A lot of parties and other holiday activities are meant for couples. So life can get a bit awkward for those who are single. That’s one reason why a lot of people consent, however reluctantly, to being ‘fixed up’ for dates. Others meet new people casually, for instance, at pubs/bars or clubs. At least it’s a little easier to go to parties and so on as a couple, even if you don’t know the other person well.
Sometimes, even in crime fiction, being ‘fixed up’ or taking a chance on a complete stranger can work quite well. Fans of Agatha Christie, for instance, will know that more than one happy match is made with encouragement from Hercule Poirot (and actually, Miss Marple too). I’m thinking, for instance, of The Moving Finger and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, among others. But sometimes, such chances turn out to be very unlucky – even disastrous.
For instance, in Mickey Spillane’s My Gun is Quick, PI Mike Hammer is at a coffee shop. A young woman – who, as it turns out, is a prostitute named Nancy Sanford – approaches him. They start a conversation which ends with her telling Hammer the story of how she got into the business. Hammer feels for the woman and gives her some money to help her start over. Not long after their chance meeting, he learns that she’s been killed in what looks like a drive-by car accident. He is determined to find out who killed her and why, and begins to investigate. That investigation puts Hammer up against a prostitution ring run by some highly-placed people who aren’t afraid to do whatever it takes to silence anyone who gets in their way. Not a safe situation for Hammer…
In Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, wealthy engineer Pietro Auserti hires Dr. Duca Lamberti to help his son Davide. Davide Auserti suffers from a serious drinking problem that hasn’t abated even after a stint at a treatment facility. Lamberti accepts the job and begins to interact with Davide. It takes some time, but little by little he gets to the root of the young man’s troubles. A year earlier, Davide had a chance meeting with Alberta Radelli during which she begged him to help her leave Milan. She claimed she couldn’t stay there any more, but he didn’t believe her. Shortly afterwards she died in what police claimed was a suicide, and he’s blamed himself since that time. Lamberti knows that if he doesn’t find out the truth about what really happened to the victim, Davide Auserti will never be free of his guilt. So he begins to investigate. He and Davide end up being drawn into a dark case of multiple murder and sleazy underworld business. And all because of a spontaneous invitation to give a pretty young woman a ride…
Margaret Yorke’s Speak For the Dead is in part the story of Carrie Foster. For various reasons, she’s gotten into the business of upmarket prostitution. One day she’s sitting in a café waiting for one of her clients when by chance, she meets Gordon Matthews. The two hit it off, and Carrie is impressed with his good looks and apparent wealth. In fact, they end up marrying. But each is keeping an important secret from the other. Carrie’s never told her husband that she was a prostitute, nor that she returned to the business after a few years of marriage to him. And for his part, Gordon doesn’t tell his wife that he served time in prison for the murder of his first wife Anne. As time goes on, we see just how disastrous this chance meeting turns out to be.
As Sarah Caudwell’s Thus Was Adonis Murdered begins, London lawyer Julia Larwood decides to take an Art Lovers tour of Venice. She’s glad for the chance to escape her own tax woes, and hoping to enjoy herself. And at first, she does. In fact, she becomes besotted with a young man Nick Watson whom she meets on the tour, and they end up spending a memorable afternoon together. But when Julia wakes up afterwards, she finds that Watson is dead. She leaves the room as quickly as she can and slips away. But she’s left behind her copy of the Finance Act, so right away, there is evidence to connect her with the murder. It’s going to take help from her lawyer friends and their unofficial mentor Hilary Tamar to sort matters out and clear her name.
Jane Casey’s The Burning is in part an investigation into a series of deaths committed by a killer that the London Press has dubbed the Burning Man, because he tries to incinerate the bodies of his victims. DC Maeve Kerrigan of the Met is on the investigating team, and as the story goes on, she and her teammates slowly find out how the killer operates. Somehow (no spoilers), the murderer wins over his victims by gaining their trust. By the time he attacks, they’re no longer really able to defend themselves. Then comes the slightly different murder of PR professional Rebecca Haworth. Many of Kerrigan’s colleagues think that the Burning Man has simply changed his tactics. But Kerrigan wonders if it may be a ‘copycat’ murder, thus implying two killers. This novel is a good reminder that casual encounters can be as dangerous as blind dates can be.
We also see that in Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. Stewart Macintosh is at a Glasgow night club called Heavenly one night when he happens to meet Zara Cope. She’s beautiful, she’s had a few as the saying goes, and she seems willing. So the two agree to go back to her house. That turns out to be a big mistake on Macintosh’s part. He’s soon drawn into a case of murder, concealing drugs, and other crimes. And all because of a pickup at a club.
And for film buffs, there’s Joseph Losey’s 1959 film Blind Date. That’s the story of Jan Van Rooyer, a Dutch painter living in London who happens to meet Jacqueline Cousteau at the art gallery where he works. Although she doesn’t seem much interested in art, she ends up asking him for painting lessons, and before long, the two begin an affair. One day Van Rooyer goes to an apartment to meet his lover. He waits for her for a time, but she doesn’t appear. Van Rooyer thinks he was probably stood up, but before he can do anything about it, a group of police arrive. It turns out that Jacqueline Cousteau has been murdered; her body was in the apartment the whole time, but hidden from view. Inspector Morgan of Scotland Yard investigates, and is convinced that Van Rooyer has killed his mistress. Someone has clearly framed Van Rooyer, but it’s awfully tempting for the police to assume his guilt and close out the case. You can read more about this film at Tipping My Fedora, which is the place to go for terrific reviews of crime novels and great crime films.
When you look at what can happen when you go on a blind date or chat up a stranger, it’s probably easier (and certainly safer!) to just go to those holiday parties by yourself or with a friend (I know, I know, those who’ve read Tammy Cohen’s Dying For Christmas. I haven’t read it…).
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Tubes’ She’s a Beauty.