Category Archives: William Ryan

And He’s Stealing the Scene*

Scene StealersMost crime fiction novels have a protagonist or protagonists who are the ‘stars’ of the story or series. The other characters are, hopefully, well-developed, but they don’t have top billing, as the saying goes. And yet, there are some secondary characters who can steal scenes very effectively. They have a way of calling attention to themselves, whether it’s because of a strong personality, an interesting background, or a way of serving as a foil to the protagonist. They can certainly add to a story, and if they’re well drawn, they can do so without taking away from the protagonist’s role.

For example, the protagonist in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit is Anne Bedingfield. After her professor father dies, Anne is left alone in the world without a lot of money. But she does have a sense of adventure. One day, she witnesses a terrible accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) from a train platform to the tracks below. She happens to notice a piece of paper that fell out of his pocket, and later, gets her hands on it. The message on the paper seems cryptic until she works out that it’s a reference to the upcoming sailing of the HMS Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, Anne books passage on the ship, and ends up getting mixed up in a case of international intrigue, stolen jewels and murder. One of the other passengers on the ship is Suzanne Blair, a wealthy woman a little older than Anne is herself. Suzanne is independent and knows exactly what she wants. She gets it, too. She becomes Anne’s friend, but is really quite a strong character in her own right. And she is most helpful in getting Anne out of trouble.

In Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning, Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate when a body is discovered at Holm Coultram College. Renovations are being made at the school, and part of the work involves digging up a statue and moving it to another place on campus. That’s when the body of the college’s former president, Alison Girling, is found. It was assumed she’d died as a result of an avalanche during a skiing trip, so everyone is shocked to find her body so close to home. And it turns out that several people at the school might have had a good reason to want the victim dead. One of the characters we meet in this novel is Franny Roote, who leads a revolutionary student activist group called the Student Union. He’s not what you’d call a nice person. And his fellow activists do their best to disrupt the normal goings-on of life at the campus. And yet, he does have a certain magnetism, and he’s a very interesting (i.e. not one-dimensional) character. As fans of this series know, he makes return appearances, too, in later books (Dialogues of the Dead and Death’s Jest-Book come to my mind). He may be a major thorn in, especially, Peter Pascoe’s side. But Franny Roote can steal a scene.

The setting for most of Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the small, rural Québec town of Three Pines. One of the people who lives in that town is poet Ruth Zardo. She is brilliant and observant, but her wit is caustic and she doesn’t really let people close to her. There are a few characters with whom she has what you might call a friendship. At least, she has a sort of back-and-forth/give-and-take repartee with them. But she keeps a very close guard on herself, keeping others away with her prickliness. And yet, she knows a lot about what goes on in town, and she herself is more complex than it seems. She really shares her soul in her poetry more than in any other way. In A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), Ruth wins the Governor-General’s Award for her work, and her name begins to get around more than it has. So she launches her newest book of poems at a Montréal bookshop, and several of Three Pines’ residents go to the event. On the one hand, the book launch doesn’t draw crowds. On the other, we see that despite her manner, Ruth is important to the people of Three Pines.

Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins series mostly features Rawlins, a PI living in post-World War II Los Angeles. He’s originally from Louisiana, and still knows people from that time in his life. One of those people is his friend Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander. Mouse is a complex and interesting character. On one level, he’s dangerous. He has a hair-trigger temper and few boundaries. On the other, he is brave and loyal to Easy. In Little Green, for instance, we learn that he rescued Easy from certain death after a car accident. Mouse tells a compelling story, too. In one scene (also from Little Green) we learn how he survived being shot in the back. In that scene, Easy is recovering from his near-death experience as Mouse tells his story, and even in that short space, we can see how Mouse is able to steal that scene. And in the novel, it’s Mouse who asks Easy to help locate a missing young man named Evander, who seems to have disappeared after getting mixed up with some hippies (the story takes place in the late 1960s). Mouse may be violent at times, but he is also fascinating.

In Andrea Camilleri’s The Shape of Water, we are introduced to Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano. In that novel, he and his team are looking into the sudden death of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello. One of the ‘people of interest’ in this investigation is Luparello’s political rival, Angelo Cardemone. In fact, there’s evidence that his son Giacomino was near the scene on the night Luparello died. That’s how Montalbano meets Giacomino’s wife, Ingrid Sjostrom. Originally from Sweden, she’s a race car driver who lives life exactly as she wants. She’s very much her own person, and that adds ‘spicy’ to her character. She and Montalbano become friends, and she can be very helpful. She can steal scenes, too. For instance, in this novel, she and Montalbano test one of his theories about Luperallo’s death. The test involves having Ingrid drive her car down a certain difficult path. She’s quite in control of that scene.

And then there’s Count Kolya, whom we first meet in William Ryan’s historical (late 1930s) novel The Holy Thief. Kolya is Chief Authority of the Moscow Thieves, and as such, lives life on the wrong side of the law. But he has his own code, and he is a complex character. As the series goes on, we learn bits about Kolya, and we see that there are depths to him. What’s interesting about this is that the series actually features Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev. He, too is an interesting character, and the well-drawn protagonist of the series. But when Kolya is ‘on screen,’ he is compelling. And he has a habit of popping up unexpectedly. Korolev finds him an unlikely but sometimes very helpful ally.

It all just goes to show that a character doesn’t have to be the protagonist to steal a scene (or more). Which scene-stealing characters have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ellis Paul’s River.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Louise Penny, Reginald Hill, Walter Mosley, William Ryan

My Family Just Moved in Around the Corner*

New NeighboursI’m sure you know the feeling. A moving van pulls up to a home near yours and you start wondering. What will the new people be like? Will they have a dog that barks at all hours? Will they have loud parties? Will they be pleasant? It’s quite natural to be curious about new people, especially if you live in a place that’s not particularly transient. Sometimes, the new people who move in turn out to be terrific folks who become your friends. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, it’s enough to get people thinking.

That tension and curiosity about new people can also add a layer of interest and suspense in a crime novel. For instance, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd takes place in the small village of King’s Abbot. Dr. James Sheppard is the local GP, who lives with his sister Caroline. They’ve recently had someone new move into the house next door. Sheppard is not one to pry a lot, but Caroline is insatiably curious. Despite her best efforts, though, she hasn’t been able to find out very much about their new neighbour. One afternoon, though, Sheppard is doing some gardening when he has his own encounter:

 

‘I was busily exterminating dandelion roots when a shout of warning sounded from close by and a heavy body whizzed by my ears and fell at my feet with a repellent squelch. It was a vegetable marrow!

I looked up angrily. Over the wall, to my left, there appeared a face. An egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense moustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes. It was our mysterious neighbour, Mr Porrott.’
 

This isn’t the friendliest way to begin an exchange, but Hercule Poirot gushes out his apologies, explaining that he lost his temper with the vegetable and threw it without thinking. Before long, he and Sheppard get to talking. And when Sheppard’s friend, retired magnate Roger Ackroyd, is murdered, he and Poirot investigate.

In Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, former school principal Thea Farmer has to deal with new people when Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington move in next door. She has nothing but contempt for them, referring to them as ‘the invaders’ Getting used to these new people is even harder for her than it is for most of us, because they’ve bought the house that Thea had had built for herself. A combination of bad luck and poor financial planning meant that she wasn’t able to take possession of ‘her’ house, and had to settle for a smaller home nearby. All of this means that she’s not particularly disposed to like Frank and Ellice. Then, Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim moves in. At first, Thea is sure this will make things even worse. But she ends up developing a sort of awkward friendship with the girl. That’s why she’s so upset when she begins to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim. Thea learns that the police aren’t going to do much about it without more direct evidence. So she makes her own plans…

William Ryan’s The Holy Thief introduces readers to Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow CID. This series takes place in the years just before World War II, when Stalin is firmly in charge in the then-Soviet Union. In one plot thread of the novel, Korolev has just been assigned new (and better) housing. Instead of having to share his room, he will have his own room in an apartment. It may not seem like much, but at that time, and in that place, it’s a definite step up. Korolev soon learns that he will be sharing the new apartment with Valentina Nikolaevna Koltsova and her young daughter, Natasha. It’s a little awkward at first, since they are complete strangers to each other. And it doesn’t help matters that during this time, it’s not uncommon for people to denounce each other to the authorities. So both Korolev and Koltsova are understandably very cautious about what they say to each other and what they do. Still, they gradually learn to like and trust each other.

In Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, we meet Emily Wray and her daughter Frances. It’s the early 1920s in London, when women don’t have many options for earning a living. Certainly women of ‘the better classes’ aren’t prepared to get jobs and have careers. So when Emily’s husband (and Frances’ father) dies, the two women are left without much money. They decide that they have no option but to take in lodgers – ‘paying guests’ is the euphemism they use – to make ends meet. After a short time, Len and Lilian Barber answer the Wrays’ advertisement and take rooms in their house. It’s all awkward to begin with because of the Wrays’ embarrassment at having to take in boarders. But it’s also awkward because the Barbers and the Wrays don’t know each other, and don’t know what it will be like to be at close quarters. Frances isn’t particularly impressed with either Barber at first. But bit by bit, everyone gets used to the arrangement. It’s not long, though, before things begin to spin out of control. In the end, having new people around has disastrous consequences.

Of course, it’s no less awkward if you’re the new person moving in. That’s what science fiction writer Zack Walker finds out in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move. Walker decides that his family would be safer if they moved from the city where they’ve been living to a new, suburban home. He finds what he thinks will be the right place in Valley Forest Estates, where the lower cost of living means that he’ll be able to write full time. The family moves in, and they feel the awkwardness of being ‘the new people.’ It’s not long, too, before Walker begins to suspect that something is not right about this housing development. In the end, the Walkers discover that living in suburbia is hardly a tranquil existence. It all ends up in fraud, theft, and murder.

And that’s the thing about having new people move in (or being those new people). Sometimes it works out very well indeed. Sometimes it doesn’t.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Hill’s Proposal.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Linwood Barclay, Sarah Waters, Virginia Duigan, William Ryan

Just Leave Everything to Me*

Unofficial LeadersThere are certain people who become, if you want to put it this way, unofficial leaders in their communities. They don’t have official status (e.g. mayor, department manager, and so on). But they command respect, and they get things done. When the police are investigating a crime, they know that they won’t get nearly as far without the cooperation of these leaders.

That’s especially true in what I’ll call ‘shadow communities.’ By that, I mean communities that aren’t really geopolitical entities such as towns. Rather, these are unofficial groups of people linked by an interest, ethnic background, or some other commonality.

You see this sort of leadership emerge in real life, and it’s there in crime fiction, too. Oh, and before I go any further, you’ll notice that this post won’t really have discussion of crime bosses. Too easy

In several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes gets very valuable help from a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. These are children who don’t go to school and often don’t have regular homes. In the Victorian world in which Holmes lives, no-one pays very much attention to them, so they can come and go without being noticed. That makes them very useful as Holmes’ ‘eyes and ears.’ They’re an interesting ‘shadow community,’ without an established infrastructure. But they do have a social structure in place, and they work as a group. Their leader is a boy called Wiggins. He obviously doesn’t have official status as any kind of authority. But the others look up to him, and he serves as their liaison with Holmes.

We also see an example of the ‘shadow community’ of street children in William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series. These novels take place mostly in Moscow in the years just before World War II. At that time, often called the Great Purge, there were thousands of arrests of people who were considered ‘enemies of the state.’ If they weren’t killed outright, they were imprisoned or sent away, often to Siberia. Many of them left behind children, who were sometimes considered suspicious simply because of their parents’ arrests. These children were often left to fend for themselves as best they could. In The Holy Thief, the first of this series, Captain Alexei Korolev of the Moscow CID meets a group of such children. He’s investigating the death of a woman whose body was found in a former church, as well as another, similar murder. Korolev learns that a group of street children was near the scene when the first murder occurred, and he wants to talk to them. He finally tracks them down and learns that they are led by Kim Goldstein, whose
 

‘‘…parents got caught up in something or other…’’
 

and is now managing for himself. Goldstein and Korolev establish a kind of rapport, and his help turns out to be valuable in this novel and in The Twelfth Department.

In William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, we meet Jack Laidlaw of the Glasgow police. He and his team investigate when eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson goes missing and is later discovered raped and murdered. There isn’t much to go on, and there is a great deal of pressure to find the killer. So Laidlaw decides to visit John Rhodes, who holds court in a pub called The Gay Laddie. Laidlaw says this about Rhodes:
 

‘‘He’s an honourable thug. He won’t like this kind of thing. He might lend us his eyes and ears for a week.’’
 

This part of Glasgow has a ‘shadow community’ that’s not really run by the civil authorities, except nominally. Things happen when John Rhodes wants them to happen. He’s not a crime boss, really, but he has connections all through the area, and everyone knows better than to cross him. Laidlaw and his assistant, DC Brian Harkness, have a conversation with Rhodes, and after a little staking out of positions, enlist his cooperation. It’s an interesting example of the way these ‘shadow communities’ work.

Maureen Carter’s Working Girl introduces readers to DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss of the Birmingham Police. When fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas is found murdered, Morriss and her team investigate. It turns out that Michelle was a commercial sex worker, so Morriss wants to talk to other sex workers to see what they might know about what happened. As you can imagine, the ‘shadow community’ of sex workers isn’t eager to talk to the police. In order to get their cooperation, Morriss will need the support of their unofficial leader, Big Val. Val’s been in the business longer than the rest, and has a sort of nurturing interest in the others. For their part, they look to her for advice and support – and a place to relax. Once Morriss is able to convince Big Val to work with her, she gets some useful information from the other sex workers in the area.

There are even some sleuths who are unofficial leaders. For example, you could argue that Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple is one such sleuth. Her village of St. Mary Mead isn’t a ‘shadow community;’ it’s an official town. But there’s plenty that goes on there that’s informal. And in that sense, Miss Marple is a leader. She isn’t the mayor or a member of the council. But everyone knows her, most people trust her, and she certainly has her ear to the ground, as the saying goes. And the police who investigate murders in that area know that they ignore Miss Marple to their peril.

And then there’s Anya Lipska’s Janusz Kiszka. One of the many ‘shadow communities’ in London is its Polish community. Members of it look to their own leaders for advice and support, and one of those leaders is Kiszka. He’s known as a ‘fixer’ – someone who can get things done and make things right. So it’s no surprise that DC Natalie Kershaw of the Met finds it to her advantage to work with Kiszka when she investigates murders that involve the Polish community. Kiszka doesn’t have official authority – not even in the area where he lives. But everyone knows he’s the person to go to in order to make things happen.

And that’s the thing about those ‘shadow communities.’ Like more official communities, they have their leaders. The authority of those leaders doesn’t come from a title or an office. But the police know that it’s just as real as a badge is, and that it pays to work with those leaders.

 

ps. Just in case you’re wondering…no, I don’t smoke. That’s a bit of ‘trick’ photography…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Jerry Herman song. It might not have been used in the original musical Hello, Dolly, but it was a memorable addition to the film version.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Arthur Conan Doyle, Maureen Carter, William McIlvanney, William Ryan

In a Room Where You Do What You Don’t Confess*

Secret RoomsSecret rooms and passages have been standbys in crime fiction for a very long time. They’re extremely useful and convenient for the author, and there really are plenty old places that have them. And let’s face it; they can be fun.

Of course, as with just about anything else in crime fiction, secret rooms and passages are tricky. Too much dependence on them and you lose credibility. In fact, one of the traditional rules for writing crime novels is that there can be no more than one such place in any given story. That’s a fairly wise idea. But there are places and situations where they can be extremely useful.

Anna Katherine Green’s short story Missing: Page 13 features her sleuth, New York debutante Violet Strange. In this story, she is hired to solve the mystery of what happened to a crucial page of an academic paper. A group of people had met for dinner; one of them was a certain Mr. Spielhage, who had just completed a paper which included a formula that might shed a whole new light on a certain industry. He was challenged about his ideas and determined to go over his paper word by word and find out where he might be wrong. The paper had been locked away, and Mr. Spielhage himself was sitting in the private room where the paper was, so that no-one could get at it. But when Mr. Spielhage read his paper, he found that the most important page – Page 13 – was not there. It’s one of those ‘impossible but not really’ cases, and when Violet makes an interesting discovery about the house, she determines what happened to the page.

Agatha Christie used hidden rooms and passages in more than one of her stories. In Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), for instance, Hercule Poirot is present at a cocktail party when the Reverend Stephen Babbington suddenly dies of what turns out to be pure nicotine poisoning. There seems no motive for the murder; Babbington was well-liked and certainly not wealthy. The investigation is underway in that case when there’s another death. This time, the victim is well-known mental health specialist Dr. Bartholomew ‘Tollie’ Strange. He, too, dies of nicotine poisoning. The two cases seem to be closely connected, especially since some of the same people were present at both occasions. But it’s hard to see exactly how; it’s even harder to see what the motive in the first death is. After a third murder, Poirot is able to work out who the killer is and what the motive is. It’s not the cause of the murders, but I can say without spoiling the story that a secret passage plays a role in this story. I hear you, fans of The Seven Dials Mystery…

In one plot thread of Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room, we meet Joakim and Katrine Westin, who sell their home in Stockholm and take a home at Eel Point, on the island of Öland. They tell themselves, each other, and everyone else that they plan to renovate their new home and get away from the noise and haste of the city. Soon, though, tragedy strikes the family. Police officer Tilda Davidsson investigates, and learns that the Westins’ home has a dark and tragic history. That history has a lot to do with the present-day tragedy, and a particular room in a particular building plays an important role in getting to the truth.

Steve Robinson’s In the Blood introduces readers to genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In this novel, he has accepted a commission from wealthy Boston businessman Walter Sloane to trace his wife’s ancestry as a gift. Tayte has discovered that one branch of the family moved south and then died out. The other, led by James Fairborne, went to England in 1783 with a group of Loyalists. So Sloane sends Tayte to Cornwall to follow up on that branch. When Tayte arrives, he discovers that the modern-day Fairborne family is not particularly disposed to help him. Still, he presses on with his quest. Meanwhile, we meet Amy Fallon, who lives in Cornwall. She is learning to face life again after the death two years earlier of her husband Gabriel. Before his death, Gabriel told her he’d made a discovery in their house, but never told her what it was. Now, some home renovations have revealed a hidden staircase leading to a secret room. In that room is a very old writing box. It turns out that this box is related to Tayte’s investigation, and it’s interesting to see how secret rooms figure into this story.

And then there’s William Ryan’s The Twelfth Department, the third in his series featuring Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev. In this novel, he and Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka are asked to investigate the murder of noted scientist Boris Azarov. It’s a very delicate case, because Azarov was working on a high-level, classified project. Nevertheless, Korolev and Slivka get to work on their investigation. They find a suspect, and at first, it seems the case is solved. But then that suspect is killed. Now the team has to start again. This time, the trail leads them to a much bigger case than they could have imagined. And there are all sorts of secret rooms and places that figure into the story.

And that’s the thing about secret rooms and hidden passages. They add to suspense and they can help a story along. They actually exist, too. Where would crime fiction be without them? I know I’ve only mentioned a few cases: which have you liked best?

 
 
 

*NOTE: the title of this post is a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anna Katherine Green, Johan Theorin, Stever Robinson, William Ryan

It’s All About the Same Thing Underneath the Disguise*

Same Underlying Plot, Different BookIn Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, Hercue Poirot works with Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and detective story writer Ariadne Oliver to solve the stabbing death of the enigmatic Mr. Shaitana. There are only four suspects, and each one could have committed the crime. What’s more, each one has, or so Shaitana hinted, killed before. The sleuths look into the background of all of the suspects to see what kind of murders they committed, and whether those crimes bear the same hallmarks they see in the Shaitana case. When Mrs. Oliver says that she wouldn’t commit the same kind of murder twice, here’s the conversation that ensues:
 

‘‘Don’t you ever write the same plot twice running?’ asked Battle.
‘The Lotus Murder,’ murmured Poirot. ‘The Clue of the Candle Wax.’
Mrs. Oliver turned on him, her eyes beaming appreciation.
‘That’s clever of you – that’s really clever of you. Because of course those two are exactly the same plot, but nobody else has seen it.’’
 

And she’s not the only author to use plot points, or even entire plots, that have been used before.

The fact is, there aren’t that many plausible reasons to commit murder. So if you look beyond the outer trappings of setting and so on, you’ll see a lot of books that bear similarities to other books, even if you might not think so at first. Moira at Clothes in Books got me thinking about this, and I’m glad she did. It’s an interesting topic, so I am grateful for the inspiration.

Some books’ similarities are quite clear, because they have such a similar context. For example, Ngaio Marsh’s Enter a Murderer and Caroline Graham’s Death of a Hollow Man both feature on-stage murders during the performance of a play. And in both cases, the sleuth has to look among the people who had access to the stage props to find out who would have been able to commit the crime. There are some differences (e.g. in one, the death looks like a suicide, but in the other, it’s a more obvious murder). But the underlying nature of the plot is strikingly similar.

Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair is the story of Gilbert Hand, who has recently moved to a very respectable London hotel. He’s settling into his room when he discovers that the ottoman he wants to use as a storage space has something hidden in it. Hand pulls out the silk-wrapped package and discovers a coil of long dark hair. He begins to wonder about the person who owned that hair, and it’s not long before he discovers that that person is Freddie Doyle. When Doyle tries to reclaim the hair, Hand refuses. Now he begins to be obsessed with Doyle, and that obsession leads to tragedy. It might not seem on the surface that this would bear a lot of resemblance to Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, which features a Pasadena schoolteacher named Lora King, and her relationship with her new sister-in-law Alice. But underneath the very obvious differences, there are some real similarities. Like Gilbert Hand, Lora King makes some unsettling discoveries about a person (in this case, Alice). And, like Hand, King finds herself becoming obsessed. She is both repelled by and drawn to Alice in the same way that Hand finds himself both repelled by and drawn to Doyle. And in both these novels, disaster strikes. Of course there are important differences between the books. Those differences set them apart and make each a unique read, with different characters and so on. But the core of the plot in the two books is very similar.

That’s also true of James Lee Burke’s A Morning For Flamingos and Walter Mosley’s A Red Death. One takes place in modern-day Louisiana; the other takes place in 1950’s Los Angeles. One features a police detective, and the other an amateur/soon-to-be PI. And the books focus on different kinds of contexts, too (a New Orleans crime syndicate v a Black church and the people who volunteer there). Different kinds of people are murdered, too. But underneath those major differences, we see some very strong similarities. In both cases, the sleuths are pressured by government authorities to bring down someone regarded as a ‘bad guy.’ In both novels, the sleuths are reluctant to do so, but are persuaded. And both sleuths face a serious internal struggle when they find themselves sympathetic towards the person they’re supposed to be targeting. These aren’t by any means alike. Each author has a unique way of telling the story, of developing the characters, and of resolving the story’s conflicts. But the underlying cores are quite similar.

They are in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City and Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart, too. These stories are unlike each other in many ways. They take place in different settings, feature different kinds of murder victims and murderers, and ‘star’ very different kinds of sleuths. You might not think of them as having anything in common. And yet, they do. In each case, we have a sleuth who has to find out why someone who seems innocent enough on the surface would be targeted. We also have some very, very ugly past history that plays an important role. And the solution for each case has to do with the past coming back, if you will. Saying more would bring me closer than I like to spoiler territory. But if you’ve read both books, you’ll know what I mean.

Betty Webb’s Desert Wives and William Ryan’s The Twelfth Department might not seem to be similar stories at all. And in a lot of ways, they are not. One features a PI; the other ‘starts’ a police detective. They take place in very different time periods (the former takes place is a modern-day story; the latter takes place in pre-World War II Moscow), and the murder victims are very different sorts of characters. But look closely and you’ll see these stories have more in common than you might think. Both involve penetrating a closed community; in one case it’s a compound owned by a fundamentalist sect, and in the other a group of scientists working on a top-secret project. And in each instance, the original murder – the reason the sleuths look into things – hides a much deeper, uglier truth.

There are many more examples of crime novels that tell similar ‘core stories,’ even though they are quite different. And if you think about it, that’s logical, considering that there are only so many credible reasons for murder, and only so many believable kinds of plots. What’s your view on this? Have you ever had that sense of déjà vu as you see that two quite dissimilar novels actually have a lot in common?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. And speaking of inspiration, may I suggest your next blog stop by Clothes in Books. It’s a rich resources of fine book reviews and informative discussion of clothes, popular culture, and what it all tells us about ourselves. I learn every time I visit.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joe Walsh’s Over and Over.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Betty Webb, Caroline Graham, Charlotte Jay, James Lee Burke, Megan Abbott, Ngaio Marsh, Timothy Hallinan, Walter Mosley, William Ryan