I Believe in Miracles*

LittleMiraclesLet’s face it: all sorts of terrible things have been going on in the world lately. It’s enough to drive anyone to despair. But through it all, there are those small miracles that happen that can make all the difference in the world.

Just as one example, I learned that an Omaha (Nebraska) teen had gone missing from her high school yesterday (Monday 15 December). I cannot imagine any news more terrifying for a parent to hear. But before you start thinking the worst, I also learned that she is now safe and at home with her family. This is one of those stories that remind us to hope.

There are stories like that in crime fiction too. It’s hard to do them effectively, because of the risk of making a story too saccharine or too unbelievable (you know – the ‘nick of time’ syndrome). But if it’s done well, it’s possible to include those bright threads of hope and, dare I say it, little miracles, without overpowering what’s supposed to be a crime plot.

Agatha Christie included those moments in several of her stories. Lots of them involve some sort of romance (or a hint of it), but there are others too. For instance, in Hallowe’en Party, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver visits her friend Judith Butler, who lives in the small town of Woodleigh Common. Mrs. Oliver is helping prepare for a Hallowe’en party at another home in the village when a local girl Joyce Reynolds boasts of having seen a murder. Everyone hushes her immediately; but when she is murdered later that evening at the party, it seems that she may have been telling the truth. Mrs. Oliver asks her friend Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he travels to Woodleigh Common to look into the matter. It turns out that Joyce’s death is connected to a past murder. It is also very nearly the cause of another murder. The prevention of that death is one of those bright moments that gives hope. In a sense it’s not a ‘miracle’ (no spoilers here!), but it does inspire a big sigh of relief.

In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere gets involved in a case of murder when his friend, pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky, asks him to take a look at a painting. Pawlovsky thinks it may be valuable but he wants Revere’s expert opinion. To Revere’s shock, the painting turns out to be an extremely valuable Velázquez that was one of a group of paintings ‘held for safekeeping’ by the Nazis. By the time Revere gets the chance to do some background research on the painting and return to the pawn shop though, Pawlovsky has been murdered. Revere feels guilty for leaving his friend alone in the shop with such a valuable piece of art, so he has a personal sense of responsibility about the murder. He thinks that if he can trace the painting from the time it was ‘stored’ by the Nazis to the present, he can find out who killed Pawlovsky. In the process of following the trail, Revere goes up against several nasty people who want the painting for themselves. In the end though, he discovers the murderer. He also (I don’t think this is spoiling the story) helps to create one of those ‘miracles’ by righting a very old wrong.

Kerry Greenwood’s Heavenly Pleasures is the second of her series featuring Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman. In that novel, Chapman is faced with a few mysteries. One of them is that someone is trying to sabotage the chocolate shop owned by Chapman’s friends Juliette and Vivienne Lefebvre. Another is that a very enigmatic man has moved into the building where Chapman lives and works. It’s soon clear too that the man has brought real danger to the building. One day there’s a bomb threat in the building. Everyone’s cleared out and fortunately, no-one is killed. It’s then discovered that the mysterious new resident has been attacked (‘though not killed). It turns out that all of this has to do with a desperate search for something that some nasty people want very much to have. Tangling with them is extremely dangerous, but even after the bomb scare, everyone’s safe.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, successful and somewhat high-profile accountant Daniel Guest is being blackmailed. He is married, but someone has found out that he’s had several trysts with men and is threatening to reveal that. Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who the blackmailer is. Quant thinks it would be easier for Guest to ‘come out’ publicly, but Guest refuses to do that. The trail leads to New York and, later, to a murder. At one point, Quant and his friend Jared Lowe are ambushed, abducted and abandoned in the proverbial middle of nowhere. And that’s no joke in Saskatchewan just before Christmas. The danger of death from exposure is quite real, and the two are at risk. But they manage to find shelter. The next morning, they even find an abandoned shack where they can escape the worst of the cold. It’s one of those bright spots of hope that don’t seem like much until you consider the alternative.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace and his team face two difficult cases. One is the discovery of the torso of an unidentified man in an abandoned chicken coop. Another is that superstar Gaia Lafayette will be visiting the area to do a film. She’s already had one near miss, and there’ve been threats against her life, so Grace is asked to provide extra security. It turrns out that these two cases are related, and as Grace finds out what’s behind both of them, he begins to see that he’s up against a fairly dangerous foe. In the meantime, he has another major concern. His partner Cleo Morey is about to give birth to their first child, so he’s worried about her well-being anyway, although she’s in good health. But then, anonymous threats make it clear that someone is out to get Grace through Cleo. The story itself has some very sad – even bleak – aspects to it. But in this case, there’s also a real little miracle…

It can be very tricky to include those little moments that can make you want to believe in miracles. They can be contrived and ‘sugary sweet’ and can take away from a story if they’re not done effectively. But they can also add a layer of hope to an otherwise sad story, and every once in a while, great things do happen.

On Another Note…

My best wishes to those who celebratre Chanukah. May you enjoy a joyful and hopeful Season of Lights. To all of you, whatever you celebrate, all my best, and let’s be happy for those everyday miracles.

*NOTE: The title of this song is the title of a song by The Ramones.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Asron Elkins, Kerry Greenwood, Peter James

26 responses to “I Believe in Miracles*

  1. Happy Chanukah, Margot! I find that now that my Jewish ex-landlady has died and I don’t have to worry about her being alone on Seder nights, I am much less mindful of Jewish holidays, Question: I always used to spell it Hanukkah – is that wrong?

    • Thank you, Marina Sofia 🙂 – About the spelling? There is no one ‘correct’ way to spell it in English, because Hebrew has a different (phonetic) alphabet. In Hebrew, the word looks like this: חֲנֻכָּה . But those Hebrew letters and sounds can be spelled in different ways in English. So ‘Hannukah’ is correct. So is ‘Chanukah’ or ‘Hanukah.’ Well, you get the idea.

  2. Clarissa Draper

    I know for me, it’s depressing to watch the news. I just learned a minute ago about another suicide bomber attack and 15 more primary school students in a bus were killed. Sure, bad things happen in my books but at the end of the day, I know no one was really injured. The real world, however, can be maddening. I agree. we need to hope.

    • Clarissa – You’re absolutely right. That’s a major difference between writing and real life. In a novel, no-one really gets hurt. But as you say, awful and maddening things happen in real life. That, I think, is why we need to have some hope…

  3. The news headlines can be terribly depressing at the moment alright.

    On a far lighter note, this is one of those very rare instances where the guess-the-song-from-Margot’s-headline puzzles threw me entirely.

    I’d forgotten the Ramones song (“I used to be on an endless run…” and all that stuff) and thought it was going to be… Hot Chocolate! Exactly, Errol Brown and his band. As in “You Sexy Thing”.

    Now that Hot Chocolate single is stuck with me for the rest of the night, like an inescapable meme.

  4. kathy d

    Oh, yes, the world seems in great difficulties right now. But I take hope from the young people and supporters marching all over the country together in multinational groups, against racism and police brutality. It’s like a new Civil Rights Movement. And they do have hope.
    And I take hope from all of the people whom I see in life and on TV who give to and help others with medical aid, like the health care workers who volunteer in West Africa to deal with the Ebola epidemic, or the many who donate to organizations that help people here and worldwide, or those who concretely help with food and more every day without recognition.
    All of those people give me hope.
    And a very Happy Chanukah to you and your family, Margo.
    I don’t celebrate holidays much these days except to get neighbors’ children gifts for all the holidays, and I’ve asked my building’s custodian if we could put up some Chanukah decorations in addition to Christmas ones, but i think I may have to buy a streamer somewhere and just put it up.

    • Kathy – Thank you. And you’re absolutely right that there is reason for hope. When young people take a stand and work for social justice, that gives me hope too. And as you say, there are so many other people too who work very hard to make life better for others. That’s a very good and hopeful thing too. Oh, and I hope you find a streamer or something.

  5. Loved “Loot.” I recommend that book to everyone.
    Just finished a light mystery called “Murder at the School Musical,” which concludes by revealing (SPOILER ALERT!) there was no murder. 🙂

  6. Sometime I hate to turn the evening news on because there’s been so many shootings lately, not to mention all the other bad things. But every once in awhile they do manage to add a story that is inspiring and reminds us there’s still hope. Margot, as always, a thought provoking post. Wishing Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate. May we never give up on hope.

    • Mason – Thank you. And you’re absolutely right about how often the news stories are about awful and terrible things. And yet, as you say, there is hope, and sometimes there are some wonderful stories about hope in the news, too. I hope we never give up on our belief that good things can happen.

  7. Margot: Happy Chanukah!

    For your theme on this day I look to Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balsom. Holocaust survivor, Ben Solomon, pursues justice in Chicago six decades after the end of WW II. That he managed to live through the war in Poland is certainly remarkable even a miracle. I think every East European Jew who survived has a comparable story.

    • Bill – Thank you. And thanks for mentioning Once We Were Brothers. I remember your excellent review of this nove; it sounds absorbing. It certainly is an example of keeping hope alive when there is little reason for any. And yes, that Solomon survived is, in itself, a miracle.

  8. I was laughing at my own reaction to the book I’m currently reading last night – won’t name it since I’m about to give a major spoiler. A child and her dog were trapped in a burning building. A brave police officer went in, got the child out of the window, but the dog ran away in terror before she could save it. The police officer then gets horrifically killed, and all the time I was reading the description of that, all I could think was ‘but what about the dog?’. The dog found its own way out and was safe – a little miracle! Sometimes I worry about myself… 😉

    Happy Chanuka!

    • FictionFan – Thank you! And I know what you mean about worrying about yourself. 😉 I would probably feel exactly the same way if I read that scene. What about the poor dog? It’s very good to hear that it gets out safely. And that’s exactly the kind of little miracle that can add a nice layer of hope to a story without making it twee.

  9. kathy d

    I would worry about the dog, too.
    In fact, when a neighbor’s oven caught on fire and smoke was pouring out of her apartment — and the firefighters were here, her little dog ran down the hallway and then down the stairs. She saw chaos happening and ran away, forgot about her owner. My neighbor got her back, but I thought that was funny. All was well.

    • Kathy – Oh, it’s good to hear that all was well, ‘though of course I’m sorry to hear about the fire. Of course, I don’t blame the dog for running off like that. That’s a basic ‘survival’ panic reaction. I’m glad to hear the dog was safely returned.

  10. One of Arthur Upfield’s marvelous books about Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is The Clue of the New Shoe. It is, I think, one of the saddest, overall, of any of the Bony mysteries. But it ends with Bony working out a solution which will keep several people from suffering an even greater tragedy than the murder which launched his investigation – and there is the chance, just a chance, that some otherwise very good people will be able to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. It’s a beautiful story, if a sad one, and that gesture on Bony’s part makes a huge difference.

    • Thanks, Les, for the reminder of that excellent series. Upfield had that knack I think of being able to tell a very sad story like that one, but at the same time, hold out hope. And now you’ve made me think of Death of a Swagman, which also has one of those ‘little miracles’ in it…

  11. One of my favourite books about the First World War is A Very Long Engagement by Sebastian Japrisot. A young woman refuses to believe her fiancé is dead, despite all the odds, and searches for him. It is a great book: the reader wonders how is the author going to resolve the situation – the fiance surely can’t be alive, but if he’s dead that’s a downer. But Japrisot manages a perfect, satisfying ending, for this reader anyway – can’t say more.

    • Moira – That’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post. There are ways to be realistic about, for instance, the likelihood of surviving a war, without being relentlessly bleak. I remember your excellent post about that book. I must put that novel on my list.

  12. Funnily enough I’ve just finished a book called ‘The Miracle Inspector’ by Helen Smith. Not a crime novel, per se, but a distopian future. I think the need for miracles exist throughout alll societies.

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