It just seems to be human nature that we sometimes don’t value what we have until it’s gone. If you’ve ever had to scramble to get to work because the car you always depend on wouldn’t start, you know what I mean. It’s very easy to take things, places or people for granted, but as Benjamin Franklin wrote, ‘When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.’ It’s a very human reaction, so it’s not surprising that we see this plot thread in crime fiction too. After all, well-written crime fiction reflects realistic people.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide), we meet the Cloade family. They’ve always been able to depend financially on wealthy patriarch Gordon Cloade and in fact, he’s encouraged that. He’s promised the family members that they could rely on his financial support and on expectations from his will. Then everything changes. First, Cloade falls in love and marries a young widow Rosaleen Underhay. Then, he is tragically killed in a bomb blast. Since he married before his death, and since he never made a will, Rosaleen is set to inherit Cloade’s considerable fortune. Now the other family members are faced with not having the money they had always taken for granted. When a stranger calling himself Enoch Arden hints that Rosaleen’s first husband may still be alive, the Cloades are eager to find out if that’s true. If so it would mean that Rosaleen was not legally married to Gordon Cloade and therefore cannot inherit. When ‘Enoch Arden’ is killed, Hercule Poirot gets drawn into the case. The investigation is of course an important thread in this novel. But so is the Cloades’ reaction to having to plan life without the money they had been so accustomed to having.
In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction author Zack Walker, his journalist wife Sarah, and their children move from the city to a new suburb named Valley Forest Estates. The idea is that the lower cost of living in the suburb will make it possible for Walker to write full time. What’s more, suburbs are safer than cities, and Walker wants his family to be safe. It turns out that Valley Forest Estates is far from a peaceful, quiet place to live. For one thing, there are plumbing and other problems with the house. For another, some of the Walker family’s new neighbours are not what they seem. One day, Walker goes to the main sales office for the development, hoping to get a resolution to the house’s ongoing maintenance problems. Instead, he witnesses an argument between one of Valley Forest’s sales executives and local environmental activist Samuel Spender. Later that day, Walker finds Spender’s body at a nearby creek. Now, despite his best efforts to stay out of it all, Walker finds himself drawn in to what turns out to be a case of multiple murder and theft. As the novel goes on, Walker learns just how much he misses the city that the family had taken for granted.
In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders, political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn meets Keith Harris, who is also a political scientist. The two don’t agree politically but they do ‘click’ personally, and are soon romantically involved. Then, Harris gets an irresistible job offer in Washington. At first, the two have a long distance relationship. But gradually they drift apart and Harris meets someone else. Kilbourn knows that the decision to end the romance was mutual, but that doesn’t stop her thinking about what she’s lost and trying to figure out how she feels about Harris with someone else. It’s an interesting story arc.
Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant doesn’t have a spouse or children. But he does have a group of close friends who are supportive of him. One of them is his next-door neighbour, the enigmatic Sereena Orion Smith. As the series moves on, we learn that she has a mysterious past, and she has a habit of turning up unexpectedly. Quant likes her, and it’s not that he really discounts her. But he does get used to having her in his life. So in Tapas on the Ramblas, he’s shaken when she doesn’t return from a Mediterranean cruise. What’s more, her house is up for sale, so she obviously doesn’t intend to stay there. Sereena’s disappearance forms a plot thread in Stain of the Berry, as Quant resolves to look for Sereena. It’s a very interesting case of not really being aware of how much a person means to one until that person is gone.
That’s also an important plot thread in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. The novel begins in 1984, when the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens. Ten-year-old Kate Meaney is a budding detective; in fact, she’s opened her own agency Falcon Investigations. She spends a lot of time at the mall, hoping to find evidence of suspicious activity. She’s quite content with her life but her grandmother Ivy thinks she should go away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. At first Kate refuses but then her friend Adrian Palmer convinces her to at least try the exams. He even arranges to take the bus with her to the school for moral support. When Kate never returns from the school, Palmer is the most likely suspect in her disappearance. He claims he’s innocent but his life is made so miserable that he leaves town. Twenty years later, Palmer’s sister Lisa works at a dead-end job at Green Oaks. One night she meets Kurt, a mall security guard. He’s been seeing some strange images on his cameras – a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. Each in a different way, Lisa and Kurt look into the past and the reader learns what really happened to Kate. In the process, we see that several of the characters in this novel weren’t really aware of the role Kate played in their lives until she disappeared. Among other things, the novel is a powerful look at one person’s impact on others, and at our tendency not to be aware of what we have until it’s gone.
Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind introduces us to Stephanie Anderson. One summer day when Stephanie is fourteen, she and her family attend a school picnic at Lake Wanaka. For Stephanie, the picnic is a chance to get noticed by a boy she likes. She certainly doesn’t want to spend time with her twin brothers or her four-year-old sister Gemma. Stephanie loves her family, but like a lot of people, she doesn’t really think about how much they mean to her. Then, Gemma disappears. A massive search is undertaken, but no trace of the girl is found – not even a body. The family is devastated and Gemma’s loss has permanent effects on everyone. But the members of the Anderson family, including Stephanie, carry on as best they can. Then seventeen years later, now a fledgling psychiatrist, Stephanie hears of a haunting case from one of her patients Elisabeth Clark. Elisabeth’s younger sister Gracie was abducted in the same way that Gemma was, and the story brings back all of the pain of Gemma’s loss. The case is eerily similar too. So Stephanie decides to face her own ghosts and find out who is responsible for the girls’ abductions. As she does so, we see how the losses of both girls have impacted their families. It’s a haunting case of having to get along without someone you thought would always be there.
But that’s what we humans do. We don’t always think about what we have until we don’t have it any more. These are just a few examples from crime fiction. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michael David Rosenberg’s (AKA Passenger) Let Her Go.