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Showing posts by: Peggy Ehrhart click to see Peggy Ehrhart's profile
Dec 20 2011 10:30am

Christmas Is for Happy People: Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices

Ardaldur Indridason, Voices“Christmas is for happy people,” a moody young hotel maid observes in Arnaldur Indridason’s (Indriðason) Icelandic thriller Voices. Indridason’s equally moody sleuth agrees.

The moody sleuth, police inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, is on the scene because Santa has just been murdered—at one of Reykjavik’s leading hotels. In real life, Santa is the hotel doorman, who has been suiting up for years to entertain children at the annual Christmas party. But now he’s lying dead in his basement lair, half dressed in his Santa garb and stabbed with a knife from the hotel kitchen—in circumstances that suggest the murder had a sexual dimension.

[Santa and sex just don’t go together.]

Nov 17 2011 10:30am

Vengeance in Botswana: Michael Stanley’s The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu

The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu by Michael StanleyA few years ago my husband and I spent a week at a safari camp in Tanzania. The safari experience included stunning views of landscape and animals, boozy evenings at the bar, nights in a tent as comfortable as our bedroom at home, an eccentric proprietor, and an equally eccentric assortment of fellow guests. The only thing lacking was the safari camp murder that kicks off Michael Stanley’s gripping police procedural, The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu.

A safari camp, whether in Tanzania like ours or in Botswana like Stanley’s, makes a great setting for a mystery. The structure of Stanley’s book is as classic as a British mystery from Agatha Christie’s era. His Jackalberry Camp is even situated on an island. Remember And Then There Were None?

When Goodluck Tinubu is viciously murdered in his tent, Jackalberry Camp is thrown into an uproar. Investigating the murder, police are startled to discover that their victim was thought to have died thirty years earlier—during the civil war in neighboring Zimbabwe. Obviously there’s been some confusion and now he’s been killed for real. Who among the guests or staff at the camp could have done it?

[Anyone? Everyone?]

Oct 5 2011 10:00am

Edgar Allan Poe, Pioneer of the True Crime Genre: Truman Capote, Eat Your Heart Out!

Toni Frissell’s Lady in the Water 1947It was a pleasant July afternoon in Hoboken, New Jersey. The year was 1841, and Hoboken offered a countrified respite from the sultry heat of New York City. Two young men were relaxing along the Hudson River near Sybil’s Cave, where a rocky cliff had been excavated to reach a natural spring. People believed the water had healing powers and paid one cent a glass to refresh themselves with it after strolling the River Walk.

As the young men gazed at the water, they saw an unexpected sight: a dead body. They commandeered a boat to retrieve what proved to be the remains of Mary Cecilia Rogers. She had disappeared from her home in lower Manhattan a few days earlier and had been the object of an eager search. A particularly beautiful young woman, she had worked in a cigar store on Broadway—a risqué occupation for a young woman in that era—and had had a large number of suitors.

The coroner determined that she had been murdered—rather than merely drowned. Her clothing was torn, her body marked by bruises, and she appeared to have been sexually violated, maybe by more than one person.

The murder became a cause célèbre, taken up with great enthusiasm by the many tabloids of the day. Various suspects were proposed, including a sailor who had been one of her beaux—her bonnet had come loose and been re-secured with a sailor’s knot. Another theory pointed to the gangs that were rampant in the city at that time. Abducting, raping, and killing an attractive young woman might have been just the kind of sport they enjoyed, and a witness reported seeing someone who could have been Mary Rogers crossing the Hudson in a boat with a group of men.

The case was never solved. But much, much earlier than Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, it inspired an important work of crime fiction.

[What grisly piece is this?]

Sep 7 2011 10:30am

Ernest Hemingway, Crime Writer—With A Little Help From Hollywood

The Killers 1946 movie based — loosely — on Ernest Hemingway’s short storyUncle Frank wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. He was my mother’s younger brother, a dashing figure who often stayed with us when I was a child in the early 1950s. Then he’d be off, hitchhiking from our house in the San Fernando Valley down to Mexico to take in a bullfight. Death in the Afternoon was inspired by Hemingway’s adventures in Spain, but for Uncle Frank, Mexico was closer. Soon everyone would want to be Jack Kerouac, but for several pre-Kerouac generations, Hemingway was the icon of tough coolness.

Thus it’s only natural that a Hemingway credit on a couple of mid-century films—both called The Killers and purportedly based on Hemingway’s short story of the same name—could be counted on to bring out the crowds.

[Who are these Killers?]

Aug 13 2011 11:00am

Welcome to Ghana, Mystery Lovers: Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods

Wife of the Gods by Kwei QuarteyIn Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods, Ghanaian police inspector Darko Dawson observes a village ceremony: “As Dawson watched and listened, he saw in action the Ewe people’s long-held fame for the drumming tradition . . . unmatched by anything [he] had seen before.”

I’ve seen the Ewe people’s drumming tradition in action too.  In fact I’ve taken part in it.  Several years ago I spent a week at the Dagbe Cultural Center in Kopeiya, Ghana, studying drumming.  A year later I returned to Ghana with my husband to explore the country further.  Reading Wife of the Gods was like reimmersing myself in the fascinating culture of this small West African country.

[West Africa sounds mysterious on its face...]

Aug 5 2011 2:00pm

The Existential World of Hakan Nesser: Life is What You Make It

Hakan Nesser: Mind’s Eye,the first Inspector Van Veteren thrillerI’m one of the few humans on earth who is not a Stieg Larsson fan. I closed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after two pages and never opened it again. That says a lot about my distaste for the book, because in general I have a bias toward Swedish crime writers. I adored Henning Mankell’s early Kurt Wallander mysteries, though I stopped reading him when he abandoned the classic police procedural in favor of plots that had us roving around Africa. And I wasn’t as fond of Wallander’s daughter Linda as a protagonist as I had been of Wallander himself. But I have a new favorite Swedish mystery writer now: Hakan Nesser (Håkan Nesser).

[What’s so great about him, anyway?]

Jun 18 2011 12:00pm

Fred Vargas: History Behind Paris’s Curious Thrills?

Fred Vargas/ credit: Guardian and Eamonn Mc CabeI discovered Fred Vargas on the plane coming back from France. In real life she’s Frédérique Audouin-Rouzeau (Fred as the short form of her name, and Vargas from Ava Gardner’s character in The Barefoot Contessa), a French historian/archaeologist with many books to her credit, among them seven mysteries featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg.  Six have been published in English so far, though out of order. As part of an ambitious reading program, I’d carried two from Newark to Nice and up the Rhone to Lyons before opening Have Mercy on Us All on the flight home. It lasted me all the way back to Newark, and Seeking Whom He May Devour helped me retain the glow from my French sojourn for several more days.

[As glowing as the accolades for this series.]

Jun 7 2011 4:00pm

Truffaut’s Sexy French Female Sleuth

Confidentially Yours (Vivement Dimanche!) by Francois TruffautMy husband is in love with Fanny Ardant. But I don’t mind. I’m in love with her too. She’s the beguiling actress who plays the female lead in François Truffaut’s Confidentially Yours (Vivement Dimanche!, orFinally Sunday”in the original). It was Truffaut’s last film, made in 1983—an homage to Hitchcock.

Julien Vercel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a real-estate agent in a pleasant Provençal town. When he’s accused of murdering his wife’s lover, and then his wife, his secretary Barbara (Ardant) turns sleuth to clear his name as murders continue to pile up.

Confidentially Yours has everything a mystery fan could want, starting with a satisfying plot. I hadn’t seen the film for years, but I recently watched it twice within twenty-four hours. So much time had passed since my last viewing that I came to the plot as if for the first time, puzzled when I was supposed to be puzzled and duly surprised by the resolution. But the second time I concentrated on the artistry. The trail from clue to clue is marvelously logical, the clues themselves are inscrutable and witty, and the clue that completes the puzzle is a masterful touch.

[Je t’aime mon amour...]

May 6 2011 10:00am

Outsider Creds: The Coolness of Peter Gunn

When I was a child in the Southern California of the late 1950s, watching Peter Gunn on television was one of the week’s highlights.  Henry Mancini, who did the music for the series, lived in a neighboring town and went to our San Fernando Valley church, so we had a proprietary interest in the show.  Part of Peter Gunn’s essence was the jazz soundtrack.  The theme Mancini composed for the opening credits went on to have a life of its own as a jazz standard.  The driving boogie woogie bass line pierced by those sexy horns is still instantly recognizable.

[Trumpets blast! To the past. . .]