Crime fiction can get rather sad and bleak at times, and that makes sense. Murder is a horrible and violent thing, and stories about murder wouldn’t be realistic if they weren’t at least somewhat sad. It’s also nice though when there are, if you will, little streaks of daylight – little miracles if you want to call it that – in crime fiction too. Those little miracles are a nice antidote to the sadness in a story. Little miracles keep us going in real life, too – like finding something you thought you’d permanently lost, or the first rain after a long drought. So readers can identify with those things in novels too. Of course, as with any plot device, it’s possible to overdo the ‘sunshine.’ That can make a story cloying and not realistic. But a few doses can make the difference between an unbearably sad story that’s too hard to read, and an utterly absorbing one.
In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow for instance, famous Harley Street specialist John Christow and his wife Gerda are invited to spend the week-end at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. The Angkatells have also invited a few of their relations for the week-end, and the plan is that Hercule Poirot, who’s taken a cottage nearby, will join the group for lunch on the Sunday. When he arrives, Poirot is dismayed to find what looks like a tableau arranged for his ‘amusement.’ Christow’s body is lying by the pool and his apparent killer is holding the gun. Within a moment though Poirot sees that this scene is real; Christow has been shot. Inspector Grange and his team are called to the scene and he and Poirot work together to find out who Christow’s killer is. In one sub-plot to this story, two of the other guests Midge Hardcastle and Edward Angkatell begin to develop a relationship. At one point a misunderstanding threatens that relationship and Angkatell attempts suicide. Midge finds him just in time and the two heal the rift between them. It’s a refreshing antidote to the sadness of Christow’s murder and the fact that everyone ‘on the scene’ is a suspect.
In Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, Göteborg detective Irene Huss and her team are investigating a series of murders and other strange events at a local private hospital. But Huss is also preoccupied by the fact that her daughter Jenny has decided to become a vegan. Not only does this set up a conflict between Jenny and her father Krister, who’s a chef, but it also leads to Jenny spending time with a very militant vegan group. One night Jenny goes out with her new friends for what she thinks is just a session of putting up vegan posters. It turns into something far more dangerous though when the group’s leaders decide to throw a gasoline bomb at a refrigerator truck belonging to a meat and deli company. Huss, whose ‘mother instinct’ has already told her Jenny might be getting herself into trouble, has followed Jenny and witnesses what the group is doing. The bomb goes off and fire breaks out, but in one of those little miracles, Jenny is not hurt in the explosion. Huss gets her away from the rest of the group and both of them escape.
We also see one of those special moments in H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote’s First Case. Newly-minted inspector Ganesh Ghote’s boss Sir Rustom Engineer asks Ghote to take on a new case. Engineer’s friend Robert Dawkins was recently widowed when his wife Iris committed suicide. Now Dawkins wants to know what drove her to take such a drastic measure. Ghote agrees to look into the matter and travels from Bombay to Mahableshwar where Dawkins lives. Although he sees this investigation as his duty, Ghote is torn about leaving his pregnant wife Protima, who is only weeks from giving birth to their first child. Protima isn’t too happy about it either but they agree that Ghote should make the trip. As Ghote beginst to ask questions about Iris Dawkins’ death, he begins to suspect that she may have been murdered. With that new possibility, he re-considers all of the people in her life to see who would have wanted to kill her. Throughout his search for answers Ghote remains concerned about his wife and her health. He’s able to concentrate on the case well enough to find out the truth about Iris Dawkins though, and when he knows what really happened, he returns to Bombay to report his findings. I don’t think it’s spoiling this story to say that the novel ends with the joyful news that Protima has given birth to a healthy son. Despite the sadness of this case – and it is a sad case – there is that little miracle and it adds to the story.
In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere’ is in the grip of a long and dangerous drought. The drought has had some terrible effects, and everyone is hoping for The Big One, the first major snowstorm of the year, to bring desperately needed moisture to the area. A series of fires breaks out at local mines and journalist Jim ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran begins to suspect arson. Then there’s an explosion that’s been rigged to disguise a murder. Now it’s clear that something sinister is going on and Qwill investigates. It turns out that these tragedies are all related and Quinn and local police chief Andrew Brodie slowly put the pieces together to find out who’s responsible. At the very end of the story, the much-awaited Big One finally makes an appearance and ends the drought. Qwill celebrates the first snow and it’s not hard to see why.
There’s also one of those ‘little miracles’ in Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase. That’s the story of volunteer nurse Nina Borg, who one day gets an unusual request. Her friend Karin asks her to pick up a suitcase at Cophenhagen’s main railway station. When she gets the suitcase, Borg is shocked to find that inside it is a little boy. He’s drugged and in a daze, but he is alive. Borg tries to reach Karin to let her know about the boy and to find out why he’s there and who his family is. But Karin seems to have disappeared and now Nina is being targeted by some ruthless people who have their own reasons for wanting the boy. In the meantime we meet Sigita Ramoskiene, a young Lithuanian mother whose three-year-old son Mikas has been abducted. She tries frantically to find out what happened to him and to bring him home if she can. Her path and Nina Borg’s cross and as you might suspect, the little boy in Borg’s care turns out to be Mikas. In some ways this is a very sad book that addresses some ugly issues. As the two women try to find out who abducted Mikas and why, though, there is a streak of daylight in that Mikas is found alive. All too often in real life children disappear and are not seen alive again.
And then there’s Wendy James’ The Mistake. Jodie Evans Garrow has what anyone would probably say is a good life. She’s married to a successful attorney who’s even being talked about as the next mayor. She’s got two children who are healthy and not in trouble, and she herself is doing well. Everything falls apart though when Jodie’s fifteen-year-old daughter Hannah is injured and is taken to the same hospital in which Jodie gave birth years earlier to another child. She’s never told her husband or children about this first baby but when one of the nurses remembers Jodie, the truth begins to come out. Jodie claims she gave the baby up for adoption, but no adoption records have been found. So what happened to the baby? If she wasn’t adopted, is she even alive? And if not, was Jodie responsible for her death? All of these questions begin to dog Jodie, who soon becomes a local pariah. Her family life falls apart and there is talk that she may be the subject of a police investigation. In the midst of all this unhappiness, though, there is a little miracle if you want to call it that. Jodie’s good friend Bridie comes back into her life after a very long absence. As the two re-establish their friendship, each finds herself a little healed if you will by the other.
Little miracles happen all the time, and they are part of what keeps us getting out of bed in the morning to face the next day. It’s nice that they show up in crime fiction.
On Another Note…
I’d like to take a moment and wish a Happy Chanukah to all of those celebrating it. May you enjoy the warmth of friends and family and may we all remember the little miracles that happen to us every day.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Foo Fighters’ Miracle.