One of the many ways in which we seem to mark the passage of time is birthdays. Some people celebrate birthdays – especially significant ones – with quite a lot of fanfare. Others do so quietly. And I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less fuss I like about birthdays (never mind how many I’ve had!!! ). Whether one makes a big fuss on a birthday or not, they can be a lot of fun. And like any other occasion where people gather, they can bring out all of the human interaction, backstory and so on that can make for a very effective crime fiction context.
For instance in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, Rachel Verinder has reached her eighteenth birthday. This year she’s to receive a very special gift for the occasion: an extremely valuable diamond. Her uncle Colonel John Herncastle has bequeathed it to her with the proviso that she is to receive it on her eighteenth birthday. The diamond has a murky history though. Herncastle removed it from Palace of Seringaptam in India years earlier during a raid and the diamond is said to curse anyone who takes it away. The curse certainly seems plausible because trouble begins to befall the Verinder family after Rachel receives the diamond. First, a group of shadowy strangers has been hanging round the house. Then, on the night of Rachel’s birthday, the diamond is stolen. As if that’s not enough second housemaid Roseanna Spearmann, who has her own secrets, disappears and is later found to have committed suicide. Investigating all of these frightening events is Sergeant Richard Cuff. Bit by bit he traces the diamond from Rachel’s room to its final destination in London, finding out along the way who stole it and why and how it all relates to Roseanna Spearman’s death.
In Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot, Saskatchewan political science professor Joanne Kilbourn is preparing to celebrate her adopted daughter Taylor’s eleventh birthday. There’s much discussion about the kind of birthday celebration Taylor wants and everyone’s looking forward to it. But then a case of murder changes everything. Journalist Kathryn Morrissey has written a controversial tell-all book about wealthy and successful Canadian parents and their treatment of their children. One of these parents Sam Parker is so furious about the book that he takes a shot at Morrissey and wounds her. He’s arrested and tried and Kilbourn’s lover Zach Shreve defends Parker. Meanwhile, Kilbourn covers the trial for Nation TV and gets involved in the investigation when Morrissey is murdered. This plot thread is effectively woven together with the plot thread that deals with Taylor’s upcoming birthday. I don’t think it’s spoiling the novel to say that Taylor doesn’t have the birthday she’d planned, but it’s appealing to see how much it means to her that her birthday matters to her family as much as it does.
There’s also Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil. In that novel, Göteborg Violent Crimes Unit leader Sven Andersson and his team investigate three murders. First schoolteacher Jacob Schyttelius is shot in the entry of his parents’ winterised cottage. A few hours later they themselves are shot. At first the killings look like the work of a Satanist cult. But it’s not long before that theory is proven wrong. So Andersson and his team have to find another explanation for the murders. The only surviving member of the Schyttelius family is Jacob’s sister Rebecka, who now lives in London. So Andersson’s colleague Irene Huss travels to London to track down Rebecka Schyttelius and see if she can help in the investigation. And in the end Rebecka does provide key evidence in the murders. In the meantime Andersson is preparing for his 60th birthday, about which he wants no fuss. But his team is cohesive and they don’t want their boss’ birthday to go un-noticed. So they give him a birthday party and an unexpected present. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Tursten does a very neat job of linking that with Huss’ part of the murder investigation.
There are lots of other crime fiction novels that focus on birthdays, include birthday celebrations or are otherwise connected with birthdays. I’ll bet you can list lots more than I can.
So why am I going on about birthdays? No, it is not my birthday – promise. But it is my blog’s third birthday. See? Three candles in the ‘photo. Thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to read and comment on my blog these past three years. You keep me going in ways you cannot imagine. Because of you I’ve gotten and read some wonderful books and I am a better thinker, reader, writer and blogger. Mostly I’m a better person. I am indebted to each of you in ways to which words do not do justice.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Famous Last Words.