It’s Late in the Evening*

LateNightPlenty of real and fictional crime happens in broad daylight. But most people associate crime with night. We’re more vulnerable at night; and, since a lot of people are at home then, public areas are less populated. So there’s no safety in numbers, so to speak. And those places that are late-night magnets (clubs, bars and pubs, etc.) have their own dangers.

It’s not surprising when you think about it that a lot of fictional crime takes place at night. There are far too many examples of this for me to include in this one post. I’m sure you’ll be able to add more than I could think of, anyway.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, Hercule Poirot is taking a cruise of the Nile. Also on the cruise are Simon Doyle and his bride Linnet Ridgeway Doyle. On the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. The first theory is that her former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort is the killer. She certainly had motive, as she and Simon were engaged before he met Linnet. But it’s soon proven that Jackie couldn’t have committed the murder, so Poirot has to consider all of the other passengers. One important part of this investigation is finding out exactly what everyone was doing on the night of the murder. Without giving away spoilers, I can say that the ship was quite active, even late at night. I know, I know, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.

In John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Murder, Reverend Dodd, vicar of St. Michael’s-on-the-Cliff, is having dinner with his friend Dr. Pendrill. Their pleasant evening is interrupted when Pendrill is summoned to Greylings, the home of the Tregarthan family. Family patriarch Julius Tregarthan has been shot in his sitting room. Inspector Bigswell and his team are called in and begin to investigate. Interestingly, they find that three shots were fired through the open sitting-room window. Each shot came from a slightly different angle. What’s more, some money is missing from Tregarthan’s wallet. One of the tasks the police face is finding out exactly what all of those involved in the case were doing at the time of the murder. Matters aren’t made any easier by the fact that most of the people concerned were coming or going from somewhere. Although the investigation itself doesn’t occur only at night, a lot of the activity the police (and the vicar) look into does.

Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions concerns three young men: Axel Frimann, Philip Reilly and Jon Moreno. Jon has recently been released from a mental hospital after a bout with severe anxiety problems, and it’s thought that some relaxation and a change of scenery will do him good. He and the other two take a cabin for a weekend at Dead Water Lake, and all starts out well enough. Late one night, the three young men go out on the lake in a boat. Only two come back. Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jakob Skarre investigate, and try to get as much information as they can from the two survivors. In the meantime, the body of a teenager is found in Glitter Lake. So Sejer and Skarre take on that case as well. As it turns out, the tragedies are connected and in both instances, finding out the truth means tracing a series of events that happened late at night. I know, I know, fans of Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride).

Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar introduces readers to Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney. After a particularly difficult case, she decides to take a break and visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse in Chiang Mai. Late one night, Didi’s partner Nou is murdered outside a club. Not long after that, Didi himself is shot. The official police account is that Didi murdered Nou; when the police came to arrest him, Didi turned dangerous, leaving the officers no choice but to shoot him. Keeney doesn’t believe any of this, and determines to clear her friend’s name. The trail leads to the Thai sex trade and to child trafficking. And a lot of both the criminal activity and Keeney’s investigation take place late at night. That makes sense, too, since that’s when many Thai bars and clubs do most of their business.

Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter features one very memorable night. Callum MacLean is a Glasgow-based freelance professional killer. He’s got a good reputation, so he’s an obvious choice when Peter Jamieson needs to ‘solve a problem.’ Jamieson is a ‘rising star’ in the criminal underworld. He’s noticed that small-time dealer and criminal Lewis Winter has been trying to make his own name. If he succeeds, this will cause real problems for Jamieson and his right-hand man John Young. So they hire MacLean to deal with Winter. One night, Winter and his girlfriend Zara Cope go to a club called Heavenly. Winter has far too much to drink, which doesn’t particularly bother Cope, since she’s having quite a good time with the evening’s ‘conquest’ Stewart Macintosh. She and Macintosh decide to take Winter home and spend the rest of the night together, since Winter will be oblivious anyway. They go ahead with their plan, and that’s when Maclean and his partner put their own plan into action.

And then there’s Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover. She’s a retired teacher who has regular bouts with insomnia. So she often goes for late-night walks, and seems to do her best thinking when everyone else is sleeping. In Pretty is as Pretty Dies, she investigates the murder of malicious real estate developer Parke Stockard, and it’s not an easy case. So one night, she decides to go down to the lake behind her house and sit for a while to think things out. She’s doing exactly that when she’s shoved from behind and almost drowns in the lake. Fortunately, the man next door Miles Bradford sees her distress before it’s too late and rescues her. For both of them, that’s more than enough for one night’s work.

There’s just something about those late-night hours that lends itself to crime. I know I’ve only touched on a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight.


Happy Birthday, Mr. Clapton!!


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Bude, Karin Fossum, Malcolm Mackay

15 responses to “It’s Late in the Evening*

  1. One of my all-time favorite mysteries, Margot, takes place during the course of a single night. In Fredric Brown’s Night of the Jabberwock, we meet Doc Stoeger, the editor of a very small town’s weekly newspaper. Putting the latest edition of the paper to bed one night, he is lamenting the fact that he never has any real NEWS to put in the paper. (The current lead is an article about a local rummage sale.) That night, all sorts of frightening and dangerous events – gangsters coming through town, several murders, someone escaping from the local asylum – all happen in ways that involve and imperil Doc. Not the least puzzling is the appearance of a little man who claims that Lewis Carroll’s stories were based on reality – and he can take Doc “through the looking glass” into a horrifying reality. But this is no fantasy – it’s a brilliant mystery, and Doc will have plenty of news for the next issue of the paper…IF he can survive the night…

    • Les – That’s a great example of what I had in mind with this post, Les. ANd I do like Fredric Brown’s work a lot. Sometimes it’s best to be careful what you wish for…

  2. We do tend to feel safer in the daylight. I guess it’s because we can see our surroundings better and think we can protect ourselves more. A mystery set at night is always a good thing. 🙂

  3. I recently read Maria Lang’s A Wreath for the Bride, in which a young woman is murdered just before she is due to get married. It’s a Swedish crime books, and her late-night murder has a particularly creepy feel because it is the height of the summer, and it is only dark there for a very short time, there is midsummer light and it never gets truly dark…. It gives a very unusual atmosphere.

  4. In the last three or four books I’ve read the crime was committed off camera, at night, and the bodies discovered in the daylight. Although, The Seventh Thunder has a vicious crime that takes place at night, in a motel room, and a suicide committed at night and videotaped. Hey, there’s a post idea. Crimes caught on tape.

    • Thanks for that idea, Sue. I’ll have to think about that one! And thanks for mentioning The Seventh Thunder. It’s one I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard good things about it.

  5. Thanks for including me in this great selection of books, Margot! There’s just something about the late-night setting that makes the perfect backdrop for crime, isn’t there?

  6. I think it is reading so much crime fiction (and watching that type of TV shows) that causes me to be reluctant to be out at night.

    • Interesting point, Tracy! Reading a lot of crime fiction certainly makes a person more keenly aware of what can go horribly wrong. And so much of it happens at night…

  7. Pingback: I’m Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

  8. Col

    Struggling of examples myself. Loved the Lewis Winter book.Time to read the last in the series I think
    I have Gaudy Night on the shelves – but have no idea what the title indicates! Is it relatable?

    • Col – Gaudy Night refers to the Gaudy Festival and dinner at the fictitious Oxford college that one of Sayers’ sleuths Harriet Vane attended. When she goes back there as an alumna, all sorts of unpleasantness happens. There are some pretty scary events in the novel, and yes, some of them do take place at night. I’m glad you mentioned this one. I’ll be keen to know what you think of it if you get to it.

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