Many people enjoy the feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ by taking camping and hiking trips. There is definitely something to be said for spending some time with nature, turning off the computer and the telephone and enjoying some peace. Other people camp because that’s their culture and way of life. Either way, camping can be a rich experience. But as crime fiction shows us, camping isn’t always the relaxing, peaceful experience it’s sometimes made out to be.
In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family tours the Middle East, making a special excursion to Petra. While they’re on their camping/hiking/sightseeing tour, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. It soon turns out that Mrs. Boynton was poisoned, and Poirot interviews each of the people at the sightseeing encampment. There are plenty of suspects too, since Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist who kept everyone in her family cowed. In the end Poirot establishes who the murderer is. One of the interesting clues in this murder comes from the location of each of the campers’ tents.
Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane decides to take a hiking holiday in Have His Carcase. She’s just been through a traumatic time standing trial for murder (Strong Poison gives the details on that experience), and she is in need of a rest. During her hiking trip, Vane stops one afternoon for a rest and soon dozes off. When she wakes up, she finds the body of a dead man. She alerts the authorities who start the investigation. The dead man is soon identified as Paul Alexis, a professional dancer at a nearby hotel. At first it looks as though Alexis may have committed suicide, but it soon turns out that he was murdered. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers who killed Alexis and why. So much for a peaceful hiking holiday…
Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. Matteesie has been asked to investigate the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. He’s getting ready to do just that when he witnesses the shooting death of Native activist Morton Cavendish. It’s not long before Matteesie establishes that the two cases are related, so he changes his focus to an investigation of the murder. He’s hoping that by finding the killer, he may find the answer to what happened to the plane and the men on it. As Matteesie investigates, we get a look at the way things are done in Canada’s Far North. One fact of life there is that people go on hunting and fishing trips that can take them far from home. So they camp. In fact, it’s a popular tourist activity too. It’s not surprise then, that there are several scenes in this novel that take place at different camps. One of those scenes in fact tells us a lot about the mystery.
M.J. McGrath’s White Heat also takes place in Canada’s Far North. Edie Kiglatuk is a hunting guide with an excellent reputation. That reputation is threatened when one of her clients Felix Wagner is shot during a camping/hunting expedition. At first his death is put down to a tragic accident and Edie is given the message to just leave it alone. But then her stepson Joe commits suicide (or did he?) and there’s another death as well. Soon Edie is involved in a complicated case of murder and greed. If she’s going to clear her reputation and find out why her stepson died, she’s going to have to find the murderer. She works with Ellesmere Island police offer Derek Palliser to investigate the case. As they do so, we see how deeply camping is embedded in that culture. People go out for days or more to hunt, trap and fish and in that climate, a good campsite can mean the difference between life and death.
In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, novice psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson takes an unexpected camping trip. One of her clients Elisabeth Clark is troubled by the disappearance years earlier of her younger sister Gracie. This story haunts Anderson, as her own sister Gemma disappeared in a similar way seventeen years earlier. Anderson decides to lay her ghosts to rest, so to speak, by finding out who was responsible for abducting the young girls. So she makes a trip from Dunedin to her family’s home in Wanaka, trying to trace the culprit as she goes. During one stop she meets a hunting guide named Dan, who invites her on a hunting and shooting trip. Anderson demurs at first, but Dan wants to prove to her that
‘…all hunters aren’t blokey yobbos.’
Finally Anderson agrees and she and Dan take a three-day camping and hiking trip. Making the trip doesn’t catch the criminal. But it does give Anderson a new kind of confidence as well as some interesting and important information. And she finds herself more interested in Dan than she’d imagined she would be.
There’s also Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger, so she spends quite a bit of time camping. She’s assigned to different parks for different amounts of time, so her accommodations vary. But she’s grown quite accustomed to tents, bedrolls and campfires.
There are a lot of other novels of course that feature camping trips (I know, I know, fans of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores). And in novels such as Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams, Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte series and Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels, we meet groups of people for whom camping is a way of life. It certainly does have a lot to offer. But – erm – do be careful…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.