If you’ve ever wanted a getaway day at a spa, you’re not alone. Day spas and resort spas are popular places to unwind and relax. And they offer all sorts of health and beauty treatments that people swear really make a difference. But if you think that spas are all peaceful and healthy, then perhaps you’re not a fan of crime fiction. Because plenty of crime fiction takes place in spas and spa-type resorts.
In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory Dickory Death), for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates a series of odd thefts and other goings-on at a student hostel. Poirot visits the place one evening and gets to meet some of the people who live there. When he recommends calling in the police, one of the residents Celia Austin confesses to several of the thefts. At first it looks as though the matter is solved. But two nights later, Celia dies of what turns out to be poison. Now Poirot and Inspector Sharpe are faced with a case of murder. It turns out that there’s more going on at the hostel than it seems on the surface. One part of the trail leads to Sabrina Fair, a salon and spa that’s owned in part by one of the hostel’s residents, so the police pay the place a visit. That trip doesn’t solve the murder or explain everything. But there is a clue there, and that visit gives readers a look at the inner workings of a spa.
Even though Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, he makes an exception in Too Many Cooks. Wolfe has been invited to give the keynote address to Les Quinze Maîtres, a meeting of the world’s fifteen greatest chefs. The meeting is to take place at the exclusive Kanawha Spa in West Virginia, and Wolfe reluctantly allows himself to be persuaded to make the trip with Archie Goodwin. One evening, master chef Phillip Laszio is stabbed. Suspicion falls on another master chef Jerome Berin. But Wolfe doesn’t think he’s guilty. So despite all his determination to keep out of the matter, Wolfe and Archie Goodwin look into the case. Throughout the story, we see how an upmarket resort works, and how much work is put into making things look…effortless.
An upmarket spa is the setting for Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, and it isn’t a very restful one. Spa owner Jónas Júlíusson has hired Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to represent him in a lawsuit he’s pursuing. He wants to sue the former owners of the land on which his spa is built, because he claims the land is haunted and the former owners never told him about it. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she is interested in the fee. Besides, a stay in a posh spa is appealing. So she agrees to take the case. While she’s there, the body of another spa guest Birna Hálldorsdóttir is discovered on a beach not far from the resort. It doesn’t take much police investigation to learn that there was a relationship between the victim and Jónas Júlíusson. So he becomes a suspect in her killing. Now he asks Thóra to continue to continue to represent him, this time in the murder case. She agrees and looks into the death more closely. It turns out that several people in the area are keeping some dark secrets from the past, and that they have everything to do with the victim’s death.
In River Deep, Priscilla Masters introduces us to Shrewsbury Coroner Martha Gunn. As Coroner, she is responsible for investigating cases of sudden and violent deaths, homicides and deaths that occur in prison. So she and her team take the case when the body of an unknown man floats out of a basement after the Severn overflows its banks. The owner of the house James Humphreys claims not to know the dead man, and there seems no connection between the two. So the team will have to dig deeper into this case. At one point, Gunn decides to follow up on a particular lead. The person she wants to see works at a very upmarket spa, and Gunn wouldn’t mind taking a one-day break. But this person might recognise her as the coroner, so Gunn uses a carefully chosen outfit and some washable hair tint and a different sort of hairdo. That disguise is enough to let Gunn go to the spa and pursue that lead, although she’s nervous about being caught out. And her spa trip is luxurious, if risky.
Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson pays a visit to a spa in Blood and Groom. Christine Arvisais hires Jackson to find out who killed her former fiancé Gordon Hanes. She tells Jackson that Hanes’ family and friends blame her for the murder, but she’s innocent and wants to clear her name. Jackson takes the case and starts looking into the victim’s background and other connections. In doing so she finds that there’s more than one suspect. But she doesn’t automatically take her client’s innocence for granted. So she looks into Arvisais’ background too. Health and beauty spas are perfect places to find out gossip about people, so Jackson treats herself to a day at the same spa that Arvisais and her mother use. While she’s there she learns something that puts her client into an entirely different light. It doesn’t solve the murder, but it’s an important piece of information.
And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Sundowner Ubuntu. In that novel, Clara Ridge hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find her son Matthew, whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years. Quant wants to begin locally, but learns that the trail leads to the Chobe Lodge spa in South Africa, where Matthew’s boyfriend Kevan is a masseur. At first Quant’s reluctant to take a potentially dangerous trip like that. Among other concerns, he wonders whether the South African police might be better equipped to handle the matter. But his client insists and is willing to pay, so he he makes his plans. It turns out that Quant’s first instincts are right; this is a dangerous trip and the Chobe Lodge spa is anything but a restful place to relax in the proverbial lap of luxury. And when Quant finds out the truth about Matthew’s disappearance, the case takes on a whole new dimension.
See what I mean? Spas can be refreshing and relaxing. They can pamper clients as few other places can, and lots of people find them irresistible. But safe? Erm….not always. So if your weekend plans include a stay at a spa, do be careful won’t you? You never know what could happen… ;-)
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days.