Early in the Morning, Risin’ to the Street*

EarlyMorningAre you a morning person? Many cops find that they have to get used to the early morning, even if they aren’t fond of it. It’s interesting (although I don’t think surprising) how many fictional calls-to-the-scene take place early in the morning. Little wonder fictional sleuths don’t always get a lot of sleep…

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson may be accustomed to odd hours, being a doctor, but his schedule is quite normal compared to that of his friend Sherlock Holmes. And Watson gets roused awfully early more than once. In The Adventure of the Abbey Grange for instance, Watson is awakened early on a winter morning with a very famous crime-fictional line:


‘‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’’


The reason for Holmes’ urgency is that he’s received word (at not long after 3:30 am, no less!) that Sir Eustace Brackenstall has been killed. It looks very much as though this is a case of a burglary gone wrong and that the notorious Randall gang is responsible. But Holmes doesn’t think so. And when it’s found that the Randall gang was nowhere near the Brackenstall home at the time of the murder, Holmes is proven right.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp and several groups of local police get involved in a case that looks very much like the work of a serial killer. First, Alice Ascher is found murdered in the newsagent’s shop she keeps. Then, coffee shop waitress Betty Barnard is found strangled with her own belt on the beach one morning. A man’s up early walking his dog when the dog discovers her body. Now the case begins to get a lot of attention, and when the body of Sir Carmichael Clarke is found, everyone’s sure that there’s a deranged murderer on the loose. Poirot discovers that the case is neither as simple nor as complicated as that, but for a time, there’s a real fear that


‘He may be in YOUR town.’


Of course, one has to feel for the Colonel whose dog discovers Betty Barnard’s body. All he wanted to do was take a morning walk…

In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Souls Murders, political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn gets a disturbing early-morning call. Her daughter Mieka has just discovered the body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin in a trash bin outside her catering shop. Mieka is understandably badly shaken, especially since Bernice was one of her employees. The police assume that this murder is the work of the same person who’s committed other murders in the area – a group of killings the police call the Little Flower murders. So this death is investigated at first in that way. Meanwhile, Kilbourn is busy with other matters, especially Mieka’s upcoming wedding. Still, she finds it hard to forget this victim. Then, her son Peter’s ex-girlfriend Christy Sinclair comes back into their lives, even saying she and Peter are back together. When Christy tragically drowns in what looks like a suicide, Kilbourn begins to believe that something more is going on. In the end, these events are all tied up with Christy’s past and some secrets that she was keeping.

Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess introduces us to writer Erica Falck. In this, the first novel of the series, she’s just returned from Stockholm to her family home in Fjällbacka. Her parents have died and she’s planning to sort out their things and arrange for what will happen with their house. Early one morning, she’s taking a walk to clear her head when she’s stopped by a neighbour Eilert Berg. He, too, was out for a walk when he stopped at the weekend home of Alexandra ‘Alex’ Wijkner to check on it in her absence. To his terrible shock he’s found Alex’s body in the bathtub. At first it looks as though she has committed suicide. But the death is soon proven to be murder, so police officer Patrik Hedström begins to investigate it that way. As he’s interviewing the victim’s friends, family members and the like, Erica is doing her own investigation. She and Alex were best friends when they were girls, but hadn’t seen each other for twenty-five years. Erica decides to write a biography of Alex as a way of getting to know the woman that her girlhood friend had become. Slowly, each in a different way, the two sleuths get to the truth about what really happened to Alex Wijkner and why.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri will know that his novels always begin in the morning. Inspector Salvo Montalbano isn’t a fan of being called to a case early, but it happens often enough. For instance, in The Wings of the Sphinx, he’s just finished showering when he’s interrupted by a call from Sergeant Catarella.


‘‘Chief, whadd I do, wake y’up?’
‘No, Cat, I was awake.’
‘You sure sure ‘bout that, Chief? Yer not jess sayin’ ‘at to be nice?’
‘No, you needn’t worry. What is it?’
‘Chief, what else would it be if I’m callin’ you foist ting in the morning?’
‘Cat, do you realize that you never call to give me any good news?’’


And this morning is no exception. Catarella tells his boss that the body of an unknown young woman has been found near a landfill. The only way of identifying her is that she has a tattoo on her shoulder. Her death turns out to be connected to a group of Eastern European women who’d come to Sicily to look for work. It’s also linked to corruption in a social services agency.

Even sleuths who aren’t fond of early mornings end up having to get used to that time of day. As crime fiction shows us, it’s a busy time for discovering bodies…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sublime’s What I Got.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Camilla Läckberg, Gail Bowen

27 responses to “Early in the Morning, Risin’ to the Street*

  1. I think, in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, American businessman Ratchett, who fears for his life, is murdered somewhere past midnight and early morning when Poirot is requested to investigate the on-board crime. This was the first Christie novel I read and although I remember the story quite well, I remember it most for what Poirot tells Ratchett, “If you will forgive me for being personal, I do not like your face, M. Ratchett.” Trust Poirot to be politely blunt.

    • Prashant – You’re absolutely right that Ratchett is called in the early (early!) morning. And it’s interesting to consider how much impact that story has had on readers. A lot of people who’ve never read anything else by Christie have read this. And people who have read Christie often remember this one most clearly.
      And yes, that comment of Poirot’s is priceless!

  2. Margot: Or is it that many crime fiction writers are up early in the morning writing?

    Gail Bowen, like her sleuth Joanne Kilbourn, is up early in the morning for a walk and then to writing.

    Scott Turow is famous for writing his legal mysteries while riding the train to his law office in Chicago.

    Canadian legal mystery writer, Robert Rotenberg, squeezes in writing time before starting his day as a defence lawyer.

    Lastly, there is yourself. If I recall correctly it is very early to rise!

    • Bill – Now that’s an interesting point. I don’t know if it’s true of all crime writers, but certainly the ones you’ve mentioned (including myself) are early risers. I think that’s probably particularly true of crime writers who have ‘day jobs.’ It’s an interesting way in which the author comes through in the work, perhaps, and something I’d not thought of before. Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

  3. kathy d.

    I’ve read so many articles about women getting up before early before the children do, and writing in pre-dawn privacy. It always puts me in awe of them, as I am a person who received a button from my knowledgeable sister, which read “Not a morning person doesn’t begin to say it.”
    Unfortunately, I lost it or it would be prominently displayed in my house.
    There are many examples in crime fiction, including the hilarious ones in Montalbano’s adventures, where detectives are awakened at the crack of dawn or before to investigate a murder.
    It seems as if murders are committed in the middle of the night, and off go the detectives, even if they’ve had no sleep. But coffee (and doughnuts) seem to get them going. (sigh, as I haven’t eaten a doughnut in years, not because I don’t like them.)
    Most detectives seem to do this, but not Guido Brunetti, usually. His life seems so orderly compared to many other police detectives, who fly by the seat of their pants at all hours.

    • Kathy – You know, you’re right. Brunetti’s had a few interrupted holidays and the like, but in general, he does keep a more regular schedule than many other fictional sleuths do. I actually like the fact that he has a stable family life.
      You’re right too that there are many, many examples in crime fiction of sleuths who get wakened in the middle of the night/wee hours of the morning to go to crime scenes. I don’t think I could survive that kind of schedule. And as for the doughnuts? I don’t eat them, either – definitely not health-enhancing…
      Oh, and I like that button your sister gave you: very clever.

  4. I can tell you are a morning person from the time you comment on my blog. Me, too but not as early as you.

  5. Another intriguing post. I wouldn’t be an early riser myself, if it wasn’t necessary. But once I’m up (and awake), I love the feel of the morning. It’s crisp and clean. As a reader, I enjoy reading about the early risers and especially those who get going with sluggish efforts and lots of coffee. They are realistic and more believable to me and remind me of how I feel as I try to face another day.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • Mason – Oh, I know what you mean. People who bounce right up out of bed, full of energy and ready to go, are not realistic at all in my view. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know any personally. Interesting too your comment about having to be a morning person. I think a lot of people have to learn to get up early and get going. That’s not what their own preference would be…

  6. Perhaps the cover of darkness (night) is good for a murder and those moving around at that time possibly come cross the bodies earlier than hoped…more births in the early hours and more deaths too apparently so the stats tell us. Perhaps the murderers are tired and at the end of their tether and snap most in those small wee hours (those not premeditated possibly), whilst lots of people write early in the morning, me too. I guess the crimes have to be committed at some time. In the dead of night there less chance of being seen or caught in the act.

    • Jane – You make some well-taken points. With fewer people moving about at night, it’s less likely that a pre-planned murder will be noticed. And although I hadn’t thought about the fatigue factor, it makes sense too. People do things when they’re exhausted that they might not do with a clearer head. And so yes, the first people who notice such victims would be the early-morning joggers, dog walkers and people on their way to work, etc..
      Interesting to find that you’re another early riser. I always find it a peaceful time of day.

      • A new day, a new start – as soon as the sun is up I wake up. In the winter it stays dark until about 8am but I seem to have an inner clock which does not like me sleeping more than about 4 hours a night. So up with the lark all year. I love to watch the sunrise and the sky changing and the birds and other animals are out and about still. No view ever looks the same from day to day so it is a joy. I have an early morning delivery causing a country club secretary having to come into work very early in the morning to let them in, when my first body is found by him in Ms B. Had not thought about it all before…how interesting that I picked that time of day. Enjoy your early morning Monday. 🙂

        • Jane – Oh, that sounds very intriguing!! And it makes complete sense too in terms of how and by whom your victim is found. I like it. And like you, I enjoy the early morning. As you say, never the same thing twice over and it is nice to watch the sun come up and hear the birds wake up. Of course everyone’s different but for me, the early morning really is lovely.

        • It was a bit misty this morning and it only just clearing. When the sun comes out it will be lovely I know. I can see a collection of beautiful trees from my window as I work and need a little breather…they are on the turn as Autumn comes. Always something to see and always different. Enjoy your day, happy writing. 🙂

        • Jane – Thank you. I hope your day is a good one too. And you’re fortunate to have such a view. There is no real foliage season where I live, and I have to say I miss it very much. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Col

    Definitely morning for me. I like to wake up slowly and ease into the day with a couple of coffees and a book!

  8. One of my favourite moments in Dashiell Hamnett’s Maltese Falcon comes when Sam Spade is woken in the night with the news that his partner has died: he jumps out of bed to get dressed and starts by putting on his union suit, all-in-one underwear called combinations in the UK. Somehow not at all the right macho cool image for a PI.

    • Moira – Oh, that is a great scene, and I hadn’t thought of it until you reminded me. Thank you. Yes, it’s funny to think of a PI like Sam Spade wearing a combination! The look just doesn’t fit the image.

  9. I love the early morning especially in the country where it’s till pitch black. However it can be a bit eerie at that time which I also love.

    • Sarah – It does get a bit creepy in the pre-dawn hours when there aren’t a lot of people about. Still, it’s so very quiet and peaceful. I think that’s what I like about that time of day.

  10. I am not a morning person but wish I was. Too late now. I did not know that all of the novels by Andrea Camilleri begin in the morning. I have only read the first one, but have several on the TBR pile.

    • Tracy – You’re not alone; I sometimes think the population of ‘not morning people’ is much bigger than the population of ‘morning people.’ I think that every author has something unique like that, whether it’s novels that start in the morning or something else. I hope that you’ll enjoy the other Camilleris as you get to them.

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