Most of us take what we do seriously and we want to be the best person that we can. That’s all to the good of course. But there are some people – I’ll bet you know some yourself – who take that to the extreme and become very self-important. Yes, I’m talking about pompous…people. On the one hand, we all want to feel as though we matter and we all want to be taken seriously. But at the same time, if we take ourselves too seriously, it’s quite off-putting. There are certainly plenty of people like that in real life, and of course, many of them pop up in crime fiction too. I’ll mention just a few, and then you can share your favourites.
Agatha Christie created several pompous characters. One of them is Charles Laverton-West, whom we meet in the short story Murder in the Mews. On Guy Fawkes Night, fireworks cover up the sound of the shot that kills Laverton-West’s fiancée Barbara Allen. Her housemate Jane Plenderleith finds her body the next morning and the police are called in. At first it looks as though she committed suicide, but little clues suggest she might have been murder. As Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out the truth, he gets the chance to interview Laverton-West, who is MP for a district in Hampshire. Laverton-West is a pompous, self-important person who seems much more concerned for his own reputation and political career than he does for his fiancée’s death. That doesn’t make him a murderer, but it certainly doesn’t dispose us kindly towards him.
In Michael Crichton’s A Case of Need (which he wrote as Jeffery Hudson), pathologist Dr. John Berry gets involved in the investigation of a suspicious death. His friend Dr. Arthur Lee has been accused of performing a (then) illegal abortion on Karen Randall. She’s died from what seem to be complications from the abortion and so now Lee is facing several serious charges. Lee says that he is innocent and asks Berry to help clear his name and Berry agrees. This is going to be a difficult case though, as Karen’s father is Dr. J.D. Randall, one of the most powerful surgeons at Boston Memorial Hospital. Randall and his wife are determined to protect their reputations, and Randall is an extremely self-important pompous person. In fact he’s more upset at the risk to his reputation and that of his family than he seems to be about his daughter’s death. Nonetheless, Berry continues his investigation and in the end, he finds that Karen had a secret life that was quite different to her ‘public’ life as J.D. Randall’s daughter.
M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is a village constable in the Highlands town of Lochdubh. He lives simply and isn’t exactly ambitious. So he doesn’t exactly win a hearty endorsement from Colonel Haliburton-Smythe, a local ‘blueblood’ landowner. The only problem is, Macbeth is in love with Haliburton-Smythe’s daughter Priscilla, with whom he has an on-again/off-again relationship during the course of this series. Priscilla has her own issues, but she does care about Macbeth and more than once, the two of them run up against her pompous, self-important and intolerant father. As a character, he adds some interesting conflict to the series.
Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith has to deal with a pompous…type in Winter of Secrets. A group of six wealthy friends, including Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and his sister Wendy, have planned a skiing holiday in Trafalger, British Columbia. One tragic night, the group’s rented SUV goes off an icy road into the Upper Kootenay River. Both Jason and his passenger Ewan Williams are dead and the first assumption is that the accident killed them. But as Smith soon learns, forensics evidence shows a different story. Jason was indeed killed as a result of the accident, but his passenger had already been dead for several hours before the fall into the river. Now Smith and Sergeant John Winters have to look into the case more deeply. This causes no end of trouble with Jason and Wendy’s parents Drs. Jack and Patricia Wyatt-Yarmouth, who fly into Traflagar to take their son’s body home for burial. Jack Wyatt-Yarmouth is a self-important, pompous Professor of Sociology (trust me – academics can be quite pompous!) and is very conscious of his social position. Smith and Winters have a very difficult time getting any kind of co-operation from him as he complains about the local lodgings, service, police, and lots more. He’s a lot more upset about those things than he is seems about the loss of his son.
In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri and his team are hired by attorney Ajay Kasliwal to find out what happened to a maid Mary Murmu, who disappeared some months earlier. There is evidence that she was killed, and talk is that Kasliwal raped and murdered her and hid the body. Kasliwal denies the accusation and wants Puri to clear his name. In this case, Puri has to go up against several pompous people. For one thing, he has to go against the police authorities, who want to make an example of Kasliwal to show that they don’t favour the rich and privileged. Puri also finds that Mrs. Kasliwal is just as self-important and concerned with her reputation. She is more upset about the scandal than she is about Mary’s fate. Despite these challenges, though, Puri and his team find out the truth.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe has to deal with a pompous clerk in The Kalahari Typing School For Men. She’s been hired by successful civil engineer Mr. Molofelo. He’s just had a near-death experience and now wants to put some things right in his life. One thing he wants to do is to track down his former landlady Mrs. Tsolamosese and her husband, from whom he once stole a radio because he needed money. Now he wants to make amends and Mma. Ramotswe agrees to help. She finds that Mr. Tsolamosese has died, but his wife is still alive. The challenge now is to get her address. Mr. Tsolamosese was a government employee and his widow draws his pension, so Mma. Ramotswe goes to the pension office to find out the information she needs. There she runs up against a self-important clerk who is more interested in showing off his knowledge and position than he is in helping to right a wrong. In the end though, Mma. Ramtoswe finds a clever way to get what she needs.
And then there’s politician Benton Chambers, whom we meet in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies. He’s pompous enough that he’s cultivated a cigar habit because
‘…he thought that’s what southern politicians were supposed to do.’
Chambers is very conscious of his political position and has been seeking re-election to the Bradley, North Carolina city council. Everything changes when malicious real estate developer Parke Stockard starts making trouble for him in order to get what she wants from the city officials. When retired teacher Myrtle Clover finds Parke’s body in a local church one day, Chambers becomes one of the suspects in the case.
Let’s face it; there are pompous types in every profession. And sometimes, sleuths have to deal with them just as you and I do. Which are your favourites from crime fiction?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tim Curry and Dick Wagner’s Charge It.