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March 12, 2014

There Will Be Weather

“It’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.”

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

When it comes to mystery fiction, there will often be weather. It might be hot weather, maybe thick with what Raymond Chandler called “those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch…[prompting] meek little wives [to] feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” It might be the kind of 40-year blizzard that freezes men where they stand and turns remote Colorado hotels into prisons where Jack Nicholson goes nuts. Or the shrieking windstorm that whips up the final scenes of Louise Welsh’s Naming the Bones, the waves cresting higher and higher, rain blurring your eyes, wheels skidding, cars careening off the road.

If the setting is more appealing – a nice crisp autumn, say, or the kind of December that conjures thoughts of sleighbells and presents and hot cider – it often stands in opposition to something awful. I’m thinking most immediately of L.R. Wright’s A Chill Rain in January, which is set during a typically mild winter on Canada’s “Sunshine Coast”: The chilly, frozen rain of the title is the woman at the center of the story, who could ice down an August afternoon in a heartbeat.

In picking a book for this week’s “salute to spring,” I was a little confounded: So many of our books are racked by extreme weather (Missing, for example, by Karin Alvtegen: I can’t help thinking that the story would play out very differently if Sibylla, the book’s homeless heroine, were bedding down in Maui rather than on Stockholm’s wintry streets). And in other books, lovely days essentially exist to have their loveliness destroyed, not unlike that doomed bunny in Fatal Attraction. This seems to hold true even of more lighthearted mysteries: Poor pudgy Inspector Singh is always a little sweaty, dabbing at his forehead with an ineffectual hanky.

This hardly seems fair. Surely SOME characters in mystery fiction are entitled to good weather – without being punished for it. Can you think of any?

 

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