You Gotta do it Till You’re Through it So You Better Get to it*

BacktoWorkIf you’ve ever been ill or away and then had to get back into your routine, you know how hard that can be. At the same time as it’s good to get back to work, it’s also difficult to get back into your daily life. And for detectives it’s even more of a challenge. Many of them deal with things that are awful to face even on the best of days, let alone when they’re getting back to work after some time away. But that resilience – that ability to get back into the routine after getting knocked down, so to speak – is a really useful trait if you’re a detective. The challenge of getting back to work can also add a layer of interest to a story.

Peter Temple introduces us to part-time lawyer/part-time investigator Jack Irish in Bad Debts. Irish is getting back to work after his wife Isabel was shot by one of his clients. His first response to losing his wife was to hide at the bottom of the bottle so to speak. But as Bad Debts begins, he’s stopped that instinctive response to life and now does occasional legal work as well as a sort of side business in finding people who would rather not be found, mostly to  get them to pay debts they owe. Life is slowly returning to stability for Irish until he gets a ‘phone message from a former client Danny McKillop. McKillop was imprisoned on charges that he killed Anne Jeppeson in a drink-driving hit-and-run incident. Now he’s been released and is desperate to talk to Irish. Irish doesn’t respond right away and by the time he follows up to see what McKillop wants, it’s too late; McKillop himself has been killed. Irish feels a sense of obligation to McKillop’s family. He was the attorney who defended McKillop in the original case and did an unprofessional job of it because of his drinking. So he decides to find out the truth behind both deaths. In this novel we see how at the same time as Irish is glad to have a purpose, he also finds it difficult sometimes to be back on the job.

That’s also true of Dick Francis’ Sid Halley, a former jockey whose left hand was permanently injured in a racing accident. After he recovers enough physically to work again, he spends two years working at a detective agency. But he really comes back to work in Odds Against. In that novel, Halley’s ex-father-in-law Charles Roland hires him to uncover a plot to take over the Seabury Racecourse, which Roland owns. Halley finds it difficult to get back to life around racecourses. He’s insecure, especially because of his injury, and he’s been away from the scene for a few years. But he finds the resilience he needs to search out the truth about the racecourse plot. He also discovers a new career for himself as a racetrack investigator.

Gail Bowen introduces us to her sleuth, political science expert and academic Joanne Kilbourn, in Deadly Appearances. Kilbourn and her family are coping with the loss of her husband Ian, who was murdered when he stopped to help a young couple who were having car trouble. Since that time the family has stuck together but of course, it hasn’t been easy. When Kilbourn’s friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during an important political speech he’s making, Kilbourn decides to face her grief by writing a biography of him.  As she finds out more about Boychuk’s past, she also gets to the truth about who killed Boychuk and why. And that gets Kilbourn into a great deal of danger. So as the next novel Murder at the Mendel begins, Kilbourn is getting back to work, this time in a guest teaching position in Saskatoon. There, she finds that an old friend Sally Love is having a show of her controversial art at the Mendell Gallery. Kilbourn wants to renew their friendship but it turns out to be difficult. Then, local gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered, and Sally is a likely suspect. Kilbourn is still dealing with her own setbacks, but she finds the resilience she needs to help Sally – and to deal with the truth about the history of their friendship.

In Martin Edwards’ The Coffin Trail, we meet DCI Hannah Scarlett who has to get back to work after a case she was investigating falls apart. She’s been made the scapegoat for everything that went wrong with the case and after a brief break, is re-assigned to avoid a public-relations disaster. Although it’s ‘sold’ as a ‘fresh challenge,’ Scarlett knows that being assigned to head the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team is s demotion. Still she takes up her new job and gets back to work. Scarlett and her new team are soon involved in the investigation of the deaths of Gabrielle Anders, a somewhat enigmatic beauty who’d recently moved to the Lake District, and Barrie Gilpin, the autistic young man who was said to have killed Anders. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, who’s recently moved back to the Lake District himself, Scarlett and her team find out the truth about the Anders and Gilpin deaths. Then later, in The Arsenic Labyrinth, Scarlett has to get back to work again after a serious personal loss that she suffers in the previous novel The Cipher Garden. Scarlett finds it difficult at times to get ‘back in the game’ as the saying goes, but also finds the resilience she needs.

So does Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck, whom we first meet in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). As that novel begins, Mørck is recovering from a scene-of-crime incident in which he was gravely wounded, one of his colleagues was murdered and another was left with paralysis. At first, Mørck has little interest in getting back to work. He’s hardly maudlin about it but he is still suffering from the trauma of what happened. In fact, he is so difficult to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to the newly-created Department Q, which is charged with investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ Despite Mørck’s lack of interest in doing much of any work, he’s soon drawn to the case of the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a promising politician who disappeared five years earlier. Everyone’s always thought she drowned in a tragic ferry accident. But there are hints that she may actually still be alive. So Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad work together to find out what really happened to Lynggaard and where she is now, if she is indeed still alive.

And then there’s Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson, whom we first meet in Åsa Larsson’s Sun Storm (AKA The Savage Altar). Martinsson returns to her home town of Kiruna when a former friend is accused of murder and asks for her help. Finding out who the real murderer is takes a serious toll on Martinsson but she gets back to work after a fashion in The Blood Spilt. In that novel, Martinsson works with police detectives Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stålnacke to find out who murdered local priest Mildred Nilsson. The events at the end of that novel set Martinsson back even further so to speak, so she takes some time away. Then, at the beginning of The Black Path, Martinsson returns to work again and gets involved in the investigation of the murder of Inna Watrang, Head of Information at Kellis Mining. Although returning to work is difficult for her, Martinsson is pleased to slowly feel her life become a little more stable.

It’s never easy to get started working again after a time away. That’s especially true if the time away was spent coping with illness or trauma. But most detectives do get back to work again, and that balance between wanting to be back in a routine and needing to deal with whatever takes one away from the routine can add real interest to a story.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elvis Costello’s Welcome to the Working Week.


Filed under Åsa Larsson, Dick Francis, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Martin Edwards, Peter Temple

36 responses to “You Gotta do it Till You’re Through it So You Better Get to it*

  1. Great post. It’s definitely hard to get back in a routine, but it’s also about keeping the momentum going and building upon what you’ve already accomplished.

    • Vanessa – You are right! Starting back into a routine can be a bit ‘bumpy,’ but if one gets a little momentum and builds on that, it gets easier. And I think sleuths do that once a case gets their attention.

  2. The only experience I ever had similar to that was moving from one job / company that I had worked for 29 years to a new company (similar job). It was a challenge.

    It does seem like detectives want to get back to work too soon after an illness or trauma. What I have also noticed is detectives being allowed to work on cases that they should not be… because of some personal issue, being a relative of the victim, etc. Different issue there, though.

    You have mentioned two authors that I want to get to soon. Gail Bowen and Peter Temple. I don’t have a Jack Irish book but plan to try The Broken Shore.

    • Tracy – It must have been a major change for you to go to a new company after 29 years in your job. That is a tough kind of move. And you’re right; there seem to be a lot of cases that fictional detectives work on that really, they shouldn’t. Either they’re too close to the victim/suspect(s) or they’re unhealthy or for some other reason they shouldn’t be working a case. I think that shows commitment even if it is ill-advised.
      And I do heartily encourage you to try Gail Bowen’s work. She’s fantastic. So is Peter Temple. Whether you try his Jack Irish series or his novels like The Broken Shore that feature other lead detectives, you’re in for a treat.

  3. Margot, one of my favorite mysteries takes place because the detective, having fallen through a trapdoor and broken many things, must be lured back to his work by his friends. They do so by giving him books…and a picture of a man generally regarded as a great villain. But he doesn’t look like a villain. And so the detective, Alan Grant is drawn into investigating the centuries-old mystery of Richard III…and, by doing so, begins his own return to normal life. The book, of course, is Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time,” and I think Alan Grant is an excellent example of someone who must find a good way back into his profession after a severe trauma.

    • Les – I am so glad you mentioned The Daughter of Time. Trust you to find the perfect example to fill in a gap that I left. You’re right that it really shows Grant getting back into the job after being away. I think it also shows his discomfort at being ‘sidelined.’

  4. Great post, Margot! I’m reminded that I need to pick up some more Gail Bowen since I’ve only read the first. And your discussion of Asa Larsson prompts me to say that Martinsson is very reluctant to get back into her routine, which is a nice change from the detectives who just try to bury themselves in their work– especially into a case I which they have a personal interest, as Tracy mentioned. Harry Hole and Harry Bosch come to mind.

    • Rebecca – Thank you 🙂 – And you make a very well-taken point about the difference between Rebecka Martinsson and sleuths such as Harry (both Bosch and Hole). She knows how fragile she is and at first, she just wants to be left alone to heal – and who can blame her?
      I hope you’ll get the chance to continue Gail Bowen’s series. Her Joanne Kilbourn is such a terrific protagonist, and Bowen manages to create an excellent variety of characters, plots, plot twists and so on, all without straining credibility or getting ‘stale.’

  5. Great post. Just read The Redbreast by Nesbo so it’s still fresh in mind how hard it was for Harry to get back into the routine with the loss of someone close (not saying more for fear of spoilers). It was a very touching scene (s), you know which one I am talking about? Hope so 🙂 I need to try some of these other writers. I have Peter Temple in my stacks so I will push him up and Gail Bowden as well. As for Martinsson, she needed to slow down. She was a workaholic.

    • Keishon – Thank you 🙂 – Yes, I know the scene(s) you mean and yes – very affecting. I like Hole all the better for it. He does have, I sometimes think, a deep drive to get back into it, but not there and it works.
      I hope you’ll get the chance to try some Peter Temple. In my opinion he’s a richly, richly talented author. I’m a fan. And I’ve become a fan of Gail Bowen’s too. They’re quite different as writers but each captures the unique sense of place and culture as well as telling engaging stories and drawing interesting characters. And by the way, they do it without gratuitous gore-fests.
      And yes, Martinsson pushes herself far too hard at the beginning of the series.

  6. Margot: I am glad alot of bloggers are thinking of reading Gail Bowen’s books. She is an excellent writer and a fine person.

    On coming back I thought of Spenser being wounded and taken by Susan and Hawk to recover far away from Boston and how gingerly, for that proudly physical man, he resumed being a detective.

    The premise of The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver with Lincoln Rhyme is the criminalist finding a way to resume his work after becoming a quadraplegic. I thought Deaver did a superb job of finding a way for Rhyme to come back.

    Anthony Bidulka’s character, Russell Quant, takes extended leave from his work after a relationship falters. A murder forces him back into form.

    I would have included John Macdonald’s Travis McGee but the salvage consultant always bounced back from whatever physical harm befell him.

    • Bill – I’m glad you’ve filled in that Spenser gap. He does indeed take time getting back into a routine after being wounded and it’s difficult for him. And you’re right about Lincoln Rhyme, too. Deaver does do an excellent job of portraying what it is to slowly get back into a routine. I’m also glad you reminded me of what happens when Russell Quant’s personal live goes south as the saying goes. You’ve really filled in a lot of gaps actually with your comment and I appreciate it. And I couldn’t agree more about Gail Bowen. Folks, do try her series.

  7. Skywatcher

    Well, I’ve mentioned the book before, but in Jonathan Gash’s THE JUDAS PAIR, Lovejoy spends a chunk of the second part of the book undergoing a nervous breakdown, which pretty much trumps most detective’s broken ribs, or whatever! I’m not certain that anyone else has ever tried that one in a mystery novel.

    Detective/Crime/Mystery novels are a great help when you are ill yourself. I still recall a period some years ago when I was taken into hospital, Although it eventually turned out that I was OK, for about a week there was some uncertainty about ill I actually was. During that uncertain period I would spend hours and hours reading these sort of books. Keeping my mind occupied with stuff like that pretty much helped me not to crack up, so it’s a given that I do love them.

    • Skywatcher – I’m sure it must have been difficult for you and I’m glad you had novels to keep yourself stable and mentally occupied. And of course, I’m glad that all worked out well for you in the end.
      And thanks for mentioning The Judas Pair. It’s always difficult enough I think for a sleuth to return when s/he’s been physically injured. And that usually involves some mental trauma too. Mental breakdowns are harder to return from and they are harder to depict believably. I’ve read a few crime fiction series (the Larsson series to which I refer in this post is one of them) in which the sleuth has a mental breakdown and has to return from that. But it is far less common.

  8. Ha; really love that title.

  9. It can be quite a relief, can’t it, to realise that even great detectives need some time to re-establish a routine (not just me, then!). An example I have very recently come across is Pierre Lemaitre’s Commandant Camille Verhoeven in the novel ‘Alex’: after the kidnapping and murder of his heavily pregnant wife, he is very reluctant to get involved in any major cases. He also suffered a major breakdown and was hospitalised in a psychiatric unit. So when the kidnapping case of a young woman comes up, he keeps telling himself he is only temporarily taking care of the case until his colleague can take over. But his personal experience means he is the first to recognise that something about the story is wrong.
    And I also agree that detective fiction is perfect for when you are convalescing yourself. I remember reading out Agatha Christie to a ward full of women (after an appendicitis operation) – and we were all intrigued and amused, no matter how serious our illness was.

    • Marina Sofia – Oh, how nice that you shared Agatha Christie with some of the other people in your ward. I’m sure they appreciated the chance to take their minds of their pain and a good mystery does keep the mind occupied.
      Thanks for sharing ALex with us as well. It’s such a good example of a case where by rights, the sleuth should not be investigating a particular case. And yet, he does, and he’s able to make sense of it. There are a lot of situations like that where fictional sleuths work on cases when they shouldn’t – fodder for another post at some point I think…

  10. It’s funny but as I’ve got older, I’ve become less routine focused although as you say, we all need one to get things done. I psychologist once told me, it takes about 2 weeks for your brain to recognise a routine. So say, if you start swimming very day, it’ll be 2 week before you start feeling you’re breaking your routine by not going.
    I have a horrible routine which is I wake up, reach for my iphone and start checking my messages…..

    • Sarah – I didn’t know that about getting (back) into a routine, so thanks. Two weeks? Little wonder it took me a while to get into my workout routine. And as for getting up and checking your iPhone first thing? I’m just as guilty. I get up, turn on the computer and start in with my blog rounds and so on. Modern technology creates new routines for us…

  11. “Bad Debts” sounds good–haven’t read it.

    And frequently, detectives in these series don’t take time off even when they *need* to take time off…like when they’re recuperating from surgery or illness. Morse comes to mind. 🙂 It’s always tough to get back up to speed, whenever you’ve stepped away from your work.

    • Elizabeth – Oh, I do hope you’ll have the chance to read some Peter Temple. He is so talented! And you’re right about fictional detectives who don’t take time off even when they should (Yes, Morse is guilty of that!). I think it’s hard to feel ‘at loose ends’ for some of them. but in real life you’ve got a well-taken point that it’s hard to get back ‘normal’ (whatever that is) life when you’ve been away from it.

  12. Thanks for another thoughtful article Margot. This is just so apt as I am having/havehad a few months off work due to illness but hopefully will be returning to the routine soon. I have found the time off quite testing so understand the frustrations of getting back to normal for the band of detectives. I’m also a rubbish patient!

    • Raven – I’m not a very good patient either! And I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been away ill; I hope your recovery has been smooth. It is as you say so frustrating to get back to routine, especially when one doesn’t want to be away from it in the first place.

  13. Wonderful post and so timely! Just when all my routines have been downed by crummy weather and dumb circumstance. I’ll get back on the horse soon, I promise! I love that you wrote about Temple’s Jack. I was also thinking of Travis McGee in a few of the John D. MacDonald books when he has to get back in shape after a major slip. He runs up and down the beach – yikes – that’ll do it. Then climbs aboard The Busted Flush and starts again. I do find as I get along in years that it is harder and harder to climb back into my routine and more and more important that I do so. Gah!

    • Jan – Thank you – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Life can really get in the way of…life, can’t it? And bad weather doesn’t help at all. It’s enough to throw anyone out of the routine. You’ll get back into it. I happen to be a fan of the Jack Irish series; isn’t he a terrific character? So well-drawn. And you’re exactly right about Travis McGee too. Life knocks him down but as you say, he runs and exercises and somehow gets back into things. I think that’d be hard for me to do. I’m just happy that I’ve integrated some gym time into my routine. Anything more? Ummm.. I don’t know about that.

  14. kathy d.

    Very interesting post, as usual. I hope that Rebecka Martinsson has easy times ahead, as the first books in the series ended quite badly for her. Thankfully, the author, Asa Larsson, put her in moderate danger in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, as opposed to colossal danger. She did quite well in the recent book in comparison to the earlier ones.
    I agree with a comment above that there are times that detectives should have to take leaves of absence to deal with their own problems, as the alcoholic Harry Hole, a brilliant investigator, full of his own demons. Medical or personal leave, anyone?
    This post reminds me that I want to read some of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish books, having read and enjoyed The Broken Shore and Truth.

    • Kathy – I couldn’t agree more that Harry Hole investigates, at times, when he shouldn’t. And as you say, he’s not alone in that. Some fictional detectives really do try to do too much, too soon. And I’m happy too that Rebecka Martinsson seems to be having an easier time. As you say, in the first two books of the series, she ends up in such an awful situation that anyone would need some time away. Little wonder she’s reluctant to get back into things after that.
      And I really do highly recommend Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

  15. It was nice to see Dick Francis mentioned in your blog. He’s one of my favourite authors, and I think he handled the Sid Halley getting back to work situation with all his usual skill. Are his books as popular in America as they are in the UK?

    • Dawn – I completely agree with you about the way Dick Francis handled Halley’s return to work. It’s a very effective mix I think of very natural anxiety and self-consciousness with a desire to get back on the job. Those novels are indeed popular in the U.S., but it’s easy to see why. As someone once wrote: That man (Francis) could make a cockroach race interesting.

      • Loved the comment about the cockroach race! It’s so true. I have never been the slightest bit interested in horse racing, but he made it sound like the greatest thing in the world. I do like horses, and went for riding lessons for a year or so, but it was no good – the horses never seemed to understand that I was the one in charge, and not them.

        • Daawn – Francis really was a talented writer wasn’t he? I didn’t know you’d taken riding lessons. It is a challenge isn’t it to get the horse to learn who’s boss, so to speak.

  16. True, and regrettably I didn’t manage it! But that’s life! As for Dick Francis I think he was a talented writer. He certainly knew how to make you turn the page, and to write in that upbeat way that made his books particularly enjoyable.

    • Dawn – Right you are indeed about Francis. He really had a way of keeping the reader engaged. And I agree; a lot of his stories have, if not exactly happy outcomes, at least hopeful ones.

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