No matter how much you enjoy doing what you do for a living, there’s probably something about it that you don’t like. I honestly can’t think of any profession – even the ones most people dream of – that has no unpleasant sides to it. But most of the time, we put up with what we don’t like about our work because what we do like matters more. That’s just as true of fictional sleuths as it is of anyone else, and when we get to see how those sleuths deal with the parts of their jobs that they don’t like, this makes them all the more human.
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is generally not one for afternoon tea. However, as we learn in Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory Dickory Death),
‘Though personally deprecating ‘le five o’clock’ as inhibiting the proper appreciation of the supreme meal of the day, dinner, Poirot was now getting quite accustomed to serving it.’
In fact, in this novel, Poirot learns the details of an interesting case over tea. His indefatigable secretary Miss Lemon is concerned about her sister Mrs. Hubbard, who manages a student hostel. So Poirot invites Miss Lemon to have her sister come to tea so she can discuss her problem. She is glad to come and tells Poirot of some odd thefts and other occurrences at the hostel. Poirot agrees to look into the case and visits the hostel. When one of the residents is murdered a few days later, Poirot and Inspector Sharpe investigate. They discover that the victim found out more than it was safe for her to know about one of the other residents and that all of the occurrences are tied together.
One of the things that police detectives have to do is deal with dead bodies, whether they like it or not. And that requires a strong stomach, something Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse does not exactly have. He’s a brilliant detective and he finds the puzzle of solving murders to be irresistible. But he has no interest at all in being around corpses. For instance, in Death is Now My Neighbour, physiotherapist Rachel James is shot in her home. Morse and Sergeant Lewis begin their investigation with the people in the victim’s life. They haven’t gotten very far when there’s another murder. Journalist Geoffrey Owens, who lives not far from where Rachel James lived, is also shot. Here’s just a tiny bit of the description of that murder scene:
‘Owens’ body, which Morse had already viewed, howsoever briefly, sitting back, as it had been, against the cushions of the living room settee….’
It’s not at all that Morse doesn’t have the time to make a thorough examination. He prefers to leave that to, in this case, Dr. Laura Hobson.The case takes on a new dimension as Morse and Lewis try to figure out whether someone is trying to kill everyone in that neighbourhood or whether there’s another link between the two victims. As it turns out, there is a connection other than neighbourhood between the two victims and when Morse finds out what it is, he’s able to get on the right path to find the killer.
Ian Rankin’s John Rebus came of age as a cop before computers and the Internet became an integral part of police work. And he never does become entirely enthralled with doing computer work. He’s neither afraid of computers nor stupid though, so he does use the computer when he needs to do so. Here, for example, is one of my favourite Rebus scenes, from The Naming of the Dead. Rebus and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke have been working on a few cases. One of them is the murder of MP Ben Webster. Another is the murder of convicted rapist Cyril Colliar, who’s recently been released from prison. Rebus puts together some background information that may link these deaths to a particular website. Then, he works with freelance journalist Mairie Henderson to get some background information on the website and the people behind it:
‘‘Typed by my own fair hand, so the spelling might not be up to your own high journalistic standard.’
‘What is it?’ She was unfolding the single sheet of paper.
‘Something we were keeping the lid on. Two more victims…’
‘What’s a serial kilter? Is that someone who can’t stop making kilts?’
‘Give it back.’’
Rebus may be aware of how important computer skills are, but that doesn’t mean he has to like that part of his job.
Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a Melbourne baker who loves the act of creating breads and cakes. To her, bread is real and a lot more meaningful than her former work as an accountant. But that doesn’t mean she likes every aspect of it. In order to get her bakery open and ready for the morning trade, Chapman has to get up early. Very early. And she’s not fond of it. Here’s her observation on that (from Trick or Treat):
‘Four am contains, in my experience, many things. Darkness, cold, solitude, gloom, despair, madness.’
And yet, Chapman does what she hates to do – get up early – and starts preparing the day’s breads, cakes and rolls. To her, providing that bread is more important than is her dislike of getting up early. We see that especially in this novel, when a young man jumps from the roof of a building after ingesting some sort of hallucinogenic drug. The police suspect the drug was in bread that the victim ate, and for a while, there are questions about whether Chapman may have been responsible, however unwittingly. Although she and her bakery are later proven innocent, it’s very hard on her when the bakery’s temporarily closed.
Having one’s home life interrupted with a work call comes with the job for most police detectives. Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano knows that, but that doesn’t mean he likes it when his sleep, his private time with his lover Livia Burlando, or especially his food, is interrupted. That’s particularly true when the caller is Sergeant Catarella, who has a lot of difficulty getting simple messages across to his boss. Here, for instance, is a snippet of a conversation they have near the beginning of The Voice of the Violin:
‘The previous evening, finding some fresh anchovies cooked by Adelina, his housekeeper, in the fridge, he’d dressed them in a great deal of lemon juice, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and wolfed them down. And he’d relished them, until it was all spoiled by a telephone call.
‘H’lo, Chief? Izzatchoo onna line?’
‘It’s really me, Cat. You can go ahead and talk.’
At the station they’d given Catarella the job of answering the phone, mistakenly thinking he could do less damage there than anywhere else. After getting mightily p***ed off a few times, Montalbano had come to realize that the only way to talk to him within tolerable limits of nonsense was to use the same language as he.
‘Beckin’ pardon, Chief, for the ‘sturbance.’
Uh-oh. He was begging pardon for the disturbance. Montalbano pricked up his ears. Whenever Catarella’s speech became ceremonious, it meant there was no small matter at hand.’
And in this case, Montalbano’s instincts are correct. The wife of a friend has died, and on the way to the funeral, the colleague driving Montalbano hits a parked car. When no-one reports the damage to the car Montalbano gets interested and goes to the house where the car was parked. That’s when he finds the body of a young woman. Now he has to find a way to officially investigate this murder without letting anyone know he didn’t enter the house exactly legally…
I don’t know of any profession or job that’s entirely pleasurable. That includes sleuthing, and it makes a sleuth more human and a more complete character when she or he has to put up with job annoyances. I’ve only mentioned a few examples here because there’s only a little room in any post. Now it’s your turn…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Todd Rundgren’s Bang the Drum All Day