Volume 17, No. 2, Summer 2001
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Good Old Watson! by Steven Jones
- Partners in Black and White by Nicole Décuré
- Table for Two by The Sisters Wells
THE WRITERS WRITE
- So Is She Partnering or Babysitting? by Laura Belgrave
- Sleuthing à Deux by Albert A. Bell, Jr
- Partnered for a Purpose by Kent Braithwaite
- A Surfeit of Sidekicks by Tim Cockey
- Three Generations: A Partnership In Crime by Joan Sims Garcia
- My Musical Partners by Lorie Ham
- Follow Your Bliss, Says Sidekick by Patricia Harrington
- Partners In Crime: Annie and Max Darling by Carolyn Hart
- Bel Barrett’s “Sister” Sleuths by Jane Isenberg
- The Pitcher and the Penguin: My Partners in Crime by Steven Philip Jones
- Working Together by Janet LaPierre
- 2 + 1 = 2 by Robert S. Levinson
- The Partnership of Creator and Created by N. J. Lindquist
- Waal Howdy, Podnuh! by Richard A. Lupoff
- Murder, Mayhem and Great Sex by Alex Matthews
- The Lone Wolf Rides Shotgun by Susan McBride
- John and Penny Darnell–A New Nick & Nora Charles? by Sam McCarver
- My Successful Partnership by Xenia Smith, as told to Annette Meyers
- P.I. Partners by Loretta Scott Miller
- More Fun with Three by Sharan Newman
- It Takes Two To Tango, Or Why I Chose To Partner Up by Naomi R. Rand
- Mrs. Millet and Mrs. Hark, Partners by Margaret Searles
- Real Life Mirrors Mystery Fiction by Gene Stratton
- Created By Crime by Louise Titchener
- The Partner in Crime Adds Spice to a Mystery by Anne White
- Mystery In Retrospect: Reviews by Carol Harper
- In Short: A Pair of Partners by Marvin Lachman
- Partners in Detection, Some British Examples by Philip L. Scowcroft
- Just the Facts: The Dry Guys by Jim Doherty
- MRI Mayhem by Janet A. Rudolph
- Letters to the Editor
- From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph
My partners in crime are Annie and Max Darling, who will embark on their thirteenth adventure—April Fool Dead—in spring 2002—and no one is more surprised than the author.
When I began the series with Death On Demand in 1987, I had no idea that I was going to write a series of books about Annie Laurance and Max Darling or that they would marry in the fourth book, Honeymoon with Murder, and still be happily enjoying their South Carolina sea island in Sugarplum Dead, their twelfth adventure and a Christmas season they will never forget.
I did have a definite agenda when I wrote Death On Demand. I wanted to write a fun mystery about fun people, the kind of book I enjoyed when growing up, the Nick and Nora, Tommy and Tuppence, Pam and Jerry kind of book. I had looked at the mysteries currently available then and realized that many of them focused on women who had failed or dysfunctional relationships. I felt strongly that those books, although they portray a kind of unhappiness all too prevalent in our society, ignored the wonderful reality of successful love. I decided to create a heroine and hero who admired, valued and loved each other. Voilà, Annie and Max. They represent the kind of couple that results when a woman and man treat each other with dignity, respect, and desire. And they are as real as the bitter, sad and lonely refugees from failed relationships.
Annie and Max are very different. She is determinedly middle class, hard working, earnest, serious and intense, although I hasten to point out that she laughs a lot and enjoys life. Max refuses to be serious, except about Annie. Max is a rich dilettante, charming, imperturbable, cheerfully laid back. He never met a fun moment he didn’t intend to enjoy to the fullest.
They are an interesting contrast and it has been fun for me to explore their personalities and their relationship through the books. In Sugarplum Dead, I considered how each had been affected by their family backgrounds. Annie had not seen her father for 25 years when he arrived on the island for Christmas and she had built up a lifetime of resentment. Max recalled how his late father focused on business, even working on Christmas Day. They both grapple with the past in an effort to understand themselves and each other. But always, they know they have love for each other as their mainstay.
I was asked recently when Annie and Max will start their family. I’ve considered whether a book might include their first child, but concluded that Annie and Max will enjoy their family after I’ve finished writing about them. I know they will someday have an enchanting blond daughter, MaxAnna, but while I am recording their adventures, they will remain forever young and eager and fun-loving on their lovely sea island.
Carolyn Hart’s website is www.CarolynHart.com.
We’re social creatures, most of us. Some more than others, of course; but even a writer of fiction, having happily spent days or weeks in her own company and that of her characters, begins to feel the need to get out and about, to reconnect with her fellows. There is awkwardness in this venture at first, a sense of being alien, a stranger in a strange land. Who are these people and what on earth are they talking about?
So the writer must relearn a polite social smile, an eyebrow-quirk of interest. Meet a glance, put aside declarative sentences of blunt fact or opinion in favor of polite questions, encouraging responses, murmurs of agreement. Behave, in fact, like a useful and friendly member of the species rather than a misfit—in the interests of her own mental health as well as grist for her professional mill. Bears, badgers and tigers live alone except for mating; people, real people, need connection. Now and then. In order to return, refreshed, to the fictional others one lives and works with. For me those “others” are my partners in crime: Meg Halloran, Vince Gutierrez, Charlotte Birdsong, Patience Mackellar and her daughter, Verity.
Some years ago, I decided to write—to try to write—a mystery novel. What I had in mind was a nifty story about a widowed high-school English teacher (write what you know, or at least about a job you know) who has moved with her young daughter to the small town of Port Silva, California, and soon finds herself a suspect in the murder of a local person. Children’s Games was to focus on a struggling, still-grieving single mother, an outsider without friends or connections, who must use all her strength and wit to save her daughter, herself, and her job.
Following either suggestions or personal instincts—this was a long time ago—I spent a lot of time thinking about my protagonist. She would be neither very young nor very old, perhaps around 40. Original family circumstance: how about a mother she didn’t get along with, a father she did, an older brother and a younger sister? All of them more in her past than her present. Temperament: selective about people, loving and protective of a chosen few; introspective; resistant to pressure, even combative, but given to questioning her own actions and motives. I envisioned her as tall and vigorous, with graying thick hair and green-hazel eyes. Attractive but not beautiful. She wasn’t me, nor my sister, nor any friend or acquaintance. She was Meg Halloran.
I set up the rest of the cast list: Meg’s daughter Katy and her friends. Neighbors. Townspeople. Several high school students. The chief of police, Vince Gutierrez, who becomes important to the story and to Meg. I set the plot in motion with the murder of one of Meg’s students, a odd and unpleasant young man who had harassed her and terrorized her daughter. The story proceeded, not smoothly but by trial and error, with many trips down roads that turned into cul-de-sacs. Meg Halloran, it seemed, would do some of the things I had planned for her but balk at others. To a lesser extent, the same was true of Katy. Allowances had to be made.
Eventually I wheedled and nudged and wrenched things to a reasonable conclusion. With two dead bodies, much fear and misery, some painful discoveries, and love both familial and not, the story was a novel, and I was pleased with it and with myself. Ta da! I had a book, and in fact the start of a series; that’s the way it often goes in the mystery field. And that’s what put me in my present odd position.
When I leapt all unawares into the creation of long fiction, I had certain expectations of the people I would invent to carry the story. They would be interesting. Believable. Obedient to their creator’s wishes. And dismissable. When the book was finished, they would tuck themselves neatly between the covers and shut up. But then came that word series.
Series means the same people, mystery series means the same people and a dead body or two, presumably dead in different ways and for different reasons from those in the preceding book. So Meg, who had proved herself a fierce defender of her reputation and of her daughter, gets tossed into a tougher and more isolated situation in The Cruel Mother. Could she kill? I wondered. Well, it turned out that in self-defense and as a result of humiliation, she could if necessary. Or at least do great bodily harm. She was somewhat shaken by this discovery about herself.
Next story, I decided to add a new character, of a different stripe. Charlotte Birdsong, piano teacher and never-married mother in Grandmother’s House, is not a fighter; unlike Meg, she sees, however reluctantly, both sides of almost any conflict. She recognizes evil when she encounters it, but has as well a tempering sense of its cause. Could Charlotte do grave, perhaps mortal, damage to another person? Probably not, even in self-defense. She, and I, had to work this story’s problem out in some other way.
So we went along on our fictional journeys, these people and I, with me setting the problem for a character I had after all invented, and then learning more about him or her during the ensuing struggle. Vince Gutierrez, it turned out in Baby Mine, has a capacity for violence that he usually manages to keep in check. When people he loves or feels responsibility for are brutalized, however, his own behavior can approach brutality. I was surprised by this; he was not.
As time and stories went on, another character had begun to hover at the edges of my mind. The thirty-somethings and forty-somethings of the stories had problems and attitudes peculiar to their time; but an older woman protagonist would provide a different kind of story, from a different kind of viewpoint.
Patience Mackellar, in Keepers, is gray-haired, plump, small: inoffensive and unthreatening in appearance and manner. She has learned to live up to her name. She is experienced and realistic without being cynical. She knows how the world works, what she can do and what she cannot. As a younger woman she had joined her husband, a disabled former policeman, in his work as a private investigator. Upon his death, she moved to Port Silva and has set up her own small agency there, where she does everything from missing-pet hunts to personal and financial background checks to, in Keepers, a search for a woman and child who have disappeared into the vast near-wilderness of northern California’s forests and mountains.
Patience is licensed to carry a handgun, and has the confidence to use it if necessary. At target practice, she sees instead of a bullseye the face of the drug-dealer who shot her husband twenty-five years earlier and escaped conviction. I felt that Patience and I understood each other, and in fact she rarely led me astray—except when her daughter was concerned.
Verity Mackellar, thirty years of age with an MBA from Stanford, has recently left San Francisco, her banking job and her lawyer husband and moved to Port Silva, to live temporarily with her mother. Presently she is working part-time as a cook in a restaurant and part-time for her mother’s agency, Patience Smith, Investigations. Bright, assertive, and presently at odds with the world, Verity is a work in progress to herself and her mother, and to me. I think none of the three of us expected her to… well, never mind. Working with her in Keepers was an interesting experience; our next trip together will probably be even more so.
Janet LaPierre’s website is www.janetlapierre.com.
There’s great fun in detective teams. They’re immensely popular with readers and they’re a congenial device for writers. They have a long and honored history. The first detective story writer, the granddaddy of us all, Edgar Allan Poe, gave us our first pair of sleuthing partners: C. Auguste Dupin and his anonymous roommate/ assistant/ amanuensis. This team appeared in just three stories, and in the course of these tales Poe contributed to our canon not only the figures of detective as eccentric genius and the narrator as bumbling helper and sounding board, but also the hapless police inspector (Poe calls him “G”) who turns to the consulting detective to save the day for him when he faces a totally baffling case.
I just wish that Poe had told us the assistant’s name. I’ve even seen one critical piece that actually assigns the helper a name, “Legrand,” which isn’t a bad monicker, but it is not canonical.
Arthur Conan Doyle simply lifted the template from Poe’s stories, transforming Dupin into Sherlock Holmes, Dupin’s anonymous roomie into Dr. Watson, and “G” into—are you ready for this—Gregson. Much as one admires Doyle, I must say that Holmes’s dismissal of his illustrious predecessor and model in A Study in Scarlet is churlish and unworthy of the great sleuth and his great creator.
My own favorite team is Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, about whom much has been written. Rather than simply say that I enjoy Rex Stout’s tales, I have spent considerable time trying to fathom the appeal of the Wolfe-Goodwin team. Among other factors, they complement each other beautifully. Wolfe is fat, indolent, arrogant, and brilliant. Archie is trim, active, down-to-earth, and of relatively ordinary intellect.
Wolfe alone would have been grotesque and unappealing. Goodwin alone would have been acceptable but commonplace. Together they strike a perfect balance.
Through them, further, we are permitted to enter a fascinating and appealing domestic scene. The house on West 35th Street is more “real” than a lot of places that a lot of us have lived in, in this world.
I think the strangest sleuthing team I’ve come across is that of Shell Scott and Chester Drum in a novel called Double in Trouble, by Richard Prather and Stephen Marlowe. Prather and Marlowe were both immensely popular authors and they happened to have the same publisher (Fawcett Gold Medal). Each author was identified with a long-running, best-selling PI series. From a commercial viewpoint the pairing looked like a marriage made in heaven, but the characters wound up not liking each other very much and somehow they didn’t work together very well. The experiment was not repeated.
Of course there are the many husband-and-wife teams. Nick and Nora Charles, and Pam and Jerry North spring to mind as merely two of a multitude. Not nearly so well known are Joel and Garda Glass, whom I came across in the novel Fast Company (1938) by the pseudonymous Marco Page. A wonderful bibliomystery, by now a period piece, the book was very common at one time and is still worth tracking down.
In looking over my own works I see several detective teams. The pair I’ve written the most about are of course Hobart Lindsey and Marvia Plum. Once more, there is a deliberate study in contrasts. Lindsey is a white male suburban “semi-amateur” sleuth—an insurance investigator. Plum is a black female urban cop. It was inevitable that they would strike sparks, and they did. I’ve written five novels about this team, plus one more featuring each partner without the other. A final novel will bring them back together, and there’s a casebook of short stories about them in the works.
Not long ago I did a story about another amateur sleuth, Akhenaton Beelzebub (“Abel”) Chase, and his assistant, Claire Delacroix. They appeared first in Mike Ashley’s anthology of locked room mysteries and impossible crimes, and in my own recent collection, Claremont Tales. This is a period piece, set in Berkeley and San Francisco in 1931. Chase thinks he’s a genius but isn’t. Claire is the real brains of the team, as well as being breathtakingly beautiful and gloriously chic. I found it great fun to play Chase off against Delacroix, with the reader (I hope) looking on and cheering for Claire.
I’ve done a fair amount of parody and pastiche in my career, and recently committed homage to Wolfe and Goodwin with a story called “Cinquefoil,” featuring Caligula Foxx and Andy Winslow. “Cinquefoil” is slated to appear in a strictly limited edition, probably distributed free with Lindsey and Plum: A Casebook. My publisher, Offspring Press, had hoped to have both the casebook and “Cinquefoil” in print by the end of 2000, but ran into logistical problems. Small presses can be wonderful but they just don’t have the resources and organization of the giant cousins. I guess that’s why they’re called small presses. But one way or another, we’ll get those items into circulation.
Most recently I had a request from my friend Michael Kurland to contribute a story to a book he’s editing, My Sherlock Holmes. The idea is to write a Holmes story from the viewpoint of a “third party,” neither Holmes nor Watson. I chose C. Auguste Dupin. My story is “The Incident of the Impecunious Chevalier,” and reveals the true, early relationship between Dupin and Holmes. These two will never form a longterm alliance, but their one case was a doozy!
And I’ve got another “partial” in my computer, in which Abel Chase—really my version of Philo Vance—and Caligula Foxx collaborate on an investigation. Two gigantic egos, 3000 miles apart, striving to unravel the same mystery.
Both as reader and as writer, I can only offer the most heartfelt, “Thank you, Mr. Poe!”
My publisher calls my historical mysteries “The Catherine Levendeur series,” reflecting, I suppose, the belief that women buy most books and prefer to read about other women. I doubt that I can convince the marketing department that readers are more eclectic than that, but in my mind these are Catherine, Edgar, Solomon books. All three of them are needed equally to figure out both the mystery and the day-to-day problems that they encounter.
As I’m sure other articles in this issue of MRJ will attest, even today few people have all the qualifications to solve crime on their own. Reporters and policemen make good teams in fiction and every ivory-tower intellectual needs a rogue computer hacker or a nosy old lady to find the dirt on people. And, even in our enlightened and egalitarian society, there are still places where only one sex is allowed or encouraged to hang out.
Human being are for the most part, social creatures. We work better in teams even when we compete instead of cooperate. The Middle Ages believed this even more than we do. There are many warnings in sermons against being too much alone and only those who had achieved a reputation for maturity and holiness were encouraged to become hermits. The prevailing belief was that too much solitude bred pride, selfishness and companionship with the Devil. Kings were expected to take the advice of their counselors, bishops of their chapter and, believe it or not, husbands of their wives.
Being a relatively gregarious person, myself, I needed to have more than one person to work out the mysteries my characters come across. But also, as a historian, I know that the areas reserved for women or men only were much more strict during the twelfth century than now. So, I have Catherine, who can enter a cloister or the women’s rooms on the top floor of a keep and her husband, Edgar, who can hang about in a tavern all day and walk the streets at night without being propositioned, well, not much.
Even more, there were places that only Christians could enter without comment. Yet I’m very interested in the way that Jews coped with living in a society that proclaimed itself Christian. So Solomon came into existence.
Each of them brings a different point of view to the story. Catherine is French to her toes. She is logical, passionate and has a hard time dealing with foreign food. Edgar is one of the Scottish descendents of Anglo Saxons who fled Northumbria, not from the Normans, but from the Danes a hundred years before the Norman Conquest. He lives in France and fits in to some extent but he still sees the society as an outsider. This makes him more apt to question the actions of those around him and to be naturally suspicious of a culture he doesn’t quite feel at home in.
Solomon is a combination of both these characteristics. French is his first language, although he started learning others early as he traveled with his uncles on trade journeys. He passes quite easily in Christian society but has no intention of converting to it. He feels himself caught between the Jewish life of commandments and ritual, necessary for spiritual survival, and the convenience of being able to eat where and what he pleases. This was a time before the Jews were ordered to wear distinguishing clothing and also before guilds and other organizations were powerful enough to monopolize occupations and drive Jews out. In many ways this made it easier for Jews to fall away from the faith. Solomon is in danger of that and Catherine continually hopes that he will become a Christian.
And how do these three people solve mysteries? Sometimes by luck but also by working together, accepting the roles that the society placed on them and using these roles to investigate. They also bring their own personalities to each problem. Solomon is the most cynical, Catherine ever hopeful, and Edgar the one who often has to pick up the pieces for the other two. In this they could belong to any time or place. These are constant human traits. I enjoy bouncing ideas among them. It puts an extra spin on the possible outcome of every story.
I don’t think I could manage without at least three strong points of view in every book. And now I’ve become so fond of my trio that I don’t think I could do without them. When I wrote a book set in northern England, Cursed in the Blood, I had thought to leave Solomon behind as there were no Jewish settlements that far north in 1146. But he wouldn’t be left out and insisted that I find an excuse for him to join the party. Similarly, when I wanted to set a book in Germany, The Difficult Saint, Catherine had no intention of staying in Paris while Edgar and Solomon traded for wine in Trier. So once again I had to find a reasonable excuse for a woman with two small children to make such a trip.
This may not work forever. The most recent book, To Wear the White Cloak, is set entirely in Paris, a great deal of it in the house that Catherine and Edgar now own and where Solomon stays when he is in town. But the next book may force them to work more independently. It begins at the convent of the Paraclete, a place where men were not encouraged to loiter. But I doubt I can keep the three of them apart for long. They have found that three is the perfect number for disentangling the knotty problems that the author keeps setting them.
Who am I to argue?