No Border Fence Can Separate Us, No*

BorderlandsI live less than an hour’s drive (depending on the traffic) from the U.S./Mexican border. What’s interesting about a borderland area like this is the distinctive culture that’s developed. There are certainly influences on both sides of the border of both the U.S. dominant culture and the Mexican dominant culture. But really, life here is a blend of those cultures, and that makes it unique – neither one nor the other, if I can put it that way.

There are ‘border cultures’ all over the world, whether the border is between two very friendly allies or two enemies. And if you think about it, borderlands are very effective settings for crime novels. For one thing, there is, as I say, a unique culture. For another, even between the friendliest of allies, there are often big and little tensions that can add to a novel’s suspense. Put that together with the mystery that’s the main focus of the novel, and you can have a very absorbing read.

Borderlands figure into a few of Agatha Christie’s stories. For example, in both The Murder on the Links and The Mystery of the Blue Train, Hercule Poirot, who lives in London, investigates murders that take place in France. Several of the characters in those novels cross between the two countries more than once, and do business in both places. That ‘border culture’ of cosmopolitan travel is distinctive – neither French nor English really – and it’s interesting to see how it plays out in these stories. I know, I know, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.

Philippe Georget’s Summertime and All the Cats are Bored takes place in the Perpignan region of France, near the French/Spanish border. Two Perpignan police officers, Gilles Sebag and Jacques Molina are dealing with the usual life of a long, hot summer. Sebag’s concerned that his wife Claire may be having an affair, and Molina has his own concerns. Everything’s put aside though when the body of Josetta Braun, a Dutch tourist, is discovered. Then Anneke Verbrucke, who is also Dutch, is abducted. It looks very much as though there’s a serial killer at work, and the media wastes no time making much of that. Now Sebag and Molina have to try to outwit the killer before there are any more murders. In this story, we get a look at the culture of this border area – neither thoroughly French nor thoroughly Spanish, but distinctive.

The Austria/Italy borderland is the setting for Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski, which introduces her Scotland Yard sleuth Henry Tibbett. He and his wife Emmy take a skiing trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. They’re staying at the Bella Vista Hotel, which caters to skiers. Then late one afternoon, one of the other guests is murdered. Austrian-born businessman Fritz Hauser is shot and his body discovered on the downward-facing ski-lift. Tibbett doesn’t have jurisdiction, but once the investigating officer Capitano Spezzi finds out Tibbetts is with the Yard, he slowly starts to trust him and Tibbetts gets to work. Santa Chiara is in Italy; however, there’s a strong Austrian influence in the area, not least because this borderland has changed hands more than once. There are important cultural differences between the Italians and the Austrians; there’s even a bit of tension. But really, the local culture is Alpine – neither distinctly Italian nor distinctly Austrian.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice takes place partly in the borderland between the US and Mexico. It begins in Los Angeles, when Harry Bosch gets word on his police scanner that the body of a suicide victim has been discovered. The dead man is identified as Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore, a fellow cop. The first theory is that Moore killed himself because he’d ‘gone dirty.’ But certain things don’t add up for Bosch, and he starts to investigate. His search leads him to the ‘twin cities’ of Calexico (in California) and Mexicali (in Mexico), and to a connection with Moore’s past. This area is a blend both of languages (English, Spanish and Spanglish are spoken on both sides of the border) and of cultures. There’s some tension there, but people who live in this borderland have developed their own distinctive culture and ways of living.

The U.S./Canada border is one of the friendlier borders in the world (not that there’s never any tension or strong disagreement). Because it’s such a long border (it’s the world’s longest international border), there isn’t what you’d call one ‘borderland’ culture. There are several. One such culture is the Great Lakes culture in the borderland between the U.S. state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. Steve Hamilton explores the rural part of that culture in his Alex McKnight series. McKnight is a former Detroit police officer who’s left the force and now makes a living renting cabins near Sault Ste. Marie (Soo) Michigan/Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. There are of course formalities when McKnight crosses the border, but the area isn’t really completely Canadian or completely U.S. Instead, it’s a unique rural hunting/fishing/sport tourist area.

The capital of Botswana, Gabarone, is in the borderland area between that country and South Africa. So Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe, whose detective agency is in Gabarone, visits South Africa in more than one of her cases. And in both that series and the Michael Stanley writing duo’s David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, we see several examples of people who live on one side of the border but work on the other. It’s a culturally and linguistically unique place, and you can see that in the language patterns. English is the official language of Botswana, but most of the people also speak Setswana. Setswana is also spoken just across the border in South Africa. It’s an interesting case of cultural and linguistic borders being different to geopolitical borders.

Fans of Brian McGilloway’s Garda Ben Devlin series will know that it takes place mostly in the borderlands between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. And fans of Kate Atkinson and Val McDermid will know that several of their novels take place in the Scottish Border area. In both of those cases, we see a distinctive way of life that blends both sides of the border. Dialect, daily life, and so on are all unique to those areas. And that’s really what a borderland is. It’s not one side’s culture or the other. Instead, it’s a unique culture that has elements of both. Which bordlerlands novels and series stand out for you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boom Shaka’s Unite.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Brian McGilloway, Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly, Patricia Moyes, Phillipe Georget, Steve Hamilton, Val McDermid

In The Spotlight: Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Major conflicts such as the period known in Ireland as ‘the Troubles’ have impacts that last long after the ‘official’ conflict ends. And those effects can be felt in ways that people don’t anticipate. That’s what happens in Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead, the fifth in his Ben Devlin series. Let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today, and take a look at the way those effects play out.

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains is charged with returning the bodies of those who disappeared during the early days of the Troubles to their families. Since the goal is to allow those families at least to bury their dead, there is a commitment not to investigate in these cases. People who know where one of ‘the Disappeared’ is buried can simply contact the commission with no fear of being identified or prosecuted.

Garda Ben Devlin’s ‘home base’ is in Lifford, close to the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. So he is tapped as liaison when the commission gets word that the body of Declan Cleary may be buried on Islandmore, an island in the River Foyle, just between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Cleary was said to have been murdered during the Troubles for informing against the IRA to the police. The dig team hasn’t been working very long when they discover something unexpected: the body of an infant. At first, it looks as though the baby might have been among many who died before their baptisms. Since by Church law, they couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground, their families often secretly buried them as close to Church property as possible. One of those burial sites is on Islandmore. But Devlin doesn’t think this is one of those infants. For one thing, the baby is buried on the wrong side of the island. For another, there are signs the child might have been murdered.

Devlin wants to investigate this death, but he’s told in no uncertain terms that no investigation will be permitted per the commission’s policy. In the first place, the infant died at about the same time as the Troubles were going on, so it’s not impossible that this death and Cleary’s disappearance might be connected. What’s more, the child’s body was discovered during a search for one of the Disappeared and so the death cannot be investigated. Still, Devlin doesn’t want to let it go. So he begins to ask as many questions as he can get away with asking.

In the meantime, he’s still working on the Cleary case, and contacts his former boss ‘Olly’ Costello. Costello gives Devlin some information on people who might be able to help not only on that case, but also on the case of the infant Devlin found. Then, Cleary’s son Sean is murdered. Then there’s another murder. It’s now clear that someone doesn’t want either Cleary’s death or that of the infant to be solved. In the end, though, Devlin and his team find out what happened to Cleary, and they uncover another secret from the past that still has repercussions.

One of the important elements in this novel is the impact on people of not knowing what happened to a loved one. That’s one reason the commission’s work is so important. At least the families involved have the peace of knowing what happened to the ones they lost, and of burying them properly. Here’s what Cleary’s former girlfriend (and Sean Cleary’s mother) Mary Harte Collins says about it:
 

‘You’re doing very good work…You don’t know how important it is. Thank you.’
 

It’s a way of moving on from the devastation of the Troubles.

Another element is the fragility of the current agreement. Just because the Troubles are over doesn’t mean everything is solved and everyone is happy. Here’s what one veteran of those times says:
 

‘I’m on me own, the Brits are still here and the Shinners are in government. The English want out ‘cos we’re costing them a f***ing mint, the south doesn’t want us cos they can’t even handle the twenty-six counties they do have.’
 

That said though, people are tired of death and bloodshed and don’t want to return to active fighting. The Northern Ireland/Republic border may not be the friendliest in the world, but both sides know all too well the cost of not trying to work things out.

People involved in these cases live on both sides of the border, and readers get a look at what modern life is like in that area. There are memories of war, but both sides co-operate in the search for Cleary’s remains. They also work together on other things. There’s commonality in the cultures too, despite the differences between them. What all of this means is that things often get done in a pragmatic, sometimes rule-bending way.  It’s just easier than going through bureaucratic layers.

And that’s the kind of person Ben Devlin is. The story is told from his perspective, so his character is important. He is a good cop, both in the sense of being skilled and in the sense of having integrity. He understands the need for a ‘no penalties’ way of returning the Disappeared to their families, and he’s not one to be a ‘maverick.’ Readers who are tired of ‘rogue cops’ who can’t work with authority will be pleased to know that Devlin’s not like that. He is, however, a very pragmatic person. He knows that a quiet word with someone often gets more done than filling out a lot of paperwork. And he also knows that sometimes, it’s better to ask forgiveness, as the saying goes, than permission.

Readers who are tired of dysfunctional, drunken fictional police sleuths will also be pleased to know that Devlin is happily married and the loving father of two children. That doesn’t mean that everything is always easy at home. In this novel, for instance, there’s a sub-plot that concerns his sixteen-year-old daughter Penny’s trip to see a bonfire and what happens when she steps up to protect a friend. At the risk of going off on a tangent, there’s also an interesting scene where Devlin and his wife find a text on Penny’s ‘phone that she would much rather have kept private. It raises the question of what the line is between parental concern and snooping. It also shows the Devlins as a functional, ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing) family with ups, downs and an underlying love for each other.

In one sense, the story is not at all light or happy. The history behind the deaths is a very, very sad one, and knowing the truth about it doesn’t make things all right again. But at least there is some closure, and some good comes out of the events of the story.

The Nameless Dead is the story of what happens when too many secrets are kept for too long. It features a pragmatic, hard-working DI who negotiates life between two countries that are both very different and very much the same. The novel also gives some history about the Troubles and about the culture of the past. But what’s your view? Have you read The Nameless Dead? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 30 March/Tuesday 31 March – The Circular Staircase – Mary Roberts Rinehart

Monday 6 April/Tuesday 7 April – Old City Hall – Robert Rotenberg

Monday 13 April/Tuesday 14 April – The Corpse With the Silver Tongue – Cathy Ace

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Filed under Brian McGilloway, The Nameless Dead

But it Don’t Take No Detective*

StoriesWithoutSleuthsWhen most people think of crime novels, they think of a story with a mystery (usually about a murder or series of murders) and the sleuth who solves the case. And a lot of crime novels have that form. But not all of them have that pattern. There are even crime stories that arguably don’t have a sleuth. In that sort of novel, there may be references to ‘the police,’ or a mention of one or another police officer. But those characters don’t really figure into the story.

It’s not easy to write that sort of story since traditionally, the suspense in a crime story is built as the sleuth solves the case. But when it’s done well, crime stories without sleuths can have their own kind of suspense. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of lots more than I could.

One very suspenseful story that has no sleuth is Frederic Brown’s short story Don’t Look Behind You. The narrator tells the history of a printer named Justin, a suave man named Harley, and what happens when they get involved with some very dubious people. There are certainly crimes involved, but the suspense isn’t built through solving them. Instead, it’s built through the way in which the narrator addresses the reader.

There’s also no sleuth in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank. Architect Stephen Booker is made redundant by his company. At first, he thinks he’ll find a new job quickly; he is, after all, a professional. But time goes on and he finds nothing. He finally settles for a job driving a cab at night, so he can continue looking for a ‘real job’ during the day. One evening, he picks up a passenger who turns out to be professional thief Mike Daniels. Over time and several cab rides, they get to know each other, and they learn that they may be able to help each other. Daniels and his team are planning a major heist: the robbery of the City Savings Deposit Bank. In order for their logistics to work, they need help from an architect, and Booker may be just the man for the job. For his part, Booker is desperate for money, and after some misgivings about turning to crime, falls in with Daniels’ team. The group has every detail ready, and at first it looks as though the robbery will go off as planned. But then a sudden storm comes up and changes everything…

Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger begins when the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife Sylvie has been killed in a car accident. Their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time, but he still feels her loss. What’s worse than that though is that he learns that she was not alone when she died. Sylvie had taken a lover Martial Arnoult, who was with her at the time of the crash and who also died. When Delorme learns that Arnoult left behind a widow Martine, he determines to find out about her. He soon becomes obsessed with Martine and begins a relationship with her. And that’s when things begin to spin completely out of control.

In Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, we are introduced to former school principal Thea Farmer. As the story begins, she’s left her position and had a dream home built for herself in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. But bad luck and poor financial planning have changed everything. Now Thea has to settle for the smaller house next door, which she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ To make matters worse, her perfect home is purchased by Frank Campbell and Elllice Charringon, whom Thea heartily dislikes (she calls them ‘the invaders.’). After a short time, Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim comes to live with him and Ellice. At first, Thea is prepared to dislike her, too. Instead, she discovers that the girl has real promise as a writer, and even forms a kind of awkward friendship with her. So when she begins to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate living environment for Kim, Thea gets very concerned. The police won’t do much about it without clear evidence, so Thea makes her own plans to deal with the situation. This novel does refer to the police, but there really isn’t a sleuth. Rather, the suspense is built as we learn, little by little, about Thea, about the new arrivals, and about what happens when Thea decides to take matters into her own hands.

Kanae Minato’s Confessions is the story of middle school teacher and single mother Yūko Moriguchi. When her only child, four-year-old Manami, dies, it looks at first like a tragic accidental drowning. But Yūko knows that Manami was murdered; what’s more, she knows who is responsible. In fact, the novel begins with a speech she makes to her class in which she makes it clear that she knows who killed her daughter. She doesn’t trust the juvenile justice system to punish the culprits appropriately, so she’s made her own plans for justice. And as the story goes on, we follow the lives of her students, and we learn what her plan was. The tension in this novel is built as life spirals downwards for several characters, and as we learn what, exactly, was behind the original murder.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman is one of the most promising students that secondary-school teacher Ilsa Klein has had. And Serena seems to be really interested in further education. Then, everything changes. Serena stops coming to class regularly; and when she is there, she doesn’t participate. Ilsa takes her concerns to the school counselor, and a visit is duly made to the Freeman family. When that effort is rebuffed, there’s not much more that Ilsa can do, although she is still worried. Then, Serena disappears. Three weeks later her sister Lynnette ‘Lynnie’ travels from Wellington to the family home in Alexandra to look for Serena. This novel doesn’t really cast Lynnie (or anyone else, for the matter of that) in the role of sleuth. Rather, the suspense and interest are built as we learn the truth about Serena and about some of the other characters. It’s that slow reveal, rather than a sleuth solving a mystery, that keeps the reader engaged.

It can be a challenge to build and maintain interest if the author tells a crime story without a sleuth. But in the right hands, it can work well. What are your thoughts on this? Does a story need to have a sleuth for you to ‘plunge in?’ If you’re a writer, have you ever tried your hand at a crime story without a sleuth?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Great Wall of China.

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Filed under Frederic Brown, Kanae Minato, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier, Robert Pollock, Virginia Duigan

Call the Doctor*

House CallsAmong the many changes we’ve seen in the world of medicine in the last 100 years is what many people call the demise of the house call. There are still medical professionals who visit their patients (more on that in a bit). But you no longer really see the GP making the rounds as in the past. There are arguably several reasons for this. I’m no medical expert, but I would suspect that one of them is the increasing litigiousness in the medical world. Lawsuits are a very real issue for midwives, doctors, nurses and all sorts of other medical professionals; and home visits are often seen as unacceptable risks. There’s also the issue of money. Health care is expensive. No matter what sort of system your country has established for medical services, those costs have to be met. So it’s not feasible as it once was for a GP to visit patients. There are of course other reasons too.

There are plenty of crime-fictional doctors and nurses who make house calls. Those characters can be really interesting, as they see quite a lot and know many different people. Here are just a few to show you what I mean.

Perhaps the most famous is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. After service in Afghanistan, Watson returns to London and sets up as a GP. It’s not easy going at first, and as we learn in A Study in Scarlet, Watson decides that the best thing to do is to share rooms with someone. That someone, of course, turns out to be Sherlock Holmes, and Watson soon begins to share in, and document, his cases. As the stories go on, Watson builds his clientele and eventually marries and moves into his own home. As fans know though, that doesn’t stop him being interested in Holmes’ doings. Although these adventures don’t generally focus on Watson and his life as a GP, there are several references to his doing rounds and visiting his patients.

Several of Agatha Christie’s novels include GPs who make house calls. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for instance, we are introduced to Dr. James Sheppard, who lives with his sister Caroline in the village of King’s Abbot. When Hercule Poirot retires (or so he thinks!) and moves into the house next door, Sheppard gets a chance to see the way the famous detective works. Retired business magnate Roger Ackroyd is stabbed one night in his study. The most likely suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson Captain Ralph Paton, and there’s evidence against him, too. But Paton’s fiancée Flora Ackroyd is convinced that that he is innocent. She persuades Poirot to take the case and he begins investigating. Sheppard knows everyone in the area (he was actually a friend of the victim’s), and gets involved in the investigation. I know, I know, fans of Sad Cypress.

John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Murder features a GP as one of the protagonists. Dr. Pendrill serves the community around the village of Greystokes. He’s having dinner one night with his friend Reverend Dodd when their evening is interrupted by a telephone call. Pendrill’s been summoned to Greylings, home of the Tregarthan family. Family patriarch Julius Tregarthan has been shot. By the time Dodd gets there it’s too late for him to be of any help to the patient. The police are alerted, and Inspector Bigswell and his team begin to investigate. They find that three shots were fired into the open window of the sitting room where the body was discovered. The shots came from three different angles, and the case turns out to be a bit tricky. The victim was one of Pendrill’s patients, and he’s curious anyway; so he takes an interest in finding out who the killer is, as does Dodd.

As I mentioned earlier, there are still some medical professionals who make house calls. For example, visiting nurses and midwives take medical care to their patients. We see that in crime fiction as well as in real life. In Catherine Green’s Deadly Admirer, for instance, we follow PI Kate Kinsella, who also works as an emergency room nurse. She takes on a troubling case for a client (and fellow nurse) Virginia Wootten. Wootten is a district nurse who is convinced that she’s being stalked. She isn’t certain of the stalker’s identity, but there’s no doubt in her mind that she’s a target. She doesn’t seem particularly credible, since she can’t be specific and she has a history of psychiatric problems. But Kinsella takes the case and begins asking questions. Then, one of Wootten’s patients is murdered, and a message left behind seems to implicate her. Then, there’s another murder; this time, the murderer leaves Wootten a threatening message. And that’s when Wootten herself disappears…

There’s also the recent development of what’s often called concierge medicine. In one way, it’s a return to the house call and private medical service. But there is one important (and controversial) difference. Many concierge services work in a way that’s reminiscent of having an attorney on retainer. Those with the means to do so pay a (usually large) yearly fee in order to ‘buy into’ the concierge. This gives them access to a wide variety of medical services, including home visits. There’s an argument that this means more doctors available for those with money, and far fewer for those who can’t afford the concierge fees. A lot of people see this as a real inequity, although not everyone agrees.

This is an issue that’s deal with in Robin Cook’s Crisis. In that novel, we meet Boston physician Dr. Craig Bowman. He’s gotten fed up with the pressure from insurance companies to see more and more patients and offer less and less care. So he joins an exclusive concierge group which he thinks will allow him to devote himself better to his patients. At first, all goes well. Bowman spends more time with his patients and can give them better service. And he’s earning more money, too. Then, one of his patients, Patience Stanhope, dies, and he finds himself the subject of a lawsuit. With so much at stake, Bowman’s estranged wife Angela calls on her brother Dr. Jack Stapleton for help. Stapleton is a New York City medical examiner who may be able to use his skills to show that Bowman was not responsible for what happened to the victim. Stapleton travels to Boston to help his sister, and finds himself drawn into a much deeper mystery than anyone thought. Along with the mystery that’s the main subject of the novel, there’s also a discussion of the ethics of concierge medical service.

Visiting doctors, nurses, midwives and other medical professionals have a fascinating perspective on a community. Little wonder they can make interesting fictional characters. Which ones have stayed with you?
 
 
 
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by J.J. Cale.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Green, John Bude, Robin Cook

But I’ve Found a Driver and That’s a Start*

Drivers and ChauffeursMost of us haven’t had the experience of having our own chauffeur/driver. More likely, we’ve taken on that role for our children and grandchildren. But there was a time when families who could afford to do so had a chauffeur, or at least someone whose duties included driving people where they wanted to go. And there are still plenty of people who consider it a real status symbol to have a driver. There is also a big market for professional car services; they, too, employ drivers.

Drivers and chauffeurs can play interesting roles in a crime novel. They see a lot, and they know a lot about their employers’ personal business. This makes them both potentially powerful (because of what they know) and vulnerable (for the same reason). There are lots of examples of drivers and chauffeurs in crime fiction. Here are just a few.

In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, General Guy Sternwood hires PI Philip Marlowe to help him out of a difficult situation. Local book dealer Arthur Geiger has sent Sternwood an extortion letter that makes reference to Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. Marlowe’s task is to find Geiger and stop him; this Marlowe agrees to do. By the time he tracks the book dealer down though, it’s too late: Geiger’s been murdered. Carmen Sternwood is a witness, but she’s having a mental breakdown (or perhaps has been drugged) and can’t be of much help. Marlowe gets her out of the way before the police find her and in doing so, thinks he’s done with the Sternwoods. Then he gets a call from LAPD cop Bernie Ohls, who tells Marlowe that the Sternwoods’ Buick, and the body of their chauffeur, have been dredged from the water off the Lido pier. It looks on the surface like a case of suicide, but soon enough it’s proven to be murder. Now, each in a different way, Ohls and Marlowe work to link that death to Geiger’s death and to other events in the story.

Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary introduces readers to Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from San Quentin and is looking for work. It’s not easy, as you can imagine, because of his record. But he finds one opening that seems right: chauffeur/bodyguard for Eileen Scofield. Her very wealthy husband Victor is disabled and cannot leave his room. But, as he tells Hadlock, he doesn’t want his wife to be trapped in the house; hence, the need for an escort/chauffeur. The pay is excellent, the working conditions quite good, and Eileen Scofield is pleasant company, so Hadlock eagerly accepts the position when it’s offered. The only stipulation is that Hadlock’s relationship with his employer’s wife must be strictly professional. Anything else will have dire consequences. Hadlock has no problem with that job requirement, so at first, all goes well. But slowly, he learns that this position will be a lot more dangerous than he thought.

One of the ‘Charles Todd’ writing duo’s series features World War I nurse Bess Crawford. Unlike many fictional sleuths, she has a loving family whom she visits when she can. The Crawfords’ driver Simon Brandon is virtually a member of the family, although he is an employee. He served with Bess’ father in the military, and has remained loyal. Besides being the family chauffeur, he also conducts certain family business and travels on behalf of the Crawfords at times. Although it’s not really a job requirement, he also looks out for Bess, and does his best to keep her safe (not that that’s a particularly easy job…).

And then there’s Handbrake, whom we first meet in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant. He serves as the driver for Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri (hence, his nickname). Handbrake is highly skilled at negotiating Delhi traffic, which is no mean feat. And although Puri treats him professionally and respects him, Handbrake also serves as a kind of status symbol. Here’s what Puri thinks about it (from The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing). In this scene, he’s waiting for a client who’s very late for a ‘sting’ operation they’re conducting:
 

‘He cursed under his breath for not having anticipated his client’s poor driving skills. But then what sort of fellow didn’t employ a driver?’
 

Among members of Puri’s class and culture, a driver is a ‘minimum requirement.’

And then there’s George Pelecanos’ The Night Gardener. In that novel, Washington D.C. police detective Gus Ramone is faced with a particularly difficult case. The body of a teenage boy Asa Johnson has been found in a local community garden. This case eerily resembles a case Ramone worked with his former partner Don ‘Doc’ Holiday twenty years earlier: a series of unsolved murders. Holiday has since left the force and now works as a chauffeur/bodyguard. He’s drawn back into working with Ramone and with retired detective T.C. Cook by this new case, which brings back an old case that haunts all of them.

Fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series will know that she often gets help in her cases from wharfie taxi drivers Bert and Cec. Technically speaking, of course, they are not her employees. But more than once, they put aside their own business concerns to lend a hand in an investigation.

There’s also an Agatha Christie novel in which a driver plays an important role in a case. Nope – no more details. Never let it be said that I spoil novels for those who haven’t read them. But fans who have read this one will know which story I mean.

There are, of course, many other crime plots that are at least partly driven by chauffeurs.  Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Drive My Car.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charles Todd, George Pelecanos, Kerry Greenwood, Raymond Chandler, Robert Colby, Tarquin Hall