Might as Well Jump*

Shed - Taking RisksIt seems to be human nature, at least for a lot of people, to want that jolt that comes from being a little scared. I don’t mean of course truly terrified; that’s traumatic. But a lot of people like a little shot of adrenaline. That’s part of why people ride roller coasters, go through ‘haunted houses,’ watch suspense movies and read certain kinds of crime fiction. It’s part of why people allow themselves to be dared to do things, too. It’s little wonder then that we also see a lot of characters like that in crime fiction novels. Not only does that make sense from a human perspective but also, it can be a very effective context for a story.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Captain Arthur Hastings is returning to London after a business trip. In the same carriage is a young woman who calls herself Cinderella. The two get to talking and it comes out that Cinderella loves reading detective stories and following news of real-life murders. Hastings isn’t exactly thrilled by this aspect of Cinderella’s personality, and is even less so a bit later in the novel when he meets her again. He and Hercule Poirot go to France after Poirot receives a letter from Paul Renauld asking for his help. When they arrive at the Renauld home, they find that he’s been murdered. Hastings is walking around the Renauld property with the aim of having another look at the crime scene when he quite literally bumps into Cinderella. She says that she’s fascinated by the whole thing and wants him to show her round:


‘Me for the horrors…’


Hastings does so, mostly to impress her with the fact that he’s in on the investigation. It’s interesting to see the contrast between his almost-Victorian sense of what ‘should’ interest a young lady, and his companion’s enjoyment of that rush of adrenaline.

In Margery Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley, a house party gathers at Black Dudley, the home of academician Wyatt Petrie. Petrie’s just taken over the place from his uncle Gordon Coombe, and is looking forward to having some of his friends there. After dinner on the first night of the party, the guests move to the drawing room, where they notice a dagger hanging over the fireplace. Wyatt is persuaded to tell the story of the dagger. According to him, the family legend was that the dagger would take on a red glow if it was touched by anyone who’d committed murder. The family later developed a sort of ritual about the dagger. The lights would be turned off and everyone would pass the dagger round in the dark. The object of the ritual was to avoid being the last one caught with the dagger. The hint of danger involved in passing a dagger round in the dark in a spooky old house (it is an eerie place) appeals to just about everyone, so the group decides to play the game. It turns all too deadly the next morning when it’s found that Coombe has died.  Dr. George Abbershaw, one of the guests, is asked to sign the death certificate but he soon finds that the victim was likely stabbed in the back with the dagger. With help from Albert Campion, who’s also a member of the house party, Abbershaw finds out who killed Gordon Coombe and why.

In Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black, school friends Sally Henry and Catherine Ross are coming home from a Hogmanay party. They’ve gotten a lift most of the way but are walking for the last bit of the trip. Then they spot the home of Magnus Tait, an eccentric misfit who lives by himself. Catherine wants to wish Tait a happy new year, but Sally doesn’t. Catherine dares her though, and the two knock on the door. For Catherine it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush, and she rather likes the thrill of being just a little scared. Tait invites the girls in and they toast the New Year. Not many days later, Catherine Ross is found strangled in a field not far from Tait’s home. Because Tait was the last person known to see the victim, he becomes the most likely suspect. It doesn’t help his case that he’s already suspected of having killed another young girl Catriona Bruce, who disappeared some years before. But Tait claims he is innocent, and there is no definite physical evidence that connects him with Catherine Ross’ murder. So Inspector Jimmy Perez has to look elsewhere for the murderer.

Karin Fossum’s When The Devil Holds the Candle introduces us to Andreas Winther. He’s a young man who’s easily bored and enjoys taking risks. He savours the adrenaline rush that goes with risk-taking. His best friend is Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. Zipp doesn’t share his friend’s love for a bit of adrenaline, but he does value the friendship. So he and Winther do everything together. They get in a little trouble now and again, but thus far it hasn’t been anything really serious. Then one day, Andreas’ love of that ‘jolt’ gets him and Zipp involved in much more than either of them intended. After they part ways at the end of the day, Andreas disappears. His mother Runi wants to make a report to the police but at first, Inspector Konrad Sejer isn’t overly concerned. After all, there’s nothing necessarily ominous about a young man going off for a few days. But when more time goes by and Andreas doesn’t return, Sejer takes the case more seriously. His best source of information on what happened is Zipp, but Zipp is completely unwilling to give Sejer any information at all. Little by little though, Sejer breaks down Zipp’s composure and finds out what happened on the day of Andreas’ disappearance.

In William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, we ‘meet’ thirteen-year-old Frank Drum. He and his family live in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. In the summer of 1961, a boy Frank knows from school is killed on the railroad tracks near the town. Frank knows he isn’t supposed to be down by the tracks, but he can’t resist the chance to go there and try to make sense of what happened. So he and his younger brother Jake walk along the tracks. Jake’s very reluctant but Frank enjoys the adrenaline jolt. While they’re on the tracks they find a dead man. Near him is a stranger, a South Dakota Sioux they’ve never seen before. When the man invites them down to see the dead man, Jake wants no part of it. But Frank is overwhelmingly curious. After all, as he rationalises it, you don’t see a dead man every day. So the two boys go down to see the body. Tragically, those are not the only two deaths they’ll encounter that summer and Frank has to learn some unpleasant truths about life. He also learns that that jolt you get sometimes from being a little scared doesn’t seem as much fun when you’ve been really frightened.

Everyone’s different of course. Some people love the jolt they get from roller coasters, thriller novels and so on. Others don’t think it’s much fun at all. But either way, it’s an important part of the human experience. Now, want to see what’s inside that old storage shed in the ‘photo?  Dare ya! Erm  – mind I’ve been known to write crime fiction… 😉




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Van Halen’s Jump.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Karin Fossum, Margery Allingham, William Kent Krueger

24 responses to “Might as Well Jump*

  1. Now I shall be singing ‘Jump’ all evening. Love Van Halen firstly….secondly, I am not a fan of horror or ‘things that go bump in the night,’but I do love a good jolt when the plot takes an unexpected turn or I am left amazed wondering why I hadn’t guessed who the villain turns out to be. I do, however, like to write my own little jolts (well I try) now and again and I shall be looking in the storage shed….just to get the tiniest of tingles. Thanks for this as ever, enjoyed no end and it got the ‘little grey cells’ whizzing around like a Hadron Collider.

    • Jane – Van Halen with David Lee Roth in front – Excellent! Sammy Hagar? Ermmm…. I like the earlier band better. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m in total agreement with you about horror. With very few exceptions, I’m not a fan. In general, I’m much happier with a jolt from a plot twist or the sleuth being in a precarious situation. And by the way, I think you write such twists quite well. Oh, and if you do go in that shed, do be careful…and don’t look behind you… 😉

      • LOL, I crept in and saw what was there…hahaha!! Thanks, I do try with twists in the tale, not sure if they work always, but I try to do the unexpected. I love Van Halen Dave Lee Roth wonderful Where has all that fab music gone?.

        • Jane – Well, if what I’ve read of your work is any indication, you do a great job with interesting twists. And trust me, I could do a whole post (at least) about changes in music…

        • LOL so glad you enjoy the twists. Talking and writing about music is haven but once I get going there is no shutting me up. Anyone else found out what you keep in the shed?

        • Jane – Well, so far, you’re the only one who’s actually gotten past going into the shed… 😉

  2. Being given a good scare used to be one of the things I liked about crime fiction – now it’s much harder to give me that jolt, and I don’t need it so much. But there was a Laura Lippmann book and one by Sue Grafton that both gave me that feeling again in recent years… they are two great authors.

    • Moira – Yes, indeed, both Lippmann and Grafton are highly talented, and good at giving the reader a good scare. And they manage it without stretching credibility or being gratuitous. No mean feat.

  3. I haven;t got much tolerance for horror fiction (books or movies in fact) but I do enjoy the kind of shuddery atmosphere that John Dickson Carr could evoke in print and on radio, but usually because the explanation is purely rational. But some of my best friends love horror and would definitely seek it out just as Cinderella does in the Christie novel – I had completely forgotten that character, so thanks very much for that great reminder Margot.

  4. I suppose there is something scary that I like but I’ll be darned if I can think of what it is.

  5. Scary isn’t for me. I bypass some books that I am sure are very good just because I don’t want to deal with scariness, although creepiness is worse. I plan to try a short ghost novel for a challenge soon.

    I just finished Raven Black, and loved it. So much that I immediately started reading White Nights, which wasn’t on the agenda any time soon.

    • Tracy – Isn’t Raven Black a terrific novel? I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I don’t blame you one bit for moving right along into White Nights. I hope you’ll really like that one too.
      You’re not alone in not enjoying books/films very much. You make a good point too that scary is distinct from creepy. I think creepy gives one an unsettled feeling for a longer time than scary does.

  6. It’s funny that you’ve just posted this as I was thinking about this last night. Crime novels don’t usually scare me at all but I was reading a book by Sara Blaedel about a man who is raping women in their own homes. I wa reading it in a hotel in Finland, a long way from home and I suddenly thought, I don’t want to read about this. It was just too much away from her comfort of home.

    • Sarah – I can imagine you wouldn’t have wanted to read that book at that particular time. It would unsettle me too in those circumstances. *Shudder* It just goes to show you that part of how we feel about a book may be the time and context when we read it.

  7. I used to really enjoy horror movies, scary books, and other thrills. Not so much now! Maybe it’s an age thing. I don’t remember “Murder on the Links” at all! Wonder if it’s possible there’s a Christie book that I’ve missed. I’ll check it out.

    • Elizabeth – Interesting that you’ve seen a change over the years when it comes to liking that jolt of adrenaline. I know I’m not as much of a one for it either now that I’m getting older. Maybe it’s a ‘youth’ thing? And I think The Murder on the Links has some really strong qualities; I hope that if you get a chance to read it, you’ll like it.

  8. Now that I’m growing old I scare very easily, so I don’t watch horror films as much as I used to. My dad abhorred horror; instead, he had a passion for comedy films — said that’s what you need in life. Thanks, also, for reminding me about Van Halen..

    • Prashant – It’s interesting isn’t it how our attitudes towards scary movies, etc. changes as we go through life. I wonder if it’s that young people have more energy and more more of a sense of indestructibility. And I think your father was right; comedy – fun – is critical in life.

  9. I just finished reading Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Outstanding story and very hard to put down.

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