When many people think of crime fiction, they think of a busy sleuth or team of sleuths who learn about crimes, investigate them, and solve them. In other words, people think of sleuths as busy, energetic types, and a lot of them are. But there are some who aren’t that way at all.
I’m not talking here of fictional sleuths such as Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges, who balance work and ‘off time.’ Sleuths like that are certainly productive. Rather, I’m talking of sleuths and other characters who would just as soon not get involved in solving crimes. In some cases, you could call them lazy. In other cases, it’s not so much laziness as it is a more laid-back attitude towards life. Some would rather surf, fish, or simply lie in the sun than actually detect.
One of the most famous such detectives is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mycroft Holmes. While he’s not the ‘lie in the sun’ type, he certainly isn’t one to bestir himself. Fans will know that he’s even more brilliant than his younger brother Sherlock, but he sees no need to go from place to place looking for clues. He almost never leaves the Diogenes Club, where he holds court, and would far rather stay there than actually solve cases.
You could say a very similar thing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. As fans can tell you, Wolfe doesn’t even take cases unless the coffers need re-filling. Unfortunately for Wolfe, he has expensive tastes, so he can’t devote himself entirely to his orchids and his culinary pursuits. It’s just as well he has Archie Goodwin to do the ‘legwork’ for him. Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer and Orrie Cather do their share, too.
There’s an interesting ‘bum in the sun’ type character in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw). In that novel, Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way to visit her friend Miss Marple when she witnesses, or thinks she witnesses, a murder. At first, no-one believes her, since no body has been discovered. But Miss Marple knows that her friend is not in the habit of making things up or of flights of fancy. So she does a little digging and discovers that, in fact, there could have been a murder, just as Mrs. McGillicuddy said. The body has likely ended up on the property of Rutherford Hall, which is owned by the Crackenthorpe family. With help from her friend, Lucy Eylesebarrow, Miss Marple finds that there is a body on the property, and the police begin to investigate. One of the people of interest is Cedric Crackenthorpe, son of the family patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe. Cedric is a bohemian painter who lives on Ibiza. Although he stands to inherit Rutherford Hall if Luther dies, he’s hardly ambitious. He’s really too free a spirit for that.
Roderic Jeffries’ Inspector Enrique Alvarez is not exactly burning with energy, either. He lives and works on Mallorca, and quite frankly, prefers a good meal and a good siesta to actually investigating crimes. So in Definitely Deceased, he’s not inclined to be receptive when his cousin Delores, who’s keeping house for him at the moment, asks him to clear her cousin-by-marriage Miguel Munar of smuggling charges. Delores is not without resources, though, and hits on the perfect way to get Alvarez to do some actual work. She punishes him with terrible food until he finally relents and starts to ask questions about the Munar case. But when he does begin to investigate, Alvarez finds that the only person who can corroborate Munar’s story has been murdered. Now he has a much more demanding case on his hands than he ever would have wanted.
Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle isn’t exactly brimming with energy, either. When the series begins (in Tilt a Whirl), he’s a ‘summer cop,’ a temporary police officer hired to help with the influx of tourists. The town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, isn’t usually a hotbed of crime, but it does get very crowded during the summer; hence the need for extra police presence. Boyle isn’t unwilling to do his job, but he enjoys the beach life. He spends his share of time lazing around with his friends, barbecuing, and enjoying himself. In fact, at first, he finds it hard to get used to his boss, John Ceepak. Ceepak is a dedicated, 24-hour-a-day sort of cop, who doesn’t like to waste any time. As the series goes on, Boyle matures somewhat, and actually becomes a full-time police officer. But he still enjoys goofing off.
And then there’s Don Winslow’s Boone Daniels, whom we meet in The Dawn Patrol. He’s a San Diego surfer who would rather enjoy the waves than just about anything else. He and his friends are dedicated surfers who call themselves the Dawn Patrol. They have ‘day jobs,’ which they do as needed, but really, they’d rather be on their boards. Daniels is the last person you’d expect to be involved in solving a crime. But that’s what happens when a local stripper, Tamera Roddick, disappears. Then, her best friend, who goes by the name of Angela Hart, is murdered. Daniels and his friends get drawn into the case, and find that it’s related to a wrenching case from years earlier, when a local girl was abducted from her back yard.
You see? It’s not that these characters won’t get the work done. They will. It’s just that it’s time for lunch. And there are supposed to be some killer waves out there later. Oh, and there’s good TV on tonight…
*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Van Halen’s Beautiful Girls.