Well, I’m a Bum in the Sun And I’m Having Fun*

Bum in the SunWhen 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.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Chris Grabenstein, Don Winslow, Martin Walker, Rex Stout, Roderic Jeffries

30 responses to “Well, I’m a Bum in the Sun And I’m Having Fun*

  1. Margot ~ What a great post! One of my very favorite series features the ultimate “bum in the sun”, written by John McDonald — Travis McGee, who lives on his boat, anchored in a marina in Fort Lauderdale. The fabulous names (The Deep Blue Good bye, The Lonely Silver Rain, A Deadly Shade of Gold, etc) originally drew me in, but Travis himself kept me wanting to read more.The truth is, my 15 year old self was a little bit in love with him. 🙂 Jeffries and Graberstein are new authors to me, and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Thanks for taking the time to share! ~ Valerie

    • Thanks for the kind words, Valerie 🙂 – You know, I almost mentioned McGee, as he’s a character I like an awfully lot. Since I didn’t, I’m glad you filled in that hap. And I can see how you’d have fallen a bit in love with him. He certainly lives as he sees fit, only taking cases to pay the bills. And he sure spends his time in the sun, doesn’t he? If you try Jeffroes and Grabenstein, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  2. mudpuddle

    andrew basnett, retired don, would much rather botanize than detect; it’s just that he’s good at it, so he occasionally gets roped into inquiries. e.x. ferrars wrote 5 books about his adventures. what is doubly attractive to me is he’s my age, over 70…

    • Oh, I like the Andrew Basnett character quite a lot, Mudpuddle. I’m very glad you included him, and he certainly counts as one who’d just as soon do other things as detect.

  3. Margot: When I think of legal mysteries there is Arthur Beauchamp who has retired to a small farm on one of the Gulf Islands near Vancouver but keeps being drawn back to the big city for big cases. He would much rather being tending his land and reading Roman poetry in Latin but cannot resist the lure of the big case.

  4. What a great post Margot. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a lazy sleuth and will be on the lookout for them now!

  5. What a great title – it really made me laugh! It’s true, there aren’t many sleuths who are ‘lazy’ or perceived as such. Travis McGee was the first name that came to mind, although Hercule Poirot has also been known to retire with a tisane and let the little grey cells do the walking, rather than the feet. And Maigret has often solved cases simply by stopping for a little glass of white in a bar somewhere and getting to know the locals…

    • So glad you enjoyed the title, Marina Sofia! And you’re quite right about Maigret. He’s certainly been known to stop off and have a glass of wine, rather than rush along to the next thing. And you’re right; he sometimes gets insights into his cases that way. And where would Poirot be without his tisane?

  6. Fascinating topic, Margot. You’ve got me thinking of laid back sleuths, but right now I can’t recall any. I would think they’d be difficult to write without slowing the pace to a crawl. But obviously, from your examples, it can be done.

    • Thanks, Sue. You know, you do have a point about how challenging it can be to write a character like that. As you say, you don’t want the pace to go too slowly. At the same time, there really are people like that, who are, well, not exactly ambitious…

  7. It seems like a female with these attributes might be timely.

  8. A.M. Pietroschek

    Inspector Columbo sure looked a lil bit bummy to me. But beyond that I am sadly ‘impaired’ due my real time among the urban homeless.

    And while not licensed I am at east an ex-bum and amateurish ex-occult investigator who carefully studies the mysteries shared by our most generous host!

    Have a nice day, my own started really bad. Bye.

    • I hope your day has gotten better, André. And you know, you have a well-taken point about Columbo. He certainly doesn’t come across as a ‘typical’ busy police detective. In fact, that makes for a very effective ‘cover’ for the kind of person he really is. Thanks for mentioning him.

      • A.M. Pietroschek

        Thank you. I dunno, if it is my lack of money or the sign of the times, still in many classic novels, much alike ‘The Lodger’, the general level of stress, meaningless distractions, and smartphone-juggling was more absent than in my real life. I sometimes long for such, as reading is not living.

        Bruce Willis in ‘Last Boyscout’ started battered-down, but it is a violent movie and no good reading, I guess.

        • You’re quite right, André, that novels like The Lodger don’t include such modern-day stimuli as smartphones, television and the like. Because of that, I think that makes them helpful as reminders of what life without those things was like.

  9. Can’t think of any to add, but you’ve got a couple of my favourites in there – Mycroft Holmes and Nero Wolfe. And I really must try to fit in more of the Sea Haven books – I thoroughly enjoyed the only one I’ve read so far.

    • I know what you mean about fitting in more books, FictionFan. I wish I had 50 hours in a day to read… And I’m not surprised you’re a fan of both Mycroft Holmes and Nero Wolfe. They’re great characters!

  10. Margot, I’m not sure I had heard of Mycroft Holmes and his own mysteries. I’m going to have to check out some and read.

    • Mycroft Holmes appears in a couple of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories, Prashant. And I think he’s a really interesting character. He’s been ‘co-opted,’ if you will, by some other authors. But I don’t believe Conan Doyle himself gave Mycroft Holmes his own adventure without his younger brother in it at all. If I’m wrong, someone please correct me.

  11. Col

    I’ll look forward to the Winslow books when I get to them!

  12. I know I have read about reluctant detectives, but cannot think of any examples. I also want to try something by Don Winslow.

    • I think Don Winslow does an effective job, Tracy, of depicting the Southern California beach-y, surfie lifestyle. If you do read his work, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  13. Nice one. I’m a fan of Winslow’s writing, and would like to get to the book you mention. I’ve read some books with reluctant sleuths, which is close to lazy…

    • Thanks, Moira. And I think you have a point about reluctant sleuths. It really isn’t very different in some ways to lazy sleuths. And I do recommend Winslow; he’s not everyone’s cuppa, but I think he writes some interesting characters.

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