Did you ever have the urge to make a major change in your life? Sometimes people make those big changes because they’re not happy with the way their lives are going (a job one dislikes for instance). Sometimes a tragedy or setback such as a death or job loss can force a major change. Either way, making a major change can be just as challenging as it can be positive. Even if it’s a change for the better, and a change one’s chosen, it’s never easy to leave a familiar way of living life. And that’s part of what can make that kind of major change an interesting backdrop or plot point for a crime fiction novel. The anxiety of a major change (and sometimes the reasons for it) can add an interesting thread of suspense to a story.
For example, Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia begins with a major change in the life of Amy Leatheran, who works at Miss Bendix’s Nursing Home. One of her maternity patients, a Mrs. Kelsey, is moving with her husband and brand-new baby to Iraq, and Leatheran accompanies her to look after the baby. Once they arrive in Baghdad, the family no longer needs Leatheran’s services so she plans at first to return to England. Then she gets an interesting proposition. Dr. Giles Reilly, whom she meets in Baghdad, is acquainted with a noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, who’s leading a dig team about four hours from Baghdad. Leidner is in need of a nurse/companion for his wife Louise, who’s been troubled by what some people call fancies: hands tapping at windows, faces looking into windows and so on. Reilly thinks that Leatheran may be the right choice for this position, so he puts the idea to her. After a bit of thought she agrees to make this change. And it is a major change. Leatheran’s used to living in England and it’s hard to get accustomed to the different lifestyle and culture she encounters in Iraq. But she’s not the fearful kind, so she plunges into her new work. Then one afternoon Louise Leidner is killed by a blow to the head. Hercule Poirot is travelling in the area on his way back to London. He’s persuaded to take a little time and investigate the murder. He finds that Louise Leidner’s fears were based on her past, and that her past has a lot to do with the murder.
Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone finds he has to make some major changes in Night Passage. He and his wife Jenn have ended their marriage, and although they both knew the marriage wasn’t healthy, they both have to deal with their feelings for each other. Stone deals with his by drinking. A lot. In fact he drinks his way out of his job as an L.A.P.D. homicide cop. He gets a chance for a fresh start when he is interviewed for the job as chief of police of Paradise, Massachusetts. It’s a small town on the other side of the continent and it’s about as different from his L.A. life as one can get. Even though he shows up drunk for the interview, Stone is surprisingly offered the job and takes it. He starts over in Paradise only to find that he’s plunged into something very ugly. First he gets into a feud with local thug JoJo Genest. Then, the body of a young woman is discovered. In the meantime, Stone finds proof of what he’s suspected: he wasn’t exactly hired to perform high-quality police service. He was hired because the town council thought he would be easily manipulated. They’re wrong though and in the end, Stone uncovers what’s really going on in Paradise and how that is connected with the death and with the reason the town needed a new police chief in the first place.
In Rebecca Tope’s A Cotswold Killing, Thea Osborne has to face another kind of change. A year ago her husband Carl was killed by a careless driver and she’s been grieving since that time. As she slowly starts to deal with the loss, Thea decides to make a major change and take up a job as a professional house-sitter. Her first clients are Clive and Jennifer Reynolds, who live in the Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Abbots. They’re going on a three-week cruise and are very anxious that everything should run smoothly at the house. Thea takes the job but it’s soon clear that this isn’t an ordinary house-sitting job. Clive Reynolds has given her a long list of exhaustively detailed instructions for just about everything in the house, garden, yard and fields. Thea’s a little put off by the long and particular “to-do” list but she gets started. On the first afternoon, she gets a visit from a neighbour Joel Jennison, who says that he’s stopped by to let her know where they are if she needs anything. Sometime late that night, Jennison is murdered and his body left in the pond at the Reynolds’ home. Thea knows nothing about detection but she is curious and besides, Joel Jennison was the only villager who’d taken the time to welcome her. So she begins to ask questions. Thea soon finds that Jennison’s brother Paul was killed only six months earlier. Now it seems as though something strange and very, very dangerous is going on in this village and that one of the reasons the locals are cold to her is that they know more than they’re saying.
A family death also brings great change for Alan Orloff’s Josh Handleman in Diamonds for the Dead. Handleman lives in San Francisco where his life is at a crossroads. His marriage has ended and so has his job. Then he gets word that his father Abe has died after a fall down the stairs at the family home in Virginia. So Handleman goes to Virginia to plan his father’s funeral and settle his estate. That’s when one of Abe Handleman’s friends tells Josh that his father’s death was not an accident – he was murdered. What’s more, Josh discovers that his father had a cache of very valuable jewels, and they’ve disappeared. Now he’s anxious about his future, dealing with his feelings about his father’s death and trying to find out who killed his father.
In Martin Edwards’ The Coffin Trail, we meet Oxford historian Daniel Kind. He’s become very successful not only as a scholar but also as a television personality. Then his girlfriend Aimee commits suicide and Kind has to entirely re-think his life. He meets a new woman Miranda and they begin a relationship. Kind needs a major change in his life so he and Miranda take Tarn Cottage in the Lakes District, hoping to settle into a quieter life away from the stress and frantic pace of life in London. In the meantime, DCI Hannah Scarlett is facing a major change of her own. She’s been named to head the newly-created Cold Case Review team. Although it’s seen as a demotion, Scarlett is a dedicated cop and wants to do her best. She and her team take up the case of the murder of Gabrielle Anders, whose body was found on an old sacrificial stone near the village of Brackdale. At the time of Anders’ death, everyone thought she was killed by Barrie Gilpin, who himself was killed in a tragic fall not long afterwards. Scarlett has never thought Gilpin killed Anders. So she and her team look into both deaths. As it turns out, Tarn Cottage used to belong to Barrie Gilpin and Kind even knew Gilpin. So in his own way, Kind gets involved in this murder investigation too. The anxiety both Scarlett and Kind feel about the changes in their lives add a thread of interest and suspense to this novel.
Simon Beckett’s forensic anthropologist David Hunter has to face that same anxiety at change in Whispers of the Dead. Hunter feels strongly the need to get out of his native London for a time. His relationship with his girlfriend Jenny has ended although he still has feelings for her. And because of the events in Written in Bone, the previous entry in this series, Hunter has the need to heal both physically and psychologically. So he decides to do some research at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory. He’s settling in for his stay there when a decomposed body is found near a remote cabin not far from the laboratory. Then another body is found. Now Hunter finds himself involved in a complicated investigation that will use all of his forensics skills.
And…speaking of major changes and things new, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s new series has just been launched! Today is the release date for Quilt or Innocence, the first in her Beatrice Coleman series. In that novel, Beatrice Coleman has just retired from her career in Atlanta. She takes the opportunity that major change brings and moves to Dappled Hills, North Carolina, to be near her daughter Piper. Her plans to settle into a more relaxed lifestyle and enjoy retirement soon get scuttled when she is “volunteered” for the local quilting guild. It’s not long before Coleman finds out that the members of this guild do as much mean-spirited gossiping and backstabbing as they do quilting. Then one day she finds the body of one of the guild members. As if that’s not enough she herself begins to get threatening notes. It seems that someone is targeting the guild members, so Coleman has to find out who the guild’s enemy is before she becomes the next victim. Congratulations, Elizabeth, on your release and I wish you much success. Folks, if Elizabeth’s other two series, her Myrtle Clover series and her Memphis Barbecue series (which she writes as Riley Adams) are any indication, this is going to be a fine cosy series!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Little River Band’s Cool Change.