At 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.