If you think about it, just about every relationship we have involves at least some negotiation. It can be as simple as ‘What should we do about dinner?’ or as complex as, ‘Under what terms will your country establish a treaty with ours?’ A lot of people associate negotiation with adversarial relationships and of course sometimes that happens. But negotiation isn’t always bitter and angry. It’s really just the search for common ground. Negotiation is an important part of communication and it certainly plays a role in real-life and crime-fictional investigations. There’s negotiation among different agencies involved. There’s negotiation in an investigation team to determine who will do what and which direction the investigation will take. And when it comes to prosecution of crime there’s a great deal of negotiation among the opposing counsels and the judge or equivalent and that’s just scratching the proverbial surface of legal negotiation. We see this quite a lot in crime fiction, so I couldn’t possibly mention all of the examples of it in this post. I know I’ll be leaving a lot out, so do add your own examples.
We see a few different kinds of negotiation in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. In that novel, Hercule Poirot works with Scotland Yard and local police to solve a series of murders that look like the work of a psychopath. That co-operation in itself involves negotiation in terms of who actually follows up on what and who will be involved in which part of the investigation. The killings begin with the murder of an elderly shopkeeper/newsagent. Her husband is the most likely suspect but Poirot received a cryptic warning before the killing that’s unlikely the work of the chief suspect. The police are just getting to work on that murder when Poirot receives another letter. Then there’s another death. And a third. At one point, Franklin Clarke, brother of the third victim, suggests that a group of friends and relations – ‘interested parties’ – of all three murder victims work together to try to come up with a strategy to catch the killer or at least a clue as to who that person is. In the conversations the group has, we see them negotiate what is important and what isn’t, and what should be done. Those conversations turn out to be very useful to Poirot as he eventually ties the murders together and finds out who the killer is.
In Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, we meet DI Alan Banks, who in this novel has recently moved to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He’s arrived in time to face some unpleasant situations. First, there’s been a series of house-breakings that have many of the residents worried. Also a voyeur has been making the lives of several of Eastvale’s women miserable and frightening. Then there’s a murder. As Banks and his team work to find out what’s behind all of these incidents, we see a lot of negotiation going on. For instance, Banks is in charge of the investigation so technically he’s the one who should direct it. However, he’s an ‘incomer,’ having recently moved from London. He knows that the locals don’t entirely trust him and he knows that he doesn’t know the histories of the people in the area. For that he has to depend on his second-in-command Sergeant Hatchley, who’s a local. So the direction the investigation takes involves negotiation between the two. It’s not always peaceful but it’s productive. As another thread in this story, local feminist Dorothy Wycombe has made a very public set of complaints that the police are sexist and are not doing all they can to catch the voyeur. Banks knows that to dismiss her entirely will lead to a media furor he doesn’t need. Besides, he agrees that the peeping is wrong and must be stopped. On the other hand, it’s clear that she doesn’t have a real appreciation for the time, money and staff required to do what she wants done. Working matters out with her (and they never exactly do become friends) takes a lot of negotiation.
Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana begins with the deaths of four German scientists. German police authorities believe that Swedish national Leo Brageler may be involved in the deaths, but there isn’t a clear motive. So they request help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). The NBI works with police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge of Stockholm County CID and their team to track down Brageler and get some answers. All of this communication among law-enforcement entities involves quite a lot of negotiation. There’s the question of who gets access to what information, who does exactly what and who has jurisdiction. Then matters get even more complicated. Brageler and another possible suspect (also a Swedish national) disappear. And, the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) starts to take a serious interest in the case. Then there’s a frightening hostage situation – another instance in which negotiation plays a major role. All of these events are related, and they’re tied to something much bigger than someone killing a few scientists.
And of course, hostage negotiation is a very important thread running through other crime fiction too. In fact, it’s a major part of Max Kinning’s Baptism. London Underground train driver George Wakeham is a former musician and writer who always wanted to make a real impact on society. That hasn’t happened though and he’s currently driving for the Northern Line. One morning his predictable life is shattered when three strangers invade his home and capture his wife and children. His family’s only chance, so Wakeham is told, is to do exactly as the hostage-takers say. He’s given a mobile ‘phone and told to go to his job as usual and follow all instructions as they are telephoned to him. Wakeham does so and soon finds out what the people who’ve taken his family want. They want to capture everyone on his train – about 400 people – and they need his driving skills to get the train into the tunnel where they intend to trap everyone aboard it. DCI Ed Mallory, who is a skilled hostage negotiator, is called in to find out exactly why the hostage-takers have captured these people and what exactly they want. Part of the tension in this novel comes from the interactions among Mallory, Wakeham and Tommy Denning, who’s leading the hostage-takers. Another source of tension in this novel is the negotiation between Mallory, who has one view of what ought to be done, and his superiors, who have another. In the end, that negotiation is part of what leads to the way Mallory and his team deal with this crisis.
And then there’s the negotiation that PI Jayne Keeney conducts in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. Keeney lives and works in Bangkok, but travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. Then de Montpasse’s partner Nou is murdered. Shortly afterwards de Montpasse himself is shot. The official report is that de Montpasse killed his partner and then violently resisted arrest when the police came to confront him with the evidence. Keeney is certain that’s not true though and begins to look into the matter. She soon learns that these two murders are tied in with a truly ugly case of corruption, child trafficking and the Thai sex trade. Keeney knows that she can’t stop the corruption and sex trade single-handedly, much as she would like to. The one thing she does want though is for de Montpasse’s name to be cleared. He wasn’t a murderer and she wants that to be made public. Once she finds out the real truth behind the murders, she feels she’s in a position to negotiate. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that her exchanges with the people who are on ‘the other side of the table’ in this case show how negotiation works in the real world.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the many fine legal mysteries and thrillers that involve negotiation among parties. That’s in part because there are so many of them; that would be a post in and of itself. But I do want to at least mention that negotiation is a critical part of these novels, as it is in real-life legal cases.
Most of know that almost any interaction with another person involves at least a little negotiation. Sometimes it’s low-stakes; sometimes it’s high-stakes. Always it’s interesting and it can add a solid level of tension to a crime novel.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ You Never Give Me Your Money.