The problem with being a talented crime-fictional sleuth is that it’s very hard sometimes to ‘get away from it all.’ Even if you want to take a break and escape for a holiday, you don’t always manage it. Of course, there are some sleuths who are so addicted to their work that they don’t ever really want to take a break. But there are also plenty of sleuths who do plan holidays – well, at least they try. But they’ve become so indispensable that they never really do manage to get away for long.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday cruise of the Nile. At first he hopes to have a nice, relaxing break, but then there’s a murder. Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, who’s on the same cruise with her new husband Simon, is shot on the second night. Poirot works with Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, to find out who the killer is, and the ship’s staff is only too happy to have them take charge of the investigation. The most obvious suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But although Jackie is on the cruise, her time is accounted for by reliable witnesses, so she can’t have committed the crime. Poirot and Race will have to look elsewhere for the criminal and they’re just beginning to do that when there’s another murder. Now instead of a holiday, Poirot faces a complex multiple murder. Interestingly, although Poirot does enjoy several holidays in the series that features him, he never really seems to mind interrupting them to solve crimes…
That’s not quite as true for DCI Richard Jury in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace. In that novel, Jury is packing his things in preparation for a getaway weekend in Northamptonshire when he gets a call from his boss Superintendent Racer. Racer’s just gotten word that a human finger has been discovered at Littlebourne. When Jury protests that he’s not on call, Racer says that there is no other option since the two other DCIs on the rota are ill. So, very unwillingly, Jury changes his plans. He goes to Littlebourne where he finds that the finger belonged to Cora Binns, a secretary who worked for a temporary services agency and who’d gone to Littlebourne for an interview. She never made it, so now Jury works with Melrose Plant to find out who killed the victim and why. They find that her death is connected to a robbery and another death in the past, and to a vicious attack on another of Littleourne’s residents.
Ellery Queen also doesn’t always want to be disturbed, as we learn in The Origin of Evil. He’s taken a house in the Hollywood Hills so he can have some peace and quiet to write. But then, nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill pays him a visit. Her father Leander has recently died of a heart attack, but she is convinced his heart attack was deliberately brought on by a killer. In the weeks before his death, Hill received several macabre ‘gifts’ from an unknown person – gifts that made him increasingly upset. At first, Queen refuses to have anything to do with the gifts or with Laurel. He wants to have some time to write. But then, he finds out that Hill’s business partner Roger Priam has also been receiving cryptic warning ‘gifts.’ Laurel’s refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer finally convinces Queen to look into the mystery and before he knows it, he’s deeply involved. It turns out that Hill’s death and later, an attack on Priam’s life, has everything to do with the two men’s past.
DCI Alan Banks is away on holiday in Peter Robinson’s All the Colours of Darkness when a case of murder cuts his trip short. The body of Mark Hardcastle, a set and costume designer for the Eastvale Amateur Dramatic Society, has been found hanged in a local woods. It looks at first as though he’s committed suicide but then, Hardcastle’s partner Laurence Silbert is found murdered. DI Annie Cabot has begun the investigation but she knows that
‘…something big like this, you let the boss know immediately, or things have a nasty habit of coming back at you.’
Superintendent Catherine Gervaise takes the decision to call Banks back from his holiday and he and Cabot find out that there was much more going on in Silbert’s life than anyone knew. Far from being the murder/suicide that it seems on the surface, this case involves intrigue and espionage. And that’s not the only time either that Banks is called back from a holiday.
In Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief, Commissario Guido Brunetti is eager to escape the heat of August in Venice. He and his family are planning a trip to the mountains and everyone’s excited. While they’re on the train though, Brunetti gets a call from his colleague Glaudia Griffoni. It seems that Araldo Fontana, a clerk at the local courthouse – the Tribunale di Venezia – has been bludgeoned in the courtyard of the apartment building where he lives. On the surface of it, the killing looks like a mugging gone horribly wrong. But Fontana had been working for a certain Judge Coltellini, who may have been taking bribes from wealthy defendants in exchange for delaying their trials interminably. If Fontana knew about that, he might have been killed for that knowledge. And there’s the fact that he has some personal secrets too. Since this case is looking to be a lot more complicated than it first seems, Brunetti gets off the train, switches to a train back to Venice, and gets to work on the Fontana case. Perhaps this goes to show the down side of having a mobile ‘phone…
And then there’s Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. In that novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Inspector Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is taking some time off to recover from the events detailed in Dead Set. He’s even toying with the idea of not coming back, but finishing his Ph.D. instead. But his AFP colleagues have a different idea. Former Gough Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and his editor Lorraine Starck are found murdered at a writer’s retreat where they were working on Dennet’s memoirs. There are all kinds of possibilities for suspects too, since Dennet might have been planning to reveal quite a bit about some highly-placed individuals. This looks to be a very high-profile case and Chen’s colleagues want him on it. He reluctantly agrees and slowly finds himself drawn into what really happened to Dennet and Starck.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether a sleuth is officially ‘on leave’ or ‘on holiday.’ Sleuths who are good at their jobs will invariably be called back ‘on duty’ whether they want to or not. I know I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. Which gaps have I left?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Go’s Vacation.