Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park*

Trailer ParksCaravans, mobile homes, trailers, they’re different names for the same kind of home. Whatever you call them, these homes can move from place to place. Sometimes their owners live in a community with other trailer/caravan owners. Other times they live by themselves. Either way a trailer/caravan is a really affordable alternative to owning a home or a condominium.

There are plenty of mobile homes in crime fiction. That shouldn’t be surprising, since lots of people find them both affordable and convenient (they can be moved, after all). Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of others.

Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels will know that Chee lives in a trailer. He prefers to live more or less away from other people, in the Navajo custom, and he’s placed his trailer so that it faces east, also in the Navajo tradition. It turns out to be not such a safe place in Skinwalkers, when he finds himself the target of a would-be assassin. When a series of murders connected with the Bad Water Clinic occurs, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn looks into the case, and Chee gets involved after he is attacked. One of the interesting layers in this novel is the discussion of Navajo beliefs about skinwalkers, witches who can change shape. Those traditional beliefs still impact the culture in some ways.

In Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit, we are introduced to brothers Gates and Mason Hunt. They’ve had a difficult start in life, being the children of an abusive, alcoholic father. But Mason takes advantage of every opportunity he has to get out of that situation. He winds up getting a scholarship to university and goes on to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his natural athletic ability. He ends up living on money he gets from his mother, and from his girlfriend’s Denise’s welfare allotment. One afternoon, the Hunt brothers are at Denise’s trailer when Gates’ romantic rival, Wayne Thompson, stops by. He and Gates get into a serious argument, and Wayne ends up storming off. Later that night, the brothers are on their way home from a night out when they encounter Wayne again. The argument heats up again, this time fueled by alcohol. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot his rival. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his Gates cover up what happened, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason has become the commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. Gates, meanwhile, supplements his income with drug dealing. Then, he’s arrested for trafficking in cocaine. He’s convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. He begs his brother to help him get out of prison, but this time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens to incriminate Mason for the still-unsolved Thompson murder if he doesn’t help, and now Mason faces criminal indictment for a crime he didn’t commit.

Sophie Littlefield’s Stella Hardesty is quite familiar with trailers. Her official business is a sewing supply shop. But she also has another business, with a certain kind of client. Women who’ve been abused know that they can count on Stella to help them even the score. She’s not a murderer, but she can be extremely persuasive. Her ‘parolees’ know after one visit that they’d better leave their victims alone. Anyone who doesn’t heed that first warning gets an even more unpleasant second visit. In A Bad Day For Sorry, for instance, Stella goes to the trailer of one of her ‘parolees,’ Roy Dean Shaw, to remind him of how he’s supposed to behave. All goes as expected, and Stella thinks she has the matter in hand. Until the next day, when she finds out from Dean’s ex-wife Chrissy that he’s disappeared, and he may have her son Tucker with him. Stella starts asking questions to try to track down her quarry and the boy, and finds that the trail leads to some very dangerous people. Still, Chrissy is determined to get her son back, and the two women go up against some very difficult odds to do just that.

David Liss’ The Ethical Assassin begins with a visit to a Florida trailer park. Lem Atlick is trying to save money to pay for Columbia University, so he’s taken a job as a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesperson. One hot day, he visits the trailer of a woman named Karen and her husband, nicknamed Bastard. He’s making his sales pitch when Melford Kean comes into the trailer and kills both Karen and Bastard. Kean didn’t expect a witness, but he thinks quickly. He offers Lem this deal: Lem can keep his mouth shut, or Kean will implicate him for the murders, and Lem won’t have much of an alibi. Lem soon finds himself drawn into Kean’s world, and discovers that this is no ordinary shooting spree.

Wendy James’ The Mistake features Jodie Evans Garrow, who grew up on the proverbial poor side of town. She’s done well for herself, though, and gotten a university education. Now she’s married to a successful attorney, Angus, and is the mother of two healthy children. One day the past comes back to haunt her, though. Her daughter Hannah is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where Jodie gave birth years earlier to another child – one she never mentioned, even to Angus. A nurse there remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says that she was adopted, but the nurse can’t find any formal records. Now, questions begin to arise, first in whispers, and then in a full-out smear campaign. Is the child still alive? If so, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Now, Jodie is a social pariah. It’s all too much for her daughter, Hannah, who decides to take off with her boyfriend. One of Hannah’s visits is to her grandfather (Jodie’s father) who now lives in a caravan in a rural area. She’s hoping that he can give her some insight into her mother’s past. On the one hand, the visit’s a failure, as he’s hardly helpful. On the other, Hannah’s disappointment is a lesson in itself.

And then there’s Kate Ellis’ The Merchant House. In one plot thread of that novel, Jonathan Berrisford disappears from the yard of the summer cottage where he’s been staying with his mother, Elaine. The Tradmouth CID, of course, mount a major search effort, but don’t immediately find the boy. In the meantime, the body of a young woman has been discovered, so the CID has plenty on its plate, as the saying goes. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the police get some useful information on both cases from some people who are staying at a nearby caravan park.

In that novel, and in others that feature such places, you can see that the trailer/caravan life is a unique culture. It’s sometimes a relatively closed culture, but even when it’s not, it makes for an interesting context.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Cowboy Junkies song.


Filed under David Liss, Kate Ellis, Martin Clark, Sophie Littlefield, Tony Hillerman, Wendy James

24 responses to “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park*

  1. Col

    I see you’re banging the drum for the Liss book again! Haha…
    I read one of Martin Clark’s other books – The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, I hope The Legal Limit is better!

    • What can I say, Col? The Liss just fit this topic… And I hope you’ll like The Legal Limit better, too. No book is for everyone, of course, but still, it’s a shame to spend time reading a book and then not feel you’ve enjoyed it.

  2. I thought of you when I wrote my post today, how you use song titles for your headlines. Many times I’ve heard the song later and it triggered a memory of your post. Genius!

    A Bad Day for Sorry sounds like my kind of story. There is something inherently creepy about a dark trailer park in crime fiction, isn’t there. Hmm…now you’ve got me thinking.

  3. The nearest I can think of is Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone living in a converted garage! – though her accommodation gets a bit fancier later on in the series…

  4. Margot I am glad we have Bob the Dog with us when we are in our mobile home ( 5th wheeler) he wil make sure that we don’t get any unwanted visitors 🙂

  5. At different time we’ve had a caravan and then later a static caravan, without realising the dangers we could have faced. Before that we had a tent and the most danger was from animals – such as an inquisitive cow in one field and a hungry hedgehog at a different camp site 🙂

    • Oh, what a great mental picture, Margaret! I can just imagine both the cow and the hedgehog! 🙂 And you’re right; caravans can be dangerous, no doubt about that. Lots of chance for adventure, though.

  6. Margot, since my young days I have been fascinated by the prospect of leaving out of a trailer or caravan, but I know life can’t be as easy as it seems, considering that the occupants miss out on so many important things that a brick-and-mortar home affords. I have not read about it in books as much as I have seen it in films. It is a good setting for crime fiction. You never who will will emerge out of a trailer.

    • I know what you mean, Prashant. There’s something about it, isn’t there? You’re right, of course, that there are a lot of drawbacks, too. And it can make for an excellent context for a crime novel or film!

  7. Oops… that should have read “living out of a…”

  8. Kathy D.

    Also, in Stef Penney’s “The Invisible Ones,” there are murders within a caravan of trailers inhabited by Roma people. It’s a good book, which describes the abuse of Roma, albeit in brief.

  9. My husband liked the first book in the Sophie Littlefield series, but I have not tried it yet. When I think of living in a trailer, I think of Jim Rockford of Rockford Files.

    • Ah, yes, The Rockford File! That was a good show, Tracy, wasn’t it? And you’re right; it’s a good example of trailer life. I wonder what you’ll think of Sophie Littlefield’s work when you get the chance to read it, Tracy. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  10. I’m so glad you mentioned Sophie Littlefield’s Stella Hardesty. I love that character.

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