I Really Need This Job*

InterviewsOne 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.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Megan Abbott, Noël Balen, P.J. Parrish, Robert Colby, Ruth Rendell

21 responses to “I Really Need This Job*

  1. Lovely post, Margot. I think one of the most memorable ‘job interviews’ in crime fiction for me is when Sternwood interviews Phillip Marlowe in the hothouse. Perhaps interviews between PIs & their clients – who actually interviews whom? – could be the topic of a future post…

    • Oh, that’s a great idea, Angela – thanks. And thanks for the kind words about the post; glad you enjoyed it. You’re right, too; that interview between Marlowe and Sternwood is memorable.

  2. Margot: I remember from the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear that Maisie has a form of interview with the injured war veteran, Billy, that reflects her sensitivity to the damage done to him during WW I. I doubt many prospective employers would have had her understanding of the true nature of the man being interviewed.

    • That’s a well-taken point, Bill. She does have a deep level of understanding of and sensitivity to Billy’s situation. He’s aware of that, too, and very grateful for it. In my opinion, it adds to his loyalty to her.

  3. How you find song titles that fit perfectly with your posts remains a mystery. Very cool! Interviews are so nerve-wracking. I second Angela’s idea about P.I.’s who interview their clients. 🙂 Have a lovely Sunday, Margot.

    • Thank you, Sue – I hope you do, too 🙂 – And thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoy the titles to these posts. And yes, I shall have to think about doing a post about PIs meeting with their clients. It’s an interesting topic!

  4. My favorite job interview comes from the MARY TYLER MOORE show. First episode.

  5. I’ve been on both sides of the table during job interviews and have firmly decided that I enjoy neither! I must read the Megan Abbott you feature, that does sound like a sloppy interview, especially for a school!

    • I’m not fond of the process, either, Cleo. It really is difficult for both sides, isn’t it? And I do recommend Die a Little. It’s a terrific noir story that’s set in the 1950s. So the reader gets a strong sense of culture and time along with the main plot. And yes, that is a terribly sloppy interview. Having been in education for a long time, I can say that a thoughtful principal or headmaster would never interview like that.

  6. My favourite personal story of an interview (I was the interviewer) was when a rather strange woman decided to show me a scar on her thigh half way through the interview, for reasons I never fully understood, and despite my best efforts to stop her. This was bad enough, but what made it worse was that my office was a glass-walled box in a corner of the main office. As she stood up, shoved her leg up on a chair and hiked her skirt up, over her shoulder I could see my boss’s jaw drop in stunned amazement! It took a long time for me to live that one down…

    Fictionally, I always enjoyed the interview in The Red-Headed League when the interviewer suddenly grabbed Jabez Wilson’s hair and pulled, to check if it was real…

    • Oh, my goodness, FictionFan!!!! What a mental picture! Yikes! Let me guess…that candidate didn’t get the job, right? In all seriousness, I’ve heard of some strange interview things, but never one quite like that. I can see why it took you some time to live that one down…
      Thanks, too, for reminding me of The Red-Headed League. Not only is that a great story, but it does contain a terrific interview. Poor Jabez Wilson…

  7. Margot, I have never given a single official interview in thirty years as a career journalist. I got them all through direct recommendations. I don’t like job interviews — hire me and see if I’m good at it. If I am, keep me; if not, kick me out. Now, of course, I’m a content writer for a major PR consultancy.

    • There is definitely something to your idea of giving a prospective employee a chance by hiring him or her, Prashant. And I think in a lot of job interviews, you don’t really get a sense of what the interviewee would be like as a colleague. And I think your new position sounds really interesting.

  8. Col

    I like the sound of the Colby novella and I absolutely hate having interviews!

  9. My immediate thought was the Sternwood interview that Angela mentions above! That very hot room, and the Genarel insisting Philip Marlowe have a strong drink: not usually recommended at interviews…

    • Yes, that’s such a great scene, isn’t it, Moira? And the reader can really sense all of the underlying tension.It’s a very well-written interaction, I think.

  10. Job interviews are the worst. When I got my current job, it was my first interview after 29 years in the same job, and I was so relieved not to have to go for anymore interviews.

    I have not read Dead of Winter by Parrish yet, but I did read the first in the series… so I should read that one now.

    • Job interviews really can be nerve-wracking, can’t they, Tracy? And I don’t envy you having to deal with that after being ‘out of circulation’ for a while. I’m glad it was successful. And I do recommend Dead of Winter. It follows on nicely from the first book in the series, in my opinion.

  11. Pingback: You Get to Meet All Sorts in This Line of Work* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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