No More Separations Where You Have to Say Goodnight to a Telephone*

Have you ever been involved in a long-distance relationship? If you have, then you know they’re not easy to maintain over the long run. It’s one thing to be involved with someone who’s away for a finite period of time. But it’s quite another to keep a relationship strong when the two people involved actually live and work in different places. Nurturing a relationship under those circumstances is very difficult and requires quite a lot of planning and commitment. That tension when two people care deeply for each other but are separated by distance can certainly add to the overall tension in a crime novel. It can also help to flesh out a character.

Sometimes a long-distance relationship actually works well, especially if the two people are independent and have their own lives. For instance, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. He’s involved with Irene, a graphics designer who lives and works in São Paulo and whom he meets in Southwesterly Wind. In that novel, a terrified young man named Gabriel comes to see Espinosa. He is about to celebrate his birthday and that’s why he’s afraid. Gabriel was told by a psychic that he would commit murder before his 29th birthday and he believes what he was told. Espinosa doesn’t put too much credence in what Gabriel says but he doesn’t dismiss it outright either. Then, a colleague of Gabriel’s is killed. Then there’s another death. The only link seems to be the young man himself, so Espinosa sets about finding out who set Gabriel up to take the blame for these murders. Espinosa and Irene very much enjoy the time they spend together, they care for each other, and they do respect each other. But neither feels the strong urge to re-locate or to marry. They lead independent lives and neither wants to give that up.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano lives and works in Sicily. His partner Livia Burlando lives and works in Genoa. In one sense that suits them well. They are both independent professionals who have busy lives. And Montalbano for one enjoys the freedom he feels to come and go as he chooses when Livia isn’t there. It’s stressful for him to try to get his job done and spend time with Livia when she’s in town. And yet being separated is not easy at all on their relationship. Montalbano really does care for Livia and sees her good points, and she loves him too. They argue, they consider each other unreasonable at times and so on, but underneath that, we see that they do care about each other. In several of the novels in the series there are sub-plots both funny and not-so-funny in which they try to balance seeing each other with the realities of their lives.

There’s also the long-distance relationship between Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson and her lover Måns Wenngren. When we first meet them in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), they work for the same law firm in Stockholm. But when a former friend’s brother is murdered, Martinsson returns to her home town of Kiruna to do what she can to help. Then when her friend is charged with the murder Martinsson stays on to defend her. As the series moves on Martinsson chooses to stay in Kiruna. She feels very much that she belongs there and doesn’t regret her decision. Meanwhile Wenngren remains in Stockholm. The two do care very much about each other and both of them enjoy their time together. But keeping their relationship strong is not easy. Wenngren would just as soon have Martinsson move back to Stockholm. Martinsson cares very much for Wenngren but isn’t willing to do that. Neither character is painted as wholly right or wrong as far as that conflict goes and it adds an interesting layer to the series.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind we meet newly-minted psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson, who lives and works in Dunedin. In the course of her work one of her patients Elizabeth Clark tells her about a terrible incident. Years earlier, Clark’s little sister Gracie was abducted and never found; not even a body was discovered. Clark’s story eerily resembles a tragic incident from Anderson’s own past. When Anderson was fourteen her little sister Gemma was abducted and she too was never found. Anderson wants to find some peace and lay her own ghosts to rest. So although it’s very risky she decides to find out who abducted both girls. She begins to follow the trail of the incidents and in the process she meets Dan, who works as a hunting guide. They fall in love and she discovers that Dan too may have a piece of the puzzle she’s trying to solve. Although she cares very much for Dan she doesn’t want to stop her search, so the two begin a long-distance relationship as Anderson travels back to her home town of Wanaka. As she continues to search for answers, Anderson finds out the truth about the disappearances and it’s interesting to see how her relationship with Dan evolves throughout the course of the novel, and how it sustains her.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has to deal with the ups and downs of a long-distance relationship too. In Stain of the Berry, Quant is hired by Warren Culinare to look into the reasons behind his sister Tanya’s suicide. Matters are complicated because Tanya had apparently tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to contact Quant herself before her death. He takes the case and begins to ask some questions. Meanwhile he’s also trying to solve another mystery: the disappearance of his good friend and next-door-neighbour Sereena Orion Smith. That’s how he meets Alex Canyon, a private and corporate security specialist. The two become involved and decide to continue their relationship even after Canyon moves to Melbourne to take on a new job. Quant remains in Saskatoon and the two of them use Hawai’i as a meeting point. In fact, that’s why Quant is in Hawai’i at the beginning of Aloha Candy Hearts. In that novel, Quant is preparing to return to Saskatoon when he meets an enigmatic stranger at the airport.  The man, who turns out to be archivist Walter Angel, slips a cryptic message very much like a treasure map into Quant’s hand luggage. Shortly afterwards, Angel is murdered. Quant follows up on the clue he was given and connects Walter Angel’s death to some secrets hidden right at home in Saskatchewan. It’s clear in these novels that Quant and Canyon care deeply about each other despite the distance that separates them. It’s not easy on either of them and their attempts to remain a couple form an interesting aspect to this series.

Here’s to all of those who try to keep their long-distance loves close. The fact is, long-distance relationships are not easy for anyone. If you’ve ever been in one you know exactly what I mean. But these relationships can add characterisation and interest to a crime novel. I’ve only mentioned a few here because of space. Which ones have you enjoyed?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Night is Still Young.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Anthony Bidulka, Åsa Träff, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Paddy Richardson

8 responses to “No More Separations Where You Have to Say Goodnight to a Telephone*

  1. You’ve stumped me, Margot. If I think of another example, I’ll be back. 😀

  2. Margot: Russell certainly found long distance love a challenge.

    In the vast distances of Canada many married couples end up in long distance relatonships because of work.

    William Deverell’s character, Arthur Beauchamp, marries for the second time later in life to Margaret Blake, a neighbour on the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia. When she is elected a federal M.P. she spends much of her time in Ottawa, over 5 hours a way by plane. Arthur finds himself torn between spending time with her in our capital and staying in their home far away.

    Nelson Brunanski, in his small town Saskatchewan mystery series, has Bart and Rosie Bartkowski, spending much of the summer apart as he works at their flyin fishing resort several hundred kilometers away from their home in northern Saskatchewan.

    • Bill – I’d imagine there are quite a few ‘commuter couples’ in Canada just because of the logistics. And thanks for reminding me of those two series. I must get to know each of them better than I do, and you’ve given me a good kick in the pants to do so. Both of those couples face not just the relationship issues that any couple might but also the challenge of trying to stay together while living apart. It’s not an easy living situation.

  3. Peter Temple’s Jack Irish is an example where long distance relationships don’t work. As soon as his current partner is out of town the relationship immediately seems to cool. He is clearly a man who needs his women close by.

    • Sarah – Good point about Jack Irish. I’m glad you mentioned him because it fills in a gap I left. His relationship with Linda Hillier is a really good example of what I had in mind when I put this post together.

  4. kathy d.

    As far as our curmudgeonly Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano, goes, he’s sort of crossing the line as he gets older, experience middle-aged angst. He still talks to Livia by phone, but is going off the rails in other pursuits, even falling in love. How he keeps up his relationship with Livia will unfurl as Camilleri spins his the further tales of our gourmet inspector.
    Due to high technology, today families and friends can keep up with Skype, making ties even closer.
    A blogger who must be separated from her family communicates by Skype, resulting in her little girl hugging the laptop after the calls finish.

    • Kathy – Interesting isn’t it how the distance between Salvo Montalbano and Livia Burlando is getting in a way greater as he ages. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next with them.
      You’re right too that Skype and other technology is making it easier than ever for family and friends who live at a distance to stay in touch. It doesn’t make it any more fun to have a long-distance relationship but it does make it easier I think.

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