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I Had to Go Down to the Post Office*

As this is posted, it’s the birthday of the United States Post Office. Of course, there’ve been postal services for hundreds of years; and, even with today’s easy access to email and texts, the postal service is still important.

It certainly matters in crime fiction. I’m sure we could all think of crime novels where the plot hinges on a letter (or the absence of one). But it’s not just letters themselves.

For one thing, there’s the letter carrier. They can be interesting characters in and of themselves. There is, for instance, a G.K. Chesterton short story (no titles – I don’t want to give away too much) in which a postman figures strongly into the plot

And there’s Joseph Higgins, whom we meet in Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger. He’s a postman who, at the beginning of the novel, delivers a series of letters to different characters. The letters are all from Heron Park Hospital, which has been converted for wartime (WW II) military use. Each recipient is informed that she or he will be assigned there. Shortly after their work begins, Higgins is brought into the hospital with a broken femur. The operation he needs is routine, but it still involves surgery. Tragically, Higgins dies on the table in what’s put down to a terrible accident. His widow doesn’t think so, though, and says as much to Inspector Cockrill, who goes to the hospital to do the routine paperwork. Not long afterwards, one of the nurses who was present at the operation has too much to drink at a party and blurts out that she knows Higgins was murdered, and she knows how it was done. That night, she, too, is killed. Now, Cockrill has a major case on his hands, and it’s going to take finesse to find out which of the other characters is the killer.

Sometimes, the post office itself becomes a part of crime novel. That’s the case in Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. James Bentley has been convicted, and is due to be executed soon, for the murder of his landlady. There’s evidence against him, and Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence should be satisfied with the outcome of the trial. It was he, after all, who gathered the evidence. But he’s begun to think that perhaps Bentley wasn’t guilty. And Spence doesn’t want to see a man die for a crime he didn’t commit. He asks Hercule Poirot to look into the case and see if there’s something that might have been missed, and Poirot agrees. He travels to the village of Broadhinny, where the murder occurred, and begins to get to know the residents. One of the gathering places in that village is the local shop, which also serves as the post office. When Poirot stops in to the shop, he meets its proprietor, Mrs. Sweetiman, who provides him with useful background information and a very important clue.

There’s a funny scene at a post office in Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Mervyn Bunter, are stranded in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch Saint Paul when Wimsey’s car gets into an accident. Vicar Theodore Venables rescues the two men, and lets them stay at the rectory until the car can be repaired. When the car is ready, Wimsey and Bunter leave, only to return a few months later when an unexpected corpse is found in a grave belonging to the local squire, Sir Henry Thorpe. At the vicar’s request, Wimsey looks into the matter. He and Bunter discover that there is a letter in the post office for the dead man, and they decide that it may provide clues. So, Bunter goes into the post office to try to get the letter if he can. Bunter invents a story for the postmistress to the effect that he’s looking for a letter sent to his chauffer, indicating Wimsey, who’s waiting outside in the car. Bunter soon returns to the car:

“What’s up?’
‘Better move on quickly, my lord,’ said Bunter, ‘because, while the manoeuvre has been attended with a measure of success, it is possible that I have robbed His Majesty’s Mails by obtaining a postal packet under false pretenses.’…
‘Bunter,’ said his lordship, ‘I warn you that I am growing dangerous. Will you say at once, yes or no, did you get that letter?’
‘Yes, my lord, I did. I said, of course, that since the letter for my chauffer was there, I would take it to him, adding some facetious observations to the effect that he must have made a conquest while we were travelling abroad and that he was a great man for the ladies. We were quite merry on the subject, my lord.’
‘Oh, where you?’
‘Yes, my lord. At the same time, I said, it was extremely vexatious that my own letter should have gone astray….and in the end I went away, after remarking that the postal system in this country was very undependable and that I should certainly write to the Times about it.”
 

Rita Mae Brown’s Mary Minor ‘Harry’ Haristeen lives in the tiny town of Crozet, Virginia. At the beginning of the series, she serves as the village’s postmistress, so she sees nearly everyone at least a few times a week. It’s the sort of place where people tend to come to the post office to pick up their mail, so it serves as a social gathering place as much as anything else. And that means that Harry knows everyone, and everyone knows her. It also means that she often gets to hear the local gossip. As ‘plugged in’ as Harry is, it’s not surprising that she gets involved when there’s a murder. And sometimes, the post itself provides clues (I’m thinking, for instance, of Wish You Were Here).

People use email, texts, online bill paying, and social media so often these days, that we may not think about how important post offices and delivery people really are. But they are. Especially when you’re waiting for that paper book you’ve ordered…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Lucksmiths’ Don’t Come With Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christianna Brand, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Rita Mae Brown

He Said, She Said, She Said, He Said*

One of the hardest things to do is sort out the truth when two people tell very different stories about something. The classic example of this can happen when there’s a possibility that sexual assault occurred. Each party may say something very different, and it all has to be sorted out. Was there sex? Was it consensual? Were both parties in a position to give consent? There are other questions, too, that have to be addressed in situations like this. And it’s sometimes quite difficult to find out what actually happened, especially when neither party may be telling the complete truth.  And this is only one sort of circumstance when two people might tell very different versions of the same story. You see it in certain civil cases, university or company grievance cases, and so on.

It’s also there in crime fiction, and that makes a lot of sense. There are all sorts of possibilities for plot development. And there are many opportunities for tension and suspense. And such plot elements are effective for creating an unreliable narrator.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, we are introduced to wealthy, beautiful Linnet Ridgeway Doyle. She and her new husband, Simon, take a trip through the Middle East as a part of their honeymoon trip, and all’s well except for one thing. Linnet’s former best friend, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort seems to show up everywhere they go. Simon was engaged to Jackie before he met Linnet, and things are very strained between the former friends. In fact, matters get so bad that Linnet asks Hercule Poirot, who is in the same hotel, to get Jackie to stop following the newlyweds. Poirot speaks to Jackie and to Simon as well, and gets three different stories from the three people who are involved. Then, the Doyles leave for a cruise of the Nile. Poirot’s on the same cruise, and to everyone’s surprise, so is Jackie. On the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. Jackie is the most likely suspect, but it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have shot the victim. So, Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer. And it’s interesting to see how the real truth about Simon, Jackie, and Linnet is woven into the story.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring features her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In one plot thread of the novel, one of Kilbourn’s students, Kellee Savage, comes to her with a claim of sexual harassment. There’s evidence, too. Kellee says that the person responsible is another student, Val Massey, but that no-one believes her. At first, Kilbourn suggests that Kellee go to the university office that handles such grievances; Kellee says she’s already done that, but to no avail. Then one night, Kellee happens to be in a bar with a group of other people. She’s already had plenty to drink when Val walks in. She accuses him in a public, ugly way before she rushes out of the bar. Then, she goes missing. This turns out to be related to another incident, the murder of Journalism professor Reed Gallagher. And woven through the story is the question of what really happened between Val Massey and Kellee Savage. She was harassed, but was he responsible?

In A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert, a successful Chicago couple who’ve been together twenty years. She’s a psychotherapist; he is a developer. Then, Todd begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his business partner. He’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different. Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant, and she wants to get married and have a family. Todd goes along with the idea, saying that’s what he wants, too. And it ought to be straightforward, since he and Jodi were not legally married, and there’s no common-law marriage provision in Illinois. Todd’s attorney persuades him to send a formal eviction notice to Jodi, so as to protect his assets. And Jodi’s attorney tells her that there isn’t much that can be done. Since they weren’t married, she has no legal claim on the home they shared. Things begin to spiral out of control for both Todd and Jodi, and as they do, we see the way each perceives what happens. Without spoiling the story, I can say that neither is viewing things entirely honestly.

There’s a similar situation in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise. Lindy and Mike Markov, who’ve been together twenty years, own a very successful Lake Tahoe business. Then, Lindy discovers that Mike’s having an affair with one of his co-workers, Rachel Pembroke. As if that’s not bad enough, Lindy is served with eviction papers, ordering her to vacate the home they’ve shared. She’s also removed from her company position, and will be given no compensation. In desperation, she turns to attorney Nina Reilly to help her launch a civil suit. It’s not going to be easy, though. For one thing, Mike’s attorney has the reputation of being a ‘courtroom tiger.’ For another, Reilly makes the shocking discovery that the Markovs were never legally married. This makes all of Lindy’s claims tenuous at best. Still, there’s a chance for a win, and Reilly takes the case. A jury is empaneled and the case is heard in court. Then, a shocking event changes everything, forcing Reilly to make new plans, and putting her in real danger. Throughout the novel, especially in the courtroom scenes, we see how ‘he said/she said’ plays an important role in what the jury hears.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature attorney Arthur Beauchamp. Beauchamp has recently retired from his successful Vancouver law business, and moved to Garibaldi Island, a quiet sort of ‘hippie’ refuge. He’s drawn, very reluctantly, back to the firm’s activity when Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, is charged with rape. His accuser, Kimberley Martin, is a student in the school of law; she’s also engaged to wealthy and socially prominent Clarence de Remy Brown. O’Donnell swears he didn’t commit rape, and insists that Beauchamp take his case. Finally, Beauchamp agrees to get involved. As the story goes on, we learn what each of the parties to the case say about what happened. And, bit by bit, the layers are peeled away to reveal the truth about the night in question.

And that’s the thing about ‘he said/she said’ sorts of cases. It can be very difficult to get at the truth. And, even when you get there, it’s sometimes completely different to what either person says.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Thompson’s Razor Dance. 

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Perri O'Shaughnessy, William Deverell

In The Spotlight: Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. You may not think about it, but Miami isn’t just a major US city. It’s also a very important Caribbean city, with a strong dose of Latin America in its culture. To get a sense of what Miami is like, let’s turn today’s spotlight on Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters, the first of her series featuring PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano.

Solano is Cuban-American (almost more Cuban than American in culture), who opened her own PI business after interning for a few years with a large agency. One day, she gets a pair of new clients, Jose Antonio and Lucia Moreno. They’ve been referred to her by her family’s attorney, Stanley Zimmerman, and they have a serious problem. A few years earlier, they adopted a baby, whom they’ve called Michelle, through a man named Elio Betancourt. They knew that the adoption wasn’t completely legal, but were desperate for a baby, and had the money. Betancourt arranged everything, and all seemed well. Now, though, Michelle is seriously ill, and needs a bone marrow transplant. The only one who can serve as donor is the child’s biological mother. But the Morenos never learned the woman’s name. And Betancourt has categorically refused to help them at all. Now, they want Solano to find the mother and get her to agree to donate bone marrow. Solano takes the case, and begins a search.

She starts at the most likely hospital, Jackson Memorial, but that’s not much help. She doesn’t have much information; and, in any case, what she’s looking for is confidential, and she likely can’t get it. The local Bureau of Vital Statistics, where every birth is registered, has no record, since Michelle and her family didn’t go through a legal, court-sponsored adoption. And the doctor who delivered the baby has retired and moved away.

But Solano is not without resources. With some help from some part-time investigators she occasionally hires, she learns some of the truth about the Moreno baby, and several others, too. It doesn’t tell her the name she needs, but it gives her strong leads. Then, things begin to get dangerous. Someone seems to be watching her, even getting into her apartment. Then, one of the people she interviews is murdered. There’s another murder, too. It’s now clear that someone is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent Solano from getting to the truth. Meanwhile, time is running out for Michelle Moreno. Solano will have to use every resource she has, and try to stay alive, if she’s to find the birth mother before it’s too late.

The novel takes place, as I say, mostly in Miami, which Solano describes as,
 

‘…the unofficial capital of Latin America.’
 

And we see that influence very clearly. Solano is Cuban (as is her creator), and so are most of her friends and acquaintances. So, readers get a look at the Cuban culture of the city. Food, lifestyle, religion, language use, and a lot more show how close Cuba really is to Miami.

That culture is especially clear in Solano’s family. Her parents, like many people, moved to Miami from Cuba after the revolution that put Fidel Castro in power. They still consider themselves Cuban, though. They speak Cuban Spanish at home, and Solano’s father speaks often of going back as soon as Castro is out of power. They’re an unabashedly Roman Catholic family, too, although Solano herself is more culturally Catholic, if I can put it that way, then observant.

The story is told from Solano’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we learn about her character. She’s very much attached to her family members, even though sometimes she gets irritated with them. In fact, her cousin Leonardo is her assistant. But she has no desire to give up her independence and go back home to live. She also has no wish to marry, settle down and have children. She has more than one man in her life, but she likes answering only to herself. In that sense, she’s not at all traditional in her views. She makes her share of mistakes, and finds her share of trouble. But she’s tough, smart and quick-thinking. As she puts it,
 

‘In Miami, you could find yourself in deep waters very quickly. Staying sharp was a matter of life and death.’
 

She also has a certain wit. Here, for instance, is how she describes Zimmerman:
 

‘The Morenos were also his clients, which meant they had to be really well-off. Stanley Zimmerman didn’t have poor clients. He thought pro bono was something Julius Caesar fed his troops.’
 

Readers who prefer strong female protagonists will appreciate Solano.

The mystery itself is connected to the illegal adoption business, and it gets ugly. There are couples desperate to have children; young, pregnant, unmarried women in a terrible situation in life; and greedy people who are willing to take advantage of both. There are some important issues of moral ambiguity, too.

Solano solves the mystery through a lot of telephone calls, legwork, and searches through documents and photographs, as well as a few clever ruses. The novel was published in 1996, before today’s social media and other online resources were readily available. So, Solano doesn’t have the luxury of doing Internet searches. The book provides a look at what PI work was like just before those modern resources became routine.

Bloody Waters shows a dark side of life in Miami, and of the adoption process. It’s a sometimes-gritty look at the life of a PI, and introduces a Cuban-American sleuth who doesn’t mind taking chances if that’ll get her answers. But what’s your view? Have you read Bloody Waters? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 31 July/Tuesday, 1 August – Trial of Passion – William Deverell

Monday, 7 August/Tuesday, 8 August – Murder in Marais – Cara Black

Monday, 14 August/Tuesday, 15 August – Cemetery of Swallows – Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol

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Filed under Bloody Waters, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera

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

We’re Off to the Pub to Play in the Trivia Club*

As this is posted, it’s the birthday of famous quiz show host Alex Trebek. If you think about it, quiz shows such as Jeopardy and Mastermind are interesting examples of how much people like trivia. If you watch those shows, or you’ve ever played Trivial Pursuit or games like it, you know what I mean. And sometimes, knowing trivia can be lucrative.

Even if all you get is bragging rights, trivia can be interesting. Trivia even finds its way into crime fiction. And sometimes, it can end up being important, and not trivial at all.

Take Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance. In that novel, famous American actress Jane Wilkinson comes to Poirot with an unusual (for him) sort of problem. She wants a divorce from her husband, Lord Edgware, so that she can marry again. But she says he won’t consent. Her solution is for Poirot to visit Edgware and ask him to withdraw his objection. It’s a strange request, but Poirot agrees. When he and Captain Hastings visit Edgware, though, their host tells them that he’s already written to his wife to tell her that he consents to the divorce. Confused, Poirot and Hastings leave, only to learn the next day that Edgware’s been stabbed. Jane is the most likely suspect, but there are a dozen people willing to swear that she was at a dinner party in another part of London at the time of the murder. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp, who’s assigned to the case, have to look elsewhere for the killer. In the end, a piece of trivia casually mentioned turns out to be part of the murderer’s undoing.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, we are introduced to Jonas Hansson. He’s got deep scars from an unhappy childhood and very dysfunctional parents. But he found solace in his fiancée, Anna. Then, Anna nearly died in a fall from a pier at a local boat club. She’s been in a coma since then, and Jonas spends as much time as he can by her side. At first, that attention impresses the staff at the hospital where Anna lives. But soon enough, we see that Jonas isn’t dealing with his life in a very healthy way. One night, he happens to be in a pub where he meets Eva Wirenström-Berg, who’s just found out that her husband, Henrik, has a mistress. Both she and Jonas make some fateful decisions that end up having tragic consequences for everyone. Interestingly enough, Jonas uses a particular set of trivia – distances between different places in Sweden – to cope with stress.
 

‘Alingsås to Arjeplog 1179 kilometres, Arboga to Arlanda 144, Arvidsjaur to Borlänge 787.’
 

He uses the ritual of repeating the distances to himself to calm down.

Trivia turns out to be useful to Saskatoon PI Russell Quant in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. Successful accountant Daniel Guest is being blackmailed, and he wants Quant to find out who’s responsible, and get that person to stop. He gives Quant the information he has about who the blackmailer might be, and Quant gets started. At one point, the trail leads to a local community theatre, where Quant hopes the secretary might provide him with some photographs he wants to see:
 

‘‘Hello, my name is Rick Astley and I’m the Artistic Director for Theatre Quant in Mission.’ I was betting she wasn’t old enough to be up on her late 1980’s teen idol trivia or informed enough about British Columbia community theatre to catch on to my clever ruse. And actually she looked pretty unimpressed with life in general regardless of the decade. I continued on, hoping my enthusiasm, if not my really bad English accent, would be contagious.”
 

Quant’s knowledge of musical trivia helps get him the photographs he wants, and a tiny piece of the puzzle.

Catriona McPherson’s Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver series begins with Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. In that novel, private detective Dandy Gilver gets a new client, Walburga ‘Lollie’ Balfour, who believes her husband, Philip ‘Pip,’ is trying to kill her. She doesn’t want Pip to know she’s consulted a detective, so she asks Dandy to visit her in the guise of a maid seeking a job. Dandy agrees, and takes a position under the name of Fanny Rossiter. The idea is that she’ll find out what she can, and try to protect her client. Late on the first night of ‘Fanny’s’ employment, Pip is stabbed. Dandy gets involved in the case as she tries to clear her client’s name. At one point, she comes upon the maid who discovered Pip’s body, desperately trying to get bloodstains out of her clothes. Dandy doesn’t think this maid is the killer, so she tries to be practical about it:
 

‘‘Apart from anything else, Miss Etheldreda, hot water sets a bloodstain so nothing will ever shift it. A cold water and salt soak is what’s needed.’’
 

That little bit of knowledge helps Dandy get some information she wants, and brings down the barrier between her and Etheldreda.

One of the major events in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is a Trivia Night event at Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. It’s intended as a fundraiser to provide the school’s classrooms with Smart Boards. Everyone’s ready for a fun event, but instead of a friendly competition in aid of a good cause, disaster strikes. The hors d’oeuvres don’t arrive, which means that people are drinking too much without anything to eat. The alcohol fuels already-simmering resentments, and the end result is tragedy. Then, the book takes readers back six months to show how the resentments built, and what led to the events of Trivia Night.

You see?  Trivia isn’t just for Jeopardy or for Quiz Night at the pub. And, of course, trivia isn’t always deadly. Just ask Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. He depends on that sort of knowledge, and his knowledge of language, to do his crossword puzzles. And where would he be without those?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Squeeze’s Sunday Street.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Catriona McPherson, Colin Dexter, Karin Alvtegen, Liane Moriarty