, and the murder plots dominate the books. But the books also give readers a look at what it’s like to be Major League Baseball athlete. It’s not a life for those who aren’t competitive. Neither is the life of those who write and publish stories about sports.

Business can be very competitive, too. In most industries, there’s a finite pool of customers. So, companies vie to get as much of their business as possible. And sometimes, that competitiveness can be deadly. In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Contagion, for instance, we learn about a major competition between two insurance giants: AmeriCare and National Health. That competition becomes important when a virulent strain of influenza seems to be the cause of a series of deaths at Manhattan General Hospital. Medical examiners Dr. Jack Stapleton and Dr. Laurie Montgomery try to find out what’s causing the virus. The hospital’s authorities are interested in keeping the whole matter as quiet as possible, mostly to protect the institution’s image. But Stapleton in particular wants to whatever it takes, regardless of unpleasant publicity, to prevent more deaths. When it comes out that Manhattan General is affiliated with AmeriCares, the question becomes: did someone at National Health have something to do with these deaths, with the aim of discrediting the competition?

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide deals with the competitive world of the beauty pageant circuit. In it, wealthy pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke is murdered during a charity art auction being held at her home. The most likely suspect is local artist Sara Taylor, who had a public argument with the victim shortly before the murder. But Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu, is sure that she’s not guilty. So, she sets out to clear Sara’s name and find out who the real killer is. There are plenty of suspects, too, as Tristan was both malicious and vindictive. And, for the contestants in the pageant, and their families, there’s an awful lot at stake. The beauty pageant life is demanding, expensive, stressful and time-consuming. You don’t stay in it long if you have no sense of competitiveness.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that there’s a lot of competitiveness in the academic world, too. Many academic mysteries have plots that involve competition for scholarships/bursaries, prizes, academic jobs, funding and so on. It’s a demanding life that takes a lot of time and effort. Just to give one example, Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels take place in the context of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, where James heads the English Literature Department. One of the sub-plots in the first of this series, Murder is Academic, concerns funding for the program. Each department’s funding is based on its performance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). There’s a lot of competition for finite funding, and James knows that she will have to ensure that all of the faculty’s scholarship (including her own) is as impressive as possible. That in itself is stressful. At the same time, she’s caught up in the investigation of the murder of her predecessor, Margaret Joplin. Admittedly, getting funding isn’t the reason for the murder. But it does add to the tension in the novel. And it’s a realistic look at one way in which competition works in academia.

Bill is right that being competitive is important if you’re going to win your case in a trial. It’s also an important personality trait in other fields, too. So it’s little wonder it figures so much in crime fiction. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Bill’s blog. Thoughtful reviews and commentary await you there!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boston’s Peace of Mind.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Grisham, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, William Deverell

He Said, She Said, She Said, He Said*

One of the hardest things to do is sort out the truth when two people tell very different stories about something. The classic example of this can happen when there’s a possibility that sexual assault occurred. Each party may say something very different, and it all has to be sorted out. Was there sex? Was it consensual? Were both parties in a position to give consent? There are other questions, too, that have to be addressed in situations like this. And it’s sometimes quite difficult to find out what actually happened, especially when neither party may be telling the complete truth.  And this is only one sort of circumstance when two people might tell very different versions of the same story. You see it in certain civil cases, university or company grievance cases, and so on.

It’s also there in crime fiction, and that makes a lot of sense. There are all sorts of possibilities for plot development. And there are many opportunities for tension and suspense. And such plot elements are effective for creating an unreliable narrator.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, we are introduced to wealthy, beautiful Linnet Ridgeway Doyle. She and her new husband, Simon, take a trip through the Middle East as a part of their honeymoon trip, and all’s well except for one thing. Linnet’s former best friend, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort seems to show up everywhere they go. Simon was engaged to Jackie before he met Linnet, and things are very strained between the former friends. In fact, matters get so bad that Linnet asks Hercule Poirot, who is in the same hotel, to get Jackie to stop following the newlyweds. Poirot speaks to Jackie and to Simon as well, and gets three different stories from the three people who are involved. Then, the Doyles leave for a cruise of the Nile. Poirot’s on the same cruise, and to everyone’s surprise, so is Jackie. On the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. Jackie is the most likely suspect, but it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have shot the victim. So, Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer. And it’s interesting to see how the real truth about Simon, Jackie, and Linnet is woven into the story.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring features her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In one plot thread of the novel, one of Kilbourn’s students, Kellee Savage, comes to her with a claim of sexual harassment. There’s evidence, too. Kellee says that the person responsible is another student, Val Massey, but that no-one believes her. At first, Kilbourn suggests that Kellee go to the university office that handles such grievances; Kellee says she’s already done that, but to no avail. Then one night, Kellee happens to be in a bar with a group of other people. She’s already had plenty to drink when Val walks in. She accuses him in a public, ugly way before she rushes out of the bar. Then, she goes missing. This turns out to be related to another incident, the murder of Journalism professor Reed Gallagher. And woven through the story is the question of what really happened between Val Massey and Kellee Savage. She was harassed, but was he responsible?

In A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert, a successful Chicago couple who’ve been together twenty years. She’s a psychotherapist; he is a developer. Then, Todd begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his business partner. He’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different. Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant, and she wants to get married and have a family. Todd goes along with the idea, saying that’s what he wants, too. And it ought to be straightforward, since he and Jodi were not legally married, and there’s no common-law marriage provision in Illinois. Todd’s attorney persuades him to send a formal eviction notice to Jodi, so as to protect his assets. And Jodi’s attorney tells her that there isn’t much that can be done. Since they weren’t married, she has no legal claim on the home they shared. Things begin to spiral out of control for both Todd and Jodi, and as they do, we see the way each perceives what happens. Without spoiling the story, I can say that neither is viewing things entirely honestly.

There’s a similar situation in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise. Lindy and Mike Markov, who’ve been together twenty years, own a very successful Lake Tahoe business. Then, Lindy discovers that Mike’s having an affair with one of his co-workers, Rachel Pembroke. As if that’s not bad enough, Lindy is served with eviction papers, ordering her to vacate the home they’ve shared. She’s also removed from her company position, and will be given no compensation. In desperation, she turns to attorney Nina Reilly to help her launch a civil suit. It’s not going to be easy, though. For one thing, Mike’s attorney has the reputation of being a ‘courtroom tiger.’ For another, Reilly makes the shocking discovery that the Markovs were never legally married. This makes all of Lindy’s claims tenuous at best. Still, there’s a chance for a win, and Reilly takes the case. A jury is empaneled and the case is heard in court. Then, a shocking event changes everything, forcing Reilly to make new plans, and putting her in real danger. Throughout the novel, especially in the courtroom scenes, we see how ‘he said/she said’ plays an important role in what the jury hears.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature attorney Arthur Beauchamp. Beauchamp has recently retired from his successful Vancouver law business, and moved to Garibaldi Island, a quiet sort of ‘hippie’ refuge. He’s drawn, very reluctantly, back to the firm’s activity when Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, is charged with rape. His accuser, Kimberley Martin, is a student in the school of law; she’s also engaged to wealthy and socially prominent Clarence de Remy Brown. O’Donnell swears he didn’t commit rape, and insists that Beauchamp take his case. Finally, Beauchamp agrees to get involved. As the story goes on, we learn what each of the parties to the case say about what happened. And, bit by bit, the layers are peeled away to reveal the truth about the night in question.

And that’s the thing about ‘he said/she said’ sorts of cases. It can be very difficult to get at the truth. And, even when you get there, it’s sometimes completely different to what either person says.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Thompson’s Razor Dance. 

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Perri O'Shaughnessy, William Deverell