As we all know, there are times in life when things get to be a bit much. It’s hard enough to handle one major stressor, let alone a group of them. It’s all enough to make even the strongest among us want to hide under a proverbial (or even real) blankie for a while. Of course our rational minds tell us that we have to get through life’s problems. At the same time, it’s a very human reaction (and many people argue, a healthy one) to back away and go and hide when life gets too hard. Eventually, most of us come out to play again once we’ve had that time.
Since crime fiction is full of, well, crime, it’s not surprising that we see a lot of characters who need to go and hide for a bit. It’s all through the genre, and it’s realistic if you think about it. Characters who don’t sometimes need to hide away may not seem as human as those who do. Here are a few examples that came to my mind.
In Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Maidensford’s local GP Peter Lord presents Hercule Poirot with a difficult case. Lord is smitten with Elinor Carlisle, who’s recently inherited quite a lot of money, to say nothing of the family estate Hunterbury, from her aunt, Laura Welman. But the wealth isn’t doing her much good now, as she stands accused of murder. The allegation is that she poisoned Mary Gerrard, the lodgekeeper’s daughter, because Mary was her romantic rival. Elinor has a financial motive as well since Aunt Laura was very fond of Mary and might easily have willed everything to her. Lord wants Poirot to clear Elinor’s name, and Poirot agrees to at least look into the matter. But even though he finds out the truth about Mary Gerrard’s murder, he can’t spare Elinor the stress and difficulty of being imprisoned and on trial for murder. When the whole thing’s over, the one thing Elinor wants more than anything else is to get away – to go and hide. It’s a very natural reaction.
Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes is a comedian and part owner of The Last Laff, a comedy club in Northern Virginia. In Killer Routine, we learn that Hayes recently survived a terrible car accident that claimed the life of his fiancée Lauren Dempsey. Hayes himself was left with permanent scarring and and a withered left hand. So not only is he dealing with the grief and guilt he feels about Lauren’s death, but he is also coping with his injuries and his altered appearance. He doesn’t drown himself in alcohol or float away on drugs, but he does need some time to ‘step back.’ So as the novel begins, Hayes spends a lot of time at home, avoiding people when he can; and he hasn’t done a standup routine since before the accident. Then everything changes. Lauren’s sister Heather (who also does comedy) goes missing just before her scheduled appearance at The Last Laff. At first it’s put down to ‘cold feet,’ and everyone thinks she’ll turn up in a few days. But when she doesn’t, Hayes starts asking questions. His search for the truth pits him against Heather’s dangerous ex-boyfriend, her difficult parents, and several other people who do not want her to be found. Bit by bit, Hayes returns to his professional life, but not before hiding under the covers for a while.
Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest is faced with some terrible stress in Gunshot Road. She’s a brand-new Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) who’s working under the temporary command of Bruce Cockburn. The two get off to a very rocky start when their team is sent to Green Swamp Well to investigate a murder. Former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins has been killed, very likely as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest suspects something more might be going on. So despite Cockburn’s orders to wrap the case up and move on, Tempest insists on looking into the matter more deeply. This of course gets her into serious trouble with her boss. It also runs her up against a very dangerous enemy. After one particularly awful incident, she can’t take much more, and ends up hiding away for a bit with her lover Jojo Kelly and her best friend Hazel Flinders. Tempest isn’t one to avoid life’s troubles; she’s a strong person. But even she needs to ‘duck under the covers’ sometimes.
One of Anthony Bidulka’s series features Saskatoon PI Russell Quant. Like most of us, Quant has a network of friends, including former supermodel Jared Lowe. Lowe’s partner is Quant’s mentor Anthony Gatt, and Quant depends a great deal on their friendship. In one way or another, Lowe gets involved in several of Quant’s investigations without real lasting effects. But everything changes in Stain of the Berry. As a result of the events in that story, Lowe has to re-think an awful lot. Those events also mean that Lowe needs to take some time away from his ‘regular’ life and proverbially hide under the blanket. He eventually pops his head out and begins to take part in life again, but he needs that time to hide away. So does Quant himself a little later in the series. It’s a natural response when life just gets to be too much.
We also see this in Kathryn Fox’s Dr. Anya Crichton/DS Kate Farrer series. Crichton and Farrer are good friends who co-operate on their different cases. Some of those cases are extremely stressful and even traumatic, and they take their toll. For instance, in Malicious Intent, certain evidence links the deaths of several very different kinds of women. At first those deaths seem to be either accidents or suicide, but Crichton and Farrer begin to suspect otherwise. The truth turns out to be much more complex and dangerous than it seems on the surface, and the case proves traumatic. In fact, after the events in the novel, Farrer takes a four-month leave from her job. She needs that time to hide away, so to speak, and recover before she resumes her duties in Skin and Bones.
And then there’s Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street. One very warm night, teenagers Valerie ‘Val’ Merino and June Giatto take a ride in a rubber raft on the bay near their homes in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Early the next morning, local teacher and musician Jonathan Sprouse discovers Val, wounded but alive. June has disappeared. The loss of her friend and the events that led to it are all extremely stressful and traumatic for Val. She can’t handle the way people look at her, the outpouring of concern for June, and her own sense of guilt that she has survived and June has gone missing. So she does her share of ‘hiding under the blankie.’ She confides in no-one, saying as little as she can get away with to make people leave her alone. It’s a very human reaction, especially considering that Val is still very young. By the novel’s end, she’s starting to come to grips with what happened, but she still has plenty of healing to do.
And that’s the thing about getting knocked down by life’s blows. Too much stress isn’t good for us, and neither is trauma. So it’s only natural that when those things happen, we sometimes go into hiding and curl up under the covers. So the next time you need to go hide under the covers, don’t feel bad. You have plenty of company. These are just a few examples of the way this plays out in crime fiction. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You Picked a Real Bad Time.