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When Are You Free to Take Some Tea With Me?*

An interesting post from Tim at Informal Inquiries has got me thinking about tea. Yes, tea. If you think about it, tea’s played an important role in history and politics for centuries. And that’s to say nothing of its role in economics, sociology, and lots more. Plenty of people swear by tea’s medicinal qualities, too.

With all of this going for it, it’s not surprising at all that crime fiction is steeped with tea and tea shops. And, of course, there are myriad scenes where a character makes tea at home. There are far too many references for me to mention in this one post, but here are a few.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, we are introduced to Cora Lansquenet. When Cora’s brother, Richard Abernathie, dies, the rest of the Abernethie clan, including Cora, attend his funeral. At the gathering, Cora blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up, but privately, several members of the family begin to wonder whether Cora was right. Then Cora herself is murdered the next day. Now, it seems quite clear that Cora must have been right. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks for Hercule Poirot’s help in finding out the truth about these two deaths, and Poirot agrees. In the process, he and Mr. Entwhistle get to know the Abernethie family – all of whom were very much in need of the money that their patriarch left. They also meet Cora’s companion, Miss Gilchrest. Here’s what she says about her background:

‘‘When my little teashop failed – such a disaster – it was the war, you know. A delightful place. I called it the Willow Tree and all the china was blue willow pattern – sweetly pretty-  and the cakes really good – I’ve always had a hand with cakes and scones.’’

To Miss Gilchrest’s mind, keeping a teashop is the ‘essence of gentility.’ Certainly, tea shops like the one she had are woven into the culture in a lot of towns and villages – and stories about them.

There’s a very interesting example of a tea ceremony in Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. Tokyo Inspector Imanishi Eitaro is assigned to the team that investigates the death of an unknown man whose body is found under a train. At first, it’s difficult to find out who the victim was, but after some slow, patient work, he is identified as Miki Ken’ichi, the retired owner of a store in Okayama. Since the trail may lead to the man’s home town, Imanishi travels there. One of the people he interviews is Kirihara Kojuro, who knew the victim for years, and who’s been in town for a very long time. Kirihara is a traditionalist, so he formally invites Imanishi into his home, and serves him tea, using the traditional ritual, in a room set aside for the purpose. It’s an interesting look at the Japanese way of drinking tea. And, as it happens, Kirihara has some interesting information and perspective to share.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Cao lives and works in late-1990s Shanghai. Our best knowledge is that tea was invented and first drunk in China. So, as you can imagine, the custom of drinking tea is an integral part of life in Shanghai, and there are many tea shops, stands, and so on. There are plenty of scenes, too, that have such places as backgrounds. For instance, in Enigma of China, Chen is looking into the death of Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. He’d recently been arrested in connection with a corruption scandal, and at first, it’s believed he committed suicide rather than face the public shame of a trial. But Chen isn’t so sure that’s what happened, and quietly starts to ask questions. One of his leads is a man named Melong, who runs an online watchdog group. The government monitors such groups very carefully, and Melong wants to keep a low profile. So, rather than come to the police station, he meets Chen in a local tea shop:

‘The waitress came into the room carrying a thick tea menu and long-billed bronze kettle.
Chen ordered ginseng oolong, and Melong chose Pu’er, the Yunan tea.
‘Enjoy your tea,’ the waitress said, bringing out the tea leaves from drawers in the table, putting each into a teapot, then pouring hot water from a kettle into their respective pots. ‘Snacks, which are on the house, are also listed on the menu.’’

Melong is an interesting character, and the scene shows the importance of the local tea shop for finding out information.

Tea also has a very long history in India. We see that, for instance, in Madhumita Bhattacharyya’s The Masala Murder, which takes place in Kolkata/Calcutta. In it, PI Reema Ray investigates the murder of a gourmet food importer named Prakash Agarwal. As it turns out, Ray had interviewed Agarwal as a part of her ‘day job’ working for a lifestyle magazine called Face. So, she remembers him (not very fondly), and his widow. Now, Mrs. Agarwal has asked Ray to find out what happened to him. And it turns out that there are plenty of suspects. Agarwal was not ethical in his marriage, his business, or much of anything else, and he made plenty of enemies. There’s an interesting scene in which Ray recalls her interview with the victim. On the surface, it’s a very pleasant interview, with gourmet tea served, and so on. But it makes her very uneasy, and the fine quality of the tea doesn’t do much to lift the suspense.

Of course, tea isn’t always soothing and ‘civil’ anyway. Just ask Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, who are regular characters in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. They work in Chapman’s bakery, and live in the same building. Their dream is to become television stars, and whenever there’s a bit part on any show, they audition. So, for Kylie and Gossamer, staying thin is critical. That’s why, in Devil’s Food, they’re so interested when they hear about a new diet tea that’s supposed to help in quick weight loss. Instead of helping them lose weight, though, the tea poisons them. Now, Chapman and her friend, Meroe, have to find out what, exactly, the poison is, so that they can help Kylie and Gossamer.

And, no discussion of tea shops and tea in crime fiction could possibly be complete without a mention of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series. Bayles is the owner of Thyme and Seasons, an herb shop that includes special herbal teas. She is also the joint owner of Thyme for Tea, a teashop that’s built behind her herb shop. Bayles lives and works in the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas, which is the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. Bayles gets involved in more than one mystery because she’s ‘plugged in’ to the local network.

See what I mean? Tea has been an essential part of many cultures for thousands of years. So, it’s no wonder we see so much of it in crime fiction. It’s even featured on several excellent book blogs, such as Bitter Tea and Mystery, and A Hot Cup of Pleasure. Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the kettle’s boiling…

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Lovely Rita. 


Filed under Agatha Christie, Kerry Greenwood, Madhumita Bhattacharyya, Matsumoto Seichō, Qiu Xiaolong, Susan Wittig Albert

Fishing Expedition

‘How about back there?’ Dylan asked, pointing towards what looked like a hidden creek. ‘I’ll bet they’re biting there.’

Eric looked in the direction Dylan was indicating. It did look like a deserted spot, just perfect for catching striped bass. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. He glanced down and mentally checked off the list of things the two men would need: bait, fishing tackle, safety equipment, snacks, and coffee. It was all there. Eric nodded, and Dylan started the boat’s motor.

Within a few minutes, Dylan and Eric had reached the mouth of the creek, one of many that opened into the Intercoastal Waterway. Dylan soon cut the engine, and the two men drifted slowly into the creek. As they went along, the tree cover over their heads got denser, and the air cooler and damper. Eric looked at the creek banks as they passed. They were practically deserted. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling they were being watched. ‘You think anyone lives out here?’ he asked Dylan.
‘I don’t see any houses or even cabins. Why?’
‘I don’t know. It just feels like someone’s there.’
‘You mean watching us?’ Dylan couldn’t help laughing. ‘What, was Deliverance on TV last night or something?’ He shook his head and Eric looked down at the water, a little embarrassed at letting a case of nerves get to him.

‘How about if we stop here,’ Eric said after a few minutes of silence. ‘It looks like as good a place as any.’
‘Fine with me. You get the bait going, and I’ll settle the boat.’
Within a few minutes, Dylan and Eric were casting their lines. Silence settled in, but the creek wasn’t really quiet. There was the soft swish of water lapping against the boat, and splashes as wood ducks and teals dove in to go after their prey. Every once in a while, toads croaked, and once or twice, a flock of pelicans went by in a rush of flapping wings. The creek wasn’t very far from where the two men were staying, but it felt like a real wilderness. The resort’s web pages had been right about it being ‘away from it all.’ Hopefully the web pages were also right about the fishing.

Dylan was just reaching up to slap at a bug on his neck when he felt a hard tug on his line. ‘I got one!’ he called. ‘And it feels like a big one, too!’ He slowly reeled his fishing line in, with Eric eagerly watching over his shoulder. All of a sudden, both men stiffened. Eric gulped hard and Dylan said, ‘Oh, my God,’ as water gushed from the arm that had been caught on the fishing hook.
‘We need to call the cops or something,’ Eric said. Dylan nodded. ‘You’re right. I’ll keep an eye on it – him – while you call, OK?’ A minute later, Eric had gotten through on the emergency number, and was told to wait where he was until the police arrived.

After about ten minutes, Dylan and Eric could hear the blast of a siren. ‘Thank God,’ Dylan said. ‘I don’t want to be cooped up with a dead body any longer than we have to be.’

Within a half hour, police officers had cordoned off the part of the creek where Dylan and Eric had found the body. The men had had to give up their boat and equipment as evidence while the police determined what happened. Now, they were seated in the police station, answering questions.
‘This shouldn’t take too long,’ the officer – he’d said his name was McCabe – told them. ‘I just need you to tell me what happened.’
‘It’s like I said,’ Eric responded. ‘We were fishing, trying get some bass, and Dylan’s line got caught on him – on the body.’
Dylan nodded. ‘We’d only been there twenty minutes or so when it happened. For sure less than half an hour.’
McCabe nodded and made notes. ‘All right. Now, you two gentlemen don’t live locally, do you?’
‘No,’ Dylan said. ‘We’re just here for the week.’
‘That’s right,’ Eric added. ‘We’re thinking of buying here, and wanted to visit for a bit before making a decision.’
‘That so?‘ McCabe looked up and met both men’s eyes with his own. ‘Where are you staying?’
‘The Villages at West Palm Beach,’ Dylan answered.
McCabe nodded slowly. ‘All right, you two make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be back in just a minute.’

Dylan and Eric tried to relax, but an interview room at a police station isn’t exactly comfortable. A minute turned into five, then to fifteen, then to twenty. Finally, Dylan said, ‘You think we should go? It’s not like we did anything.’
‘No, but it won’t look good if we go.’
‘Yeah, you’re right.’
After five more long minutes, McCabe came back into the room. ‘I’m going to have to ask you a few more questions.’
‘But we don’t know anything more than we’ve said,’ Dylan insisted.
‘See, that’s the thing,’ McCabe said slowly. ‘You two were in the boat, A man’s body’s found right where you were. That interests me.’
‘But we reported the body!’ Eric protested.
‘Wouldn’t be the first time that kind of thing happened.’
‘So, what? Are we under arrest?’ Dylan burst out.
‘Well, you certainly have some questions to answer. You might want to get yourselves real comfortable. It’s going to be a long night.’

And it was. McCabe kept asking questions, and Dylan and Eric kept insisting they didn’t know anything about the dead man. It was nearly dawn before they were finally released. They went back to the resort, slept for a few hours, and then packed and left. Then, both of them let loose on social media, warning prospectives not to consider the Villages at West Palm Beach.

McCabe was glad when he read their reviews. He and some of the local residents had been at war with Villages ever since that asshole hedge fund manager had bought the land and built the resort. It was nothing but trouble – all the crowds, bad drivers, and rude, loud residents. The more people stayed away from it the better. He wouldn’t have minded using those men as patsies, though. He’d had to hide Shep’s body in a better place. Oh, well, nobody but alligators would find it now. If only McCabe’s brother hadn’t gotten in that bar fight with Shep. What was he supposed to do, though? You had to take care of family.


Filed under Uncategorized

In The Spotlight: Gil North’s Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. In recent years, the British Library and other publishers have been bringing back some lesser-known crime fiction from the Golden Age and what’s sometimes called the Silver Age (post-World War II to the 1970’s more or less). This means more modern readers are introduced to authors they might not otherwise know. Let’s take a look at one of those authors today, and turn the spotlight on Gil North’s Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, the first of his Caleb Cluff series.

As the novel begins, Cluff is called to the village of Gunnershaw, to the home of Alfred and Amy Wright, where Amy has been found dead. It certainly looks like a case of suicide, and that’s not impossible. She’d had a very difficult life, and her husband was abusive. But Cluff isn’t sure. And from what Cluff knows, Wright could very easily be responsible. He’s much younger than his wife, and she had money. So, it wouldn’t be shocking if he killed her for that reason. It doesn’t help matters that he went missing right after the death.

Cluff’s boss, Inspector Mole, is inclined to accept this death as a suicide, but Cluff wants to know the truth. Just as important, he wants justice for the victim, and he is convinced that, in some way, Wright caused his wife’s death, even if he didn’t physically murder her. So, Cluff sets out after Wright. When Wright sees that Cluff is on his trail, he flees Gunnershaw, and heads for the moors.

Cluff traces Wright’s most recent movements, and soon finds that this case is more deeply layered than he’d thought. Wright’s involved in other matters, and as Cluff uncovers them, he gets closer and closer to Wright. And that’s when matters take a very unexpected twist. In the end, though, we find out the truth about Amy Wright.

This novel takes place in Gunnershaw and on the Yorkshire moors, and North makes that clear. It’s an atmospheric setting with plenty of danger as well as beauty, and it figures strongly into the story. Cluff is from the area, and knows the moors very well, and that stands him in good stead. It doesn’t keep him completely out of trouble, though.

A lot of the story is told from Cluff’s point of view (third person, past tense). So, we get to know him. He’s deeply rooted in the Gunnershaw area, and knows everyone.  They know him, too. That puts him in very good stead when it comes to solving this case, but it sometimes causes his boss some consternation. Cluff often gets information that others don’t, simply because he is ‘one of us.’

Cluff is doggedly determined to find Wright and get to the truth about this case. He is implacable, and an important element in the novel is his pursuit of Wright. In fact, I don’t usually say much about books’ titles, but this one is particularly appropriate, given that Cluff refuses to back down in his pursuit of Wright. That adds a great deal of tension to the story, especially as Wright begins to crack under the pressure of being on the run, and of having Cluff shadow him.

And that’s another important element in this novel: the chase. This isn’t a whodunit, where there’s a victim and a group of suspects. Rather, the tension in the novel comes in part from the cat-and-mouse relationship between Cluff and Wright. And that suspense gets stronger as it takes its psychological toll on Wright. It’s also worth noting that North makes use of a major event at the story’s climax to add to the suspense.

Because Gunnershaw is a small place, everyone knows everyone, and everyone, as I say, knows Cluff. The village characters are an important element in the novel, too. Even the minor characters have roles to play, and Cluff doesn’t make the mistake of ignoring them.

This isn’t a novel with a happy ending, where everyone lives happily ever after. I can say without spoiling the story that things are not all right again at the end. And there are some gritty parts to the story. Readers who prefer light crime fiction with little violence will notice this. That said, though, the violence is not extended, and I can say without spoiling things that it’s as much a psychological novel as it is anything else.

The novel is not long (my edition clocked in at 165 pages). Readers who prefer shorter novels and stories will appreciate this. Yet, although there is certainly plenty of action, there are also reflective parts where Cluff mulls over the case, decides what to do, and so on. There is also narrative the depicts the moor in its beauty and harshness.

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm is the story of a dedicated police detective who is determined to get justice for a victim. It takes place against a distinctive Yorkshire more backdrop, and features characters who are as much a part of the local scenery, as you might say, as the land itself is. Oh, and did I mention it’s got an introduction by Martin Edwards? But what’s your view? Have you read Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 22 January/Tuesday, 23 January – Killer Instinct – Zoë Sharp

Monday, 29 January/Tuesday, 30 January – Sold – Blair Denholm

Monday, 5 February/Tuesday, 6 February – Laura – Vera Caspary


Filed under Gil North, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm

My Mama Once Told Me of a Place With Waterfalls and Unicorns Flying*

It’s interesting how legends, if that’s what you want to call them, are built up around certain places. The reality seldom lives up to the promise of the legend, and most people know that intellectually. But the allure is often still there. So, people ‘buy into’ those legends. That’s why people can be sold on timeshares, ‘that perfect little place,’ and so on.

In crime fiction, those legends can add an interesting layer of tension as characters discover the truth behind the legend. And there are possibilities for character development, too. And that atmosphere, where reality and legend clash, can make for a solid background to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), we are introduced to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use the money to take a trip to Le Pinet, which she’s heard about from clients. Jane’s neither gullible nor unintelligent, but the place does have a mystique about it. She finds, though, that Le Pinet isn’t anything as magical as the legends suggest. And on the flight back to London, she gets mixed up in a case of murder. One of the fellow passengers, a Parisian moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight (and, incidentally, quite suspicious as far as the coroner’s jury is concerned!). He works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who would have wanted the victim dead. I agree with you, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

There are all sorts of legends built up around the ‘perfect suburban place, with white picket fence.’ And we see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Walter and Joanna Eberhart decide to move from New York City to the small Connecticut town of Stepford. The story is that it’s a lovely town with low taxes and good schools, and they want to be part of that dream, so to speak. They and their two children settle in, and all promises to go well. But soon, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe begins to suspect that something is wrong with Stepford. Joanna doesn’t believe her at first, but soon some strange and frightening things show all too clearly that Bobbie was right. Some very dark things are going on in the town…

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move introduces readers to sci-fi novelist Zack Walker and his journalist wife, Sarah. He’s been concerned for some time about the safety of the city where he and his family live. Convinced by the legends of idyllic suburban life, Walker wants to move his family to a new development called Valley Forest Estates. Soon after they arrive, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t the ‘perfect suburban community’ Walker had thought it was. For one thing, the new house needs several repairs. Walker soon discovers, too, that all is not as it seems in this community. Matters come to a head one day when he discovers the body of a local environmentalist in a nearby creek. The more Walker tries to keep himself and his family safe, the more danger he seems to find. The ‘white picket fence’ suburban dream turns out to be nothing like the sales brochures…

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice takes place mostly in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Former school principal Thea Farmer has bought land there, and had a custom-made house built. For her, this is going to be the perfect home in the perfect place. It’s something she’s dreamed of doing. Then, bad luck and poor financial decision-making mean she has to settle for the house next door – a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ Worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home Thea still thinks of as hers. As if that weren’t enough, Frank’s niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Now, Thea has to cope with the loss of her beautiful home as well as the fact that ‘invaders’ have taken it over. Unexpectedly, though, she forms an awkward sort of friendship with Kim, and sees promise in her. That’s why it’s so upsetting for Thea when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for the girl. When the police won’t do anything about it (they really can’t without clear evidence), Thea decides to take her own measures…

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi,’ and her partner, Yossi Shalev, move from London to Claire’s native Auckland. For Yossi, New Zealand is an almost ideal setting. He wants to live as far away as possible from the war and conflict he knew in Israel. And he’s excited to start over in what, to him, seems like the perfect place. Roi is happy about the move, too. Her mother has said very little about her background (and Roi’s), and Roi is curious to learn more. But Claire is not at all eager for the move, she had good reasons for leaving New Zealand in the first place. Her father, Patrick, was arrested and tried for the 1970 murder of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. Although there was never enough evidence to keep him in prison, plenty of people think he was guilty. Claire doesn’t want to go back to those memories. But, for Yossi’s sake, she goes along with the plan. Everything works well enough at first. Then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. Claire wants to plan an operation to remove the growth, but Rory’s parents refuse on religious grounds. The conflict between them gets media attention and before long, Claire’s in the public spotlight. And that’s when some journalists bring up the Kathryn Phillips murder. Now, Claire will have to fight to keep her family safe from the media blitz, and try to do the best she can for her patient.

And that’s the thing about ‘buying into’ stories about perfect places and lifestyles. In real life, and in crime fiction, the reality can be quite different from the ideal. And that can lead in all sorts of dangerous directions.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Sal Tlay Ka Siti.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay, Sue Younger, Virginia Duigan

And the Newspapers, They All Went Along For the Ride*

As this is posted, it’s 23 years since the beginning of the famous O.J. Simpson trial. As you’ll know, he was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and the murder of Ron Goldman. The trial made world headlines, and every detail that could be shared in the press, was. In part, the trial caught people’s interest because of the lurid details. In part, it was arguably because Simpson was famous. Little wonder that it was called ‘the Trial of the Century,’ whether or not it actually deserves that status.

Certainly, Simpson’s trial wasn’t the first or last sensational murder trial. There’s just something about certain trials that get the press’ and public’s attention. That’s true in real life, and it’s certainly true in fiction.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman bridges the gap between fiction and real life. It’s a fiction re-telling of the story of Harvey Hawley Crippen, who was arrested, tried, and executed in 1910 for the murder of his wife, Cora. The arrest and trial were a media sensation, and papers all over the world carried regular news about the Crippen case. It’s not surprising that the trial caught the public’s interest as it did, even though Crippen wasn’t famous. There was a love triangle involved, which always adds to the ‘spiciness’ of a case. What’s more, the murder itself was considered sensational. There was also doubt (still is, if the truth be told) as to whether Crippen was actually guilty. All of this added to the media frenzy. And it helped make the career of pathologist Bernard Spilsbury.  Edwards tells the story from Crippen’s point of view, and suggests a possibility for what might have really happened.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Marie Morisot, a French moneylender who goes by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned during a flight from Paris to London. The only possible suspects are other people in the cabin, one of whom is Hercule Poirot. A few of the passengers are ‘society’ people, which in itself garners a lot of public interest. What’s more, the murder itself is considered sensational. It turns out that the victim was poisoned by what seems to be a dart from a blowgun – an exotic sort of crime. The coroner’s inquest is well attended, and all of the papers cover the story.

‘The reporters wrote: “Peer’s wife gives evidence in air-death mystery.” Some of them put: “in snake-poison mystery.”
Those who wrote for women’s papers put: “Lady Horbury wore one of the new collegian hats and fox furs” or “Lady Horbury, who before her marriage was Miss Cicely Bland, was smartly dressed in black, with one of the new hats.”

It’s not spoiling the story to say that at first, the coroner’s jury accuses Poirot of the crime, since the blowpipe was found by his seat. Needless to say, Poirot isn’t happy about that finding, and neither is the coroner. Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the guilty person is.

Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town takes place mostly in the small New England town of Wrightsville. Queen’s gone there for some peace and quiet, so he can write, and he’s staying in a guest house owned by social leaders John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. That’s how he gets involved in family drama when the youngest Wright daughter, Nora, rekindles an old relationship. She’d been engaged to Jim Haight, but he jilted her and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back, and Nora shocks everyone by agreeing to marry him. The wedding goes off as planned, but shortly afterwards, suspicion arises that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister, Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, is poisoned by a drink that was intended for Nora. Now, Haight finds himself arrested and on trial for murder. The trial is a major media event, and all of the papers cover it. After all, the Wrights are social elites. And there’s the whole ‘romance-gone-wrong’ angle. In the end, only Queen and Nora’s older sister, Pat, actually believe that Haight may be innocent. And they are determined to clear his name.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill also tells the story of a sensational murder trial in Clanton, Mississippi. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for the murders of two men, and the wounding of another. There’s a lot to this case that generates interest. The two men that Hailey shot were responsible for raping his ten-year-old daughter, so there’s a lot of sympathy for him. At the same time, though, he killed two people. The man he wounded is a sheriff’s deputy, and that complicates matters. There’s also the fact that Hailey is black and his victims white. This adds fuel to the media-frenzy fire, and news outlets from all over the country cover the trial. And some powerful forces have an interest in the outcome of the case, and aren’t afraid to use that power to do so.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s decided to retire and move to Garibaldi Island, and he’s looking forward to stepping back from the stress of big-firm work, and the failure of his marriage. Then, his former colleagues ask for his help. Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, has been arrested and charged with raping a law student, Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell claims to be innocent, and wants Beauchamp to defend him. Beauchamp refuses at first, but is finally persuaded. The trial gets a great deal of media attention. There’s the ‘he said/she said’ angle, and there’s the fact that O’Donnell is well known in the academic community. And there are the lurid details that come out during the trial. Through it all, Beauchamp works to find out what really happened on the night in question, and try to do his best for his client.

There are lots of other trials, too, both real and fictional, that get a great deal of media attention, even hype. Testimony from both sides gets splashed in the headlines, and daily updates of these cases are passed along. Some cases just seem tailor-made to become sensations.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, John Grisham, Martin Edwards, William Deverell