In real life, when we lose someone, the sadness and pain of that loss doesn’t stop magically after just a few days or weeks or months. Going on without someone we’ve loved is an ongoing process. You don’t ‘get over’ such loss; you go on. A lot of crime fiction includes that devastating shock of first finding out one’s wife/husband/parent/child, etc. has been murdered, and that makes sense. Sudden death is a horrible blow. But it’s also realistic when a crime novel shows us what it’s like after some time has passed and we see that those wounds are not miraculously healed.
For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes is faced with the challenging case of two murders. Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson are Americans staying in London at a boarding house. When Drebber is murdered, suspicion falls eventually on Stangerson. They have a shared history and there could be any number of motives. But then Stangerson is also killed and Holmes has to find out what links the two deaths. The murders turn out to have their roots in the past. One important key is the devastating loss of one person and the hole that loss has left in another person’s life. Once Holmes finds out about that death, he’s able to solve the murders of Drebber and Stangerson.
Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect) is the story of the two losses really. One is famous painter Amyas Crale, who was poisoned one afternoon at his home. The other is his wife Caroline, who was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder. A year later she died in prison. At the time of the crime, there was ample evidence to believe she was guilty although she always said she wasn’t. Now, sixteen years later, their daughter Carla Lemarchant wants to find out the truth about the killing. She’s always believed in her mother’s innocence and wants her name cleared. So she hires Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each of them. From that information he figures out who really killed Amyas Crale and why. One of the interesting threads running through this novel is the fact that none of the other people has really ‘gotten over’ what happened. They’ve gone on, but it’s clear that the losses have had a real impact on them, even years later.
In Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat, we are introduced to Anna Pigeon. She’s had to make major changes in her life after the accidental killing of her husband Zach. At the time, Pigeon and her husband were living the ‘social life’ in New York. After he was run down by a taxi, Pigeon left the city and trained to be a U.S. National Park Service ranger. As Track of the Cat begins, she’s working in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where one day, she finds the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. The official explanation of Drury’s death is that a mountain lion must have killed her. Several signs suggest though that this was not a killing by a wild animal, but a deliberate murder. Besides, Pigeon is worried that if a mountain lion is blamed for the death, there will be an all-out hunt for mountain lions, and they’re endangered as it is. So she decides to follow up on the clues she’s seen and find out what really happened to Drury. As the novel moves on, we see how much Pigeon still misses Zach. Even after time has passed, his loss has left an empty space in her life that hasn’t come close to being filled.
That’s also true of Dorothy Pine, whom we meet in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow. Five months before the events in the novel, her daughter Katie disappeared after school one day. John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay Police had been in charge of the search, but the police hadn’t found any evidence. Then one day, Katie’s body is discovered in an abandoned mine. Now Cardinal has the awful task of informing Dorothy that her daughter is dead. His job is made all the harder because for good reasons, there’s little love lost between the Ojibwa First Nations people and the local police. So Dorothy has absolutely no reason to trust Cardinal. She does allow him in the house though, and when he goes through Katie’s things one more time, we can see that time has done nothing to fill the hole, if I can put it that way, that Katie’s absence has left. In the end, Cardinal finds out who killed Katie Pine and why and in that sense, Dorothy at least has answers. But it’s also clear that there will be no such thing as ‘getting over it’ for her.
There’s a similar sense of ongoing loss in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool, in which DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team investigate the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. At the time of the death, it was believed that Bethany might have committed suicide. But Scarlett has never been completely convinced of that. When book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg are both murdered, Scarlett and her friend and fellow DCI Fern Larter believe that the cases may be connected. And so they turn out to be. As Scarlett returns to the Bethany Friend case, she visits Bethany’s mother Daphne. Scarlett’s hoping that Daphne may remember something that she didn’t think to mention when Bethany was first found dead. It’s obvious during the visit that Daphne still feels the loss of her daughter six years on. And in that sense Scarlett hates the idea of bringing her more pain. But it turns out that Daphne has some useful information…
Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second is the story of an incident on a bus that ends up costing Jason Barnes his life. He’s riding a bus when he sees three young people bullying another passenger Luke Murray. Jason intervenes and things settle for a bit as the bus gets to a stop. Luke gets off the bus and so do his harassers. Jason exits too. That’s when matters escalate again and there’s a full-on fight which continues all the way to Jason’s yard. When it’s over, Luke’s been gravely injured and Jason is dead of stab wounds. Part of this novel of course deals with the process of talking to witnesses, finding out who the bullies were, and tracking them down. But a major theme in the novel is the way Jason’s loss affects his parents Andrew and Val. Their pain and grief don’t go away once the initial shock wears off. It’s a long, terrible experience for them. Even though there’s a feeling at the end of the novel that they will go on, it’s just as clear that they won’t ever be the same. Similarly, Luke’s mother Louise and sister Ruby have to deal with real sense of loss too. As a result of the fight, Luke is in a coma and it’s not clear what if any progress he will make, nor what his life will be like if he does begin to recover.
And that’s the thing about losing someone you care about a lot. You don’t ‘get over it.’ You go on.
One year on, Maxine, and we still miss you terribly and always will. I promise I’m behaving…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Paul Simon song.