Category Archives: Y.A. Erskine

You’ve Got Forensic Evidence That Never Lies*

A recent interesting post from Rebecca Bradley has got me thinking about how important it is to handle a police investigation as carefully as possible. Bradley, a retired police officer, has been sharing her experience and wisdom in a fascinating feature called Writing Crime. In that feature, she writes about aspects of a police investigation such as securing a crime scene, collecting evidence, and interviewing witnesses and suspects, among other things. If you write crime fiction, or are thinking about it, that feature is well worth your attention. And even if you don’t, Rebecca’s blog is a treasure trove. And she’s a talented crime writer, so you’ll want to try her work.

Rebecca’s right, too, about how important those details (such as collecting evidence) really are. Carelessness can destroy evidence, or at the very least, corrupt it. Among other things, that means that a case won’t hold up in court. It also means that crimes may not be solved. That’s one reason why every police trainee is thoroughly drilled on the rules about collecting, preserving, and using evidence.

It matters just as much in crime fiction as it does in real life. If a crime novel is to be credible, then the evidence is supposed to be handled in a specific way. This gives the author some flexibility, actually. Authors who want to create a plot based on mishandled evidence can do that. Authors who want to use properly-preserved evidence to make a case can do that, too. In either case, it’s an important and interesting aspect of crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit the small French town of Merlinville-sur-Mer at the request of Paul Renauld, who’s made his home there. He’s written to Poirot, claiming that his life is in danger, and asking Poirot to go to France immediately. By the time Poirot and Hastings arrive, though, it’s too late. Renauld has been murdered. Monsieur Giraud of the Sûreté is assigned to the case, and one of his first priorities is to find clues. Admittedly, he is insufferable, rude and arrogant. But he does have a point about preserving the crime scene. Here’s his comment to M. Bex, who has been supervising the local police.
 

‘‘Is it your police who have been trampling all over the place? I thought they knew better nowadays.’’
 

To Giraud, getting physical evidence and preserving it is the key to solving the crime.

Small bits of evidence prove very important in Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion, the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. She’s joining at a critical time, too. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder bears several similarities to six other murders, all of women. But there are some differences. For one thing, the other victims were older sex workers; Melissa was young, and not a sex worker. There are a few other little differences, too. Still, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, who leads this team, believes that the same killer is involved. This is a smart murderer, though, who is neat and careful, and doesn’t leave evidence. Still, no-one is perfect. And, in the end, a small piece of evidence that hasn’t been destroyed ends up implicating the real killer. And it’s interesting to see how Travis (who happens to think of where that evidence might be) is able to get it properly collected.

Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream also features the importance of handling evidence carefully. Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone and her team are called in when high school principal Teresa Wyatt is found murdered in her bathtub. Then, there are two other murders. All of the victims were, in some way, connected to Crestwood, a former home for girls. That in itself piques Stone’s interest. But then, Professor Milton, who’s gotten approval for an archaeological excavation on the site, is cruelly threatened, and told to halt his plans. Now, Stone and her team are more interested than ever in what happened at Crestwood. There are several points in the story where evidence comes to light. And Stone has to go through the correct procedures to get approval to look for the evidence, to collect it, and to preserve it properly. She doesn’t always like doing things ‘by the book,’ but she does understand that those rules are there for a reason.

Because the handling of evidence is so important, it’s a serious problem if that evidence is lost or in some way compromised. And that’s what’s suspected in Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life. Cissy Kohler has recently been released from prison, where she served time for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s talk that she was innocent. Worse, there’s talk that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that pointed to her innocence. In fact, a new investigation into the case is launched. This upsets Superintendent Andy Dalziel, who considered Tallentire a mentor. Determined to clear Tallentire’s name, Dalziel looks into the Westrup murder again. And it’s interesting to see how the matter of evidence plays such an important role here.

And then there’s Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, in which Tasmania Police Sergeant John White is stabbed as he is investigating a home invasion. The novel shows how this murder impacts everyone involved, including White’s colleagues, subordinates, and even the suspected killer. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the handling of certain evidence adds a layer of character development and plot to the story.

Handling evidence appropriately is key to any police investigation. So it’s no wonder that the way evidence is gathered and stored plays such an important role in crime fiction. One post is not enough to do justice to the topic, so tell me – what have I forgotten?

Thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stiff Little Fingers’ Forensic Evidence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Marsons, Lynda La Plante, Reginald Hill, Y.A. Erskine

Many a Thing She Ought to Understand*

Many people begin their careers as trainees. They’re supposed to watch and learn, and they’re supposed to do as they’re asked. Of course, each situation is a little different; but, for instance, student teachers are limited in the amount of autonomy they have for much of their student teaching experience. Medical students are supposed to work only under the close eye of their supervising doctor. There are, of course, lots of other examples.

It’s not easy to be a trainee, if you think about it. You may have brilliant ideas, but you still have to learn how things are done, you still have to work with others, and you still have to be open to doing an awful lot of learning. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even disheartening at times, especially when you make a big mistake. But it’s a really important time in professional development. And it’s interesting how often this context shows up in crime fiction.

For instance, Robin Cook’s first major novel, Coma, is the story of a third-year medical student, Susan Wheeler, who is in training at Boson Memorial Hospital. When she discovers some patients went into comas during their surgeries, she begins to ask questions. She soon learns that this was the result of tampering with the patients’ oxygen lines and looks into the matter further. As she does, she finds herself in grave danger, as there are some ugly truths she uncovers. This is a thriller, but it also depicts the lives of medical students and their supervisors. Admittedly, the book was published in 1977, and there have been many changes in medicine in the last 40 years or so. But the essential roles the characters play, and the uncertainties and challenges of being a trainee, haven’t changed that much.

In Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, we are introduced to FBI trainee Clarice Starling. The FBI is looking for a serial killer they’ve dubbed ‘Buffalo Bill,’ and they think they have a way to find him. He is a former patient of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a noted, gifted psychiatrist. But Lecter is currently imprisoned in Baltimore’s State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. So, anyone who interacts with him may be at risk. Starling is chosen for the job, which does not exactly thrill some people who think that a trainee is not the right choice for this assignment. Still, she takes up her duties, and goes to visit Lecter. The two begin a dialogue, and Lecter agrees to help the FBI with the search for ‘Buffalo Bill.’ But he imposes a condition. For everything he tells Starling, she will have to share a personal secret. It’s a risky psychological game as the two pursue their agendas, and it doesn’t help matters that there’s still a killer on the loose.

Pablo De Santis’ Enigma of Paris introduces us to Sigmundo Salvatrio, son of a Buenos Aires shoemaker. He wants more than anything to be a detective, so he is thrilled to learn that he’s been accepted at the Academy for Detectives, run by world-famous detective Renato Craig. Craig is the co-founder of an international group of detectives known as The Twelve, and this group is scheduled to make a presentation at the upcoming Paris World’s Fair of 1889. Illness forces Craig to cancel his plans to attend the event, so he sends Salvatrio in his place. Salvatrio meets the other members of The Twelve, including the group’s other founder, Viktor Arkazy. Then, another member, Louis Dargon, is murdered, and Salvatrio works with Arkazy to find the killer. Throughout the novel, we see the roles that Salvatrio and the other detectives’ apprentices play, and how those roles are impacted by their trainee status.

We first meet Tony Hillerman’s Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito in The Fallen Man. In that novel, she is a rookie trainee in the Navajo Tribal Police’s Special Investigations Unit. In one plot thread of this story, the unit is tasked with getting to the truth about a series of cattle thefts. On the one hand, Manuelito knows very well that she is ‘the new kid,’ and has a lot to learn. On other, she learns some important things about the case, and decides to take some initiative. And, in the end, the unit learns who is responsible for the thefts. Manuelito’s need to balance her role as a trainee with her desire to solve the case reflects the dilemmas that many trainees may have. On the one hand, they’re supposed to watch, learn, take advice, and so on. On the other, they also need to learn to take initiative and make choices.

Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure begins as paramedic Carly Martens and her teammate for the day, Aidan Simpson, are called to the scene of what looks like a domestic dispute between Connor Crawford and his wife, Suzanne. They reassure the paramedics that all is well, although Suzanne has an injury. She insists that it’s minor, and that she’ll be fine, so the paramedics have little choice but to leave. The next day, Suzanne is brutally murdered, and Connor goes missing. New South Wales Police detectives Ella Marconi and Dennis Orchard investigate, and they find what the paramedics have to say is very useful. In one plot thread of this novel, we learn more about Aidan Simpson. He is a trainee, so he’s been assigned to work with different partners on a rotating basis to complete his training. But it’s not working out well. He is smug, arrogant, and unwilling to listen to what anyone says. What’s worse, he is inept. Both Martens and her regular partner, Mick Schultz, have tried to help Simpson fit in and learn his job. But he isn’t willing to try to learn. And that forms a thread in this novel.

And then there’s Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. Lucy Howard is a probationer with the Tasmania Police. She’s smart, and willing to do the work that it takes to learn the job. She’s lucky, too. Her boss is Sergeant John White, who wants her to do well. In fact, one afternoon, the police get called to the scene of a home invasion, and White taps Howard to go with him. For her, the prospect is nerve-wracking, but she is also flattered, and she wants very much to do the job well. Tragically, White is murdered at the crime scene, while he is at the back of the home, and Howard at the front. As the police deal with this death, and with the investigation, Lucy has to face her own feelings of guilt at not being able to save her boss.

It’s never easy to be a trainee. There’s so much to learn, there’s the social fitting-in, and there’s anxiety about doing the job well. That context can be challenging in real life, but it makes for a solid context for a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Maria.

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Filed under Katherine Howell, Pablo De Santis, Robin Cook, Thomas Harris, Tony Hillerman, Y.A. Erskine

We’re On the Move to the Scene of the Crime*

Any police officer or other first responder can tell you that when a call comes in, there’s no telling what, exactly, awaits. So those who are called to the scene need to be prepared for just about anything.

That first few minutes at the scene are crucial, too. There’s sometimes valuable evidence there, if it’s a crime scene. If it’s a medical emergency scene, every second can count. And in either case, it’s important to get as accurate a first impression as possible.

In a crime novel, the arrival at the scene of a crime or other tragedy gives the author a potentially powerful tool for suspense and tension. And authors of whodunits can use that scene for clues or ‘red herrings.’ It’s also a very realistic part of dealing with crimes. So, it makes sense that we’d see a lot of those moments in the genre.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot isn’t officially a first responder. But in The Hollow, he does come upon a murder scene. He’s been invited for lunch to the home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. They’ve got several weekend house guests, and he’s included in their Sunday plans. When Poirot arrives at the house, he’s escorted to the outdoor pool area. There, he finds one of the guests, John Christow, lying by the pool, very close to death from a gunshot. Another guest is holding what appears to be the murder weapon. Everyone else is also nearby. At first, Poirot thinks it’s some sort of macabre ‘amusement’ for his benefit. But very quickly, he sees that Christow really has been murdered. The police are called, and Inspector Grange and his team begin the investigation. Later, Poirot’s first impression of the murder scene turns out to add an interesting dimension to the story.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice sees his sleuth, L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch, listening to the police-band radio in his home one evening when he’s ‘on call.’ That’s how he finds out about the discovery of the body of another police detective, Calexico ‘Cal” Moore in a seedy hotel room. Bosch rushes to the scene, not happy at all that he wasn’t called out right away, since he’s on duty. He’s soon told that Moore committed suicide, mostly because he had ‘gone dirty,’ and that he (Bosch) should leave the matter alone. Anyone who knows anything at all about Harry Bosch will know that ‘leaving matters alone’ is one thing he doesn’t do. He follows up on Moore’s death, and finds that it leads to a vicious drugs gang, incidents from the past, and some things the police department would rather not have made public. And one of the first impressions he gets from that initial arrival at the scene turns out to be helpful.

Katherine Howell is a former paramedic, and often taps those experiences in her writing. And several scenes in her novels depict what it’s like when first responders arrive. In Violent Exposure, for instance, paramedic Carly Martens and her teammate for the day, Aidan Simpson, are called to the scene of what seems to be a domestic dispute between Connor Crawford and his wife, Suzanne. The couple assure the paramedics that all’s well. But Suzanne is injured, and the tension between her and Connor is palpable. Still, there’s not much the paramedics can do in this particular situation, so they leave. The next day, Suzanne is discovered brutally murdered. New South Wales Police detective Ella Marconi and her partner, Dennis Orchard, begin the investigation. Based on what Martens and Simpson tell them, they suspect Connor Crawford right away. But he’s disappeared. Then, one of the young people who work at the Crawfords’ nursery also goes missing. Now, the detectives have to find the two missing people, if they’re still alive, and find out who killed Suzanne Crawford and why.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning begins as journalist Jack Parlabane wakes up. He’s sleepy and hung over, but he hears a lot of noise coming from the flat downstairs. Too curious to stay where he is, he leaves his own flat, and forgets to take his key with him. He goes downstairs to see what all the noise is about, only to find that that flat’s door is open. Parlabane soon regrets going in, because he finds a brutal and very ugly murder scene. He knows he can’t simply go back upstairs, because he’s locked out of his flat. So, he decides to climb out an open window in the downstairs flat, make his way up to his own open window, directly above, and return to his home that way. It doesn’t work. He’s no sooner heading out the window when he’s stopped by Detective Constable (DC) Jenny Dalziel. Soon enough, Dalziel sees that Parlabane is not guilty of the murder. Little by little, they begin to work together, and they soon find that they can be helpful to each other. It may be a very gory murder scene, but helps to forge a solid working partnership.

Every first responder, police or otherwise, knows that going to the scene can be highly dangerous, even fatal. We see just how fatal in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. One day, the Tasmania Police are alerted to a home invasion. Sergeant John White goes to the house, bringing with him probationer Lucy Howard. When they get there, they decide to split up. Howard will stay at the front of the house, and White will go to the back. Very shortly afterwards, White’s dead of a stabbing attack. Everyone thinks that the killer is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. The theory is that he was in the home, taking what he could, when White interrupted him. Rowley’s going to be a difficult case, though. For one thing, he knows how to work the juvenile justice system very effectively, so as to stay out of trouble. For another, he’s part Aboriginal. So, the media will be closely watching everything the police do. Still, they start the task of linking him to the murder.

Of course, once in a while, a crime/murder scene comes to the police, if I can put it that way. In Chris Grabenstein’s Tilt a Whirl, for instance, Sea Haven police officer John Ceepak is having breakfast one morning with one of the summer-hire cops, Danny Boyle. They’re sitting in a local restaurant when they hear screaming. Running down the street towards them is a young girl, whose dress is covered with blood. She’s practically incoherent, but they finally calm her enough to find out what’s wrong. She says her name is Ashley Hart, and that she and her father, wealthy Reginald Hart, were on a ride at the local amusement park when a strange man with a gun came up and shot her father. Ceepak and Boyle go right to the crime scene, and end up involved in a murder investigation that isn’t nearly as straightforward as it seems.

The first look at the scene of a crime can be jolting. But it’s an important part of an investigation. And it can yield valuable clues.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Nell Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe’s Scene of the Crime.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Chris Grabenstein, Christopher Brookmyre, Katherine Howell, Michael Connelly, Y.A. Erskine

In Loyalty to Our Kind*

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot solves the stabbing murder of wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett. The victim is killed on the second night of a three-day trip across Europe on the famous Orient Express, and the only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same car. One of those passengers is Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, a formidable elderly lady whose strength is in her personality. At one point in the story, she has this to say:
 

‘‘I believe…in loyalty – to one’s friends and one’s family and one’s caste.’’
 

She’s not alone. Being loyal to the members of one’s group is a highly-valued trait, and that makes sense if you think about it. People depend on other group members for a lot, including, at times, survival. So, it’s important that groups stick together, as the saying goes. And there are sometimes very severe penalties for breaking that rule. Loyalty matters, but it can sometimes go too far, and that can make for an interesting layer of character development in a crime novel. It can also allow for plot points.

For example, one of the cardinal rules of the Mafia and of other criminal groups is what the Mafia has called omerta – silence. Every member is expected to keep quiet about the group’s activities, or about anyone else who might be involved. That’s how one proves loyalty to the group. We see that, for instance, in Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas. In that novel, Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children move from the US to a small town in Normandy. The four settle in and begin the process of getting used to an entirely new culture.  But all is not as it seems. ‘Fred Blake’ is really Giovanni Manzini, a former member of the New Jersey Mob, who testified against his fellow mobsters in court. Now, he and his family are in the US Witness Protection Program, and have been resettled in Normandy for their own protection. The plan is successful enough, until word of the Manzini family’s whereabouts accidentally gets back to New Jersey. Now, Manzini could very well pay a terrible price for his disloyalty.

Police officers depend on each other, sometimes for their lives. That’s one reason why there’s such a premium placed on loyalty to other officers. In many cases, that’s part of the ‘glue’ that holds the force together. But this loyalty, too, can be taken too far. In Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, for instance, we are introduced to Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police. One afternoon, he is called to the scene of a home invasion. With him, he takes probationer Lucy Howard. They’re investigating at the house when White is stabbed to death. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who already has a history with local law enforcement. The other officers are loyal to White, and want to mete out their own kind of justice. But the media is paying very close attention to this case, and everyone knows that if they don’t do everything exactly ‘by the book,’ there’ll be a lot of trouble. It’s all complicated by the fact that Rowley is part Aboriginal. All of the police know that the least misstep on their part will lead to accusations of racism. It’s clear throughout the novel, though, that loyalty to each other and to White impacts all of their choices. There are many other crime novels, too, where loyalty to other police officers comes into play (I’m thinking, for instance, of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight). This is part of the reason for which so many police officers are biased against Internal Affairs and other internal investigation groups.

There’s also the tendency for people in elite groups to protect themselves and one another. We see this, for instance, in the work of Qiu Xiaolong. His Chief Inspector Chen Cao lives and works in Shanghai at the end of the 1990’s/beginning of the 21st Century. Chen is respected, and has an important position within his police department. However, he isn’t at the very top of the proverbial tree. That place is reserved for the elite of the Party – the High Cadre people. Those individuals make all of the important decisions, and displeasing them can lead to the end of a career, or sometimes worse. High Cadre families are loyal to each other and protect one another, and would far rather police themselves than have independent investigators look into their business. Chen is very well aware of the power the High Cadre people have, and their tendency to be loyal to their sociopolitical group. So, when his investigations lead to high places, as they often do, Chen has to move very carefully.

And then there’s family loyalty. Most of us would agree that being loyal to one’s family is a highly valued trait. In crime series such as Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels, we see this loyalty in action. Rafferty is a ‘rough travel’ writer who lives and works in Bangkok. He also happens to be very good at finding people who don’t want to be found. That’s why he’s in demand when people are looking for someone in hiding. Rafferty’s married to Rose, a former bar girl who now owns an apartment cleaning company. Rose loves her husband and adopted daughter, Miaow. But she is very loyal to her family of origin. Here’s what she says about it to Rafferty:
 

‘She [Rose] turns to face him. ‘We have ten dollars left,’ she says. Her voice is so low he has to strain to hear it. ‘Miaow is hungry. My little sister up north is hungry. Who gets the ten dollars? … I would send the money to my sister,’ Rose says. ‘Without a minute’s thought.’’
 

Of course, family loyalty can create all sorts of obstacles to criminal investigation, too. In many crime novels, people don’t want to talk to the police about their siblings/parents/cousins/etc., because those people are family members.

But that’s the thing about loyalty. Like most other human traits, it’s a proverbial double-edged sword. It’s valuable to an extent, and in many situations. On the other hand, it can also be tragic.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Whish-Wilson, James Ellroy, Qiu Xiaolong, Timothy Hallinan, Tonino Benacquista, Y.A. Erskine

Here’s the Mystery of Fitting In*

Human interactions can be complicated, since people are complex. That may be part of why each group of people develops rules – some of them very subtle and unspoken – for being accepted. If you know and follow those rules, you have a much easier time in that particular group. If you don’t, it’s more difficult; you may even be made unwelcome.

Those rules permeate our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re also woven into crime fiction. For example, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is Belgian, with a lifetime of that culture’s subtle and not-so-subtle ‘rules’ for interaction. He’s smart and observant enough to know that things are different in his adopted home of England. So, he’s made the adjustment. In The Murder on the Links, for instance, he and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, who lived with his wife and son in Merlinville-sur-Mer, in France. At one point, Poirot makes a trip to Paris to follow up on a lead. Here’s how he takes his leave of Hastings:
 

‘‘You permit that I embrace you? Ah, no, I forget that it is not the English custom. Une poignee de main, alors.’’
 

Needless to say, a handshake is much more suited to Hastings’ style.

In Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, Trafalgar, British Columbia (BC) Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, investigate the murder of land developer Reginald ‘Reg’ Montgomery. There are plenty of suspects, too. He wanted to create the Grizzly Resort, an upmarket tourist attraction that some people say would have brought in a lot of welcome revenue. But, there are just as many people who didn’t want the resort, saying it would wreak havoc on the environment and make life harder for the local people. The victim had some secrets in his personal life as well. There were certainly plenty of people who didn’t like Montgomery, but he knew some of the ‘rules’ for fitting in in Trafalgar:
 

‘…he made a point of shopping at the local stores, rather than the Wal-Mart in Nelson, eating out regularly, usually in family-owned restaurants, and tipping well. Ellie, his wife, had her hair done at Maggie’s Salon on Front Street, bought her clothes from Joanie’s Ladies Wear, and contributed generously, in time as well as money, to the hospital and the seniors center.’
 

Montgomery wanted the locals to accept him and his wife, and learned how to help make that happen.

In many groups, new members get the least desirable assignments, and sometimes have to be good sports about having tricks played on them. Once they show they can ‘take a joke,’ and are willing to do lowly tasks, they’re accepted. Of course, such ‘rules’ can be taken much too far, and amount to hazing. But they’re a part of a lot of groups’ cultures. For instance, Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood is the story of the murder of Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police. One day, he’s called to the scene of a home invasion, and takes probationer Lucy Howard with him to investigate. He’s killed at the house, and everyone assumes that the murderer is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. Howard didn’t see the murder, though, as she was at a different part of the house when it happened. So, the police have to investigate. As they do, we get to know the people White worked with, and the bond they share. One of those people is Constable Cameron Walsh, who considered White a mentor, even though White played a ‘new guy’ prank on him. Walsh was accepted among his fellow coppers, including White, in part because he proved he ‘could take a joke.’

One of the most important things one learns in the LGBT community is that you don’t ever ‘out’ someone. People choose to come out or not of their own accord. And Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant knows and follows that rule. In Flight of Aquavit, Quant gets a new client, successful accountant Daniel Guest. Guest is a ‘closeted’ married gay man, who’s being blackmailed over some trysts he’s had with other men. He wants Quant to find the blackmailer and stop that person. Quant’s first reaction is that it would be a lot easier if Guest simply went public with the fact that he’s gay. But that’s not Quant’s decision to make, and Guest is unwilling to take that step. So, he takes the case and begins to look into the matter. It’s a challenging case, and leads to murder; but in the end, Quant finds out the truth.

Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates takes place in Japan, mostly in Tokyo. In that culture, at that time (the book was written in 1961), there are a number of expectations for the way one is supposed to interact. There are several ‘rules’ for verbal and other communication. Some indicate who has authority and who doesn’t; others are used to get along with others and to be accepted. Some of those expectations are still in place (we see some of them, for instance, in Natsuo Kirino’s Real Life, which was published in 2003). And it’s interesting to see how those rules and rituals allow for social harmony among a large group of people concentrated in a small place.

It’s much harder to be accepted among a group of people if you don’t know the social subtleties and rules. Just ask Harry Bingham’s Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths, whom we first meet in Talking to the Dead. In this novel, she’s the most junior member of her Cardiff-based police team. It’s vital for a group of police officers to be able to work together, and Griffiths knows that. But knowing and following those ‘rules’ is difficult for her, because she is dealing with a mental illness. It’s not so debilitating that she can’t work, but it does hamper her ability to interact productively with others, and to live on what she calls ‘Planet Normal.’ Things such as joking around, small talk, dating, and so on can be real challenges. She’s not the only one who faces this, either, is she, fans of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

Most of us learn the ‘rules’ and expectations for interaction very early on. And that’s a good thing, as they make it much easier to work with others and get through life. In fact, they’re so much a part of our lives that we probably don’t pay a lot of attention to them. Little wonder we see them so often in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Pale Pacific’s How to Fit In.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Harry Bingham, Mark Haddon, Matsumoto Seichō, Natsuo Kirino, Vicki Delany, Y.A. Erskine