Category Archives: Donna Leon

Got to Get Back to the Land*

Hiking and CampingMany people enjoy the feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ by taking camping and hiking trips. There is definitely something to be said for spending some time with nature, turning off the computer and the telephone and enjoying some peace. Other people camp because that’s their culture and way of life. Either way, camping can be a rich experience. But as crime fiction shows us, camping isn’t always the relaxing, peaceful experience it’s sometimes made out to be.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family tours the Middle East, making a special excursion to Petra. While they’re on their camping/hiking/sightseeing tour, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. It soon turns out that Mrs. Boynton was poisoned, and Poirot interviews each of the people at the sightseeing encampment. There are plenty of suspects too, since Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist who kept everyone in her family cowed. In the end Poirot establishes who the murderer is. One of the interesting clues in this murder comes from the location of each of the campers’ tents.

Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane decides to take a hiking holiday in Have His Carcase. She’s just been through a traumatic time standing trial for murder (Strong Poison gives the details on that experience), and she is in need of a rest. During her hiking trip, Vane stops one afternoon for a rest and soon dozes off. When she wakes up, she finds the body of a dead man. She alerts the authorities who start the investigation. The dead man is soon identified as Paul Alexis, a professional dancer at a nearby hotel. At first it looks as though Alexis may have committed suicide, but it soon turns out that he was murdered. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers who killed Alexis and why. So much for a peaceful hiking holiday…

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. Matteesie has been asked to investigate the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. He’s getting ready to do just that when he witnesses the shooting death of Native activist Morton Cavendish. It’s not long before Matteesie establishes that the two cases are related, so he changes his focus to an investigation of the murder. He’s hoping that by finding the killer, he may find the answer to what happened to the plane and the men on it. As Matteesie investigates, we get a look at the way things are done in Canada’s Far North. One fact of life there is that people go on hunting and fishing trips that can take them far from home. So they camp. In fact, it’s a popular tourist activity too. It’s not surprise then, that there are several scenes in this novel that take place at different camps. One of those scenes in fact tells us a lot about the mystery.

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat also takes place in Canada’s Far North. Edie Kiglatuk is a hunting guide with an excellent reputation. That reputation is threatened when one of her clients Felix Wagner is shot during a camping/hunting expedition. At first his death is put down to a tragic accident and Edie is given the message to just leave it alone. But then her stepson Joe commits suicide (or did he?) and there’s another death as well. Soon Edie is involved in a complicated case of murder and greed. If she’s going to clear her reputation and find out why her stepson died, she’s going to have to find the murderer. She works with Ellesmere Island police offer Derek Palliser to investigate the case. As they do so, we see how deeply camping is embedded in that culture. People go out for days or more to hunt, trap and fish and in that climate, a good campsite can mean the difference between life and death.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, novice psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson takes an unexpected camping trip. One of her clients Elisabeth Clark is troubled by the disappearance years earlier of her younger sister Gracie. This story haunts Anderson, as her own sister Gemma disappeared in a similar way seventeen years earlier. Anderson decides to lay her ghosts to rest, so to speak, by finding out who was responsible for abducting the young girls. So she makes a trip from Dunedin to her family’s home in Wanaka, trying to trace the culprit as she goes. During one stop she meets a hunting guide named Dan, who invites her on a hunting and shooting trip. Anderson demurs at first, but Dan wants to prove to her that

 

‘…all hunters aren’t blokey yobbos.’

 

Finally Anderson agrees and she and Dan take a three-day camping and hiking trip. Making the trip doesn’t catch the criminal. But it does give Anderson a new kind of confidence as well as some interesting and important information. And she finds herself more interested in Dan than she’d imagined she would be.

There’s also Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger, so she spends quite a bit of time camping. She’s assigned to different parks for different amounts of time, so her accommodations vary. But she’s grown quite accustomed to tents, bedrolls and campfires.

There are a lot of other novels of course that feature camping trips (I know, I know, fans of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores). And in novels such as Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams, Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte series and Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels, we meet groups of people for whom camping is a way of life. It certainly does have a lot to offer. But – erm – do be careful…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Upfield, Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, M.J. McGrath, Nevada Barr, Paddy Richardson, Scott Young

Come to My House*

Rooms and HousesWhen we have the option, most of us have a way of imprinting our personalities on the places where we live. For instance, bibliophiles tend to devote a lot of space to their books. People who are neat, orderly types tend to leave things tidy. In real life, detectives rely on this because it gives them a portrait of a person. That can be helpful in tracking down a missing person or trying to find out why someone was killed. That’s why real and fictional cops and other investigators almost always want a look at someone’s possessions and room. It’s not just to get physical evidence (if there is any). It’s also to find out about the kind of person the victim or missing person is/was.

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in several of her stories. For instance, in Murder in Mesopotamia, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner. She is the wife of noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, and has accompanied her husband and his dig team on an excavation a few hours from Baghdad. When she’s found bludgeoned in her room one afternoon, Poirot is persuaded to interrupt his travels in the area to look into the matter. It turns out that she’d been in fear for her life, and had reported hearing hands tapping at windows and seeing strange faces looking into her room. Nurse Amy Leatheran, who was hired to look after Louise, works with Poirot to find out who killed the victim and why. One important source of information for Poirot is Louise’s room. From it he learns quite a bit about her personality and her interests. That information helps him sort out what people say to him about her, so that he can distinguish who’s telling lies (or not seeing things clearly) and who’s got a solid perspective on the victim.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police has two related cases on his hand. One is the murder of Albert Gorman, a transplanted Los Angeles Navajo. The other is the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi, who hasn’t been seen since she left the residential school she attends. At one point early in the novel, Chee traces Gorman to the hogan of Ashie Begay, who is distantly related to Gorman. Chee can tell just by looking around the hogan that it is the home of a traditional Navajo who observes the ways of his people. And that’s what makes him all the more suspicious when shortly after his arrival, he finds Gorman’s body. The body is prepared for burial but not exactly in the traditional Navajo way. So it wouldn’t have been Begay who prepared the body and not likely Begay who killed Gorman. But Chee can’t ask Begay because he’s disappeared…

Donna Leon’s Blood From a Stone is the story of the execution-style murder of an unknown Senegalese immigrant. He was killed one morning while he was preparing his wares for sale at an open-air market, and no-one seems to know who he was or anything about him. In fact, it takes Commissario Guido Brunetti quite a lot of time to even find out where the man lived. He finally succeeds though, and he and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello go to the house that the victim shared with several other immigrants. The room he occupied is sparsely furnished and has little in the way of ‘personal touches.’ But the two detectives can tell from it that the victim probably didn’t cook, since he had no kitchen implements. So why does he have a box of cooking salt? Brunetti also gets a clue as to the man’s nationality from a piece of a statue that he finds in the man’s room. Those small pieces of information are very helpful as Brunetti and Vianello try to find out who the man was and why anyone would want to kill him.

In Kerry Greenwood’s Devil’s Food, Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman tries to find out what could have poisoned her two employees Kylie Manners and Gossamer ‘Goss’ Judge. The two young women share an apartment in the same building where Chapman lives and works, so she’s gotten to know them rather well. One day, they both behave very oddly – in fact, so oddly that Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen wonder if they’re using a new kind of drug. Their behaviour doesn’t resemble what Cohen has seen in other drug users though, so neither he nor Chapman can tell at first exactly what’s happened. With help from another friend Miriam Kaplan, who goes by her Wiccan name of Meroe, Chapman gets the two girls settled in their home and then goes on a hunt among their things to find out what could have poisoned them. As she does, we get to see how much their environment reflects their personalities. They’re both interested in TV careers, so there’s plenty of makeup, nail varnish and the like. Neither is much of a one for cooking or housekeeping either, and that’s clear too from Chapman’s search. Then she finds a new kind of weight loss tea in their kitchen, and she and Meroe deduce that it’s the tea that’s poisoned them. Now Chapman has to find out who gave them the poisoned tea and why.

Katherine Howell’s New South Wales police detective Ella Marconi often uses what she finds in victims’ homes and rooms to get a sense of what the victim was like. In Silent Fear for instance, she and her team are looking for the murderer of Paul Fowler. He and some of his friends were tossing a football around one afternoon when he was shot, execution-style. Of course Marconi and the team start with the victim’s ex-wife and close friends, as they’re the most likely suspects. That’s how Marconi learns that Fowler had been laid off from his job and was staying with a friend Seth Garland. When Marconi goes to their shared apartment, she finds that unlike Garland, Fowler was not a neat person. They’re very different in their personal habits. Marconi uses that to deduce that Fowler and Garland might have had a falling-out. If so, that could be a motive for murder. It doesn’t turn out to be quite that simple, but it’s interesting to see how much Marconi can guess just from a look around a room.

We also see this in Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman. Paris CID (La Crim’) detective Nico Sirsky and his team are faced with the brutal murder of Marie-Hélène Jory. The killer has been very careful, so there’s not much to go on at first. Then there’s another murder and this time, the killer has left a message: seven days, seven women. Now the team knows that they’re up against a dangerous enemy. At first, it’s very hard to learn anything about the killer. But in looking around each victim’s home, the team learns something about that person. And that tells them something about the killer. Just as one example, they find that one of the victims was rather sloppy. And yet, a pair of the victim’s slippers was found very neatly placed by the bed. That tells them that the killer is very neat and methodical, and gives them a start to finding out who the murderer is.

You really can find out a lot about a person just from looking at that person’s room or home. And detectives often find that information very useful. It’s helpful to authors too, as it lets the crime writer show not tell about the victim’s personality. These are only a few examples, though. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s Welcome. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Frédérique Molay, Katherine Howell, Kerry Greenwood, Tony Hillerman

I Promise I’ll Believe*

BeliefsOne of the many things that crime writers do (besides, of course, telling good stories) is explore human nature and human psychology. One of the many really interesting phenomena of psychology is that sometimes, people want to believe something so badly that they find it well-nigh impossible to let go of that belief. That desperate need to believe is part of why charlatans and quacks are sometimes so successful. Of course that’s certainly not the only instance where we see how far people will go when they need to believe something. Just a few examples from crime fiction should show you what I mean. 

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver has been commissioned to create a Murder Hunt for an upcoming fête that will be held on the grounds of Nasse House. Mrs. Oliver may be scatty about some things, but as Hercule Poirot puts it, she is also,

 

‘a very shrewd judge of character.’

 

So when she begins to suspect that something sinister may be going on at Nasse House, Poirot pays attention. When Mrs. Oliver asks him to come and investigate for himself, he agrees. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who was playing the Victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed.  Poirot works with Inspector Bland and his team to find out who committed the murder and why. As he learns, there is one person who knows quite a lot about what happened, but that person wants desperately to believe in the culprit, and can’t admit what really happened. Even in the end, that person would rather blame someone else.

In one of the plot threads of Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is facing a family problem. His aunt Zia Anita has been behaving oddly lately. For one thing, she’s taken what Vianello thinks is an unhealthy interest in astrology. What’s more, she’s been withdrawing money from the family business and giving it to Stefano Gorini, a self-styled doctor with a dubious background. The money is hers to do with as she wishes, so it’s not a question of theft. Still, Vianello is concerned. So he asks his boss Commissario Guido Brunetti to help him look into the matter. Brunetti agrees and he starts to do a little investigation. It turns out that Gorini has been in trouble with the law before for practising medicine without a license. Now he’s set himself up again and people are coming to him for cures that he can’t deliver. As Brunetti looks deeper into the matter, he finds that there are people who so need to believe in Gorini that they will not accept his being a charlatan. In one case, that desperate need to believe has a tragic result. 

There’s a different sort of need to believe in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik have a fifteen-year marriage and a six-year-old son Axel. On the surface of it, everything is fine in their lives, but that’s mostly because Eva has a desperate need to believe in the ‘white picket fence’ kind of life. It’s what she has always wanted and she badly needs to believe that’s what she has. Then she discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. His betrayal of her is devastating for Eva, and her reaction to it sets in motion a terrible chain of events. As the novel unfolds, we see that their marriage wasn’t the happy bond that Eva needed to believe that it was. In several places in the story, the reader can’t help but think, ‘If you’d only looked at things honestly, this all could have been avoided.’ It’s a fascinating look at the need to believe things. 

So is Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. In that novel, Delhi private detective Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri learns on news broadcasts that a former client Dr. Suresh Jha has been murdered. Since Jha was a client, Puri has more than a passing interest in the case and begins to ask questions about it. The circumstances of the death are to say the least unusual. Jha had joined other members of the Rajpath Laughing Club one morning for their laughing exercises. All of a sudden, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appeared and stabbed Jha. The event makes for sensational headlines, and many people really believe that Kali appeared. They desperately feel the need to believe in that spiritual connection. What’s interesting is that Jha was the founder and head of the Delhi Institute for Rationalism and Education (D.I.R.E.). His mission was to debunk the myths that allow charlatans to take advantage of people’s need to believe. He called those people ‘the godmen,’ and did everything he could to expose them. So it’s very possible that one of Delhi’s spiritual leaders had something to do with Jha’s death. Puri and his team investigate a few of them as well as several other suspects. As they get to the truth about what happened to Jha, we see how powerful a force people’s need to believe really is. 

We see that in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red too. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington television journalist who’s looking for the story that will make her career. She thinks she may have found that story in the case of Connor Bligh. Bligh’s been in prison for several years for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan and their son Sam. Only their daughter Katy survived because she wasn’t at home when the murders were committed. Now there are little hints that Bligh may be innocent. And of course, he’s always maintained he wasn’t guilty. If he’s right, then this could be a career-making story and Thorne pursues it. As she does, she gets closer to the story than is really wise. And the questions come up: is Bligh innocent, or is that just something some people really need to believe?  Is he guilty, or do certain people truly feel the need to believe he’s guilty, so they won’t have to look elsewhere? 

There are a lot of other novels of course that explore how desperately people need to believe things. For instance, I haven’t even touched on the novels where a character (sometimes the sleuth) believes so strongly in a suspect’s innocence that s/he investigates the case just for that reason. It’s another example of how our need to believe moves us.

ps. A special thanks to FictionFan, whose terrific review of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies inspired this post. If you haven’t sampled FictionFan’s excellent review blog, you’re in for a treat!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sheryl Crow’s Strong Enough

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Karin Alvtegen, Paddy Richardson, Tarquin Hall

I Feel Good*

WinningThere’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).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Better Friends Than Lovers*

FriendsOne of the more common undercurrents/subplots in crime fiction happens when the sleuth and another character find themselves in a situation where they could be attracted to each other. A lot of times that possible attraction ends up as a romance or at least a story arc that could lead to a romance. In fact, that’s such a common occurrence that it can be really interesting when it doesn’t happen. It takes a deft hand to create two characters who could easily end up together…but don’t, especially when they are both good people who like each other. But it is realistic. People don’t end up in romantic relationships with every potential partner they meet. And we wouldn’t think much of characters who did, I’d guess.

We see this kind of relationship between Hercule Poirot and the Countess Vera Rossakoff. She is a very skilled jewel thief whom we see in the short stories The Capture of Cerberus  and The Double Clue and the novel The Big Four. She’s on ‘the wrong side of the law’ and doesn’t pretend very hard to be otherwise. And of course, Poirot’s made a career of catching criminals. But the two develop a liking and even respect for each other. You could even argue that Poiot has a sort of ‘crush’ on the countess, and she thinks well of him too. In fact she even helps him in her way to bring down an international criminal conspiracy in The Big Four. But they never fall in love or pursue a relationship although logically they could certainly move in the same circles. Speaking only for myself I’m rather glad that Christie never had them fall in love. The Poirot stories would most emphatically not have been improved, I don’t think, if the two had a romance.

Margaret Coel’s Wind River series features Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley, a Jesuit priest who works at St. Francis Mission near the Wind River Reservation. In their first outing The Eagle Catcher, O’Malley is supposed to meet Arapaho tribal chair Harvey Castle at a gathering. Instead, he finds Castle has been murdered. The police soon begin to suspect that Castle’s nephew Anthony is guilty. And Anthony doesn’t help his case by running off when the police go to his home. He’s soon found and arrested, but claims that he’s innocent. O’Malley calls Holden and asks her to help clear the young man’s name and she agrees. Throughout this series, Holden and O’Malley work together and become friends. Each admits an attraction for the other, too. But they don’t develop a romantic relationship. And that restraint on Coel’s part actually makes the series stronger and more realistic.

Julia Spencer-Fleming shows a similar restraint in her series featuring Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and Miller’s Kill, NY, Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne. Beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter, when Fergusson begins her life in Miller’s Kill, she and Van Alstyne work together on a series of murder investigations. In A Fountain Filled With Blood, for instance, two gay men are attacked during a gay-bashing spree. Then, as if that weren’t enough, property developer Bill Ingraham, who’s also gay, is murdered. So Fergusson and Van Alstyne are facing both a wave of hate crime and the investigation of a murder that may or may not be related to the other attacks. In the course of the series, Fergusson and Van Alstyne become friends and they both admit they are attracted to each other. But they don’t develop a romance. Van Alstyne is married and has no reason to want to divorce his wife. And even though Fergusson is not barred by her faith from marrying, she has her public image as a member of the clergy to consider. Spencer-Fleming balances carefully the natural attraction these two people feel for each other and the realities that keep them from becoming a couple.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has several good friends who get drawn into his cases and are often very helpful. One of them is former supermodel Jared Lowe. Quant and Lowe have a strong friendship and in the beginning of the series Quant even admits he’s had a secret crush on Lowe. But neither really pursues the relationship and in this series, that makes sense. For one thing, Lowe’s partner is Quant’s good friend and mentor Anthony Gatt. And although that relationship has its stresses and rough times, Lowe loves his partner. And Quant is very fond of Gatt too, and respects him. Not to mention that as a result of what happens in Stain of the Berry, Lowe has other issues to deal with besides any attraction he might feel towards Quant. So although the two have more than one opportunity to be together, a romance never develops between them. And that restraint makes the series that much more believable and the characters more likeable.

In Steve Robinson’s In the Blood, we are introduced to Washington, DC genealogist Jefferson Tayte. Successful entrepreneur Walter Sloane hires Tayte to chart his wife’s family history, and Tayte accepts the commission. His search reveals that one of those ancestors James Fairborne returned to England with his family in 1783. But oddly enough, no-one in that family appears on any record after that time. In fact, records show that Fairborne married again less than two years after his return to England. Sloane commissions Tayte to follow up on that part of the family story and Tayte travels to England. There he meets Amy Fallon, who lost her husband Gabriel two years earlier in a storm-related boating tragedy. Fallon has recently found a very old writing box that is closely related to the mystery Tayte is investigating. So together, the two of them look into what really happened to the Fairborne family and how that history is related to two modern-day deaths that occur. They find out the truth about the Fairbornes, but although they become friends in the process, they don’t fall in love. In this case, it’s not that either is attached (although Fallon still grieves for her husband). Rather, they simply aren’t right for each other. They have very different lives, so it wouldn’t be realistic anyway for them to suddenly fall in love; the story is more credible as it is than it would be if they started a romance.

There are also of course many examples of police detectives who work together but don’t fall in love. I’m thinking for instance of Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi and Dennis Orchard, and of Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti and Claudia Griffoni. Those series work better because the detectives don’t have romantic relationships. This is just my opinion, so do feel free to differ with me if you do, but I find it refreshing when two fictional characters can work together and even be good friends without necessarily starting an affair. What do you think?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Michael Lovesmith, made popular by Aretha Franklin.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Leon, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Katherine Howell, Margaret Coel, Steve Robinson