Janice Gallen’s cosy mysteries Dark Visions and Scent of Evil feature the irritable but amusing Clyde Pilley and his psychic wife Meg, two retirees who become sleuths helping solve murders and other enigmas in suburban Sydney. Ms Gallen said a friend suggested the idea of a grumpy retired man who was anti-retirement, and spent his time solving mysteries. Then Ms Gallen came up with the idea of his psychic wife.
These two novels would be good for budding mystery authors to study, to see how to structure a whodunit, and deftly plant clues, while creating a detailed world.
Ms Gallen said she had had some psychic experiences of her own, as had her mother. She related a story about when she was growing up in the Hunter Valley in a coal mining town, similar to the one featured in her novel All Naked and Bare. She said that one day her Welsh mother grabbed her arm. She asked Janice if she could hear anything.
Janice couldn’t. Her mother said she heard a choir singing. A half hour later her mother was told that her brother, a chorister, had died.
And Ms Gallen said she had smelt cigarette smoke in the car, when no smoker was around. Later a psychic friend told Ms Gallen she had a vision of the author’s father sitting in a chair: the smoke was her father letting Ms Gallen know he was watching over her.
Ms Gallen used a similar sign in Scent of Evil, when Meg Pilley smells cigar smoke when no smoker was around, which she links with the murderer.
In Dark Visions and Scent of Evil, Clyde Pilley has trouble adjusting to retirement, and his wife Meg has trouble adjusting to his maladjustment. They play lawn bowls, Clyde gardens in his tiny plot of earth and has a beer while he watches the cricket. They have children and grandchildren, some living at the Gold Coast. They have friends, like Ross Delaney, a retired detective, and Clyde’s accountant brother Mick and sister-in-law Enid. The only atypical thing about these retirees is that Meg uses psychic powers, and the suits and symbols of the 78 tarot cards to give readings to friends and acquaintances. Later she uses these powers to investigate suspicious events in the neighbourhood, including murders. The Bible calls psychic prognosticators soothsayers, so you might say Meg Pilley was a sleuth-sayer.
In Dark Visions, Clyde is glad when he meets someone to play pool with. But when he visits a new friend’s house, something is awry. Then there is his accountant brother, Mick, who seems to be mixed up in some kind of fraud; and the druggies who’ve moved in next door to Meg and Clyde. The characters all click, and include a narcissist: someone who appears to be a decent person, and encourages admiration, but leaves a trail of destroyed lives in his wake.
In Scent of Evil, Meg and Clyde Pilley are playing lawn bowls when an elderly friend and fellow player Jack dies. A smell of bitter almonds suggests cyanide poisoning. Meg smells cigar smoke and takes it as an image of the murderer. Later another elderly man dies, while having an affair with a Lutheran minister’s wife. There is a bottle of pills beside his bed: Viagra, but they had been taken out of the sealed packet. Then one of Meg’s friends becomes a victim. Meg has to find out whodunit. Who is the man she can see sitting in the huge olive armchair smoking the cigar?
– continued next page
– copyright Simon Sandall.