July’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 up 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…
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.