Now Paul is a Real Estate Novelist*

Real EstateIf you’ve ever moved house (and most of us have), you know what a complicated, exhausting and sometimes thoroughly frustrating process it is. But there are plenty of people who make their living in that industry. Yes, I’m talking about house agents. The real estate business is a fixture in most places, and those who represent buyers and sellers can (when times are good and the property is of value) make a lot of money.

Real estate/house agents also play roles in crime fiction. After all, fictional characters buy and sell homes too. And sometimes those homes have secrets, and so do the people who move into them.

There are several house agents in Agatha Christie’s stories. For example, in Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Littlegreen House in the village of Market Basing at the request of wealthy Emily Arundell. She’s worried that someone in her family may be trying to kill her, and wants Poirot to find out who it is. But by the time Poirot and Hastings get to Market Basing, it’s too late: Miss Arundell has died. No-one in Miss Arundell’s family or household knows of her concern, so Poirot needs a pretext for visiting the house. He goes to the office of Messrs. Gabler and Stretcher, who have Littlegreen House on their books. Here’s what Mr. Gabler says about the property:

‘Ah! Littlegreen House – there’s a property! An absolute bargain. Only just come into the market. I can tell you, gentlemen, we don’t often get a house of that class going at the price…Yes, we shan’t have Littlegreen long in our books.’

Anyone who’s ever had dealings with real estate people will find this kind of patter familiar. I know, I know, fans of The Man in the Brown Suit.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science-fiction writer Zack Walker is increasingly concerned about the safety of his family. They live in the city, and Walker thinks they would be much safer in suburbia. So after being enticed by some attractive newspaper ads, Walker convinces his wife Sarah to at least look at Valley Forest Estates, a new housing development. When they get to the sales office, they’re even more drawn in by the sales representative, who gets them excited about the extra space, the ground-floor laundry room and more. It’s not long before the Walker family is settled into their new home. And that’s when the trouble begins. First, Walker happens to witness an argument between one of Valley Forest’s executives and local environmentalist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker discovers Spender’s body near a local creek. He ends up getting far more involved in this case than he ever intended; he also learns that life in suburbia is no safer than life in the city…

Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder introduces readers to Verity Long, who serves as research assistant to famous novelist Kathleen ‘K.D.’ Davenport. The arrangement has been working out so well that Long has decided to move to a nicer home than the one she currently has. So, she works with a house agent to find the right place. One afternoon, she and the agent visit a likely possibility. Long is exploring the house when she discovers the body of famous TV presenter Jaynee ‘Jay-Jay’ Johnson. Since Long found the body, DI Jerry Farish considers her (at least at first) to be a ‘person of interest.’ Soon enough, she’s able to convince him that she had nothing to do with the murder. But she remains interested in the case, since she’s involved. What’s more, it may be quite useful as the basis for one of her boss’ plots at some point. So Long does some of her own investigation.

Sometimes fictional real estate professionals find themselves on the wrong end of a murder weapon. For instance, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, we meet Parke Stockard. She’s a beautiful and very successful real estate developer who’s recently moved to the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. Soon enough, the residents discover that she is malicious and exploitative, and it’s not long before she manages to alienate just about everyone in town. So there are several suspects to consider when she is found murdered one afternoon. Retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover discovers the body and decides to investigate the death, mostly to show her son (and anyone else who might wonder!) that she’s not ready to be ‘put out to pasture’ yet.

And then there’s Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House. In that novel, Stockholm house agent Hans Vannerberg tells his wife Pia that he’s going out to look at a house for a client, and will be back soon. When he doesn’t return, Pia gets anxious and finally calls in the police. Vannerberg’s body is found in the home of Ingrid Olssen, who’s been in a local hospital recovering from surgery. DCI Conny Sjöberg and his team face several puzzling questions in this case. First, why was Vannerberg at Olssen’s home, when she wasn’t selling her house and in fact, claimed not to know him? And who would have wanted to kill a man who had a loving marriage, a successful business (with no hint of financial wrongdoing) and no criminal associations? In the end, the detective team finds that this murder is connected to other crimes and is linked to the past.

The real estate profession gets quite a different treatment in Phil Hogan’s A Pleasure and a Calling. William Heming is not the kind of man you really notice very much. He’s the local real estate agent who’s sold

‘…properties on every street in town.’

Most people don’t think much about Heming, and they certainly don’t know that he’s kept keys to all of the homes he’s sold. Heming takes a personal interest in all of the villagers and their doings, and keeps his eye on them. Then, the town is shaken by the discovery of a dead body in a backyard. Heming is just as concerned as anyone. If too much comes out, then everyone will know that selling houses isn’t the only interest he has…

It can be exciting to contemplate a new home, with all of the latest conveniences, in just the right place. But if you do consider a move, just be careful with whom you deal…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Piano Man.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Carin Gerhardsen, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Linwood Barclay, Lynda Wilcox, Phil Hogan

32 responses to “Now Paul is a Real Estate Novelist*

  1. Great piece, Margot offering food for thought!

  2. Keishon

    And then there’s Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House.

    I read that one and enjoyed it. I’m had pressed to find any real estate agents I’ve run across in my reading, Margot. No surprise to see Agatha Christie mentioned again. She wrote about almost everybody, right? 😉

    • Keishon – I’m glad you enjoyed The Gingerbread Hose. I really like the detective team in that novel very much, and I hope to see them again. And you’re right: Christie took on all sorts of different character types, occupations and so on. It’s part of the reason I admire her work so much.

  3. As always you’ve chosen some cracking examples and I won’t look at an estate agent in the same way since being chilled by Mr Hemingway!

  4. Mr. Heming sounds scary. Sounds like one to add to my TBR list. 🙂 And thanks for this mention–have a happy weekend, Margot!

  5. Having just bought a flat,I’m still recovering from my experience with property professionals…but in fictional terms, one crime novel featuring an estate agent that I’d strongly recommend is Julian Symons’ The Players and the Game, an excellent mystery inspired by a real life case.

    • Thank you, Martin, for that suggestion. And I also appreciate the nudge about Symons because I must put one of his novels in the spotlight and still haven’t. Wishing you well as you recover from your home purchasing experience!

  6. I think it is brilliant where you get your ideas from! You take a concept, and trace it through several storylines. That is GOOD reasoning and analysis!


  7. I did so enjoy Phil Hogan’s book, with its very self-serving and convincing estate agent Mr. Heming… And yes, I’ve had lots of experience with estate agents, not all of them pleasant. So definitely a profession worthy of crime fiction.

    • I think it fits right into the genre too, Marina Sofia. And you’re right about Mr. Heming. He’s very convincing and self-serving as well. I think the book is quite well-done. As to real estate people, well, not all of them are the professional, hard-working pleasant people we would like them to be…

  8. Grear post, Margot! A subject close to my heart. Moving certainly is stressful, bringing up all sorts of conflict, past, present and future: ghosts, leaving old ties, new neighbours… We moved a lot when I was younger. I hope that where we live now we are able to stay settled for a long time!

    • I hope so, too, D.S. It’s always stressful and you’re right that there’s very often a lot of conflict involved. And I hadn’t even thought about the ghosts and the neighbours. All sorts of issues can arise there, and of course, there are lots of possibilities for the crime writer, too…

  9. I especially like the story of that last one! I always wonder about how much trust we are willing to put into certain professions – we willingly give the keys to our house to real estate types without knowing much about them and even promise to stay out of the house while they tromp through. Yikes.

    • Yikes indeed, Jan! It is amazing (and troubling) to think about how much trust we put in real estate people. The same goes for accountants, attorneys and banking professionals. They all know so much about us…

  10. Col

    Hogan’s book was enjoyable……. and unsettling!

  11. Another fan of Mr Heming here! I reckon next time I move house, the first thing I’ll do is change the locks! 😉

  12. I love moving houses – we have moved quite a few times – the house we are in must hold a record – we have lived here for 5 years. One house we bought – was built into the side of a hill – so the bottom level was effectively under ground. In the process of moving in we discovered a “box room” a hidden chamber then went through the middle of the house ( we couldn’t work out its purpose) and a safe built into the foundations. The real estate agent neve mentioned these to us when we were viewing the house. And the house had ghosts – we occasionally saw a child like/female figure that often we initially mistook for one of our girls. Then realised they were out. 🙂 Another friend would not walk down the stairs – was aware of a “presence”.

  13. Justin Scott wrote a really nice short series of books in the 90s, about a realtor who investigates crimes as a sideline – Hardscape and StoneDust are two of them. They are real small-town mysteries, and very good ones at that. His profession gives Ben Abbott a good reason to know everything that is going on in town.

  14. Elizabeth’s books sound so good. I’ll have to add them to my TBR pile.

  15. I haven’t read many books featuring real estate professionals in any role. I will have to try some of these. They certainly do have easy access to homes and information.

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