It’s got me thinking about what
my husband a reliable expert tells me is not nearly as easy as it may seem: the marriage proposal. For one thing, there’s always the risk that you’ll get your heart broken if the answer is ‘no.’ For another, there’s choosing the right moment. And if you’re the one getting the proposal, do you say an immediate ‘yes,’ even if you’re not quite sure? And if the proposal is a public one, how do you deal with everyone looking on?
Even so, marriage proposals are exciting. They’re very sweet, too; have you noticed how people always seem to smile and applaud when they witness one? And some of them are breathtaking. I know someone whose husband proposed during a hot-air balloon ride. Someone else I know proposed during a trip to one of the US’ most beautiful national parks. And I read a story about a firefighter who proposed to his partner during his community-outreach trip to the classroom where she’s a teacher.
Marriage proposals work their way into crime fiction, too, as nearly everything does. Of course, a romance angle to a crime novel can make it too cloying if it’s not handled well. But when handled deftly, a marriage proposal can fall out naturally from a plot, and it can add a welcome touch of warmth and humanity.
Agatha Christie fans can tell you that she wove romance into several of her mysteries. For example, in Evil Under the Sun, Captain Kenneth Marshall, his wife, Arlena, and his daughter, Linda, visit the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Not long after they arrive, Arlena begins to carry on a not-so-discreet affair with another (married) guest, Patrick Redfern. So when she is murdered one day, her husband is an obvious suspect. But Marshall claims that he’s innocent, and it seems that his alibi is reliable. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the real killer is. As they investigate, they find that more than one guest might easily have had a motive for murder. In one of the sub-plots of this novel, a couple meet again for the first time in several years, and discover that they have feelings for each other.
‘‘Are you going to ask me to marry you now…or are you determined to wait six months?’…
‘How the devil did you know I’d fixed six months as the proper time?’
‘I suppose because it is the proper time. But I’d rather have something definite now, please.’’
And it’s not spoiling the story to say that this proposal takes place in a lovely spot on a cliff above the beach.
Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with mystery novelist Harriet Vane almost from the moment he sees her (Strong Poison has the story). But the only problem is, she’s on trial for murder. So he can’t propose to her then. But he doesn’t give up – not even in the face of her initial reluctance to be romantically involved with him. But everything changes in Gaudy Night, when Wimsey helps her solve the mystery of some baffling and frightening events at her alma mater college of Oxford. At the end of the novel, they’re taking a walk through the campus when Wimsey asks her to marry him. And, very appropriate to the place, he does it in part in Latin:
‘‘Placetne, magistra?’ (Does it please you, Mistress?)
‘Placet.’’ (It pleases.)
There’s a lot more conveyed in that exchange than there is space for in this post, chiefly because it’s very difficult to translate nuances from one language to another, but it’s a very meaningful proposal.
In Michael Connelly’s Trunk Music Harry Bosch investigates the murder of mediocre filmmaker Tony Aliso. His death has all of the hallmarks of a Mob execution, but the LAPD seems strangely reluctant to pursue the investigation, even though it could mean bringing down a criminal group. But that doesn’t stop Bosch, who follows the trail to a seedy Las Vegas casino. During his trip, Bosch renews his acquaintance with Eleanor Wish, a former FBI agent who’s become a professional poker player. They find that they still care about each other, and Bosch doesn’t want to let his chance go by.
‘He almost faltered, but then the resolve came back to him.
‘There is one stop I’d still like to make before we leave. That is, if you’ve decided.’
She looked at him for a long moment and then a smile broke across her face.’
They wouldn’t be the first couple to get married in Las Vegas…
When Camilla Läckberg’s Erica Falck returns to her home town (in The Ice Princess), she meets up again with people she’s known for a long time. That includes local police officer Patrik Hedström, whom she was smitten with when they were in school. In the course of that novel, they begin a relationship, and soon enough, they have a daughter, Maja. It’s not easy to be the parent of a new baby, especially if you’re dealing with all of the physical changes that come with giving birth, and Ericka feels the pressure. So it’s doubly special for her when, in The Stonecutter, Patrik proposes:
‘Erica Sofia Magdalena Falck, would you consider doing me the honor of making an honest man out of me? Will you marry me?’
The whole thing has made Patrik anxious. There’s picking out the ring, suddenly wondering whether he’s made a mistake in assuming she’ll say ‘yes,’, and then that awkward silence as he waits. But as fans know, he’s not disappointed. This isn’t the most exotic proposal in the world; it takes place right at home, in their study. But it’s just right for them.
And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts, which more or less begins with a marriage proposal. In that novel, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant takes a trip to Hawai’i to spend time with his partner, Alex Canyon, who’s a private and corporate security specialist. Canyon currently works in Melbourne, so the two have settled on Hawai’i as a good ‘in between’ place. It doesn’t hurt matters in this case that Canyon has paid for the airline tickets and the hotel. One night, they’re having dinner at an upmarket restaurant called La Mer, when Canyon proposes.
‘Then came THE QUESTION…
I was pretty sure a few neighbouring diners were also monitoring the drama at our table. How could they resist? Two well-dressed men seated at the best table in the house, a tropical paradise as our backdrop, the sultry haziness of too much too-expensive wine that begs close acquaintance from perfect strangers, romantic island music, one of us with a ring in his hand and a hopeful look on his face, the other with a wide-open mouth and shock on his (that would be me).’
Seriously, that sort of proposal is hard to resist. And Quant doesn’t.
Marriage proposals can take all kinds of forms. But no matter what the proposal is like, it always speaks of hope and promise, and that can really add to a novel. If you’re reading this, all the best to both of you!
ps. The ‘photo was taken on my ‘proposal night.’ In case you were wondering, I said ‘yes.’
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Longest Time.