We all have ‘kinship’ families: parents, siblings, children, spouses and so on to whom we’re related either biologically or by adoption or marriage. A lot of us also have another kind of family: people in our neighbourhood, our group of friends, perhaps fellow members of a club we belong to, with whom we also have strong bonds. Those ‘families by choice’ can make a great deal of difference in our lives. They can make our jobs easier, ease life’s ‘bumps and thumps’ and stand by us when terrible things happen. And there’s often less likelihood that we bond with our ‘families by choice’ out of a sense of duty since the whole point of such a group is that people are a part of the group by choice. You can’t force or contrive those bonds either; they either evolve or they don’t. But when they do, we find ourselves with an unparalleled network of support. And of course, we see that in crime fiction just as much as we do in real life.
One of the best fictional examples of that kind of family (in my opinion at any rate) is in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. Those novels feature accountant-turned-baker Chapman, who lives and works in Melbourne in a Roman-style building called Insula. Insula is also the home of several other residents who’ve bonded into a kind of ‘family by choice.’ There’s retired professor Dionysus ‘Dion’ Monk, herbalist and Wicca shop owner Miriam ‘Meroe’ Kaplan, and best friends Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, who work at Chapman’s bakery. There’s also Andy Holliday and his daughter Cherie, among several other residents. Chapman’s other employee Jason Wallace is also part of the ‘family,’ as is her lover Daniel Cohen. Each member has something to offer to the group and gets something important from the group. They support one another and even though there are some offbeat personalities among them it doesn’t matter; they’re for each other if I can put it that way. And one thing that makes that group realistic is that the members do have their differences and sometimes real disagreements. But they are a close-knit ‘family by choice.’
Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series features another terrific ‘family by choice.’ Wolfe is of course the undisputed (or so he thinks ) leader. But he relies on Archie Goodwin, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather as fellow sleuths. And of course, he depends on Fritz Brenner and Theodore Horstmann to keep his home running smoothly and his beloved orchids in good health. What’s more, these disparate people rely on Wolfe and on each other.
So is the Violent Crimes Unit of the Göteborg Police Department, whom we get to know in Helene Tursten’s series featuring Irene Huss. This unit, under the supervision of Sven Andersson, has to deal with some very ugly, vicious crimes. And part of the way the members deal with that awfulness, as well as the long hours, the frustration and exhaustion and the other challenges of being a cop, is that they’ve got each other. Andersson can be prickly at times, but it’s easy to tell that he cares about the members of his squad, and they care about each other. They care about Andersson too. Each one (Huss, Jonny Blom, Birgitta Moberg, Hans Borg, Tommy Persson, Hannu Rauhala and Fredrik Stridh) brings a unique and valued perspective to the cases they investigate. And each one is also a normal (is there really such a thing anyway?) human being with faults, strengths, occasional pettiness and strong abilities. They may have their disagreements and sometimes there are even rifts among some of them. But in the end, they are a united team – a work ‘family by choice.’
Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant has a ‘family by choice’ too. He’s a Saskatoon PI who’s developed a network of friends that is an important part of his life. There’s his enigmatic neighbour Sereena Orion Smith, his mentor Anthony Gatt and Gatt’s partner Jared Lowe. There are also Errall Strane, Beverly Chaney and Alberta Lougheed, who share the building where Quant has his office, and their group receptionist Lilly, among others. All of these people provide Quant an enormous amount of support and help, and he depends on them more than he sometimes realises. In fact, one of the ways we see his character evolve as the series goes on is that he learns just how much his ‘family by choice’ means to him, and how important he is to them too. It’s part of his process of maturing and it makes the series richer.
We also see a real example of ‘family by choice’ in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series. Galloway is Head of Forensic Archaeology at North Norfolk University. So she is called in when old, especially ancient, bones or other remains are found. That’s how she gets involved in several of the murder investigations that DI Harry Nelson investigates. Galloway is also a single mother who is devoted to her daughter Kate. Although she enjoys living alone with Kate, and isn’t very often much of a one for social occasions, she does have a group of people in her life who’ve formed a sort of family for her. For example there’s her friend and colleague Shona, her childminder Sandra, and her Druid friend Cathbad. None of these people, including Galloway, is perfect. In fact, fans of the series will know that there was a serious rift between Galloway and her friend Shona. But for Galloway, that network matters even though she is rather a loner, and we see how the various members of her ‘family by choice’ support her and she them.
Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig’s) Memphis Barbecue series features Lulu Taylor, who owns and operates Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, a popular Memphis restaurant that’s been in the Taylor family for a long time. And family is important to Lulu. But so is her ‘family by choice,’ which includes a lot of the ‘regulars’ at the restaurant. For example, there are Lulu’s friends Flo, Peggy Sue, Jeanne, Evelyn and Cherry. The five of them are called the Graces, because they’re volunteer docents at Elvis Presley’s home Graceland. They’re also
‘…the finest group of regulars anywhere in the world.’
Besides the Graces, there are Morty, Big Ben and Buddy, who together comprise the Back Porch Blues Band. They too are members of Lulu Taylor’s ‘family by choice.’ The restaurant may draw them all together, but despite occasional misunderstandings and problems, their friendship keeps them a closely-knit group. They help one another and support each other and Lulu knows how very lucky she is to be a part of that group.
And that’s the thing about ‘families by choice.’ They provide a network of supportive people, each of whom brings something valuable and important to the group.
On Another Note…
Today’s technology allows us to have ‘families by choice’ with members from all over the world. I’m fortunate enough to be in such a family – the family of crime fiction bloggers. Readers, writers or both, we are drawn together by our common interest and we stay together because of our respect for and friendship with each other. How lucky I am to have a ‘family by choice’ like this one!!!
One member, Sergio at Tipping My Fedora has paid Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… the real honour of this terrific WordPress Family Award. It means a lot to me, especially coming from someone whose blog I respect as much as I do his, and from whom I’ve learned as much as I’ve learned from him. Before you do anything else, please, do yourself a favour and visit Tipping My Fedora. It’s a superb resource for crime fiction film and novel reviews.
Now, I’m supposed to nominate other WordPress blogs for this award, but some of the most important members of my reading and writing ‘family by choice’ aren’t WordPress bloggers. So instead, I’ll do this. You can meet the other members of my ‘family’ right over on my sidebar. Yes, right there. Choose a few blogs and visit them. Say ‘Hi,’ for me.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Stills’ Helplessly Hoping.