When the Sun Burst Through the Sky*

SunriseIt may be because of human biorhythms, the benefits of sleep, or our instinctive feeling of greater safety during daylight, but very often, things just seem better when the morning comes. I’ll bet you’ve thought or been told that ‘It’ll all look different in the morning.’ And quite often it does. Now admittedly, not everyone is a ‘morning person.’ Still, there is often greater optimism in the morning whether you’re a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night owl.’ That sense that things will be better in the morning has seeped into crime fiction too.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, pawnbroker Jabez Wilson has brought a very odd mystery to Sherlock Holmes. He was offered an easy but unusual job by a group calling itself the Red-Headed League. All Wilson had to do was copy the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So long as he didn’t leave the office during his work hours he was promised decent pay for what seemed like little effort. At first all went well. Wilson was able to leave his pawn business to his assistant for a few hours each day and earn extra income. What puzzles and worries him though is that The Red Headed-League suddenly disbanded, leaving no-one in its offices. Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate, and Holmes discovers that the whole thing was a plot to get Wilson out of his pawn shop so that it could be used to tunnel into a nearby bank. Once that discovery is made, Holmes, Watson and the bank manager spend a long and uncomfortable night waiting for the bank robbers to make their move. They do, and the ringleader is duly caught. It all looks better though as the morning comes and Holmes explains to Watson what his thinking was.

It all looks better in the morning in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, too. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer at the request of Paul Renauld. Renauld has claimed that his life is in danger because of a secret he possesses, and he wants Poirot to come to his assistance. By the time that happens though, it’s too late: Renauld has been stabbed on the grounds of his own property. Bit by bit, Poirot uncovers Renauld’s past history as well as several possible motives for his murder. Eventually Poirot finds out who the killer is, and he and Hastings set up an all-night vigil at the Renauld home to catch that person. With important help from a rather enigmatic young acrobat who calls herself Cinderella, the killer is stopped. It’s all quite traumatic and exhausting though, and no-one is willing to answer Hastings’ questions about what really happened. But it all looks better in the morning when Hastings wakes up.


‘I awoke to find the sun pouring in through the open windows and Poirot, neat and smiling, sitting beside the bed.’


Among other good things, Hastings gets an explanation for everything that went on the night before.

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. He’s planning to travel from Inuvik back to Ottawa where he lives when he gets a call that drastically changes his plans. Three men believed to be involved in drugs trafficking have disappeared along with the Cessna they had chartered. Matteesie’s boss thinks that it’s possible the men have deliberately lost themselves. It’s also of course possible that their Cessna went down and they’ve been injured or killed. Either way, the Cessna’s owner wants to know what happened to his plane, and of course, the RCMP wants to know about any drugs trafficking in the Northwest Territories. Matteesie agrees to see what he can find out. He’s soon caught up in a murder investigation though, when he takes the same flight from Inuvik as Native activist Morton Cavendish, who’s on his way to Edmonton for emergency medical care. When the plane makes a stop at Norman Wells, a gunman forces his way onto the plane and shoots Cavendish. Matteesie begins to investigate the murder while he’s still trying to look into the downed Cessna. It turns out that the two cases are related and it all comes together during an overnight snowmobile trip that Matteesie takes into the Arctic bush. He gets his answers, but the night is long, dangerous and cold and even though Matteesie is experienced, he’s still at risk. It all looks better when daylight comes the next day though. Some friends he’s made along the way come looking for him and in the end, he returns safely to Fort Norman.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s journalist sleuth James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran travels to Breakfast Island (AKA Providence Island, Grand Island and Pear Island) in The Cat Who Came to Breakfast. A friend who owns a B & B on the island has asked Qwill to look into some odd incidents of what look like sabotage. Qwill is persuaded to go and soon takes up residence at the Domino Inn. He discovers that there’s a long-standing feud between the island’s natives and developers who are building upmarket hotels and shops. There’s also a group of wealthy summer visitors who have their own island culture. In the midst of this tension, some upsetting things begin to happen. There’s a food poisoning, a drowning, a boat explosion, and a shooting. Qwill puts the pieces of the puzzle together, but in the meantime, new trouble comes in the form of a terrible storm that strikes the island. It’s an awful night when the storm hits, and everyone is badly shaken. They are especially glad when morning finally comes and the sun shines.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Daniel Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who’s been blackmailing him. Guest is a successful business executive who’s been married for several years. But he’s also had some trysts with other men, and someone’s found out about his secret life. Quant would rather see Guest come out as gay, but Guest isn’t willing to do that. So Quant looks into the matter. Someone doesn’t want any interference though. Soon enough, there’s a murder. Quant’s investigating that when he and his friend Jared Lowe are ambushed and abandoned in the middle of nowhere, as the saying goes. This is Saskatchewan just before Christmas, so the danger of death by exposure is immediate and real. Still, the two men manage to find some shelter and get through the night alive. Everything starts to look better the next morning though. The two men even find a shack where they can keep warm. Still, Lowe’s been wounded and Quant’s not in exactly perfect shape himself. So both men are glad when Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) Officer Darren Kirsch arrives:


‘Despite our history of congenial dislike, I was never so glad to see someone as I was that Christmas Eve morning to see Darren Kirsch, coming through the door of that shack with two RCMP officers at his heels.’


There are still one or two ‘loose ends’ in the case, but the coming of that particular morning makes it all seem better.

Some dangerous, scary things happen during the night in crime novels. Little wonder that even those who aren’t ‘morning people’ can be very happy to see the sun come up.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lilian Jackson Braun, Scott Young

27 responses to “When the Sun Burst Through the Sky*

  1. Things usually do look better to me in the morning, but I just finished watching the Norwegian version of “Insomnia” (review next week) and have decided that perpetual morning is no good at all!

    • Karen – No, it really isn’t. I think part of the reason for which things tend to look better in the morning is that it usually follows sleep. When it doesn’t, that’s a whole different thing. I’m looking forward to your review of Insomnia.

  2. There used to be a bit of a thing for crime stories (and other novels) where the action takes place entirely within 24 hours – I remember reading quite a few books like that, and I suppose that would fit your criterion for the post! We should try to work out which crime stories have the shortest setting, and then which has the longest frame of action – all those ‘going back to a murder in the past’ books. I’d love it if you did a couple of blogposts on those 2 themes.

    • Moira – Oh, what a great idea! You are an inspiration. I’ll have to start planning something like that, where we look at crimes that take a day or so to solve, and then crimes that take up to a year or more to solve. Of course, that doesn’t count the ‘cold cases,’ where crimes have gone unsolved for a long time. Thanks for this idea!

  3. What an interesting and off-beat approach for categorising crime novels! I’d never have thought of it. I do seem to remember quite a few Scandinavian novels talking about the endless summer light. I wonder if fewer crimes happen then, and would expect more to happen during the endless winter nights.

    • Marina Sofia – Now, that’s a very interesting question. I know there are a few of Åsa Larsson’s books that take place during the midwinter or midsummer times. In those novels I think the presence or absence of daylight can matter a lot. You’d think with the extra light that there wouldn’t be as much murder, but then, people sleep less in midsummer because of the sunlight. So that affects them as well. Fascinating point! And thanks for the kind words.

  4. A great post for ‘morning people!’ Everything always looks great in the morning to me. 🙂

  5. As Moira pointed out, Margot, there are a great many mysteries which take place within a 24-hour period…which, my English major past is telling me was some kind of classic form, particularly in drama. However, let me mention one of my favorite mysteries – the impossible crime novella “The Lamp of God,” by (and featuring) Ellery Queen. In that one, Ellery is given some knockout drops in a drink…and wakes up the next morning to find that the entire house next door has vanished overnight, leaving an unbroken field of snow. It is only with the sunrise that morning that Ellery is able to figure out exactly what really happened…

    • Les – You’re quite right of course about the classic formula of solving a crime within a 24-hour period. As I say, I’m definitely going to start thinking of a post about that because it’s certainly there in classic and some GA crime fiction. And thank you for mentioning The Lamp of God – it’s quite a good little ‘impossible’ nut to crack isn’t it? And yes, the morning brings the answers in that story.

  6. Margot – A little off topic, but I love the morning scene in Italy in the movie Enchanted April after Lottie and Rose endure a stormy and dreary night.

    • Bryan – Oh, that is a great scene isn’t it? Doesn’t matter that it’s a bit off-topic; it fits perfectly in the sense of that feeling of optimism when morning comes.

  7. Very creative post…I think I’ll sleep on that:)

  8. Margot: Russell Quant is one of the world’s great optimists. He looks forward to every morning as does his creator Anthony Bidulka. Anthony is personally an early morning guy.

    Matteesie is a great character. For Matteesie morning can be a challenge. As some of the comments have alluded looking forward to morning takes on a different caste north of the Arctic Circle with 24 hour darkness.

    Snow Angels by James Thompson is set in northern Finland during kaamos when the sun disappears totally for two weeks. Everyone is depressed.

    • Bill – You know, when I was thinking about climate when I wrote this post. Certainly in places where there is 24-darkness, the coming of light does indeed take on a special meaning. And speaking of that climate, I like Matteesie’s character too. And even south of the Shield, where there is less darkness, it can still get awfully cold at night. The coming of morning can make all the difference in the world.
      I didn’t know that Anthony Bidulka’s an early-morning person; seems we have something in common. And I like the way his creation Russell Quant has a new optimism each day. He isn’t mindlessly happy, but he does face life again each morning; I like that about him.
      Thanks too for mentioning Snow Angels. It’s a great reminder of how much the cycle of light and dark affect one’s disposition. I really think it has a powerful impact.

  9. I’m not sure how, Before You go to Sleep, fits in here, when every morning brings her a new day, but new questions. That was a book I really enjoyed and mornings were usually really interesting 🙂

    • Rebecca – Oh, now that’s a really interesting example of what mornings can be like. It’s certainly not a conventional situation. I’m glad you brought it up, as it’s fascinating twist on the idea starting over and everything looking different in the morning… 🙂

  10. Col

    Nice post Margot. I’m unfamiliar with all the books highlighted and TBH none of them are calling out me (which is a good thing)!

  11. Another interesting topic. I am not a morning person, and things don’t usually start looking better to me until later in the day. I have found some of the books set in northern areas where they have prolonged periods of night and day to be very educational.

    • Tracy – You’re not alone in not being a ‘morning person.’ A lot of people don’t really get started early in the day. You have an interesting point too about the perspective on the coming of day. I think daylight is especially welcome in places where there are times of the year without it.

  12. I’m definitely a morning person and I feel so much better now the mornings are getting lighter. There is a sense of optimism in the air. In the countryside it is particularly noticeable and the reliance in the seasons was less strong in when I lived in the city.

    • Sarah – I know exactly what you mean. I’m a ‘morning person’ too, and I agree – you notice the coming of the spring a lot more in the country. There’s such a sense of freshness – I like it.

  13. This is a creative approach to the genre, Margot. As readers, reading some crime novels right before going to bed can be bad for us. If it’s too scary, I’ll get nightmares. And if it’s a wonderful page turner, I stay up too late.

    As a writer, sleeping on a troublesome plot point can be very helpful–if I can quiet the busy brain and actually go to sleep. My characters are not so lucky. They’re struggling to get any sleep at all because I’ve subjected them to a fast-paced plot where they hardly have time to sleep at all. That leads to fuzzy thinking and bad decisions, just as in real life.

    • Pat – That’s a really interesting point. It is awfully helpful to sleep on something as the saying goes. It allows the brain to process things and gives a person the opportunity to sift things through. Even if writers don’t always give that time to their characters… It’s true too that a really well-written book can interfere with the sleep cycle. You know it’s an excellent book when you glance up and see that dawn is breaking…

  14. Pingback: I Just Need One More Day* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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