I’m Having My Troubles, Baby, and They’re All Too Much For Me*

Hiding AwayAs 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.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Anthony Bidulka, Ivy Pochoda, Kathryn Fox

34 responses to “I’m Having My Troubles, Baby, and They’re All Too Much For Me*

  1. Heartafire

    A fine article that I can relate well too! I love mystery and played around with writing a little myself! Great stuff!

  2. I’m thinking of going into hiding this very minute. It’s always something, isn’t it?

    Anyway, real life aside, your topic today made me think of Gone Girl. Sometimes the motives for running away can be malicious instead of self-healing.

    • Pat – I know what you mean! It really is always something. And you make a well-taken point about Gone Girl. There might be any number of reasons someone might ‘run for cover,’ and not all of them are beneficent…

  3. As always, Margot, your points are right on and your memory is amazing!!

  4. Clarissa Draper

    Wow, some excellent examples. I recently read a book Luther based on the series and that detective’s life spirals out of control. His professional and private life falls apart. You see him fall and rally and fall and rally. It’s a great book and a great series.

    • Thanks, Clarissa. And I love the example of Luther. As you say, that’s a protagonist whose life really do spin out of control. And then he has to step back, hide from it all, pick up the pieces and start all over…

  5. That’s so funny that Clarissa mentions “Luther!” I just watched that series on Netflix. Very interesting stuff. He’s not great at hiding, though, although he tries to do so at one point. 🙂

  6. One of my favourite debuts over the last few years fits in well with this theme – Koethi Zan’s ‘The Never List’. After having escaped from a psychopath years earlier, Sarah stays holed up in her flat and tries to have as little to do with other people as possible. But when the villain is about to be paroled from prison, Sarah and his other victims get together to try to prove he wasn’t just holding girls prisoner, but had actually murdered one of them. So in the process Sarah has to come out and face the world – and her fears…

    Hmm…must be about time for a new Zan, I should think…must check…

  7. Margot: In Small Vices by Robert B. Parker, Spenser is wounded by an assassin, the Grey Man, and gravely wounded. Spenser, Hawk and Susan Silverman retreat to an isolated place to recover and then …

    Arthur Beauchamp, later in the series by William Deverell, has been worn down by the heavy demands of a long criminal law practice and a failed marriage. He retreats to the Gulf Islands but his old firm keeps reaching out to him and ……

    Lastly Nero Wolfe has retreated to his brownstone and belligerently refuses to venture on to the streets of New York.

    • Bill – You’re quite right of course about Nero Wolfe. Not only does he hide in the physical sense of not leaving his brownstone, but he also hides in the sense of being unwilling to get involved in most cases – at least at first. It’s usually his recognition of the financial realities of maintaining his lifestyle the gets him involved.
      And I’m quite pleased you’ve mentioned the Arthur Beauchamp series. I’ve been meaning to spotlight one of those novels for some time, and just…haven’t yet. I must do that! The Spenser example fits perfectly too; thanks for filling in that gap.

  8. I’m amazed at your memory too Margot! Visitation Street is a book I was looking at, but have not bought yet as: a) I’ve got a huge TBR pile (no surprise there!); and b) I was hoping it might go down in price on Amazon! But if you think it’s worth it, I’ll take your well-respected word for it!

    • Very kind of you, Crimeworm. Visitation Street isn’t a typical murder mystery (if there even is such a thing). But it is (in my opinion anyway) a compelling look at a particular local culture (well, set of cultures) and what happens to a community when one of its members disappears. I liked the sense of setting very much, and I think Pochoda has a solid sense of character and dialogue. I know all about how TBRs are – trust me – but this is one I recommend when you get the time.

      • It’s a great idea, the “closed community” again, but on this occasion contained within a city. I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve always been interested in reading about the more obscure bits of the city, where “normal” people actually live and work. I think it was a novel set in “Little Russia” (Brighton Beach??) which first made me think such places are great settings. Then I read Donnie Brasco, with all the Italian mafia on Mulberry St (probably not the case any more; it’s probably full of overpriced Italian restaurants!) I used to enjoy Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper books, as they explored the city and it’s history, but they’ve went so off the boil since she retired to write, I think. I’ll have to get this one, once my 3 month book buying embargo is over (I’m doing the TBR Double Dog Dare, hence the ban!)

        • New York really does have all sorts of closed communities within that one place. There’s Chinatown, Brighton Beach, and so many more areas. That’s one reason for which it’s such a great setting for a novel. And what’s interesting is that they’re all quite different. And then of course there are all the different communities on Long Island, which are unique as well. I think you really get that sense of the small community in Visitation Street.
          Oh, and I admire you for doing the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge! I wish you well completing it.

  9. Col

    Alan Orloff is a new name to me, I’ll have to look him up, but am trying to control the intake of more books. I have Pochoda’s book on the pile already, but I’ve not tried any of your other examples. Cheers for another interesting post.

  10. tracybham

    So many interesting possibilities. I hope to try both the Kathryn Fox and the Ivy Pochoda books this year. I had not heard much about Orloff either.

    • Tracy – I hope you’ll like the Fox series. The Pochoda is really compelling, ‘though it’s not a ‘typical’ crime novel (as though there really were such a thing anyway). Orloff’s written a few mysteries; he’s got some good characters.

  11. I always enjoy your insightful articles! I always find it tricky to get that balance right between throwing lots of challenges at characters, but not so much that it’s not realistic that they would be functional. I’ve written a few variations of a bereaved character investigating their loved one’s murder, and it’s always a struggle – though a fun one! – to acknowledge their grief while keeping them active and clear headed enough to triumph!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Claire. That balance really can be tricky, I think. On the one hand, you want characters to be believable, and that means acknowledging when life knocks them down. On the other, too much of that isn’t good for the story. Then it seems that the story is nothing more than a series of catastrophes that befall a character. And as you say, there’s only so much a character can take and still be functional.

  12. Kathy D.

    Always good to plug Adrian Hyland’s and Ivy Pochoda’s books. Both the Emily Tempest books and Visitation Street are special reads. I bought a copy of the latter book just to lend to friends. They love it, too.
    I think one of the best things about good crime fiction is that when one wants to or must hide away for awhile, sinking into a well-written mystery is one of the best methods. And also being riveted to TV mysteries.
    I hid away for three days after New Year’s festivities, and read J.K. Rowling’s The Silkworm (that’s for another post altogether — and by itself) and watched season 3 of Vera, the wonderful series with Brenda Blethyn.
    And now I’m riveted to season 3 of Line of Duty. It is incredibly intense, and at times, brutal, but it’s so well-done. The actors are fantastic.
    But those are my escapes, and I think that’s true of many mystery readers.

    • Kathy – You’ve added an entirely new perspective to this conversation, for which thanks. Reading is most definitely a way to ‘hide away’ when a person needs to do that. It’s part of the appeal of a good book I think: it helps the reader to escape. And so do great television shows like Vera and some others.

  13. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Likeness’ by Tana French, where the murder victim turns out to have been a person who kept running away from one situation to the next, one country to the next, one identity to the next. It wasn’t always stress which made her run away either…

    • Marina Sofia – Yes! That’s a great example of what I meant! Thank you! That character has spent quite a lot of time hiding away and going from place to place. As you say, not always because of stress, but an excellent example of ‘hiding away.’

  14. Not quite the same, but I always like the trope in Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero where two quite different women – a young girl and also a much older person – confess to crimes they didn’t commit as a response to stress and the pressures put upon them…

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