I Am the Entertainer, the Idol of My Age*

FangirlThere’s something about rock stars, film stars and other idols. People sometimes almost hero-worship them. Now, personally, I can’t imagine being obsessed about, say, a rock star – ahem. ;-) – But there are a lot of people who are. Just check Twitter, Instagram or other social networks and you’ll see that those kinds of stars get a lot of attention. And if you check news stories, that attention can quickly turn to obsession and more. That happens in crime fiction, too.

For instance, there’s a classic example of that kind of obsession in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). Heather Badcock and her husband Arthur have moved into the new council housing that’s come to the village of St. Mary Mead. Heather is extremely excited because her idol Marina Gregg has bought Gossington Hall, right nearby. She and her husband Jason Rudd are planning to carry on the tradition of an annual charity fête, and Heather can’t wait for the opportunity to speak to Marina Gregg in person. The big day comes and to Heather’s delight, she actually gets the chance to have a short conversation with the film star. Shortly after that though, Heather is taken ill and later dies. It’s soon shown that she was poisoned, and at first, everyone believes that the intended victim was Marina Gregg. But Miss Marple and her friend Dolly Bantry discover that Heather was the target all along. Now they have to figure out why.

In Michael Connelly’s The Overlook, LAPD cop Harry Bosch and his new partner Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Ferras are investigating the death of a physicist Stanley Kent. He was killed on an overlook on Hollywood’s Mulholland Drive, and of course Bosch and Ferras want to talk to anyone who might have been in the area and seen something. That’s how they meet twenty-year-old Jesse Milford. Milford came to L.A. as so many people do, to ‘make it’ in the film business. He’s obsessed with entertainer Madonna, and was actually on her property at the time of the murder. He wanted a photograph or some sort of memento to send to his mother to let her know he was all right. He may not be a major character in the novel, but he shows how obsessed we can be with our stars.

In Peter Lovesey’s Stagestruck, rock star Clarion Calhoun is getting a little older, and losing some fans. She wants to stay on top, so she decides to make a move from rock music to theatre. Her choice is a production of I Am a Camera, and everyone is counting on her ‘name draw’ to ensure a long run. When rehearsals start though, the cast and crew discover that Clarion has little acting talent. She insists on keeping her role though, and the production goes on. Then on opening night, Clarion is attacked by what turns out to be tainted makeup. Her makeup artist/dresser Denise Pearsall is the first suspect, but when she’s found dead, it’s clear that something more is going on.  Superintendent Peter Diamond investigates the attack and the murder and when he starts digging, he finds out that as cliché as it sounds, appearances here are deceiving. In the end he discovers that it all has to do with someone’s past.

Peter James’ Not Dead Yet looks even more closely at how obsessed a fan can be. Rock star Gaia Lafayette has decided to do some film acting. She will be starring in a film about Maria Fitzherbert, mistress to King George IV. Everything’s set for the filming to take place in Brighton, where Gaia was born and raised. There are some security concerns though, because Gaia has received a death threat. Then there’s an attempt on her life. Superintendent Roy Grace is assigned to ensure the star’s security during the filming, but he’s got other issues he’s dealing with at the moment. One is a dead body found in a chicken coop. When that body turns out to be tied in with the threats on Gaia’s life, Grace knows that he’s going to have to take this protection case seriously. One of the characters in this novel is Anna Galicia, Gaia’s biggest fan. Anna is obsessed with her idol, and is more than excited when she finds that Gaia is actually coming to Brighton. It’s an interesting psychological portrait of a person who is consumed by her devotion to a star.

And it’s not just rock stars who are the focus of this kind of obsession. For instance, in Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell’s Gallowglass, a troubled young man named Joe is saved from suicide by a man named Sandor. Sandor convinces Joe that he is destined to ‘serve the chief.’ It’s all part of Sandor’s plan to kidnap one of the world’s most beautiful women, supermodel Nina Abbott. Sandor’s been obsessed with her for some time, and is determined to, as he sees it, free her from imprisonment in the heavily guarded home in which she lives, so she can be with him. Of course, things don’t work out as Sandor intends…

As you can see, there are a lot of obsessed fans out there, both in real life and in crime fiction. I’ve only given a few examples here. And of course, obsession can certainly go too far. But there’s nothing wrong with some posters, t-shirts, memorabilia, music, right? What!?   ;-)

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Joel!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Entertainer.

46 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Michael Connelly, Peter James, Peter Lovesey, Ruth Rendell

46 responses to “I Am the Entertainer, the Idol of My Age*

  1. Thanks for the Christie reference – its nice to be remembered that is far from being a new phenomenon. It is I think a sad index of our age how often stalking cases make the news. It actually happened to a barrister friend of mine (not even remotely a celeb) and ended in a jail sentence (for the stalker not my friend) – sobering stuff!

    • Sergio – It really is scary isn’t it? I’m glad your friend was not hurt, but even knowing someone is that obsessed with one is enough to be very creepy. And yes, celeb obsession has been going on for a long time…

  2. I suppose Murder on the Orient Express is also about celebrity culture, in a way, as it is based on the Lindbergh case. Aviators were the rock stars of their day.

    • Marina Sofia – They were indeed ‘rock stars.’ And one of the themes of that novel is just how vulnerable even the rich and famous and presumably safe are…

  3. Love the picture today! :)

    I think adding a rock star or film star element to a story can make it a lot of fun…so many different ways to handle it.

    • Elizabeth – Thanks – I must admit I had fun putting that one together. The rock/film star element can add all sorts of things to a story, whether the author wants to look at obsession, famous-person-goes-to-small-town, or something else. And you can handle it in as dark or light away as you want. Lot of possibility there.

  4. Obsession in crime fiction can lead readers down so many avenues. Is the person obsessed really the killer or just a red herring? I always draw a blank when trying to remember titles and authors but I recall reading (or maybe it was a movie) where someone became obsessed with an average person, just wanting to live their ‘ideal lifestyle.’ Another thought provoking post, Margot.

    • Mason – Thank you. And it’s interesting isn’t it how obsession isn’t just about the rich and famous. Sometimes people can become obsessed with a ‘regular’ person too. I’ve read some crime novels like that and they can be really well done. As you say, adding an obsessed person to a plot can add a whole new dimension to a murder.

  5. Watching You – Michael Robotham – have you read this one Margot? Fits the topic perfectly.

  6. And there’s Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue – which you mentioned recently in a different context, Margot. Celebrity culture isn’t such a new thing.

  7. Thank you so much for this post, Margot. Through my reading I was struck with a solution to a dilemma I was having with my novel. It ties the beginning and end together perfectly. Making one tiny mistake in the beginning will lead to the closure that I envision for the ending. :)

  8. Can’t think of any celeb examples off the top of my head, but I second Carol’s recommendation re ‘Watching You’. There have been a few stalker-type plots recently – another great one is ‘A Pleasure and a Calling’ by Phil Hogan, where the anti-hero is obsessed with watching people in general, rather than one specific victim…

    And, for the record, I am not obsessed with George Clooney. Just wanted to clarify that… ;)

    • FictionFan – Of course you’re not. I understand completely. ;-) – And thanks for the comment about Watching You. I do like Robotham’s work quite a lot. It’s one of those ‘I just haven’t got there yet’ kinds of things. And I’ve heard good things about A Pleasure and a Calling too. As I think of it, for all that’s good about being wealthy and coddled and famous, I’m not sure I’d want to be that vulnerable to obsession. *shudder*

  9. aaron

    Another fascinating post, Margot! Thank you! I’m making my way through the complete works of Ngaio Marsh published by Harper a couple of years ago and I’m still reading Vintage Murder, but it has a slight but interesting approach to celebrity. It’s Roderick Alleyn’s fifth novel but already he’s a bit famous. The New Zealand police realize relatively quickly that he’s a detective, but only a few of the theatre troupe know him as a police presence.

    It’s not an obsessive celebrity, and it’s not even a plot engine in the story (so far!), but his celebrity both helps and hinders his investigation. And, given the theatrical setting for the novel, ostensibly performance and appearance will play a role as they did in Stagestruck (which I also loved). To my mind, celebrity is about identity and, of course, identification. Celebrities are our mythological creatures, our Greek Gods. We select some of them for veneration (for countless different reasons) and some of them for our contempt (again, for countless different reasons).

    But what about the smaller, more earthly problems that these celebrities have, such as Alleyn being able to investigate in New Zealand, but not being able to function invisibly, behind the scenes, as it were, with all of the possible killers. How does that affect their individual performances? Alleyn’s performance? How do you keep your identity secret when your name is in even foreign newspapers? Today, every no-talent nobody can call the paparazzi for an “unstaged” photo op. But what if your job is better served by anonymity? Except, of course, when it isn’t served by anonymity.

    It’s a bit tangential to your post, but those are the kinds of questions that went through my mind. Maybe I should watch a double feature of The Bodyguard and Miss Congeniality 2 tonight, after some more Marsh!:)

    • Aaron – Thanks for the kind words. You bring up a very interesting point about the effect of even a small amount of celebrity. As you say, Alleyn just wants to do his job without interference. Other celebrities just want to go shopping, walk their dogs or attend worship services without having a lot of attention to themselves. When they get the ‘celebrity treatment’ it really is harder.
       
      You also mention something else interesting about celebrities. People seem to want heroes to worship or people who can become objects of contempt. Celebrities can serve both purposes. So they do have an important role to play when it comes to the psychosocial realities of human interaction. It’s not always healthy, and it can really limit the celebrity, all appearances to the contrary, and yet we do it. I find the dynamics interesting.

  10. kathy d.

    Another example of celebrity is in Richard Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. A supermodel, Lula Landry, is murdered — or did she commit suicide or fall off a ledge? She had an entourage, paparazzi surrounding her, fans, etc. Many people befriended her and traveled with her because of her celebrity.
    But how did she die, and if it was murder, who did it?
    There are enough red herrings in this book to serve a dinner party of 20, as I’ve mentioned before, but what really happened and by whom?

    • Kathy – That’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post. Celebrities like that often attract all sort of people. Some of them could easily become obsessed, and that can be terribly dangerous for the celebrity.

  11. Col

    I’ve currently got Hogan’s A Pleasure and a Calling on the go as well as a few other things.

  12. A fan, a few years ago now, tattooed my daughter’s name on his leg. I found that very disconcerting.

  13. Happy birthday Billy Joel – thanks for the music. Yep obsessional fans can be a nightmare. Gives me goose-bumps all over when I think about some of the situations I’ve been in with some bands. I also had a stalker when I was 15 – he was oblivious to me until the last few days when the police stepped in and arranged a ‘meeting,’ for me with him and then they pounced. He was a male nurse at a famous hospital for the criminally insane and had a fixation on me. He didn’t frighten me – as I didn’t know he was there – but he terrified my parents. Just goes to show that you can be followed and watched and never be aware of it. He didn’t wish me ill apparently – was an older man who thought I was ‘the one,’ for him. Years later his wife (didn’t have one then) served me in a store and said, ‘I know you, my husband talks about you all the time!’ I made a hurried exit.

    • Jane – Oh, how scary that you had a stalker! I’m getting chills just thinking about it. I’m very glad for you that he didn’t physically hurt you, but still! And that he still kept obsessing about you even later? Even scarier! I think famous people are more likely to have that kind of thing happen only because more people know about them. But your story is a good reminder that you don’t have to be famous.

      • I know. I was just going about my business. I do think it odd that he told his wife about me years and years later. And yes, fans can be a problem and some go too far and it does almost turn into harassment. Think of the great stories some could tell – both from the victim’s POV and the stalker’s!!

  14. I meant I was oblivious of him! Duh! Getting all nervous at the memories.

  15. John Dickson Carr’s And So To Murder takes place on a filmset in 1940s Britain, and is full of funny and fascinating scenes there. Film and theatrical settings for murder stories are second only to academic settings as the ideal crimescene, in my view….

    • Moira – Oh, that one does have a great film setting doesn’t it? And it brings all sorts of issues the come with fame and fortune. I agree with you that film and theatre settings are absolutely wonderful for a crime novel. So much there to work with, and so many great possibilities for characters.

  16. Another excellent observation Margot! I remember that Agatha Christie! I do think there is a cult of famous-osity that is extremely problematic for both the famous and the fans. It is the god-realm that these folks are placed in and the human-realm that we must all live in. When we place others at such a high reach there is only one direction to go. The human-realm is messy and not always pretty but it is always real and I’d rather live there. I have people I admire but I try not to forget they are people – even the Queen has to poop!

    • Jan – She does indeed. And thanks for the kind words. You’ve put your finger on one of the big problems with the cult of homage-to-the-famous. We don’t allow our idols to be human beings. And that limits them and us. I think it may be part of the reason for which so many famous people have so many emotional and other problems. They’ve been forced to be something that no human can be – a sort of god. Not easy, and not healthy for anyone.

  17. Interesting topic, Margot. I don’t remember any specific mysteries I have read with this theme, but I can certainly see obsession as the basis for a mystery plot.

    • Tracy – Thanks. It really does make for some fascinating dynamics and some compelling sorts of psychological issues. And that sort of fan-obsession really does happen.

    • Thanks, Tracy. I think obsession either with a famous person or even a not-so-famous person has a lot of possibility when it comes to a crime novel. It allows for a psychological exploration, suspense, and a lot more.

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