Category Archives: Zoran Drvenkar

So Much We Take For Granted*

I’ll bet you’ve had this experience. You walk into a room, flick the light switch, and… nothing happens. Or you click to get online, only to get the message that there is no Internet connection. It’s a bit of a jolt when that sort of thing happens. Part of the reason is, of course, that you’re annoyed when the electricity, or the hot water, or the Internet, or…. isn’t available. But another part of it is that we take a lot of those things for granted. When something we take for granted suddenly isn’t there, this can be quite a jolt.

That jolt’s irritating at best in real life. But it can add interesting tension and even suspense to a crime novel. And the way in which characters cope with those jolts can add character depth.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Death, we are introduced to a group of young people who live in a hostel for students. Everyone begins to get unsettled when a strange series of petty thefts begin to occur. As one example, one of the residents, Sally Finch, is planning to go out to a party. Her outfit includes a new pair of evening shoes. But, when she gets ready for the party, she finds that one of the shoes is missing. There’s quite a search, but it’s not found. Sally took for granted that the shoes were both in her closet, but she was wrong. There are other jolts like that as well which add to the atmosphere and tension in the story. The manager, Mrs. Hubbard, tells her sister, Felicity Lemon, what’s happened. Miss Lemon tells her employer, Hercule Poirot, who agrees to look into the matter. When one of the other residents, Celia Austin, confesses to some of the pilfering, everyone thinks the matter is settled. Then, Celia is murdered two nights later, and it’s clear that something much more is going on.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn is attending a community barbecue, at which the main speaker is to be Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. He’s an up-and-coming politician, and his speech is an important one. During his remarks, he suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Boychuk was a friend of Kilbourn’s, so she grieves his loss. In part to cope with that, she decides to write a biography of his life. And that’s how she begins to find out the truth about his death. In the meantime, something mysterious is happening. Kilbourn begins to show signs of illness. She’s losing weight rapidly, and there are other symptoms, too. As her health, which she’s always taken for granted, starts to fail, Kilbourn gets more and more anxious. And that sub-plot adds a layer of suspense to the story.

Alex Scarrow’s Last Light and Afterlight tell the story of the Sutherland family. Andy Sutherland, his wife, Jenny, and their two children are caught in the global upheaval that results when the world’s supply of oil is deliberately cut off. Now, millions of things that people have taken for granted are no longer available. Of course, that includes most forms of transportation. As it happens, the members of the family are in four different places when the oil supply is stopped, so a major part of the plot in Last Light is their attempts to reunite, and to find ways to make do without the oil they’ve always taken for granted. Afterlight takes up the story ten years after the events of Last Light. At this point, Jenny Sutherland is the leader of a small group of people who’ve made a home on an abandoned North Sea oil rig. One of the main plot threads here is the story of what happens when the group hears that another group, housed in London’s Millennium Dome, may have access to oil. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at how frantically people try to get back what they’ve taken for granted (ever kept flicking a light switch, even after you know the power’s off?).

In both A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife and Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise, there’s an important plot point of long-time couples ending their common-law marriages. In both cases, the couples never legally married, and that adds a real complication. Both couples lived together for many for many years, and that led to certain assumptions. When the relationships end, this puts the women (Jodi Brett in The Silent Wife and Lindy Markov in Breach of Promise) in jeopardy. For instance, they’ve taken their homes for granted for years, until the day that they are served with formal notices of eviction. And, since the US states they live in don’t have protection for common-law spouses, neither woman has much legal recourse. It all adds a great deal of tension to both novels, and it’s interesting to see how these characters react to suddenly not having the home they’ve taken for granted.

And then there’s Zoran Drvenkar’s You. In one plot thread of this novel, a 1995 snowstorm blocks the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. Suddenly, people who’d taken for granted a clear road and just over 35 minutes of driving time find everything changed. Many cars are stranded on the road, and even emergency vehicles can’t get through. People have to do what they can to stay warm and safe, and even finding food won’t be easy. A man named the Traveler takes advantage of this situation, and works his way among the stranded cars, killing twenty-six people. He then makes his getaway without being caught. His story later merges with other important plot points, and we learn more about him, and what he does after these murders.

It’s always a jolt when something you’ve taken for granted simply isn’t there. And it takes adjustment – sometimes a lot of adjustment. That tension can add much to a crime story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Matthews’ One Sweet World.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Alex Scarrow, Gail Bowen, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Zoran Drvenkar

Please Don’t Tell Me That I’m the Only One That’s Vulnerable*

Most people would rather not be killed. I know, that’s a painfully obvious point to make, but it has implications if you’re a fictional murderer. Among other things, it means that you have to pick your time. It’s easiest to commit the crime if the victim is already vulnerable, or at the very least, unsuspecting. For the author, that’s not always easy to pull off in a believable way, but there are plenty of examples of how this can work. Here are a few of them, to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, we are introduced to powerful banker Alistair Blunt. He’s made more than his share of enemies, and he’s generally a careful person, partly for that reason. One day, he goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley, because of a toothache. Later, Morley is found shot in his surgery. And one real possibility is that the intended victim was Blunt himself. After all, people are quite vulnerable when they’re in the dentist’s chair. Chief Inspector Japp’s been told by his superiors to make this case a priority, since Blunt is considered important for national security. Then, there’s another death. A patient of Morley’s dies from a suspected overdose of drugs. When Japp finds out that Hercule Poirot was also at Morley’s office on the day of the murder, he contacts Poirot, and the two work together to find out the truth behind the two murders.

Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger takes place mostly at Heron Park Hospital, which has been converted for military (WWII) use. One day, a postman named Joseph Higgins is brought to the hospital with a broken femur. It’s considered a straightforward operation, and he’s brought in for surgery. Tragically, Higgins dies during the procedure. Inspector Cockrill of the Kent Police is brought in to ‘rubber-stamp’ the report of accidental death. Higgins’ wife, though, does not accept that explanation. She says that Higgins was murdered. Then, one of the hospital nurses has too much to drink at a party, and blurts out that she knows Higgins was murdered, and she knows how it was accomplished. Later that night, she, too, is killed. Now, Cockrill is sure this is a case of murder, and puts the focus of his search on the people who were present when Higgins died. It certainly shows how vulnerable people can be during surgery. Right, fans of Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder?

One plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola concerns the murder of Annette Bystock. She works at the local Employment Bureau, trying to match available jobs with unemployed people who can fill them. One day, she’s found murdered in her bed. Inspector Reg Wexford and his team begin to trace her last days, and discover that, shortly before she was murdered, she had an appointment with a young woman named Melanie Akande. Melanie has since gone missing, and Wexford and the team wonder whether the two incidents are related. And so they turn out to be, only not in the obvious way. It turns out that, on the day she died, Annette had stayed home from work because she was ill. Her vulnerability, and the fact that she was unsuspecting, made her easy prey for the killer.

In Zoran Drvenkar’s You, we are introduced to a character called the Traveler. His part of the story begins in 1995, during a terrible snowstorm that’s blocked the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. Many vehicles are stranded on the road, and even emergency vehicles can’t get through because of the snow. Everyone in that traffic mess is extremely vulnerable, and not just because of the snow and the cold. With everyone stuck, the Traveler has plenty of ready-made victims. He works his way along the line of cars, leaving twenty-six people dead by the time the road is cleared. He’s able to make his escape, and as the story goes on, we see what happens to him in the ensuing years.

And then there’s Max Kinning’s Baptism. In that novel, we meet George Wakeham, a London Underground driver. Early one morning, three hostage-takers break into his home, capturing his wife and children. Wakeham is told that his only chance of saving his family is to do exactly what their captors say. Then, they give him a mobile ‘phone and tell him to follow precisely the instructions they give him. This Wakeham agrees to do (what choice does he have?). He’s told to go to his job as usual, and take his place driving his usual train. What he doesn’t know at first is that the hostage-takers have boarded the train as well, and they have his family with them. Wakeham starts his route as usual, but before long, one of the hostage-takers joins him in the cab. He’s soon told to stop the train, and it’s only then that he sees what his enemies really wanted from him. The train is now stopped in an underground tunnel with over 400 very vulnerable people aboard. Word of the captured train gets out, and Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Ed Mallory is assigned to contact the hostage-takers, find out what they want, and free the passengers. It’s not going to be easy, though, as this is a group of fanatics with a very specific purpose in mind. As Mallory tries to find out what he can, Wakeham tries to save his own life and those of his family members.

There are lots of other examples, too, of stories where the murderer (or would-be murderer) tries to choose a time when the victim will be especially vulnerable. It can add real tension to a story, and it makes sense. It’s easiest to target a victim who’s at a disadvantage.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Secondhand Serenade’s Vulnerable.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christianna Brand, Max Kinnings, Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell, Zoran Drvenkar

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:



Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:


Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:


An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud


My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem


As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!


NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).


Filed under Babs Horton, Beryl Bainbridge, Christopher Abbey, Don Winslow, Edney Silvestre, Finn Bell, Gordon Ell, Hannah Dennison, Hannah Kent, Harry Bingham, Jane Haddam, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, John Clarkson, Julian Symons, Katherine Dewar, Kwei Quartey, Lynda La Plante, Meg Gardiner, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Rhys Bowen, Robin Blake, Sinéad Crowley, Stark Holborn, Sue Younger, Surender Mohan Pathak, Zoran Drvenkar

I’m Talking to Myself*

An interesting post by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about inner dialogue. Sometimes, a certain amount of inner dialogue is helpful. It can add some richness to a story, and add to character development. But, like everything else, inner dialogue is probably best given in measured doses.

Too much inner dialogue can slow a story down, and lead to ‘telling, not showing.’ And the wrong sort of inner dialogue can even be melodramatic if it’s not handled effectively. So, it’s important that any inner dialogue be carefully managed.

Inner dialogue is used in a very interesting way in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In that novel, we are introduced to eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood. She, her sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in a large house not far from a small Vermont town. Almost from the beginning of the story, we get the sense that something is very, very wrong with the family, and we soon learn what that something is. Six years before the events in this novel, three other members of the Blackwood family died of poison. No-one was ever convicted, but the villagers are convinced that one of the Blackwoods is guilty. So, they give the family a very wide berth, as the saying goes. Still, the Blackwoods have managed to get along. Then, the outside world intrudes in the form of a family cousin, Charles Blackwood. He visits Julian, Constance, and Merricat, and his stay touches off a series of incidents that ends in real tragedy. The story is told from Merricat’s point of view, and it’s interesting to see how her internal dialogue is woven into the novel. Among other things, it gives the reader insight into her psychology, as everything is filtered through her thought processes.

Zoran Drvenkar’s You follows several plot threads, including the friendship among four teenage girls: Sunmi ‘Schnappi’ Mehlau, Ruth Wassermann, Isabell ‘Stink’ Kramer, and Vanessa ‘Nessi’ Altenburg. They’re concerned because the fifth member of their group, Taja, hasn’t been seen or heard from in several days, and they decide to check on her and make sure she’s all right. Their search for Taja, and what happens when they find her, involves them in the other two plot threads – and into serious danger. All of the plot threads are narrated in the second person, and in present tense, so the reader is drawn into what the characters are thinking in a different sort of way. Although there is plenty of action in the novel, there is also reflection, as we learn about the different characters’ backstories and interactions. So, there is plenty of inner dialogue; it’s told in second person, though:

‘You look at your wrist, the tattoo gleams dully. Gone. You can’t take your eyes off those four letters and wonder what would happen if you saw all the things in your dreams that you don’t want to see in real life.’

Some of the characters reflect on heir pasts in this way, too.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the long trip from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. With them is their nine-week-old son, Noah. The flight itself is awful, but when they land and start the journey to Alistair’s home town, the real nightmare begins: they lose baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media and public are quite sympathetic at first. But there’s no trace of Noah. After a time, questions about, especially, Joanna, begin to come up. Could she or Alistair (or both) have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance? As more suspicions are raised, matters get worse and worse for the family. The novel is told from a few different perspectives, including Joanna’s, Alistair’s daughter, Chloe’s, and his ex-wife, Alexandra. As we see these different points of view, there’s plenty of inner dialogue. So, we learn how the different characters feel about each other, about the situation, and so on.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is the fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people to be executed for murder in Iceland. The story begins in 1828, when Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. All three suspects are found guilty, and it’s decided they will be hanged. In the months before the execution, Agnes will stay with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. It’s hoped that, by living with a ‘proper Christian family,’ Agnes will repent of what she’s done and talk about it. At first, it’s awkward for the family to have a convicted murderer with them. But gradually, they get to know Agnes, and they learn a little more about her. And, as Agnes reflects, we learn about her life, and about what happened that led to the murders. And part of that information comes from Agnes’ inner dialogue as she thinks about the family she’s with, and about her situation.

And then there’s Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. That’s the story of thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell, who’s reached a crossroads in his life. His marriage has ended, and he’s in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident.  He decides he needs a new start, and chooses the town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island, to do so. The cottage he’s bought was previously owned by the Cotter family, and Bell soon finds out the tragedy in that family’s past. In 1988, Alice Cotter, who was then a child, disappeared and was never found. A year later, her father also went missing. Little by little, Bell gets drawn into the mystery of what happened to the Cotters. At the same time, he’s working with a therapist, Betty Crowe, to put the pieces of his life back together. As Bell works to find out the truth about the Cotter family, he discovers that some very dangerous people want the mystery buried. He also finds himself slowly coming back to life, as the saying goes. And readers follow that progress through inner dialogue, as Bell processes what he’s discovering.

And that’s the thing about inner dialogue. As Cleo points out, it can drag a story down, and it has to be used very carefully. But when it’s handled effectively, it can be very effective.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Cleopatra Loves Books? Excellent reviews await you there!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George Harrison’s Stuck Inside a Cloud.


Filed under Finn Bell, Hannah Kent, Helen Fitzgerald, Shirley Jackson, Zoran Drvenkar

In The Spotlight: Zoran Drvenkar’s You

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some novels have a distinctive style and perspective that are as much a part of the story as the plot is. That’s the sort of story Zoran Drvenkar’s You is, so let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today.

The novel follows several plot threads. One follows the Traveler. We first meet this character in 1995, during a terrible snowstorm that blocks the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach. Many vehicles are stranded on the road; even emergency vehicles can’t get through. By the time the road is cleared, the Traveler has worked his way along the stranded cars, murdering twenty-six people, and gotten away. As the story moves along, we learn more about the Traveler and his story, and we see what’s happened to him since 1995.

Another plot thread begins in the present day, where we are introduced to Ragnar Desche. His brother Oskar has just been murdered, and Desche wants to find out who’s responsible. He also discovers that the stash of heroin and other drugs that his brother was keeping for him has disappeared. Desche is a man sensible people don’t want to cross; he’s a formidable opponent who is not without resources. He’s also ruthless and, when he chooses, violent.

At the same time, we meet four teenage girls: Sunmi ‘Schnappi’ Mehlau, Ruth Wassermann, Isabell ‘Stink’ Kramer, and Vanessa ‘Nessi’ Altenburg. They’ve been close friends since primary school, and are devoted to each other (more about that shortly). They’re concerned about Taja, the fifth member of their tightly-knit group, because no-one’s seen or heard from her in a week. So, they decide to find out if she’s all right.

As the story goes on, the three plot threads evolve, and begin to intersect. And, as that happens, we slowly learn the truth about these five teenagers, Ragnar Desche and his family, and about the Traveler. The end result is real tragedy for more than one character.

This is a noir story, so we see several noir elements in the novel. We see the dark, bleak side of human nature, and the ending isn’t what you’d call a happy one. Things are not what they seem to be, and many of the characters are extremely dysfunctional. In keeping with the noir nature of the story, there’s plenty of violence, some of it brutal. And a great deal of it is matter-of-fact.

That said, though, there are some proverbial rays of light in the story. One of them is the deep friendship among the teenage girls. Shnappi, Nessi, Ruth, Stink and Taja are loyal to one another; and, without spoiling the story, I can say that there are several scenes in which we see how much they care about each other. They take real risks for each other. It’s also worth noting that, although this isn’t at all what you’d call a light story, we do see some fun banter among these girls – the kind that good friends trade. They get annoyed with each other, tell each other the unvarnished truth, and are devoted to each other despite everyone’s flaws.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a case of ‘trapped helpless females.’ These young ladies are brave, resourceful, and quick-thinking. They are truly determined, too.

We learn quite a lot about these five girls, too, as we do about the other characters in the novel. Each part of the story features one of the characters (Ragnar, the teenagers, the Traveler, and several others). This means that each character is developed. We learn each one’s backstory, and each one’s motivation. What’s especially interesting in this particular novel is that it’s told in second person, and in present tense. Here, for instance, is one small snippet that features Nessi:

‘You look at your wrist, the tattoo gleams dully. Gone. You can’t take your eyes off those four letters and wonder what would happen if you saw all the things in your dreams that you don’t want to see in real life.’

The narrative goes back and forth a bit, too. Readers who prefer linear narratives with one sequence will notice this.

In one sense, this is a thriller. There is a great deal of action, danger, and suspense, and the pacing is thriller-like. But this could also be placed in the ‘literary’ category. The narrative and descriptions have a literary quality about them:

‘You remember the movie as if you’ve been blind and deaf for the last two hours. Everything that comes toward you flows around you and disappears without a trace, behind your back, lost and gone forever. But then…you work out that this isn’t really about the movie; Schnappi’s language is a secret language, she says one thing and means another.’

And, like other literary novels, this one explores several themes.

One of them is the nature of evil. Through the actions and conversations, Drvenkar addresses the question of what evil is, how it starts, and how it spreads. In a similar way, Drvenkar also explores friendship, loyalty, and courage.

The story is set mostly in Germany, in Berlin, Hamburg, and a few other places. Drvenkar places the reader there in several ways, including daily life, teen culture, and travel. Readers who’ve lived in Germany, or spent any extended time there, will find the context familiar.

You is a psychological thriller in the literary style. It tells the story of a group of lives on a fateful collision course, and presents a noir picture of modern life in Germany. But what’s your view? Have you read You? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

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

Monday, 19 June/Tuesday, 20 June – Falling Angel – William Hjortsberg

Monday, 26 June/Tuesday, 27 June – Not a Creature Was Stirring – Jane Haddam


Filed under You, Zoran Drvenkar