Serendipity

Serendipity pic

– a short story by Michael K Freundt

Pollution saved my life. Air pollution gives us glorious sunsets but it was the watery kind that prolonged my life: as I breathed the water in – and that is what I knew I had to do – it was not easy, and it tasted vile so I spat it out again – Mah! – and immediately clambered out of the sewer-like river thinking of guns and poison. What a hideous mess! I should have chosen the pristine waters of a rural river, like Virginia Woolf, rather than the urban drain I had decided on. That primary stupid decision finally convinced me that perhaps I had not given the whole thing quite enough thought: I had reacted illogically to what had happened back at home. Now, however, my primary decision was about my ruined clothes – Look at me! Mah! – and how I was going to get to whatever destination I would soon have to choose. The fact still remained that if I was not going to kill myself I would have to face the fact that I had just killed my wife, but maybe, just maybe, it could be possible that the authorities will conclude that it was an accident; but probably not. I am not a very good liar. However, it is truly curious that the brain, in circumstances like this, prioritises decisions so effectively that once I was standing, dripping, and during the hours that followed, I was in no doubt what it was I should do next. If you have never witnessed a death, or attempted to cause your own, you may understand – but whether you believe me or not is of no concern to me, but as I stood on the dark river bank, in the overgrown grass strewn with more urban rubbish and vainly attempting to brush myself down, to regain a little of my lost dignity that complete saturation destroys, I was suddenly aware of what I must do: go home. It became incredibly important to me to get into clean, dry clothes, despite what such a decision may bring. 

What interested me as I finished writing the above paragraph was the tone. It was a line early in Dan Simmons’ The Fifth Element; you know, I’ve scanned those pages and still can’t find what sparked the thought train that led to the above; but it was the voice, the tone that got me writing. I love it when reading can do that, even if the book didn’t grab me – I didn’t finish it – sometimes a line, an image can get the juices flowing. My narrator, not yet named, sounds like a self-opinionated, stylish homosexual, arch, wilful, and from the Inner-Eastern suburbs of Sydney. Note the use of the word ‘vile’ in the first paragraph: very queer. I like the tone, but I need to be careful: he is straight – self-awareness and a rich vocabulary are not the sole domain of the homosexual – but giving him ‘gay’ and knowing characteristics creates a unique individualism. Let’s see how it goes.

I must have looked a sight as I walked up the few tiled steps to the verandah of my inner-suburban terraced house and the look on the police officer’s face confirmed it. My wife’s body had obviously been found. The night was cool and calm so very little evaporation had occurred and my feet still squelched in my shoes: they were my favourite pair and now completely ruined. Mah! The exertion of walking all the way from the river to my house had obviously kept me relatively warm but the longer I stood still, forced to do so while the police officer talked to someone on his phone, his superior I assumed – I had told the young man who I was – I could feel the cold creep over me like a sinister blanket. 

In a very short while a tall attractive uniformed woman came out of my well-lit house to confront me. I told her who I was. 

It’s important that he finds her attractive: it could be useful later. You see, I’m not sure where this is going but I hope you’re as interested as I am.

“I’m afraid sir,” she said in the usual formal dry tone, “that I have to inform you that your wife has been found … deceased.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. Did she first think of saying ‘murdered’?

Despite her experience in such matters she hesitated, but then said, “And how do you know that, sir?”

“Because I … found her.”

“And was it you who called triple zero?”

“Yes, it was.”

If my unusual appearance had not impinged on her before it did so now, probably brought about by the fact that I had started to shiver violently.

“And why sir do you seem to be completely saturated?”

Now that my primary decision to go home had been fulfilled a new primary decision had automatically taken its place: it was absolutely clear to me what I had to say.

“Because I tried to kill myself.”

“And why did you try to do that, sir?”

It may give you some insight into my personality when I tell you that my immediate feeling now was of annoyance that every one of her questions had begun with a conjunction.

“I thought you would think I did it.” I did do it but not the way you think.

I thought I should amend that line to “I did do it but not the way you may think”. The use of the second person – referring to the reader – in prose fiction, by the way, is rare now. It used to be common – the opening to Elliot Perelman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity – great title – is an unusual modern example that springs to mind – I must read that again one day; but I like using the second person. It adds a personal touch, a writer-reader sense of confidentiality. It’s the word ‘may’ that I am concerned about. I cannot be certain what a reader might think but it is this note of uncertainty I do not like. I am very aware of words like ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ or ‘could’ because they always weaken a phrase – except in dialogue, of course, where such words can be character-building – but ‘may’ sounds like one of them. No! I will leave it out.

I expected another, and obvious, conjunction-led question but my shivering had become so intense that she said, “I think you had better come inside and get out of those wet clothes.”

I was not allowed upstairs into our bedroom, now a crime scene or something – I wondered what they would find and what they would think it means –  and so a young underling was sent to get me a complete change of clothes. His choice was completely unsatisfactory – why would anyone match royal blue with that brown? 

That last phrase gives great insight into his character, don’t you think? I spent quite some time agonising over what colours to choose. Fashion today, to always embrace the new, has accepted anything with anything. I’m old enough to remember when paisley was in, and then when it was definitely out. Now I’ve seen paisley matched with floral. Mah! My narrator would only have block colours, I’m sure; maybe a stripe or check for summer; never floral, and never paisley. Brown and blue can at times go well together but his hatred of the match with that particular brown and that particular blue reinforces his opinionated sense of fashion. He so knows his own mind.

The young officer appeased his appalling fashion sense by bringing me a towel, but then my assessment of him plummeted again when he did not leave while I changed. I decided to ignore him. I undressed completely, towelled myself dry, resisted the urge to look up at him to see what he was looking at, and redressed as quickly as I could and refused to look in the living room mirror as I already knew I looked a fright.

Is the use of the word ‘fright’ too arch; too queer, do you think?

“Please take a seat, sir,” he said politely and when he did not leave the room I supposed he had been ordered not to leave me alone. I have always found it difficult not to talk to people when I find myself in close proximity to them but he was just standing there looking at nothing in particular so the urge to talk was weakened. I tried to attract his attention to the pile of wet clothes on the floor making it clear, I thought, that I expected him to do something about them: they were dampening the rug, but he paid no heed. I got up – he became alarmed a little at that – and removed them to a wooden chair. I resumed my seat on the couch and he relaxed. I remained as silent as he did.

It would be correct to use the word ‘him’ here: “… I remained as silent as him” – ‘he’ for the subject, ‘him’ for the object – but it sounds wrong, or, at least, clumsy; so, ‘as he did’ it is; to stop any reader with a fluffy grammar fixation getting annoyed. “Oh, thanks, Darling!” My partner, Tommy, just bought me a cup of coffee. He’s forgotten he’s brought me one already, poor man. It’s getting worse.

Eventually the pretty female officer entered without an iPad but with a note book and pen. How old fashioned! I needed to stay calm, but not too calm. She looked good in a uniform.

“Can I have your full name please? she said.

“Patrick Osman,” I said.

I chose a ‘foreign’ name and you will soon see why: a particular beef of mine.


“Turkish?”

“Australian”

“I beg your pardon.”

“It’s Australian,” I said more pointedly.

“Sounds foreign.”

“It is.”

She looked at me quizzically like I was a cheeky schoolboy with a bad record.

“All white Australians come from somewhere else,” I said. “Even you.”

“I was born here.”

“So was I.”

“And your point is?” she said as neutrally as she could, which was not very.

“An authentic Australian surname would be something like Yunupingu, Gulpilil, Noonuccal,” I said, pedant that I am.

“I see,” she said with exasperation but also, eventually, understanding: annoyed understanding. She took a breath with intent as if to challenge me further with, I expected, European names for indigenous people, but she obviously thought better of it. ‘Smartarse!’ she probably thought instead. 

“Mr. Osman, tell me what happened tonight.”

“My wife has – had – symptoms of early-stage dementia, one of which was a faulty sense of balance. She had just showered, then fell, and hit her head on the corner of the glass coffee table and died instantly.”

The attractive police officer was obviously flummoxed by the brief and precise description. She stared at me without writing anything down.

You see, I know where this is going now. Creative moments like this often cause younger, brasher writers to cry, “Oh, the writing process went so well; it wrote itself, actually.” No, it didn’t, darling, you did! Just like I am; but sometimes creative momentum can take over and you have to know when to let it, or reign it in. So, do you know where this is going? I hope not. Not yet.

“Could you please elaborate?” she asked.

“You’ve been in the bedroom. The sofa in the bay window, the coffee table, the wet feet, the wet floor, the body, the blood; doesn’t it look like that’s what happened?”

“Or made to look like that’s what happened.”

I chuckled. I could not help it. “I see. You think I picked up that large, extremely heavy and cluttered coffee table, hit her with it and then made it look like she fell on it?”

“Mr. Osman, your flippant tone isn’t helping you.”

“Do I need helping?”

“Without credibility, yes.”

I was disciplined enough to understand what she meant and so remained silent. It was then that she started to write something down. I waited.

“You said before that you were afraid that we might think you had done it.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I am on the public record, a television interview two weeks ago, as a supporter of euthanasia.”

“What was the name of the program, date, and time?” I told her. She wrote that down. Eventually she added, “So how would you describe what happened tonight?”

Serendipitous.” 

“I beg your pardon.”

I resisted a comment reflecting her possible ignorance of the word and forced myself to assume she was surprised by my supposed flippancy. “She died unexpectedly, accidentally, quickly, as opposed to gradually, sinking into confusion, a withering brain, organ dysfunction, pain, senility, a coma, then death. She loathed that scenario. Who wouldn’t?”

“Did your wife share your views on euthanasia?”

“Of course.”

“Did she also take part in that television interview?”

“No.” She wrote that down too.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you into custody based on what you have told me.”

I’m resisting here to get bogged down in police procedural matters. My knowledge of the medical aspects of this story I have acquired from personal experience. However, when it comes to research for the sake of pedantic accuracy I find it unnecessary as it is safe to assume most readers are familiar with television police dramas from a wide spectrum of sub-genres, and possible procedures; and readers are willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story – up to a point, of course. Absolute reality is not necessary if procedural information decided on by the writer for the purposes of the story falls within the realm of possibility; besides, what is important here is the dialogue between these two characters and the development of plot and intrigue. I am talking here about what is more important: I don’t need to study aerodynamics to jump a puddle.

“You’re arresting me?”

“No, but you’re the only witness.”

“Are you going to charge me?”

“We’d like you to assist us with our enquiries.”

Oh, look! Tommy is sitting in my reading chair reading McEwan’s Amsterdam. He will not remember a thing he has read, of course. He’s read it before, when he was well. Maybe it is muscle memory at play. He used to read for hours every day. I don’t even think reading is possible for him anymore. If I had time I would watch to see if he turns the page. His balance is getting worse, too. And that is not all. However, the idea of making it look like he is doing something normal, requiring working brain function, is proof that something is still operational in that brain of his. Meanwhile I am worrying about continuing this interrogation here or back at the station. The stakes would be higher at the police station. OK. And there needs to be a developing expert who has been rabbiting around the scene, collecting information while Patrick has been questioned by the cute officer.

As I was led out of my house a dozen or so people, all clad in white plastic looking like workers in a nuclear power plant, passed me and invaded my house like ants. And yes, the police officer, the same one who saw me naked, did place his hand on my head, pushing it lower, protecting it from damage, as he directed me into the back seat of the police car. The ride to the station was uneventful: no one spoke. I was later led politely into an interview room and offered a cup of coffee. I asked for tea, English Breakfast, and the young man stared at me for a moment, either in ignorance or distain, but then went away to get it, maybe not English Breakfast, but he went away. I sat and waited. There wasn’t a vast mirror on the wall; you know, a two-way mirror for investigators to sit behind and watch proceedings, making clever but snide remarks, but there was a CCTV camera in the corner of the ceiling. At least some modernisation is occurring in our police force. And, lo and behold, a little red light went on as I was watching it. A few moments later she arrived.

She turned on the recording device on the table between us, stated the date and time, my name, and her name, “Detective Constable Lena Marinos.” She asked me the same questions she asked me at my house and I gave the same answers, minus some of my attitude: I thought it only fitting. I was curious what line of questioning she would take but she did not continue. Instead another person entered the room.   

He was a large man in a cheap suit. He had pages in his hand. Paper. This station is so behind the times. 

“Joined now by Chief Inspector Mullen,” said Detective Constable Lena Marinos for the sake of the recording but who did not see fit to introduce him to me.

“Mr. Osman,” said the new arrival referring to his bits of paper, “you said your wife had just showered and had walked into the bedroom drying herself presumably.” He spoke like a rugby player, all mumble, few consonants,

I won’t bore you with writing his dialogue phonetically; you get the idea.

“but the floor and her feet were dry.”

“Shouldn’t a lawyer be sitting quietly next to me?” I asked in the politest tone I could muster.

“We haven’t charged you with anything,” said Marinos. “You’re just …”

“Yes, I know,” I interrupted, “just helping you with your enquiries. It probably evaporated.”

“What?” said Mullen.

“The water,” I said helpfully. “It probably evaporated.”

“What work did your wife do?” he asked, ignoring my comment.

“We run a business together: an employment service specialising in relief staff for the medical industry.”

“Did she understand medical …” he waved his hands as he sought for the word, I expected him to say ‘stuff’, “… procedures?”

“She was a trained nurse with many years’ first-hand experience,” I said.

“Was she up with, ya know, trauma cases?”

“Most of her career was in the emergency department.”

“So she knew about trauma injuries.”

“That’s what usually happens in an emergency department; yes.”

“Did you see her fall?”

“No. I was about to sit but looking for a space on the cluttered coffee table to put my gin and tonic; she was walking from the en-suite drying herself.”

“She was naked?”

“She was drying herself with a towel, so, yes and no.”

“And talking at the same time.”

“Yes. She could do that.” I instantly regretted that line. Marinos looked at her hands.

“What was she saying?” Mullen asked.

I did not hesitate. I thought little about what I should say, but I was aware that an instant reply was necessary, otherwise they may think I was working something out; weighing my options for a better answer. “Her condition was constantly on her mind, what to do about it, be in control of it, avoiding the medical and legal outcomes. I don’t remember exactly what she said but she always spoke about that, ever since she was diagnosed.”

I want you to believe him. Do you?

“I think I was thinking about all the coffee table clutter: where did it come from, what could be tossed. I don’t remember exactly.”

“Are you aware that aiding and abetting a suicide is a criminal offence?”

I chucked incredulously, “Yes.” I could sense a goal he was steering the questions towards. A goal he so desperately wanted.

“Do you remember when you realised something was wrong?”

“I hadn’t sat yet, or had I?” I thought about it. What did I remember? Oh, yes. “No, I hadn’t sat down yet. I heard a sound. A surprised sound. Like an ‘oops’ but it was soft, sharp but soft. Not alarming until I looked up.” I sighed deeply, closed my eyes, and flopped my head back.

“What did you see?”

I was trying to recollect the sequence of events, their order, their connections. Did I remember the sequence or did my brain fill in the gaps with invented logic? “It was just before she hit the floor.”

“The floor or the coffee table?”

I could feel their logic. “The floor. She was in the air, facing up.” I could see her as if caught in a photograph, suspended in the air. “Her backside hit the floor first, and then her head was thrown back sharply, whipped against the corner of the coffee table. The sound was like a bottle breaking on concrete.”

I worried about the words ‘arse’ or ‘backside’. He’s a man who would say ‘arse’, never ‘bum’; but given the circumstances, would he choose ‘backside’ as more polite when referring to his now dead wife? Backside, I think. Oh, dear! Here comes Tommy with another cup of coffee. Oh, now he’s staring at the used, empty cup on my desk. If only I could know what he is thinking at times like this. Now he has turned back to the kitchen with the fresh cup, confused no doubt. Poor man. Mah! Poor me!

“How did she come to rest?” asked Marinos. “On her front or on her back?”

“On her back,” I said. Yes, I can see her lying on her back.

“Where was the towel?” asked Mullen

“I don’t know.”

“Was she wearing it?” Marinos asked.

“Yes. No! I put it over her after I called triple O.”

“Mr. Osman,” said Mullen in a winning tone, “your wife was found lying on her stomach with her towel wrapped around her and tucked in above her breasts, like women do.” 

“But the wound was to the back of her head,” I said aware of the flutter in my voice.

“Yes. So, you moved her?”

“I remember closing her eyes.” Did I?

“Mr. Osman, I put it to you that you colluded with your wife to end her life. She knew exactly where a blow would have an instantaneous effect. She talked to you about this. You planned how it should look. The shower, the water on the floor, the cluttered coffee table, everything. An accident. She needed you to aim her head at the exact spot. That’s why you remember her eyes. You were holding her head aiming at the correct spot and with great force you jabbed her head onto the corner of the coffee table and achieved your shared goal. Putting her out of her misery. A noble deed, Mr. Osman, but an illegal one.”

“So you believe me,” I said quietly. “You said there was no water, so you believe me about the water. Hah? You believe me! You just ……” I could not help myself. “Chief Inspector Mullen!” I wanted to say ‘Mullet’! I shouted vehemently. “Do you understand how ludicrous that sounds? That is the most ridiculous story I have ever heard and that any courtroom has ever heard, or may still hear, no doubt. Why didn’t she just put a bullet in her head? Why didn’t she just jump off the roof? Why didn’t she take a handful of pills and slit her wrists in a hot bath like any sensible person? Why go to all this ridiculous trouble?”

“Because she loved you Mr. Osman,” said Marinos sweetly. “And you loved her. She wanted you to be her last image. There you were face to face. A kiss perhaps? Your face was the last thing she saw: you, then nothing. Her face was the last thing you saw: her, then she was gone. Over. Finished. Saved.” 

I stared at her feeling moisture in my eyes and then said to stop it, “You’ve been watching too much Swedish crime drama.”

I never did get my cup of tea.

There was a trial. A short trial. The police’s story sounded just as ludicrous in the courtroom as it did in the station. I was acquitted. There was such a lot of truth and fiction thrown around in that courtroom; so mixed up, no-one was ever sure which was which. One thing I do know though; I’m not such a bad liar after all.

Oh, Tommy! What – are – we – going – to – do – with – you?

-oOo-

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

JavierMarias2
Javier Marías, Spanish writer, whose work has been translated into 42 languages. He is, like me, 67.

A woman sits at her regular table in a café and has noticed for many mornings a couple at their regular table. She has become fascinated by them; her day isn’t complete, or even ruined, if, because of work or some other reason, she has to miss her morning coffee and doesn’t get her daily dose of them. The husband is suddenly and brutally killed, murdered unnecessarily, possibly even mistakenly, and the woman goes up to the wife and offers her condolences and is invited into the life of the widow.

I’m not given anything away by telling you that: this all happens just before the novel begins.

This is the starting point, the seed, that allows Marías to write many conversations, some even imaginary; to explore the subject of death, or more specifically, the effects of death on those who remain.

Now, don’t get scared but I’m going to use a word that scares most readers: philosophical. It’s like a philosophical exploration of the effects of death on people, but the use of dialogue between characters, instead of long passages of prose, makes the ideas, the philosophy, so accessible. We’ve all thought about it (Haven’t you?). In conversations, as short sometimes as Marías’s, I’ve often used the sentence, ‘We cease to exist after we die in exactly the same way as we don’t exist before we are born’. This is the very subject of one of the conversations in the novel and one of the reasons I found the book so interesting, particularly because one of the characters refutes that statement. Another reason is that the writer is a man but the first person narrator is a woman. This is unusual. If the protagonist and author are of different genders the author usually chooses to use the third person.

(But there is also mystery. I started writing this blog when I was a third of the way through – I often start my blog well before I’ve finished the book, even finishing the blog-writing before I finish the novel-reading – when I had a sneaking suspicion that the circumstances surrounding the murder may not be true. I haven’t worked out how Marías triggered this thought, if it’s a red herring, or novelistic supposition. I shall see.)

Curiously, and comically, Marías gives the protagonist, the lonely woman in the cafe, Maria Dolz, a job at a publishing house. She has a very low opinion of writers; they continuously annoy, frustrate, and make unwanted demands on her. She is a passive woman, and knows it, but seems to enjoy subverting her writer’s wishes and gaining the upper hand if only to prove to herself that she isn’t as passive as she believes herself to be.

And now that she has been introduced into the life of the sudden widow, Luisa Desverne, and met her friends, she falls hopelessly in love with one of them, Javier Diaz-Varela, the one that she imagines would’ve been chosen by the murdered husband to console, care for, and eventually marry his wife had he had forewarning of his own demise; believing that Diaz-Varela is indeed biding his time with her, toying with her, waiting for Luisa to notice and accept him. Maria has a vivid and self-deprecating imagination.

‘If anything bad were to happen to me and I was no longer here,’ Desverne might have said one day, ‘I’m counting on you to take care of Luisa and the kids.’

‘What do you mean? What are you talking about? Why do you say that? You’re not ill are you?’ Diaz-Varela would have replied, anxious and taken aback.

(Ah, yes, a mystery!)

Marías is continually praised for his sentences, and his sentences are indeed dense, elegant, and rewarding; even very long, but don’t be fooled by a page long sentence; it’s usually a page of many sentences but only one full stop.

When someone is in love, or, more precisely, when a woman is in love and in the early stages of an affair, when it still has all the allure of the new and surprising, she is usually capable of taking an interest in anything that the object of her love is interested in or speaks about. She’s not just pretending as a way of pleasing him or winning him over or establishing a fragile stronghold, although there is an element of that, she really does pay attention and allow herself to be generally caught up in what he feels and transmits, be in enthusiasm, aversion, sympathy, fear, anxiety, or even obsession.

The book slowly takes on the form of a murder novel, but not one that could easily be turned into a movie as it all happens in the mind of Maria. She imagines a lot of things, conversations, desires, intentions, but does she imagine everything?

(I’m two thirds of the way through now … )

There is certainly a taste of fear for Maria’s well being, and a growing sense of excitement that borders on compulsive page-turning. I found myself reading the first paragraph of a new (short, un-numbered, un-titled) chapter to get the sense of the continuing story, but then find myself at the next chapter. There is also a recurring image of the dead returning which is always accompanied with a feeling of dread, even though the deceased has been greatly mourned.

… surely not!

You can buy the paperback, ebook, audio book, and/or read a free sample here.

Listen to Marías reading from one of his novels and talking about writing here.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Trent Dalton pic
Australian journalist turned novelist, Trent Dalton

This is a rollicking good read. Entertaining, insightful, rich in characters, with a heavy dose of autobiography, and only marred a little by the ending; more about that later.

Eli Bell is 12 years old and the younger son of dysfunctional but estranged parents, Frances and Robert, and they all bump along day to day on the outer hazardous rings of petty criminality in Brisbane in the 1980s. Rugby, television, drugs, poverty, junk food, cigarettes, XXXX beer, and a surprising amount of love for each other get them through every day. Well, almost. Eli’s ‘family’ is extended to include his mum’s boyfriend, Lyle, the first man he ever loved – it takes him time to feel that for his dad; Slim Halliday, his babysitter, mentor, and possible murderer, but certainly notorious escapee from Boggo Road Goal; and his older brother, August, who has decided not to talk since he and Eli were possible victims of attempted filicide. He communicates only with Eli who has learnt to decipher his brother’s air writing. They are inseparable.

The story is told in the first person and Eli’s colourful language, obvious intelligence, unwavering loyalty, and passion for words make him an unforgettable character. There’s a love story, or love fantasy, woven into the second half that is centred on a Courier-Mail crime reporter, Caitlyn Spies, eight years his senior. Eli hankers after, not only her lips and other parts of her body, but also a job like hers: he aches to be a crime-busting journalist. But does he make it? No spoilers here.

There is a lot of back-story to get through before the narrative really starts, so the opening is a bit slow but once Dalton gets in his stride you are grateful for the time taken; he also weaves in a flavour of surrealism that doesn’t quite work, for this reader, but it’s easy to go along with it and to allow yourself to be ‘taken for the ride.’

And what a ride!

It has all the flavour and action of a television crime story right down to the satisfying climax and the just-desserts handed out to the bad-guys.  But there is a climactic tag, a chase sequence that is contrived, too long, and unnecessary. It’s like this sequence has been lifted from another genre and medium; it sits uncomfortably, and ‘tacked-on’, at the end of such a well-written story. But this is a minor criticism.

Yes, it would be perfect for a television, and an adaptation is in the pipeline, produced by Joel Edgerton, but, surprisingly, it is the theatre that has snaffled the goods first. The stage version is scheduled for the 2020 season of the Queensland Theatre Company for the Brisbane Festival in September of that year. Sam Strong, QTC’s artistic director will direct the adaptation written by Tim McGarry.

You can watch a promotional video here, where Dalton gives away a few secrets of inspiration for this, his debut novel with the books that helped him write it.

You can buy the ebook, and other formats, here.

3 Minor Crime Writers of the 20th Century.

Arthur Gask pic
British born, Australian crime writer, Arthur Gask

Arthur Cecil Gask (1869 – 1951)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/

Arthur Gask was a British dentist and agnostic. He divorced his wife in 1909 and later that year, married his children’s nanny, and emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia in 1920 with his two children from his second wife, and one from his first. There’s a story there. He practiced on North Terrace and was one of the first to use gas on his patients. While waiting for them to arrive he started writing stories and paid for his first novel, The  Secret of the Sandhills (1921) to be published. It was an instant success.

Thirty of his thirty four novels feature the detective Gilbert Larose. From his first success he, on average, published a book a year until his death; the last one, Crime Upon Crime, came out in 1952, the year after he died. His works were successful in the UK and Europe and many were serialised in newspapers, including the Adelaide Advertiser.

He was  greatly admired by Bertrand Russell and H. G. Wells, who thought The Vengeance of Larose (1939) as his “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.”

All the clues and information are expressed throughout the story in the time-line of when they happen; none of this denouement in a drawing-room when the hero explains everything – Agatha Christie-like – to an assembled crowd every one of which could be the murderer. There is a murder plot, drug smuggling, stolen submarine-plans, corrupt diplomats, fiendish villains, and, of course, an exemplary, multitalented, detective, a master of languages, disguises, and deduction. There are few women either mistresses or wives, and all the men are either a knights, aristocrats, or have a house in the country. The style is full of coincidences and some quite unbelievable: in order to hatch a plan with his Japanese co-accused the undercover detective says – within ear-shot of their captors, “You understand Italian? Ah, I thought you would.”

If you have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night with an overactive brain and find it hard to get back to sleep, these novels are the perfect solution.

anna-katharine-green-pic
American poet an novelist, Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green (1846 – 1935)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/

Anna Katharine Green  was an American poet and novelist. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. Born in Brooklyn, New York, her early ambition was to write romantic verse, but she was unsuccessful. She is credited with shaping detective fiction into its classic form, and developing the series detective. Her main character was detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, but in three novels he is assisted by the nosy society spinster Amelia Butterworth, the prototype for Miss Marple and other creations. She also invented the ‘girl detective’: in the character of Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth.

I am not an inquisitive woman, but when, in the middle of a certain warm night in September, I heard a carriage draw up at the adjoining house and stop, I could not resist the temptation of leaving my bed and taking a peep through the curtains of my window.

So begins Green’s first Amelia Butterworth mystery, That Affair Next Door (1897), and because of the narrator’s insistence on her incuriousness you know immediately what kind of woman she is.

This work is a delight. An intriguing story and a delicious character. Another perfect read for that long holiday flight.

G.K. Chesterton pic
G. K. Chesterton, English writer.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterton/gk/

English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic. But the most successful association of fiction with social judgment is in Chesterton’s series on the priest-sleuth Father BrownThe Innocence of Father Brown (1911), followed by The Wisdom… (1914), The Incredulity… (1926), The Secret… (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935). In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly. Chesterton was equally at ease with literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology.

Father Brown is introduced to crime fiction in a short story called the The Blue Cross, which became the leading story in the first Father Brown collection:The Innocence of Father Brown (1911). The main character in this story, and the second, The Secret Garden, is a French instinctive detective, Aristide Valentin, head of the Paris Police, possibly the inspiration for Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who first appeared in 1920. The master villian, M. Hercule Flambeau, similar to Sherlock Holmes nemesis, James Moriarty, is also introduced and appears in 48 Father Brown Stories. Father Brown is a minor character in both these stories but takes the main role in the third and subsequent works because … because … well, I won’t tell you why in case you read it; no spoilers here.

The crime is usually seemingly unsolvable: a corpse with a severed head found in a walled, inaccessible garden while the dinner guests mingle and smoke cigars. The victim is a stranger. How did it get there? Who is he? How was his head severed so neatly? How did the murderer get into and out of the garden. The solution rests on a single piece of information the reader isn’t initially told but one that mild-mannered Father Brown deduces.

Fun and good, if flowery writing – typical of the period, and curious as these stories contain many elements of crime fiction that we now take for granted.

All the works of these three writers can be obtained for free from ebooks.adelaide.edu.au

This archive contains a dizzying collection of a wide variety of genres, styles, and writers, all of which are now in the public domain. I highly recommend this addition to your library.