The trauma of a murder investigation, or even an investigation into a death that doesn’t turn out to be murder, is hard on everyone. In fact, it can affect people for a very long time, sometimes permanently. And very often, the most vulnerable people – children – are the most profoundly affected, even much later in life. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Oh, and before I go any further, I promise – no mentions of serial-killer novels where the murderer was traumatised as a child. It’s been done. ;-)
In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, who wants him to investigate a sixteen-year-old murder. Her father, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon by what turns out to have been spotted hemlock/coniine. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted, and died a year later in prison. There was plenty of evidence against her, and no-one has really doubted her guilt except for her daughter. Now Carla is preparing to marry, and she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present when Crale died. He also gets written accounts from all of them, and from that information, finds out who really killed the victim and why. Even though Carla was only a little girl at the time, and was quickly taken away from the scene of chaos, she has still been affected by the crime and years later, it plays a part in her life.
That’s also true of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He was eleven when his mother was murdered. Since she was a prostitute, not much was done about the murder. Although Bosch isn’t the stereotypical ‘cop with demons,’ he has been profoundly affected by that tragedy. Even he isn’t really aware of quite how much until The Last Coyote, in which he is forced to face the trauma. In that novel, he is sent for mandatory psychiatric counseling after an incident in which he attacks a superior officer. As a part of that process he explores what happened to his mother and even re-opens the case. When he does, he finds that there are several people who are not exactly pleased at having it all brought up again.
Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her roommate Richard Vanderpoel is assumed to be guilty. He was seen covered in her blood, and even had the murder weapon. So it’s not difficult to trace the crime to him. But Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what really led up to the murder. He’s become estranged from his daughter and would like to know the sort of person she became. So he asks Matthew Scudder to investigate. Scudder isn’t (at this point in the series) a licensed PI, but he is a former cop, and he sometimes does ‘favours for friends.’ So he agrees to ask a few questions. He tries to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is either quite ill or under the influence of powerful drugs, and he isn’t really coherent. Shortly after that interview, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is left with more questions than ever and he continues to dig into the case. He finds that Vanderpoel’s mother was murdered when he was a boy and that fact played an important role in his life. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Vanderpoel isn’t the stereotypical ‘traumatised kid who grows up to be a killer.’ But that trauma does figure into the case.
Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph introduces us to the residents of the town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James take a trip there after Deborah meets local vicar Robin Sage. He impressed Deborah and she feels drawn to him, so she persuades her husband to take a holiday at Winslough. By the time they get there though, Robin Sage is dead. He’s been poisoned by water hemlock, which local herbalist Juliet Spence claimed that she mistook for wild parsnip. Since she was the last one who gave him anything to eat or drink, the talk is that she’s guilty of murder. Simon asks his friend Inspector Lynley to look into the matter and see whether this was accidental or someone deliberately poisoned the vicar. Juliet’s thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie has to deal with the trauma of having her mother suspected of murder and it’s not easy. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there is more that Maggie will have to deal with, and anyone who’s read the novel would probably agree that what’s happened will affect her for the rest of her life.
In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his new assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the five-year-old case of the disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She disappeared one day during a ferry trip, and it was always thought that she tragically fell overboard during a quarrel with her brother Uffe. But little pieces of evidence suggest that Merete may still be alive. If she is, there may not be much time left to find her, so Mørck and Assad begin an urgent search for any information they can find. One of the people they want to talk to is Uffe, but he is uncommunicative. He hasn’t spoken since an awful car crash claimed his parents’ lives when he was thirteen. That trauma plays a powerful role in the novel and in Uffe’s personality and way of thinking. As Mørck interacts with Uffee, we see clearly how it still affects him. Once Mørck is able to find a way to get through to Uffe, he gets a key piece of information to help him find out the truth about Merete.
In Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, everyone thought his wife Tina was responsible, and she had good reason. But the police could never really make a case so no arrest was made. Now, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty, so the police take another look at the murder. In the process, they get to know Howe’s two children Kirsty and Sam. They were young at the time of the murder, but even so, and even though it’s been ten years, they’ve been deeply affected by it. The family was very dysfunctional to begin with, so Sam and Kirsty have had their share of troubles. And having the case re-opened just makes things more difficult for them.
And then there’s Taylor, the adopted daughter of Gail Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. When we first meet Taylor in Murder at the Mendel, she is tragically involved in a murder case. Since then, Kilbourn has adopted her and now she and her husband Zack Shreve make it a priority to give Taylor as normal a life (whatever that means) as possible. And Kilbourn ought to know if anyone how to do that. Her other three children Mieka, Peter and Angus had to deal with the murder of their father Ian Kilbourn when they were children. In this series, we see how children can grow up, can have decent lives and find happiness, but how they can also be burdened when they are a part of a murder case.
Those are only just a few examples. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Code of Silence.