Are you the adventurous type? Some people like to dare themselves to do new things. Other people are more cautious. And of course there are strong arguments for both ways of thinking. Being adventurous leads to what can be fantastic experiences. It can also lead to an awful lot of danger and consequences for others. On the other hand being cautious means less danger and more reflection, which can be easier on one’s stress level. Caution can also mean one misses out on some amazing experiences. And too much caution can be its own kind of trap. But either type of person can make for an interesting character in crime fiction, especially if the adventurous/cautious trait isn’t carried too far.
For instance, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit features Anne Beddingfield, who has to begin life on her own after her father’s death. She’s left with very little money and no strong personal ties, so it’s not long before she decides to get out and see what the world has to offer. She’s at a tube station one day when she sees a man fall to the tracks in what looks at first like a terrible accident. When a piece of paper falls out of the victim’s pocket, Anne picks it up and by chance, figures out that the note on the paper refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse she books passage on the ship and soon gets herself mixed up in a case involving stolen diamonds and international crime. Anne’s adventurous nature makes sense given her age and her circumstances and in this story it works.
In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, we meet Andreas Winther. He’s a young man who enjoys taking risks. He’s very much the easily bored type who’s always up for an adventure. He’s somewhat of a non-conformist and doesn’t have a lot of close friends, but he is good friends with Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. Together the two of them go drinking, try new things and so on. Occasionally they get into trouble, but usually it’s nothing terribly serious. Then one day Andreas’ adventurous nature pushes him and Zipp into some dangerous adventures that go too far. Certainly they go farther than Zipp intended. At the end of that day Andreas disappears. His mother Runi worries about her son and goes to the police, but the police don’t take her concerns seriously at first. Then when more time passes and Andreas still hasn’t returned, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre begin to look into what happened. Zipp is in the best position to know exactly where his friend is and what happened but he’s completely unwilling to co-operate (And no, it’s not because he killed Andreas. He didn’t). Bit by bit though, Sejer and Skarre learn about the kind of person Andreas is, and they find out the truth about his disappearance. In this case, Andreas’ adventurous personality fuels what happens in the book and makes sense.
So does Sam Bretton’s adventurousness in Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide. Sam is the daughter of Alan ‘Tug’ Bretton, captain of Sea Mistress, a fishing trawler based in Brisbane. When Bretton is accused of murdering Ewan McKay, deckhand from another ship, Sam takes his place as skipper. She’s actually got two motives for doing that. One is that if the family boat doesn’t go out, creditors may take it. The other is that she knows her father isn’t guilty of murder and wants to find out who really killed Ewan McKay. What Sam doesn’t know at first is that Chayse Jarrett, the deckhand’s she’s just hired for this trip, is an undercover cop who’s been assigned to find out whether Bretton killed McKay and whether Sea Mistress is involved in recent drugs activity in the area. First separately and then together, Sam Bretton and Chayse Jarrett look for the murderer and go up against some fairly nasty drugs smugglers. In this novel, Sam Bretton’s adventurousness makes sense; she’s the daughter of a fishing boat captain and she’s been to sea many times. For her, risk is a part of life, and Curtis doesn’t make her completely foolhardy. So we can believe that someone like Sam Bretton could exist.
But of course not all fictional protagonists, even in murder mysteries, are that adventurous. For instance, in Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we meet mystery novelist Martin Canning. He’s never been one to take risks. In fact, he’s happiest when he’s safely writing his novels that take place in a very ‘safe’ environment. Then one day he happens to be ‘on the scene’ when Paul Bradley brakes his silver Peugot in time to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The car behind Bradley’s, a blue Honda, doesn’t stop and hits the Peugot. The two men get into an argument that ends with the Honda driver brandishing a baseball bat. Now Bradley is in danger for his life and Canning, who’s never done a courageous thing in his life, throws his laptop case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. Out of a sense of duty, Canning accompanies Bradley to a local hospital to make sure he’s all right, and that’s how Canning gets drawn into a complicated web of fraud, theft and murder. It adds a real level of tension to this novel to see how the completely unadventurous Canning reacts to this adventure that’s been forced on him.
That happens in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move too. Science fiction writer Zach Walker moves his family from what he sees as the too-dangerous city to a newly-developed suburb called Valley Forest Estates. Walker may write about scary science fiction creatures but in his real life he’s a very cautious person who avoids risks whenever he can. In a bitter twist of irony, he gets drawn into a frightening adventure when he goes to the community’s main sales office one day to lodge a complaint. While he’s there, he witnesses an argument between one of the community’s developers and local eco-activist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker is the one who finds Spender’s body lying in a local creek. Now, despite his best efforts, Walker gets involved in that murder and another one, as well as a case of fraud and corruption. Walker’s cautious nature highlights the irony that adds some ‘life’ and humour to this novel.
In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, beginning psychologist Stephanie Anderson has to face her own over-cautious self. She’s been cautious and careful – certainly not spontaneous – since her younger sister Gemma was abducted seventeen years earlier. No trace of Gemma was ever found, not even a body. Stephanie’s gone on with her life as best she could, but she’s been cautious and careful, especially about relationships. Then she begins to work with a new patient Elizabeth Clark, who tells her a story that’s eerily like her own. Elizabeth’s younger sister Gracie was abducted several years earlier and in that case too, no trace of the child was ever found. When she really absorbs this story, Anderson decides to lay her own ghosts to rest and look for the person responsible for both girls’ disappearances. Her choice leads her on a trip from Dunedin, where she lives and works, back to Wanaka, where she grew up. Along the way she finds the ability to let go and have an adventure, as well as the courage to face her past. In this novel there’s a clear connection between Anderson’s cautious nature and her past; her personality makes perfect sense and works for the story. So does her evolution as the story goes on.
What about you? Do you take on adventures? Even if you don’t in your real life, you can in the books you read. How? Let me suggest the 2013 Global Reading Challenge, being hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This challenge invites you to read books from all over the world and gives you the chance to have some adventures without actually being in any danger. Well, unless you count the danger of missing your bus, tram or train stop because you’re caught up in a story. Go ‘head – check it out! Find out more information and give it a go. Dare ya!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Come Sail Away.