One of the things I love about the blogging community I’m privileged to be among is that I’m always getting inspired by things others say. For instance, an interesting comment from Sarah Ward at Crimepieces has got me thinking about the way crime fictional victims’ bodies are discovered. That can be a tricky business actually because in real life, most of us go about our daily business without poking into empty abandoned places where bodies might be discovered. So the crime fiction author has to create a scenario where the body (bodies) would be found in a believable way. One of the ways that happens (and this is where Sarah’s comment inspired me) is when pets do the discovering. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll see what I mean.
As anyone who’s ever been owned by a dog knows, dogs need regular opportunities to go for walks. And most dogs can’t resist the opportunity to follow an interesting scent. Trust me. Some dogs are diggers and burrowers, too. So it makes sense that fictional dogs would play a big role in finding bodies. That’s what happens, for instance, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings work with Scotland Yard and the local police to solve a set of murders that looks like the work of a serial killer. The second victim is twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Barnard, whose body is found on a beach near her home in Bexhill-on-Sea. Her body is discovered when Colonel Jerome takes his dog for an early morning walk. As you can guess, the dog follows an interesting scent that leads Jerome to the body. The only apparent links between Betty Bernard and the other victims are cryptic warnings that Poirot receives before each murder and the fact that an ABC railway guide is found near each body. Bit by bit, Poirot and Hastings discover who the murderer is and what the motive is, and no; it isn’t a case of a psychopathic killer. In a way that makes the murders even more chilling.
The real action in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace begins when a stray dog who’s been mooching off the villagers of Littlebourne makes a grisly discovery: a human finger. When Augusta Craigie realises what the dog has, she contacts the police and it’s not long before Superintendent Richard Jury is sent to Littlebourne to find out where the rest of the body is and who the dead person is. As it turns out, the finger belongs to Cora Binns, who worked for a London temporary secretarial agency. Jury tells his friend amateur detective Melrose Plant about the case and Plant travels to Littlebourne to help find out why and by whom Cora Binns was murdered. Together, the two discover a connection between Binns’ death and a brutal attack on sixteen-year-old Katie O’Brien, also a resident of Littlebourne. They also discover that both of these incidences are related to a robbery that occurred in Littlebourne a year previously, and a death that followed that robbery.
In Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center, we meet Georgetown Law School professor Mackensie “Mac” Smith. He’s taking a late evening walk with his dog Rufus one night when Rufus discovers the body of Andrea Feldman, who’s been shot. He immediately calls the police, but it’s not long before Smith is a lot more deeply involved in the case then he thought he would be. Feldman was a staffer for U.S. Senator Ken Ewald, a very promising candidate for the U.S. presidency. The police soon discover that the gun used in the murder belonged to Ewald, so he becomes a suspect. So do the other members of his family, all of whom have motive. Smith has been a friend of the Ewald family for a long time, and when Ewald asks Smith for legal help, Smith agrees. Then, Ewald’s son Paul is charged with Feldman’s murder. Now, Smith has to unravel the complicated relationships between Feldman and the various members of the Ewald family. He also has to look into the rest of Feldman’s personal life and her professional life as well. When he does, Smith discovers that more than one person had a very good motive for wanting Feldman dead.
And then there’s the Snowball, the “office cat” in Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series (Thanks, Sarah, for reminding me of this ). In This Night’s Foul Work, Snowball shows that cats can be extremely effective trackers and can dig up things just as dogs can. Adamsberg and his team are faced with several cases that could be connected. Two drug dealers have been found with their throats cut. Their deaths bear the “calling card” of Claire Langevin, a district nurse who also happens to be a serial killer. Adamsberg had her put away two years earlier, but she’s recently escaped and might be mixed up with these deaths. And then there are the brutal killings of some Normandy stags, which might also be involved in this complex case. In the midst of all of this, Lieutenant Violette Retancourt goes off to follow some leads, and doesn’t return. At first, the Snowball seems to be the only one concerned about her, because she is the Snowball’s favourite human. After a while, the rest of the team also begins to wonder what’s happened to her and finally, the decision is made to let the Snowball track her. Sure enough, and in spite of some dire predications and comments about the Snowball’s lack of intelligence, the “office cat” leads the team to Retancourt, and we discover what’s happened to her and how that is connected to the other threads of this plot.
In Carola Dunn’s Black Ship, DCI Alec Fletcher and his wife, the Honourable Dasiy Dalrymple Fletcher, have inherited a house on the outskirts of 1925 London from Fletcher’s Great-Uncle William Walsall. The couple moves into the “fixer-upper” with their children and begin to settle in. Then, the family dog Nana discovers the half-buried body of an unknown man in the communal garden of their circle of homes. Daisy alerts the police, who begin an investigation. It turns out that the dead man is Michele Castellano, who, we learn, may have been involved in illegal smuggling of liquor to the United States where, during the 1920’s, the importation of alcohol was illegal. Things get very awkward when it also turns out that the Jessup family, with whom the Fletcher family has made friends, may be involved in the smuggling and may be connected with the murder. It’s not Daisy Dalrymple’s way to sit back while her husband does all the work of investigating, so she begins to ask questions and in the end, we find out who really killed Castellano and why.
There are other examples too of novels where the author lets dogs and cats do what they do naturally and discover things – including bodies. It’s only natural, I suppose .
Ps. By the way, the ‘photo is of one of the dogs that owns me. That’s Mr. Metoo, our half-Bassett “detective,” discovering something in those bushes. It wasn’t a body, though, in case you were wondering…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s On the Hunt.