The saying is that politics makes strange bedfellows. Sometimes very different kinds of people end up working together because they both have the same goal. We see that when coalition governments are formed, and in other political situations too. We also see it in criminal investigations. For example, police might work with informants whom they know are criminals so they can solve a crime. Or a crime boss may have “an understanding” with the police so that his or her “enterprises” can go on uninterrupted. This certainly goes on in real life and it happens in crime fiction too. When it does, that can add an interesting layer of tension and some solid character development to a novel.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s short story Dead Man’s Mirror, Hercule Poirot is summoned to Hamborough Close, the home of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore. Chevenix-Gore is concerned that someone in his immediate circle may be robbing him and he wants Poirot to investigate very quietly. Chevenix-Gore is very family-proud and doesn’t want any of his suspicions to get to the police or be made public. Poirot agrees and travels to Hamborough Close. On the evening he arrives though, Chevenix-Gore dies, an apparent suicide. However, several members of his family, who are also present, convince Poirot that Chevenix-Gore was far too self-important to have taken his own life. So Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer. One of the sticking points of the theory that Chevenix-Gore was murdered is that he had apparently locked himself in his study. But Poirot knows the pragmatic value of getting expertise and information where he can. He’s learned from a burglar of his acquaintance exactly how one could commit a murder and leave a room apparently locked from the inside. It’s that knowledge that helps Poirot understand how the killer committed the crime.
Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is also a pragmatist when it comes to catching criminals. In several of the novels that feature Rebus, he works informally with Edinburgh crime boss Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty. Cafferty and Rebus have no liking for each other, although they do develop a kind of respect for each other. But they both know it’s sometimes in their interests to work together or at least to co-operate. For instance, in Mortal Causes, a young man Billy Cunningham is found brutally murdered. There’s evidence that suggests his murder might have been the work of IRA terrorists who want to make inroads into Edinburgh. So Rebus works with the elite Scottish Crime Squad to catch Cunningham’s killer before that happens. The fact is though that Cunningham is Cafferty’s son, so Cafferty wants justice, too, and is not afraid to go after his son’s murderer in his own way. It’s in both Cafferty’s and Rebus’ interest to find out who killed Cunningham, so they grudgingly work together. For Rebus’ part, he doesn’t want an all-out gang war between terrorists and Cafferty’s thugs. For Cafferty’s part, he knows the police have access to information that it would be hard for him to get. It’s an interesting example of “strange bedfellows” and it adds a real layer of tension to this novel.
In Michael Connelly’s The Overlook, Harry Bosch and his new partner Ignacio “Iggy” Ferras are investigating the murder of physicist Stanley Kent, who was killed on an overlook of Hollywood’s Mullholland Drive. There’s an added urgency to this case since Kent’s murder may be connected to the theft of some radioactive material from a cancer clinic and through that, to a group of terrorists. So when Bosch discovers that there was a witness to the crime, he’s determined to use that source. Twenty-year-old Jesse Milford made the trip from his native Canada to Los Angeles to try to “make it big” in music. On the night of Kent’s murder, Milford happened to be in the area trying to sneak onto the property of famous entertainer Madonna and get her autograph or some memento for his mother and in the process, he became a witness to Kent’s murder. Milford needs Bosch’s help to untangle himself from the legal mess he’s made by trespassing. Bosch needs Milford’s help to catch Kent’s killer. So Bosch persuades Milford, as only Harry Bosch can, that it’s in both of their interests to work together.
One of the more interesting set of “strange bedfellows” is Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano and Gegè Gullotta. Montalbano is a police inspector at the Vigatà questura. Gullotta is a local crime boss who runs a notorious area near Vigatà called The Pasture. It’s in Gullotta’s interest to be able to run his “businesses” in relative peace and not constantly be harassed by the police. For his part, Montalbano is interested in catching criminals. So each finds it in his interest to work with the other. It’s an extremely pragmatic relationship, really. Montalbano knows he’ll never catch every illegal drug user or prostitute. Gullotta knows that it’s not worth the money and effort to constantly try to dodge the police. So for instance, in The Shape of Water, the two men share information when the body of successful “back room” politician Silvio Luparello is found in The Pasture. And in The Wings of the Sphinx, the two men share what they know as Montalbano investigates the murder of an unidentified young woman whose body is found near a local dump. What’s especially interesting about this relationship too is that the two men have known each other since boyhood; they went to school together.
And then there’s William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series, which takes place in 1930’s Moscow. In that series, Korolev is a member of the Moscow CID. In both The Holy Thief and The Darkening Field (AKA The Bloody Meadow), he investigates murders with very serious political implications. In both novels, Korolev discovers that the murders may have to do with criminal activity by the famous Moscow Thieves. Their leader is Kolya, who is nothing if not a pragmatic businessman. He doesn’t want his “business enterprises” interfered with by the police (or anyone else for the matter of that). And Korolev knows that Kolya can provide him with very valuable information. So in both novels, the men work together and share information. What’s particularly suspenseful about this relationship is that each runs a terrible risk by co-operating. Korolev knows that Kolya could order his murder and would probably succeed. And even if he didn’t, if word got around that Korolev was working with the Thieves, he could be denounced to the NKVD. It is against the Thieves’ principles to ever work with the police, so Kolya runs a risk too. But in both cases, the pragmatic value of working together is greater than the risk.
There’s also an interesting case of “strange bedfellows” in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Missing person’s expert Diane Rowe takes a special interest in the murder of James Patrick “Snow” Wilson. A year earlier, Rowe’s sister Niki was murdered, and the police always thought it was Wilson’s work. They couldn’t prove it though, so Wilson was never arrested. Now he’s been murdered in the same way that Niki Rowe was killed. Before his death, Wilson confessed to Niki Rowe’s murder, saying that he was paid to kill her. Rowe believes that if she finds out who paid Wilson, she’ll find out who’s behind her sister’s murder. At one point, she takes the unwise decision to break into Wilson’s home, which he shared with his sisters, to see if she can find any evidence at all. To her shock, his sisters come in and catch her, as the saying goes, in the act. In an odd twist, they propose to work with Rowe to try to solve the case. They want to find out who killed their brother. Rowe wants to find out who killed her sister. So the two end up sharing information.
It’s that kind of pragmatic willingness to work together, even with someone who’s supposed to be “the enemy” that can sometimes get cases solved. Which cases of “strange bedfellows” have you enjoyed?