Behind You Another Runner is Born*

RunningDo you go jogging or running? If you do, then you know that running can be a terrific form of exercise. Studies suggest that running also helps lower stress levels and builds cardiovascular strength. And it’s not expensive to take up running, since there’s no need to join a club or purchase equipment. All you need is a pair of trainers and comfortable clothes like track pants or shorts. What’s more, you can run at nearly any time of day. You’re really only limited by the weather. It may not be for everyone, but it’s not hard to see why running has become such a popular form of exercise in the last decades.

It’s little wonder really that we see running pop up so often in crime fiction. Not only is it common in real life, but it’s also a very handy tool for authors who want characters to find bodies (I’m sure you could think of lots more examples than I could where that happens!). Authors can also use running to describe a particular setting (i.e. readers follow along as the character runs). Space only permits a few examples here, but I’m sure they’ll suffice to show what I mean.

There’s an interesting jogging scene in Ian Rankin’s The Black Book. In one plot thread of that novel, Inspector Rebus is working to bring down a moneylender associated with Edinburgh crime boss ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. Fans of this series will know that Rebus and Cafferty have an unusual sort of relationship. On the one hand, they are on opposite sides of the law, and neither trusts or really likes the other. At the same time, they sometimes find they have common enemies or a common goal. And they have learned to respect each other. At one point, Rebus and Cafferty go for a jog together. It’s an effective way to have a conversation without being overheard. During that run, Cafferty and Rebus share information, and it’s interesting to see how Rankin uses that scene to build tension.

Fans of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone will know that she is fond of running along the beach near her home in fictional Santa Teresa. She stays in shape that way and it gives her the opportunity to de-stress. Here’s how she puts it in D is For Deadbeat:

‘Sometimes I awaken uncomfortably aware of a low-level dread humming in my gut. Running is the only relief I can find short of drink and drugs, which at 6:00 a.m. don’t appeal.’

Millhone doesn’t pretend to be a health fanatic. Fans will know, for instance, that she’s certainly not overly concerned about her diet. For her, running helps with stress relief and is a form of self-discipline.

Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski is also a runner. She likes to keep in shape, and running clears her head. It also gives her the chance to give her dogs exercise. Here’s what Warshawski says about running in Burn Marks:

‘I know that, however unappetizing it seems, running is the best antidote for a thick head. Anyway, a big dog like Peppy depends on running for her mental health.’

So does Warshawski, although she admits she often doesn’t physically feel like running.

In Karen Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, the small Norwegian village of Granittveien is badly shaken when the body of fifteen-year-old Annie Holland is found by a local tarn. Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre are called to the scene and begin the investigation. On the surface of it, it seems that Annie was well-liked and successful. She was an avid runner, logging in twenty miles a week. Until recently she’d played handball too. She had a boyfriend with whom she had no obvious problems, and wasn’t mixed up in drugs or other dangers. So at first there doesn’t seem a real motive for her murder. But as Sejer and Skarre dig deeper, they discover that more is going on in the village than it seems. As it turns out, Annie wasn’t killed during a run. But her love of running was an important part of her character.

And then there’s Kate Rhodes’ Crossbones Yard. This novel introduces readers to psychologist Alice Quentin. For reasons having to do with her childhood, Quentin tends towards claustrophobia. In fact, she has a special dislike of elevators/lifts. That’s one reason for which she finds a great deal of release in running:

‘At seven I changed into my running gear and headed for the best part of the day. Soon I was running down the stairs so fast that it felt like flight…[later] I made my way home at a slow trot, enjoying the rush of endorphins – nature’s reward for nearly killing yourself.’

One evening, she’s taking a long run when she discovers a recently-murdered young woman at Crossbones Yard, a former graveyard for prostitutes. It turns out that this murder may be connected to another, earlier series of murders. The only problem with that theory is that the person responsible for those earlier murders is in prison. Is there a ‘copycat’ at work? Or is the criminal somehow engineering more murders? Perhaps there’s even another explanation…

Lots of runners swear by the ‘runner’s high’ that can come from the release of endorphins. And running can be very good for one’s health, not to mention one’s physical condition. Some people even say that going for a run with a friend or partner is a good social activity too. With all of that going for it, it’s little wonder that a lot of crime-fictional characters run. I’ve just given a very few examples. Over to you.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sheila Ferguson and Giorgio Moroder’s The Runner.


Filed under Ian Rankin, Karin Fossum, Kate Rhodes, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton

24 responses to “Behind You Another Runner is Born*

  1. Kay

    I know there are more examples, but you mentioned the two that immediately popped into my head – V.I. and Alice Quentin. I’m not so much a runner as a walker, but same goes. And you’re right in saying that it provides a way for bodies to be discovered.

    • Kay – Walking definitely offers a lot of the same benefits as running does. And as you say, for the writer, both kinds of exercise offer good opportunities for characters to discover bodies.

  2. Do I remember correctly that poor old Rebus was forced into that run? And spent the whole time trying desperately to keep up? The fact that runners find all the dead bodies has always seemed like a strong argument for staying at home with a good book to me… 😉

    • FictionFan – Good memory! Yes, the run is not Rebus’ idea at all. In fact at one point, they’re passing a pub and Rebus the idea of stopping in, ‘though he doesn’t say so. Cafferty though is no fool and knows exactly how Rebus’ mind is working. He tells Rebus that they’ll have herbal tea after the run – a funny moment in my opinion. And you have a point about the risk of running across dead bodies…

  3. It certainly I feel I should be doing Margot, but I get exhausted just thinking about it 🙂 Thanks all the same though – definitely unavoidable …

  4. Col

    Nice reminder to pick up a Rankin book. I do like a run myself – 3 miles every other morning, though it does interfere with my reading!

    • I admire the fact that you’re so disciplined about running, Col. It may get in the way of your reading, but you’ll have more years in which you can read. And I think it’s always worth reading an Ian Rankin novel.

  5. In the minority, I expect, running/jogging is anathamao me. Never have liked or wanted to run. Had to at school and hated it.

    • Evelyn – I think for all of us, there’s some sport or other that we have never enjoyed, and only did in school because it was required. Running definitely isn’t for everyone…

  6. I’m not a fan of running after the horrors that were athletics at school!! I think runners only come second to finding bodies to the good old favourite ‘dog walkers’ Even though running isn’t for me I do like the way Alice Quentin uses her running to clear her mind and hopefully come up with a lead to follow.

    • Cleo – Sometimes, school athletics are enough to put anyone off running permanently! And I had to chuckle at your comment about runners and dog walkers. My guess is that they’re probably the two largest groups of body-discoverers in the genre. I’ll have to do some research on that one… As you say, no matter how one feels about running, it is interesting to see how characters such as Alice Quentin use it to mull over a case and work things out.

  7. Running will always mean Kinsey Milhone pounding the streets of Santa Teresa to me… nothing extra to add!

  8. Kathy D.

    My feeling about running is that of Bernie Rhodenbarr in Lawrence Block’s series, “Whenever I get the urge to job, I lie down and let it pass.”

  9. Kathy D.

    I use the same line on myself about housecleaning, used to keep my mother in stitches.

  10. Great post. I do enjoy a jog although I’m not sure I’d be any good at holding a conversation at the same time, I’ll have to stick to listening to audio books.

    • ACrimeReader’sBlog – Thank you 🙂 – And no, I’m not much of a one for talking when I’m running, either. Like you, I’m better off with an audio book or music when I’m exercising.

  11. Pingback: They Just Found Your Father in the Swimming Pool* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

  12. tracybham

    There are two authors here I would like to pursue more of… Rankin and Fossum. Nice post, Margot.

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