The Major League Baseball season has started, the National Hockey League playoffs have started and the National Basketball League playoffs will be starting in a couple of weeks. And even though the Summer Olympic Games in London won’t be held until the end of July, there’s quite a lot of fervor already as final preparations are made and all of the athletes get into their best physical condition. Sport is a really important part of lots of people’s lives even if they don’t participate themselves. If you’ve ever had to get through a traffic jam because of people leaving or going to a game, you know what I mean. If you arrange your schedule to watch your favourite team play, you know what I mean. We see that interest in sport in real life of course, and we see it in crime fiction, too. And no, I don’t just mean sleuths such as Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Dick Francis’ Sid Halley, who are former professional athletes. Sport’s woven all through the genre.
For instance, you wouldn’t think of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as a lover of sport, and really he isn’t. But in The Mystery of the Blue Train, he uses tennis matches as a very good opportunity to follow up on leads in the murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. She was traveling on the famed Blue Train to meet her lover when she was strangled. At first the motive seems to be a jewel theft, since a very valuable ruby necklace she had was stolen. But Poirot soon discovers that it’s more complicated than that and he looks into the case at the request of Ruth’s father Rufus Van Aldin. Several of the important people from whom Poirot thinks he can get clues are attending a tennis match, so Poirot goes, too. And it turns out he gets some interesting and useful information there, too.
Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey shows himself to be quite the cricket player in Murder Must Advertise. In that novel, Wimsey goes undercover at Pym’s Publicity, Ltd. when one of their copywriters Victor Dean is killed one afternoon when he’s at work. At first Dean’s death looks like a tragic accident (he fell down a flight of stairs), but he left behind a half-finished note alleging that someone at the company has been using company resources for illegal purposes. Pym’s management wants to get to the bottom of the matter and hires Wimsey for the purpose. Wimsey soon finds that someone in the company was using the company’s advertising resources to set up meetings between a drugs gang and a group of local dealers. Dean found out about it and was blackmailing that person, and that’s the reason he was killed. In his guise as new copywriter Death Bredon, Wimsey finds out who the killer was. He also ends up playing for the company cricket team and it’s at that match that the climactic scenes of the novel happen.
Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski follows sport closely and particularly likes the Chicago Cubs baseball team. In Indemnity Only, for instance, Warshawski is tracking down a young woman Anita Hill who seems to have disappeared. In the process of looking for the missing woman, she goes to the home of Anita’s boyfriend Pete Thayer only to find he’s been killed. Now Warshawski gets involved in a case involving insurance fraud, union thugs, and another murder. But she’s not too busy to listen to her beloved Cubs on the car radio as she drives, and we listen to the progress of the game, too. Warshawski is also a former basketball player and in Blood Shot (AKA Toxic Shock) she attends a reunion of her former team. That’s when Caroline Dijak, the organiser of the reunion, asks Warshawski’s help. Dijak wants to find her father, whom she never knew. Warshawski agrees, but then, the body of another friend is found in Dead Stick Pond. Now Warshawski has two cases, each involving friends of hers, to solve.
Peter Temple’s Jack Irish is a Fitzroy supporter and the son of a former Fitzroy player, so he spends his share of time with some of this father’s old football friends at the Prince of Prussia. In Bad Debts, Irish has just finished one case and is started on the case of the mysterious murder of Danny McKillop, a former client. He stops in at the pub and several of its usual denizens ask where he’s been.
“‘I had to go to Sydney,’ I said. ‘Work.’…
‘What kind of work does a man have in Sydney on Satdee arvo?’ said Norm O’Neill in a tone of amazement. These men would no more consider being away from Melbourne on a Saturday in the football season than they would consider enrolling in personal development courses.”
Irish also follows horse racing, and a sub-plot of this novel involves a case of racing and betting arrangements.
Helene Tursten’s sleuth Inspector Irene Huss is a former European woman’s champion in judo and is still involved. She teaches a judo class and her daughter Katarina has inherited her interest. Huss doesn’t solve her cases by using judo, but she does use it to stay in shape, clear her mind and focus when she needs to. Her workouts at the dojo and her interest in judo are woven through the novels rather than becoming a separate plot in and of themselves.
And then there’s Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s The Cosy Knave. In that novel, retired teacher Rose Walnut-Whip is murdered during a football match between England and Germany. Everyone has gathered to watch the match on television at the home of grocer Tuxford Wensleydale and the noise from the match is so loud and people’s attention is so fixed on what’s happening in the game that they pay no attention to what has happened to Rose until it’s too late. Constable Archibald Penrose isn’t accustomed to having to deal with murder cases, but his boss Chief Inspector Alexander Mars-Wrigley is far too interested in the outcome of the match to pay a lot of attention to the investigation. So with the help of his fiancée Rhapsody Gershwin, Penrose has to put the pieces of the puzzle together himself.
Even when sport isn’t a major theme of a novel, it’s often woven into a story in subtle ways. In many, many crime novels, characters watch ball games on television (or attend them), they talk about their favourite teams and so forth. Sport is a very important part of life for many people, so it makes sense that it’s a part of stories, too. Just to show you what I mean, here’s a bit I particularly like from Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, which isn’t even about sport. In that novel, Australian Federal Police Officer Bradman “Brad” Chen is taking a leave of absence from work. He’s lured back to investigate the murders of former politician Alec Dennet and the editor of his memoirs Lorraine Starke. This is the conversation that takes place just after Chen has been persuaded to come back to work and help investigate this case:
“‘Welcome back,’ said Talkative. “let’s go and talk post-mortems.’
‘Nah, I’ll come back tomorrow,’ I said, ‘to read my way through things.’
‘Dr. Nick will be shattered, not seeing you.’
‘He’s a South Sydney supporter,’ I said. ‘They’re used to heartbreak.’”
See what I mean about sport?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogarty’s Centerfield.