They Tried to Give Me Advice*

helping-the-policeHave you ever noticed that when people say that they don’t want to tell you how to do your job – they do? And it can be awfully annoying when someone tries to be ‘helpful.’ Even if that person has the best of intentions, it can still be grating. The police have to deal with that whenever there’s a very public case. ‘Armchair detectives’ and members of the media are quick to have their say. And, with the advent of today’s social media, it’s easy for members of the public to second-guess an investigation, too. It’s little wonder that the police can get fed up with all of that ‘help.’ But it’s a part of the job. And besides, the police don’t want to miss an important lead. So, it’s worth the annoyance (well, most of the time) to get a sense of what people think.

There are different ways, too, in which people let the police know what they ‘should be doing.’ And many of them show up in crime fiction. That sort of plot point can add a layer of suspense to a story. It can also be an effective tool for providing clues, if the author wants to do that.

We see one example of telling the police what to do in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings to discover who poisoned Emily Inglethorp. There are several suspects, as she was a wealthy woman. The killer has been clever, too, so it’s not an easy case to solve. But the victim’s friend and companion, Evelyn Howard, is sure she knows who’s guilty. She tells several people, including Hastings and Poirot, that the criminal is Alfred Inglethorp, Emily’s husband. That’s certainly a possibility, but there are other suspects, too, and other leads to follow. Evelyn sticks to her guns, though, as the saying goes, and insists that the police are wasting their time looking at anyone else as the guilty party. And it’s interesting to see how strident she is about what the police should and shouldn’t be doing.

Domingo Villar’s Vigo-based Inspector Leo Caldas has an interesting way to listen to what members of the public have to say. Along with his police duties, he hosts a radio show called Patrolling the Waves. It’s a call-in show that invites listeners to share their concerns, comments and so on – a chance to ‘talk with a cop.’ And Caldas gets all sorts of ‘helpful suggestions’ for improving police work. On the one hand, it’s sometimes tiresome, even frustrating. On the other, Caldas knows that it’s best to have the reputation of being open to public comment. And a call-in show is an ordered way (well, usually) to hear what people have to say without spending too many hours doing so.

Sometimes, the police use press briefings and the like to update the public on their investigations. And, since the media’s job is to inform people, journalists sometimes ask challenging questions. If they’re not handled well, it can seem as though the press is trying to tell the police how to do their jobs. We see that sort of tension in ’s Dregs. Police detective William Wisting and his team are trying to solve a bizarre case. A left food, clad in a trainer, was found near the Norwegian town of Stavern. Shortly afterwards, another was found. And another. The story has made all of the news outlets, and everyone has an opinion on what’s going on. One of the most popular is that there’s some sort of serial killer at work. There’s so much gossip about the investigation that the police believe it’s best to hold a press briefing, so that they have a say in the information that becomes public. Wisting isn’t a big fan of such events, but he knows they have value. During the briefing, he’s grilled on several aspects of the case. One journalist in particular challenges him on several matters, even suggesting that the police have made mistakes. It’s a tense scene, and certainly doesn’t make Wisting’s job any easier.

The police also have their share of input from individuals who call or visit. Sometimes those visits are fruitful; sometimes not. That’s part of what can make the police’s job challenging. In Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood, for instance, Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett gets a call from Orla Payne. Orla’s brother Callum went missing years ago, and no trace of him has been found. Now, Orla wants his case re-opened. When she calls in, though, she’s both emotionally fragile and drunk. So, she’s not very coherent and doesn’t make a very good impression on Scarlett. In fact, she’s all but brushed off. Then, Orla herself dies by suicide (or is it really suicide?). Now, Scarlett wishes she’d accepted Orla’s suggestion to look into Callum’s disappearance. Her guilt is part of what spurs her on to open the case again. And what she finds is a dark story that goes back decades.

And then there’s Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from her native Scotland to Victoria, they’re hoping to make a new start. The trip doesn’t go well, though, as their nine-week-old son, Noah, is not an easy baby. In fact, the flight is dreadful. But, they land safely and start to make their way from Melbourne to their destination, Alistair’s home town. Along the way, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. The police spearhead a massive search, and they get all sorts of advice from the media and the public. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media are full of people’s opinions about what the police ought to be doing, and where they should be looking. People are even more ‘helpful’ when they begin to suspect that one or both of Noah’s parents may have had a hand in whatever happened to him. In the end, we find out the truth. We also see how difficult it can be for the police when everyone wants to make suggestions.

But the fact is, you never know when someone’s ‘help’ may actually include vital information. So, the police know that they can’t shut people out entirely. It makes for an interesting dilemma, and (in crime fiction) a solid source of tension.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Frank Black’s Freedom Rock.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Martin Edwards, Domingo Villar, Jørn Lier Horst, Helen Fitzgerald

You Don’t Know How Far I’d Go to Ease This Precious Ache*

infatuationThere’s something about being fully, completely, totally infatuated with someone. That feeling can feed on itself, especially if the other person reciprocates (or at least, seems to). And it’s intoxicating. So, it’s no wonder that there are so many songs about falling in love, about attraction (mutual or otherwise), and so on. It’s an important part of the human experience for a lot of people.

Sometimes, though, infatuation goes over the line, so to speak. I’m not talking here of the serial-killer sort of obsession (too easy!). Rather, I’m talking about the sort of attraction that leads a person to stop thinking rationally. That sort of love can get a person into trouble. And crime fiction is full of such characters. Here are just a few; I know you’ll think of lots more than I could, anyway.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (did I have any other choice, Christie fans?), we meet Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. She’s fallen deeply, madly in love with Simon Doyle, and he loves her, too. She wants very badly for them to marry, but they can’t until Simon has a regular, steady job that can support them. So, she asks her good friend Linnet Ridgeway for help. Linnet is one of the wealthiest young women in England; and, as it happens, she’s recently purchased (and is remodeling) Wode Hall. Since she’s in need of a land agent, Jackie hopes Linnet will hire Simon for the job. Linnet’s happy to oblige, and it first, it looks as though all will be well. But Linnet finds herself attracted to Simon. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and very rich, so Simon doesn’t need much encouragement. The two marry, and go on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile. Jackie follows them, much to Linnet’s chagrin, and makes life miserable for the couple. Then, on the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. At first, Jackie is the most likely suspect. But it’s soon proven that she could not be the killer. So Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, has to look elsewhere for the killer.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity introduces readers to insurance sales representative Walter Huff. He’s in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles one day when he finds himself close to the home of one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. On the spur of the moment, Huff decides to stop by and try to renew Nirdlinger’s insurance policy. Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis is. Huff is attracted to her right away, and Phyllis does nothing to discourage him. Before long, they’re having an affair. Huff is completely infatuated, so when Phyllis suggests a plot to kill her husband for his life insurance money, Huff goes along with it. He even puts together the double indemnity policy she wants, and commits the crime. But that’s just the beginning of his troubles. It turns out that, instead of that murder putting everything right for them, everything starts to go very, very wrong.

The focus of Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair is Gilbert Hand, who works with a publishing agency. After the death of his wife, Rachel, Hand decides to sell the home they had shared, and move to a quiet, respectable London hotel. He’s settling into his room when he discovers an unexpected package in the davenport he’ll be using. He unwraps the package and finds a long coil of dark hair. Hand learns that the room was previously occupied by a man named Freddie Doyle, so he begins to get curious about Doyle. That curiosity leads to a kind of obsession. More, it leads Hand to Doyle’s girlfriend, Gladys Wilson. Hand becomes infatuated with her in his way, and when she disappears, he’s frantic to find her. For Hand, it’s all come down to a contest for Gladys between him and Doyle. And, as you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth is university professor and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. She is also the mother of four children, and, of course, wants the best for them. That’s why she’s so concerned in The Wandering Soul Murders. In one plot thread of that novel, the family gets a visit from Christy Sinclair, who is Joanne’s son, Peter’s, ex-girlfriend. As far as Joanne is concerned, Peter is well rid of Christy. Peter himself has no desire to get back together with her. But Christy has other ideas. She manages to get herself invited to a family event: the engagement party for Peter’s older sister, Mieka. What’s more, she says that she and Peter are getting back together. The story takes a tragic twist when Christy dies of what seems to be suicide. But is it?

And then there’s Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger. When Sylvie Delorme is killed in a car accident, the police inform her husband, Fabien. They also tell him that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who was also killed in the crash. The Delorme’s marriage hadn’t been a very happy one, so although Fabien feels Sylvie’s loss, he’s almost more hurt that she had a lover than he is that she is dead. At least his pride is hurt. He finds out that Arnoult left a widow, Martine, and after finding out a bit about her, determines to have her. He learns that Martine and a friend are planning a trip to Majorca, and follows them there. He and Martine begin an affair, and it’s not long before he is infatuated with her. The affair spins out of control for both of them, and, as you would expect if you’re a fan of Garnier’s work, it heads right towards tragedy.

That feeling of infatuation is one of the headiest experiences in life. So, it’s little wonder people fall in love. And many times, it enriches life. But not always…

 
 
 

*NTOE: The title of this post is a line from Melissa Etheridge’s Come to My Window.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Gail Bowen, James M. Cain, Pascal Garnier

Do You Really Think I Care What You Eat or What You Wear*

small-and-diverse-communitiesOne of the most important sociological changes we’ve seen in modern times has arguably been the transformation of smaller-town/suburban demographics. If you read the work of Agatha Christie or other classic/Golden Age crime writers, you see that small towns and villages are often composed of people who have very similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Christie mentions some diversity (there are Belgians and a German in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as well as the English people who live in the small village of Styles St. Mary). There are a few other examples as well. But, by and large, we don’t see major cultural and ethnic diversity in the small towns and villages that figure so much in crime fiction of the times.

We do now. Wars, easier travel, easier communication, and other factors have meant that now, suburban towns and small towns have gotten very diverse. People in big cities (or even medium-sized cities) have been aware of this trend for a long time. But it’s a fact of life now in smaller places, too. And crime fiction reflects that. In the best depictions of more modern small-town diversity, it’s discussed in a very matter-of-fact way. People from other cultures settle in, make lives for themselves, and not a great deal of fuss is made about it. At the same time, though, there is the extra layer of cultural differences and the need to adjust (on both sides). That can add to character development, and certainly makes for a more realistic depiction of today’s small towns and villages.

We see this more modern sort of town in Ruth Rendell’s Simisola. Dr. Raymond Akande is from Nigeria; his wife is from Sierra Leone. They’ve settled in the English town of Kingsmarham with their twenty-two-year-old daughter, Melanie. As far as Inspector Reg Wexford is concerned, the Akandes are simply another family living in the town, and Raymond Akande happens to be his doctor. At least that’s what Wexford thinks on the surface. He starts to question those assumptions about himself when Melanie Akande goes missing. Her father is worried when she doesn’t come home (it’s not like her) and asks for Wexford’s help. That request ends up drawing Wexford into a case of multiple murders. It also forces him to confront his own assumptions. It’s an interesting case of a changing small town, and what that means for the people who live there.

Fans of Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series will know that he is chief of police in the small town of St. Denis, in France’s Périgord region. People have lived there for hundreds of years, and created a solid community. In recent decades, that community has changed and begun to include people from many different places. For instance, the owner of the Café des Sports is Karim al-Bakr, whose family immigrated from Algeria. He and his wife, Rashida, are woven into the fabric of the community, as is his father, Mohammad (Momu). As far as Bruno is concerned, they’re at least as much a part of St. Denis as he himself is. For the most part, their presence is taken for granted and they’re treated just like anyone else. This isn’t to say that there’s no tension ever. But they aren’t regarded as oddities or outcasts.

Neither are the members of the Basque community in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series. We learn a bit about that community in Death Without Company. In that novel, Longmire and his team investigate the murder of Mari Baroja, a resident of the Durant Home for Assisted Living. She’s been poisoned; and on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much motive. As it turns out, this crime has roots that go back fifty years. As Longmire looks into the case, readers meet the Sheriff’s Department’s newest hire, Santiago Saizarbitoria, who also has a Basque background. And it’s interesting to see how, in both his case and that of the Barojas family, there’s not much fuss made about the fact that they’re Basque. They’re simply farmers who live in rural Wyoming. Yes, they have a unique culture, and some references are made to it. But this community is woven into the fabric of Absaroka County, where Longmire lives and works.

Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark introduces readers to Gerda Klein and her daughter, Ilse. They immigrated to New Zealand from the former East Germany during the Cold War, and settled in the small South Island town of Alexandria. Now Ilse teachers secondary school, and has become an accepted part of the community, as has her mother. One of Ilse’s most promising students is fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. That’s why she’s so concerned when Serena starts skipping class. And when she is there, she no longer shows much interest in learning anything. Ilse contacts the school’s counseling team, and a visit is paid to the Freeman family. That’s less than successful, though. And then, Serena disappears. Ilse and her mother find themselves drawn into Serena’s life in ways they hadn’t imagined. It’s obvious throughout the novel that the Kleins are accepted in the community, just as everyone else is. And Gerda is extremely grateful to the people in her new home for making her welcome and considering her ‘one of them.’ Ilse doesn’t feel the same way (she misses her old home in Leipzig), but that’s not to say she dislikes New Zealand or its people. She knows that she’s been most fortunate in being accepted with no real fuss.

Several of D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington stories take place in the fictional village of Tuesbury. Heatherington is a retired milliner who now does occasional work on special order. He also seems to get drawn into murders and their investigation. In Model For Murder, we are introduced to one of the shop owners in town, Elroy Tuvey. He’s originally from Jamaica, and has found success as an antiques dealer in Tuesbury. On the one hand, he’s had to deal with prejudice. On the other, he is very matter-of-fact in his business dealings, and Heatherington doesn’t really see him as ‘other.’ There’s a little awkwardness at times, as there often is when culture meets culture. But in the main, Elroy Tuvey is much a part of life in the village as anyone else is.

And that’s the thing about many modern small towns and villages. They’re more diverse than ever, and cultures mix there in a way they didn’t in the past. And it’s interesting the way crime fiction depicts that change.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s Join Together.

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Filed under Craig Johnson, D.S. Nelson, Martin Walker, Paddy Richardson, Ruth Rendell

In Search of the Answers to Questions Unknown*

researchingYou know the feeling. You’re reading a novel, perfectly content, when all of a sudden, a character behaves in way that stretches your belief too far. Or the author describes a place, a profession, a period of history, or something else in a way you know isn’t accurate. For many people, that’s enough to give that book a one-way ticket to the DNF pile. In general, people want authenticity in their books.

Let me let you in on a secret. Authenticity takes work. By that I mean research. Even novels that take place in a fictional setting, or are speculative, can benefit from research.

Every author does research in a different way, and I’m honoured and excited that crime writer and fellow blogger Sue Coletta has asked me to share some of my own research experiences. And I couldn’t have a more knowledgeable host on the topic. Sue’s done thorough research for her crime novels (Pssst….you want to read them!). And many of her blog posts are devoted to helpful real-life information for crime writers. Her blog is a rich resource for facts on everything from interviewing/interrogating suspects to blood spatter, and much more.  So I’m especially pleased to be invited.

Please come pay me a visit at Sue’s. And have a look around her site when you do. Rich information, interesting stories, and links to her great books await you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Denver’s Calypso.

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The Body in the Basement

wymering-manorCrime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has once again provided a fabulous story prompt: the ‘photo you see here of Wymering Manor. Thanks very much, D.S., for the great prompt. Here’s the story that came from it. Folks, you’ll want to visit D.S Nelson’s great site, and try her Blake Heatherington mysteries. You’ll be glad you did. 

 

 

The Body in the Basement

 

‘See that old house over there?’ Dean nudged Manny, who was sitting on the seat beside him.
Manny looked over at the house. ‘So? It’s the old Wymering house. Who cares?’
The light changed to green and Dean put his foot on the accelerator. ‘It’s haunted.’
‘What’s haunted? Your brain?’
‘The house, you idiot! It’s haunted. There’s a body buried under the basement.’
‘You’re so full of shit! There’s no body in the basement.’

The conversation continued as Dean pulled the car into the McDonald’s drive-through lane. ‘I swear there’s a body there,’ he insisted.
‘What? You’ve seen it?’ Manny looked over at his friend.
No,’ Dean admitted, ‘But I know someone who did.’
‘Whatever. Let’s just get our food.’

They got their order, and then Dean dropped Manny off. The whole way there, he kept insisting he was right about the haunted Wymering house.
‘There’s definitely a body there,’ he said, between mouthfuls of burger and fries.
‘I can’t believe you fall for that crap,’ Manny said. He grabbed one of Dean’s fries (he’d finished his own) and shook his head. ‘That’s just some stupid legend they use to scare kids.’
Dean’s eyes lit up. ‘Only one way to know for sure. Let’s go check it out.’
‘You mean go look for a body at the house?’
‘Yeah.’ Then Dean saw Manny’s facial expression.  ‘What? Are you scared, you wuss?’
‘No! It’s just stupid, that’s all.’
‘Ha! You are scared!’
‘No, I’m not. You’re being an idiot. Why are you wasting your time?’
‘Let’s go over there and see. Tonight. We don’t even have to go in. Just check it out, you know?’ Dean could see Manny wavering a little. ‘Come on! We’ll put it up on Snapchat and show everybody at school.’
Manny rolled his eyes. ‘All right, all right. Just shut the hell up.’  He got out of Dean’s car and waved without turning around as Dean shouted, ‘Later!’

At ten-thirty that night, Manny quietly closed the front door of his house, and went down the three stairs to the driveway. Dean was already there, waiting for him. Manny slipped into the front passenger seat of Dean’s car.
‘Let’s do this,’ Dean said with a grin.
‘I still don’t like it.’
‘Shut up and let’s go, loser.’

Ten minutes later, they arrived at the Wymering house. The old place loomed up out of the darkness, backlit by the rising moon. Dean stopped the car, and then opened the glove box. He pulled out a flashlight and turned to Manny.
‘Let’s go,’ he said. The two boys got out of Dean’s car and walked slowly towards the house. In the dark, the upstairs windows looked like sightless eyes, and the chimney like a raised weapon. Dean wasn’t easily spooked, but the house did look eerie at this time of night. He switched on the flashlight as he and Manny approached the house.

All of a sudden, Manny froze in place. He grabbed Dean’s arm and cupped his ear with his other hand. Dean listened closely. That was definitely a noise. It was probably some stray cat hiding under the bushes next to the house. After a second or two the noise stopped. Dean shrugged and pointed towards the front door. The boys got closer, with Dean’s flashlight highlighting dead leaves and branches on either side of the path leading towards the door.

Dean got to the door first and tried the knob. It was locked. Manny hissed, ‘Let’s just go.’
‘We’re not going anywhere. Not until we find out if there’s a body in the house.’
‘You’re crazy!’
‘No, you’re a baby! Loser!’
Dean pointed at the side of the house, and gestured for them to go around the back. Manny shook his head, but went along. Dry leaves crackled under their shoes as they went.

They had more luck at the back of the house. Dean tried the back door – unlocked. He nodded and slowly opened it. The door creaked loudly, but neither boy heard anything else. Dean let the flashlight play around the room. It looked like an old kitchen. In the far corner, he could see a set of stairs going down. He pointed towards them.

Manny shook his head again. He whispered, ‘Dude, we got in, OK? Let’s just Snapchat it real quick and then go.’ He pulled his telephone out of his pocket and started taking pictures of Dean with the stairs in the background. The light from the flashlight lit Dean’s face up just like in The Blair Witch Project.
‘Aw, hell no! Stop that shit! Wait ‘til we see if there’s a body. You coming or not?’
Dean strode to the stairs, and disappeared from Manny’s view. A second later, Manny heard a loud crash. He winced and ran towards the stairs.

‘Manny, what the hell did I tell you? Are you stupid or something? Why’d you bring this kid over?’ Robbie kicked vaguely at Dean’s body, which was sprawled about ten feet from the bottom of the basement stairs.
‘I didn’t! He brought me. He was gonna come here whether I did or not. I tried to stop him,’ Manny insisted.
‘Well, you didn’t try hard enough. Now you gotta help me get rid of him.’
‘I can’t – ”
‘You’re gonna have to. You caused the problem. You solve it. There’s a shovel in the shed outside. Bury him out in the woods behind the house. And move it. There’s not that much time before dawn.’

Manny knew better than to go against his uncle. The drugs had already made Robbie a little crazy, and now that he had his own drug business, he was even weirder. Then Manny looked down at Dean. A sick feeling twisted his stomach. This wasn’t right. There had to be a way to fix things.
On the way out to the shed, it hit Manny. He knew Dean’s Snapchat password. Give that to the cops, and nobody would know he’d turned in his uncle.

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