A lovely post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about bedrooms. Possibly more than any other room in one’s home, a bedroom is supposed to be a retreat from the world. Bedrooms also bear the marks, if you will, of their occupants more than nearly any other room. So when there’s a disappearance or murder, and police are looking for background information, bedrooms are naturally one of the first places they search.
Bedrooms are supposed to be places of safety, rest, and intimacy. But in crime fiction, at least, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Crime-fictional bedrooms can be downright dangerous.
Agatha Christie shows this in several of her stories; in fact, it’s an effort to restrain myself. Here’s just one example. In Christie’s short story The Blue Geranium, Miss Marple attends a dinner at the home of Colonel Arthur Bantry. During the meal, Bantry tells the story of George Pritchard, whose wife died of what appeared to be shock and fear. She wasn’t well to begin with, so it’s not a complete surprise. In fact, towards the end of her life, she believed that she could only be helped by psychics and seers. That’s how she met Zarida, Psychic Reader of the Future. Zarida had warned her specifically to beware of, among other things, blue geraniums, blue primroses and blue hollyhocks. Mysteriously, the flowered wallpaper in Mrs. Pritchard’s bedroom began to turn blue; the fear that caused seems to be what prompted her death. Some people say Zarida caused everything. Others blame Pritchard, saying he killed his wife. Miss Marple, though, sees things a bit differently. I know, I know, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia and of Cards on the Table.
In K.C. Constantine’s The Blank Page, Rocksburg (Pennsylvania) Police Chief Mario Balzic gets a call from Cynthia Sumner, owner of a rooming house for students who attend Conemaugh County Community College. She’s concerned because she hasn’t seen Janet Pisula, one of the residents, for a few days. Balzic agrees to look into the matter. When he does, he finds that his caller was right to be concerned. Janet’s strangled, mostly-nude body is discovered on the floor of her room. On her stomach is a blank piece of paper. Janet was a very quiet, shy student who had few friends and certainly hadn’t made enemies. She doesn’t come from money, either, so there seems no financial motive. As it turns out, a severe trauma from her past has an important role to play in what happens to Janet in this story.
Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters introduces readers to his team of DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla. Meredith Winterbottom and her two sisters, Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe, live in one of London’s historic districts, Jerusalem Lane. The residents of the lane all know each other and have typically had good relationships. Then, a development company starts to buy up Jerusalem Lane, with the goal of creating a shopping and entertainment district. Meredith refuses to sell her house; in fact, she becomes the last holdout against the company. Then, she dies of what seems like suicide, and her body is found in her bed. Brock and Kolla are called in as a matter of course, but Kolla isn’t so sure this is a suicide. Brock agrees to give her the ‘green light’ and she starts asking questions. As it turns out, there are plenty of good motives for wanting Meredith Winterbottom dead.
In one plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Dr. Raymond Akande is quite concerned about his twenty-two-year-old daughter Melanie. She hasn’t been home for a couple of days, and that’s not like her. So he asks one of his patients, DCI Reg Wexford, to check into the matter. Wexford isn’t overly worried at first, but as time goes on and Melanie still doesn’t turn up, he begins to share his doctor’s concern. When he starts to ask questions, he learns that Melanie was last seen leaving an appointment with a job counselor, Annette Bystock, at the local Employment Bureau. So Wexford tries to speak to her. But by the time he tracks her down, it’s too late: Annette has been murdered in her bedroom. Then, a body is found in a nearby wood – a body that could be Melanie’s. It turns out not to be, though, and Wexford now has three cases to solve: two murders and a disappearance.
Elliott Roosevelt (the son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) wrote a series of crime novels with his mother as the sleuth. There is evidence that these novels might have been ghost-written; but whether or not they were, they present an interesting picture of life in the White House during the Roosevelt years. In Murder in the Lincoln Bedroom, President Roosevelt is holding a top-secret meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower. Every effort is being made to ensure that no word of this meeting gets to the press (or anyone else). Then, the body of Special Counsel to the President Paul Weyrich is found in the famous Lincoln Bedroom. Keeping that story out of the press will take even more finesse now. And when it turns out that Weyrich was part of a plot to assassinate Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt knows that she will have to solve this murder in order to prevent another attempt.
And then there’s Rob Kitchin’s Stiffed. In that novel, Tadh Maguire has just started sleeping off a night of far too much to drink. He’s suddenly jolted awake by a shriek from his girlfriend Kate. Then he finds out why she’s screaming: there’s a dead man in his bed. And he knows who the dead man is. It’s Tony Marino, ‘right hand man’ to crime boss Aldo Pirelli. If Maguire calls the police, it won’t be long before Pirelli gets word of it, and of course, he’ll assume that Maguire killed his man. Not a good situation. And there’s the matter of Maguire’s likely arrest for murder. So instead of the police, Maguire calls his friend Jason Choi and asks for his help moving the body. But it’s not going to be easy. First, a couple of thugs break into Maguire’s home, obviously looking for someone or something. When one of them kills the other, this leaves Maguire and Choi with two bodies to hide. So they bring in some more friends to help. When some of those friends are abducted, things get more complicated. And when it turns out that some very dangerous people are after a lot of money that they think Maguire has, things get even worse. It’s a black comic/caper novel that all starts with an unexpected body in the bedroom.
It all just goes to show that really, no place is safe in crime fiction. Not even your own comfy bedroom. Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, please, folks, may I suggest that your next blog stop be Finding Time to Write? It’s a treasure trove of poetry, fine book reviews, and terrific ‘photos.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s All For Leyna.