Authors understand as few other people can what other authors go through and what it’s like to be an author. That’s true in just about any genre and it’s certrainly true in crime fiction. So it’s a special compliment when one author pays tribute to another in a novel or series. And it happens more frequently than you might think. I’ll just give a few examples; I’m sure you can think of others.
Many people know that Agatha Christie mentions Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in several of her works. Christie fans will also know that she and P.G. Wodehouse admired each other’s work quite a lot. In fact Christie’s Hallowe’en Party is dedicated to Wodehouse. Murder in Mesopotamia is told from the point of view of Amy Leatheran, a nurse who’s been hired by noted archaeologist Eric Leidner. Leidner’s wife Louise has been having fears and anxieties – she even believes that someone is trying to kill her – and Leidner wants Leatheran to help allay his wife’s concerns. The couple is sharing an expedition house near a dig in Iraq so when Leatheran arrives, she meets the rest of the members of the expedition staff. The first staff member she meets is Bill Coleman; here’s how she describes him:
“He had a round pink face and really, in all my life, I have never seen anyone who seemed so exactly like a young man out of one of Mr. P.G. Wodehouse’s books.”
When Leatheran’s patient is murdered just as she had feared, Coleman becomes one of the suspects. Hercule Poirot is travelling in the area and he agrees to take some time off and find out who killed Louise Leidner and why.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, who is particularly fascinated with Arthur Conant Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. He imagines himself as a detective like Sherlock Holmes and he gets the chance when a neighbour’s dog is killed. Boone finds the dog and decides to find out who’s responsible. He’s even more determined when he becomes a suspect. Throughout this novel Boone and Haddon make reference to the Conan Doyle novel; even the title is a tribute.
In James W. Fuerst’s Huge we meet twelve-year-old Eugene “Huge ” Smalls. Huge has trouble getting on in school and socially even though he’s brilliant. But that’s not really important to Huge; at least that’s what he tells himself. His grandmother introduced him to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and those two fictional detectives are Huge’s heroes. He wants to do just what they do and he gets his opportunity when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the retirement home where she lives. Bit by bit Huge finds out the truth about the sign and a lot of truths about himself. As he does so he refers several times to Chandler and Hammett. It’s an interesting way to pay tribute to those groundbreaking authors.
Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn is a former Florida judge whom we first meet in The Prairie Grass Murders. In that novel, Thorn’s brother Willie Grisseljon is paying a visit to his and Thorn’s home town in Illinois when he discovers the body of an unknown man. At first Grisseljon is suspected of being the murderer and in fact, he’s locked up for vagrancy. Thorn travels to Illinois to get her brother released and ends up getting involved in the investigation of the dead man’s murder. It turns out that this murder is related to greed, land-grabbing and corruption. Thorn is a reader and there are several references to some talented crime fiction authors in this novel and in the next Sylvia Thorn/Willie Grisseljon novel The Desert Hedge Murders. Here’s one example from The Prairie Grass Murders:
“A little relaxation was in order. One glass of Reisling, a slice of cheddar cheese, one chocolate truffle, a new China Bayles [the creation of Susan Wittig Albert] mystery, and a long soak in a tub full of lavendar-scented bubbles. Heavenly.”
Stoltey also makes reference by the way to Sue Grafton.
One of the more innovative ways in which one crime fiction author pays tribute to another is in Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts. In that novel Saskatoon private investigator Russell Quant takes a trip to Hawai’i to spend some time with his long-distance partner Alex Canyon. He gets involved in a murder and a sort of treasure-map mystery when a stranger who turns out to be an archivist slips a cryptic set of clues into Quant’s luggage. When the man is later murdered, the cop who investigates the murder is Kimo Kanapa’aka, the creation of fellow crime fiction author Neil Plakcy. Michael Connelly and Robert Crais have also had their sleuths “visit” each other’s series and it’s a creative way to pay tribute to each other.
Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar includes an interesting discussion of other crime fiction. Australian private investigator Jayne Keeney lives and works in Bangkok but she frequently visits her good friend Canadian ex-pat Didier de Montpasse, who lives in Chiang Mai. The two of them share a love of books but they have different tastes. Didier prefers classics and cosies while Jayne prefers more modern, darker novels. They discuss several well-known authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, and Sara Paretsky and each tries to “convert” the other. It makes for a lively debate. Then Didier’s partner Nou is brutally murdered, and shortly afterwards, Didier himself is shot in what the police say was an attempt to escape them. The police report holds that Didier murdered Nou and resisted arrest when the police tried to question him. But Jayne is quickly convinced that Didier would not have killed Nou and that both men were deliberately murdered. She decides to try to find out the truth behind the murders and discovers that Didier had uncovered some very ugly truths about Chiang Mai that some powerful people do not want made public. Interestingly enough, one of the important clues in this case is a clue that Didier himself leaves for Jayne: it’s a cryptic clue that refers to a Sherlock Holmes story.
It’s a gesture of respect when authors pay tribute to each other and it’s a nod to the crime fiction fan too. I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. Which have you read and enjoyed?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s This Night. Why did I choose this song? Because in it Mr. Joel pays tribute to Beethoven by integrating the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata into the chorus.