You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger*

Have you ever known someone with the kind of magnetic, even charming personality that could get people to do things, even things they would ordinarily refuse to do? I’m not talking here of someone who’s manipulative or bossy or even overtly persuasive. Nor do I mean an evil person who ensnares an innocent person. Rather, I mean people with the ability to wrap others round their finger as the saying goes. It’s a very useful trait and if you’ve ever felt the “pull” of someone like that, you know that it doesn’t depend on looks or power, really. It’s just a kind of magnetism that people seem to either have or not have.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we meet Lady Lucy Angkatell. She and her husband Sir Henry invite a group of relations and friends for a week-end that turns into disaster. One of the guests Dr. John Christow is shot on the Sunday afternoon, and at first the case looks very clear-cut. But it’s not long before Inspector Grange runs into a serious complication that makes it clear this case is not as simple as it seems. Hercule Poirot has taken a cottage nearby and he works with Inspector Grange to investigate. Lady Lucy has that kind of magnetic charm and appeal that makes people do things she wants. In fact, here is what Sir Henry says about her to one of the guests Midge Hardcastle:


“‘She gets away with things. She always has.’ He smiled. ‘She’s flouted the traditions of Government House – she’s played merry hell with precedence at dinner parties (and that, Midge, is a black crime!). She’s put deadly enemies next to each other at the dinner table and run riot over the colour question. And instead of raising one big almighty row and setting everyone at loggerheads and bringing disgrace on the British Raj – I’m damned if she hasn’t gotten away with it.’” 


Poirot himself feels the effect of that magnetism when Lady Lucy visits him and asks him to leave the case alone. He very much wants to stop investigating simply because she’s asked him to do so. But in the end he does find out the truth about John Christow’s murder.

Margaret Maron’s One Coffee With introduces us to N.Y.P.D.’s Lieutenant Sigrid Harald. Harald is sent to Vanderlyn College when a murder is reported. Professor Riley Quinn, deputy chair of the Art Department has died after drinking coffee that was poisoned with potassium dichromate.  Harald and her assistant Detective Tildon soon discover that most of the people in the department had very good motives for murder. Quinn had alienated most of them, had backstabbed some of them and was in the way, so to speak, of others. And there’s also the matter of Quinn’s wife Doris, who inherits quite a lot at Quinn’s death and who is not exactly faithful to him in any case. In the course of the investigation Harald meets Department Chair Oscar Nauman. At first Nauman is a suspect and that’s how Harald treats him. She interviews him, checks his alibi and so on. But something about Nauman is especially magnetic and Harald feels that pull. He has a way of getting Harald to warm up to him despite the fact that he’s presumptuous. It’s hard too to explain Nauman’s magnetism. He’s not unusually attractive, really wealthy or particularly powerful. But he does have a knack for having his way without being bossy or threatening.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarr get officially involved in the disappearance of Andreas Winther when his mother Runi reports him missing. At first not much is done with the case; after all, there are any number of reasons a young man might go off for a few days without letting his mother know where he’s gone. But when several days go by with no word from the missing Andreas, Sejer and his team begin to investigate. The person most likely to know something about Andreas’ whereabouts is his best friend Sivert “Zipp” Skorpe. The two young men were together on the last day Andreas was seen and Zipp even admits that Andreas must have disappeared shortly after they parted company on that day. But he refuses to tell the investigators everything that happened. In the end though, Sejer and his team discover the truth about what happened to Andreas and how that relates to other events in the story. As the novel progresses we see the kind of magnetism Andreas has and how it draws his friend Zipp in. Among other things this novel really is an interesting look at the psychology of how people can wrap others round their fingers.

One of Kerry Greenwood’s series features Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman. Chapman lives and works in a Roman-style building called Insula and in the course of this series we meet many of the other residents of that building. One of them is Meroe, a Wiccan who owns a shop called the Sibyl’s Cave. Meroe is not particularly loud or overly strong. She doesn’t yell or usually threaten. She’s not wealthy or power-hungry either. In fact she very much dislikes witchcraft being used to gain power or hurt others. But Meroe has an undeniable presence and the ability to get other people to do what she wants. She can take control of situations in ways that others simply do not resist and everyone respects her. For instance, in Devil’s Food, Chapman is faced with two problems. One is that someone has been selling poisoned tea, calling it weight-loss tea. When two other residents of Insula are sickened by the tea it’s Meroe who competently takes over and makes sure they get better. And when the culprit is caught, Meroe is the one who dictates what the consequences will be. And no-one disputes her.

Robert Crais’ Joe Pike also has the ability to get people to do what he wants. In his case it’s partly because he has the self-assurance that comes from being a decorated Marine and a mercenary. But his magnetism doesn’t come from brandishing weapons and yelling threats. In fact he’s not particularly talkative and as we learn throughout the series, he’s not a cartoonish gun-toter. He’s deeper than that and has a strength of character that makes his PI business partner Elvis Cole co-operate without reserve. And Elvis Cole is not one to blindly do what people tell him to do. There’s just something about Pike, as the saying goes, that makes people do what he wants.

And then there’s Teresa Solana’s Barcelona PI Josep “Borja” Martínez. He’s not particularly wealthy or unusually attractive. And yet, he’s juggling two mistresses, one of whom is both rich and generous. He has the ability to persuade clients to hire him and can ingratiate himself with just about anyone. He also has the ability to get his brother Eduard to do all sorts of things that Eduard would never do on his own. For instance, in A Not So Perfect Crime Borja gets his brother to help him remove a valuable painting from their client’s office and hide it in Eduard’s own home. Borja isn’t what you’d call unusually talkative but he does have what some people call the gift of gab. He’s able to get people “on his side” even when they normally wouldn’t be.

That’s the thing about people who can wrap others round their fingers. They have the knack of getting others to do exactly what they want without threatening, bossing or toadying either. It’s just an ability they have to get their own way that I find fascinating.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Cranberries’ Linger.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Karin Fossum, Kerry Greenwood, Margaret Maron, Robert Crais, Teresa Solana

14 responses to “You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger*

  1. kathy d.

    An interesting post. I would think that most private detectives have the ability to get what they want, including information from whomever they are asking. Even police end up giving bits of clues or evidence to PIs. However, it takes cultivating personal relationships and often trading favors. I think of V.I. Warshawski asking her friend, Murray, a journalist, to help her out with a case, or Lotty Hershel or Mr. Contreras. She even asks for help from her father’s old friends in the police department.
    In Guido Brunetti’s world, he gets help from whom he needs it, including from Elettra Zorzi, but she, in turn, does what she wants and gets a lot of assistance from others whom she knows at various governmental bureaus and departments; this is due to her charisma, skills and intelligence.
    Salvo Montalbano seems to get help from his media friends and others in solving cases, but he certainly doesn’t use charm; it’s more force of will, trading on old friendships and cunning. Also, the Sicilian society seems to exist on trading of favors and information.

    • Kathy Right you are indeed about the Sicilian society that Camilleri depicts. It’s quite similar in Donna Leon’s Venice also I think. Your larger point is very well-taken too. Sleuths need to be able to get people to do what they want. Some of them naturally have that magnetism, whatever it is, that gets people to co-operate without realising that’s what they’re doing. Others find that more difficult but they have to do it too. I like your point too about PI’s really needing to be able to use that ability if they naturally have it. After all they don’t have the force of law on their sides. Nobody is required to say anything to a PI or help a PI get information.

  2. Patti Abbott

    I am thinking of Tom Ripley as a sociopath who charms people.

  3. Very interesting post. I’ve never stopped to analyze the charming characters. You’ve made me want to take a closer look at them!

  4. kathy d.

    I find in my own life that the people around me who can “get” people to do things are the kindest, most diplomatic, inclusive and opinion-seeking individuals, those who pull in others, who ask their views and who thank them for all of their efforts. Then one wants to help out and turn oneself inside out to be of assistance.
    I don’t know if this applies in crime fiction, although many private detectives are kind people but are running all over the place. I think Brunetti, Warshawski and Millhone can have sharp edges, but their human relations skills are usually pretty good. Also, Irene Huss does well as does Elinborg as police detectives who have good personal skills.

    • Kathy – You make a very interesting point. Very often people who are genuinely kind and caring have a way of drawing others to them. As you say, one wants to do something for a genuinely good person, just because that person is kind and diplomatic. And I think it can work that way in crime fiction too. You give terrific examples too of crime-fictional characters who are genuinely kind people and that quality draws people in.

  5. Margot: Three examples come to mind.

    To me Jeffery Deaver’s criminalist, Lincoln Rhymes, gets people to do his bidding not because of his quadraplegia but because they trust his brilliant mind and encyclopedic knowledge of New York City.

    Lawyer, Steve Solomon, of Paul Levine’s series attracts people with his infectious good humour, colourful language and outrageous behaviour.

    People gravitate to Meyer, Travis McGee’s best friend, because of his kindness, teddy bear appearance and caring nature.

    • Bill – Those are very good examples of the kind of quality I had in mind. And it’s interesting too because they are three such disparate people. Where Rhymes can be taciturn and bitter, Solomon is outgoing. Where both of them can be hard-edged, Meyer is simply a kind friendly guy. It shows that that ability to get others to do what one wants is a distinct quality, independent of things such as temperament.

  6. The other AC character that springs to mind is Louisa Leidner in ‘Murder in Mesopotamia, whose ability to enchant has deadly consequences.
    One of the best portraits of a charismatic man I’ve read in fiction is Rick Pym, the father of Magnus in Le Carre’s ‘A Perfect Spy’. Apparently it is based on the authors father, and although he falls into the category of loveable rogue I think it’s an excellent portrayal.

    • Sarah – You know, I went back and forth between Agatha Christie’s Louise Leidner and her Lucy Angkatell. I’m so glad you mentioned Louise Leidner because she really is a fabulous example of what I had in mind. Oh, and Rick Pym is a terrific example too. I honestly didn’t know the character was based on the author’s father; that’s really interesting.

  7. A very interesting post, Margot. You have this knack and I mean that in the most positive way. When it comes to getting others to explore new angles of books, you are the best. You give us insight into angles, themes and directions we would have never considered. This helps us look at books and authors in a new light and with better understanding. Thank you so much for doing that.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • Mason – Oh, my goodness, that’s so kind of you! 🙂 – Thank you so much! And really, there is so much good crime fiction out there that basically sells itself, so to speak…

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