There are some people who have a ‘live for today’ kind of attitude towards life. It’s not that they’re always reckless or rash; rather, they don’t do a lot of long-term planning. They move along as life takes them, although you couldn’t really call them lazy. That kind of person can have a certain ‘spark’ – a certain rich, spontaneous attitude towards life. On the other hand (after all, nobody’s perfect), people with a ‘live for today’ approach to life don’t always make the wisest choices. And it can seem as though they’re ‘drifting’ rather than moving on with their lives.
‘Live for today’ people can make really interesting characters in crime novels, and they can be good ‘fits’ for that kind of story. They’re the kind of people who can get drawn into murder investigations, and you can imagine them as victims too. Of course, creating such a character is a bit risky. Too much ‘live for today’ and the character becomes annoying and unrealistic. But just the right dose can add some interesting leaven to a novel.
Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit introduces us to Anne Beddingfeld, who finds herself on her own in life after her professor father dies. She has very little money and no real plans for the future, but she does want to experience life. One day, she witnesses a fatal accident at a Tube station when an unknown man is killed by a train. She ends up with a piece of paper that the man had on which is written a cryptic message. Later, she works out that the message refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she books passage on the ship and ends up involved in a case of jewel theft, international intrigue and murder. It’s not that Anne is completely reckless; she’s not. But she certainly isn’t what people call longheaded about the future.
Neither, at first, is Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. He’s a Saskatoon PI who at first doesn’t have any real personal commitments in his life. Although he’s by no means lazy, he’s not particularly overeager or ambitious, and doesn’t have a lot of long-term plans. In a way, that serves him well as a PI, since it allows him to be flexible when it comes to his clients’ needs. It allows him to pursue leads all over the world and to stay with a case until it’s solved. On the other hand, Quant has some growing up to do as the series begins, especially when it comes to his personal relationships. For me, one of the appeals of this series is the way he evolves as the novels go on.
In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, we are introduced to art expert/historian Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere. He’s recently divorced and rather at loose ends, as the saying goes. He’s tried several kinds of careers but hasn’t settled on one that really gives him a purpose. He’s not really lazy (well, perhaps a little), but he certainly hasn’t made any long-term plans. Then he gets a call from Simeon Pawlovsky, a Russian immigrant who owns a pawn shop not too far from where Revere lives. Pawlovsky has just acquired a painting that he thinks might be valuable and he wants Revere to take a look at it. Revere agrees, although he’s doubtful that a really valuable painting would show up in a low-rent pawn shop. When he sees the painting, he’s shocked to find that it’s a very valuable Velázquez, one of many paintings that were ‘acquired’ by the Nazis just before and during World War II. Revere warns Pawlovsky not to keep it in the shop because it’s far too valuable to be safe there. Pawlovsky argues that the painting will be safe enough for the two hours it’ll take for Revere to get some information he needs from the library so he can authenticate the work. Very reluctantly Revere agrees and goes to get what he needs. By the time he returns to the pawn shop though, Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Partly out of a sense of guilt for not preventing the death, and partly because of his interest in the painting’s history, Revere decides to find out how the Velázquez got to the pawn shop and therefore, who might have wanted Pawlovsky dead. Revere isn’t the reckless type, but he ends up having to think quickly more than once as he follows the leads in this case.
Sarah Caudwell’s Professor Hilary Tamar series follows the lives of a group of young attorneys who, with one exception, have all been taught by Tamar. So although Tamar doesn’t directly work on cases with them, they often turn to their former mentor for advice and input. One of these young attorneys is Julia Larwood. She’s a gifted tax attorney, but admittedly scatty and certainly not a long-range planner. That’s especially true in her personal life. In Thus Was Adonis Murdered for instance, Larwood is on holiday in Venice when she becomes enamoured of a fellow tourist Ned Watson. Her ‘live for today’ approach to going after Ned ends up getting her arrested when he’s murdered. And in The Sirens Sang of Murder, the group of attorneys pitches in to help when one of their number Michael Cantrip gets mixed up in a tax-law case involving a missing heir to a fortune. When one of the members of the legal team is killed, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a typical legal case. Then there’s another murder and now Cantrip himself may be in danger. A ‘live for today’ decision on Julia’s part ends up getting her arrested in connection with the case (‘though this time, not for murder). But it’s hard to dislike her. She’s full of life and as the saying goes, her heart’s in the right place.
And then there’s Barcelona PI Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez, whom we first meet in Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime. Borja isn’t married, although he’s involved in more than one relationship – at the same time. He’s not completely reckless, but he’s certainly not a long-term planner. He’s in fact just about the opposite sort of personality to his more longheaded twin brother and business partner Eduard. It’s Borja’s ability to ‘live for today’ (not to mention his way with words) that wins the confidence of clients. In A Not So Perfect Crime for instance, powerful Catalonia politician Lluís Font hires the Martínez brothers to find out whether his wife Lídia is having an affair. A week of following her doesn’t turn up any evidence of infidelity but then, she is poisoned. Her husband is the most likely suspect, but he claims innocence and asks the detectives to keep working on the case, this time to find out who killed his wife. Eduard is reluctant to get involved in a murder investigation, but Borja persuades him. Of course, Borja’s habit of ‘living for today’ also gets the bothers involved in breaking and entering, a fruitless trip to Paris and other complications….
Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson is really not what you’d call the reckless kind. But she takes life as it comes and doesn’t have a lot of long-range plans. So in that sense, she also has a ‘live for today’ view of life. That certainly shows in her reluctance to really commit to a relationship although in the course of the series, she has more than one opportunity. She doesn’t have a regular schedule, she doesn’t really do long-term planning for her cases, and she doesn’t think much about what the distant future might hold. Today is usually enough for her. To Edmondson’s credit though, Jackson isn’t heedless of danger or foolish about taking risks. She’s an interesting blend of the practical view of life and the ‘live for today’ approach.
‘Living for today’ can add zest to a character and real appeal. Too hefty a dose of that personality trait though, and the character becomes either irritating or not credible. So, as with anything else in crime fiction, it’s a balance. Which characters do you enjoy who ‘live for today?’
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from David Shapiro, Ivan Mogul, and Michael Julien’s Let’s Live For Today, originally recorded by the Rokes, and made popular by The Grass Roots.