Love – or at least attraction – can make a person do some strange things. Sometimes those things end up being really beneficial. For instance, a smoker who falls in love with a non-smoker may find just the motivation needed to quit. Lots of people start taking better care of themselves when they find themselves attracted to someone and that’s all to the good. But sometimes, people find themselves making changes they really don’t want to make, or that aren’t in their nature. That’s when you can get conflicts (even if they’re just internal conflicts). And that, of course, can be the stuff of interesting character development in crime fiction.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, a group of people is staying at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. Two of those people are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall and her husband Kenneth. With them are Kenneth’s daughter Linda. When they arrive, Kenneth is surprised and delighted to see an old friend, famous dress designer Rosamund Darnley. They don’t get much chance to catch up, though, before Arlena is found murdered one day. Hercule Poirot is staying at the Jolly Roger, and he works with the police to find out who the killer is. In one sub-plot of this novel, Rosamund is faced with a dilemma (or at least, it was one during this era). She has feelings for Kenneth; as it turns out, he cares for her, too. But she also has a very successful career of which she is justifiably proud. Will she give that career up for Kenneth’s sake?
More than once, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee finds himself contemplating changing his life for the sake of love. Early in this series, he’s in love with Mary Landon, a teacher at Crown Point Elementary School. It doesn’t matter to either of them that they are of very different ethnic and cultural groups. But those differences have real consequences. Mary isn’t sure she’s ready to give up her life among her family and friends in Wisconsin. If she remains on the Reservation, she’d basically be adopting Chee’s way of life, and she doesn’t know if she’s prepared to do that. On the other hand, she knows that asking Chee to leave the Reservation and live as a White person is asking too much. He contemplates it, for love of Mary. But he doesn’t know that he could leave his home and lifestyle, either. Hillerman handles this dilemma very realistically.
Fans of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe will know that in the course of An Advancement of Learning, he meets an old flame, Ellie Soper. As the series goes on, they rekindle their romance, marry, and become parents. For her sake, Pascoe makes several changes in his life; and not all of them are to Dalziel’s liking. In fact, one of the ongoing sources of tension in this series is between Dalziel and Ellie. She’s a strong political leftist and staunch feminist, not exactly views that are likely to endear her to Pascoe’s boss. And she is not one to give in easily, any more than Dalziel is.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch meets Eleanor Wish in the course of the events of The Black Echo. At that time, she’s an FBI agent involved in an investigation that’s related to one Harry is pursuing. The two fall in love and marry, and for Eleanor’s sake, Harry tries to make some changes in his life. For Eleanor it’s a different matter, though. She finds that the changes she makes to her life for Harry’s sake are too much for her. It isn’t that they don’t love each other or care about each other; rather, they are, as Connelly puts it, on different planes.
When Angela Savage’s PI sleuth Jayne Keeney first meets Rajiv Patel in The Half Child, he is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop. The two happen to meet when Jayne goes into the bookshop, and it’s not long before they begin a romance. They’re very different people, from different cultures, so building a life together isn’t as always as easy as they’d like. Each has to make changes and adjust to the other. For instance, in The Dying Beach, they’re taking some time off in Krabi, when one of their guides dies in suspicious circumstances. Jayne is all for staying as long as it takes to find out the truth behind the death. Rajiv wants them to consider the cost (since they are not getting paid for this case) and the potential for lost revenue from other cases. What’s more, he’s none too happy because he thinks she’s made the choice to stay on without discussing it with him. They do settle the matter, but it’s interesting to see how she is still working on becoming more interdependent (instead of independent). For his part, Patel needs,
‘…to grow a thicker skin.’
Both of them find that they’re making changes they never thought they would.
Of course, not all changes have happy results. And there’s plenty of domestic noir that attests to that. Just as one example, there’s Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson make the long journey from her native Scotland to his native Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. Joanna’s already had to make some major changes in her life since they’ve gotten together; it was, for instance, Alistair’s idea that they should become parents, and Joanna completely changed her life to become a mother. Now, she’s even changing her country of residence. The whole point of this, from Alistair’s perspective, is for him to gain custody of his teenage daughter Chloe, who lives in Victoria with her mother. When they arrive in Melbourne, they begin the long drive to their destination. During the trip, they face every loving parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media makes much of the case, with a lot of sympathy for the family. Then, little questions begin to arise about, especially, Joanna. Might she or Alistair have had something to do with Noah’s disappearance? As the novel goes on, we see just how many changes Joanna made to her life for Alistair’s sake.
It’s interesting how motivating it can be when one’s in love (or at least, attracted). People give up bad habits, lose weight, take up hobbies, and do any number of things for the other person’s sake. Sometimes it works out really well. Other times…not so much.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls.