Sunday, April 24, 2011


One of the things that makes both real and fictional sleuthing difficult is that it is often a thankless task. Murder victims can’t, of course, thank the sleuth for finding out who killed them. And rarely do killers thank the sleuth. Even innocent people who’ve been cleared or saved by a fictional sleuth don’t always thank that sleuth. For example, in Lindy Cameron’s Redback, Bryn Gideon is the leader of a crack team of retrieval specialists whose stock in trade, so to speak, is rescuing people from dangerous situations. Gideon’s team, known as Redback, is called into action when a group of attendees at a conference is taken hostage by rebels on the Pacific island of Laui. Redback frees the hostages, and soon gets caught up in international drama when a series of brutal murders and terrorist attacks begins to occur. The events are all related to the use of a video war game as a terrorist recruitment effort, and Team Redback plays a crucial role in the solution of the mystery and the foiling of an international plot. And yet, the team gets no public thanks and not much private accolade. That’s not why they do what they do.

Australian Federal Police officer Bradman “Brad” Chen doesn’t do what he does for the thanks or accolade, either. In Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, Chen and his team find out who killed former Minister Alec Dennet and his editor Lorraine Starke. The two were brutally murdered during a stay at Uriarra, a writer’s retreat near Canberra. At first, the murder seems related to the memoirs that Dennet was finishing. Those memoirs were said to reveal quite a few secrets that could embarrass some important people, so it makes sense that someone would kill to prevent their publication. Chen and his team face off against political “stonewalling,” two groups of thugs and Chen’s personal demons as they work to solve the mystery. It turns out that Dennet and Starke were killed for another reason, but when Chen and his team solve the crime, they aren’t really smothered in thanks or praise, not even by people whose lives they’ve saved.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest isn’t thanked, either, when she finds out who killed Albert “Doc” Ozolins in Gunshot Road. In fact, she gets into a great deal of trouble as she goes against specific orders not to involve herself in Ozolins’ murder. And yet, although the evidence points to John “Wireless” Petherbridge as the killer, Tempest doesn’t believe he’s guilty. So she risks her life and in fact, is brutally attacked as she searches for the truth. She finds out that Ozolins’ murder had to do with a discovery he had made that was damaging to some powerful people. Tempest identifies the murderer and is able to get Ozolins’ discovery publicised, although it’s at great personal cost.

And then there’s Roberta Grey, whom we meet in Ngaio Marsh’s A Surfeit of Lampreys (AKA Death of a Peer). She’s a young New Zealander who meets the eccentric but charming Lamprey family while they are visiting New Zealand. When Grey is orphaned, she travels to England where she’s warmly welcomed by the Lamprey family. She becomes quite fond of the family so she is shaken when the family gets embroiled in murder. Lord Charles Lamprey’s older brother Gabriel “Uncle G” is murdered shortly after refusing to come to the Lampreys’ financial rescue. Uncle G is tired of the Lampreys’ fiscal irresponsibility and has decided not to help them. Sir Roderick Alleyn investigates the case and finds more than one suspect. Roberta Grey is loyal to the family and works hard to protect them from suspicion and in the end we find that her loyalty pays off.

Vanda Symon’s sleuth DC Sam Shepherd doesn’t always get a lot of accolades either for what she does. In Containment, for instance, she tries to intervene when a ship runs aground near Dunedin and spills containers everywhere. Looters begin to pillage the ship’s cargo and when Shepherd tries to settle a fight between two looters, she’s attacked herself. That doesn’t stop her from saving her attacker’s life, though, when he almost dies on the way to the hospital. And in Overkill, Sam solves the murder of Gabriella Knowes, whose body is found on the on the banks of the Maturana River. At first, it looks as though Gabriella has committed suicide. However, the suicide note she’s supposed to have written turns out to be forged, and it’s not long before it is clear that she was murdered. Shepherd begins an investigation only to be suspended when it’s discovered that she herself had a live-in relationship with Gabriella’s husband. Sam doesn’t give up, though, and doesn’t let her personal difficulties get in the way of doing what she has to do. In the end, she discovers the truth about Gabriella Knowes’ murder. It turns out that Knowes was a journalist who’d uncovered a very damaging secret and was killed to keep her quiet. Instead of being thanked for finding Knowes’ killer and discovering the truth Knowes had found out, Sam Shepherd is expected to keep things quiet. But getting thanked isn’t why Sam does what she does.

Shepherd and Grey, Tempest, Chen and Gideon are like a lot of other fine sleuths. They do what they do because it’s the right thing to do. They do what they do because the job needs to be done. They risk their lives doing the job, too, even though they aren’t often thanked for what they do.

So why am I going on about being thanked? These sleuths I've mentioned are a lot like another group of people: the heroic members of the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) forces who risked and lost their lives in two world wars. Without great fanfare, without a lot of laurels, these brave men and women fought and died for people like me whom they never met. Today, the proud members of both countries’ military forces still risk their lives (and sometimes lose them) for people they will never meet.

Today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) is ANZAC Day, a day of remembrance and thanks for those members of the ANZAC forces who gave (and give) their lives for others. They didn’t grab glory, they didn’t always make headlines, and they didn’t do what they did for the thanks. They did what they did because it was the right thing to do. They do the same thing today. And because of what they did and do, I am able to do what I do. They deserve far more than thanks, but that’s really all I can give. So today…..

Thank you, ANZAC forces.

Kia ora, ANZAC.


  1. Now you have reminded me of a most ungrateful character. It must be from Dorothy Sayers´ Unnatural Death where an irritated doctor arouses Lord Peter Wimsey´s curiosity. And what happens when Wimsey has solved the case...?

  2. Dorte - Oh, you are right! Wimsey is hardly thanked for solving Miss Dawson's murder. In a way, Dr. Carr's reaction to the solution is, I suppose, human and it is, in its way, humourous. But no, he is absolutely not grateful!

  3. That was one of the hooks that grabbed me on the recently-cancelled TV series "Cold Case" (CBS, 2003 - 2010). In the final scene, usually, there would be a moment when Senior Det. Lilly Rush would seem to get a momentary glimpse of the spectral image of the victim, as though they were silently acknowledging their gratitude before "crossing over." At times there would be the additional thanks in some form or another by the family or loved ones of the victim. It grew to be a shot I found myself unexpectedly found myself looking forward to, wondering how they would incorporate it into the final scene.

  4. Circuitmouse - Oh, you're talking about one of my favourite TV series! I really wish they hadn't cancelled it. And yes, either Lily Rush or one of her colleagues would get a glimpse of the victim in the case they were investigating. That victim would seem to be thanking them and I always liked that a lot, too. Sometimes the creators of the show were really clever about the way it happened, too. I miss that show...

  5. Sleuthing is a thankless job, isn't it? Usually there's resentment toward the sleuth from all quarters!

    Good of you to recognize the work of the ANZAC forces. :)

  6. Elizabeth - That's just it! There is often a lot of resentment towards the sleuth, even if the killer is a nasty person. And even when there's not, lots of people don't take the time to say, "thanks." Good thing a lot of sleuths love what they do :-).

  7. Usually at least the names are familiar but this group is new to me.

  8. Patti - I know what you mean; I'm always coming across new-to-me authors, too :-).

  9. I'd never thought about how sleuths don't get thanked; but they don't very often, do they? I suppose because one doesn't often thank someone who just turned your life upside down or revealed your deepest secrets to strangers.

    I join you in your thanks to ANZAC. I shudder to think what our world would look like if they hadn't done what they did.

  10. Elspeth - You know, I hadn't thought about it much, either, but sleuths really don't often get thanked. It does make sense, though, if you think about the effect that sleuths have. They do turn people's lives upside down, and they are sometimes responsible for imprisoning someone - someone somebody loved. So yeah, sleuthing can be thankless....

    And shudder is exactly the right word to describe what our world would be like without ANZAC.

  11. I agree with Elspeth, I had never thought about how sleuth's aren't thanked. It's terrible that the killer usually gets more attention than the sleuth. It makes me think of serial killers like Bundy and others. I hate to admit, I don't know the names of the officers who captured them, but I know their names.

    Thanks also for pointing out the wonderful things the ANZAC does.

    Thoughts in Progress

  12. Mason - You know, you really do make a well-taken point. We know the names of famous killers such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy and others. But we don't know without looking who the people are who captured them. Sleuths really don't get thanked very much, even when the people they capture are very nasty types...

    And I can't think of enough superlatives to thank ANZAC - I did what I could...