X marks the spot where the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has stopped today. Just two stops to go after this one, so we are getting close to the end of our journey. And thanks to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, we’re all still together. We’ve arrived safely at the Hotel X, so while everyone’s leafing through sightseeing brochures, I’ll share my contribution: Exes. Yes, I’m thinking laterally – that’s OK, isn’t it, Kerrie?
Fictional sleuths can have extremely stressful lives, and the more devoted they are to their jobs, the more difficult it is for them to balance work and personal life. It’s not always easy to maintain an intimate relationship, especially if one’s a sleuth, so it shouldn’t surprise you that there are several exes in crime fiction. I’m only going mention just a few of them.
One of the more interesting exes I’ve encountered is Michael Connelly’s Eleanor Wish, former wife of L.A.P.D. cop Harry Bosch and mother of their daughter Maddie. When we first meet her in The Black Echo, Wish is an FBI agent; later she becomes a professional gambler. In The Black Echo she teams up with Bosch when he and his partner investigate the death of an old friend of Bosch’s from his days in Vietnam. That death is connected to a large planned bank robbery, which is how the FBI gets involved. Bosch and Wish begin a relationship that has its ups and downs; yet, they remain together and marry at the end of Trunk Music. Bosch loves Wish very much, but he is passionately devoted to the job and finds it hard to balance everything in his life. It’s partly for that reason that the two end up divorcing. Wish and Maddie eventually move to Hong Kong, where Bosch works with her again when he gets a frantic call from Maddie, saying that she’s been kidnapped.
What makes Eleanor Wish an interesting character is that she is complex and somewhat enigmatic. She’s strong and capable and it’s easy to see why she and Bosch develop a relationship. She’s not the ‘bad guy’ in the divorce either. The two don’t break up because she is malicious, jealous or greedy. It’s a painful experience for both of them and in fact, Bosch never really stops caring for her. Even after the couple ends their marriage, she figures into the way Bosch thinks and remains an influential character.
We meet another interesting ex in Camilla Läckberg’s series featuring crime writer Erica Falck and her husband Patrik Hedström. This series takes place mostly in the small fishing town of Fjallbacka, Falck’s home town, where most people know each other. When she first moves back to Fjallbacka in The Ice Princess, one of the people Falck is glad to see again is her ex Dan. She and Dan were high school lovers and had planned to stay together. But as it turned out they wanted different things. Falck wanted to leave Fjallbacka, where she felt smothered at the time. Dan, on the other hand, wanted to stay. He was content with the small-town life of fishing, hockey and family.
Dan’s an appealing character in that he’s bright, interesting, and if I can put it this way, comfortable. He’s not pretentious, and it’s easy to talk to him. It makes a great deal of sense that he and Falck would have fallen in love. And even now, ‘though it’s been years since they were a couple, they are still close friends and understand each other. This relationship adds to the series in a few ways. First, it offers some backstory and an interesting perspective on Falck. Dan’s known her for years and that allows readers to get to know her. Second, Dan himself grows and evolves as a character as the series goes on. He’s a ‘regular’ whom we get to know as part of the fabric of the town and of Falck’s life. Third, and perhaps this is just my opinion, so feel free to differ with me if you do, but it’s refreshing to have an ‘ex’ relationship that isn’t full of bitterness and recrimination. Oh, there are some awkward moments, but overall, it’s a relationship that adds to the series.
Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander also has an interesting ex Mona. In Faceless Killers, Wallander is six months into the single life after Mona left him. As we find out though, she didn’t leave him out of greed, spite or infidelity. She found it impossible to live with Wallander’s way of making his job a priority. And the breakup has been hard on her too. As she tells her ex,
‘I wish you could understand that it wasn’t your fault. I was the one who felt that the breakup was necessary. I was the one who decided.’
She’s not a bad person, and that makes her interesting. She cares about her ex-husband and their daughter Linda and although she is not at all a perfect person, she matters deeply to Wallander. Here’s one of his thoughts about her (from The Troubled Man):
‘Even if I were to fall head over heels with another woman today, Mona will always be the most important woman in my life. That is a fact that can never be changed. New love might replace an earlier love, but the old love is always there, no matter what.’
Mona may no longer be a daily part of Wallander’s life, but she matters to him and she’s woven into the series.
And then there’s Mick Houghton, ex-boyfriend of Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. Houghton’s a rocker and he and Jackson met as bandmates. In fact, as we learn in Blood and Groom, they played in the band for several years before they started dating. The two developed a passionate relationship but from Jackson’s perspective, they fought too much and weren’t stable enough as a couple. It was only musically that they were really in harmony – yes, pun intended. But even though they’ve broken up, Jackson likes and trusts Houghton. They know each other very well and they really are fond of each other. When she needs him most, Jackson knows she can depend on Houghton’s help. Houghton isn’t a bad person and although he’s hardly perfect, we can see how he’d be attractive. That relationship is an interesting thread running through this series and it’s refreshing to see exes who may not have been a good couple but can be friends.
And that’s the thing about well-written exes. Oh, it’s fun to have exes whom we ‘love to hate.’ But the best exes give us perspective on the sleuth and are interesting and likeable enough characters that we can see why the sleuth would’ve loved them in the first place.