One of the more valuable qualities humans can have is arguably loyalty. If we can’t count on loyalty from family, friends, co-workers and so on, then it’s easy to start wondering whether we can really trust anyone. And that’s unsettling, to say the least. Of course, like most things about humans, loyalty is a proverbial double-edged sword. Loyalty can be an important part of simple safety and security. On the other hand, loyalty can be tragically misguided. It’s an important aspect of human interaction though, so it’s no wonder that we see it in crime fiction.
Agatha Christie addresses loyalty in several of her stories. I’ll just mention one example. In Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot travels across Europe on the world-famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed to death. Poirot is persuaded to investigate and try to find out who the killer is before the train is stopped at the next border. That way, the solution (and presumably, the killer) can be handed over to the police. Poirot has a limited number of suspects since the only possibilities are the other passengers in the same car as Ratchett. As Poirot interviews the passengers and gets to know the background of the case, we learn that loyalty plays an important role in this mystery. Here is what one passenger, Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, says about it:
‘I believe, Messieurs, in loyalty – to one’s friends and one’s family and one’s caste.’
And as the story evolves, we see how much loyalty determines what people do and say.
A bright thread of loyalty adds much to Wendy James’ The Mistake. In that novel, we meet Jodie Evans Garrow, who seems to have the perfect life. She’s married to a successful attorney, she’s got two healthy children, and her own life seems content and ordered. Then her daughter Hannah is involved in a traffic accident and is taken to a Sydney hospital. It turns out it’s the same hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child Elsa Mary – a child she’s never told anyone about, not even her husband. A nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie from that other time and asks about the baby. Jodie says she gave the child up for adoption, but when the overly curious nurse does some checking, she finds no records of an adoption. That’s when the questions and later the accusations begin. What happened to Elsa Mary? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? It’s not long before Jodie becomes a social pariah, with everyone she thought was in her circle turned against her. Then one night, Jodie is invited to a book club gathering. The gathering itself is a disaster, but through it Jodie is re-united with an old friend Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. The two were very close when they were younger but hadn’t seen each other in years. When they re-establish their friendship, Jodie finds that Bridie is truly loyal to her. And that loyalty proves to be a real source of solace.
Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit also has a theme of loyalty. In that novel, brothers Mason and Gates Hunt come from an abusive and unhappy background. But they’ve dealt with it in very different ways. Mason has made the most of every opportunity he’s gotten and has become a lawyer. Gates on the other hand has squandered his considerable athletic ability and now lives on money he gets from his mother and from his girlfriend’s Welfare payments. Then one day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Later that night, the Hunt brothers are coming home from a night out when they encounter Thompson again. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot his rival. Out of a sense of loyalty to his brother, Mason helps cover up the crime. Years later that loyalty comes back to haunt him when Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking. He begs Mason, who’s now a Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutor, to help get him out of prison, but Mason refuses. Gates then threatens to implicate his brother in the still-unsolved murder of Wayne Thompson unless he co-operates. When Mason calls his Gates’ bluff, Gates makes good on his threat. Now Mason is indicted for murder and has to find the best way he can to clear his name. When this happens, we see the positive side of loyalty as Mason learns just how loyal his deputy prosecutor Custis Norman is to him.
Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood explores loyalty within the police force. One tragic morning, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police Force is stabbed when he and probationer Lucy Howard investigate a home invasion. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who comes from a poor neighbourhood of Hobart and who’s been in trouble with the law more than once. As the police look into this case, some evidence turns up that suggests that White may not have been the sterling cop everyone thinks he was. And one of the plot threads in this novel is the way in which the other police rally round his memory out of a sense of loyalty to him and to the police.
Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money introduces us to Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. He’s turned out to be fairly good at finding people who don’t want to be found, which is part of the reason Madeleine Avery hires him to find her brother Charles. Charles Avery’s last known residence was Bangkok, so Quinlan starts his search there. When he gets to Quinlan’s apartment, he finds the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. He also finds evidence that Avery has gone to Cambodia, so he decides to pick up the trail there. In Phnom Penh, Quinlan meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin. He also finds out that there are several ruthless and very dangerous people who don’t want him asking any questions. Gradually though, Quinlan finds out that Avery went to Northern Cambodia, so he decides to follow that lead, and that’s where the answers to the mystery turn out to be. Through it all, Sarin proves to be a very loyal friend and colleague. The two go through some frightening situations together but Sarin remains a steadfast companion.
Loyalty is also a theme in Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. Two young girls Preeti and Basanti have become part of the dhanda – a term used to refer to India’s sex trade. The girls’ families were paid money for their services with the idea that the girls will work in the trade for a certain amount of time and then return to their villages. Preeti and Basanti are taken to Scotland together to meet client demand there. On the trip, they become close friends and promise to be loyal to each other. They’re separated soon after their arrival though, and Basanti doesn’t know what’s happened to her friend. So as soon as she can, she escapes from the people who’ve been holding her and goes in search of Preeti. That’s when she discovers that the body of an unknown girl has been found in the sea and that it’s most likely the body of her friend. Basanti finds out that Ph.D. student Caladh ‘Clad’ McGill is also interested in the body. He’s an oceanographer who’s an expert in tides and water-based movement so he may be able to help Basanti find out how Preeti’s body ended up where it was found McGill and Basanti form an unlikely and strange kind of partnership and together, they find out what happened to Preeti. Throughout that thread of this novel, we see how Basanti’s loyalty to her friend has kept her strong throughout everything that’s happened to her, and how it motivates her to find Preeti’s killers.
There are, of course, a lot of other examples of loyalty and the role it plays in what we do. And I haven’t even touched on the myriad examples of sleuths and partners who are loyal to each other – too easy…
ps. Oh, the ‘photo? I rarely see an expression of loyalty quite like a dog eagerly watching and waiting for the human it owns…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Brendan Benson’s The Pledge.