Friday Night Arrives Without a Suitcase*

LuggageAny sort of travel involves luggage. Whether it’s a small ‘weekend’ size bag, or the largest suitcase an airline allows, luggage reflects a lot about the person who owns it. For instance, some people pack very neatly…and some don’t. And people tend to pack things in a certain way, even given today’s tight restrictions on what passengers may bring aboard a flight.

And then there’s the matter of how much you pack. Some people pack very heavily, and bring everything that they might need. It means they have to check luggage and get it wherever they’re going, but it also means they’re prepared for a lot of eventualities. Others pack very light. That’s the way I am. I only bring exactly what I need, and I don’t check my luggage through – ever. That’s got its advantages and disadvantages, and it does raise some eyebrows. If you’ll indulge me, here’s one example. I recently returned from a (roughly) week-long trip to New Zealand. When I returned, I went through Customs and Immigration at Los Angeles.  After having my passport stamped, etc., I started to leave the secured area, since all I had brought was one small pilot-sized suitcase and my handbag. One of the security people came over to me and we had this conversation:

Security Officer: ‘Can I help you?’
Me: ‘Oh, no, thanks. I’m all done the process – just leaving.’
Security Officer: ‘But you have to get your checked luggage from the carousel, and that has to go through security, too.’
Me: ‘Thanks – I don’t have any checked luggage.’
Security Officer Looking at my suitcase and handbag: ‘Are you sure? Because if you do, you’re going to have to get it and send it through security.’
Me: ‘No, this is all I have.’


The security officer was doing her job, and doing it courteously, but she must have wondered at a person who spends a week in another country and has so little luggage.

There are good reasons to be very careful about luggage. Don’t believe me? All you have to do is read some crime fiction. There are a lot of examples of luggage that turns out to contain all sorts of things.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot is on board the famous Orient Express on a three-day trip through Europe. On the second night, Samuel Ratchett, one of the other passengers, is stabbed. At the request of Poirot’s friend M. Bouc, who is a director of the company that owns the train, he agrees to investigate. The idea is for him to find out who the killer is before the train reaches the next border, so that he can hand the murderer over to the police. At one point, it’s deemed appropriate to do a search of the passenger’s luggage, and it’s quite surprising what turns up in two particular suitcases…

In John Alexander Graham’s Something in the Air, Professor Jake Landau is on a plane from Boston to New York with his friend and attorney Martin Ross. They’ve been working through the details of Landau’s divorce from his wife, and both are tired just from that process. All of that’s forgotten when a bomb goes off in the plane. Six passengers are killed, including Ross. Landau survives, and decides to try to find out who killed his friend. The only problem is, he’s stymied right from the beginning by airline policy and FBI security regulations. But Landau persists, and finds out that the bombing is related to a powerful and far-reaching drugs ring. And how did the bomb get on the airplane? In a suitcase that’s later stolen by the bomber just before he is killed, too. As an aside, this novel was published in 1970, long before today’s luggage screening protocols. Crime writers who write contemporary crime novels would find it difficult to re-create that sort of scenario.

Megan Abbott’s historical novel Bury Me Deep is the story of Marion Seeley, whose doctor husband Everett has to leave the country when his cocaine habit costs him his medical license. He sees that his wife is set up in an apartment in Phoenix, with a clerical job at the prestigious Werden Clinic. At first, all goes well enough. Marion settles in and forms friendships with a Werden nurse, Louise Mercer, and Louise’s roommate Ginny Hoyt. Before she knows it, Marion is drawn into their world of parties, drugs, and dubious ‘friends.’ As she slips closer and closer to the edge, Marion gets more deeply involved in that world. It all leads to tragedy for those involved. Interestingly enough, this novel is loosely based on the 1933 case of Winnie Ruth Judd, who was accused of killing two of her friends. The bodies were later discovered in trunks that Judd took with her to Los Angeles after the murders…

In Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase, we are introduced to Copenhagen Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. One day she gets a call from her friend Karin Kongsted. She wants Nina to go to the train station and pick up a suitcase that’s waiting in one of the lockers. She seems upset about the suitcase, but won’t tell Nina what’s wrong, nor why she needs the suitcase. Nina agrees to get the luggage and goes to the train station. To her shock, she finds that the suitcase contains a three-year-old boy. He’s drugged and dazed, but he is alive. Immediately she tries to reach Karin, but she can’t make contact. In the meantime, Sigita Ramoškienė, a young Lithuanian mother, faces every parent’s worst nightmare when her three-year-old son Mikas goes missing. The police aren’t very helpful; in fact, they suspect her of having something to do with Mikas’ disappearance. So she determines to find out on her own what happened to him. The trail leads her to Copenhagen, and it’s not long before we learn that the three-year-old boy that Nina Borg found is, in fact, Mikas. Now, each in her own way, Sigita and Nina work to find out who abducted Mikas and why. In the end, and after a brutal murder, they discover the truth.

And then there’s Elly Griffiths’ The Zig Zag Girl. It’s 1950, and magician Max Mephisto is on the circuit with other magicians, fortune-tellers, and other carnival people. He’s called in to help when the body of a young woman is found at Brighton’s Left Luggage Department. The body has been cut up in what DI Edgar Stephens thinks is a macabre re-enactment of one of Mehpisto’s illusions. So he’s hoping Mephisto will have some insight into who might be responsible for the murder.

Of course, luggage doesn’t always contain such horrible things as bodies and bombs. For instance, in Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is visiting his partner Alex Canyon in Hawai’i. He’s at the airport, preparing for the return to Canada, when he meets an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be archivist Walter Angel. Angel slips a cryptic message, a lot like a treasure map, into Quant’s hand luggage before Quant boards his flight. Shortly afterwards, Angel is murdered. Quant follows up on the clue he was given, and connects the killing to some dark secrets right in his own Saskatchewan.

You see what I mean about luggage? You’ll want to be very careful about yours, and don’t leave it unattended…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Anthony Bidulka, Elly Griffiths, John Alexander Graham, Lene Kaaberbøl, Megan Abbott

26 responses to “Friday Night Arrives Without a Suitcase*

  1. I love that: as a frequent flyer/traveller I too have learnt to pack really lightly, although what I do hate about hand luggage only are the restrictions on liquids/make-up/gels etc. Much, much harder when I have to pack for the whole family when we go on holiday though!
    Great topic for crime fiction too. I remember a classic Simenon novel, The Hanged Man of St. Pholien, where Maigret is almost uncharacteristically mischievous and, upon noticing a fellow traveller being obsessively worried about his suitcase, swaps suitcases and finds himself in a fine pickle…

    • Oh, I agree completely about the restrictions on liquids, gels, and the like, Marina Sofia. In fact, I invested in a set of small travel bottles just because of that. And yes, it’s even harder to make it all work if you travel with a family. Fortunately, at only 1.5m tall, at least I know my clothes won’t take up too much room… 😉
      Thanks for the Maigret suggestion, too. It’s a pitch-perfect example of the kind of thing I had in mind with this post.

  2. Margot, I love what Poirot makes of the passengers luggage in Death in the Clouds! One look at the list of what’s in their suitcases and Hercule knows who the killer is. He just has to prove it!

    • Oh, absolutely, BK! It’s such a clever way to give the reader clues, and give Poirot the information he needs. At the same time, it gives us some character depth. Each passenger’s luggage shows a little of what he or she is like.

  3. I’m hopeless at packing – I have to take everything and then a bit more on the just-in-case principle! Lord Peter Wimsey may not be my favourite ‘tec, but he is the proud possessor of one of the best short story titles – The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag – only it’s not a cat… as the policeman so eloquently says “Ow, Gawd! It’s curly – it’s a woman’s!”…

    • You probably never find yourself without something you really need, FictionFan! And thanks very much for mentioning the Sayers story. And what a thing to find in a suitcase! I love that comment! Priceless!

  4. I’m with you on travelling light. I heard a great saying years ago which is my advice whenever travelling: “Take half the luggage you think you’ll need and twice the money”. I learnt my lesson in the late 1990s when arriving in London with a huge suitcase that I had to lug on the tube at rush hour, then along the crowded street to my hotel. I never again travelled that way. I travel with a cabin-size bag now, but I still check it, because I don’t want to have to carry it round the airport for hours.
    The rule regarding liquids on board is a nonsense.

    • I wonder about that too, Caron. I really do. And you’ve given such a wonderful mental picture of trudging through the streets, weighed down with luggage, to get to your hotel. That’s exactly the sort of thing I try to avoid. As you say, checking luggage, no matter what size it is, means that you don’t have to take it through airports, and there’s something to that. It’s far better than bringing a huge suitcase and trying to get it past the gate staff and onto the plane. I’ve seen people try to bring full-size, completely stuffed suitcases on as cabin baggage.

  5. Col

    Struggling for examples of my own and I’ve not read any of yours either! More caffeine needed!

  6. Oh I prefer to travel light and have the whole airport thing down to a tee – even trying to dress in clothes where I won’t have to remove belts, cardigans, shoes etc… I thought I was going to have one for you this time with the Zig-Zag Girl and then I read to the end of the post and you’d got it covered!

    • I’m the same way, Cleo. I dress for any trip, too, so to speak. It’s easier than having to remove a belt, jacket, whatever. And I’m glad you were thinking of The Zig Zag Girl. It’s a good read, I think.

  7. I am very envious of your ability to pack so light, Margot! I have tried but I’m a worrier. I always think ‘what if I need ….’ Perhaps I should read more books involving cir and luggage, that might put a stop to my luggage hoarding 😉

    • Everyone packs differently, D.S.; at least you aren’t caught without when you do take a trip. And reading crime fiction is enough to make anyone keep a close watch on those suitcases… 😉

  8. I have GOT to read Megan Abbott next year. Thanks, Margot.

  9. I have a suitcase story to tell you. My best pal and her husband went to Turkey a few years ago. While there they bought lots of stuff so had to buy another suitcase. They got one in the market at a good rate. A few weeks after they were home their house was burgled. What was taken? Nothing but the suitcase. Something odd there. Nothing was done about it as far as my memory goes. Police couldn’t make sense of it. So…

    • Oh, that is an unusual suitcase story, Jan! It really doesn’t make much sense that someone would take a suitcase without anything in it. That’s a really intriguing mystery!

      That aside, I’m sorry your friend and her husband were burgled. I’ve had that happen and it’s a really sick, scary feeling.

  10. Endlessly waiting for luggage to come through on the belt at airports. Endless circumstances of lost luggage.
    Endless cases of mistaken ownership of luggage.
    Endlessly waiting as the customs guys go through luggage, again.
    Endless wondering if it’s my face…I think I look like a criminal.
    Carry on is the answer, but then they (them, customs or whoever is watching through the mirrors) think that perhaps you have left your luggage behind for a reason. A terrorist perhaps?
    Travel light, travel naked perhaps? Nope, you must be guilty. Oh dear, waiting for the rubber gloves.
    I think I’ll pass on this trip thanks. 🙂

    • It’s quite true, Jane. No matter how you pack (light, heavy, whatever), you’re going to run into some kind of snarl as you go through security and luggage checks. As I say, I’ve gotten all sorts of raised eyebrows and funny expressions because of how lightly I pack. And more than once I’ve gotten pulled aside for extra security checks despite (because of?) how little I bring with me. For those who pack more heavily, as you say, there’s the waiting for luggage, the risk of lost or mis-identified luggage, extra inspection, the whole thing. And that’s not to mention the way luggage is handled in cargo bays. Several people I know have experienced the broken-luggage-but-it’s-not-our-fault reaction from airlines. It’s one of the advantages of reading about faraway places: you get the experience without the luggage hassles…

  11. The Boy in the Suitcase gave me the shivers – and when I went to Copenhagen railway station not long after reading it, I got quite nervous going to the lost luggage. I looked round very carefully…

  12. Another great topic. It’s a scene from a movie rather than a novel that I recall, and I won’t spoil it by giving away too much detail, but I recall the suitcase in the Stanley Kubrick movie The Killing, and what was in it, and the reminder that things can go so terribly wrong.

  13. I thought I had already commented on this post because I love the song. Several books here I will be trying, especially Zig Zag Girl. I have had The Boy in the Suitcase forever and still haven’t read it, partially because it is in ebook format.

    I envy you being able to pack so light. I am not good at that at all. I took a carryon last time I flew, and had to give it up because they ran out of room. So it was checked anyway.

    • Oh, that must have been frustrating, Tracy. I know that airlines sometimes do that when they have a fully booked flight. As to books…I think you’d like The Zig Zag Girl. Of course, I am biased, since I am a fan of Elly Griffiths. And I hope you’ll enjoy The Boy in the Suitcase. Oh, and I love that song, too!

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s