One of the facts of life for most working adults is the job interview. Whether the job is bagging groceries, managing a warehouse, or performing cardiac surgery, getting it usually involves at least one interview. Sometimes there’s more than one interview, and sometimes, the interview process involves talking to several different people.
Interviews seldom go as planned. If I may share two personal examples, at one interview, I happened to have a terrible cold. At another, the interview ended just as a severe snowstorm moved in, and it was quite a harrowing trip back home. But even if the interview goes very well, it’s still a nerve-wracking experience. For the company or institution that’s hiring, it’s time-consuming and can be a real drain on resources. But that’s the way new people are usually hired.
Job interviews figure a lot in crime fiction, which shouldn’t be surprising, since they happen so often in real life. And that tension can add much to a crime novel’s plot or character development.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, for instance, Violet Hunter is interviewed by Jephro Rucastle for the position of governess to his six-year-old son. It’s an odd interview, as he asks her some unusual questions. In fact, she’s not sure she should take the job. But then, Rucastle raises the salary offer so much that she really can’t resist. So she visits Sherlock Holmes to ask his advice. Among other things, he tells her that if she ever needs him, all she has to do is contact him. It’s not long, either, before that’s exactly what happens. As it turns out, she’s been hired as a part of a larger plan, and she’s in very grave danger.
Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) introduces readers to London hairstylist’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins some money in a sweepstakes, she decides to take a trip to Le Pinet. She’s on the flight back to England when one of the other passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find the murderer. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on that flight, so it’s a relatively small circle of suspects. Among them are famous archaeologist Armand Dupont and his son Jean. For various reasons, Poirot wants Jane to get to know the Duponts. He even manages to wangle a spot for her on an upcoming dig. She knows nothing about archaeology, but Poirot convinces the Duponts to at least consider her. Here’s what Poirot says to Jane about it:
‘‘By the way, I must obtain for you in the morning a handbook on prehistoric pottery of the Near East. I have said that you are passionately interested in the subject.’’
Later, he suggests this:
‘‘If M. Jean Dupont should ring up or call, be amiable to him. Talk of buttons and socks, but not as yet of prehistoric pottery. He admires you, but he is intelligent!’’
It certainly makes for an interesting job opportunity.
In Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary, we meet Glenn Hadlock. He’s a convicted felon who’s recently been released from prison, so his job chances are limited. But one day he sees an advertisement that interests him. Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Hadlock goes to the Scofield home on the appointed day, and waits with a group of other applicants. When he meets Scofield, he learns more about the family. Scofield himself is completely disabled and unable to leave his room. But, as he tells Hadlock, he doesn’t want that fact to restrict his wife unnecessarily. Hadlock gets the job, and at first, all is well. The pay is good, the working conditions excellent, and Eileen Scofield is pleasant company. But Hadlock soon learns that this job is going to be much more dangerous than he thought.
Megan Abbott’s Die a Little is the story of Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s always been very close to her brother, Bill, and protective of him. So when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, Lora isn’t too happy about it. But even she admits to herself that it’s probably because of her protectiveness. When Bill and Alice marry, Lora tries to be happy for them. But little by little, she begins to have some real questions about Alice. For example, Bill asks her to get an interview for Alice at the school where she teaches. He says that Alice has her teaching certificate, and could do the job. The school’s principal, Don Evans, is eager to replace a teacher who’s getting ready to leave, so he doesn’t do a thorough check. Before anyone knows it, Alice is working at the school. She doesn’t know anything, really, about teaching, and it turns out she’s lied about having her teaching certificate, too. As Lora learns more about Alice’s life, she is at the same time repulsed by it and drawn to it. Then there’s a murder, and Alice is very likely mixed up in it. It just shows you have to be careful whom you interview. Am I right, fans of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone?
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen’s Winemaker Detective series features noted oenologist Benjamin Cooker. In the first of this series, Treachery in Bordeaux, he is preparing to meet Virgile Lanssien, who wants a job as Cooker’s assistant. Here’s a little of how the interview goes:
‘Virgile Lanssien tried to hide his apprehension and answered as distinctly as possible the volley of questions that descended on him.’
Cooker isn’t unpleasant, but he does want to know just how much Lanssien understands about winemaking. The interview goes very well, and Lanssien is hired. He turns out to be very helpful, too, when Cooker is asked to find out who has sabotaged some of a fellow winemaker’s harvest.
And then there’s P.J. Parrish’s Dead of Winter. This story begins as Louis Kincaid travels to Loon Lake, Michigan for a job interview with the Loon Lake police force. To his surprise, Police Chief Brian Gibraltar hires him after a very short conversation. He’s given his assignment and he prepares to get to work. It’s not long before he learns the reason for which there was an opening on the police force. Just a few weeks earlier, Officer Thomas Pryce was killed in his home. Kincaid gets Gibraltar’s permission to look more deeply into the case, and he gets to work. Then, there’s another death, this time of a retired officer. Kincaid soon learns that several of the people involved are not telling everything they know. It turns out that this is much more than just someone who’s targeting police offers.
Job interviews can be successful, disastrous, funny, and a lot else. They have interesting dynamics, and there’s always a lot of tension around them. Little wonder we see so many of them in crime fiction.
*NOTE; The title of this post is a line from Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban’s I Hope I Get It.