What happened to Madeleine McCann?

Four years ago, in May 2007, a little girl vanished from her family´s holiday apartment at the Algarve, Portugal. The case has been much publicized, so most people will be familiar with the basics.

Madeleine, almost four, had been left in the apartment sleeping, along with her two younger siblings, while the parents had dinner with their friends at the holiday complex´ restaurant a stone´s throw away. Occasional checks on the children showed everything was alright. Then, suddenly, Kate McCann came back from the apartment screaming that Maddie was gone – “they´ve taken her”.

While the parents insist to this day that their daughter has been abducted by a stranger, there is a lot about this theory and the case itself that doesn´t add up.

After the Portuguese police closed the case in 2008, their files have been made public and can be seen, along with many other documents about the case, at: http://www.mccannfiles.com/

As the case has recently announced to be up for a review by Scotland Yard, I would like to point everyone interested to this bilingual blog:  http://unterdenteppichgekehrt.blogspot.com/  which points out a lot of what doesn´t add up about this case and puts together a convincing theory of what might really have happened and why the McCanns do not want the world to know.

Until Maddie is found, alive or dead, we will probably never know which theory is right.

Personally, I tend to consider Johanna´s theory rather likely, because the more I read about this case the more I notice parallels between the McCann´s actions and those of the Ramseys. 

The unsolved death of little JonBenet Ramsey actually warrants a post of its own, but to give you a short rundown:  John and Patsy Ramsey got up on Christmas morning, 1996, to find a very peculiar ransom note claiming their 6-year-old daughter had been taken.  They alarmed the police and soon after, the little girl was found dead in the basement of the house. The autopsy revealed previous sexual abuse of JonBenet, who had frequently participated at beauty pageants.  In most true crime forums I´ve looked at, the two main theories about her death are shortened to “IDI” (intruder did it) or “RDI” (Ramseys did it). My personal impression is that the latter is the case: JonBenet died in a domestic accident, which was subsequently covered up.

Some notable parallels between both cases:

– The parents insist that a stranger caused the death/disappearance of their child.

– The parents lawyer up quickly and refuse to answer questions by the police.

– The parents change their story about what happened before the disappearance was noticed.

– The parents make extensive use of the media to spread their theory of what happened.

– The parents take legal action against some of those that propagate other theories.

– The parents initiate a foundation to fund the search for the missing child/the killer and protect children from predators. Said foundation is not very active.

– The parents write a book in which they present their version of what happened.

– The parents are wealthy and well-connected; when they are suspected by the police of having been involved in what happened, protection seems to come into play.

– In both cases, the theory has been brought up that a pedophile network might have been behind it. Whether  a pedophile network was active in Boulder, Colorado and/or Praia de Luz at the time or not, it seems the police decidedly not wanted to go in that direction with their inquiries, not because it is actually unlikely in either case but rather because “someone” did not want them to; possibly because they might have dug up things unrelated with the case in question but still very nasty.

– In both cases, there is plenty of evidence that supports the theory that the little girl died in an accident with her parents being involved and then covering up what happened for fear of losing custody of their other children as well as social status.  In both cases there is plenty of evidence that supports the theory that there was no  “intruder” and the abduction scenario was merely set up. The parents actively try to write off/discredit  this evidence.

– In interviews, the parents/family displays some “understanding”, even “forgiveness” for the person responsible for what happened to their child.

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Sharyn McCrumb: fandom mysteries

While most of the crime novels set from the 1980s onward can easily be classed as “approximately present”, and it doesn´t really make much of a difference whether the year is 1983, 1993 or 2003, I had a bit of a hard time ticking this category box for Sharyn McCrumb´s two Jay Omega mysteries, set in the science fiction and fantasy fandom of the 1980s. So much has changed in this particular scene since then, they almost seem to belong to the historical mysteries rather to the contemporaries now.

At the same time, that is one part of what makes these mysteries such a fascinating read. They are a bit like a time capsule, a glimpse into fandom twenty-five years ago; the time of mimeographed fanzines, fans writing to each other by snail mail, the very early stages of computer games and internet. Things that have changed and things that have stayed the same.

Bimbos of the Death Sun (1988)

This book introduces James Owens Mega, an electrical engineering teacher at Virginia Tech and, under the pseudonym of “Jay Omega”, author of the little-known sci fi novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun”. As Jay, he is invited to be one of the guests of honor of a local science fiction convention – not only his first event of the kind, but also his first contact with the world of sci fi and fantasy fandom. Fortunately, his girl friend Marion, professor of Eng. Lit., used to be an active fan herself and can help him find his way around a little so the culture shock is not too severe.

The first part of the novel accompanies Jay and Marion having a look around the convention, getting to know a few people – organizers, convention staff, big name fans and other guests, among Appin Dungannon, an author of fantasy novels and as famous as unpleasant. When Dungannon is found dead in his hotel room, pretty much every convention attendee had a motive. It is up to Jay and Marion to work out who had the means and opportunity and lure the killer into a trap.

The  book won the 1988 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Original Paperback Mystery. It is a delightful read. It is rumored that Appin Dungannon was based on Harlan Ellison – who was also the model for Isaac Asimov´s Darius Just in “Murder at the APA” – and has a reputation for being, let´s say, a difficult character.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_Ellison

Zombies of the Gene Pool (1993)

When Marion accidentally bumps intoErik,  a colleague at the English Department and they mix up books, she discovers that said colleague is (under a pseudonym) in fact the author of a well-known science fiction novel, whose identity has been a puzzle for science fiction fans for decades. 

30 years ago, Erik used to be a member of a group called the Lanthanides – a group of big name fans, some fledgling authors, some fanzine publishers – who were famous for living together on a farm in Tennessee, and who had, on one special occasion, buried a time capsule on the grounds.

Time has gone by, and some of the Lanthanides have become successful authors, others have dropped out of fandom, some have become rich and famous, some are struggling to get by and some are dead by now. The farm has been buried by a reservoir lake long ago. But as the dam needs maintenance, the lake is being drained right now and the grounds are accessible again. So the former Lanthanides have decided to make use of the opportunity and open the time capsule, and Erik invites Marion and Jay to come along for the occasion.

The reunion quickly becomes a media event. But the night before the time capsule is retrieved, the party is crashed by one member of the Lanthanides who has not been invited, simply because he was thought to be dead – a fact which nobody really regretted, and who is now threatening to reveal some unpleasant big and small secrets from the past to the public. Every one of the group has some things that they´d rather leave buried in the past, so it´s no wonder that on the following morning, the man who was not-as-dead-as-everyone-believed is dead again, this time for real.

With the media surrounding the hotel, a scandal is about to erupt. But Marion, who has found the body, has also come across a few strange details, and she and Jay decide to investigate.

While it was okay on the whole, this book was a bit more cynical and not quite as amusing as “Bimbos” – I guess it really makes a difference that while “Bimbos” describes fandom at a particular moment in time (during the convention), in “Zombies” the passing of time is involved, and it drags in the usual musings about life, success and happiness. The view of fandom, especially of active and/or dedicated fans, is rather pessimistic.   

While both books provided a good read, I´d recommend “Bimbos of the Death Sun” over “Zombies” any day.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Strange Case of Kyron Horman

I first took notice of the Kyron Horman case in Eyes for Lies´ blog, when she was commenting one June 11 about the first press conferences on this little boy´s disappearance and the odd behaviour and body-language of the step-mother, Terri Horman.

http://blog.eyesforlies.com/2010/06/kyron-hormans-parents-acting-odd.html

At this point, Kyron had been missing for a week. The 7 year old was last accounted on Friday morning for when Terri left him at his elementary school after having visited the school´s science fair. Later that day, his father, Kaine, Terri and little sister Kiara went to pick him up from the bus to go for an ice cream to celebrate/reward Kyron´s science fair project but he did not turn up. The family checked with the school, and it turned out that Kyron had left before classes started to take another look at “the cool electric project” and had not been seen since. They called Kyron´s biological mother, Desiree, with whom Kyron was supposed to spend the upcoming weekend. He was not with her, either.

At this point, as tragic as it is, it was basically just another disappearance.

Soon, observers noticed some odd behaviour especially in the case of Terri, who continued posting on her facebook account in a nonchalant way about “hitting the gym” as if nothing had happened. Eyes for Lied noted her unusual body language during the first press conference.

“As the interview progresses, look at the way that Terri buries her head into Desiree shoulder in the middle of Tony Young (the stepfather’s) speech. It’s as if she’s almost wanting to hide or recluse when Tony speaks. You know when little kids get embarrassed, they do this behavior. Why does Terri want to hide? It’s very notable.

When I look at Terri to discern her personality, I question if she is super shy, but I don’t get a feeling she is. We know for a fact that she helps out at Kyron’s school, which confirms she is not the reclusive type. Furthermore, when she walked out of the gym this week and avoided the media, her body language did not support she was a shy, reclusive run-away type of a woman. So what is causing her to want to recluse here? It’s intense. Terri appears very needy, too, as she keeps gravitating to everyone around her.

At one point, it even looks like Terri she can’t cope anymore. Her body language conveys the message of “I can’t take it anymore” (around 1:22). She lifts her hand towards her chest. Watch her react when Tony says, “…the community as a whole has shown how much impact one little boy’s smile can have on a community.”

Also at the very beginning of the tape when Tony starts speaking, Terri turns her head away from Tony sharply–as if to get away from what he is saying.

Watch how Terri looks up at Desiree while she has her arms around Desiree– right before Kaine speaks. Its very odd. It’s like she is hanging on Desiree for support and approval. Its like she is trying to comfort herself here instead of Desiree. Isn’t that odd? Notice how Desiree doesn’t reciprocate the embrace?

When Kaine starts speaking, watch Terri rub her arm –a gesture to comfort herself. She does this a couple of times. Terri also takes deep breaths and is doing all she can just to stand there. Her arms are pressed tight on her body in a very closed off manner.

Both Terri and Kaine are exceptionally nervous. Watch Kaine’s hands tremble as he holds the paper from which he reads. Why on earth would they be nervous? I could understand talking to the media will make anyone nervous, but the nervousness that both Terri and Kaine are feeling far exceeds what everyone else in this press conference are displaying. That is notable. Kaine may be picking up on Terri’s nerves. That is possible.

At this point, all signs are pointing that fact that Terri likely knows something, maybe even Kaine, that they are not sharing… They have definitely raised my eyebrows… I wish I could ask them direct questions. That would give me an immediate answer. I am highly suspicious of Terri right now, that is for sure.”

http://blog.eyesforlies.com/2010/06/kyron-hormans-father-speaks-out.html

A week later, while police were still adamant about Terri not being a suspect/POI, it was obvious that they were taking a close look at her. Flyers were handed out to every family who had a child at Kyron´s school asking whether the boy, his step-mom and her truck had been seen that day. It also transpired that Terri´s cell phone pings apparently did not match her accounts of where she had been after dropping Kyron off at school that morning.

Both Kyron´s parents and their spouses had taken a polygraph test soon after his disappearance, and it seems that Terri was the only one who had to take a second one (and, as it transpired later, had walked out on a third one). From the reports about this case, it seems that she had been evasise about certain questions about her “lifestyle”. Rumors and speculations were circulating about what that could mean and the Hormans – or Terri at least – were said to be connected with Portland´s swinger scene.

Around that time, it was briefly reported – but quickly taken down and disclaimed – that Kyron´s body had been found by divers on nearby Sauvie island (where  Terri´s cell phone was said to have been traced).

Until that time, everything seemed a regular missing person case. The parents and step-parents presented a united front, asking for help and cooperating with LE to get their boy back.

And then, things started getting crazy.

One June 17, Kaine Horman´s brother was sentenced and incarcerated for child molestation. As blinkoncrime.com reports, he had been arrested in January 2009, and although his trial was delayed due to several continuances, there appears to be multiple arrests on his record, some of which are unaccessible to the public.

Speaking of January, around this time, Terri Horman´s son from her first marriage – James – who had been living with the Hormans for the past 5 years, moved in with his grandparents and is now living with his biological father. It seems the teenager didn´t get along with Kaine any more.

And then, it was reported in the media on Monday, June 28, that Kaine Horman had taken the baby, Kiara, moved out of the mutual residence and not only filed for divorce but also asked for a restraining order preventing Terri to come close to him as well as the children involved. Terri, at that point, claimed this was merely a rumor and everything was fine. That same day, however, Kaine, his ex-wife Desiree and her husband, Tony, released and official statement in which they distanced themselves from Terri. The restraining order was sealed by the court (and later unsealed again) because it contained information pertaining to the ongoing investigation in Kyron´s disappearance.

Two days later, Terri Horman had retained a lawyer. Not a family lawyer, as could be expected in the face of the divorce and custody battle, but a criminal lawyer; a renowned defense attorney.

It transpired that some time the week before, Kaine Horman was informed by LE that his wife had not only hired a landscape gardener without his knowledge, and had either had or promised the man an affair with him – she had also tried to hire him to murder her husband.

On the Saturday that Kaine moved out, two 911 calls were made from the Horman residence. It seems that Kaine had been absent all day to allow LE to have the landscaper and an undercover LE agent confront Terri and try to get her to reveal something which would allow for an arrest. The sting failed, however, when Terri simply called 911 on the agents. Police was now forced to inform Terri that she is a suspect (which explains her hiring the defense attorney a few days later). The second 911 call, described as “custody matters, resolved over the phone” must have been when she realized that Kaine would not come back and had taken Kiara, and LE probably told her that he had done so on their advice.

By the end of that week, Kaine, Desiree and Tony had given a strange press conference excluding two major local papers. They confirmed their belief that Kyron is still alive, implored Terri to cooperate with LE and announced their intention to hold regular press conferences from now on.

http://blog.eyesforlies.com/2010/07/horman-press-conference-strange.html

At the same time, the website “Bring Kyron Home”  that had been made by friends of the Hormans was taken down – among those friends was one Michael Cook, who was a regular visitor to the Hormans house after Kyron´s disappearance, bringing them groceries and stuff while they were besieged by the media. He kept visiting even after Kaine had moved out.

The restraining order was unsealed after one of the two papers initially excluded from the press conference (but later readmitted) ran the story about the murder for hire plot, and soon after, it transpired what was behind the two 911 calls. Kaine and Desiree now openly accused Terri of being involved with Kyron´s disappearance, lying and not really working with LE.

Kaine asked Terri to move out of their mutual house so Kyron would have his familiar environment to come home to. Terri did not dispute this, or the divorce and custody papers.

Kaine also petitioned to have Terri held in contempt of court because she had not only shown the sealed restraining order to Michael Cook in spite of not being allowed to do so. She had also allowed Cook to take pictures of the document with his cell phone, including Kaine´s and Kiara´s current address, which he then checked out on Google Maps. He had also shared information from the sealed RO with at least two (as yet unnamed) people.

Terri also had begun a sexual relationship with Michael Cook only a few days after Kaine had moved out. They had exchanged hundreds of sexual text messages,  as well as several photographs of Terri Horman “in various stages of undress and graphic sexual activity.” Cook says they did not sleep together, though.

It was also said that Terri’s “sexual overtures to Mr. Cook resemble those made to the man she attempted to hire to murder Kaine,” which supports the landscaper´s story.

In addition, a clerk at a gym frequented by the Horman’s said Terri came there on about June 28, before the restraining order was delivered to her, and asked when Kaine was there working out, with baby Kiara in the gym´s daycare centre, and to let her know the next time he appeared. The clerk told the manager what happened and the manager then contacted police.

http://www.kgw.com/home/Court-doc-Kaine-Terri-Horman-kyron-horman-contempt-sexting-98270654.html

All the while, Terri has refused to speak to the media, but comments have been left under several aliases on the sites of various newspapers reporting about the case which are generally suspected – and, in at least one case, have actually been confirmed – to be hers.

From some of these comments, if they are indeed hers, it transpires that Terri blamed and resented Kaine for not getting along with her son, James, eventually causing him to move out, while she felt that she had made both an effort and personal sacrifices to raise and get along with his son, Kyron. She also accuses him of having an affair and ridicules both LE for not solving the case yet, and Desiree for playing the worried mom now after not having been there for Kyron (i.e. not having him live with her) before. Overall, it fits into the picture.

One new revelation after the other, apart from the one that would be most important: Where is Kyron, and what has happened to him?

Update June 15:

While Terri apparently did not refuse to move out of the house, she has asked Kaine for money to do so through her attorney. Kaine’s attorney, Laura Rackner, said her client is not willing to hand over money to Terri.
“He would like some cooperation from her first,” she said. “He would like to know where his son is.”
Kaine Horman at this point states that although Terri had suffered from post partum depression after the birth of Kiara, and the marriage became difficult at that time, he had though things were fine again and had not been aware that it was actually that bad.

Desiree, Tony and Kaine now openly accuse Terri of being in some way responsible for Kyron´s disappearance.Desiree in particular no longer minces words. She openly accuses Terri of having a history of lying (in little things), of having planned the disappearance and states that she immediately had a bad gut feeling about her when getting the call from school. But at the same time, there seems to be a rift developing between her/Tony and Kaine.

And as for Michael Cook – there´s more to him than just a friendly neighborhood guy who wanted to help a former schoolmate and got sucked in, too:  Unrelated to Kyron´s disappearance, his ex-wife Shannon, who is now professionally trying to help women get out of “toxic relationships”,  had told the story of her marriage on her website, mentioning that her ex-husband drank excessively, used drugs, engaged in “multiple sexual encounters with friends, colleagues, clients, and strangers, hiding large sums of cash from me, and compulsively lying about all of it on a daily basis. …  Though I still lived there, my husband began bringing his current mistress home, even when my son was there asleep.” (taken down now, but quoted in the comments on the case on blinkoncrime.com).

Another new information is the confirmation that the landscaper – whose name is now given as Rudy – indeed knew Kyron. Phew. What next?

Update July 27:

LE has searched the area again, including Skyline Elementary school, but nothing of the outcome of these searches is known.

Terri Horman has left the mutual house and moved in with her parents for the time being. Her son James, who (as it turned out) was still living with his grandparents, has now moved to his biological father who lives nearby. As an agreement was found between both parties´ attorneys, the court hearings were canceled – it seems Terri goes to some length to avoid appearing in court and on official court record for the time being. To this day, Terri has made no attempt to legally fight the divorce and restraining order that keeps her from seeing Kiara that we know of.

Kaine´s attorney has now put in a motion for disclosure just where the six figure sum needed to retain a renowned criminal defense attorney like Houze comes from, and if it comes from marital funds, Kaine wants half of it to pay his own attorney.

One of the persons suspected to be Terri on the internet has claimed that the murder plot was a lie fabricated by the landscaper in retribution for a 911 call made in March that involved him. It seems the 911 call from the Horman house has been confirmed. On the other hand, according to LE, the avances made towards Michael Cook are “of the same kind as those made towards the landscaper” which lends credibility to his story, too.

While on the 22nd, LE still said that Terri “has cooperated and agreed to all requests so far from investigators”, only a day later, they issued a statement that Terri “has been cooperative at times, but at other times, she hasn´t.”  

And then, new players entered the scene: It was reported that LE had taken a closer look at, and increased pressure on, a small circle of friends surrounding Terri Horman. Condos were searched, third parties interviewed. Only one of these friends has been named so far: DeDe Spicher, a workout buddy of Terri´s, who had been doing gardening work in  the vicinity the morning Kyron disappeared. Around 11 am, she got a call on her cell phone and then disappeared until ca. 1pm, not being able to be reached by phone. Kaine, Desiree and Tony issued a statement saying that DeDe “has been providing Terri with support and advice that is not in the best interests of our son. Additional information provided shows that she is refusing to cooperate with law enforcement, she is also going as far as to suggest to others that may have information regarding Kyron’s disappearance, not to cooperate as well.”

As of today, a grand jury is in session. It is still not known exactly what they are deliberating about, whether they are hearing evidence concerning Kyron´s disappearance or the murder for hire plot, but DeDe has been subpoenaed to testify. According to blinkoncrime.com, an indictment against at least one person is to be expected. A press conference has been announced for 2pm PST.

Update May 16,2011:

It is now almost a year and Kyron still has not been found, nor has it been discovered what happened to him. 

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton said in September 2010  there had been “significant movements” in the 15-week investigation and there was a more defined scope, allowing them to not be as broad in their efforts. Investigators can now concentrate on their current course to support a theory of what happened to the boy. When asked if people would be shocked to find out what they know, Staton took a long silence.

“I know I’m taking a long pause on that, I have to think through that answer. I think there are things that come out of this investigation that will surprise you, that you’ll think about later on when it’s over. We have a knowledge of things we don’t want to know about … of things we wish we didn’t know,” he added.

But even though he said he had seen no evidence that indicated Kyron was not alive, search teams were obviously (but unsuccessfully) looking for a body in early January.

In November, Desiree Young announced that e-mails and text messages expressing hatred for Kyron suggest the boy’s stepmother “could have hurt him in the worst possible way”. Before police shared the messages with her on Friday, Desiree would only say that she believed her ex-husband’s wife, Terri Horman, was withholding information about the disappearance. But now she is convinced more than ever that Terri Horman was involved and holds the key to solving the mystery. “It’s very clear from Terri’s horrible words that she had a severe hatred for Kyron. …  She blamed a lot of the marital problems between Kaine and herself on Kyron; it was a huge point of contention in their marriage. She had expressed in great detail her hatred of Kyron.”

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40192620/ns/today-today_people/t/kyrons-biological-parents-have-harsh-words-stepmother/

I´ll keep this updated.

How not to rob a bank

Two would-be robbers called a bank ahead and demanded that the cash be ready for them when they arrived, Connecticut officials said, giving police ample time to get to the scene.

 The pair called the People’s United Bank branch in Fairfield, Connecticut, threatening to create a “blood bath” if there was not a bag of money waiting for them when they arrived.

But they were intercepted by police, who were already waiting on the scene when the young men arrived.

Police arrested 27-year-old Albert Bailey and an unidentified 16-year-old boy on robbery charges on Tuesday afternoon.

Sgt James Perez said the two Bridgeport residents turned up at the bank about 10 minutes after making the call and were met by police in the bank’s car park.

Sgt Perez told the Connecticut Post that, in his opinion, the suspects were “not too bright”.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he told the newspaper. “They literally called the bank and said to have the bag of money ready on the floor because they’re coming to rob the place.”

It is not clear whether Mr Bailey and the teen have lawyers.

– from today´s Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk)

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Hollywood Murders

George Baxt: The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case  (1993, dt.: Mordfall für Marlene Dietrich)

Hollywood in the early 1930s. At one of Marlene Dietrich´s lavish parties, a guest is poisoned: a Chinese astrologer and fortune teller, about to reveal a secret about “a great danger” connected with someone present. Police officer Herb Villon, who had come in the company of society reporter Hazel Dickson, immediately takes over the case – but he can´t keep curious Marlene and her friend, Anna Mae Wong, from meddling. The key to the murder lies in the victim´s past, which ties to her several suspects all of which were at Marlene´s party.

This was an entertaining read. Nothing too special, but a nice trip to Hollywood in its heyday, with a bit of humor and a great Marlene and Anna Mae. The story was conceived with a bit too much historic hindsight, however: Of course, the murder victim had to have been to Europe in her past, had to have met an ambitious young politician named Adolf Hitler there and had to have predicted a terrible future connected with him. This is then muddled with an international political conspiracy which involves Nazis, Russian bolshevists, an arms dealer, and more. The Second World War already overshadows the plot, as something planned at least 10 years before its actual outbreak, while other events of the 1920s and 1930s which would have been stronger on the contemporary minds, are hardly mentioned at all. It didn´t bother me too much until I read more books by the same author.

George Baxt: The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case  (1986, dt.: Mordfall für Alfred Hitchcock)

Munich, 1925. Alfred Hitchcock, still an unknown British director, is directing  his first feature film, “The Pleasure Garden”, when two members of his crew are murdered and another has a nervous breakdown and is first institutionalized, then vanishes. The case is not solved.

“11 years later, in London, an old Munich acquaintance, ill and distraught, begs Hitchcock to read a spy thriller script. The script-deliverer is murdered on Hitchcock’s doorstep. The script itself features the abduction of Alma Hitchcock and police pursuit of Hitch (as a suspected murderer), while he searches for a master spy in order to clear himself and rescue his wife. Alma is kidnapped, Hitch is almost framed for murder and he hares off, chased by Scotland Yard, in pursuit of a double-agent.” (Publishers Weekly). 

It is a really nice idea to have Alfred Hitchcock as the protagonist of a story that could be one of his own movies – including the obligatory cool blonde woman and, of course, a MacGuffin, Hitchcock’s famous red-herring device. The book is more of a spy thriller than a straightforward murder mystery, though.

George Baxt: The Greta Garbo Murder Case  (1992, dt.: Mordfall für Greta Garbo)

Hollywood, 1941. Greta Garbo has just lost her studio contract and lets her neighbour Peter Lorre talk her into accepting the starring role in a lavish independent production on Joan of Arc. But something is decidedly odd about the whole venture, and the production has the attention of the FBI and the local police under Herb Villon, long before a body is found in an abandoned house that belongs to the millionaire producer…

This was the most recent book by Baxt that I read – and the weakest one, perhaps because I could not read the book on its own but always had the comparison to the other two in the back of my mind. The characterisation of Greta Garbo was just too similar to that of Marlene Dietrich (main difference being, Marlene loved cooking and Greta was melancholy), including the attitude that of course she can play along with the suspect to draw him out – after all, she played a spy once. Both books even have a German representative make a generous offer to the movie star to get her to come back to Germany and work for Hitler and the Reich. (Which, of course, both divas decline). The witty quotations, present in all Baxt´s books so far, felt somewhat contrived by now, as if he had had a “Famous Quotes” dictionary by his side when writing and just forced them in wherever he could. The actual murder happens rather late in the book and the focus is – again! – less on the investigation and the murder mystery aspect of the story (which is what I´d expect from a book with So-and-so Murder Case in its title) than on the conspiracy/spy story aspect. And even though with this book set in 1941, the underground Nazi conspirator element is perhaps fitting better than in the other two, GEEZ!  Mr.Baxt, are there no other solutions you can offer to your readers? Were there no other criminals in Hollywood´s heyday?

These novels are listed as part the “Jacob Singer mystery” series which is puzzling because none of them have even a supporting character of that name. In the two of them that are set in Hollywood, the cop in charge is Herb Villon.

Nevertheless, here´s an overview of Baxt´s Hollywood-related murder novels:

1. The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (1984)
2. The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case (1986)
3. The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case (1987)
4. The Talking Pictures Murder Case (1990)
5. The Greta Garbo Murder Case (1992)
6. The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992)
7. The Mae West Murder Case (1993)
8. The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (1993)
9. The Bette Davis Murder Case (1994)
10. The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case (1995)
11. The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case (1996)
12. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Murder Case (1997)
13. The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case (1997)

I´m reading the Dorothy Parker one next. If that has Nazi spies in it, too, I´m going to scream.

Southern Comfort

Martha Grimes:  Emma Graham Mysteries

  • Hotel Paradise (German: Das Hotel am See), 1996
  • Cold Flat Junction (German: Still ruht der See), 2001
  • Belle Ruin (German: Die Ruine am See), 2005

While these three novels are closely connected – each volume picks up right where the previous one left off – they can also be read on their own. Loosely related to the trilogy is

  • The End of the Pier (German: Was am See geschah), 1996

which is also set around Spirit Lake and features Emma´s grown-up friends Maud Chadwick and Sheriff Sam DeGheyn.

Hotel Paradise

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12-year-old Emma lives – and has to work part-time as a table waitress – at her family´s rundown hotel in a lakeside resort that has seen better days as well. Without any peers in her vicinity, Emma becomes fascinated by the story of another isolated 12-year-old from the past: Mary-Evelyn Deverau, found drowned in Spirit Lake 40 years ago. Apparently, Mary-Evelyn, who couldn´t swim, rowed out on the lake in the middle of the night wearing a party dress and fell off the boat.

Emma finds this (understandably)  strange and begins to investigate, using every spare minute to roam around and ask anyone who might possibly remember anything about the girl, her family, and her death. Then, another murder occurs, right in the very present, and the victim – Fern Queen – turns out to be related to the Deverau family…

Cold Flat Junction

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Emma continues to investigate the story of the Deverau family, which contains yet another murder in the past. Rose Deverau – the youngest of the four sisters Mary-Evelyn lived with – had married Ben Queen against her spinster sisters´ will. Their daughter, Fern, was just recently found murdered. And twenty years ago, Rose had been viciously stabbed to death. Public opinion suspects Ben Queen, who had never denied being his wife´s killer and whose return from prison coincides with his daughter´s death. But Emma – who has actually met Ben – has her doubts. By now firmly convinced that Mary-Evelyn has been murdered, her investigation into Rose´s death also leads her to a deeper understanding why the little girl had to die.

 Belle Ruin

n146946Emma becomes fascinated by yet another mystery of the past. This time, it´s a baby that was stolen twenty years ago from a hotel room while the parents were attending a ball in the same building. The child was never heard of again; investigation seems to have been closed quickly and things were hushed up, due to the wealth and influence of the family – who  turns out to be connected to the Deveraus once again.

 

These are not straightforward mystery novels. The reader has to puzzle the story of the Deverau family together just as Emma does, and even after three volumes, much remains unsaid.

The considerable charm of these novels is in the Southern Gothic setting and shrewd characters.

Emma roams the small and sleepy towns around the former lakeside resort that seem strangely depopulated. Most residents are elderly adults – the few children that Emma encounters are distant and even a little eerie. There´s the diner in which the same people sit on the same chairs every day, with so little variation that even a passing 12-year-old becomes exciting news.  There are houses, hidden in the woods, that  have been abandoned for years, but remain fully furnished – as if their occupants had just gone out (or vanished) minutes ago. Vanishing, or fading away, is a recurring motif that comes up again and again; as personified by the mysterious, ghost-like girl Emma keeps seeing again and again who eerily looks like one of the murder victims in her youth.  

Another recurring motif is isolation. Emma herself is isolated by having no friends her own age around; she does not belong to the few children that appear in the novel and is not yet an adult, either. In fact, when, in the second book, her mother goes on a holiday trip with the hotel manager and her daughter and even Emma´s brother Will has been asked to come, though he declines, while Emma is left back, she hardly even seems to belong to her own family. And Emma is just one of the many characters in these stories that are alone even when surrounded by others.

The characters are a delight to encounter (at least within the pages of a book). There´s Emma´s shrewd great-aunt Aurora, who lives in one of the upper floors of the hotel, surrounded by mementoes of her past like a cocktail-slurping Miss Haversham. There´s the Sheriff and Maud, best friends constantly bickering. The speech-impaired brothers, Ulub and Ubub. Faulkner-quoting master mechanic and poacher, Dwayne and spoilt teenage brat Ree-Jane.

The Emma Graham series has a lot in common with Harper Lee´s “To Kill A Mockingbird” without being quite as political. The novels also remind me of the flashback parts of “Now and then” (movie), “Divine secrets of the Ya-Ya sisterhood” (novel and movie adaptation) with a little “Stand by me” (movie, after a short story by Stephen King) thrown into the mix, as it´s Emma´s last summer before becoming a teenager, growing up, and her experiences and encounters make her realize a lot about life, human nature, and her own personality.

 And this is some of what Martha Grimes had to say about her Emma Graham series:

“The novels evolved out of my wanting to write a “trilogy,” the first being THE END OF THE PIER. This story actually happens some time after the other two, although it was written first. Given the content of THE END OF THE PIER it couldn’t have happened before Emma’s story or she certainly would have made much of it. When I finished HOTEL PARADISE I knew that although the story didn’t have to be “tied up” — given that none of these three books is a mystery — still there were questions I, myself, wanted to answer, so that’s how COLD FLAT JUNCTION came about. Now, I guess there’ll be another one because there are still questions that nag me. Who is this Girl that Emma keeps seeing? … It’s not Emma’s curiosity that keeps her on this case. It’s her unconscious knowledge that if this awful death could happen to Mary-Evelyn Devereau, it could happen to her, too. She’s also 12; she also lives with people who appear to be indifferent to her. Emma is scared, although that might come off as her “nebbiness.” (I love that word.) … many of the characters are based on real people and were just as I’ve described them. … Yes, there was even a Miss Bertha.”

http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-grimes-martha.asp