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.