It’s no secret that people are all different. Sometimes our differences lead to conflict and worse. But sometimes exactly the opposite happens. When people find a common interest – something that really means something to them, this can draw even very disparate people together. We certainly see it in real life, and it’s there in crime fiction too. Here are just a few examples.
In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot, Captain Hastings, and the police are trying to track down the murderer of Alice Ascher, a seemingly inoffensive elderly shopkeeper. Soon afterwards, the same killer strikes again. This time, the victim is twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard. The detective team is busy on those two cases when there’s a third murder, of wealthy retired specialist Dr. Carmichael Clarke. Now it looks as though there might be some sort of disturbed killer at work. A cryptic note has warned Poirot that the next murder will occur in Doncaster, and the police begin to make plans to catch the killer there. But one of the characters says,
‘‘It’s easy to see you’re not a sporting man, Inspector.’
Crome stared at him.
‘What do you mean…?’
‘Man alive, don’t you realize that on next Wednesday, the St. Leger is being run at Doncaster?’
This race draws all sorts of people from many different walks of life. People from many different backgrounds will be gathering in Doncaster, drawn there by their common love of racing. So the detectives will have their work cut out for them as the saying goes.
Antiques are the common interest in Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series. Those novels focus on Lovejoy, who is a dedicated antiques collector and dealer. In fact, antiques mean more to him than almost anything else. And interest in antiques draws together a varied group of people from all sorts of different kinds of backgrounds. In The Judas Pair for instance, George Field hires Lovejoy to find out who killed his brother Eric. Eric Field was shot with one of a pair of extremely rare dueling pistols – guns that haven’t even been proven to exist. But Field is convinced that they do, and that if the owner of them can be found, that will solve the murder. Lovejoy can’t resist the opportunity to get his hands on those pistols if they do exist, so he agrees to see what he can do. As he moves among various people in the world of antiques, we see how a very disparate group of people can be drawn together by a shared passion for the same thing. They may not have much else in common, but a mention of antiques can always get a conversation started.
People who particularly love cats and/or dogs are the same way. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems. But when it comes to their pets, it’s an entirely different matter. That’s why we see so much interest in dog and cat shows. Those events attract a wide variety of people. We see this for instance in Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis mysteries. Travis is a special education teacher whose aunt has gotten her involved in breeding, raising and showing Standard Poodles. In fact, that’s how Travis meets her husband. In the course of the series, Travis goes to several dog shows and other events. And because the dog loving/dog showing community is both large and varied, there’s all sorts of opportunity for conflict and (this is a mystery series!) murder. But interestingly enough, there’s also an undercurrent of love of different breeds and a deep and commonly-held contempt for irresponsible dog ownership, raising and handling.
If you get people who love good wine talking about that topic, you’ll find a similar shared passion. They may not share very much else, but that particular interest unites them. We can see that in Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Winemaker Detective series. These novels feature noted oenologist and vintner Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien. As they investigate, we see how interest in fine wine can draw people together. In Treachery in Bordeaux for instance, Cooker and Lanssien look into a case of sabotage at Château Les Moniales Haut-Brion. Someone has contaminated four barrels of the vineyard’s wine, and its owner wants to find out who is responsible. What’s interesting about this is that none of the other local wine producers is really suspected. Part of the reason for that is that they all respect good wine too much to ruin even a competitor’s product. They may try to woo the vineyard’s customers away with their own fine wine, but they wouldn’t sabotage something they love so much.
Sometimes it’s a common place that draws a variety of people together. That’s what we see in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. That series is mostly set in Melbourne, in a large Roman-style building called Insula. That’s where Chapman lives and has the bakery she owns. There is a motley crew of other residents, all with different backgrounds, belief systems, interests and the like. But they all love the building and they have a common identity as people who live there.
I couldn’t really keep a blog about crime fiction and not mention the love of books in general and crime fiction in particular that we share. That’s reflected in, well, crime fiction, too. In Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series for example, we meet Israel Armstrong, a ‘blow in’ from London who how drives and manages Ireland’s Tumdrum and District Mobile Library. Armstrong couldn’t be more different in some ways to the locals. In fact, in The Case of the Missing Books, one of the plot threads is the culture clash between Armstrong and the people he interacts with as he moves to the area and begins his new job. But as both he and the Tumdrum locals learn, they share a love of books. It may be reflected in different ways, but it draws them together.
It’s interesting how people who are so different in some aspects can put their differences aside when they have a shared passion. It’s one of many reasons I feel so fortunate to be a part of this online crime fiction community. We all come from different backgrounds, have different tastes and different world views. But we share a love of crime fiction. And that draws us all together. A very happy thought, even if the topic we like to talk about is, well, murder…
This weekend is the 45th anniversary of a unique event that brought together hundreds of thousands of people from many, many different backgrounds. Yes, I’m talking about Woodstock. From 15-18 August 1969, a large group of very disparate people braved rain (lots of it) mud (lots of that too) and very long travel distances to get together for ‘three days of peace, love and music.’ And they did it without brawls, ‘turf wars,’ or worse. There could have been real trouble, but by and large there wasn’t. They were drawn together by their passion for music and their desire to get together in peace. I’ve read that there were three babies born there during the festival. I wonder how many were conceived… Far out, man!!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock