I Think of Childhood Friends and the Dreams We Had*

Changes OVer LifeIf you think back to the time when you were in your teens and early twenties, there’s a good chance you’re not living the life you imagined for yourself at that time. Most of us don’t. There are all kinds of reasons for that, too. Young people tend to be idealistic, and don’t always know how life can get in the way of, well, life. And there are unexpected good things that happen, too – things that young people don’t plan on happening. People mature and evolve, too; as we get to know ourselves better, we adjust our life’s course. So perhaps it’s not always a bad thing that we aren’t the people we might have thought we would be.

The way people change over time can be really interesting in real life. It is in crime fiction, too. That element can add a layer of character development, and it can add a solid plot point.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), for instance, Hercule Poirot is hired to find the killer of famous painter Amyas Crale. The case is complicated by the fact that the murder happened sixteen years earlier. It’s made even more difficult because Crale’s wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted in connection with the case. She died a year later in prison, so she can no longer be of assistance in the case. Even at the time, she didn’t do much in the way of defending herself, so everyone has always thought she was guilty. But her daughter Carla doesn’t. So Poirot interviews the five people who were there at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each one about the events of that day. From that information, he’s able to determine who the killer was. This novel includes a ‘big reveal’ scene in which all of the suspects are gathered together. Most haven’t seen each other since the time of the murder, and it’s very interesting as we learn how much they have and haven’t changed since their younger days.

Wendy James’ The Mistake is the story of Jodie Evans Garrow. She has a good life with her successful husband Angus and two healthy children. She is content with the way things have turned out for her, until her past comes back to haunt her. Jodie’s daughter Hannah is injured and rushed to the same Sydney hospital where Jodie herself gave birth years ago to another child. She’s never told anyone about the child, not even her husband. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the baby. Jodie says that she gave the baby up for adoption, but the overcurious nurse can’t find any official adoption records. Now questions begin to come up, first privately, then quite publicly. What happened to the baby? If she is alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with it? As more and more gossip spreads around, Jodie becomes a social pariah. In the midst of all this, she has an unexpected reunion with a friend from childhood, Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. The two were inseparable until Bridie moved away, and Jodie hadn’t seen her for years. Now Bridie comes back into her life, and there’s an interesting plot thread that shows the reader how different they are to what they thought they might be.

In Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn is spending some time in Saskatoon, where her two oldest children are at school. There, she reunites with an old friend from childhood, Sally Love. They’ve been estranged since they were thirteen, when Sally’s father died and Sally went away to art school. Now Sally has become a renowned, if controversial, artist, and she’s having an exhibition at the Mendel Gallery. So Joanne decides to attend, and perhaps try to renew their friendship. The two do re-establish contact, and we see how life has worked out quite differently for them than they thought, despite Sally’s focus on her art. Then, gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered, and Sally becomes a likely suspect. It’s a difficult and very sad case with a lot of personal connections for Joanne.

Peter May’s The Blackhouse begins when Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis to help in a murder investigation. The victim is Angel Macritchie, and his murder closely resembles a murder that MacLeod is working on, so there’s a good possibility the two murders were committed by the same person. Macleod was born and raised on Lewis, so for him, this is a homecoming, albeit not one he relishes. He hasn’t seen anyone he knew as a child since he left for university, and that was how he wanted it. But now he has to renew his acquaintance with a lot of old friends, and people who weren’t friends. One important plot thread in this novel is the relationships among those people, both then and now. And it’s interesting to see how their lives have turned out, as compared to how everyone thought things might be.

In James Lee Burke’s A Morning For Flamingo, New Iberia, Louisiana, police officer Dave Robicheaux is working on building up a case against New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. In the course of this investigation, he happens to meet up again with an old flame, Bootsie Mouton Giacano. The two of them were lovers as teens, but their relationship ended when Robicheaux went to Vietnam. As they get to know each other again, we see how different their lives are to what they thought their future might be. As fans will know, they discover they still have feelings for each other, and Bootsie becomes Robicheaux’s wife in a series story arc.

It’s always interesting to think back on what we thought we might become, and what we actually have become. And it adds some interesting layers to stories, too. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Come Sail Away.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, James Lee Burke, Peter May, Wendy James

16 responses to “I Think of Childhood Friends and the Dreams We Had*

  1. Not long ago I read a friend’s book, Eclipse Lake by Mae Clair, about this very subject. The protagonist returns to his hometown, where he was a murder suspect, an ugly title that still remains in most folks’ minds. Great subject for a post, Margot.

  2. I recently read A Scandal in Belgravia by Robert Barnard – a marvellous crime-in-the-past book where an aging successful politician remembers something that happened when he was just starting out. His investigations uncover all kinds of things, and many of the characters look back on their 1950s selves and think about their dreams and ambitions and what has become of them. I think, a stellar example of what you are talking about.

    • Oh, it is, indeed, Moira. And Barnard’s work is, in general, so well-written. I like his mysteries and characters, ‘though I admit I’ve not (yet) read that one. Must do a spotlight on him at some point…

  3. Always fascinating in fiction to see a life’s baggage being briefly unpacked 🙂 I do love some of the murder in retrospect stories that Christie wrote, especially ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, though these can be rather somber.

  4. What a great topic! How about Miss Pym Disposes, where it is a old school friend who persuades Miss Pym to come and give a talk at the college where she gets embroiled in murder. That friendship is so well described. I also like the opening of Sayers’s Gaudy Night, where Harriet sees what has become of some of her contemporaries.

    • Thank you, Christine. And I love your examples, too. They’re exactly the sort of thing I had in mind when I wrote this post. I also like (in Gaudy Night) Harriet’s inner dialogue about how she will be seen by others.

  5. Col

    On a personal note, I always find it awkward seeing people from my earlier (almost previous life). I’ve always avoided school reunions and the like!

  6. Margot, you mentioned three authors whose books I most certainly want to read — Gail Bowen, Peter May, and James Lee Burke. Where am I going to find the time? What am I going to do!

    • Oh, I know exactly what you mean, Prashant! There are so many authors whose work I’ve not yet read, that I would like very much to read. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet found a professional position that pays me to spend my days just reading. And then there’s laundry, shopping, bills, housework. There should be 50 hours in a day, I sometimes think.

  7. I’ve recently read (not yet reviewed) Thursday’s Child by Nicci French where the psychotherapist returns to her home town – the collision between past and present relationships was a key part of the storyline and a theme that I find absolutely fascinating – once again I’m reminded to read The Mistake!

    • It is a really interesting theme, Cleo. And I’m very glad you mentioned the Nicci French duo. IO really must spotlight one of their books; a bit ashamed, actually, that I’ve not done that yet…

  8. Some great examples of this type of story, Margot. I have got to get to that book by Peter May.

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