There’s a special sense of satisfaction that fictional detectives (and I would guess real-life ones, too) get when they solve particular cases. Of course there’s always the sense of a job completed. But when the culprit is highly-placed (and so, protected), for instance, or the case has been especially difficult, there’s an even greater sense of satisfaction about solving it. And detectives are human. It’s hard not to feel that sense of ‘Gotcha!’ It makes detectives just a little more human when we see that side of their personalities.
In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are approached one evening with an unusual request. Famous actress Jane Wilkinson wants to be rid of her husband, the 4th Baron Edgware, because she wants to marry the Duke of Merton. She says her husband won’t consent to the divorce and asks Poirot to try to convince him otherwise. Poirot agrees and he and Hastings pay Lord Edgware a visit. Oddly enough, he says that he’s withdrawn his objection and won’t stand in the way of a divorce. Poirot tells his client as much and there the case seems to end. But that night, Lord Edgware is stabbed. Chief Inspector Japp is assigned the case and of course, Jane Wilkinson is the prime suspect. But twelve people are prepared to swear that she was at a party in another part of London on the night of the murder. So Poirot and Japp have to widen their net, so to speak. In the end, and after two more deaths, Poirot finds out who killed Edgware and catching the person gives him special satisfaction because the killer
‘…dared to make me, Hercule Poirot…cat’s paw.’
He does not take kindly to that role.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna introduces readers to Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team. The body of a young woman is dredged from Lake Vättern and at first no-one knows who she is. There’ve been no reports of missing people who fit her description and she had no identification. After a great deal of work and a lot of time, the young woman is finally identified as twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw, an American tourist who was on a cruise when she was killed. It takes an even longer time to slowly put together the pieces of the puzzle to find out exactly who killed her. But even then, there’s not the kind of conclusive evidence that will hold up in a court case. So Martin Beck and the team lay a trap for the killer and that trap proves especially risky for one member of the team. But after more than six months of work, a lot of ‘brick walls,’ and some very dangerous moments, the killer is brought to justice. Add to that the fact that the killer is not a particularly appealing person with an understandable motive for murder, and you can see why Martin Beck feels such satisfaction:
‘Here comes Martin Beck and it’s snowing on his hat. He walks with a song; he walks with a sway! Hello friends and brothers; it squeaks underfoot. It is a winter night. Hello to you all; just give a call and we’ll go home to southern Stockholm! By subway. To my part of town.
He was on the way home.’
It’s clear that this is more than the usual catharsis that a detective feels at the end of a case.
Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip is the story of Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone and his wife Joey. Perrone is at least nominally a marine biologist. He’s been hired by Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut, who owns a large commercial farm in the Florida Everglades. Hammernut’s farm has been dumping toxic waste in the water and he’s been threatened with lawsuits and harassed by environmental activists. He needs proof that his farm doesn’t pollute the environment and Perrone is the right person to get that evidence. Perrone has come up with a way to make water test results look ‘clean,’ and his services are most definitely ‘for sale.’ So he and Hammernut make a fairly good team. That is, until Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on. When she threatens to go to the authorities, he pushes her overboard during a cruise they’re taking. But Joey Perrone is a champion swimmer who survives and ends up being rescued by former cop Mick Stranahan. Together they come up with a plan to make Perrone believe that someone saw him push his wife overboard, and is now blackmailing him. In the meantime, local police detective Karl Rolvaag is investigating what he thinks is Joey Perrone’s untimely death (since he doesn’t know she’s been rescued). As he gets closer and closer to catching both Perrone and his wealthy employer, it’s easy to see why both he and Joey get an immense amount of satisfaction from what happens to Perrone.
In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the sudden death of Giorgio Tassini, who worked as night watchman at a glass-blowing factory. At first, his death looks like a tragic accident with one of the glass-blowing ovens. But it’s not long before Brunetti begins to suspect that this was not an accident. One of clues he starts with is that Tassini claimed that the local glass blowing factories violate the laws against toxic waste dumping. In fact, he blamed that dumping for the fact that his daughter has several special needs. Brunetti does find out who Tassini’s killer is, but that person is highly-placed and has a lot of ‘clout.’ Brunetti’s own boss Giuseppe Patta, who likes to toady to the rich and powerful, is very reluctant about this investigation. What’s more, there isn’t a lot of clear evidence to support Brunetti. So it’s going to be very hard to bring the culprit to justice. But then, a casual conversation gives Brunetti exactly the evidence he needs to prove that the killer is responsible. Nothing gives him greater satisfaction at the end than to
‘…ruin the Vice-Questore’s lunch.’
Now he’s got what he needs to catch even a very well-protected criminal.
In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. While she’s there, Didi’s partner Nou is murdered. The police theory is that de Montpasse is responsible. When they come to question de Montpasse, he ends up dead and the police claim that he violently resisted arrest and they had no choice but to shoot him. Keeney believes none of this and, mostly to clear her friend’s name, resolves to find out what really happened to the victims. Slowly, Keeney finds that there is a connection between these deaths and the Thai human trafficking and sex trades. The people involved are protected, so it’s hard to believe that an arrest will be made. But Keeney is determined to make it clear that de Montpasse was innocent. All wrongs are not righted in this novel, but it’s clear that Keeney gets a great deal of satisfaction when she confronts the person who has been protecting the criminal. The outcome of that confrontation is also quite satisfying.
And then there’s Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s colleague Giuseppe Fazio disappears while he is investigating illegal activity. When Montalbano realises that Fazio may be in great danger, he and his team start to pick up the investigation trail Fazio left. The case involves the Mob, smuggling and some ruthless people, and Montalbano knows that the team’s only chance of finding Fazio is to catch the criminals he was chasing. Then, one of their primary witnesses is murdered. Now there’s even more pressure on the team. It doesn’t help matters that the group is up against a well-protected and highly-placed enemy. But in the end, Montalbano does catch the criminal. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that the arrest is most embarrassing for the criminal and most satisfying for Montalbano.
Very often the work of solving crimes is thankless, and even though there is satisfaction in a job well done, the endings are certainly not always happy. So it’s nice once in a while when the detective can get a special satisfaction from catching a culprit.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good).