Standalones have a lot to offer the crime fiction genre. They allow the author to experiment, they allow readers to try new-to-them authors without making a commitment to a series, and they allow for variety. But here’s the thing: they can also introduce us to characters we’d like to see again. The problem with that of course is that if a novel is a standalone, there’s no saying whether or when we’ll see those characters again. Everyone’s different, but here are a few standalone crime-fictional characters I’d like to see again. In a few cases, as you’ll see, it won’t be possible. But still…
Agatha Christie is of course well-known for her series and recurring characters, but she also wrote several standalones. One of them is Why Didn’t They Ask Evans (AKA The Boomerang Clue). In that novel, we meet Bobby Jones, who’s playing a round of golf with his friend Dr. Thomas when they make a horrible discovery. A man has fallen over a cliff where Jones and Thomas were looking for a golf ball. Thomas goes off to get help retrieving the body while Jones stays behind. At first Jones thinks the man is dead, but he isn’t – not quite. He manages to say, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ just before dying. The dead man is identified as Alex Pritchard, who’d recently returned to England after a ten-year absence. Jones is prepared to think of Pritchard’s death as a tragic accident until someone tries to kill him. Now it’s clear that something much more is going on, and Jones and his friend Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent begin to ask questions. To my knowledge (And please correct me if I am wrong), Christie didn’t write about these protagonists again. They’re appealing though, and I’d have liked to see more of them.
Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles are also an appealing duo I’d have liked to see in more than one novel. I know they appear in a series of films, but they only appear once in written crime fiction – in The Thin Man. In that novel, Nick and Nora are on a visit to New York when they are drawn into the search for a missing business executive Clyde Wynant. At first it seems possible that Wynant wanted to disappear. And it doesn’t take a lot of interaction with his family to see why. But then, his secretary Julia Wolf is murdered. Now the search for Wynant becomes even more important since he’s a suspect in her death. Nick and Nora Charles are both intelligent and resourceful, and they are a good match for each other. I’d have liked to see what Hammett would have done with them in further outings.
I’d also like to see more of Ben Revere, the Boston art historian we meet in Aaron Elkins’ Loot. Revere has gotten into the habit of visiting a pawnshop owned by Simeon Pawlovsky, and the two have a sort of friendship. One day, Pawlovsky calls Revere and asks him to take a look at a new acquisition. Pawlovsky thinks that a painting he’s just been sold may be valuable, but he’s no expert, so he wants Revere’s opinion. Revere finds the visit quite worthwhile, as the painting turns out to be an extremely valuable Velázquez. A short time later, Pawlovsky is murdered. The Velázquez is one of several paintings that were ‘taken to safety’ by the Nazis and later disappeared, so Revere thinks that if he can trace the painting from the time it was ‘acquired’ to the time it was sold to the pawn shop, he may be able to find out who killed Pawlovsky. The trail leads Revere to Russia, Hungary and Austria – and into some real danger as he goes up against several ruthless people. Revere is thoroughly knowledgeable about art, but he’s a very human character and he’s likeable. It’d be interesting to see more of him.
Paddy Richardson’s Stephanie Anderson is another character I’d like to see again. She’s a Dunedin psychiatrist whom we meet in Hunting Blind. She’s just starting her career when one of her clients Elisabeth Clark tells her a tragic story. Several years earlier, Elisabeth’s younger sister Gracie was abducted. No trace of the girl was ever found, and the loss has devastated the family. This story is eerily similar to what happened in Anderson’s own family. Seventeen years ago, her younger sister Gemma was abducted during a summertime school picnic. Despite an exhaustive search, no trace of her was found either, not even a body. Anderson decides to find out who was responsible for so much wrenching sorrow in both families. In the process, she’s hoping to move along in her own grieving process. So she journeys from Dunedin to her home in Wanaka. In the end, she finds out what happened to her sister and to Gracie Clark. She also truly begins to heal. I like Stephanie Anderson’s character very much, and I would like to know what happens next in her life.
And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s Thea Farmer. She’s a former school principal who had a dream home built in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. Then, some poor financial decisions forced her to sell her home and settle for the house next door – a house she calls ‘ the hovel.’ To make matters worse, new neighbours Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington move in to her ‘dream home.’ She dislikes them heartily, referring to them as ‘the invaders.’ Still, bit by bit she gets to know them and even forms an odd sort of friendship with Frank. Then Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim moves in with him and Ellice. At first, Thea’s not at all happy about this. But as she gets to know Kim, she sees in the girl some real writing talent and in her own way, she becomes fond of the girl. But that turns out to be exactly the trouble when Thea begins to suspect that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim. Thea is a fascinating protagonist. She’s highly intelligent with an acerbic kind of wit and a prickly, even misanthropic attitude towards her fellow humans. But there are really interesting depths to her and I’d like to see her again.
The thing about standalones is that they aren’t intended as series. So perhaps these characters wouldn’t fare as well if they ‘starred’ again. But they might. Which standalone protagonists would you like to see again?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dennis Wilson’s Farewell My Friend.