Category Archives: Teresa Solana

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.


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

We Do It All the Time*

As this is posted, it would have been Jane Austen’s 243rd birthday. Of the many things for which she is remembered, one of them is that she held a sometimes-witty lens up to her society. It’s tricky to do that without becoming mean-spirited. When it’s done well, though, that sort of story can be very successful.

Of course, there are plenty of crime novels (like Herman Koch’s The Dinner) that take a darker look at society. But plenty of them use a lighter approach. And that can make for an effective context for a story.

For instance, Richard Hull’s The Murder of My Aunt is the story of Edward Powell, and his Aunt Mildred. She’s raised him since he was a baby, and she holds the proverbial purse strings. So, although he finds it very unpleasant to live with her, Powell has no choice. She’s the one who has to approve of any other life he chose, and she wants him to live with her near the Welsh village of Llwll. One day, Aunt Mildred goes too far in her control and criticism, so Powell decides that the only way out of his predicament is to kill her. But Aunt Mildred is no mental slouch, so what ensues is a sort of game of cat and mouse. Will he succeed in killing her? Will she find out about his plans in time? Among other things, the novel takes a witty look at life in a Welsh village, from the viewpoint of Powell, who has nothing but contempt for the locals. What’s interesting is that he is, in many ways, an unsympathetic character. So the alert reader gets a witty look at the society of that time in that place.

In Robert Barnard’s Death of an Old Goat, the Department of English at the University of Drummondale, Australia, is about to get an important visitor. Oxford Professor Belville-Smith is doing a tour of Australia, and Drummondale will be one of his stops. Professor Bobby Wickham and the rest of the English faculty will play host, and there’s a lot of preparation. But things don’t go as planned. For one thing, Belville-Smith is contemptuous of his rural Australian hosts, and makes no effort to disguise that. What’s more, he’s at the point in his life and career when he’s given his lectures too many times. In fact, at one point, he begins by delivering one lecture and then switches to another midway through. Then one morning, he is found murdered in his hotel room. Inspector Bert Royle has never investigated a murder before, but he’s in charge of this one, and it won’t be easy. Belville-Smith might have been insufferable, but he seemed harmless enough. So it’s going to be hard to work out who would have had a motive strong enough to lead to murder. Throughout the novel, Barnard finds ways to hold up a witty (and not always flattering) lens to academia and to life in rural Australia.

In Ngaio Marsh’s A Surfeit of Lampreys (AKA Death of a Peer), we are introduced to the eccentric Lamprey family. When they make a visit to New Zealand, they meet Roberta Grey. She can’t help but be charmed by them, and they like her, too. When Roberta’s parents die, she moves to London to live with an aunt. Then, she encounters the Lampreys again. They virtually adopt her, so she gets to know them. One of the realities of life with the Lampreys is that they make unsound financial decisions. So, they’re practically always in need of money. When Lord Charles Lamprey asks his wealthy brother, Gabriel ‘Uncle G’ for financial help, he’s refused point blank. Shortly afterwards, Uncle G is murdered. Roberta gets mixed up in the case as Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn investigates. Along with the mystery, Marsh holds up a lens to the lives of ‘bluebloods’ with more titles than money sense.

Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime introduces readers to Barcelona PIs (and twin brothers) Eduard and Josep “Pep” (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez. The novel begins as they get a new client, Lluís Font, Member of the Parliament of Catalonia. He suspects that his wife, Lídia, is having an affair, and he wants the Martínez brothers to find out if it’s true. For a week or so, they follow her and look into the matter, but there is no evidence that she’s being unfaithful. Then, Lídia suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Font is, of course, the most likely suspect. So, he asks the brothers to stay in his employ and clear his name. Throughout the novel, Solana holds up a witty lens to the attitudes and lifestyle of Barcelona’s ‘upper crust.’ And that adds a great deal to the novel.

And then there’s Ruth Dudley Edwards’ Corridors of Death. In it, we meet Robert Amiss, who, in this novel, works as Private Secretary to Sir Nicholas Clark, Permanent Secretary to the Department of Conservation. One afternoon, Clark and Amiss are attending a meeting of the Industry and Government Group. During a break in the proceedings. Clark is killed in the men’s room. The police are called in, and Detective Superintendent James Milton leads the investigation. Since Amiss was Clark’s private secretary, and since he was present at the meeting, Milton believes Clark will be a valuable source of information. For Amiss’ part, he’s curious about the investigation. So, the two men agree to share information and to work together. Woven throughout this novel Edwards’ satirical look at the foibles and pretenses of government bureaucracy. She holds up a lens to the politics, the process, and the people involved in getting the government’s work done.

It’s easy to pull off a witty look at society, but when it’s done well, it can add a great deal to a novel. And holding up a lens like that can give the reader an interesting perspective. These are just a few examples of how that works in crime fiction. Your turn. Oh, and you might have noticed I didn’t mention Agatha Christie’s work. Too easy…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Turn It Off.


Filed under Herman Koch, Ngaio Marsh, Richard Hull, Robert Barnard, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Teresa Solana

Maybe This Time I’ll Win*

As this is posted, it’s 123 years since Alfred Nobel’s will established what we now know as the Nobel Prizes. Today, there are six Nobel categories: Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Economic Sciences, Literature, and of course, the Peace Prize. To be a Nobel laureate is the achievement of a lifetime.

Few prizes are as valuable as a Nobel Prize, but there are, of course, lots of prizes and awards out there. And winning can be very important. So, it’s little wonder that there’s sometimes quite a lot of competition for a prize and for the recognition that goes with it. And even when there’s not a lot of obvious competition, there can be a lot of tension and suspense as people wait and wonder whether their efforts will give them the win. That tension can add a lot both to the plot of a crime novel and to the layers of character development in a novel.

The Nobel Prize for Literature figures into Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow. That novel features several generations of the Ragnerfeldt family, including Nobel laureate Axel Ragnerfeldt. An exploration of the family’s dark past and deep secrets is triggered when Gerda Persson is found dead. She had no family, so social worker Marianne Folkesson goes through her things. Marianne discovers that the dead woman’s freezer is full of copies of Regnerfeldt’s books, all dedicated to her. As the story goes on, we see how this story is tied in with the story of a man named Kristoffer, who was abandoned as a boy, and still isn’t sure who he is or why he was left alone. And we see the impact of the desire for a prize like the Nobel, and not just on the person who wants the prize.

There’s a different literary prize at stake in Teresa Solana’s A Shortcut to Paradise. That novel begins on the night that celebrated Catalán writer Marina Dolç wins the coveted Golden Apple Prize for Literature. After the awards banquet, she goes up to her hotel room, where she is later found dead. The police investigate, and soon settle on a suspect. He is fellow writer Amadeu Cabestany, who was the victim’s strongest competition for the prize, and who wanted badly to win. It doesn’t help matters that he and the victim were at odds. Nor does it help his case that, although he claims he was elsewhere at the time of the murder, he can’t prove that, and no-one at the party paid any attention to whether he was there or not. Cabestany’s literary agent hires Barcelona PIs Josep ‘Pep’ Martínez and his brother Eduard to look into the matter and try to clear Cabestany’s name if they can.

Even when a prize isn’t as prestigious as the Nobel, it can still mean high stakes (at least for the people involved). For instance, in one plot line of Douglas Lindsay’s We Are the Hanged Man, Met Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Robert Jericho is ‘volunteered’ to serve on a panel for the television show Britain’s Got Justice. It’s the last thing he wants to do, but his boss hasn’t made this optional. In the show, contestants compete as apprentice police officers. Being the winner of a reality show doesn’t, of course, have the cachet that a Nobel Prize does. But these contestants want to win. And they definitely want the fame that comes with being on TV. So, when one of them is killed, the remaining contestants are all possible suspects. Among other things this novel offers an interesting look at what it’s like to compete for a television prize.

Riley Adams (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) shows readers how coveted a beauty pageant prize can be in Hickory Smoked Homicide. In the novel, we meet Tristan Pembroke, wealthy and well-known beauty pageant judge and coach. She’s made her share of enemies, so when she is murdered one evening, there are several suspects. Chief among them is local artist Sara Taylor, who was involved in a dispute with the victim over one of her paintings. Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu Taylor, knows that she is innocent. So, she decides to ask some questions to find out who the real killer is. And in the process, we learn just how important a beauty-queen prize can be, especially sometimes to the parents of the competitors.

Susan Wittig Albert’s Chili Death is, in part, the story of a hotly contested cook-off. In that plot line, Pecan Springs, Texas police officer Mike McQuaid is persuaded to serve as a judge for an up-coming chili cook-off. There’s a lot riding on this competition, so there’s tension. On the day of the event, one of the other judges, Jerry Jeff Cody, suddenly dies of what turns out to be chili that was laced with crushed peanuts, to which he was violently allergic. McQuaid’s wife (and Wittig Albert’s sleuth) China Bayles is at the cook-off and gets drawn into the investigation. And one very strong possibility is that one of the cook-off contestants was responsible for the murder. As it turns out, that murder is connected with a case of some disturbing events taking place at a local nursing home.

A prize may be as simple as a blue ribbon at a science fair contest, or as noteworthy as a Nobel Prize for Chemistry – or anything in between. Whatever the case, when a group of people all want the same thing, and that thing has value to them, there’s bound to be tension. And it’s bound to show up at some time in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander & Fred Ebbs‘s Maybe This Time.



Filed under Douglas Lindsay, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Karin Alvtegen, Riley Adams, Susan Wittig Albert, Teresa Solana

There Was No One There to Meet Me, And Your Clothes Were on the Floor*

Most of us have routines for doing things – routines that make sense and work for us. And those routines tell a lot about us. So, when they are interrupted, that, too, can give a lot of information. For example, say you come home, and your partner isn’t there, but the keys are, the door is unlocked, and the dog doesn’t come to greet you.  You can guess that your partner probably took the dog for a walk and both will be back soon.

Those conclusions aren’t, of course, completely foolproof. But they do give helpful information, and in crime fiction, they can be very helpful as a sleuth tries to put the pieces of a puzzle together. I started thinking about this after a really interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books. Her post (which you should read) was a review of how this works in one crime novel, but there are plenty of other examples. Here are just a few.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Commissioner Peterson breaks up a scuffle between some thugs and a man they had targeted. Their would-be victim runs off, dropping his hat and a goose as he goes. Peterson takes the goose home to his wife, who starts to prepare it for cooking. When she does, she discovers a valuable gem in its craw. Peterson takes the jewel and the hat to Sherlock Holmes, who starts by making some useful deductions just from the hat. Then, he uses what Peterson tells him to work out what the man’s routine would have been. That gives him valuable information about how the jewel got into the goose’s craw, and what happened to the man who had the goose. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will know that he frequently uses clues like that to work out the events of a crime.

So does Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot at times. In Murder in Mesopotamia, for instance, he is persuaded to interrupt his travels in the Middle East to investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. Her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, is leading an excavation a few hours from Baghdad, and she’s decided to join the team, although she’s not involved in the actual work of digging. One afternoon, she is murdered in her room. No-one is seen entering or leaving that room, so at first, it’s hard to tell exactly how the murder occurred. But Poirot uses the clues he has to work out what likely would have happened – what her routine would have been. That information gives some valuable clues about who would have killed the victim, and how the murder occurred.

Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn is the story of the murder of Nicholas Quinn, the only Deaf member of the Oxford Foreign Exams Syndicate. This group oversees exams given in countries other than the UK that follow the British system of education. Quinn is poisoned one afternoon, and Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate. They soon learn that the members of the Syndicate are keeping secrets – things that Quinn discovered and that might have been worth murdering him to keep hidden. As a part of working out who killed the victim, Morse works out what his afternoon routine would have been like on the day he was killed, and that’s helpful. It’s not spoiling the story to say that another aspect of Quinn’s usual way of doing things proves vital to the case.

In Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, Tapani Lehtinen becomes concerned about his journalist wife, Joahnna. She’s been following a story and hasn’t been in contact with anyone for twenty-four hours. That’s very unlike her, and Lehtinen has good reason to be worried. The world in which this story takes place has fallen into chaos due to wars and climate change, and millions of refugees have gone north to try to make lives for themselves. Helsinki, the setting for the story, has been reduced to near-anarchy, and the police are spread so thin that they can do little to solve any but the most major of crimes. Lehtinen starts at Johanna’s office, and uses notes and other clues to work out that she left the office quickly to work on her story. Her boss isn’t much help, but he does say that she was working on a story about a man called the Healer. This man has been responsible for the murders of several people, such as CEOs of certain corporations, that he believes are responsible for the climate change which has so impacted the world. Lehtinen believes that if he pursues that story himself, he’ll be able to find Johanna, so he begins to track the Healer. That choice gets him into danger, and he learns that several people involved in this case are hiding things. But, in the end, he learns the truth.

Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime shows how those little routines can also be used to make a certain impression. In that novel, we meet Barcelona brothers Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez. Together, they own a PI business that’s just getting started. Borja is of the strong belief that people won’t be willing to hire PIs who aren’t successful, so the office is designed to look much more prosperous than it is. For instance, there’s a receptionist/secretary’s desk, even though the brothers can’t afford to pay a secretary. In order to give the illusion that they can, they leave a cardigan or a jacket on the chair. Sometimes, they leave a bottle of nail polish on the desk, to make it look as though their secretary just went to the restroom for a moment. Or, they leave papers and other things on the desk to make it look as though someone was in the middle of something, and just had to run out for a bit. It’s a clever ruse, and it convinces potential clients that the firm’s doing well.

Those little clues to routines can be very helpful to detectives who are trying to work out exactly how a crime occurred. But they can also be useful if a criminal wants to leave a false trail (right, fans of Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Mews?). Either way, they can add to a story.

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Moira’s blog. It’s a valuable resource for all things fashion and culture in fiction, and what they say about us.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alvin Lee’s The Bluest Blues.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Antti Tuomainen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Dexter, Teresa Solana

You’re New to This World*

They say that you never forget your first. I’m talking about your first murder investigation, folks!   Of course, the best detectives never get so hardened that dealing with murder becomes easy. But it’s especially difficult when you’ve never dealt with the ugly reality of what a murder really looks like before.

It’s interesting to see how that first experience is explored in crime fiction. Everyone handles it differently, so an author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to character and plot development. Whatever approach an author chooses to take, that ‘first murder’ experience can add to a story when it’s done credibly.

For example, In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, we are introduced to Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. He is Chief of Police in the small Périgord town of St. Denis. It’s not the sort of place that’s steeped in crime, so when Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr is found brutally murdered, it’s a whole new experience for Bruno. He’s seen death before, especially during his military service, so he’s not really squeamish. But this is a deliberate, ugly murder. At first, it looks like it might be the work of a far-right group, Front Nationale (FN). But there are other possibilities, and Bruno soon finds that more than one person might have wanted the victim dead.

Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion begins as Detective Sergeant (DS) Anna Travis begins her work with the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. And she’s joined at a critical time. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and it’s not a pretty sight. Travis wants to make a good impression, since she’s the new member of the team. But this is her first murder investigation, and she isn’t prepared for what she sees when she gets to the crime scene. She doesn’t handle it particularly smoothly, and she’s embarrassed about it. Fortunately, her boss, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, understands what she’s going through, and doesn’t make it all any worse for her. The team soon comes to believe that this murder may be linked to six other ‘cold’ murders. There are differences, but Langton is convinced that they’re dealing with one killer. They settle on a suspect, but he’s both wealthy and very popular. So, they’re going to have to tread lightly. Besides, he’s not the only suspect. As the novel goes on, Travis and the rest of the team slowly put the evidence together and find out who the killer is.

In A Not So Perfect Crime, Teresa Solana introduces Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep “Pep” (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez. Lluís Font, Member of the Parliament of Catalonia, hires the brothers because he suspects his wife, Lídia, is being unfaithful. The PIs shadow her for a week, but they find no evidence that she’s having an affair. Then, she suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Unsurprisingly, Font comes under suspicion, and asks the Martínez brothers to stay on the case, this time to clear his name. They’ve never dealt with a murder investigation before, so Eduard, in particular, is uneasy about it. But Borja convinces him to agree. They’re not sure exactly how to proceed, and that adds both realism and wit to the story. Slowly, they build a list of suspects, and, in the end, they get to the truth about who killed Lídia Font and why.

Alan Bradley’s sleuth, Flavia de Luce, has her first encounter with murder at the tender age of eleven. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, she overhears an argument between her father and an unfamiliar visitor. The next morning, Flavia finds the man’s body in her family’s cucumber patch. Soon enough, Flavia’s father, Colonel de Luce, becomes the most likely suspect. He is arrested and jailed. Flavia wants to clear her father of suspicion, she launches her own investigation. Little by little, she learns the truth about this murder, and it turns out that it’s all related to the past. Flavia is bright, resourceful, and not particularly fragile. But she is also only eleven, so the experience does leave her quite shaken.

And then there’s Gordon Ell’s The Ice Shroud. Detective Sergeant (DS) Malcolm Buchan has recently moved from Dunedin to head the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) in the Southern Lakes District of New Zealand’s South Island. He’s the ‘new kid’ with the team, and wants to make a good impression, as you can imagine. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found frozen in a river not far from Queenstown. Buchan has been involved in murder investigations before, but this is his first time leading this team, and he wants to get things right. It’s not going to be easy, though. The woman is soon identified as Edie Longstreet, who owned a local business. And it turns out that she and Buchan had a relationship which ended, amicably, when he left to do a military tour in Afghanistan. Buchan’s personal relationship with the victim could complicate the case. There’s also the fact that she had a very complex life. It’s going to be a challenge to get to the truth about what happened to her, especially as Buchan is also trying to earn his team’s respect.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of novels that tell the story of a sleuth’s first murder investigation. It can be a very difficult time, both in real life and in crime fiction. It can also add a solid plot point and layer of character development to a story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Marsicans’ Wake Up Freya.


Filed under Alan Bradley, Gordon Ell, Lynda La Plante, Martin Walker, Teresa Solana