Category Archives: Dorothy Sayers

I Remember How Things Used to Be*

Crime Fiction StaplesAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about certain kinds of characters we don’t see very often any more in crime fiction. As society has changed, so have our values and the way we see social structure. And it makes sense that those changes would be reflected in crime fiction too. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of characters we used to see a lot in classic/Golden Age crime fiction, but not so much any more.
 

The Ne’er-Do-Well Son

You know the sort of character, I’m sure. He’s the kind who’s been shipped around to different jobs and places because he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. He may be a pleasant enough person, but certainly causes plenty of worry to the family. There are a lot of them in crime fiction; I’ll just mention one. In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder For Christmas and A Holiday For Murder), we are introduced to the Lee family. Patriarch Simeon Lee is an unpleasant tyrant, but he’s very wealthy. So when he invites the members of his family to gather at the family home Gorston Hall for Christmas, no-one dares refuse. One of his sons is Harry Lee, who’s been all over the world and managed to run out of money wherever he is. He can be charming, but he’s irresponsible. So when word comes that he’ll be at the family gathering, his brother Albert takes real issue with it. But all thoughts of that feud are pushed aside when Simeon Lee is brutally murdered. Hercule Poirot is in the area spending the Christmas holiday with a friend, so he is persuaded to help in the investigation. It proves to be an interesting case of history catching up with the victim…
 

The Ward/Protector Dynamic

In the years before women were free to own property and so on, they were often hard-put to survive on their own. But sometimes, a young woman was left orphaned; or, for some reason, her parents were unable to care for her. In these situations, one solution was to be taken in by a well-off family as a ward. The idea was that the young woman’s ‘protector’ would see to her being taken care of until she found a husband. There are lots of instances of wards throughout literature in general and in crime fiction too. One of them is Esther Summerson, whom we meet in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. Esther is an orphan who’s been raised thus far by a very unpleasant woman she refers to as her godmother. Wealthy John Jarndyce takes an interest in the girl and wants to help her. So he takes her into his home, nominally to serve as companion to a distant relative Ada Clare. Really, though, she’s his ward. All three are connected to a very old Jarndyce family dispute over a will that’s been going round the Court of Chancery for generations. Even though the feud is a holdover from a very long time ago, it still impacts the family, with murder and intrigue being the result.
 

The Devoted Factotum

The factotum may have a title such as butler, driver or something similar. But really, that person does all sorts of jobs. He (it usually is a ‘he’) has his employer’s complete trust, and is usually intensely loyal to that employer and the employer’s family. There are dozens of crime-fictional characters like that. One of them is Simon Brandon, who figures in the Charles Todd writing duo’s Bess Crawford series. Crawford is a WWI nurse whose family is well-served by Brandon. Brandon is nominally the family’s driver, but he is much, much more as well. He takes care of business, he travels on behalf of the family, and so on. He served with Crawford’s father in the military, and is devoted the family’s well-being. He takes it upon himself to look after Crawford as best he can, and she trusts him. He’s no toady, but at the same time, he has a strong loyalty to the Crawfords. I know, I know, fans of Dorothy Sayers’ Mervyn Bunter and Kerry Greenwood’s Dot Williams …
 

The ‘Maiden Aunt’

There are a lot of women who don’t marry and have children – there always have been. They used to be placed in the category of ‘spinster’ or ‘maiden aunt,’ and we see them all throughout crime fiction. Perhaps the most famous is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who has neither husband nor children, but does have plenty of nephews, nieces and other relatives. There are other crime-fictional ‘maiden aunts’ as well. For example, in Earl Der Biggs’ The House Without a Key, we are introduced to Miss Minerva Winterslip, who comes from a ‘blueblood’ Boston family. She travels to Hawai’i for a six-week visit to some cousins, and ten months later, she’s still there. Her nephew John Quincy Winterslip goes to Hawai’i to try to convince his aunt to come back to Boston and pick up her life again there, but instead, he gets drawn into a case of murder. When a family cousin Dan Winterslip is murdered, John Quincy works with the police, including Detective Charlie Chan, to find out who the killer is. Throughout this novel, Minerva Winterslip is portrayed as unusually independent and quite content to chart her own course as the saying goes. She may be just a bit eccentric, but she’s certainly not bizarre.
 

The Paid Companion

Paid companions are arguably a fixture in classic and Golden Age crime fiction. They’re usually women, and quite often they’re from modest backgrounds, or from ‘good’ birth but modest economic means. They’re hired by wealthy employers to take care of some light tasks (such as correspondence, some errands, light housework and so on). They also accompany their employers to certain events and in general, serve as, well, companions. Sometimes they’re treated well; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re terrific people; sometimes they’re not. But they’re woven into the fabric of that era. One fictional companion is Violet ‘Vi’ Day, whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The Dragon’s Teeth. As the novel begins, she’s sharing rooms with Kerrie Shawn, who dreams of Hollywood stardom but so far, hasn’t had much success. The two are scraping by when they learn to their shock that Kerrie has inherited a fortune. Elderly shipping/industrial magnate Cadmus Cole has died at sea, and Kerrie is one of only two living relatives. Cole’s will specifies that Kerrie and the other heiress Margo Cole must share Cole’s home on the Hudson for a year before they can inherit. Kerrie insists that Vi share her fortune and become her secretary/companion. Everyone moves into the Cole house, and as you can imagine, there’s discord between Kerrie and Margo. When Margo is shot, Kerrie becomes the prime suspect. Since Ellery Queen and his new PI partner Beau Rummell were the firm Cole hired to find his relatives, they investigate the murder and find out who really killed Margo and why. Vi believes in her friend and employer and stays loyal to her throughout. I know, I know, fans of Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral.

There are of course other ‘staple characters’ in classic/Golden Age crime fiction. Which ones have resonated with you?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration! Folks, do go visit Moira’s excellent blog on clothes, popular culture, and what it all says about us in literature. You’ll be inspired too.

ps.  I took the ‘photo above, but it’s really a ‘photo of a ‘photo. Credit really goes to Alana Newhouse’s beautifully illustrated A Living Lens, where I found the original. It just seemed to fit the topic…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lou Reed’s I Remember You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Charles Todd, Dorothy Sayers, Earl Der Biggs, Ellery Queen, Kerry Greenwood

In Silent Graveyards – They Look For Saviors*

GraveyardThere’s something about cemeteries and graveyards that has a certain kind of mystique. Sometimes people visit them to remember loved ones, or to commemorate a tragic event such as a war. They are also of course where the final parts of funeral and burial rites are held in many cultures. And they can provide a lot of information for historians and genealogists. There are a lot of spooky myths about graveyards and cemeteries too; after all, the dead are buried there.

A terrific post by Moira at Clothes in Books on The Guardian Book Blog has got me thinking about how cemeteries and graveyards fit in with crime fiction. And of course it makes perfect sense that we’d see a lot of them, since so much crime fiction has to do with murder. Here are a few stories that came to my mind after reading Moira’s post.

Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford find more than one clue during walks through graveyards and cemeteries. For example, in By The Pricking of My Thumbs, the Beresfords visit Tommy’s elderly Aunt Ada, who lives at Sunny Ridge, a rest home. While they’re there, Tuppence hears of a strange mystery and about something ‘behind the fireplace.’ She decides to find out what’s behind the ramblings of the woman who has mentioned the fireplace. At the same time, Tuppence has a strange sense of familiarity about a picture she finds among Aunt Ada’s possessions, although she has never seen the picture before. As it turns out, the two mysteries are related. Both have roots in a very sad story from the past. At one point, the trail leads Tuppence to a graveyard, where she is searching for a particular tombstone. The visit turns out to be very dangerous for her…

Dorothy Sayers uses a cemetery to add a fascinating plot twist in The Nine Tailors. Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant Mervyn Bunter are on a trip one New Year’s Eve when they have a car accident. Stranded in East Anglia, they are taken in by Rector Theodore Venables of the nearby village of Fenchurch St. Paul. Venables offers them lodging while they wait for the car to be repaired, and the two accept. Wimsey is able to return the rector’s kindness when he fills in as a New Year’s Day change-ringer for Will Thoday, who is ill. That day, news comes that Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire Sir Henry Thorpe, has died. Wimsey and Bunter stay on for her funeral and then, their car having been fixed, they go on their way. A few months later, Wimsey gets a letter from Venables. Sir Henry died, and preparations were made for his burial. But when the gravediggers opened the family grave where Lady Thorpe was already buried, they found another body already there. Venables asks Wimsey to return to Fenchurch St. Paul and investigate. Wimsey agrees and he and Bunter go back to the village. They find that the unexplained corpse is related to a long-ago robbery and some valuable missing emeralds.

There’s a startling cemetery scene in Reginald Hill’s Child’s Play. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas’ son disappeared during World War II, but she never gave up hope that one day he would come back. In fact, she’s made a will leaving all of her considerable fortune to her son, so long as he returns before 2015. If not, her money is to be divided among three charities. When she dies, her family and others gather at the cemetery for the final burial rituals. An unknown man shows up, calling out ‘Mama!’ and claiming to be her son. Now it looks as though he will inherit everything. But before the will can be sorted out, he is found dead in his car. Now Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his assistant Peter Pascoe have to look through the motives of a number of people to find out who killed the victim. They also have to establish whether he really was Geraldine Lomas’ son.

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs introduces readers to Maisie, a former World War I nurse who’s returned to England and set up shop as a private investigator. Christopher Davenham hires Maisie to find out whether his wife Celia has been unfaithful. Maisie takes the case and begins to follow Celia to learn her daily patterns. One day, she follows her quarry to a cemetery. She strikes up a conversation with Celia under the pretense of visiting a cousin’s grave. Slowly, she finds out why Celia visited the cemetery and what’s behind her troubling behaviour. She is able to reassure her client that his wife has been true to him, but the cemetery visit leads to another mystery. Several of the soldiers buried there (including the soldier whose grave Celia Davenham visited) had been living at The Retreat, a home especially designed for badly injured WWI veterans. The idea is that they will have a safe place to live, among others who understand what they’ve gone through. In fact, James Compton, son of Maisie’s former employer, is considering moving there, as he is having a great deal of difficulty adjusting to life after the war. But Lady Rowan Compton is concerned about that decision and asks Maisie to look into the place. Maisie agrees and finds out that there are some unsettling things going on at the home.

The real action in Paul Cleave’s Cemetery Lake begins in a Christchurch cemetery. There, cop-turned-PI Theodore Tate is following up on the case of a man who’s died of arsenic poisoning. His wife is suspected of murdering him, and questions have been raised about the death of her first husband. So it’s agreed to exhume that body and test it for poison. Tate is on hand when the exhumation team comes in to do the job, but it’s far from an ordinary exhumation (as if there really is one). As the team is working, several bodies start rising from the lake by the cemetery. What’s more, when the coffin the team is looking for is opened, there’s a real question of the identity of the person in it. In this case, the cemetery holds a lot of secrets…

Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte is a genealogist, so he is accustomed to visiting cemeteries and graveyards as he tracks down information on people’s ancestries. In In the Blood, Tayte has been hired by wealthy businessman Walter Sloane to trace his wife’s genealogy as a gift to her. Tayte has so far learned that one branch of the Fairborne family, his client’s wife’s forbears, settled in the American South. But that line died out. The other branch, beginning with James Fairborne, went to England in 1783 with a group of other Royalists. Sloane wants to find out everything about the family, so Tayte goes to England to follow up on that branch of the family. He begins with the Cornish church nearest where the modern-day Fairbornes live. There he encounters Reverend Joliffe, who shows him round the churchyard. But to Tayte’s disappointment, there are no records of Fairbornes buried in the churchyard. Instead, says Joliffe, those ancestors are probably buried on the modern-day Fairborne estate Rosenmullion Hall. Joliffe makes it clear that the Fairbornes have a lot of local clout, and their co-operation will be needed if Tayte is to get any answers. So Tayte visits Rosenmullion, only to find that no-one in the family is interested in sharing their history with him. Still, Tayte has a paying client and he’s now curious himself as to what happened to the family. So he goes on with his search, although he’s warned off. In the end, he finds out the truth, and I can say without spoiling the story that there’s a very spooky graveyard/cemetery scene in it.

Cemeteries and graveyards really are full of myth, history, and the personal stories of those in them. Little wonder they’re so often mentioned in crime fiction (I know, I know, fans of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City). Thanks very much, Moira, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Flower Kings’ Silent Graveyards.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Dorothy Sayers, Jacqueline Winspear, Paul Cleave, Reginald Hill, Steve Robinson

There Doesn’t Seem to Be Anyone Around*

Remote LocationsCrime fiction fans like their stories to be believable. And in a real-life murder, one of the challenges the killer faces is what to do with the body of the victim. In some cases, the body can be left at the scene of the murder. But in other situations, doing so could point the proverbial finger right at the murderer. For example, if the victim is killed in the murderer’s home or office, suspicion usually falls fairly quickly on the culprit. So the body has to be moved. Modern police forensics testing can determine whether a body’s been moved, but even so, moving a body can make it more challenging in a lot of ways to catch a killer. So of course, fictional murderers take this into account too.

When it’s possible, a lot of killers (at least fictional ones) like remote and inaccessible places. Even if the body is discovered at some point, enough time usually has gone by to make the detection process very difficult. That’s what the killer counts on in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow. In that novel, Algonquin Bay (Ontario) police detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme investigate when the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine is discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. She’s been missing for five months by that time, and as we learn in the novel, the trail has gotten cold. So Cardinal and Delorme face a difficult challenge in connecting her with her killer. In fact, it’s not until there’s another murder that they can really get some of the leads they need to find out the truth.

Donna Malane’s Diane Rowe is a Wellington-based missing persons expert. So she is consulted when the body of an unknown man is discovered in Rimutaka State Forest. The place where the body was found is in remote part of the forest, so it’s not surprising that it’s been there for a very long time. In fact, Rowe learns that the body has been there since the mid-1970s. At this point there’s vey little evidence to go on, but Rowe uses the little bits of information she does have to try to find out who the man was. The fact that the body was found in such an inacessible place certainly doesn’t make her task any easier, but Rowe eventually learns the truth about this ‘John Doe.’

In Alexander McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe Mma. Precious Ramotswe meets a new client, American ex-pat Andrea Curtin. Ten years ago, she and her husband were living in Botswana with their son Michael. When his parents returned to the US, Michael chose to remain behind and join an eco-commune. Not very long after joining that community he disappeared and was presumed killed by an animal. Now Andrea has returned to try to get some closure and find out what really happened to her son. Mma. Ramotswe agrees to find out what she can. Little by little, she traces Michael’s last months and weeks and in the end, she discovers the truth. Throughout the investigation though, her efforts are made all the more difficult by the fact that the community is in such a remote area that just about anything could have happened, and no-one would know.

Some fictional killers opt for bodies of water as places to leave bodies. The advantage of that is that lots of evidence gets washed away or at the very least considerably altered. That can often include evidence like time of death. That’s what happens for instance in Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Superintendant Peter Diamond. One evening, the body of an unknown woman is found at Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. It’s difficult to discover who the victim is at first, in part because of having been submerged. After a few false starts, the woman is identified as TV personality Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman. Because the body’s been left at the lake, it’s very difficult to trace the body back to the scene of the actual murder, and thus to the killer. Superintedant Peter Diamond and his assistant John Wigfull start of course with the victim’s husband. But there’s no clear evidence against him; nor is there an obvious motive. And there turn out to be other suspects too. As it turns out, the fact that the body was left in the lake add several complications to the case.

The first of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck novels, Roseanna, begins with the discovery of the body of an unknown woman in Sweden’s Lake Vattern. By the time the body is discovered, it’s been several months since the murder, and that’s one reason for which it’s very difficult to find out who the woman is. But after some time, she is identified as Roseanna McGraw, an American who was visiting Sweden when she was killed. The water has not just hidden the body, but also obliterated obvious evidence. So it takes a great deal of time and effort for Stockholm police inspector Martin Beck and his team to connect the victim with her killer. In the end though, and after a lot of perseverance, the team solves the case. There are of course lots of other examples too of fictional killers who use water as a place to leave a body (I know, I know, fans of Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase and of Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach).

For a different and darkly funny take on moving bodies, you may want to check out Rob Kitchin’s Stiffed. When Tadgh Maguire wakes one more morning after a night of drinking, he has much bigger problems than just his hangover. The body of local gangster Tony Marino is next to him in his bead. Maguire knows how short his life span will become if it gets around that he killed Marino, so he decides that the only thing to do is move the body. And that’s when the real trouble begins…

The less evidence there is, the harder it is for the police to link a murder victim to a killer. And the harder it is to find a body, the more time goes by and the less evidence is available. So it’s little wonder there are so many fictional examples of bodies left in remote areas or iin water. Ther are dozens of examples in crime fiction; which ones stand out for you?

 

ps. The ‘photo is of the Mojave Desert of Eastern California and Western Nevada. Lots of likely places there…
 
 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ritchie Cordell’s I Think We’re Alone Now, made famous by Tommy James and the Shondells.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Angela Savage, Donna Malane, Dorothy Sayers, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Peter Lovesey, Rob Kitchin

Knowing They’re Happy and They’re Safe*

Octopus' GardenJuly’s a really popular month to take a holiday, whether it’s a summer holiday or a winter break. For many people, holidays mean a stay at a second home or renting a cottage, cabin or small house, perhaps at the seaside or in the mountains. Those peaceful getaways can be relaxing and enjoyable. But don’t be taken in by those brochures and online ‘photos of lovely holiday sites. Before you pack your bags, remember that sometimes, those places aren’t at all the peaceful, relaxing sanctuaries they seem to be. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples from crime fiction that may open your eyes.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours) Hercule Poirot has taken a getaway cottage not far from The Hollow, the country home of Sir George and Lady Lucy Angkatell. When the Angkatells invite him to join them for lunch one Sunday, Poirot is happy to accept; after all the Angkatells are important people.  When he arrives, he’s escorted outdoors to the terrace where he finds what he thinks is a tableau arranged for his ‘amusement.’ One of the Angkatells’ other guests Dr. John Christow has been shot and his killer is standing near him holding the gun. Within seconds Poirot comes to see that this murder is all too real and that things aren’t what they seem at first glance. Inspector Bland is called to the scene and he and Poirot work to find out who killed Christow and why. And Poirot thought a weekend cottage would be restful!

Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon sees Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane finally married and off to honeymoon at Tallboys, the country home that Wimsey has bought for his bride. To their surprise, when they get to Tallboys, they find that the place is closed up and no preparations have been made for their arrival. What’s worse, they discover the body of the house’s former owner William Noakes in the cellar. This certainly isn’t the peaceful, relaxing trip that the couple had planned, but they get involved in investigating Noakes’ death. In the end, they discover who the killer is, but it certainly brings Wimsey no real pleasure at all to send the guilty party off to what he knows will be execution.

In Andrea Camilleri’s August Heat, Inspector Salvo Montalbano has plans to escape the heat of Vigàta, but ends Octopus'Gardenup having to remain ‘on duty.’ His lover Livia Burlando joins him, with the idea that she’ll stay at a rented beach house with some friends and their son. Montalbano will spend as much time with them as he can. It sounds like a good plan, but things don’t work out that way. First, it turns out that the beach house is infested with rats. Then, the body of a young girl is found in the cellar. She is identified as Catarina ‘Rina’ Morreale, who’s been missing for some time. So instead of the relaxing time they’d hoped to have, neither Montalbano nor Livia has a peaceful experience…

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn and her family enjoy getting away as much as anyone else does. But they frequently find that not even the most peaceful holiday cottage is free of crime. In The Last Good Day, for example, she accepts an invitation from a friend Kevin Hynde to spend some time at his summer cottage on Lawyers’ Bay, about an hour from Regina. Laywers’ Bay is an exclusive community, with the cottages owned by a powerful law firm Falconer Shreve, so it’s rare that ‘outsiders’ get invitations. At first the trip goes well. Then one night, one of the firm’s partners Chris Altieri has too much to drink and reveals quite a lot to Kilbourn. The next day he’s found dead when his MGB is discovered in the bay. Since Kilbourn was the last to really interact with the victim, she gets drawn into the investigation. Of course, on the positive side, she also gets drawn into a relationship with the firm’s senior partner Zack Shreve…

Holidays

Jørn Lier Horst’s Closed For Winter takes readers to the Norway’s holiday community in Vestfold. The summer season is over and most of the holiday visitors have gone home. But Ove Bakkerud has a different plan. He’s had a difficult time of it lately, so he decides to spend a quiet weekend at his summer home, although the season’s long over. To his shock, he finds that burglars have ransacked his place. What’s worse, he discovers the body of an unknown man in the cottage next door. Inspector William Wisting and his team investigate, and they find a connection between what’s happened in Vestfold to events in Lithuania. The whole matter is made a little unsettling for Wisting because his journalist daughter Lise lives in a cottage not far from the murder scene. As you can imagine, this doesn’t turn out to be a case of a burglary ending in murder…

And then there’s Pascal Garnier’s Front Seat Passenger, in which plenty of the action takes place at supposedly restful getaway locations.  When his wife Sylvie dies in a car accident, Fabien Delorme learns that she was not alone. In fact, she was with her lover Martial Arnoult, who also died in the accident. After his initial shock at Sylvie’s death and the knowledge that she had a lover, Delorme decides to seek out Arnoult’s widow Martine, with the vague idea that

 

‘That man stole my wife; I’m going to steal his.’

 

He begins to stalk her and actually starts an affair with her during a holiday in Majorca. That’s where he also gets to know Martine’s friend and frequent companion Madeleine. After they return from Majorca, Madeleine invites Delorme to join her and Martine at her country home for a weekend. He agrees, but suffice it to say that things do not go at all according to Delorme’s plan.

See what I mean? Those lovely ‘photos online and in the brochures don’t tell you everything about those holiday homes, do they? So if you are planning a trip to one of those places, do be careful. You never know what can happen. Maybe it’s just better to stay in town.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Octopus’ Garden.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Dorothy Sayers, Gail Bowen, Jørn Lier Horst, Pascal Garnier

I’m Totally Formidable When I’m With You*

Detective DuosOne of the really interesting crime fiction sleuth traditions is the husband-and-wife detective team. There are many, many such teams in the genre; in fact you could argue that it’s a deeply ingrained crime novel context. Space is only going to allow me to mention a few of them, but I’m sure you could think of many more than I could anyway.

One of the better-known husband-and-wife teams is Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Beresford. When we first meet them in The Secret Adversary, World War I has recently ended and the very young Beresfords find themselves with little money and no real career plans. So they decide to form Young Adventurers, Ltd. and hire themselves out, with ‘no unreasonable offer refused.’ To their surprise, they are indeed hired and soon find themselves involved in a web of international intrigue, missing secret papers, and murder. Unlike some of Christie’s other work, this series follows the Beresfords more or less chronologically and in real time. Throughout the series, we see that these two really do function as a team. They bring different strengths to their cases and they depend on each other.

That’s also true of Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn and his wife, artist Agatha Troy. It’s true that Troy isn’t a professional detective. But she is a keen and intelligent observer, and of course, she’s well-connected within the fine arts community. In several novels (e.g. A Clutch of Constables, Spinsters in Jeopardy and Tied up in Tinsel) the two combine forces to solve cases. Troy relies on her husband’s detective skills and his official status. But she’s no ‘clinging vine.’ Alleyn depends on his wife’s social skills, her observation and intelligence, and her creativity.

There are some similarities between Marsh’s Alleyn/Troy team and Patricia Moyes’ Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy. Like Alleyn, Tibbett works with Scotland Yard, and like Troy, Emmy is not a professional sleuth. Beginning with Dead Men Don’t Ski, the two work together on Tibbett’s cases. In that novel, they’re taking a ski holiday to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. For Tibbett it’s a working holiday, as he’s doing a bit of secret investigating. The couple soon gets mixed up in a case of murder and smuggling, and it’s obvious even in this first story that they work well together. Emmy has a great deal of insight and her husband depends on what she learns just from simple conversations with others. They map out their strategies almost as though they were police partners.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series is another powerful example of a husband-and-wife detecting team. Wimsey and mystery novelist Harret Vane meet for the first time in Strong Poison, in which Wimsey helps to clear Vane of murder charges. He falls in love with her and at the end of Gaudy Night, finally persuades her to marry him. The two aren’t married until the last novel, Busman’s Honeymoon, but they are a couple throughout several novels and it’s obvious that they work very well as a team. Wimsey appreciates Vane’s intelligence and her deductive abilities (she is a crime writer after all. ;-) ). And Vane appreciates Wimsey’s experience at detection and his way of solving cases.

There’s also of course Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. Hammett only wrote one novel The Thin Man that features this couple. But there’ve been several Nick and Nora films. In the novel, Nick Charles is hired to find out what happened to wealthy businessman Clyde Wynant, who seems to have disappeared. Nick isn’t really interested in taking on this case, but he’s drawn into it anyway when the next morning, Wynant’s former secretary Julia Wolf is murdered. Nora Charles certainly plays much more than a supporting role in the novel. But the real teamwork in this couple is more evident in the ‘Thin Man’ films, where they form a strong ‘detective duo.’

Some husband-and-wife sleuthing teams are also police partners for at least some of the series. That’s the case with Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. When the series begins, in A Share in Death, Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid works with then-Sergeant Gemma James to solve the murder of Sebastian Wade, whose body is found floating in a whirlpool at the holiday retreat of Followdale House. As the series evolves, the two become friends and then lovers. Later they marry. Both are cops and although James moves on to her own police career, they continue to work together and pool their knowledge. In this series too, we see the way that detective couples’ home lives and work lives interact.

There are of course also lots of cases (I’m thinking for instance of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series) in which couples may not be exactly detective teams, but still rely a great deal on each other. The husband-and-wife detecting team scenario allows the author to explore not just crimes and their investigations, but also relationships and other kinds of story arcs. There’s also lots of opportunity for character development. Little wonder this is such a popular premise.

Thanks very much to Moira at Clothes in Books for the inspiration for this post. Now that you’ve been kind enough to read it, be kind to yourself and check out Moira’s excellent blog. It’s a fantastic resource for information about clothes, popular culture and what it all says about us in fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from UB40’s Nothing Without You.

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Filed under Dashiell Hammett, Deborah Crombie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Moyes