Category Archives: Daphne du Maurier

And Meet the Best Innkeeper in Town*

Staying at an inn can be a really pleasant alternative to staying at a large, ‘corporate’ hotel. Inns are often smaller, more intimate, and more ‘homey’ than larger places. They have a long history, too – longer than that of the large hotel chains. And they’re quite varied.

One important difference between the larger hotels and inns is that, instead of being owned by corporations, and managed onsite, many inns are privately owned. This means that innkeepers and owners have a lot of say and personal stake in their inns. They can be interesting people in their own right, and they certainly figure in crime fiction. After all, innkeepers have a way of knowing what goes on in their places.

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, for instance, we are introduced to Mrs. Castle, who owns the Jolly Roger Hotel, a holiday destination on Leathercombe Bay. She prides herself on running a respectable establishment; she is painfully respectable herself, too. So, it’s a source of great distress when one of her guests is murdered. Famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall is strangled during a visit to the Jolly Roger. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, is a natural suspect. But he has a provable alibi. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the real killer is. Through it all, Mrs. Castle is determined to preserve the good name of her hotel.

Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates is the story of the murder of Miki Ken’ichi, whose body is found early one morning under a Tokyo train. Inspector Imanishi Eitaro and his team take the case. The victim wasn’t from Tokyo, so there are no nearby family members of close friends. So, one important task for the police is to find out where the man was from and try to trace his movements. It takes time, but eventually, it’s established that Miki was from Okayama. He was taking what was, for him, a very unusual trip, so Imanishi starts with Okayama, and traces the man’s journey. This leads him to the Futami Inn, where Miki stayed briefly. The innkeeper isn’t exactly thrilled to have the police asking questions, since he’s concerned about the inn’s reputation. But he co-operates with the police, and so does the maid who waited on Miki. Between them, they provide Imanishi with interesting and important information.

Ross Macdonald’s short story The Singing Pigeon features his PI sleuth, Lew Archer. In it, Archer is heading north from Mexico into Southern California. He stops for the night at a motel called the Siesta. At first, the innkeeper doesn’t seem eager to rent out rooms, but finally, he gives Archer a room for the night. The next morning, Archer is awakened by a woman’s scream, and rushes to the room next door to see what’s going on. There’s blood on the bedsheets, and the young woman who was screaming starts to say something about it, but she’s quickly hushed up. The innkeeper, who is her father, says that one of the guests had a nosebleed, but Archer doesn’t believe it. Still, there’s not much he can do. He checks out of the Siesta and prepares to be on his way. Not far from the motel, though, he finds the body of a man. Making the obvious inference, he goes back to the Siesta, where it’s soon clear that nobody is telling him the truth about what really happened there. In the end, though, Archer finds out who the dead man was, and what his connection is to the Siesta and the family that owns it.

In Sujata Massey’s The Salaryman’s Wife, Tokyo-based art expert Rei Shimura decides to treat herself to a New Year’s trip to a traditional inn/B&B near Shiroyama, in the Japanese Alps. The inn is owned by Mayumi Yogetsu, who takes pride in her establishment, and wants to maintain its reputation. She keeps up traditional standards, and that makes for a bit of awkwardness with Shimura, who is more modern in her outlook. Still, the visit starts out well enough. Then, early one morning, Shimura discovers the body of another guest, Setsuko Nakamura. The police are called in, in the form of f Captain Jiro Okuhara, and the investigation gets underway. It’s all very difficult for Mayumi Yogetsu, who now has to cope with police everywhere, uncomfortable questions about the guests, and more. It’s not a lot easier for Rei Shimura, who is, at the very least, a ‘person of interest’ since she found the body. In the end, we learn who and what is behind the murder, but not before there’s great danger to Shimura, as well as another murder.

There’s also Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder (AKA The Murder Stone). In that novel, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, and his wife, Reine-Marie, take their annual anniversary trip to the Manoir Bellechoise. It’s a lovely, rural place that they both enjoy. There, they are greeted by the proprietor, Clementine Dubois, who knows them and makes them welcome. She makes it her business to know all of her guests, and to make everyone as comfortable as possible. And she is a consummate professional. But even her skills are put to the test by the members of the Finney family, who are also staying there. It’s a very dysfunctional group, and that makes things awkward for everyone. Then, there’s a murder. All sorts of old secrets come to the surface; so does a connection to another series character.

And I don’t think I could do a post about innkeepers without mentioning Joss Merlyn, who owns the eponymous inn in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Merlyn’s twenty-three-year-old niece, Mary Yellan, comes to stay with him and his wife, Patience; and, right away, there’s trouble. Merlyn is abusive and rude, and it’s clear he doesn’t want Mary there. Patience is terrified of her husband and does her best to placate him when she can. It’s a cold, eerie atmosphere, and Mary dislikes it immediately. Even the inn itself is chilling. No-one ever seems to stay there, and it’s not hard to see why. Then, Mary discovers that something eerie is going on at the inn. Neither her aunt nor her uncle will tell her anything, so she goes looking for answers on her own. And she soon finds herself in very real danger. Then, there’s a murder. And it’s very likely that Mary could be the next target.

Inns and other such small places can be warm, friendly, positive experiences. They can be unique, too, and often have a much more ‘personal touch.’ And the people who own and run them can be as interesting as the inns themselves.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from  Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Master of the House. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Louise Penny, Matsumoto Seichō, Ross Macdonald, Sujata Massey

Stuck in the Middle With You*

An interesting post by Brad at ahsweetmystery has got me thinking about the middle of a story. Now, before I go any further, let me suggest that your next blog stop should be Brad’s fine blog. It’s a treasure trove of in-depth, informed, thoughtful reviews and commentary.

It’s important, of course, that the author create an interesting beginning – something that will invite the reader to invest in a story. And we’ve all had experiences with endings that left us satisfied (or even awed), and endings that disappointed (or worse). It’s not hard to make a case for a well-written, strong ending. But the middle of a story is at least as important. One of the reasons, for instance, that readers don’t finish a novel is that they get bogged down somewhere in its middle.

There are plenty of reasons that can happen. In some novels, it’s a matter of providing too much detail (e.g. historical fiction where there’s sometimes a lot of emphasis on time and place). In others, it’s a matter of, if I can put it this way, not enough happening. There are other things, too, that can bog down a story in the middle. It’s just as important for authors to plan the middle of the story as it is for them to plan the rest of it.

Some authors keep the interest going by slowly building tension. For example, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None uses the suspense that’s created when ten people are stranded on an island together – and someone is targeting them. It’s true that there are several deaths in that novel, but the real focus is on the psychological suspense in the surviving characters. As they slowly begin to suspect each other, we see how each interaction is increasingly fraught with tension, and that helps to keep the story going through the middle.

Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn also uses slowly-building tension to keep the story moving. In that novel, Mary Yellan goes to stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn after her mother dies. They run Jamaica Inn, on Dartmoor, and it was Mary’s mother’s last wish that she go to live with them. Right from the start, the place is eerie, and Uncle Joss even eerier. Aunt Patience is obviously afraid of her husband but is powerless to do much about it. As the story continues, the place becomes more and more claustrophobic, and Mary is more and more uneasy. Then, she begins discovering some dark secrets about the inn. Even the day-to-day business of eating, sleeping and so on are tense, and that keeps the story moving to its conclusion.

Some authors use major plot twists to keep the middle of a story interesting. That’s what happens in Vera Caspary’s Laura. As the novel begins, the body of successful advertising executive Laura Hunt is found in her apartment. New York Police Lieutenant Mark McPherson is assigned the case and begins looking into it. He slowly gets to know the people in her life, spends time in her home, and gets to know something about what she was like. Then, in a major plot twist, it turns out that the dead woman is not Laura Hunt. Instead, she is identified as Diane Redfern, an acquaintance of Laura’s who had permission to stay in the apartment while Laura was away on a trip. Now, McPherson has to start all over again with his investigation. As it turns out, even Laura herself now becomes a suspect.

In Colin Dexter’s Death is Now My Neighbour, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are called in to investigate when physiotherapist Rachel James is shot through the window of her kitchen one morning. The police look into the victim’s finances and relationships, but there isn’t anything untoward – certainly nothing that would suggest murder. Then, a journalist named Geoffrey Owens is shot. He lived near the first victim, so now, there’s a question of whether a killer is stalking all of the residents. There’s a major plot twist, though, when Morse and Lewis discover the real reason that both people were killed. When they change their focus, the whole investigation changes, too.

Many authors choose to use sub-plots in their novels to keep interest going and to keep the middle of the story from getting ‘boggy.’ Reginald Hill, for instance, frequently used sub-plots in his Dalziel and Pascoe stories. As fans of this series can tell you, Superintendent Andy Dalziel supervises a diverse group of police detectives, and they all have their own personalities and lives. Throughout the novels, Hill explored those characters, providing sub-plots and story arcs to maintain the interest in the stories.

Louise Penny has done this as well with her Armand Gamache series. Many of those novels take place in the small Québec town of Three Pines. As the series evolves, we learn more about the various characters who live in the town. We also learn more about Gamache. Penny uses these opportunities to develop the setting and context, and she provides sub-plots and story arcs in which readers learn more. Not only does this serve to keep reader interest going, but it also adds layers of plot and character development.

There are, of course, many other ways to keep a story from getting bogged down in the middle. I haven’t mentioned, for instance, the second murder, the wrong person being arrested, or (with apologies to Raymond Chandler) the man with a gun coming through the door. All of those strategies, if they fall out naturally from the story, can keep reader interest going, too.

What about you? Do you consign a book to the DNF pile if the middle drags on? If you’re an author, how do you keep the middle of a story interesting?

Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Stealers Wheel.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Daphne du Maurier, Louise Penny, Reginald Hill, Vera Caspary

Some Others Choose the Good Old Family Home*

There are some homes that have been in the same family for many generations. They’re full of history (and sometimes, secrets), and they often develop their own personalities. Houses like that can be fascinating to explore. They can also make very effective settings for crime novels, especially those that link past crimes with the present.

There are a lot of such fictional houses – many more than space permits. But here are a few. I know you’ll think of many, many more.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual takes place in that sort of home. In the story, Holmes tells Watson about one of his cases, a case that began with a visit from an old college friend, Reginald Musgrave. Musgrave dismissed his butler, Richard Brunton, after catching the man reading a private family paper. Not long afterwards, Brunton and a maid named Rachel Howells disappeared. Holmes agreed to look into the matter, and he found that the paper Brunton was reading contained a cryptic poem that all of the Musgrave men learned. That poem proved to be the key to a very old mystery, and the key to the disappearance of Musgrave’s staff.  Conan Doyle did some other mysteries, too, that take place in an ancestral family home, didn’t he, fans of The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Agatha Christie used family homes in several of her novels and stories. One of them is Enderby, the home of the Abernethie family, whom we meet in After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal). When patriarch Richard Abernethie dies, his family members gather for his funeral and the reading of his will. During that gathering, his younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, says that he was murdered. Everyone dismisses the idea right away. The next day, though, Cora herself is murdered. Now, the remaining family members begin to suspect that she was right. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and Poirot agrees. Enderby itself isn’t the reason for the deaths. But it makes for an interesting setting, and, among some of the older characters, there’s talk about ‘the old days,’ and what the house used to be like. I see you, fans of Sleeping Murder and of Peril at End House, and of 4:50 From Paddington, and of…

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family. Eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood lives in the family home with her older sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian. The family is quite isolated, and that’s mostly because of a tragedy that took place six years earlier. Three other members of the Blackwood family died of what turned out to be poison, and everyone in town is convinced that someone in the Blackwood family is responsible. Still, the Blackwoods have made a life for themselves, and everything goes smoothly enough. Then, they get a visitor. Charles Blackwood, a family cousin, comes to the house. His visit sets of a chain of events that ends in real tragedy. In this novel, the house itself adds to the suspense.

Much of Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache takes place in the small Québec town of Three Pines. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone, and some people are deeply rooted in the place, and a part of its history. So are some of the houses. One in particular is the Hadley House, which plays a role in the very first novel, Still Life. It’s got its own history, and Gamache has more than one experience there.

In Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we are introduced to the de Luce family. The protagonist of this series is eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, who lives with her father, Colonel de Luce, and her two older sisters, in the family home, Buckshaw, in the village of Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia is a child, but she is also highly intelligent, and a very skilled chemist. In this novel, she uses her skills to help clear her father’s name when he is accused of murdering a visitor to their home. Buckshaw is a distinctive old house, with lots of passages, unused rooms, and so on. And it contains Flavia’s chemistry lab, which has its own personality.

And then there’s Steve Robinson’s In the Blood, in which we are introduced to genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In that novel, he is commissioned by Boston business executive Walter Sloane to trace the ancestry of Sloan’s wife as a gift. The trail leads to the Fairborne family, which has lived in the US since before the American Revolution. One branch of the family returned to English in 1781, along with a group of Loyalists, so Tayte goes to Cornwall, where the family moved. There, he finds that the modern Fairbornes are strangely unwilling to help him find out the truth about what happened to their ancestors once they got to England. Tayte continues to search for the truth and learns that the answers might be very dangerous to him. The contemporary Fairbornes live in Rosemullion Hall, the family home. It’s been Fairborne property since the 18th Century, and Tayte finds that it has plenty of history and secrets to share.

Houses that have been in the same family for a long time often develop their own personalities as they absorb a family’s history. They’re fascinating places. They can also be really effective settings for a crime novel (right, fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca?).

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Philadelphia Freedom.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Daphne du Maurier, Louise Penny, Shirley Jackson, Steve Robinson

When You Wake, Ring For Drake*

Not long ago, I did a post on some of the archetypes we see in crime fiction, and they’re certainly there. I had an interesting comment exchange about it with Moira at Clothes in Books, and she brought up the excellent point that there are some archetypal minor characters in crime fiction, too, especially in Golden Age crime fiction. It got me to thinking of a few of those archetypes, for which I’m grateful.

One of the types that Moira mentioned is the sly, even secretive maid. She’s often (but not always) foreign, and she sometimes has her own agenda. We see an example of this in the character of Louise Bourget, whom we meet in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. She serves as lady’s maid to Linette Ridgeway Doyle, who is taking a honeymoon cruise of the Nile with her new husband, Simon. On the second night of the course, Linnet is shot. Her former friend, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort is the first suspect, but it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have committed the crime. So, Hercule Poirot, who is on the same cruise, has to look elsewhere for the criminal. He is not particularly impressed with Louise, and neither he nor Colonel Race, who’s also on the cruise, trusts her. But is she guilty of murder?

Another type you often see in Golden Age and sometimes Silver Age novels is the stately, imperturbable butler. He’s in charge of the household staff and observes everything. But nothing – not any eccentricity of his employer – fazes him. In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, for instance, Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is hired by General Guy Sternwood to stop a blackmailer. It seems that Sternwood got an extortion letter that mentioned his daughter, Carmen, and he wants Marlowe to stop the blackmailer, a book dealer named Arthur Geiger. That’s just the beginning of Marlowe’s involvement with the eccentric and dysfunctional Sternwood family. Their household is managed by an unflappable butler named Norris, who knows (but doesn’t tell) a lot of what goes on in the family.

There’s also the silly housemaid. You know the type, I’m sure. She’s not necessarily stupid, but she can be gullible. Such a character helps Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conant Doyle’s The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. In that story, Holmes gets a new client: a young lady who’s planning to marry soon, and who is being extorted by notorious blackmailer Milverton. It seems that she wrote some ‘indiscreet’ letters to someone else, and if her fiancé sees them, there will be no marriage. Holmes agrees to help her, and he decides that the best way to get the letters back (since Milverton will only release them for a very high price) is to take them. But to do that, Holmes needs a sense of how the household works. So, he takes on the clothes and manner of a working man, and he woos Milverton’s housemaid. She is gullible enough to be taken in by his disguise and way of questioning her. And in the end, she gives him valuable information.

And what household would really be complete with the cook? In Golden Age (and earlier) stories, cooks reign supreme in the kitchen, and supervise all of the scullery maids, bootboys, and some of the other staff. They may be second to the butler and housekeeper, but none of the lesser servants dares to cross them. We see that sort of in Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. In that novel, set in 1926, PI Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver gets a new client, Walburga ‘Lollie’ Balfour. It sees that Lollie’s husband, Philip ‘Pip’, has threatened to kill her, and Lollie thinks he will be as good as his word. She wants Dandy to investigate, but she doesn’t want to tip her hand. So, it’s agreed that Dandy will go to the house undercover, as a new maid, and look into the matter. She joins the household and is no sooner settled in when Pip is murdered. And, of course, Lollie is a prime suspect. Dandy works with her business partner, Alec Osborne, to find out who the real killer is. And in the end, she finds out that a lot more is going on in that household than it seems. One of the characters ‘of interest’ is the cook, Kitty Hepburn. Here’s how she is described:
 

‘…a formidable looking cook in a rose-pink dress and enormous apron, with a bunch of keys twinkling at her waist…’
 

The scullery maid, the kitchen maid, the boot-and-hall boy, all do her bidding.

There’s also the housekeeper. She’s often in charge of the entire staff and does the household expenses as well as the hiring and firing. Sometimes, the housekeeper plays a major role in a novel (right, fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca?). There’s even Emily Brightwell’s historical series that features a housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, as the main sleuth. Barbara Neely also has a series featuring a housekeeper, Blanche White, as the sleuth. But in a lot of novels, the housekeeper doesn’t play quite as important a role, although she does figure in.

There are plenty of other minor characters, too, that we find in lots of Golden Age and sometimes Silver Age crime fiction. The gardener or handyman who’s been there forever and has no patience with ‘these young people who don’t know how to work.’ The coachman or driver with an eye for the ladies. There are plenty of others, too. And they all add atmosphere and a sense of time and place to these novels.

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, folks, may I suggest your next stop be Clothes in Books? It’s the source for excellent reviews, and all things clothes and culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Barbara Neely, Catriona McPherson, Daphne du Maurier, Emily Brightwell, Raymond Chandler

I’ve Seen the Film, I’ve Read the Book*

As this is posted, it’s 77 years since the release of John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. There are differences between the film and the Dashiell Hammett story on which it’s based; and, for many people the film has eclipsed the story. When a lot of people think of Sam Spade, they think of Humphrey Bogart, and the events in the film, rather than the original story. And there are, of course, many people who’ve seen the film, but haven’t read the original story. For them, the film is the story.

And that’s not the only case where that’s happened. There are many stories and novels where the film adaptation has become at least as well-known and well-regarded as the original story – in some cases, even more so. In the hands of a skilled director, the characters can come alive for viewers. And, if the director evokes the story effectively (even if some things, or a lot of things, are changed), the effect can be a very strong film. For those who prefer to experience their crime fiction on screen rather than in a book, this can make some of those classic stories more easily available.

For example, Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 film The Birds is based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name. While many people have read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and perhaps some of du Maurier’s other work, that particular short story was arguably eclipsed by the film. Millions of people have seen the film, and some consider it one of Hitchock’s best efforts. It’s said that du Maurier didn’t like the adaptation at all, and the adaptation is quite different to the original story. Even though it isn’t much like the short story that inspired it, there was something about that screen version that captured people’s attention. And Hitchcock fans know that that’s not the only example of his paying tribute to a novel or a short story.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather is, as you’ll know, based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name. The Puzo novel was very well-received and remained a top seller for quite a long time. The film adaptation had, perhaps, an even wider reach. It’s been said that it’s one of the greatest films made, and it’s certainly become a part of our culture. For many, many people, when they think of Michael Corleone, they think of Al Pacino. When they think of Don Vito Corleone, they think of Marlon Brando. That’s especially true if they’ve seen the film, but not read the book.

We might say a similar thing about Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs, and Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film adaptation of the same name.  The original novel was well-received, to quite a lot of critical and commercial acclaim. But, for many people, Hannibel Lecter ‘came alive’ when they saw the film. Arguably, the film medium allowed for several ‘jolts’ and visual impact that the book didn’t. And plenty of people believe that Anthony Hopkins had the role of his career as Lecter. And perhaps that’s part of the reason for which the film, as much as the novel (perhaps more?) has become a big part of our culture.

Several of Stephen King’s novels (Carrie, The Shining, and Misery, to name just three) have been adapted for the screen. Of course, the novels themselves have been critically praised and commercially successful in and of themselves. But the films have also garnered very wide audiences. This might be one of the cases where the film and the book are about equal in terms of their followings. Even so, it shows how much reach a well-done film can have.

I’m sure that you can think of many other examples – more than I could – of films that equal or eclipse the book in terms of reach. Even if, like me, you generally prefer the book to the film, there are some cases where the film medium allows for nuances that the book may not. There are also cases where the film gets to the heart of the story in the way that the book may not.

But there may be other factors, too. For example, an actor may be an inspired choice to play a character and may carry off the role brilliantly. I’ll bet you can think of several cases where a particular actor is a character to you. I know I can. This has a way of making a film memorable. Or, there may be a certain scene in a film that’s a bit harder to depict in writing, and that makes a film stay with the viewer.

What do you think? Are there films you’ve seen that eclipsed the book for you (if you’ve experienced both)? Have you seen films that then inspired you to read the book? Certainly, The Maltese Falcon is an integral part of film culture, and it’s gotten woven into the larger culture, too. How do you think that happens?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jigsaw.

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Filed under Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne du Maurier, Dashiell Hammett, Francis Ford Coppola, John Huston, Jonathan Demme, Mario Puzo, Stephen King, Thomas Harris