But I Can Feel it Coming*

PredictingAt this time of year, a lot of pundits make all sorts of predictions about the coming year. It might be about an election, a sport team or something else; whatever it is, people do like to predict. That’s what betting is all about, if you think about it.

Those predictions don’t come from mystical revelations – well, not credible predictions, as a rule. They come from dozens of sometimes-subtle clues, patterns and so on that we notice. Experience also plays a role, as does certain knowledge. For example, if you’re a chemistry expert, you can probably predict what the outcome will be if two particular chemicals are mixed. A good lawyer finds out as much as possible about the opposing side’s strategies, patterns and so on in order to predict what the other side will do, so as to win a case.

Sleuths and criminals, both real and fictional, depend on those patterns. Police, for instance, sometimes use patterns of known criminals in their investigations. Criminals use patterns, both subtle and obvious, to predict when people are most likely to be vulnerable.

We see both kinds of this kind of prediction in crime fiction. For instance, in G.K. Chesterton’s The Blue Cross, Father Brown is bringing a large silver cross set with sapphires to show to a large gathering of priests. At the same time, a French detective, Valentin, is pursuing a notorious thief named Hercule Flambeau. At one point, Valentin stops at a restaurant and places his order. That’s when he notices that the salt-cellar is full of sugar and the sugar-basin is full of salt. And then there’s the matter of the soup that’s been thrown against the wall. At first, he doesn’t understand the significance of these odd things. But as it turns out, they are important, and they reflect the ability to predict what someone might do, based on all sorts of psychological and other knowledge.

There’s more than one kind of prediction in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington. Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way by train to visit her friend Jane Marple. When another train passes by, going in the same direction, Mrs. McGillicuddy happens to look up and into the windows of the passing train. That’s when she sees a woman being strangled. She tries to raise the alarm, but at first, nobody believes her. There’s been no report of a missing person, and no dead body has been found. But Miss Marple knows her friend, and takes her seriously. She uses a map and a train trip of her own to predict where the body might have ended up: on the grounds of Rutherford Hall. The property is owned by the Crackenthorpe family, and Miss Marple manipulates the situation so that her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, gets a position there. Sure enough, the body of a woman is discovered, and Miss Marple works with Lucy and, later, the police, to find out who the woman was and who killed her. In a sub-plot of the novel, Lucy attracts the interest of more than one member of the family, and Miss Marple makes (but doesn’t share) a prediction about which one Lucy will choose.

In Michael Redhill’s/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling, we are introduced to Port Dundas, Ontario police detective Hazel Micallef. She and her team when eighty-one-year-old Delia Chandler is killed. On the surface, there doesn’t seem any motive for murder; the victim was terminally ill, and didn’t have any fortune to leave. So there wouldn’t have been a financial reason to get her out of the way quickly. The team is just looking into this case when there’s another death. Again, it’s a murder that doesn’t seem to have a motive. And in both cases, there is evidence that the killer was admitted to the house and that the victims were willing participants in their own deaths. It’s now clear that this team is up against a killer who’s struck before and is likely to strike again. So they’ll have to find out what the pattern is in order to prevent another killing. It turns out that, in order to predict what the murderer will do next, they have to connect these deaths with some others that have already happened in other parts of Canada.

Kanae Minato’s Confessions introduces readers to middle-school teacher Yūko Moriguchi. As the novel begins, she addresses her class, in part to announce her resignation. But she has another reason to do so. Her four-year-old daughter Manami recently died in what police originally thought was a tragic accident. But she knows it was murder; what’s more, she knows who was responsible: two of her students. She also knows that the Japanese judicial system cannot be trusted to dispense an appropriate punishment, since the criminals are juveniles. So, she has come up with her own plan to get justice. She doesn’t tell her students exactly what she’s planned, but her intent is clear. She duly leaves her position, and a new teacher takes over. At first, it seems that life will get back to something like normal. But it’s not long before things begin to spin out of control for some of the students. And as the novel goes on, we learn exactly what Yūko Moriguchi planned. Without spoiling the story, I can say that her knowledge of the way middle-school students are, and her particular knowledge of these students, help her predict what will happen.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse. Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis when the body of Angel Macritchie is discovered. The murder closely resembles a murder that Macleod is investigating, and it’s hoped that he can get some clues to the killer if he works with the Lewis police on this new death. For Macleod, this is a homecoming, since he was brought up on the island; even the victim was someone from his past. So, part of the plot concerns his reunion with some of the people he knew as a boy. As it turns out, the key to this murder involves Macleod facing his own history. It also involves the ability to predict reactions (can’t say more without a spoiler).

You may or may not believe in psychics or psychic predictions. But we all do predict things, even when we’re not aware of it. And sometimes those predictions turn out to be very useful.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s Take it on the Run.


Filed under Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Inger Ash Wolfe, Kanae Minato, Michael Redhill, Peter May

31 responses to “But I Can Feel it Coming*

  1. J.K. Robb’s (Nora Roberts), Visions of Death, springs to mind. As does Roy Johansen’s Deadly Visions. Both excellent crime novels. Well worth the read.

  2. Loved this post! Fascinated by the GK Chesterton novel – I’ll have to seek it out! Some great examples, like C

    • The Blue Cross really is a solid story, Crimeworm. It’s a short story in a collection called The Innocence of Father Brown, and is where we first meet Hercule Flambeau. Just on that score it’s worth the read, in my opinion.

  3. Confessions – sorry, cold fingers hitting the wrong buttons!

    • Oh, thanks for the clarification, Crimeworm. Confessions is a dark, uneasy book. It’s not one that you’d choose if you want a nice, light, escapist read. But it offers an uncompromising look at the world of young people, and has quite a lot of ‘food for thought’ in it.

  4. megwolfewrites

    Hi Margot–the concept of patterns is one I’m obsessed with, since my own sleuth is a former editor of design magazines, one who had become a keen trendspotter. It is this skill that helps her to analyze everything connected to a crime. I haven’t read The Calling, and will do so post haste!

    • The Calling really is an excellent book, in my opinion, Meg. I recommend it. And thanks for mentioning your Charlotte Anthony novels. I love it that she puts those professional skills of hers to use as she investigates. It makes a lot of sense to me that an editor for a design magazine would need to have really strong trendspotting skiills. Nice touch!

  5. Keishon

    I bought Kanae Minato’s Confessions a long time ago. Each time you mention it, I keep meaning to put in my list for reading. I’ll make sure to add it to some of the newer books I want to read next year. It’s so intriguing and I bought it because based on your recommendation, Margot, so looking forward to reading it.

  6. Margot: This comment covers the Russell Quant series by Anthony Bidulka. Through the series Russell uses his knowledge of the gay community as a gay man to predict what gay men will do in situations.

    • You’re quite right, Bill. Quant does use his knowledge of the gay community and its patterns to predict what gay men are likely to do and where they’re likely to go. And that knowledge does prove useful.

  7. Margot, I’m so curious to read Christie’s “4:50 From Paddington.” What an ingenious plot!

    • It really is an ingenious plot, Prashant. And it includes some really well-drawn characters (at least, I think they are). If you get a chance to read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  8. I’m on a Nelson DeMille binge to read all of the John Corey novels. The one I’m reading now, “The Lion’s Game,” predicts new attacks on the World Trade Center towers after the 93 bombing failed to bring down the tower. The book was published September 2000. It’s eerie to see a prediction come true within a crime (or any genre) novel, but even more disturbing to see something like this mirrored in real life.

  9. Woo, I’ve read all bar one of these, this time – I think that’s a record! And just a teaser in return – just finished the new Peter May, ‘Coffin Road’, and it’s great! And part of it depends on being able to predict how… nah! I’ll leave everyone to find out for themselves… 😉

    • Oooh, that sounds great, FictionFan. I’ll have to contact my credit card company and see if I can get permission to add Coffin Road to the TBR 😉 – Sounds like it’s a great example of what I had in mind with this post.

  10. Elly Griffiths has a great character in Cathbad in the Ruth Galloway series, who does actually believe in the premonition side of things rather than prediction. I love reading him.

  11. Col

    The Chesterton sounds great, I did have the Father Brown stories when I was a boy, but too much time has passed to ever remember what I read and what I didn’t.

    • I actually liked that story, Col. And one nice thing about a lot of the Chesterton stories is that they’re not long. You can enjoy them as and when, as opposed to making a commitment to a long book.

  12. I like it when the predictions are plausible and as you say in real life we all make predictions based upon patterns and interestingly people’s patterns of behaviour don’t alter as much as we sometimes believe – I do love your examples, especially the Peter May.

    • You’re absolutely right, Cleo. People don’t usually change their patterns very much, so if you pay attention, it’s not hard to make predictions based on what they do. I think those sorts of predictions are quite plausible, and they can work very well in books. And I agree: the May is a solid example of that.

  13. Like Keishon, I have been meaning to read Confessions, based on your reco, Margot. Will get to it…

    • It’s not an easy book to read, Moira, but it really is one of those books that make you think. If you do get the chance to read it, I’ll be keen to know what you think of it.

  14. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…1/4/16 | Traci Kenworth

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