Let’s face it; sometimes life gets a little chaotic. It’s that way for all of us and it’s especially that way for real-life detectives. Not only do they have to deal with the real ugliness and horror that humans are capable of but they also have to deal with a lot of dilemmas (e.g. “Did I ask this witness the right questions?” “Was that a justified use of my weapon?”). Sometimes too it can seem that no-one can really be depended on and trusted. Sometimes the sleuth doesn’t even trust his or her own instincts. That’s just as true in crime fiction as it is in real life, and that’s why “true-blue” characters – characters who can be absolutely trusted when the sleuth needs it – are so valuable. They can help the sleuth get perspective and sort everything out, and they can provide a valuable mental “safety net” too. If you have a “true blue” friend or colleague in your life, you know the kind of character I mean.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to France when Poirot receives a letter from Canadian émigré Paul Renauld, saying that his life is threatened. By the time the two arrive at Renauld’s home it’s too late; he’s been stabbed. In the course of the investigation, Hastings meets and is smitten by a young woman who calls herself Cinderella. At one point in the story, it seems that Cinderella may have a connection to Renauld’s murder – may even somehow be involved. Now Hastings is torn; he wants to protect Cinderella but at the same time, he accepts the reality that she might be involved in the murder. He’s no longer at all sure whom he can trust. That’s when Poirot shows that he is “true blue.” Even Hastings doesn’t know it at first, but Poirot has Hastings’ interests at heart and proves himself a dependable and trustworthy friend.
Robin Cook’s Jack Stapleton and his wife Laurie Montgomery are medical examiners for the State of New York. In the series in which they feature, Stapleton and Montgomery are often up against large health insurance companies, hospital executives or highly-placed individuals who will go to a great deal of effort and stop at just about nothing to cover up what they’ve done. Because of this, there are several instances in the series where Stapleton and Montgomery aren’t sure whom to trust. But one character is a “true blue” trustworthy person to whom Stapleton especially turns more than once. He is Warren Wilson, a former gang member and highly talented basketball player whom we first meet in Contagion. In that novel, we learn that Stapleton plays basketball regularly at a neighbourhood court. He’s had to slowly earn the trust and respect of his fellow players, one of whom is Wilson. That growing relationship becomes even more valuable when Stapleton and Montgomery investigate a series of deaths that occur at Manhattan General Hospital. All of these deaths are caused by nosocomial (hospital-based) infections that seem to be spread by a particularly virulent strain of the influenza virus. Manhattan General is affiliated with a large health insurance company AmeriCare, whose chief competition is National Health. So it seems to Stapleton that the deaths may be related to the competition between these two insurance giants. In a sense Stapleton is right, and as he gets closer to the truth, he also gets into grave danger more than once, and so does Montgomery. In the end, it’s Wilson who, to use a cliché, saves the day. And he proves to be “true blue” in a few other Stapleton/Montgomery novels too, even when doing so proves dangerous.
Donna Leon’s Elettra Zorzi is also a dependable, trustworthy person on whom Leon’s sleuth Guido Brunetti relies quite often. When Brunetti is on a case, he often doesn’t know at first exactly who might be involved or whom to trust. That’s especially true when his cases go up to the top of the proverbial tree. What’s more, he does know that he can’t depend on his boss vice-questore Giuseppe Patta. Patta is a self-serving sycophant who worries more about his own career than he does about solving crimes. But Brunetti knows that Patta’s assistant Signorina Elettra can be trusted even when what Brunetti’s working on could get her into trouble. For instance, in Suffer the Little Children, one of the cases Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello are investigating is a baby trafficking ring that involves a local infertility clinic, illegal immigrants from Albania and other Eastern European countries and some well-paid “go-betweens.” Brunetti wants to find out how the ring operates and how Italian adoptive couples get word of it. So he hatches a risky plan. He and Signorina Elettra go to the Villa Colonna Clinic in the guise of a couple who cannot conceive a child. As a result of that visit, they get an important lead on the baby-trafficking ring and are able to find out who’s involved and how it works. Fans of this series can I’m sure give a lot of other examples too of the ways in which Elettra Zorzi shows that she’s “true blue.”
Adrian Hyland’s sleuth Emily Tempest knows that no matter what, she can depend on her best friend Hazel Flinders. In Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs), Tempest returns to her home in Moonlight Downs, an Aborigine camp, after several years away. Despite the time apart and the differences between them she and Hazel Flinders re-establish their childhood friendship. Then Hazel’s father Lincoln Flinders is brutally murdered. At first, it looks as though he was murdered by Blakie Japananga, a local sorcerer with whom Flinders had had a terrible quarrel and who has since disappeared. But Tempest isn’t sure it’s that simple, so she starts asking questions. The whole case is of course devastating for Hazel, who’s just lost her father. But she stays loyal to Tempest and that trustworthiness gets Hazel into real danger. It doesn’t stop her though. We also see her loyalty in Gunshot Road, in which Tempest looks into the murder of former prospector Albert “Doc” Ozolins. The first explanation for Ozolins’ murder is that he was killed as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest doesn’t think so, so she starts her own investigation. At one point Tempest believes that another character may be in grave danger because of a piece of evidence. So to protect that character she brings him to Hazel’s rather isolated home. Without questions or demurral, Hazel opens her home and willingly helps Tempest. Later in the novel Tempest herself is attacked and it’s Hazel Flinders who loyally helps her through that crisis. She is a “true blue” trustworthy person.
And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s character Anthony Gatt. Gatt is a successful entrepreneur, the owner of a lucrative chain of upmarket menswear shops. He is also a mentor and friend to Bidulka’s sleuth, Saskatoon-based private investigator Russell Quant. Quant’s cases frequently mean he has to penetrate people’s veneers to uncover the truth. So sometimes he’s not sure exactly whom to trust. In Amuse Bouche, for instance, he’s hired by Harold Chavell to find Chavell’s missing partner Tom Osborn. When Osborn turns up dead, Quant isn’t sure at first whether his client is really as innocent as he seems. And in Tapas on the Ramblas Quant is hired to find out who’s been threatening the life of wealthy heiress and business executive Charity Wiser. As he looks into that case he finds that many of the people who seem to be telling him the truth aren’t doing that at all. But in all of these cases, Quant knows that he can depend on Anthony Gatt. And in more than one instance Gatt helps Quant through his many social and business connections. To say nothing of his assistance with Quant’s wardrobe.
In Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace we meet Siri Bergman, a successful Stockholm psychologist who shares her practice in part with her best friend Aina Davidson. Bergman is dealing with the loss of her husband Stefan and it’s proving much, much more difficult than she thought. Still, she’s getting along and doing well at her job. Then she gets an eerie letter that suggests that someone is stalking her. Then one of her patients is murdered. There are other incidents too that seem planned to ruin Bergman’s practice and ultimately her life. As she struggles to find out who would want to do this to her, Bergman begins to wonder whom she can really trust. Perhaps one of her clients isn’t who she or he seems to be. Or it may be that one of her friends or former lovers may be behind this campaign. The one person Siri learns she can truly trust though is Aina Davidson. Davidson stands by her friend, helps her through the worst of what’s happening and when Bergman learns the truth about who’s behind it all, it’s Davidson who’s there to help pick up the proverbial pieces.
All of us need “true blue” people like that in our lives. They give us a sense of stability and security when everything else feels upside-down. They also make for interesting characters in crime fiction.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Madonna’s True Blue. I know, I know! But the lyrics work for this post.