There’s nothing quite like the announcement of a pregnancy (and no, no big family news to share – promise). For many people that news is about as joyful as it gets. Of course it gives people the jitters, too. After all, pregnancy changes everything. And sometimes it’s not easy news to give or hear. But it’s always powerful news, and there’s something about pregnancy that changes the way we feel about the expectant mother. With the strong feelings associated with pregnancy, it’s not at all surprising that we see it in crime fiction. There are many, many examples of this in the genre; I only have space here for a few. So I’ll be counting on you to fill in the gaps I leave.
Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime is a collection of short stories featuring Thomas and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Beresford. As the collection begins, the Beresfords have taken over the International Detective Agency. As its new proprietors, they investigate several different cases, with Tuppence doing at least as much of the detective work as her husband does. Tommy isn’t always happy about the dangers for his wife, but he knows what an independent thinker she is and what’s more, how valuable she is to the agency’s work. It all changes at the end of The Man Who Was No. 16. Here’s what passes between Tommy and Tuppence:
‘‘I say-we’re going to give it up now, aren’t we?’ [Tommy]
‘Certainly we are.’
Tommy gave a sigh of relief.
‘I hoped you’d be sensible. After a shock like this-’
‘It’s not the shock. You know I never mind shocks.’
‘A rubber bone-indestructible,’ murmured Tommy.
‘I’ve got something better to do,’ continued Tuppence. ‘Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before.’
Tommy looked at her with lively apprehension.
‘I forbid it, Tuppence.’
‘You can’t,’ said Tuppence. ‘It’s a law of nature.’
‘What are you talking about, Tuppence?’
‘I’m talking,’ said Tuppence, ‘of Our Baby. Wives don’t whisper nowadays. They shout. OUR BABY! Tommy, isn’t everything marvellous?’
Of course, as fans of the Beresfords know, becoming a mother doesn’t stop Tuppence from investigating…
Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City gives readers another kind of look at the changes that a pregnancy brings. In that novel, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive old man named Holberg. At first, it seems like a robbery gone terribly wrong, but that doesn’t explain the cryptic message that the killer has left behind. So the team looks more deeply in the case. They find that Holberg had a somewhat questionable past that included several accusations of rape, although he was never brought to trial on any charges. At the same time as the team is investigating this murder, Erlendur is facing a personal issue. His daughter Eva Lind has unexpectedly come back into his life. She has a long history of drug use and other problems and this is not really a joyful reunion. She asks Erlendur for money, then breaks the news that she’s pregnant. At first, she doesn’t really intend to change her ways, but as time goes on, she decides to keep the baby. And although neither she nor Erlendur is demonstrative, the news adds to their relationship, and gives Eva Lind added motivation to try to stop using drugs and to build herself a life.
Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit tells the story of Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutor Mason Hunt. Hunt and his brother Gates have the same traumatic family background, but have dealt with it in different ways. Gates has squandered every opportunity that’s come his way and makes money by small-time drug dealing and helping to spend his girlfriend Denise’s Welfare checks. Mason on the other hand has gotten scholarships, stayed in school and become an attorney. One day, Gates is at Denise’s home when he gets into an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Thompson leaves, but later that evening, the Hunt brothers encounter him again. The argument flares back up and before anyone knows what’s really happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of duty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime. Years later, Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking. He asks his brother, who is now a prosecutor, to help him, but Mason refuses. That’s when Gates threatens to implicate Mason in the Thompson killing if he doesn’t help. Now Mason is going to have to find a way to clear his own name. In the meantime, Mason’s fifteen-year-old daughter Grace is struggling in school and having disciplinary problems. Then she tells him that she’s pregnant and wants to keep the baby. Now she’s going to have to grow up fast, as the saying goes. Her news is shocking, but it creates a stronger bond between her and her father.
John ‘Bart’ Bartowski faces a similar challenge in Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake. He and his wife Rosie own a fly fishing lodge in Northern Saskatchewan. When they’re not at the lodge, they live in the small town of Crooked Lake. He and Rosie are the loving parents of Annie, who’s at university, and Stuart, who’s twelve years old. Their more or less peaceful life changes when Bart’s friend Nick Taylor is arrested for murder. Taylor was Head Greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course until he was summarily fired. He blames Board of Directors member Harvey Kristoff for ‘railroading’’ him, and when Kristoff is found murdered on the golf course, Taylor is the natural first suspect. He claims he’s innocent though, and asks Bart to help clear his name. Bart agrees and starts to ask questions. In the meantime, Annie has come home from university for a visit. But it turns out that this isn’t just a social call. She’s brought the news that she’s pregnant. At first, both Bart and Rosie are shocked, but gradually, they get used to the idea of Annie and her boyfriend Randall becoming parents. And it’s interesting to see how knowing his daughter is expecting gives Bart an extra surge of protectiveness about her.
It’s not so easy for nineteen-year-old Maggie Heffernan to share the news of her pregnancy, as we learn in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. In this fictionalised retelling of true events, Maggie grows up in rural Victoria. There, she meets and falls in love with Jack Hardy, who seems to reciprocate her feelings. The two become secretely engaged, and Hardy leaves for New South Wales to find work. The plan is for him to get settled and then publicly announce their engagement. When Maggie realises she’s pregnant, she writes to Hardy to tell him the news, but gets no response. Knowing her own parents will not take her in, she goes to Melbourne where she finds work. She continues to hope for news of Hardy and after the baby is born, she finally tracks him down. When she finds him, Hardy’s rejection of her touches off tragic consequences. The events told in this story took place in 1899 and 1900, and it’s interesting to see how our views of announcing a pregnancy have changed. For Maggie, it was more or less a shameful thing to be pregnant without a husband.
In Liza Marklund’s Prime Time, crime reporter Annika Bengtzon investigates the shooting murder of TV reporter Michelle Carlsson, star of Summer Frolic at the Castle. The only suspects are the twelve members of the cast and crew of the show, so it’s a matter of finding out which one had the most to gain by killing her. In that novel and in Vanished, we learn about Annika’s unusually challenging experience of breaking the news when she learned she was pregnant for the first time. At the time, she was having an affair with Thomas Samuelsson, who was married to someone else. When Annika discovered she was gong to have his baby, she ended up telling Thomas – in his wife’s presence. It’s interesting that Thomas immediately felt differently about Annika after learning he was going to be a father. He left his comfortable home and his wife to be with Annika – not something that always happens in that circumstance. Of course, fans of this series know that Annika and Thomas have their ups and downs. And ups. And downs…
Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman is the story of the investigation into several murders in Paris. Nico Sirsky, who heads Paris’ CID La Crim’, works with his team to find out who the killer is. The team tries to find the common link among the victims but it’s not easy at first. Then, they discover that the victims were all in the early stages of pregnancy and seemed very much looking forward to being mothers. No, pregnancy isn’t the reason these women were murdered. But it adds a special poignancy to their deaths.
The news of a pregnancy is an extremely emotional time. Very often it’s also a time of joy, but even when it’s not, there’s no denying its humanness or power. I’ve only mentioned a few examples of how this plays out in crime fiction. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sarah McLachlan’s Ordinary Miracle.