Category Archives: Matthew Gant

When You’re Twins, the Magic Just Never Ends*

One of Ronald Knox’s rules for detective fiction holds that,
 

‘Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.’
 
The idea here was that it’s not fair to the reader to raise that question of identification. And, of course, crime fiction fans do want the author to ‘play fair.’

And yet, there are lots of twins in crime fiction. Some of them are identical, and some are fraternal. All of them, though, seem to have a unique sort of relationship – one that we don’t always see among other siblings. And it’s interesting to see how twins are treated in crime fiction.

For instance, in Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, we are introduced to the various members of the Ashby family, a once-‘better’ family that’s fallen upon very hard times. But that’s about to change for Simon Ashby. When he turns twenty-one, he’s set to inherit a vast fortune. Out-of-work actor Alec Loding knows this, as he knows the Farrar family very well. He also knows that Simon had a twin brother, Patrick, who was believed to have committed suicide years earlier. One day, Loding meets an ex-pat American, Brat Farrar, who looks a lot like the Ashby twins. That gives him the idea that Farrar should impersonate Patrick. Since Patrick was the older twin, if Farrar can pull off the deception, he’s set to inherit a lot of money. All Loding wants is a part of that fortune. Farrar agrees and plans are laid. But it’s not going to be as easy as it seems. As it turns out, Patrick did not commit suicide. Instead, he was murdered. Now, the same person intends to try again, this time more successfully.

Matthew Gant’s short story The Uses of Intelligence introduces readers to eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins. They’re both exceptionally intelligent, with genius-level IQs, and a strong bond. One day, they discover that an acquaintance of theirs, banana seller Aristos Depopoulos, has been killed. At first, it looks as though he was killed by one of the workers at a nearby construction site. But the Perkins twins aren’t so sure of that and decide to find out the truth for themselves. When they discover who killed Depopoulos, they engage in a little blackmail, hoping to profit from what they know. What they haven’t counted on is that they’re not the only ones who are geniuses…

In Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, Sydney PI Cliff Hardy gets a call from wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, who wants to consult him on a ‘private’ matter. Hardy agrees to at least talk to the man and goes to his home. It seems that Bryn’s twin sister, Susan, is being harassed and threatened. Bryn wants it to stop, so he wants to hire Hardy to find out who’s responsible. On the surface, Susan Gutteridge doesn’t seem to have any enemies. She works with several social causes and hasn’t attracted negative attention. What’s more, she’s not in good health, spending her share of time at a private clinic. There doesn’t seem to be much motive there, either. The twins’ father, Mark Gutteridge, made quite a lot of money, but was, according to his widow, a swindler. So, it’s possible one of his enemies has decided to target Susan. Bit by bit, Hardy learns some of the family history and some family secrets that play their roles in what’s been happening. He also discovers how that all ties in with Mark Gutteridge’s business practices. In the end, he finds out who’s behind the harassment.

Scott Turow’s Identical is the story of twins Cass and Paul Gianis. Paul is leading in the race to become mayor of Kindle County, and his prospects look good. But then, everything changes. Cass is released from prison after serving 25 years for the beating death of his girlfriend, Aphrodite (Dita) Kronon. Her brother Hal believes that Paul was also involved in some way, and wants the case investigated. For his part, Paul doesn’t want this matter raked up, and sues for defamation. But, for his own reasons, Hal is very much opposed to Paul becoming mayor and will do what he needs to do to prevent that. That conflict between the families means that some very dark secrets are going to be raked up.

Of course, not all twins have a lot in common. For example, Teresa Solana’s Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez are twins, but they’re very different. They don’t look much alike, they have different politics, and they have different temperaments. Borja is more extroverted, more willing to take risks, and better able to ‘sell’ clients on the brothers’ services. Eduard is a little more stable, a planner, and, perhaps, more realistic. They are complementary, but their differences can sometimes lead to friction.

Detective Inspector Kim Stone, whom we first meet in Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream, had a difficult, sometimes quite traumatic childhood. She spent quite a lot of time in the care system, and that’s given her, in a way, a hard edge. She’s not what you’d call dysfunctional, but she does have her issues. One of the things that haunts her is that she had a twin brother, Mikey, who died when they were children. She slowly comes to terms with that tragedy as time goes by, but it’s still hard for her. And, as we learn what happened in their childhoods, we see why.

Priscilla Masters’ Martha Gunn is the coroner for Shrewsbury, which means she gets involved in all cases of unnatural death. As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is the mother of twins Sukey and Sam, who are twelve when the series begins. They have different interests and friends, so Gunn does the best that she can to treat them as unique individuals. In some ways, they are quite different, too. But they also have their own special connection.

There are a lot of other stories in which twins figure (I know, Agatha Christie fans. It’s just hard to mention those examples without spoilers…). It’s a fascinating relationship and can make for character layers and plot points in a crime novel. And that gives an author all sorts of possibilities.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Philip Bailey and Little Richard’s Twins.

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Filed under Angela Marsons, Josephine Tey, Matthew Gant, Peter Corris, Priscilla Masters, Ronald Knox, Scott Turow, Teresa Solana

He’s a Genius Who Believes*

As this is posted, it would have been Albert Einstein’s 139th birthday. For many people, Einstein personified genius. And he was, of course, a truly remarkable mathematician, physicist, and more. His contributions to science and technology have had profound and lasting effects on the world.

Einstein isn’t, of course, the only person people regard as a genius. There are plenty of others. And the people you would put on your ‘genuine genius’ list would depend on how, exactly, you define genius. And that’s by no means a settled question. Still, it’s interesting to take a look at people with extraordinary intellectual gifts.

There are certainly plenty of them in crime fiction. One of the crime-fictional geniuses most people think of is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. He’s made detection his life’s work and passion, so he channels his brilliance into certain specific areas. But in those areas, he has remarkable knowledge. Fans of these stories can tell you that genius seems to run in Holmes’ family. His brother, Mycroft, is even more gifted, and in a few stories, the Holmes brothers work together. There’s also genius on the other side of the law in the form of Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty. In fact, Moriarty is one of the few people who can really be a match for Holmes’ skills.

In Matthew Gant’s short story, The Uses of Intelligence, we are introduced to eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins. They are both geniuses, with exceptionally high IQs. One day, they learn that an acquaintance of theirs, banana seller Aristos Depopoulos, has been killed. The weapon looks like the proverbial blunt instrument, and the police think Depopoulos was killed by one of the workers at a nearby construction site. But Patty and Danny aren’t sure that’s what happened. So, they put their genius to the test and work to find out the truth. When they discover who the killer is, the twins decide to engage in a bit of blackmail: their silence for regular weekly payoffs. What they don’t know, though is that they’re not the only ones who are geniuses…

Keigo Higashino’s crime fiction series features Tokyo physics professor Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In many ways, this is a police procedural series, and the focus is on the police and the way they go about investigating and solving crime. But Yukawa acts as a mentor to several of the police officers who took his classes or have otherwise had dealings with him. So, they bring their cases to him when they need to tap his genius. And he proves to be very helpful. Yugawa doesn’t claim to have a great deal of knowledge outside his fields of physics and mathematics. But within those fields, he has remarkable abilities.

If you’ve read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, then you know that one of his protagonists, Lisbeth Salander, has a rare gift with computers and a photographic memory. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, so social skills are not her strength. But she does have real genius in certain areas. And her skills turn out to be crucial for journalist Mikael Blomkvist. It all starts in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, when he is hired by Henrik Vanger. It seems that Vanger’s great-niece, Harriet, went missing nearly forty years earlier. Everyone thought she was dead, but Vanger’s been getting gifts of dried flowers for his birthdays – something only Harriet would do. Vanger wants Blomqvist to find out what happened to Harriet, in return for which he’ll help Vanger bring down the man who successfully sued Blomqvist for libel. Blomqvist hires Salander to do the background research, and she proves to be critical to finding out the truth.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. In that novel, Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne is at a crossroads. She’s had quite a bit of success, but she isn’t naïve enough to think that she can rest on her laurels. There are younger, ‘hungry’ people coming up behind her, and Thorne would like to cement a position at the top of New Zealand journalism. She thinks she may have her chance when she learns about the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. The only survivor was their daughter, Katy, who wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Everyone assumed that Bligh was guilty, but now, there are little suggestions that he might have been innocent. If so, then this could be the story that Thorne needs. Despite the misgivings that several people express, Thorne starts asking questions. And in the end, she finds herself much more bound up in the story than she thought she would be (or should be). As Thorne does her research (including lengthy communication with Bligh himself), she learns that Bligh is a brilliant person – a genius. He’s had unusual intellectual gifts all his life, but not much in the way of social skills. His struggle to find a place, if you will, has played an important role in his life.

There are, of course, many different kinds of genius, and many examples of people who possess it. These are just a few crime-fictional examples. Over to you.
 

In Memoriam

Although we celebrate Einstein’s birthday today, this post is also dedicated to the memory of Stephen Hawking, a true scientific visionary, who saw so much more than most. He will be sorely missed.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Instanzia’s A Genius Who Believes.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Keigo Higashino, Matthew Gant, Paddy Richardson, Stieg Larsson

Some Fairly Safe Bets…

Sure BetsAn interesting comment exchange with Moira at Clothes in Books and another with Sarah at Crimepieces have got me thinking about the way savvy crime fiction fans pick up on clues and patterns in crime fiction. Oh, and one other thing savvy crime fiction fans do is follow both Clothes in Books and Crimepieces. If you’re not familiar with those excellent blogs, do go pay ‘em a visit. G’head, I’ll wait.

Right. Patterns. When you read enough crime fiction, you get to the point where you can often make some fairly accurate predictions about what sort of thing will happen in a story. Some things just become fairly safe bets. Part of the reason for this is of course that crime fiction fans are intelligent and observant people. Part of it is also that certain things just seem to lead logically to certain consequences in crime fiction. If you see that pattern often enough, you get to know it and be ready for it. In a well-written story it’s not generally a problem if the reader recognises a pattern. A strong plot and well-written characters draw a reader in even if s/he can make accurate predictions about what’s going to happen.

 

Blunt Force Trauma and ID

 

This is the pattern that Moira mentioned. Her point was that when you have a novel where the victim’s had blunt force trauma to the face, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s going to be a question of the real ID of the victim. She’s right. That’s especially true in classic and Golden Age crime fiction, where DNA and other forensic evidence weren’t accessible.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot investigates the shooting murder of his dentist Henry Morley. The Home Office takes a special interest in this case since one of Morley’s other patients is well-known powerful banker Alistair Blunt, who has plenty of enemies. So it may be that Morley’s murder was an attempt to get to Blunt. But then another of Morley’s patients disappears. And another dies of an overdose of adrenaline and Novocain. Time goes on and Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp are not much closer to solving this mystery. Then, the body of a woman is discovered. Her face has been so disfigured by a bludgeon that any savvy crime fiction fan will know that ID is going to be at issue. Is it the missing patient? Is it the body of her friend, whom she visited shortly before her death? Is it someone else? The question of ID proves very important in this case.

Identity also proves very important in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. In that novel, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Mervyn Bunter are stranded on New Year’s Eve near the East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are rescued by Rector Theodore Venables, who takes them back to the rectory and arranges for them to stay there while their car is being repaired. While they’re in the village, the local squire’s wife Lady Thorpe dies of influenza. Wimsey and Bunter attend her funeral and then go on their way when their car is ready. A few months later Venables writes to Wimsey. Lady Thorpe’s husband Sir Henry has died, and preparations are being made for his burial next to his wife. But when the gravediggers opened the grave to prepare it, they found another corpse – an unknown man. The face of the corpse has been battered beyond recognition and the hands removed, so it’s impossible to tell who the dead man is. Venables asks Wimsey to return to Fenchurch and find out who the victim is and why the body has been buried in the Thorpe grave. Wimsey acquiesces and he and Bunter make the trip. It turns out that the unknown man’s death is related to a long-ago robbery and a stolen necklace, and that his identity was deliberately disguised.

 

The Fate of the Blackmailer

 

This was Sarah’s idea. She reminded me of an episode of Midsomer Murders in which a girl attempts to blackmail a killer when she’s seen a murder and as Sarah wisely said, we all know what happens to fictional blackmailers when they try to profit from what they know. Any crime fiction fan knows that a person who sees a murder and tries to blackmail the murderer is marked. That’s a fairly safe bet.

There’s a deliciously eerie instance of this pattern in Matthew Gant’s short story The Uses of Intelligence. Eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins are particularly gifted intellectually and quite arrogant about it. That’s part of what makes them not exactly popular. One of the few people who like them is the local banana peddler Aristos Depopoulos. When he is killed one day by a brick, the Perkins twins decide to find out for themselves who is responsible. They trace the crime back to the culprit with very little difficulty and then decide to blackmail the killer. Well….you can figure out what happens next, I’ll bet.

A blackmailer also pays a heavy price for greed in Caroline Graham’s A Place of Safety. Charlie Leathers is out one night walking his dog when he witnesses a dramatic scene. Carlotta Ryan, a troubled teen staying with the local curate and his wife, runs out onto a stone bridge over the Misbourne. Running after her is her hostess, curate’s wife Ann Lawrence. For a short time it seems that Ann is trying to convince the girl not to jump off the bridge. Then, Charlie hears the girl tell her hostess not to push, and before he knows what’s happened, Tanya has gone over the bridge and disappeared. When she doesn’t turn up, it seems as though Ann Lawrence has committed a murder, however unintentionally. Charlie Leathers is not a nice person and it occurs to him that he could make a good living by blackmailing Ann. As you can guess, it’s not long before he’s murdered – in this case garroted. Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his assistant Gavin Troy investigate and find out the truth about Carlotta Ryan, Ann Lawrence and her husband, and the murder of Charlie Leathers.

 

Danger For the Sleuth

 

‘Bad guys’ are generally not stupid. And they usually don’t want to be caught. So it’s a pretty safe bet that if a sleuth goes anywhere alone during an investigation, she or he is bound to get into trouble. Smart sleuths know this and take precautions, but the safe money’s still on trouble for the sleuth.

For instance, in Donna Malane’s Surrender, missing person’s expert Diane Rowe has just learned that James ‘Snow’ Wilson has been murdered. This death has a real impact on Rowe because Snow was responsible for murdering her sister Niki a year earlier. Before his murder, Snow admitted – boasted even – that he’d been paid to kill Niki. Rowe believes that if she can find out who paid Snow, she can find out the truth about her sister’s death. So she begins to ask questions. Once word gets out that she’s looking into this case, you know that she’s going to run into trouble. And she does. But in the end (and honestly, with none of the traditional ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype), Rowe finds out who wanted her sister dead and why. And fans of Sara Paretsky’s V.I Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone will know that those two sleuths frequently get into trouble.

This kind of danger doesn’t just happen to female sleuths. In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets into trouble almost from the start when he takes the case of Daniel Guest. Guest is being blackmailed by someone who knows about his secret relationships with other men. He wants Quant to find the blackmailer and stop that person. In the course of his investigation, Quant runs into all sorts of dangers including a near-car crash, an abduction and a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a gun.

The funny thing is, in well-written crime fiction, it doesn’t really matter so much that you can make those bets. The stories are still good and they still draw the reader in. What about you? Which predictions have you learned are pretty safe bets? Thanks, Moira and Sarah for the inspiration!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Caroline Graham, Donna Malane, Dorothy Sayers, Matthew Gant, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton

>The Price of Silence…

>Money is a very powerful motivator for many people. In fact, sometimes, the craving for money gets the better of people’s judgment. That’s, in part, the reason why people become blackmailers; it’s a way to get quite a lot of money for comparatively little effort. Usually, the blackmailer sees the chance for money because he or she knows about a crime that’s been committed, or knows other secrets about someone. So it’s no wonder that blackmail features so often in crime fiction. Blackmail can be lucrative, but it’s also very dangerous. After all, many people become desperate when they’re being blackmailed, and will do anything – including murder – to rid themselves of the blackmailer. Also, blackmail is a form of extortion, so in most places, it’s considered a serious crime. Some people, though, are so desperate for money, or so greedy, that they take those risks.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sherlock Holmes investigates the bludgeoning death of Charles McCarthy, an ex-Australian who lived on the property of John Turner, who also lived in Australia. One morning, McCarthy left his home to keep an appointment, but never returned. His body was later found, and the local lodgekeeper’s daughter thinks that his son, James McCarthy, is responsible for his father’s death. They were overheard quarreling violently, and on the basis of that and other evidence, young McCarthy is arrested for the crime. John Turner’s daughter, Alice, believes that James MCarthy is innocent, and she persuades Inspector Lestrade (and through him, Holmes) to look into the case. Holmes finds that this murder case isn’t as simple as it seems. McCarthy, so it turns out, was a blackmailer, and his greed, not his quarrel with his son, was the cause of his death.

Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise also features blackmail. In that novel, Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at Pym’s Publicity, Ltd. to find out how and why copywriter Victor Dean died. Dean apparently fell to his death down an iron spiral staircase, and at first, his death is put down to accident. However, Dean left behind a half-finished note in which he hinted that someone in the company is involved in illegal activity. Wimsey joins the company, ostensibly as Dean’s replacement, and begins to look in to the case. He finds that someone in the company is involved with a drugs ring and has been using the company’s advertisements to set up meetings between drugs producers and dealers. Dean found out what was going on, and began to blackmail the criminal. That sealed Dean’s fate.

There are also several Agatha Christie novels that center on blackmail; I’ll just mention three of them. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot finds out who stabbed retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd. He was stabbed on the night that he found out that the woman he loved, and was planning to marry, was being blackmailed. His fiancée was driven so desperate by the blackmailer that she committed suicide. Before her death, she wrote a letter to Ackroyd in which she asked him to bring her blackmailer to justice. Ackroyd was killed before he could finish reading the letter. So Poirot has to make the connection between the blackmailing and the members of Roger Ackroyd’s household, all of whom are eager for money.

In Chrisite’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, Poirot investigates the murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering while she’s on the famous Blue Train. Ruth is killed while she’s en route to Hyères for a rendez-vous with the Comte de la Roche, a notorious swindler who’s much more interested in the valuable jewels Ruth has than he is in her. At first, the Count seems the most likely suspect, since Ruth’s jewels are missing. By no means, though, is he the only suspect. For instance, Ruth’s husband, Derek Kettering, is in desperate need of money and inherits a fortune at his wife’s death. His mistress, Mirelle, is, in her own words, “not made to be poor,” and is as eager for Derek to get his wife’s money as he is. At different points in the novel, both the Comte de la Roche and Mirelle try to blackmail Derek Kettering, each claiming to have evidence that he’s guilty. Those attempts at blackmail add an interesting layer of intrigue to the story.

In Christie’s Death on the Nile, beautiful and wealthy Linnet Ridgeway Doyle is shot on the second night of a honeymoon cruise up the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, so it’s no surprise that he gets involved in investigating the case. Before he’s able to find the killer, there’s another death; Louise Bourget, Linnet Doyle’s maid, is found stabbed. Poirot soon guesses that she was blackmailing the killer, and it turns out he was right. On the night of Linnet Doyle’s murder, Louise Bourget saw the killer entering Linnet’s room and, when she found out about the death, made the obvious connection. Greedy to get what she could, she blackmailed the killer – and paid with her life.

Daniel Depp’s Loser’s Town offers another look at how blackmail can operate. Up-and-coming actor Bobby Dye is just about to “make it big.” The trouble is that he’s tangled up with Richie Stella, a local gangster and drug dealer. Stella has always wanted to be a famous Hollywood producer, and he wants Dye to star in a script he’s written. Dye refuses because the script is terrible and he doesn’t want to risk his career. Stella, though, won’t accept Dye’s refusal, and threatens the actor with exposure of his inappropriate contact with a young actress who died suddenly. Dye begins to get death threats, and hires David Spandau, a former stuntman who’s become a private detective, to protect him from Stell and his threats. Spandau takes the job, but soon finds that he’s made an enemy of Stella as well as some other very unsavory and unscrupulous people. Now, Spandau finds that he’s in as much danger as Dye is.

Blackmail is the main theme of H.R.F. Keating’s The Iciest Sin, which features his sleuth, Bombay police Inspector Ganesh Ghote. Ghote is coerced by a highly-placed government official into breaking into the home of Miss Dolly Daruwala with the goal of catching her in the act of extorting money. Ghote reluctantly agrees, and hides in the apartment where he sees her murder. The killer is an otherwise honorable scientist whom Ghote is reluctant to turn over to the authorities, so he doesn’t let the murderer know he was there. As luck would have it, though, Ghote is seen leaving Dolly Daruwala’s apartment, so he’s soon the victim of blackmail, too, since he doesn’t want to reveal the “sting” operation that put him in the apartment. In the meantime, Ghote is given another case to investigate. It seems that Shiv Chand, the office manager for a tabloid, has been blackmailing people into paying to have their names entered into a list of Indians of Merit and Distinction. Chand’s boss, Freddy Kersasp, is really the ringleader, but no-one will testify against him. In order to bring Freddy Kersasp to justice, Chote himself resorts to blackmail. Soon enough, though, a powerful drug lord finds out that Ghote was seen leaving Dolly Danuwala’s apartment right after her murder, and tries to use that information to blackmail Ghote into being his “inside man” on the poilce force. Ghote refuses, and it’s only at the last minute, and with a few surprises, that he’s able to outwit his blackmailer and bring Kersasp down as well.

There’s a very interesting (and chilling) look at blackmail in The Uses of Intelligence, a short story by Matthew Gant. Eleven-year-old geniuses Patty and Danny Perkins decide to solve the murder of an acquaintance, local banana peddler Aristos Depopoulos. Depopoulos is killed one day by what looks like a blunt instrument. At first, the police think that Depopoulos was killed by one of six construction workers who were stationed nearby, but the twins don’t believe that’s true. The Perkins twins find out who the killer is with some very clever deductions, and decide to blackmail the killer. The killer agrees to their terms, but finds a very ingenious way of avoiding having to pay them.

We can understand that greed or desperation might drive someone to blackmail, and it makes sense that someone else might have a secret that is worth a lot of money. So blackmail as a crime makes sense in crime fiction. If it’s not done skillfully, though, it can seem melodramatic and too obviously a “red herring.” What’s your view? Can you “buy into” a plot that involves blackmail?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Daniel Depp, Dorothy Sayers, H.R.F. Keating, Matthew Gant