Category Archives: Peter Corris

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

You and Me Got Staying Power*

Staying PowerThere are some crime fiction series that really have what you might call ‘staying power.’ They last through fifteen, twenty, or sometimes many more entries. How does that happen? What is it about those really enduring series that keeps them appealing to readers even after the 20th, 30th, etc. novel?

Of course there’s the obvious answer: some authors just have a lot of writing talent. And that’s true. But beyond that (perhaps in part because of it), I think there are some things that keep a series going well beyond just five or ten novels. Here are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear yours, too.
 

Flexibility

The more restrictive a series is, the less durable it arguably is. A series that is less ‘rigid’ is likely to stay around longer. And there are many ways in which a series can show that flexibility.

For example, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series has remained flexible in a few ways. As the series has continued, Rankin has addressed the changing landscape of Scottish politics and economic issues. He’s even addressed changes in the way crimes are committed, and the people who are responsible. And as the nature of Scottish life has evolved, so has the series.

Of course, this is a proverbial double-edged sword. Too much focus on one or another issue can date a book or series. But when the focus stays on the crime(s) and investigation, moving along with the political and economic times can help keep a series relevant.

There are other ways, of course, to keep a series flexible. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, for instance, takes place in a thinly-disguised New York City. It’s a large metropolis that attracts many, many different kinds of people. So there are all sorts of possibilities for plot lines. Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy novels are set mostly in Sydney, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. In both of those cases, there’s a lot of opportunity for flexibility just based on the setting.

The 87th Precinct series is also made more flexible by its ensemble cast. Although Steve Carella is one of the main protagonists in the series, he’s by no means the only major character. Sometimes he’s not even a ‘major player’ at all. That ensemble approach allows for a wide variety of plot threads and conflicts.

 

Evolution

Closely related to flexibility is, I think, evolution. That, too, takes lots of forms, not the least of which is character evolution. People change over time, even if their basic characteristics are stable. A well-written series that lasts 20 books or more will reflect that fact.

For example, Someone Always Knows, the 35th of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels, is due to be released this summer. Fans of that series can tell you that over time, she and the series have evolved. She started as a fairly ‘hardboiled’ private investigator, both pragmatic and hard-edged. But she’s gotten more psychological depth and, some would say, maturity over time. Interestingly enough, not everyone has celebrated the changes to her character or to the series. Some say she’s ‘lost her edge,’ and that the series now has too much focus on the domestic. Whether that’s objectively true or not, there’s no denying that today’s Sharon McCone is not the same Sharon McCone we met in 1977, when Edwin of the Iron Shoes was released.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series has evolved over time, too. When the series begins, Kilbourn is a university professor and political scientist who’s still dealing with the murder of her husband, Ian, and the realities of raising three teenagers. Over time, her character and life circumstances have changed, as they do for most of us. I won’t spoil story arcs by giving specific examples, but we can see how she has evolved over time. It’s important to note, though, that her basic character has remained stable. She’s grown and changed, but the things that make up her personality in the first novel, Deadly Appearances, are also there in What’s Left Behind, which has recently been released. That stability makes a series more credible.

 

Variety

You could argue that variety is also closely related to flexibility. It goes without saying that readers don’t want series that make use of the same sorts of plots over and over. And the best and most enduring series don’t fall into that trap.

For example, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels, a play, and over 50 short stories that feature Hercule Poirot. Strictly speaking, they aren’t a series, although they are loosely connected to one another. But they do follow Poirot through his career. Even though they feature the same protagonist, there is a great deal of variety among them. Christie experimented with different points of view, different settings, and different sorts of puzzles. There are stories with prologues, and stories without them. There are stories with a large group of characters, and some with only a few. There are ‘country house murders,’ and there are murders that take place in London. There are…well, you get the idea. Even Christie’s most ardent fans will admit that not all of her work is anywhere near her best. But its variety is part of what made her so popular, and what has kept readers following her work nearly 100 years after she started writing.

One might say a similar thing about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels The 23rd in that series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is due to be released in November. As the series has gone on, Connelly has integrated quite a lot of variety in it. Bosch has worked in different departments, left the force, returned to the force, gone to some different places, and so on. And there’s been quite a variety in the sorts of plots Connelly has created, too. There are ‘personal’ kinds of murders, and more ‘public’ murders. There are cases that have national and international implications, and some that are quite local. I could go on, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The variety in this series is part of what’s made it so enduring.

What do you think about all of this? Obviously if a series is to be that lasting, it’s got to be based on solid plots, strong characters and skilled writing. But I think there’s more to it than that (or perhaps there are things that fall out from that). What are your thoughts?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Staying Power.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Marcia Muller, Michael Connelly, Peter Corris

So May I Introduce to You*

IntroductionsIt’s always tempting to plunge right in when we begin a new book, especially if it’s a book we’ve been excited to read. But lots of books and collections have interesting Introduction sections that give the reader helpful background, interesting information or some sort of structure that can offer some useful perspective. Sometimes they really are worth taking the time to read. And that’s just as true of crime fiction as it is of any other genre. Keep in mind as you read on in this post that the Introductions I mention appear in my editions of the books. They may or may not appear in other editions.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet includes an Introduction piece from Ed McBain. In it, McBain discusses the very negative image police are given in many of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. Using his own creations from the 87th Precinct, McBain gives a witty description of what might happen if Carella and his team actually caught up with Holmes and took him to task for that portrayal. It’s an interesting look at the way the police are portrayed in both Conan Doyle’s work and McBain’s own.

Some Introductions provide biographical and other information about the author. Those pieces also have the purpose of pointing out the author’s place in the genre’s history. That’s what we see, for instance, in Otto Penzler’s introduction to Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase. You may already know that she is credited with pioneering the ‘Had I but known’ approach to foreshadowing that has since been used in several suspense and crime novels. Penzler discusses this in his Introduction, and mentions some of Rinehart’s groundbreaking work. He also shares some biographical background, as well as information about film adaptations of her work.

Martin Edwards provides a similar sort of Introduction to Ernest Carpenter Elmore, AKA John Bude’s debut, The Cornish Coast Murder.  Edwards discusses the novel itself, providing literary and historical contexts for it. He also uses the book as an example of the sort of work Bude did, explaining how it led to Bude’s popularity. The Introduction also includes some biographical information and places the novel within the context of Bude’s life. Finally, Edwards discusses the significance of both the novel and its author. That background information helps to put The Cornish Coast Murder into perspective for the reader.

Sometimes, authors themselves write Introductions to their work. An author may choose to do this to provide historical or other information that the reader may find necessary in order to really understand the story. Shona (now writing as S.G.) MacLean does this in her historical novel A Game of Sorrows. In that novel, which takes place in 17th Century Scotland and Northern Ireland, Aberdeen teacher Alexander Seaton is persuaded to go to Ulster when his cousin convinces him that there is a threat to the family. The family matriarch believes that the family has been cursed by a poet (a not unusual belief for the times). But Seaton comes to believe that the threat is much more prosaic. To help the reader understand the events in the story, MacLean provides some historical background before the novel proper begins. She outlines the religious, political and social tenor of those times, showing how they combined to create the context for the novel.

Some novels are fictional treatments of real events. In those books, the author sometimes provides an Introduction and other background on the real-life cases. That’s what we see, for instance, in Damien Seaman’s The Killing of Emma Gross. This novel is based on the real-life 1929 murder of a Düsseldorf prostitute Emma Gross. At the time of the murder, Peter Kürten was arrested for the crime and in fact confessed to it. Later, he recanted his confession, and there was never any direct evidence against him. Still, he was unquestionably guilty of other murders and was executed in 1931. Emma Gross’ real killer was never found. This story is Seaman’s take on the crime and its solution. He provides helpful factual information, in part to provide context and in part to separate the facts from his fictional characters and events.

One of the most popular uses of the Introduction is to add cohesion to a collection of short stories. If I may say so, I’ve done that sort of Introduction myself at the beginning of In a Word: Murder. Even when all of the stories in a collection revolve around a single theme, or have another unifying link, it’s still helpful to have an Introduction to show the reader what that link is. What’s more, Introductions to short story collections give the reader a sense of the stories that have been included, and sometimes explain their origins.

Sometimes, Forewards and Introductions simply serve to set the scene for a story collection. That’s the case with Lindy Cameron’s Foreward to Hard Case Crime’s Hard Labour, a collection of noir stories from some of Australia’s best-known crime writers. Among the authors included here are Peter Corris, Garry Disher, Angela Savage, Adrian McKinty and Helen Fitzgerald, just to give a sense of what I mean.  Cameron sets the stage for this collection in her Foreward, giving a sort of preview of the tone of the stories.

Off the Record, another collection of short crime stories edited by Luca Veste, provides not one, but two Forewards. Matt Hilton and Anthony Neil Smith each offer a perspective on this charity anthology. Neither Foreward is particularly long, but each one gives a sense of what the stories are like.

Admittedly, Forewards and Introductions are a bit different. But both provide background, perspective and sometimes helpful historical context. Do you read Introductions? Do you find them interesting/useful? If you’re a writer, have you written an Introduction? What was the process like?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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Filed under Adrian McKinty, Angela Savage, Anthony Neil Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Damien Seaman, Ed McBain, Garry Disher, Helen Fitzgerald, John Bude, Lindy Cameron, Martin Edwards, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Matt Hilton, Otto Penzler, Peter Corris, Shona MacLean

I Was Checking You Out*

Sizing People UpSleuths have to develop the skill of being be able to ‘read’ people fairly quickly. It helps the sleuth in figuring out whether to take a case, what sort of person a suspect or witness is, and so on. Of course, sleuths can be wrong about their first ‘sizing up’ too, and that’s interesting in and of itself. But wrong or right, sleuths do, over time, learn to get a sense of what a person is like just from that person’s clothes, comments, bearing and so on.

We see a lot of this in crime fiction and that makes sense. It’s only human nature for us to size people up. And for the author, it allows for ‘showing, not telling’ what a character is like. There’s not enough space in this one post to mention all of the examples out there; here are just a few.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a master of summing people up just from what he sees of them. And in fact, sometimes he doesn’t even need to meet a person to get a great deal of information. For instance, in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Commissionaire Peterson brings an interesting mystery to Holmes and Dr. Watson. He discovered a battered hat and a goose lying where someone had dropped them after a skirmish with some hooligans. Then, when his wife cooked the goose, she discovered a valuable gem in its craw. The mystery makes little sense to Peterson, so he wants Holmes’ impressions. Here’s what Holmes says after one look at the hat:
 

”He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. ‘It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,’ he remarked, ‘and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him.”
 

Holmes goes on to explain how he deduced each of these facts and later in the story, we find out just how right he was.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), Miss Marple is recovering from a bout of illness, and so has been under the too-watchful eye of hired housekeeper/nurse Miss Knight. One afternoon while Miss Knight is out doing the shopping, Miss Marple decides to take a walk. She ends up in the new council housing development where she accidentally falls and twists her ankle. She’s immediately rescued by Heather Badcock, who lives in the development with her husband Arthur. As she’s sitting in the Badcock home recovering from her fall, Miss Marple gets a chance to ‘size up’ her rescuer. And it’s not long before she’s reminded of someone else in the village with similar personality traits and a similar sort of story. And that worries Miss Marple because that person ended up dying. Sure enough, Heather Badcock dies too, of what turns out to be a poisoned cocktail. Miss Marple and her friend Dolly Bantry look into the murder and they find that the victim’s history has a lot to do with the murder. I know, I know, fans of Five Little Pigs

Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes begins when New York City police officer Tom Shawn is taking a late-night walk. He notices a small, expensive handbag lying on the ground with its contents spilled out. Just by those things he can tell that the owner is a person of a certain social class and has certain tastes. What he can’t work out yet is why those things should have been spilled in what looks like a deliberate way. Shortly afterwards, he sees a young woman getting ready to jump from a bridge. He gets to her just in time and persuades her to come away from the bridge. His first impression of her is that she is both well-off and attractive. So there seems no reason (at least on the surface) for her to attempt suicide. He takes her to an all-night diner where he finally gets her to tell her story. She is Jane Reid, and as Shawn had guessed, she comes from a wealthy background. Her life has been turned upside-down lately because she is terrified that her father, with whom she is close, is about to die. As Shawn listens to her story, he is more and more intrigued by it, and decides to do what he can to help prevent what seems to be an inevitable death.

In Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, Sydney PI Cliff Hardy makes a none-too-flattering first summing-up of a client just from a telephone call. One day, wealthy and powerfull Bryn Gutteridge calls to basically summon Hardy to his home. Hardy isn’t impressed with Gutteridge’s manner, but a fee is a fee, so he keeps the appointment. Here’s his first reaction to meeting the man in person:
 

‘Mr. Gutteridge didn’t look like he’d be nice to work for, but I felt sure I could reach an understanding with his money.’
 

And Hardy’s first summing-up is fairly accurate. Gutteridge isn’t pleasant or particularly polite. He’s self-involved, self-entitled and obviously spoiled. But he does have a problem that he’s willing to pay to solve. His twin sister Susan is being harassed and getting threats, and he wants it to stop. Hardy takes the case and begins to ask questions, starting with Gutteridge himself. As he gets deeper into the investigation, Hardy learns that there are several people who might want to threaten Susan and target the Gutteridge family.

Sometimes, sleuths can get a somewhat accurate sense of someone, and still be wrong. That’s what happens in Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood. Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett is head of the Cold Case Review Team; as such, she often hears of old cases, and has to decide which ones to re-open. That’s why Orla Payne calls her one day. Twenty years earlier, Orla’s brother Callum disappeared. No trace of him has been found – not even a body. And Orla wants answers and justice for her brother. Unfortunately, Orla is mentally fragile to begin with, and is drunk when she calls in, so Hannah isn’t inclined to take the case seriously at first. Still, once she hangs up the ‘phone, she begins to feel guilty for her attitude and takes a second look at the case. Then, Orla dies, apparently by suicide. Now it’s clear that something more is going on here than a drunken call about a runaway brother.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. Social worker Simran Singh is persuaded to travel from where she lives in Delhi to her home town in Punjab when she gets a call from an old university friend. Now Inspector General for the State of Punjab, her friend wants her to work with the police on a horrible case. Fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal has been arrested in connection with the poisoning murders of thirteen of her family members. Some were also stabbed. What’s more, someone set fire to the Atwal house. Durga may or may not have been involved in what happened, but the police can’t get any information from her, since she has not spoken of the tragedy since the night it occurred. It’s hoped that if Simran talks to her, she’ll be able to get the girl to open up and talk about the killings. Simran’s reluctant; at the same time though, she doesn’t want to see Durga ‘railroaded’ if she is innocent of any complicity in the killings. So she agrees to see what she can do. When she finally gets the chance to meet the girl, here’s her initial summing-up:
 

‘Durga is not pretty, but she has a healthy, pink complexion like most Punjabi girls from semi-rural India, who have been brought up on fresh milk and homegrown food. Yet, she hunches as she sits down, anxious not to be noticed. Or at least, not have any attention drawn to her. Her clothes are loose, and even though she is tall and well built, she gives an impression of frailty, further enhanced by her meek demeanour.’
 

Simran is also immediately struck by how young and vulnerable Durga is. At first, Durga doesn’t trust her at all (why should she?), but Simran knows that her best chance of finding out what really happened to the Atwal family is to get Durga to tell her.

Sleuths aren’t always correct about their first ‘sizing up’ of people they speak to, any more than any of us is. But over time, they have to learn that skill, as it often proves to be very useful…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I Don’t Want to be Alone Any More.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cornell Woolrich, Kishwar Desai, Martin Edwards, Peter Corris

And You’ve Gone Too Far ‘Cause You Know it Don’t Matter Anyway*

Self-EntitlementThere’s a certain phenomenon that seems to go along with having influence and power, or at least with having wealth. It’s what I call the culture of entitlement. Of course, there are plenty of self-entitled people who aren’t extremely wealthy or powerful. Teachers and university-level educators have rafts of stories about students and their parents who want ‘an exception made in my (or my child’s) case.’ And I’m quite certain that police officers in just about every country can give you long lists of examples of people they stopped who didn’t see why they should have to drive safely. But it often seems that the culture of entitlement is especially associated with those who have money, power or both. We can all think of lots of examples from real life. And perhaps that’s a bit of why people are often especially glad when the rich and powerful are held accountable for what they do (e.g. ‘See? You have to live by the rules just like the rest of us do!’). There are plenty of cases of the culture of entitlement in crime fiction too. Here are a very few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), French moneylender Madame Giselle is en route from Paris to London when she suddenly dies. At first it looks as though she had heart failure resulting from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. But it’s soon shown that she was poisoned. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on that flight, so Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp concentrate on those people. As it turns out, several of them could have had a very good motive for the murder. One of the suspects is Cecily Horbury, a former chorus dancer who married Lord Stephen Horbury and is therefore now a member of the ‘upper class.’ When she and the rest of the passengers are informed that they’ll have to wait at the airport after landing so that they can be interviewed, she takes a very self-entitled attitude. She’s incensed at being expected to wait like everyone else, and even asks the all too common question,
 

‘Don’t you know who I am?’
 

Lady Horbury’s self-entitlement isn’t the reason for the murder, but it reflects that view clearly. Christie addresses this in other stories too (I know, I know, fans of Five Little Pigs, Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express).

We also see the culture of entitlement in P.D. James’ A Taste For Death. Crown Minister Sir Paul Berowne and a local tramp Harry Mack are murdered one night in a church. Given his position, Berowne’s murder is likely to attract a lot of media attention, so a special team is dispatched to investigate the case. The team consists of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DCI John Massingham and DI Kate Miskin. One of the first places they look for motive and suspects is of course within the Berowne family. There’s plenty of history and several secrets to be found there too. But the team doesn’t unearth them very easily. This is a wealthy and powerful family, and several members of it see no reason why they should have to co-operate with a police investigation the way everyone else does. That entitlement is also reflected in the high-handed way they treat the investigation team. The family attitude doesn’t stop the team finding out the truth, though…

In Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, insurance investigator-turned-PI Cliff Hardy takes a case for wealthy and powerful Bryn Gutteridge. He and his twin sister Susan are the children of a wealthy business tycoon, so they’ve been insulated more or less from having to wait their turns like everyone else, so to speak. And that self-entitlement comes through from the very beginning, when Gutteridge first calls Hardy. Instead of asking Hardy to meet to discuss the case, Gutteridge summons him. Needless to say, that’s not exactly to Hardy’s taste, but a fee is a fee. So Hardy goes to the Gutteridge home to learn more about the case. Gutteridge tells him that his sister is being harassed and threatened, and he wants it stopped. Hardy doesn’t care much for his client, but he goes to work. Throughout this novel, we see how the culture of self-entitlement has impacted Bryn and Susan Gutteridge. Their family may have some dark secrets in the past, but they’ve never been held to the same standards as ‘the rest of us.’

Neither have the members of the powerful Miletti family, whom we meet in Michael Dibdin’s Ratking. When family patriarch Ruggerio Miletti is abducted, the Perugia police are notified, but don’t seem able to make much progress in finding out who is responsible. Aurelio Zen, who’s been working in the Ministry of the Interior in Rome, is seconded to Perugia to help out in the case. It’s going to be difficult too. The abductors have told the Milettis not to involve the police in any way. And they have enough power and influence that the police are inclined to stay out of their way. On the other hand, it won’t look good if the police appear to be in the family’s pay. So Zen has to negotiate a very difficult situation. Little by little, as he gets more information about what happened and what the reality of life in Perugia is, Zen learns just how entitled the Milettis really are. They are, all of them, accustomed to having the rules laid aside when it’s convenient. It doesn’t mean that any of them is happy, but it’s a fact of their lives.

In Peter James’ Not Dead Yet, Superintendent Roy Grace has a difficult situation on his hands. Along with other cases he’s investigating, he’s told that superstar Gaia Lafayette will be spending time in her home town of Brighton to do a film that’s being shot there. There’s already been an attempt on her life, so there’s a lot of concern for her safety. What’s more, the Powers That Be have no interest in the bad publicity that would result if anything happened to her. So Grace is told that he will be responsible for ensuring her safety. On the one hand, Grace certainly doesn’t wish the star any harm. On the other, he has to face the reality of limited budgets and staff. Still, he’s been given an assignment and intends to meet his obligations. There are several examples of the self-entitlement of ‘superstars’ in the novel. Here are just two. In more than one scene there’s a discussion of the differences between firearms laws in the US and firearms laws in the UK. And several members of Gaia Lafayette’s entourage simply don’t see why they should have to abide by UK laws. Also, there’s a negotiation about how to arrange for the superstar’s safety. Given the logistics, the Brighton people want her to stay at the hotel, where they can arrange for careful monitoring. But that’s not how she and her people see it. She wants to visit the city, take her son out for pizza and so on. The cost of providing all of that extra protection is more than the Brighton team can afford, so they insist that the star pay for it. Her top people though see no reason why she should. She, after all, is Gaia Lafayette, the famous singer/actress. She’s doing Brighton a big service by ‘coming home.’ That self entitlement runs throughout the novel.

And I don’t think I could do justice to a post on the culture of entitlement without mentioning the work of Donna Leon, who explores that in several of her novels. Her sleuth Commissario Guido Brunetti lives and works in Venice. In several of the cases he investigates, it turns out that people who are rich, powerful and influential have committed crimes including murder. Brunetti’s boss, vice-questore Giuseppe Patta is quite happy to go along with the culture of entitlement. He’s a toady to those with influence, as he wants to advance his own career. Brunetti doesn’t let that stop him, though. He’s willing to take risks to solve cases, even if the culprit turns out to be someone who is self-entitled.

I’m sure you’ve met up with plenty of self-entitled people in your own life. They’re out there. And they make realistic and sometimes interesting characters in crime fiction too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must make a few ‘phone calls. It seems there’s this ridiculous policy about where I can park my car and someone left a ticket on it. I don’t see why I can’t park where I want. I shouldn’t have to pay a fine! 😉
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Daryll Hall and John Oates’ Rich Girl 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin, P.D. James, Peter Corris, Peter James