Closed the Shop, Sold the House, Bought a Ticket to the West Coast*

Midlife Crisis MaleTransitions through adulthood are often challenging. Adjusting to a new phase in one’s life can be stressful and people have all sorts of different kinds of reactions to that stress. That’s arguably part of the reason people sometimes have what’s often been called mid-life crises. An interesting post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about how often we see that crisis in fiction in general and crime fiction in particular.

Marina Sofia’s post dealt with male mid-life crises, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post. But women are by no means immune; that’ll be the topic for another post soon. For now, here are just a few examples of what can happen at that pivotal point in adulthood.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we are introduced to Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. He has a thriving career, a wife Gerda who adores him, and two healthy children. By all accounts he should be completely contented with his life; most people would call him very successful. But he’s restless. His mind keeps drifting back to an affair he had fifteen years earlier with Veronica Cray, who’s since become a famous actress. He’s in this state of flux when he and Gerda are invited to spend the weekend at the home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. To his shock, he is reunited with Veronica during the visit; it turns out that she’s taken a getaway cottage nearby. Because they have a history together, she becomes a suspect when he is shot on the Sunday afternoon. Hercule Poirot has also taken a cottage in the area, and he works with Inspector Grange to find out who killed John Christow and why.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal is the story of Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. They’ve been married fifteen years and as far as Eva’s concerned, they’ve had a contented life. But lately, Henrik has been distant and obviously unhappy. He’s restless and seems to have built a proverbial wall between them. Eva is hoping that a holiday might help them re-discover each other but then, she learns to her shock that Henrik has been unfaithful. She’s devastated at this and soon becomes determined to find out who the other woman is. When she does, she plots her own kind of revenge that has consequences she couldn’t have imagined.

In Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed, banker Martin Carter faces this kind of crisis. His marriage is ending, which would be bad enough. Then he finds out that he’s being retrenched. With all of the things that had identified him being taken away, he’s reaching out for something new anyway. So on his last day at work, he can’t resist helping himself to a million-dollar payroll. Then he makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and takes off. His plan is to meet up with an old friend and start over, but things don’t work out that way. First, he meets Faith, a librarian who’s got her own problems. Then there’s the matter of the bike gang. And that’s just the beginning…

Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert are a successful Chicago couple whom we meet in A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. They’ve never formally married, but they’ve been together twenty years and have built a solid home. Then, everything changes. Todd’s feeling restless, and begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, a college student and the daughter of his business partner. This isn’t the first time he’s strayed, but what makes this time different is that Natasha wants it to be a permanent relationship. She becomes pregnant and tells Todd that she wants to marry and be a family. At first, Todd promises her that’s what he wants too; he even leaves Jodi and moves in with Natasha. But as time goes on, he begins to see that he doesn’t want a wife and family. He feels ‘hemmed in’ enough as it is. Besides, the realities of living with a woman so much younger have set in. Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone wrong. But then, the police begin to suspect that someone hired the shooters. And given Todd’s business and personal decisions, there’s no lack of suspects.

Sometimes sleuths go through mid-life crises too. That’s what happens in Peter Robinson’s Watching the Dark. In that novel, DCI Alan Banks is faced with the murder of DI Bill Quinn. Quinn was a patient at St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, and that’s where his body is discovered early one morning, pierced with an arrow from a crossbow. The case turns out to be very delicate, because compromising ‘photos are found in Quinn’s room that suggest he’s been having an affair with a much younger woman. Obviously the police Powers That Be don’t want to cast aspersions on the badge, so Banks will have to tread lightly. In the meantime, he’s got his own personal issues to face. His former wife Sandra has married again and started a new family. He’s no longer involved with his lover Annie Cabbot, either, although they work together professionally. His children are grown and starting their own lives, too, and although they love him, it’s a different sort of relationship. So Banks is facing the sort of restlessness that often goes along with periods of change in life. It adds another layer to his character.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series will know that he’s at a point of flux in his life. He feels himself getting older, but at the same time, he still has plenty of energy and good detective skills. He’s torn about his relationship with his long-time lover Livia, too. He does care about her, but at the same time, he’s just as well pleased that she lives in Genoa, and not in Sicily. He also sees himself changing as he gets older, and that’s not always comfortable either. Camilleri depicts that internal conflict as a series of debates between ‘Montalbano One’ and ‘Montalbano Two,’ and it’s an interesting way to show the way the mid-life crisis can feel.

The changes that middle age brings aren’t always fun. The question, ‘Is this all there is?’ can hit hard. So can the recognition of one’s own mortality. People generally make their way through the transition intact, but not always. And it certainly can add character depth and plot points to a novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog stop be Finding Time to Write. It’s a treasure trove of book reviews, poetry and beautiful visuals too.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s My Life.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Geoffrey McGeachin, Karin Alvtegen, Peter Robinson

25 responses to “Closed the Shop, Sold the House, Bought a Ticket to the West Coast*

  1. Margot, in Margery Allingham’s Flowers for the Judge, a businessman named Tom Barnabas leaves his house one morning, says “good morning” to his housekeeper, starts down the street – and apparently vanishes into thin air before he reaches the corner. It will eventually become clear what happened to him – and, without going into spoiler territory, let’s just say that he wanted to make some changes in his life. His disappearance will be connected to the murder, 20 years later, of his cousin Paul. The book is one of my favorite Allinghams.

    • Les – Oh, terrific example! Trust you to come up with a great case in point from classic/GA crime fiction. Even at her weakest, Allingham was good. When she was good, she was fantastic.

  2. Margot, I was glad you brought up Fat, Fifty and F***ed by McGeachin. I have heard of that book and wondered what it was about. Also enjoyed the info on the Salvo Montalbano series. That is one of those series that I have read only the first book but have several more in my TBR piles. I need to get to them. A good topic today (as usual).

    • Thanks, Tracy. I think FF&F is terrific. Some great wit in there and one of those ‘screwball’ storylines that actually work quite well. And I do recommend the Salvo Montalbano series. Each case is self-contained, but at the same time, you see some great story arcs. And there is some incredible food in that series…

  3. I believe Yvonne Carmichael was going through a mid-life crises when she embarked on a particularly reckless action in Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. Being a respected scientist only underlines the departure from her normal behaviour. Great post and good inspiration from Marina Sofia.

  4. As I am well into my 40s, such preoccupations are certainly more than fictional for me! On the topic in books however, I am always drawn back to the great Flitcraft anecdote from THE MALTESE FALCON especially.

    • Sergio – Ah, yes, the Flitcraft story. Thanks for reminding me of that (must re-read that book!!). And as far as age goes? Erm – I’m not exactly 20 any more either…

  5. Well, poor old Rebus has been having a mid-life crisis since back in the 1980s, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end soon… 😉

    It’s interesting though how much the idea of a mid-life crisis grew during the last century. Books of an earlier era never really highlight it (at least, I can’t think of any real examples – but my memory is notoriously bad). I guess it must be a side-effect of us living longer – middle-age used to be the precursor of old-age, but now it’s more of an extension of youth, perhaps…

    • That’s a really interesting point, FictionFan. When one’s life expectancy is sixty-something, well, fifty isn’t mid-life. But now, a lot of people can expect to live into their eighties and some far beyond. So it makes sense that the mid-life crisis would be a phenomenon of more modern generations. And about Rebus? Yes, he still hasn’t worked it all out, has he? 😉

  6. Yeah, I know a lot about men and their mid-life crises situations. That’s why I’m not separated. Anyways, I’m intrigued by the premise of The Silent Wife. Can’t wait to read your post about women facing the same situation.

  7. Ms. Kinberg, these are some fine examples of male midlife crises and I particularly want to read Geoffrey McGeachin’s “Fat, Fifty and F***ed” which I, too, have heard of. Unlike women, men carry a lot of baggage. They start carrying it from the moment they are out of their teens, lugging it around with them for several years, until one day it all falls apart in their forties and fifties. Your post reminded me of a Ray Bradbury quote — “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

    • Prashant – I like that Ray Bradbury quote. I think the ageing process is definitely different for men and women. But both sexes have to come to terms with the choices they’ve made, with their own mortality, and so on. As you say, the ‘self’ one’s always known starts to fall apart, so one starts to re-think everything.
      I hope that if you get the chance to read Fat, Fifty and F***ed, you’ll enjoy it.

  8. Col

    There’s a few books mentioned that are on the pile – I’ll read them after I have negotiated my own M-LC!

  9. Agatha Christie again – in Sparkling Cyanide an ambitious politician has a wild love affair with the beautiful Rosemary, risking his career and his marriage. He realizes what he has to lose… and it makes him one of a raft of suspects. But the resolution to this particular strand of the plot is very satisfying I think.

  10. Thank you so much for your kind words, Margot- and some very interesting examples you have found too. The McGeachin novel sounds intriguing, more to add to my list.

    I’ve just finished Philip Kerr’s ‘Research’ which is also about a hugely successful writer facing a bit of a midlife crisis. He has a whole army of underlings writing his novels for him (based on his plot outlines), but then decides he would rather go back to writing for himself, move back to England from his Monaco high-life, give up all the wealth and luxury in order to pursue literary excellence. Then his wife is murdered, he’s the prime suspect and he ends up on the run…

    In the interest of balance for French men, I should point out that Inspector Maigret, for instance, does not seem to suffer from a midlife crisis, although he has the occasional twinge of malaise (and despite his creator’s well-publicised shenanigans).

    • Marina Sofia – Oh, it’s my pleasure to mention your excellent blog, and I’m grateful for the inspiration. Thanks too for the mention of Research. I’ve heard of it, and I like Kerr’s work, but haven’t read that one yet. It certainly sounds like exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post though. And you’re right about Maigret. He does have those twinges, as you say, but in general, he’s a fairly stable guy. He seems to get through middle age fairly smoothly. Oh, and I do hope you’ll like the McGeachin.

  11. Kathy D.

    There are so many examples of male mid-life crises in crime fiction. Luckily, Guido Brunetti doesn’t seem to be impacted by reaching his mid-life. But his fellow police detective over in Sicilian seems to have gone over the cliff. Luckily, Livia was at her home when Salvo Montalbano falls for Angelica’s Smile.
    I think Harry Bosch has had his own mid-life crises but continues to detect in his own individualistic way.

    • Kathy – I’ve noticed that too about Guido Brunetti. He doesn’t have a perfect life, but he doesn’t seem to go through that crisis as some other people do. And I agree with you that it’s probably best that Livia isn’t there when Montalbano meets up with Angelica.

  12. Pingback: Well, I’ve Been Afraid of Changing* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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