Well, let’s C…I think the 2013 Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has reached – yes, it has reached – the third stop on our crime-ridden journey. Thanks as always to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for being such an excellent tour guide. My contribution (appropriate, I think, for a journey) is cars.
We all know that cars can be very dangerous. That’s why there are laws against drink driving, mobile ‘phone use while driving, and speeding. It’s why we’re always told to buckle up and stay alert. But if you look at crime fiction, you also see that cars aren’t just deadly because of accidents. They can be very effective murder weapons.
Agatha Christie mentions car-related deaths a few times in her work. One incident is part of the plot of And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians). A group of people is invited for a stay at Indian Island, off the Devon Coast. For a variety of reasons they all accept. When they arrive, they’re a little surprised that their host has not yet made an appearance. Still, they settle in. That night after dinner, each guest is accused of being responsible for the death of at least one other person. Everyone is shocked at this accusation and at first there’s a round of denials. But then one of the guests Anthony Marston suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night there’s another death. Now the guests begin to see that they’ve been lured to the island by a murderer. As one by one the guests die, the survivors try to discover who the murderer is and stay alive. And what was the death of which Anthony Marston was accused? A hit-and-run car crash that killed two children.
Mickey Spillane’s My Gun is Quick also features deadly use of a car. In that novel, PI Mike Hammer is in a coffee shop when he meets Nancy Sanford, a young woman down on her luck who’s turned to prostitution. Hammer gives her some money to try to help her escape ‘the life’ and it seems that she will be able to start over. A few days later, though, Hammer learns that Nancy has been killed in a hit-and-run incident. There is no evidence that she was murdered but Hammer doesn’t believe her death was an accident. So he begins to investigate. He discovers that Nancy was trapped in a major prostitution ring. Before she was killed, she was collecting evidence against the ring leaders in hopes that they would be arrested. Needless to say, Hammer takes it on himself to finish what Nancy Sandford started.
In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, twenty-eight-year-old violin virtuoso Gideon Davies is terrified one night when he finds himself unable to play. He seeks out psychological help to try to figure out what is causing this block and starts digging into his past. In the meantime, his mother Eugenie faces a very ‘here and now’ danger. One night, she is killed in what looks like a hit-and-run accident. As Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers soon discover, this was no accident. Eugenie Davis’ death is related to her son’s inability to play, and both are related to a long-ago tragedy in which two-year-old Sonia, Gideon’s sister, was drowned. At the time of her death, her nanny Katja Wolff was imprisoned for the drowning and has recently been released. As the novel evolves we see how this too relates to the rest of the story.
Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson finds out the hard way just how dangerous cars can be in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts. She is killed in a hit-and-run incident and Danny McKillop is arrested for it. There’s a lot of evidence against him, too. After serving eight years in prison, he’s released and one of the first things he does is contact the lawyer who defended him Jack Irish. Irish was, to put it mildly, not at his best at the time of the trial; he was using alcohol to ease the pain of his wife Isabel’s murder and did a poor job of defending McKillop. So when McKillop calls him, Irish feels a sense of obligation. But by the time he gets around to meeting with his former client it’s too late; McKillop has been murdered. Irish decides to find out why and by whom, and slowly he pieces together what happened. McKillop was framed for Anne Jeppeson’s murder and the truth about what happened to both victims is bound up with politics, greed and corruption.
And then there’s Phil Smedway, whose life and death are part of the plot of Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are. Smedway was a beloved regional TV presenter who ‘hit it big.’ He was also a mentor to his successor Frank Allcroft. Then one day Smedway was killed in a hit-and-run incident during his regular jog. Everyone, including the police, thinks that this was a tragic accident. But Allcroft begins to wonder when he is drawn to the place where Smedway died. The road at the site is straight and clear of obstacles, so it would have been easy for even a drunken driver to see and avoid Smedway. What’s more, it wasn’t raining or snowing the weather wasn’t a factor. Allcroft decides to start asking questions about Smedway and his death. As he slowly finds out the answers, he also learns quite a bit about Smedway’s life.
Oh, and lest you think that the only danger from cars comes from hit-and-run incidents, consider Ellery Queen’s The Dragon’s Teeth. In that novel, wealthy and eccentric Cadmus Cole hires Ellery Queen and Beau Rummell, who’ve just opened up a detective agency. Cole wants to find his only living relations. One is Margo Cole, who’s been living in Paris. The other is Kerrie Shawn, an aspiring actress who’s trying to make a success of herself in Hollywood. The two women are no sooner found than word comes that Cadmus Cole has died at sea. According to the provisions of Cole’s will, both Kerrie and Margo will have to move into Cole’s upstate New York mansion and live there in order to claim his considerable fortune. Not long after the young women move in, Kerrie is trapped in the mansion’s garage and is nearly killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a running car engine. Later she’s accused when Margo is shot. Kerrie learns that not only is it dangerous to inherit a lot of money, it’s very dangerous to be around cars.
See? Cars may be necessary for a lot of people’s lives, but they do carry high risks. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Oh, and if you want to ride along with us as we continue our crime fiction journey, we’d love to have you. Check out the meme details right here!