It’s been a tradition for a long time for young people to grow up, make adult plans and leave their homes to start their new lives. But it doesn’t always happen that way. When the economy is uncertain or when those adult plans don’t work out well for whatever reason children sometimes move back home. Some people call that situation ‘boomerang children.’ The reverse sometimes happens too. Economic or health situations for instance may mean that parents move in with their adult children. ‘Boomeranging’ has its advantages. It’s good to know families can be depended on, and it often makes a lot of economic sense. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its own challenges. Just a quick look at crime fiction should suffice to show you what I mean.
In Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood we meet Lynn Marchmont, who’s just been demobbed from the Wrens after the end of World War II. She comes home to live again with her mother Adela and the two really are delighted to see each other. Lynn takes comfort in her old room and things and of course Adela is happy to have her daughter back. But at the same time Lynn is not the same young woman who left the village of Warmsley Vale. She’s matured and had some world experience and she doesn’t see things with the same eyes so to speak. She’s restless and at loose ends – something she didn’t expect. Then her family is rocked by the news that her wealthy uncle Gordon Cloade unexpectedly married. What’s more, he was killed in a bomb blast shortly after the marriage, before he had the time to change his will. Now the comfortable fortune that Cloade had promised to his relations isn’t going to be theirs since his widow Rosaleen will inherit everything. When a stranger calling himself Enoch Arden comes to town everything changes. He hints that Rosaleen Cloade may have been married to someone else at the time of her wedding. If so of course she can’t inherit. This gives the Cloade family hope – until Arden is killed one night. Hercule Poirot has already heard of Rosaleen Cloade so his interest is piqued when not one but two members of the Cloade family ask him to investigate the matter. While he’s doing so, Lynn faces her own challenge: stay at home and marry Rowley Cloade as she’d always intended to do, or get involved with Rosaleen Cloade’s brother David Hunter, which will mean a much less stable life. Her self-exploration reflects some of what it’s like to be an adult living with a parent in ‘the old neighbourhood.’
In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders, political science professor Joanne Kilbourn faces a ‘boomerang’ situation when her daughter Mieka moves back home temporarily. Mieka has just started a new and very successful catering business and it’s done so well that she’s opening a new location. That stress plus the stress of her upcoming wedding means she can’t really cope as well as usual with everyday life. Kilbourn thinks a move home will solve that problem and allow her to re-build her relationship with her daughter, a relationship that soured after Mieka dropped out of college and started her business. But as Kilbourn puts it,
‘But, like a lot of perfect solutions, this one hadn’t worked.
Mieka had changed. She was a woman and, in many respects, a stranger. In my more honest moments, I knew it was wrong to want her to be the sweet, pliable girl she had been at eighteen… Every morning I woke up determined to be open and reasonable, and every night I went to bed knowing I had been neither.’
The two do have their difficult moments. But underneath it, they love each other very much. Here’s the end of one conversation between them:
‘Her [Mieka’s] voice was strong. ‘I want my chance. I know I may get flattened but I have to try.’
‘I gave her hand a squeeze. ‘One good thing about me,’ I said. ‘I always know when I’ve been licked.’
Mieka smiled. ‘Don’t think of it as being licked. Think of it as accepting the inevitable gracefully.’
‘Same thing, eh?’ I said.
Her smile grew broader. ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘it’s the same thing, but this way you get to look like a good guy.’’
They need all of the mutual support they can get when Mieka discovers the body of Bernice Morin, a cleaner she’d hired, in a city trash can. Then Theresa Desjalier, former girlfriend of Kilbourn’s son Pete, drowns in a lake. At first it’s thought to be suicide but it’s later proven to be not just murder, but a murder that’s connected to the murder of Bernice Morin. In the process of finding out the truth about these murders Kilbourn uncovers a very ugly connection between Regina and Theresa Desjalier’s home in Blue Heron Point.
Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur finds himself in a ‘boomerang’ living situation in Jar City. He and his team are investigating the murder of Holberg, a seemingly inoffensive elderly man who lives alone. A photograph and a cryptic message suggest that this isn’t the burglary gone wring that it seems on the surface so the team begins to look into Holberg’s past. What they find is that he wasn’t at all what he seemed on the surface; in fact, he’d been accused of rape, although he was never arrested. And it seems likely he raped more than one woman. As Erlendur is untangling this mystery, he is faced with another challenge. His daughter Eva Lind shows up one night after not having seen her father for some time. Eva Lind has engaged in drug use and other self-destructive behaviour for a while and much as he loves his daughter, Erlendur can’t conscience her lifestyle. What’s more, she has a lot of anger towards her father since she feels he neglected his family. But they are father and daughter and at one point Eva Lind moves back in with her father. Before she does, she insists on making it clear that he’s not to check up on her, ask her questions about where she’s going or what she’s doing or try to influence her decisions. He agrees and one of the interesting sub-plots in this novel is the way these two gradually begin the very slow process of re-building their relationship.
And then there’s Patti Abbott’s short story The Snake Charmer, which features a man named Art who lives with his ‘boomerang’ daughter Shannon and his grand-daughter Zelda. One day Art discovers some pornographic videos under the sofa and is convinced that Zelda’s father Corey Kruse left them there. For him that’s an easy conclusion to draw because he’s always hated Corey. He’s terribly upset at this evidence that Shannon has taken up with Corey again, as he’s always been sure that the young man was ‘bad news.’ Art knows that even ‘though Shannon lives with him, she’s still an adult and isn’t going to stop seeing Corey just because Art tells her she should. So he decides there’s only one way to stop that relationship from re-kindling.
Sometimes parents move in with their adult children either temporarily or permanently and that can have its challenges too. Parents want to be as independent as they ever were, even if they can’t. And despite their children’s adulthood and maturity, it’s hard to let go of seeing them as children. So it takes a whole re-working of the relationship to make these living arrangements successful. For instance in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has taken the case of Daniel Guest, who is being blackmailed. That case alone is difficult enough, especially when the most likely suspect gets murdered. To add to the situation, Quant’s Ukranian mother Kay is planning to spend a few weeks with her son for the Christmas holiday. At first things are awkward. For instance Kay has traditional ideas about cooking and eating; her son on the other hand is trying to watch his diet. There are other difficult moments too. But as the novel moves along each gets more accustomed to the other and it’s interesting to see how they re-discover each other as adults.
‘Boomerang’ family situations can be very challenging and stressful. But sometimes they’re the best solution, especially when life events, health issues and the economy mean that someone can’t live independently. They’re certainly a part of real life and they can add a real layer of interest to a crime novel.