We Drank a Toast to Innocence, We Drank a Toast to Now*

ReunionsA really well-written post from Marina Sofia, who blogs at Finding Time to Write, has got me thinking about meeting up again with people from the past. In these days of easy access to social media, it’s not very difficult to track down someone you were friends with years ago, or your first love, or someone else who used to mean a lot to you. But even so, sometimes years go by without having any contact with those people.

What happens when, after many years, you meet up again with someone from the past? Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience. It can be awkward, though. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the past instead of realistic. And people do change over time, not always for the better. So sometimes these sorts of reunions don’t turn out well. But they’re always interesting, and they can add a layer of character development to a story.

There are a few such reunions in Agatha Christie’s work. One of them is between Rosamund Darnley and Captain Kenneth Marshall, whom we meet in Evil Under the Sun. Rosamund is a successful clothing designer who’s built a reputation for herself. She’s taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay, when she gets a ‘blast from the past.’ Kenneth, his wife Arlena, and his daughter Linda unexpectedly come to the same hotel. Rosamund and Kenneth grew up together, but hadn’t seen each other for more than fifteen years. They’re very happy to meet again, and they enjoy each other’s company. Then, Kenneth’s wife Arlena, who’s a famous actress, is murdered. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the local police to find the killer. Both Kenneth and Rosamund come under their share of suspicion, too. His marriage was not particularly happy; in fact, his wife was having a not-well-hidden affair. And Rosamund might have had her own reasons for wanting Arlena dead. You’re absolutely right, fans of Five Little Pigs and of The Hollow!

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn has a reunion in Murder at the Mendel. She and Sally Love were close friends when they were young. But then, Sally’s father died and the family moved away. Sally became an artist, and Joanne went on to a career in academia and political science. Then, word comes that Sally will be having a show of her work at the Mendel Gallery. Joanne wants to see the exhibit and, if possible, renew the friendship. The two women start talking again. But Sally isn’t the person Joanne wants to remember, and it’s not an easy reunion. Then, gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered and Sally becomes the chief suspect. The case turns out to be very painful, and has closer personal connections to Joanne’s past than she’d thought.

Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black is the first of her series featuring DI Jimmy Perez. Perez grew up in Fair Isle, Shetland, and was sent to school on Lerwick. It was a lonely time for him, mostly due to homesickness. And matters got worse when two bullies began to make his life miserable. At the time, fellow student Duncan Hunter befriended Perez and made boarding school a much better experience. But Perez and Hunter haven’t seen each other in years. Then, Hunter becomes a suspect in the murder of seventeen-year-old Catherine Ross. And Perez has to come to terms with the fact that Hunter has turned out to be an unpleasant person. That fact, plus the fact that Perez is investigating this crime, makes that reunion extremely awkward for both men.

Wendy James’ The Mistake includes a fascinating reunion. Jodie Evans Garrow grew up in a poor and dysfunctional family. But there was one bright spot in her life: her friend Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. While they were friends, the two were inseparable. Years have gone by since then; Jodie has married a successful attorney and is now mother to two healthy children. Everything seems to be going just about perfectly, until the day her daughter Hannah is involved in an accident. She’s rushed to the same Sydney hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child. No-one, not even her husband, knows about the baby. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says she gave her up for adoption, but there are no formal records. So questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she is dead, did Jodie have something to do with it? It turns out to be a nightmare for the Garrow family. Then one day, Jodie meets Bridie again at a book club meeting. The two renew their friendship, and it turns out to be a good experience for both.

There’s a different sort of reunion in Roger Smith’s Dust Devils. Cape Town journalist Robert Dell and his wife and children are on a car trip one day when they are ambushed. The car goes over into a gorge, and Dell’s family is killed. Dell survives, though, and manages to make it back to Cape Town. He soon finds himself in terrible trouble, though, when he is arrested for the murders of his family members. It’s a trumped-up charge, and it’s clear Dell’s being framed. But he gets no cooperation from the police, and is soon jailed. His father, Bobby Goodbread, finds out about what’s happened and engineers his son’s escape. The reunion between father and son isn’t exactly friendly, as the two had been estranged for some time. Goodbread was pro-apartheid, while Dell was very much against it. That’s had all sorts of consequences for both, and makes meeting up again a difficult experience. But each man has reasons of his own to go after the person who really did ambush the Dell family. So they join forces. As the story goes on, they at least understand each other a little better, even though neither comes close to changing the other’s mind.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse, the first of his Fiionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod novels. MacLeod is an Edinburgh police detective who’s been seconded to the Isle of Lewis. The murder of Lewis resident Angel Macritchie closely resembles a murder that MacLeod’s investigating already, so it’s hoped that if he works with the Lewis police, they’ll find out who the killer is. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on the island, But it’s not one he relishes. There’ve been some very painful moments in his past. What’s more, he’s gone on to a different sort of life, while many of the people he knew as a child have stayed on the island. Some people have changed considerably; others haven’t. And to complicate matters, MacLeod still sees things with a young person’s perspective, which isn’t always accurate. It all makes for some real awkwardness as he gets back in contact with people he knew years ago.

And that’s the thing about renewing ties with someone you knew many years ago. People change, they get older, and their perspectives evolve. What’s more, when you have this sort of reunion, it can be difficult to accept the difference between the nostalgic view you may have had of someone, and the reality. But still, those bonds can be strong, and renewing them can add much to our lives.

Thank you, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, folks, may I suggest you make Finding Time to Write your next blog stop? Excellent poetry and flash fiction, lovely ‘photos, and terrific book reviews await you.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Gail Bowen, Peter May, Roger Smith, Wendy James

42 responses to “We Drank a Toast to Innocence, We Drank a Toast to Now*

  1. Fun topic to explore, Margot! I’m a big fan of using people from the past to make trouble for my characters, LOL. In real life though, high school reunions are kind of depressing. *wink*

    • You do have a point there, Kathy! Too often, reunions become some sort of weird competition and renewal of old animosity, rather than a chance to catch up with people. I avoid them studiously. But it is fun to have people from the past in one’s writing, isn’t it? And you do that well. Hey, folks, do try Kathy (K.B.) Owen’s Concordia Wells novels. Terrific historical (end of 19th Century) mysteries.

  2. mudpuddle

    provocative theme: gives one pause… all i can think of, is when nero wolfe meets an old friend in montenegro, in “Black Mountain”, he manages to kill him off!

  3. Thank you for the kind mention – I cannot believe how quickly you found great crime fiction examples of ill-fated (mostly) reunions. One book I recently read which had a reunion that at least one of the people involved was NOT looking forward to was In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, where someone gets invited to the hen party of a friend from long, long ago. Needless to say, it does not end well.

    • Oh, yes, Marina Sofia! I keep hearing such great things about that novel. I’ve not (yet) read it, but it’s definitely on the wish list. And it’s my great pleasure to mention your terrific blog. I appreciate the inspiration!

  4. Col

    I don’t think you can turn the clock back. I avoid school re-unions and would happily cross the road to avoid speaking to people I was once friendly with. That was then, this is now….

    • You’re not alone, Col. There are plenty of people who are very happy to live in the present, and have no interest in looking back or reuniting with old friends.

      • Col

        I can look back at memories with fondness and affection, but they would become soured by a present-day awkwardness. Maybe women are better at this than men, or maybe they wouldn’t have allowed relationships to lapse in the first place?

        • Now, that’s an interesting question, Col! I don’t know if there’s a gender difference, but it’s certainly an intriguing thought. And I know what you mean by the difference between fond memories and actually seeing a person in the present day. Sometimes those memories are best kept in the past…

  5. Kay

    I second your thoughts about THE BLACKHOUSE. What a good book. That whole trilogy, but that first one – wonderful. And I’ve just started listening to RAVEN BLACK. I saw Ann Cleeves this last weekend at a mystery conference. I can’t believe that I haven’t read any of her books. That is going to change. Thanks for sharing about her book here. I’m only about 20 minutes into the story, but so far, so good.

    • I’m very glad you’re enjoying Raven Black thus far, Kay. I think it really is a well-written book, and the start of a quality series. Lucky you to have had the chance to see Ann Cleeves ‘in action!’ And yes, Peter May’s Lewis trilogy is excellent, isn’t it?

  6. I cannot tolerate the past — too many deadly ghosts — and I avoid anyone — dead or alive — from those lost years. Unlike Proust, I also avoid cookies because they can only remind me of crimes, punishments, and other unpleasantness. Sad but true. Perhaps that is the germ for a crime novel. After all, characters from the past bring back all sorts of problems. No, I’m not confessing to past crimes, even if the statutes of limitations have elapsed (in most cases) but — well, that’s enough of a hint . . .

    • You’re not in the least bit unusual in avoiding those from your past, Tim. A lot of people find it too painful, or too something. They choose to look forward instead. And you make an interesting point about the possibilities there for a crime novel…

  7. Definitely a great subject to explore in crime fiction if you want to stir things up! I think the last book I read where there was a reunion of any kind was The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths where an old friend of Ruth’s turns up much to her surprise and she’s a vicar and in need of her help which perturbs the non religious Ruth no end!

    • So glad you mentioned that book, Rebecca! I’m quite a fan, as you know, of the Ruth Galloway series. I must confess I’ve not gotten to that particular novel yet, but it’s on the TBR. And what a great example – thanks. You’re right; those ‘blasts from the past’ can add quite a lot to a story.

  8. The example that springs to mind is Reginald Hill’s ‘Ruling Passion’, where Pascoe goes off to a reunion with some university friends only to find himself embroiled in a triple murder investigation. Aside from the murder aspect though, it’s an interesting look at how the attitude of Pete’s friends changed when he decided to become a police officer – a thing rather looked down on by his liberal intellectual friends. It’s also fairly early in the Pete/Ellie romance – another reunion that required some readjustment on both sides.

    • Both excellent examples, FictionFan, so thanks. It is interesting to see how Peter and Ellie have to adjust themselves after their reunion (folks, check out An Advancement of Learning for their first meeting after a long time). And it’s not uncommon for people who become police officers to get somewhat of a brush-off, at least, from their former friends, whether they’re liberal intellectual types or other types. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and sometime, I’ll do a post on it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Good choices there Margot. I love how the Ross MacDonald books from he late 1950s are all about the rediscovered past though I would want to add Chandler’s THE LONG GOOD-BYE as a classic example of the friend from the past plot!

    • Oh, both of them are great examples, Sergio, so thank you! I like the way that plot point is handled in both cases; I should have included them, so I’m glad you filled in the gap.

  10. I’ve recently had two reunions with friends from the past, and it was if no time had passed at all. Love when that happens.

  11. Great post, Margot, on a natural subject for characters and story in the crime novel. Though I don’t really know the content of the book, I’ll mention Margot Bennett’s Someone From the Past, which gets right to the matter even in the title!

  12. I’ve just come from Marina’s post (which was truly brilliant) and was thinking about books that feature meeting up with long lost characters – then I visit your blog and… The most recent example I have for this post is Elly Griffith’s The Woman in Blue where a friend from years ago reappears, although I was also thinking of the Lewis Trilogy too!

    • Wasn’t Marina Sofia’s post wonderful, Cleo? And you’re now the second person to remind me I’ve not yet caught up to The Woman in Blue. It’s on the TBR (I’m a Griffiths fan), but I’ve not yet got there. I will! And yes, Peter May does such a good job with that plot point, doesn’t he?

  13. Murder at the Mendel is a very good example of that theme, Margot. I look forward to reading The Blackhouse by Peter May someday.

  14. Kathy D.

    Loved Bridie Sullivan’s character in The Mistake.
    Must read The Blackhouse, and, I will get to The Woman in Blue. I don’t miss any books about Ruth Galloway, a favorite and very real character.

  15. Margot, I like the crime stories I read to play out in the present. Too much of the past or back-and-forth narrative confuses me. I’m also not happy when writers suddenly materialise characters from another period. Roger Smith’s Dust Devils sounds interesting.

    • I know what you mean, Prashant. It can take away from a story’s credibility when characters suddenly reappear from the past. When an author wants someone from the past to play a role in the story, I think it works better when that person shows up in a believable way.

  16. In Dorothy L Sayers Gaudy Night, Harriet Vane is persuaded to go to a college reunion by an old friend. This leads to all kinds of events and adventures for Harriet – although the old, longlost friend disappears from the story early on.

    • You know, Moira, I was this close to mentioning that book. I didn’t in the end, so I’m very glad that you did. It is a terrific example of the sort of ‘blast from the past that I had in mind for this post.

  17. Kathy D.

    I think Bridie Sullivan also represented a more liberated alternative lifestyle and a way to escape for Jodie Evans Garrow, in addition to offering her friendship.

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