Hello Old Friend*

Renewing RelationshipsHave you ever renewed a relationship with someone you hadn’t seen in years? In some cases it seems as though no time at all has gone by, and people pick up the relationship just where it left off. But we all change over time, and we all have life experiences that affect us, sometimes deeply. So sometimes those reunions can be awkward. And it doesn’t make it any easier that we often have mental images, left over from the past, of how the people in our lives ‘should’ act, speak and think. It can be difficult to accept it when someone doesn’t fit that image. Whether they’re easy, even joyful, or awkward, those reunions are full of history, character and so on. And that means that they’re also interesting plot points for stories. There are plenty of them in crime fiction too; let me just give you a few examples. I know you’ll be able to think of many more than I could.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we meet Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. He and his wife Gerda are invited for a weekend visit to The Hollow, the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. During their visit, Christow is shot. Hercule Poirot has taken a getaway cottage nearby, and gets involved in the case. In one of the related sub-plots, we learn that fifteen years earlier, Christow had been involved with now-famous actress Veronica Cray. Their romance ended with Christow getting a broken heart, and he’s never really been able to leave it all completely in the past. When he and Gerda get to The Hollow, he’s shocked to learn that Veronica has taken a cottage in the area, and is eager to renew their relationship. When the two reunite, Christow has a sudden awareness that they’ve both changed and that he has moved on. Here’s what he says to Veronica:


‘I’m a man fifteen years older. A man you don’t even know – and whom, I daresay, you wouldn’t like much if you did know.’


Veronica has her heart set on Christow though, and her rage at his rejection makes her a suspect in his murder.

There’s an interesting case of reunion in Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town. Famous Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson hires PI Elvis Cole for a delicate domestic case. Years ago Nelson was married to Karen Shipley and they had a son Toby. The marriage fell apart and Karen disappeared, taking Toby with her. Now, Nelson wants to begin to be a father to his son, so he engages Cole to trace Toby and his mother. At first Cole is reluctant. After all, a lot of people disappear precisely because they don’t want to be found, especially in cases like this one. But eventually Cole is persuaded to look into the matter and he and his partner Joe Pike start the investigation. It doesn’t take long to find Karen and Toby; they’ve moved to a small town in Connecticut. But it turns out that a reunion with her ex is the last thing on Karen’s mind. She’s got major problems of her own, including trying to get free of a Mob trap into which she’s fallen. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that there is a reunion, and Crais shows how awkward such experiences can be. Nelson has a mental image of the wife he knew and of his son as a baby. The reality of course is quite different. For her part, Karen has an image of the self-involved man she left, and has to adjust to the fact that perhaps her ex really wants to try to be a father.

In Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess, we are introduced to biographer (later crime writer) Erica Falck. She’s returned to her parents’ home in Fjällbacka to sort through their things after their deaths. Then she learns of the sudden death of her former friend Alexandra ‘Alex’ Wijkner. The two were best friends during their childhoods, but hadn’t really been close for twenty-five years. Erica wants to know the sort of person Alex became, so she decides to write a biography of her former friend. In the process, she learns that the adult Alex is quite different to the friend she knew as a girl, and that a lot happened in the meantime. She also begins to get a sense of who might have wanted to kill Alex. At the same time, police officer Patrik Hedström and his team are officially investigating the death. It’s been made to look like suicide, but of course, it isn’t. In one plot thread of this novel, Erica discovers that the friend she remembers from childhood turned out to be a different person in adulthood. In another, Erica and Patrik, who knew each other years ago, re-discover each other. And that becomes the basis for the relationship that develops between them.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has more than one reunion with the love of his life Eleanor Wish. Early in the Bosch series, she’s an FBI agent. For several reasons, she leaves her position and becomes a professional poker player. When Bosch reunites with her in Trunk Music, they decide to marry. As fans of Angels Flight will know, the marriage doesn’t last and you might say that Eleanor disappears. A few years later the two meet up again in another case, and Bosch learns that he is the father of (then) four-year-old Maddie. Eleanor figures again in 9 Dragons. In all of these reunions, we see how both people have to re-adjust their images of each other. We also see how Bosch has to adjust his mental image of Maddie as she grows up, since she doesn’t live with him until 9 Dragons.

Ian Vasquez’ Lonesome Point also features a reunion of sorts. Brothers Leo and Patrick Varela were born and raised in Belize, but have since moved to Miami. Now, Leo is a poet and a mental health care worker. Patrick has gotten involved in politics and is poised for real success that could lead to a career on the national level. Everything changes when they get a visit from an old friend Freddy Robinson. Robinson grew up in Belize with the Varela brothers and he knows all about their former lives. In fact, he tries to use something he knows about them as leverage when he asks Leo for something. Robinson is working for some very dubious ‘employers’ who want information on Patrick Varela’s political strategy. One person who may know the truth is in the care of the facility where Leo works, and Robinson wants Leo to arrange for that patient’s release. When Leo refuses, Robinson threatens to tell what he knows. Seeing no other option, Leo agrees. And that’s when the real trouble starts. In this novel, it’s interesting to see how Robinson has a mental image of the Varela brothers from their years in Belize, and how different that is to the reality of the brothers’ lives in Miami.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Mistake. During their girlhoods, Jodie Evans Garrow and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan became close friends. Then Bridie moved away and each girl went on with her life. Jodie married successful attorney Angus Garrow and is now the contented mother of two children. Her life seems just about perfect on the surface. Then, her daughter Hannah is involved in an accident and is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child Elsa Mary. Jodie never told anyone, not even Angus, about this baby, but a nurse at the hospital remembers her and asks about the child. Jodie tells the nurse that she gave the baby up for adoption but the overcurious nurse can find no formal records. Now the questions begin. What happened to Elsa Mary? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with it? The gossip evolves into an all-out attack on Jodie, who becomes a social pariah. Then, unexpectedly, she has a reunion with Bridie. Both women have changed over the years of course. And at first, there’s a little awkwardness. But gradually, they renew their friendship and we can see how they get past the mental images they had of each other and re-establish their relationship.

When people who haven’t seen each other in years try to pick up the pieces, there’s often that kind of awkwardness when the mental image they had doesn’t fit the person they see in front of them. But sometimes those relationships can be re-established, and that can provide a welcome continuity in life. Or they can be very dangerous. I’m thinking for instance of Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel. When academic and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn finds out that a former friend Sally Love is having an exhibition of her art at the Mendel Gallery, she decides to attend, and try to re-establish the friendship. That decision has drastic consequences and ends up getting Kilbourn involved in a very sad murder investigation.

These are just a few examples. Your turn.



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Eric Clapton.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Gail Bowen, Ian Vasquez, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Wendy James

33 responses to “Hello Old Friend*

  1. Oh, there’s such great opportunity for interesting conflict with any type of reunion–small-scale or large scale.

    Which may be why I’m avoiding my high school reunion this summer. 🙂

    Great post, Margot.

    • Elizabeth – Thanks for the kind words. And you’re right about reunions! They offer all sorts of opportunities for character development, conflict, new story arcs, the whole thing. It’s one thing I love about them. And you know what? I don’t go to my class reunions either! :-).

  2. Interesting discussion, Margot. Great friends never really stop being friends unless there was a reason you stopped talking, and therein lies the murky truth 😉

    • Glad you’re enjoying the post and discussion, D.S. And you make a well-taken point about friends too. Sometimes it all comes down to what sort of friend someone was in the first place. 😉

  3. Margot have you also considered the meeting up of “virtual friends”? This can be very interesting too.

  4. kathy d.

    I loved Bridie in The Mistake, both as a child and an adult … quite a creative and kind character. She should have her own book!
    Friendships are tough; they require work. Miscommunication is an issue that needs to be worked through, sometimes often.
    But past friendships are often brought up in fiction, mysteries and non-mysteries and sometimes an old friend is the culprit.

    • Kathy – I like Bridie very much too, and it would be interesting indeed if Wendy James pursued her character a little more. You make an interesting point too that sometimes, the old friend in a story has a terrible secret, or is even the culprit. And that can make for an absorbing story too.

  5. I did go to a couple of reunions – and there were some wonderful moments too. But yes, also, inevitably, disappointments. Just to see all that intensity of youth crumble to middle-aged indifference. Great topic for crime fiction, thank you for raising it!

    • Marina Sofia – You put that very effectively. There can be great joy in reunions, but as you say, quite a lot of disappointment too. And time and ageing do change people. And of course, we have those mental images of people that we can’t always reconcile with what we see at reunions. And it is a ripe context for a crime fiction story.

  6. Margot: My favourite Saskatchewan mystery, Prairie Hardball by Alison Gordon, is all about a reunion but with a unique group. Based on a dinner I attended it is reunion of the 25 women from Saskatchewan who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in the U.S. after WW II. They are being inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame as a group. In the book it was fascinating to read about the sleuth, Kate Henry, the adult daughter of one of the inductees watching her mother become young again as she meets and talks to the girls with whom she played professional baseball.

    I have rarely missed a reunion. I want to stay in touch with where I came from in earlier in life.

    • Bill – You’re fortunate to have had the kind of youth and friends that you want to remember and connect with; I think that’s great. And thanks for mentioning Prairie Hardball. Not only is it a great example of the sort of thing I had in mind with this post, but you’ve reminded me that I want to spotlight it on my blog. I appreciate the ‘nudge.’

  7. This is a post that hits home for me Margot after old school friends “recently” got back in touch and renewed our friendship. It’s been strange. A mixture of things haven’t changed but they have? I’ve grown a lot as a person in the twenty years since they saw me and it does alter dynamics and if people aren’t prepared for that then there very definitely are difficulties. A great post.

    • Rebecca – Thanks for the kind words. I think you’ve hit on something very important here. It can indeed be strange to be back in touch with people after a long time. As you say, people change and grow, so dynamics are bound to be different. Some things about those relationships don’t change, and some do, and I think that’s what can make reunions seem a little odd. IF people aren’t prepared for that newness, then yes, it can indeed be difficult to re-connect.

  8. In Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey, the eponymous Miss Pym – now a well-known and respected writer – hears from an old schoolmate. She almost dismisses her request, but has a sudden memory of being bullied at school, and this older girl coming to her rescue. So in gratitude for that moment, she agrees to come and lecture at the college where her friend is principal. The results of this, naturally, are going to be far-reaching and fateful….

    • Moira – Now that’s a great example! Thanks for filling in the gap. And it shows how we can have memories of people or events that spur us on to either want to be in touch or not. Reminds me just a bit of Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, too…

  9. Nice post, Ms. Kinberg. I recently renewed my friendship with a couple of “boys” I used to play with as a kid some thirty-plus years ago and it didn’t seem as awkward as I thought it’d be. We can now dig up old acquaintances with the click of a mouse.

    • Prashant – I’m glad you’ve been able to pick up your friendships. And you’re absolutely right about how easy it is to find old friends and acquaintances. With all of the social networking that’s now available, it often doesn’t take much time to find people at all.

  10. kathy d.

    I don’t go to reunions either. However, I wish I had not missed the reunion in Prairie Hardball. Sounds like an interesting book with 25 women baseball players. Great backdrop for a book.
    Also, the comment that the intensity of youth crumbles into middle-aged indifference is quite an observation; it does not have to happen. Maybe reading crime fiction keeps us passionate and active because those who blog and comment seem quite lively here and at other blogs.
    I remember a short story by the British writer, Pat Barker, in which the main character, an older woman looks in the mirror and seeing her aging face says “but I don’t understand it. I have all the passion I had at 16.”
    That’s how it should be.

    • Kathy – You make an interesting point about keeping active and staying interested in life. We may be no longer in our twenties (or thirties, or….). But that doesn’t mean we can’t stay ‘tuned in’ to life. And that’s part of the secret I suspect of ‘feeling young.’ And if a passion for crime fiction helps us do that, well, why not?

  11. kathy d.

    The plot thickens!

  12. I just caught again the aptly titled movie Out of the Past, based on Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes. It’s an example of when seeing an old friend is not such a happy experience. BTW great catch by Carol on the idea of virtual friends, a different kind of dynamic but one with much potential fodder for the mystery novel.

  13. I’m reading Asa Larrson’s novels, The Second Deadly Sin at the moment, in which Rebeka Martinsson, a high-flying lawyer, has given up her career in Stockholm to become a public prosecutor in her home town, and has to confront her troubled past.
    There are Maigret novels on this theme: Maigret’s Boyhood Friend and one where he goes back to the place where he spent his boyhood and was a choir boy.
    It’s such a promising set-up, isn’t it?

    • Chrissie – A very promising set-up indeed, and thank you for filling in the gaps I left with both Simenon’s and Larsson’s work. And as a bonus, both such talented writers!

  14. Margot, this post has come at just the right time. I am in the midst of writing a short story on the 30 year reunion of two people who were once lovers. I was stuck but your post gave me ideas. Thanks 🙂

  15. Now that you mention it, I am surprised that more class reunions do not feature in mysteries… seems the perfect setting for a murder. I loved the class reunion in the movie Grosse Pointe Blank.

    • Tracy – a meeting up with someone you used to know really is such a ripe context for murder. I admit I’ve not (yet) seen Grosse Pointe Blank, but I’ve heard it’s quite good.

  16. This is an absolutely fascinating topic. It’s at the heart of the Lake District book I’m writing at the moment, and in real life during the past couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed renewing quite a number of friendships. But the scope for conflict, and therefore for fiction, is naturally endless.

    • Martin – Thanks – I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post. And of course I’m keen to see how you handle the plot point in your next Lake District book. As you say, there is so much scope for new/old friendship, conflict, romance, bitterness, jealousy and so much more. I think it’s a really rich vein, so to speak.

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