Making peace with someone after a falling-out can be awkward and difficult. Misunderstandings, quarrels and estrangements can mean unpleasant scenes and all of the people involved usually feel they’re in the right. Getting past that sense of having been wronged and holding out the proverbial olive branch isn’t easy. But it can result in even a stronger bond between the people involved and even when it doesn’t, making peace is a lot easier on the nerves than the alternative is. Such sub-plots also can add a lot to a crime-fiction novel when they’re not overdone and melodramatic. There’s a solid opportunity for tension build-up and character development when formerly estranged people try to bridge the gaps between them.
For example in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, wealthy Emily Inglethorp is poisoned one night. The most likely suspect is her husband Alfred, whom everyone else in the family sees as a money-hungry fortune-hunter. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against him too so the police focus on him as the culprit. Hercule Poirot is living in the nearby village of Styles St. Mary and interests himself in the case. Not only does he want to make sure that the right person is brought to justice but he also has a personal interest in the murder. He considers Emily Inglethorp his benefactor since she assisted him and a group of other Belgian refugees to get settled in England. Poirot suspects that there may be too much convenient evidence against Alfred Inglethorp and he’s not ready to accept that easy a solution. So he digs deeper and finds that there were plenty of other people, including the other members of the victim’s family, who had a motive for murder. Two of those suspects are Emily Inglethorp’s stepson John Cavendish and his wife Mary. Even before the murder the two of them were having their difficulties and the murder just makes things worse. In the process of finding out who the murderer is Poirot is able to help them bridge that gap and begin to “mend fences.”
In Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only, private investigator V.I. Warshawski is hired by a man who claims to be powerful banker John Thayer. He wants Warshawski to find a young woman named Anita Hill, his son Pete’s girlfriend. Anita has disappeared from the campus of the University of Chicago where she and Pete met, and Thayer tells Warshawski he feels responsible for her disappearance since he’d had an argument with his son about her. Warshawski soon finds out that not much about this case is really what it seems, beginning with her client’s real name. He is really local union boss Andrew McGraw and the missing woman is his daughter Anita McGraw. What’s worse, when Warshawski goes to campus to try to talk to Pete Thayer about his girlfriend’s whereabouts she finds that he’s been murdered. The case turns out to be related to fraud, bribery, fake insurance claims and very hard feelings between local unions and management. In a sub-plot of this novel there’s been a serious estrangement between Anita McGraw and her father. When Warshawski finds the young woman, she and her father get the opportunity to start rebuilding their relationship and although much about this novel is sad, that particular aspect adds a welcome dose of hope.
Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier features the murder of local developer Reginald Montgomery. Trafalgar B.C. Constable Moonlight “Molly” Smith discovers the body and it’s not long before a full-scale investigation begins under the supervision of Sergeant John Winters. Smith is assigned to work with Winters even though she’s only been on the job for six months and she’s very excited for the chance to prove herself. In the meantime she’s also on another case. Smith’s good friend Christa Thompson is being stalked by Charlie Bassing. Smith has told her friend to report the matter officially and even offered to help her do so but Thompson has always refused. Then Bassing’s stalking turns very ugly. Thompson blames Smith for not helping her (and truth be told, Smith feels guilty about that too). Smith blames Thompson for not taking the matter officially to the police in the first place and the two have a very serious breach in their friendship. I don’t think it’s spoiling the novel to say that at the end, they do resume communication and Delany is quite realistic about how awkward a rapprochement can be.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe helps her client Mr. Molofelo hold out the proverbial olive branch in The Kalahari Typing School For Men. Mr. Molofelo is a successful civil engineer who also owns an ostrich ranch. When he has a brush with death after an incident with some poachers he decides to make things in his life right. One of the things he regrets is that long ago when he was a student, he stole a radio from his kind landlords the Tsolamosese family. He also got his girlfriend Tebogo Bathopi pregnant and did almost nothing to help her. Now he wants to make amends for these things and make peace. So he asks Mma. Ramotswe to track down his landlady and his former girlfriend. She finds out what has happened to both women and gives Mr. Molofelo the chance to rebuild those relationships.
There’s also some fence-mending in Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road. Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest is assigned to what looks like a cut-and-dried murder case at Green Swamp Well. Albert “Doc” Ozolins was murdered not long after a drunken quarrel he had with John “Wireless” Petherbridge and Tempest’s boss Bruce Cockburn wants this case wrapped up quickly. Tempest finds little clues that the murder might not be that simple though and insists on asking questions and looking into the case. Immediately a feud begins between her and Cockburn and it’s to Hyland’s credit that it’s not one-sided. Cockburn doesn’t want Tempest going off on her own, possibly risking her life. Besides, she has little concrete evidence that the murder is anything but the tragic end to a quarrel. Tempest doesn’t like Cockburn’s dismissive and authoritarian manner. It doesn’t help matters that she suspects Cockburn may be at least somewhat racist. As the novel evolves though, Cockburn and Tempest learn more about each other and they begin to see each other’s viewpoint. Towards the end of the novel they do make their peace.
In Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure paradmedic Mick Schultz finds himself assigned to work with trainee Aidan Simpson. From the beginning the experience isn’t a good one and it only gets worse as time goes on. Simpson is smug, rude, arrogant, sneaky, chronically late and what’s worst, inept. Schultz does try to help him but that fails too. And it only makes things worse that Schultz has his own problems. He’s trying hard to get his financial situation in order and he’s still reeling from the events described in Frantic (no spoilers). So he doesn’t completely have his head in the game as the saying goes. The relationship between Schultz and Simpson disintegrates until one day when Schultz comes face to face with his own imperfections. Then Simpson learns almost too late about the value of what paramedics actually do. Towards the end of the novel there’s a very powerful scene (well, I think it is) in which the two men extend hands and silently agree to make peace.
It isn’t easy at all to hold out the proverbial olive branch. But making peace can benefit everyone involved even if the result isn’t exactly a close relationship. And the process of settling differences can add a solid layer of characterisation and a dose of tension and suspense to a novel.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Diamond’s A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, made popular by the Monkees.