>The bond between humans and their animal companions can be a particularly strong one. Whether one’s a “dog person,” a “cat person,” or has another kind of pet, relationships with pets are a very important factor in human life. What’s interesting is that research shows several benefits to pet ownership. For instance, owning a pet is associated in some studies with longer life, lower stress levels and reduced anxiety. Little wonder that so many people are devoted to their animal friends. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we find a lot of examples of pets in crime fiction.
Animal companions figure in more than one Agatha Christie novel. For example, in Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), we meet Bob the terrier. He lives in Littlegreen House in the town of Market Basing with Miss Emily Arundell. Miss Arundell is a wealthy elderly woman with several financially-strapped relatives. Over Easter Bank Holiday, her nieces and nephew come to stay, and Miss Arundell knows very well that they want to ingratiate themselves with her, and she’s having none of it. One night, Miss Arundell takes a dangerous fall down a flight of stairs, injuring herself. At first, her accident is blamed on Bob, who has the habit of leaving his favorite ball at the top of the stairs. Soon enough, though, Miss Arundell thinks matters through, and it occurs to her that Bob couldn’t be guilty; he’d been let outdoors, and wasn’t in the house at the time of the accident. So she writes to Hercule Poirot, asking him to come and investigate. However, Poirot doesn’t get the letter until two months later, and by the time he and Hastings come to Market Basing, it’s too late; Miss Arundell has died. Her death is put down to liver failure at first, but it’s not long before poison is suspected. In the end, Poirot and Hastings find out who murdered Miss Arundell, and Bob actually provides some assistance to them.
In Christie’s The Clocks, Poirot helps Colin Lamb, a member of the Secret Service, discover the truth behind a mysterious dead man found in a house in quiet Wilbraham Crescent in the town of Crowdean. Lamb’s in that neighborhood on a mission of his own when a young woman comes out of one of the houses screaming that there’s a dead man in it. Lamb goes into the house and sees that the young woman’s right. So he calls the police, and Inspector Richard “Dick” Hardcastle begins to investigate. In the course of questioning the neighbors, Hardcastle and Lamb meet Mrs. Hemming, who lives next door to the house where the man was found. She shares her home with a large family of cats whom she adores, and around whom she centers her life. In fact, Mrs. Hemming is so besotted with her cats that she’s hardly noticed what happened next door. Mrs. Hemming may be more than a little eccentric, especially about her cats. But she has interesting insights, and she actually gives Hardcastle and Lamb a very important clue about the murder, almost without being aware of it. And in her character, we can really see the bond between people and their animal companions.
And then there’s Hannibal, the terrier who owns Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. He’s an opinionated, but loving and protective pet who’s not afraid to rush to his family’s defense. In fact, that’s just what he does in Postern of Fate, the last of Christie’s Beresford novels. In that novel, the Beresfords have just moved to the small town of Hollowquay, where they hope to retire. No sooner do they move into their home than Tuppence finds a cryptic message in an old book. The message mentions a name, Mary Jordan, and says that she did not die naturally. Tuppence can’t help being curious and it’s not long before she and Tommy are investigating the mysterious death of a German maid who lived in Hollowquay years before. The Beresfords discover the truth behind the death, but not without risk to themselves. In fact, it’s through Hannibal’s intervention that Tuppence is saved from a very dangerous situation.
Of course, lots of other sleuths have animal companions as well. For instance, Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole shares his home with a black cat who’s only really comfortable with him and his partner, Joe Pike. In fact, the cat’s devoted to Pike. That in itself is interesting, because Pike’s not exactly someone you’d peg as the pet-owning “type,” if there is such a thing. He’s an ex-Marine who works part time as a mercenary. He owns a gun shop and frequently travels with more than one weapon. Pike’s not what you’d call the warm, loving “type,” but he and Cole’s cat have established a bond.
Marshall Karp’s Mike Lomax is an L.A.P.D. detective who partners with Terry Biggs. Lomax and Biggs have formed not only a police partnership but a friendship as well. We see clearly the way they work as a strong team in novels such as The Rabbit Factory and Blood Thirsty. In The Rabbit Factory, we meet Andre, Lomax’s black Standard Poodle who’s a great source of comfort and solace to Lomax after the death of his wife, Joanie. When Lomax ‘s strange (and often long) hours make it hard for him to spend the kind of time he wants with his companion, Andre moves in with Lomax’ father, Big Jim, where he still gets to be a part of Lomax’s life, even though they don’t see each other as often.
Lilian Jackson Braun’s sleuth, Jim Qwilleran, is a former investigative news reporter who’s relocated to the small town of Pickax in Moose County, “four hundred miles north of nowhere,” where he writes a twice-weekly column for the Moose County Something, and still has the reporter’s “nose for a story,” especially when he’s investigating a crime. Qwilleran’s had to battle with personal demons, including a failed marriage and a bout with alcoholism, but his life has become more or less stable. Qwilleran shares his home and his life with two seal-point Siamese cats: a large male named Kao K’o Kung (Koko) and a smaller female named Yum Yum. His companions not only enrich his life, but also help him on his cases. In fact, Qwilleran is convinced that Koko knows more than he’s saying, so to speak, about the cases Qwilleran investigates.
Rita Mae Braun’s Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, the sleuth in her Mrs. Murphy series, is the postmistress (in several novels) of tiny Crozet, Virginia. She also runs a farm. Harry’s animal companions are Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat, Tee Tucker, a Corgi and Pewter, a grey cat who’s more interested in food than in just about anything else. Harry’s got a habit of curiosity, which is one way in which she gets herself into more than one dangerous situation as she investigates cases. Very often, her animal friends travel with her and have come to the rescue more than once.
In my own Joel Williams series, Williams and his wife, Laura, share their home with Oscar, a friendly brown mutt that Williams “inherited” after the sudden death of Oscar’s former human companion.
There are also many cosy (that’s for you, Bernadette ; ) ) series that feature animal companions. For instance, there’s Melissa Cleary’s Jackie Walsh series that features Jake, the German Shepherd. There’s also Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis series featuring Travis’ family of black Standard Poodles. Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series is focused on bookstore owner Tricia Miles and her cat, Miss Marple (an irresistible name!). There are plenty of others, as well.
The strong and deep bond that we can form with our animal companions can enrich our lives immensely. That bond can also add to the depth of a character, create an interesting twist in a story, and add welcome humor. Even crime fiction that isn’t what you’d call “cosy” can be made more interesting. After all, how many times in crime fiction has someone been walking a dog and found the body that’s the focus of the story? Do you enjoy that added feature of animal companions in crime fiction? Which novels have you liked?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Martha, My Dear.
In memoriam… This post is dedicated to the memory of Angel (She’s the black Tibetan Terrier in the center of the ‘photo), devoted friend and companion, who left us this past weekend at the age of 14 ½. She will be sorely missed.