If 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.