One of the more common undercurrents/subplots in crime fiction happens when the sleuth and another character find themselves in a situation where they could be attracted to each other. A lot of times that possible attraction ends up as a romance or at least a story arc that could lead to a romance. In fact, that’s such a common occurrence that it can be really interesting when it doesn’t happen. It takes a deft hand to create two characters who could easily end up together…but don’t, especially when they are both good people who like each other. But it is realistic. People don’t end up in romantic relationships with every potential partner they meet. And we wouldn’t think much of characters who did, I’d guess.
We see this kind of relationship between Hercule Poirot and the Countess Vera Rossakoff. She is a very skilled jewel thief whom we see in the short stories The Capture of Cerberus and The Double Clue and the novel The Big Four. She’s on ‘the wrong side of the law’ and doesn’t pretend very hard to be otherwise. And of course, Poirot’s made a career of catching criminals. But the two develop a liking and even respect for each other. You could even argue that Poiot has a sort of ‘crush’ on the countess, and she thinks well of him too. In fact she even helps him in her way to bring down an international criminal conspiracy in The Big Four. But they never fall in love or pursue a relationship although logically they could certainly move in the same circles. Speaking only for myself I’m rather glad that Christie never had them fall in love. The Poirot stories would most emphatically not have been improved, I don’t think, if the two had a romance.
Margaret Coel’s Wind River series features Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley, a Jesuit priest who works at St. Francis Mission near the Wind River Reservation. In their first outing The Eagle Catcher, O’Malley is supposed to meet Arapaho tribal chair Harvey Castle at a gathering. Instead, he finds Castle has been murdered. The police soon begin to suspect that Castle’s nephew Anthony is guilty. And Anthony doesn’t help his case by running off when the police go to his home. He’s soon found and arrested, but claims that he’s innocent. O’Malley calls Holden and asks her to help clear the young man’s name and she agrees. Throughout this series, Holden and O’Malley work together and become friends. Each admits an attraction for the other, too. But they don’t develop a romantic relationship. And that restraint on Coel’s part actually makes the series stronger and more realistic.
Julia Spencer-Fleming shows a similar restraint in her series featuring Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and Miller’s Kill, NY, Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne. Beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter, when Fergusson begins her life in Miller’s Kill, she and Van Alstyne work together on a series of murder investigations. In A Fountain Filled With Blood, for instance, two gay men are attacked during a gay-bashing spree. Then, as if that weren’t enough, property developer Bill Ingraham, who’s also gay, is murdered. So Fergusson and Van Alstyne are facing both a wave of hate crime and the investigation of a murder that may or may not be related to the other attacks. In the course of the series, Fergusson and Van Alstyne become friends and they both admit they are attracted to each other. But they don’t develop a romance. Van Alstyne is married and has no reason to want to divorce his wife. And even though Fergusson is not barred by her faith from marrying, she has her public image as a member of the clergy to consider. Spencer-Fleming balances carefully the natural attraction these two people feel for each other and the realities that keep them from becoming a couple.
Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has several good friends who get drawn into his cases and are often very helpful. One of them is former supermodel Jared Lowe. Quant and Lowe have a strong friendship and in the beginning of the series Quant even admits he’s had a secret crush on Lowe. But neither really pursues the relationship and in this series, that makes sense. For one thing, Lowe’s partner is Quant’s good friend and mentor Anthony Gatt. And although that relationship has its stresses and rough times, Lowe loves his partner. And Quant is very fond of Gatt too, and respects him. Not to mention that as a result of what happens in Stain of the Berry, Lowe has other issues to deal with besides any attraction he might feel towards Quant. So although the two have more than one opportunity to be together, a romance never develops between them. And that restraint makes the series that much more believable and the characters more likeable.
In Steve Robinson’s In the Blood, we are introduced to Washington, DC genealogist Jefferson Tayte. Successful entrepreneur Walter Sloane hires Tayte to chart his wife’s family history, and Tayte accepts the commission. His search reveals that one of those ancestors James Fairborne returned to England with his family in 1783. But oddly enough, no-one in that family appears on any record after that time. In fact, records show that Fairborne married again less than two years after his return to England. Sloane commissions Tayte to follow up on that part of the family story and Tayte travels to England. There he meets Amy Fallon, who lost her husband Gabriel two years earlier in a storm-related boating tragedy. Fallon has recently found a very old writing box that is closely related to the mystery Tayte is investigating. So together, the two of them look into what really happened to the Fairborne family and how that history is related to two modern-day deaths that occur. They find out the truth about the Fairbornes, but although they become friends in the process, they don’t fall in love. In this case, it’s not that either is attached (although Fallon still grieves for her husband). Rather, they simply aren’t right for each other. They have very different lives, so it wouldn’t be realistic anyway for them to suddenly fall in love; the story is more credible as it is than it would be if they started a romance.
There are also of course many examples of police detectives who work together but don’t fall in love. I’m thinking for instance of Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi and Dennis Orchard, and of Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti and Claudia Griffoni. Those series work better because the detectives don’t have romantic relationships. This is just my opinion, so do feel free to differ with me if you do, but I find it refreshing when two fictional characters can work together and even be good friends without necessarily starting an affair. What do you think?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Michael Lovesmith, made popular by Aretha Franklin.