Category Archives: Michael Connelly

Someday I’ll Make This Right*

One of the reasons a lot of people read crime fiction is the appeal of what I’ll call putting things back in order. When there’s a crime such as murder, we want the ‘bad guy’ caught and we want that person to answer for what happened. Of course, we all know that real life doesn’t work that way, and plenty of people commit crimes for which they don’t pay. And there are many readers who enjoy that sort of hard-nosed, realistic look at crime.

But a lot of people like a sense of order restored when the person responsible for a crime is caught. That’s why it rankles so much, both in real life and in crime fiction, when a murderer gets away with the crime. Any fan of police procedurals can tell you that it haunts fictional police officers when they don’t catch a murderer. And there are plenty of crime plots that involve someone going back to set things right and catch a ‘bad guy’ who got away with it the first time.

Agatha Christie addressed this in more than one of her stories. For instance, in And Then There Were None, ten people are invited to spend time on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Each accepts for different reasons, and they make their way to the island. When they arrive, they learn that their host isn’t there yet. Still, they make themselves comfortable and settle in. After dinner that first night, everyone is shocked when each person there is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. Shortly after that, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, there’s another death. Soon, it’s clear that someone has lured these people to the island and is murdering them. And it’s not spoiling the story to say that part of the reason is that they have all committed crimes for which they weren’t caught. I see you, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.

Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, his wife, Tina, is suspected of the murder, but the police don’t have enough evidence to prosecute, so the case isn’t solved. Ten years later, anonymous notes suggest that Tina was guilty, and has gotten away with the crime. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett of the Cumbria Constabulary is the head of that constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. When the team learns of these accusations, they re-open the case. If Tina Howe did get away with murder, Scarlett and her team want to right that wrong. Even if someone else is guilty, it still means that the killer got away with the crime. And that’s part of the motivation for looking into it again.

In Michael Connelly’s Echo Park, we learn that LAPD detective Harry Bosch once investigated the disappearance of Marie Gesto, who went missing after leaving a Hollywood-area grocery store. At the time, Bosch had a suspect in mind, but didn’t have the evidence he needed to pursue the case. Now, years later, Raynard Waits is in custody for two other brutal murders. He’s guilty of those and is facing execution. So, he offers to trade information about other murders to the police in exchange for commuting his sentence to life in prison. One of the cases Waits includes is the Gesto case. Since Bosch originally investigated that disappearance, he works with Waits to find out the truth about that case. It haunts him that he didn’t catch the criminal when he first had the chance, and he doesn’t like the idea of someone getting away with murder.

Neither does Tito Ihaka, the Auckland police detective who features in Paul Thomas’ series. In Death on Demand, we learn that, five years earlier, Ihaka was investigating a successful business executive, Christopher Lilywhite, for the contract murder of his wife. Ihaka believed that Lilywhite was responsible, but Lilywhite is a powerful man, so he avoided prosecution. For his part, Ihaka was exiled to another, small-town, setting. Now, Lilywhite wants to talk to Ihaka. So, Ihaka is persuaded to go back to Auckland and find out what the man wants. Part of what motivates him is that he didn’t want Lilywhite to get away with murder. It turns out that Lilywhite has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants a conversation with Ihaka before he dies. He tells Ihaka that he did, indeed, pay to have his wife killed. What’s more, he believes that that killer is still out there, and is committing other murders. When Lilywhite dies the next day, Ihaka is sure that the timing is no accident, and goes after the killer.

And then there’s Nathan Blackwell’s The Sound of Her Voice. Auckland police detective Matt Buchanan has been on the police force for a long time – enough to have developed PTSD from some of what he’s seen. He struggles to maintain a balance in life, and he keeps on with the job. A big part of the reason for that is the case of Samantha Coates. She went missing in 1999 and was never found. The police weren’t able to get a viable suspect, either, which means to Buchanan that there’s a killer out there who’s never been caught. He wants to find out who that person is, and get some closure for the family (and, truth be told, for himself). In the meantime, other cases come up, and Buchanan works them. Then, there are some fresh leads in the Samantha Coates case. Buchanan feels he has no choice but to follow them up. He finds that they lead to very dark places, and that several of his cases may be linked.

Many people want the sense of ‘justice done’ and closure that come from catching someone who’s committed a crime. It’s not that simple, of course, but a lot of people want to feel that order has been restored. Little wonder that’s such a strong part of many crime novels.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Negative Space’s When We Collide.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Nathan Blackwell, Paul Thomas

I Want to Hold Your Hand*

As this is posted, it’s 55 years since the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Talent, hard work, serendipity and luck came together, and the Beatles became an international phenomenon. Even now, there are Beatles fan clubs, online Beatles discussion groups, and so on. And that’s not to mention the myriad Beatles cover and tribute bands.

It’s interesting to speculate on what it is that brings some people and bands worldwide fame. Whatever it is, fans flock to their concerts and other appearances. And those fans can be passionate about their hero-worship, too. We see that in real life, as people pay top dollar for tickets and memorabilia, and try as hard as they can to get close to their idols. It’s there in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, for instance, we are introduced to Heather Badcock, who lives with her husband, Arthur, in the new council housing in St. Mary Mead. She is thoroughly excited when she learns that famous film star Marina Gregg has purchased a local property, Gossington Hall, and will open it to the public for an upcoming charity fête. Heather hero-worships Marina Gregg and can’t wait to see her. On the day of the big event, she takes her turn to speak to her idol. Not long afterwards, Heather sickens and then dies of what turns out to be a poisoned drink. At first, it’s believed that the poison was originally meant for Marina, since it was her drink. But before long, we learn that Heather was the intended victim all along. Miss Marple interests herself in the case, since she’s already met Heather, and she and her friend, Dolly Bantry (the original owner of Gossington Hall), work to find out who the killer is.

Fans of Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series will know that those novels often take place in Hollywood, among the ‘Hollywood set.’ Several of the characters are megastars, who’ve got avid fans and large followings. That doesn’t keep these stars safe, though…

In Michael Connelly’s The Overlook, L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch and his police partner, Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Ferras are investigating the murder of physicist Stanley Kent. He was killed on an overlook near Mullholland Drive, and, as you can imagine, Bosch and Ferras are interested in anyone who might have been in the area at the time of the murder. And that’s just what worries twenty-year-old Jesse Milner, who’s moved to Hollywood to try to ‘make it.’ He was near the crime scene, sneaking onto the property of superstar entertainer Madonna, with whom he’s obsessed. His goal was to get a photograph or some sort of memento to send back to his mother to let her know he’s all right. Instead, he becomes a witness to a complicated crime.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion introduces readers to beloved television personality Alan Daniels. He’s got an absolutely devoted following, and quite a lot of money and ‘clout.’ In fact, he’s poised for big success in films, too, and is hoping the crossover will work well. Then, everything changes. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered; and, in several ways, her murder resembles the murders of six other women being investigated by the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. And it’s not long before some of the evidence begins to suggest that Daniels might be involved in these crimes. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, Detective Sergeant (DS) Anna Travis, and the rest of the Murder Squad know that Daniels has a devoted following and a lot of influence. He’s a media darling, too, which makes things even more challenging. If he is the murderer, of course, he’s responsible for some terrible crimes. If he’s not, then the police will have wreaked media havoc for nothing. It’s a delicate investigation, made all the more so by Daniels’ superstardom.

Superstar Gaia Lafayette is the subject of one plot thread of Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. She’s become a worldwide sensation, with avid fans everywhere. When she announces her plan to visit her hometown of Brighton to do a film, everyone’s excited. Well, not quite everyone. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove Police is well aware that having such a megastar in town will mean large crowds and plenty of opportunity for mischief and more. What’s more, his supervisor has made it clear that Grace and his team will be responsible to work with the celebrity’s personal staff to provide security. Grace’s team is spread thin enough, and he doesn’t relish the idea of giving up even more of his people. But this isn’t optional. There’s already been one attempt on the superstar’s life, and it’s quite likely there’ll be another. Gaia and her entourage arrive, and the filming begins. Now, Grace and his staff will have to protect Gaia as best they can, as someone out there is trying just as hard to kill her.

And then there’s Katherine Dewar’s Ruby and the Blue Sky. In it, a band called the Carnival Owls makes it big, winning a Grammy Award for one of their songs, During the acceptance ceremony, the band’s lead singer, Ruby, makes an impassioned speech that encourages sustainability, and urges people not to shop for new things. And this isn’t the rant of an unknown zealot, either. The band has become a phenomenon, and millions of people are eager to heed what Ruby says. That ‘star power’ ends up being a real disadvantage when some very dangerous people try to stop her from pushing her sustainability agenda.

It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that propels some people to international superstardom. But something does. And when it does, there’s all sorts of fame, fortune and more to be had. But it can be dangerous, too…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is…oh, come on, you know this one, right?!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Katherine Dewar, Lynda La Plante, Michael Connelly, Peter James, Stuart Kaminsky

Life On a Film Set*

As this is posted, it’s 126 years since Thomas Edison built the world’s first film studio. Since that time, of course, films have become integral to many cultures. And the film industry is a lucrative one. Little wonder millions of people dream of being film stars or film executives.

But film sets and film studios are not always the happy, dream-world places they might seem to be. If you look at crime fiction, at least, you find that there’s plenty of mayhem on set. And that makes sense, when you consider all of the disparate (and sometimes clashing) personalities, all of the money involved, and so on.

For instance, Carter Dickson’s (AKA John Dickson Carr) And So to Murder features Pineham Studios, where author Monica Stanton has been hired to work with bestselling author William Cartwright on an adaptation of his latest novel for Albion Films. In the meantime, megastar Frances Fleur is working on her own new film for Albion, so the company has plenty at stake. It’s a dream job for Monica, but things soon go wrong. For one thing, she and Cartwright don’t get along. For another, soon after she starts work, there are two attempts on her life. Why would someone want to kill an up-and-coming novelist who’s just beginning a career as a scriptwriter? Cartwright gets Sir Henry Merrivale involved in the case, and he works out who’s behind it all.

In one of Ellery Queen’s ‘Hollywood’ novels, The Four of Hearts, Queen has been hired to work as a scriptwriter for Magna Studios. The project is to be a biopic of the lives of major stars Blythe Stuart and John Royle. The couple had a stormy, very public, love affair that ended years ago. They both married other people, and each had a child. At first, the studio isn’t sure that the stars will consent to work on the film, but to everyone’s surprise, they do. In fact, they re-kindle their romance, and decide to marry again. That wasn’t the story that Magna Studios had envisioned, but it’s decided to make the best of the situation and turn the wedding into a Hollywood affair. The couple marry on an airstrip, with great fanfare, and then take off for their honeymoon, with Stuart’s daughter and Royle’s son in tow. When the plan lands, the couple is found dead of what turns out to be poison. At first, it looks as though one of the adult children might be responsible, but Queen looks into the matter and finds that these murders have their roots in the past.

One of Stuart Kaminsky’s series features Los Angeles PI Toby Peters. Before he became a private investigator, Peters worked for a few years as a security guard for Warner Brothers Studio. So, he’s familiar with the way studios work, and he still has several contacts in the film industry. His cases frequently involve Hollywood stars, too. And the historical context (1940s) of the series means that Peters encounters some of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ starts, such as Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, and Peter Lorre.

There’s also B.C. Stone’s Kay Francis novels, Murder at the Belmar and Midnight in Valhalla. These novels feature the famous star as the protagonist. So, readers go ‘behind the scenes’ of what happens on Hollywood sets and within the Hollywood community.

Even if you’re not a star, working on a film set can be dangerous. For example, Michael Connelly’s Lost Light is in part the story of the murder of Angella Barton, who is found murdered in the vestibule of her apartment building. At the time of the murder, LAPD detective Harry Bosch works a little on the case, but isn’t officially assigned to it. Four years later, it still haunts Bosch, but he hasn’t been able to follow up. By that time, though, he’s taken early retirement and started his own PI business. He decides to look into the matter again when he finds that the case wasn’t solved satisfactorily. Bosch learns that this murder is related to a US$2 million robbery from the set of a film that Barton’s employer was making. That link allows Bosch to solve the case.

And then there’s Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. Khan himself has been a Bollywood script writer and actor, and is the son of noted Bollywood star, Amjad Khan. So, he’s familiar with the ins and outs of life in the Bollywood community. In this novel, Nikhil Kapoor, Bollywood’s top director, is found dead in his writing studio. Not many hours later, his wife, famous actress Mallika Kapoor, also dies, of what looks like a tragic drug overdose. There’s pressure to label both of these deaths as accidents, but Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan sees little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. With the support of his boss, Khan looks into the matter more deeply. As he does, readers get to know what life is like in a Bollywood studio, and how integrally related that community is into the culture of Mumbai and of India in general.

Studios and film sets have come a long way since Edison’s time. But they’re still fascinating places, and anything can happen on a film set. So, it’s little wonder we see them in crime fiction.

ps. The ‘photo is of a ‘green screen,’ of the sort that’s used in many films.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under B.C. Stone, Carter Dickson, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Michael Connelly, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Stuart Kaminsky

I’m Free*

Click to hear this blog post!

As this is posted, it would have been Louis Braille’s 210th birthday. His system of reading and writing is still used today, and not just for books. If you’ve recently been to a cash machine or even used a public restroom, you may very well find the raised-dot system that Braille invented.

There are also, of course, thousands of books printed with the braille system. And that includes some modern crime fiction. I’ve seen titles by Lisa Gardner, Michael Connelly, Alex Gray, and others. The Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy is available, too, in braille.

Braille arguably opened up the world of books and literacy to those with blindness. But, since that time, there’ve been a number of technological advances that have made it easier for those with blindness and limited vision to experience books.

One of those advances has been recorded books. It used to be that book recordings were done almost exclusively to provide access to those with blindness. But today, millions of people listen to books, rather than read them. And with modern technology, there’s no need for the clumsiness of recording on a physical tape or disc, and then playing it back. An audio book is an awfully convenient way to experience a story, when you think about it. Digital recordings can go with you on a walk or commute, and it’s easy to download them from the library or estore. What’s more, an audio book allows for an extra layer of involvement with a story, as you listen to the way the narrator (or narrators) interpret the characters and dialogue. And, after all, the very first storytelling was oral; it’s easy to see why that format still captures our imaginations.  It’s still the way that many cultures pass stories along from one generation to the next, and from one group to the next.

Not everyone with vision impairment needs the total support that braille and recorded books provide. Some people do have some vision. Others’ vision changes as – ahem – the years go by. Today’s technology allows those people to enjoy books, too. For instance, one of the features available in most e-readers is a choice of font. An adjustment or two, and it’s possible to read using a very large font if that’s what you want or need. That option’s convenient even if you don’t have vision impairment, but do have some eyestrain. And just about all of today’s computers and smartphones allow you to easily adjust the font of what you’re reading. You can often change the background, too, so that the contrast between print and background is greater, making it easier to read.

For many people, there’s just no substitute for a paper book that you can actually hold. For those who want a paper book, but need some extra vision assistance, there are large print books. That larger size print can make all the difference for those who can still read, but whose vision is a little limited. If I may share a personal example, I’ve heard from several people that they liked the fact that my Joel Wiliams novel Past Tense was printed with slightly larger font and more space between lines. I hadn’t deliberately arranged for that, but it was interesting to find that that makes a difference to readers.

These are only a few of today’s options for those with blindness or limited vision, or for those with eyestrain. It’s admittedly not as easy to find the title you want, and it can take longer to experience a book. But it’s fascinating to see how access to books and stories has become much more easily available to a wider range of people.

It used to be that those with blindness and vision impairment had to rely on someone else to read aloud, write letters, and so on. And there’s lots of crime fiction that depicts that. For instance, Millicent Pebmarsh, whom we meet in The Clocks, is blind. She gets about well enough, but her horizons are limited in many ways. When the body of an unknown man is found in her home, she’s not aware of it at first. But, soon enough, she’s drawn into the mystery of how he got there and who killed him. Also drawn into the mystery is Sheila Webb, who works for a secretarial agency and who got a call requesting that she go to Miss Pebmarsh’s home to do some writing for her. That aspect of the novel is an interesting look at the way writing was accomplished in the days before modern technology.

Today, those with blindness and limited vision have more access to books and literacy than they did. In part, that’s because of advances in modern technology. But a lot of it started when Louis Braille created his system of reading and writing. What about you? Whether or not you need to do so, do you use audio books or larger font? If you’re a writer, what alternative options do you choose for making your work available?

 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alex Gray, Lisa Gardner, Michael Connelly, Stieg Larsson

In Another Cameo Role*

We all have our lists of fictional sleuths we love, and it’s great when they take the lead in a novel. After all, we often enjoy crime novels because a particular sleuth is the main character.

Sometimes, though, it’s interesting to read a novel in which a main sleuth only has a cameo role. This lets the author introduce other characters and plot points. Authors can even use cameo appearances to start new series. And it gives readers some variety, too.

Agatha Christie uses a cameo appearance in Murder is Easy (AKA Easy to Kill). The sleuth/protagonist in that novel is Luke Fitzwilliam, who’s on his way to London on a train when he gets into a conversation with Lavinia Pinkerton. She tells him that there’s a murderer loose in her village, and lists for him the victims. She also says that Dr. John Humbleby will be murdered next. The following day, Fitzwilliam learns that Miss Pinkerton herself has died, and so has Dr. Humbleby. Fitzwilliam can’t let this go, so he travels to the village of Wychwood under Ashe. As the story moves on, we learn the truth about these deaths, and how and why they are connected. Fitzwilliam is the main character/sleuth. At the same time, though, there’s an official police investigation that’s carried out by Superintendent Battle. Christie fans will know that he’s appeared in The Seven Dials Mystery and Cards on the Table. In this novel, though, he doesn’t play a main role; he just ‘stops in.’ Christie’s done that with other characters, too.

Peter Temple’s Truth features Inspector Stephen Villani, who heads the Victoria Police Homicide Squad. In the novel, Villani and his investigate several murders, including the death of a teenage sex worker, and the murders of three drug dealers whose bodies are discovered in a warehouse. The team is also facing the terrible reality of severe bush fires that threaten Melbourne. And Villani’s got his own personal problems as well. Villani is the sleuth and protagonist in this novel. But another Temple protagonist, Jack Irish, has a small cameo role, too. Temple fans will know that, like Villani, Irish lives in Melbourne, where he’s a PI and sometimes-lawyer. So, it’s no surprise that he would happen to be in a pub that Villani visits. Irish has no part in the investigation in Truth, but he does stop in.

There’s a really interesting case of a cameo appearance in Robert Crais’ The Last Detective, and in Michael Connelly’s Lost Light. In The Last Detective, Los Angeles PI Elvis Cole agrees to look after ten-year-old Ben, the son of his current love interest Lucy Chenier, while she’s away on business. Then, Ben is abducted, and Cole tries frantically to get the boy back. As you can imagine, the LAPD gets involved, and Cole works with several of them. Here’s what he says about one of the cops he encounters:
 

‘A few years ago, his house had been damaged in the big earthquake. I didn’t know him then or that he was with LAPD, but not long after I jogged past while he was clearing debris and saw that he had a small rat tattooed on his shoulder. The tat marked him as a tunnel rat in Vietnam.’
 

This LAPD detective isn’t named in Crais’ story, but any fan of Michael Connelly’s will know that Crais is referring to Harry Bosch. Bosch plays no role in the investigation in this novel, but he does ‘stop in.’

Connelly reciprocated in Lost Light. In that novel, Harry Bosch re-opens the investigation into the murder of Angella Barton, whose body was found in the vestibule of her apartment building. At the time, she was working as a production assistant on a Hollywood film set. And it turns out that her murder is related to a US$2 million robbery from the set of a film that Barton’s employer was making. Bosch wasn’t officially assigned to this case, although he worked a bit on it. So, when he finds out that it was never solved, he gets interested enough to look into it again. At one point, Bosch has this encounter:
 

‘I saw a vintage yellow Corvette waiting at the light across from me. I knew the driver, sort of. Every now and then I’d see him jogging or driving the ‘vette past my house. And I’d seen and spoken to him at the police station on occasion, too. He was a private eye who lived on the other side of the ridge from me. I put my arm out the window and gave him the sweeping palm-down salute. He did likewise back to me. Smooth sailing, my brother. I was going to need it.’
 

Crais fans will know that Bosch’s encounter is with Elvis Cole, although Cole is not named in the novel. Nor does he play any role in the investigation. It’s a way that both authors had of saluting each other and acknowledging their friendship.

And then there’s Crime Scene, which Jonathan Kellerman wrote with his son, Jesse. Clay Edison is a deputy with the Alameda County (California) Coroner’s Bureau. In that role, he examines the body of Walter Rinnert, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. On the surface, it looks as though heart trouble and too much to drink were a lethal combination. But the victim’s daughter, Tatiana, insists that he was murdered. She wants Edison to look into the case further, and he agrees. It turns out that there is much more to this case than it seems. And part of the information Edison gets comes from psychologist Alex Delaware, who fans will know is Jonathan Keller’s main sleuth. He’s not really the protagonist in this novel; Edison is. But he does play a role.

There are other authors, too, who’ve given their sleuths cameo roles. That strategy can give an author flexibility and can welcome fans to a new fictional sleuth. It can be a fun ‘inside joke,’ too. Fans of Alfred Hitchcock, for instance, will know of his habit of playing a cameo role in his films. He was especially challenged in Lifeboat, in which there is a very limited number of characters, all in a confined space. He solved the problem by appearing on a newspaper advertisement! Thanks, The Hitchcock Zone, for the photograph!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Don’t Do it to Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jesse Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Robert Crais