AZ Murder Goes … Professional (book #170)

Book cover: AZ Murder Goes ... Professional

Edited by Barbara Peters, 2002. This is a book of conference papers by mystery writers Joanne Dobson, AJohn Dunning, Nicholas Kilmer, Thomas Perry, Nancy Pickard and William G Tapply, on the general theme of professions or occupations in crime novels.

I liked this, in Thomas Perry’s paper “But What Do They Do For a Living?”, an extract from his book Death Benefits about the amateur detective / insurance data analyst who is the protagonist.

He had been placed under the distant but sane supervision of Joyce Hazelton. She had explained to him what an analyst did: “They give us raw data. We cook and serve.” Information about all company operations was brought in, and he would screen the numbers for meaning and wrote reports that revealed trends and anomalies. She had said, “If we suddenly have seven per cent of our clients dying on a full moon, I want that in block letters. If it’s fifteen per cent, I want it underlined too.” Since then she had left him alone, except to smile cordially at him once a day and meet with him every six months to show him that his performance ratings were all excellent.
He had found an unexpected pleasure in his work. The analysts all made jokes about the job, but it was intoxicating. Examining the figures was like being a cabalist searching for messages about the future encoded in the Talmud. Some of the messages were reassuring. At certain ages, people had children and bought term life. By consulting actuarial tables, he knew how many of the policies sold this year would come back for payoff at what future dates, and how many premiums the company would receive in the meantime. … Because of the large number of policies and the long stretch of time, the individual deviations from the norm disappeared to produce reliable predictions.

The collection is worth reading if you’re interested in mystery fiction. The editing retains the individual voices of the contributors.

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