I Think You Ought to Know That I Intend to Hold You For the Longest Time*

ProposalToday (or yesterday, depending on when you read this), a friend of mine is getting married. I couldn’t be happier for the couple, and I’m really looking forward to the wedding.

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.  


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Camilla Läckberg, Dorothy Sayers, Michael Connelly

36 responses to “I Think You Ought to Know That I Intend to Hold You For the Longest Time*

  1. Heartafire

    beautiful,,,that’s one of my fav. songs by BJ.

  2. That’s so sweet, Margot! It’s lovely that you said yes. Of course, there is the other category of proposal – the one that doesn’t come off. Can’t offhand think of one in crime fiction (there’s a great rejection in Pride and Prejudice) but I am sure others will be able to.

    • Thank you, Christine 🙂 – You’re right, too, that the ‘no,’ answer is definitely ripe fruit for a fiction plot (and Pride and Prejudice is a great example). It’s one of those emotion-filled times when anything can happen…

  3. What a lovely photo, Margot. And I love that line from the song too.

  4. Great photo Margot 🙂

  5. Love the photo! 🙂 Romance in crime really does have to be handled carefully, doesn’t it? I always felt Agatha Christie got the balance just about right. I love the romance you’ve chosen in Evil Under the Sun, and I love both the romances in The Moving Finger – especially Joanna and the doctor. Funnily enough though, one of the major reasons I could never grow to love the Wimsey books was because of the romance between Harriet and him, and yet I know loads of people think that’s what made them special. And coincidentally only last night I finally abandoned a book (which I won’t name here) because the romance totally took over from the crime aspect and I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in whether they got together or not…

    • Thanks for the kind words about the ‘photo, FictionFan 🙂 I’m sorry you ended up abandoning a book. It means, among other things, that you spent your time on a book that wasn’t (for you, anyway) worth that time, and with so many other great books out there, that’s always such a disappointment. But I know exactly what you mean about a romance overtaking a books/series. That can happen, and if the book you’re reading isn’t billed as a romance, that can be annoying. I think you’re right about Christie getting the balance right, though. And I’m so glad you mentioned The Moving Finger, because that’s a perfect example of how she pulled that off. It’s quite tricky, but she did it. And about Wimsey and Harriet Vane? I have to confess I think I liked that romance better than you did. Matter of taste, I suppose.

  6. Of course, you know, after the proposal and the marriage, when one half of the couple is murdered — as often happen in true crime and crime fiction — the first suspect is (fill-in-the-blank) . . . Yes, sad but true . . . Well, twisting a famous phrase, the course of true love never does run smoothly for some homicidal people.

  7. After two botched attempts I defiantly tried to decide for a cat & prostitutes instead. It wen awry, when even the cat informed me that my bank account number makes her find her fortune elsewhere… 😉

    Congratulations for making it to the sunny side of life with your marriage, Margot. And the photo is impressive, too.

    The comments on marriage in Crime Fiction are pretty good as well. But due a distraction from an old stalker of mine I only found enough time to be reminded of the official music video for the Pink song ‘Please, don’t leave me.’…

  8. Kathy D.

    Lovely photograph and congratulations on many years of wedded bliss.
    I don’t know the song but will look for it online.

  9. Margot: The photo looks like the proposal took place on a special occasion. If you would like to share I would be interested in a little more information. I am glad you can continue to look back with joy to that evening.

    I remember well Russell’s dazed bliss in Anthony Bidulka’s book. I would like to say more but that would be a spoiler.

    In the Eli Sharpe mystery series by Max Everhart there is a continuing theme of Eli’s 5 engagements but no marriages.

    • Thanks, Bill, for mentioning Max Everhart’s work. His Eli Sharpe is an interesting character, and that theme of engagements fits in perfectly what what I had in mind for this post. I appreciate that you filled in the gap.

      As to the ‘photo, yes it was a special occasion, actually. It was a university dinner dance held during my last year as a student. It really was a lovely night and I do look back on it fondly.

  10. Margot, I don’t remember reading about marriage proposals in fiction though I have read novels with a whiff of matrimony in the narrative. Like in the movies, the protagonist in the book usually has a fiance and all’s well that ends well in the end. I suppose a wedding in the midst of a gripping case could ruin it for readers.

  11. I’m going to have to mention Margery Allingham here. Fashion in Shrouds has the awful proposal to Campion’s sister – the least feminist proposal ever, very disappointing, when MA was such a strong woman herself. But I always liked the Amanda/Albert romance, and she sort-of proposes to him at the end of Sweet Danger. And Luke and Prunella are marvellous – I don’t remember the actual proposal, but their getting together is sweet, and her visit to his mother is wonderful: in The Beckoning Lady.
    I never know how anyone dares do those very public proposals, or anything where it will be embarrassing to get the wrong answer. Keep it private and have a get-out, I would say – is that not very romantic?

    • You have the same view of the proposal as Mr. COAMN… does, Moira. It could be really embarrassing (not to say heartbreaking) to get the wrong answer if a proposal is that public. And thanks for adding Margery Allingham to the conversation. As you remind us, there are lots of examples of proposals there. And it is interesting how a person like Allingham would write such a chauvinistic proposal into Fashion in Shrouds. Product of the times, perhaps? In any case, she did write some great characters, and I’m glad you mentioned them.

  12. This is a lovely subject for a post Margot and I do hope the wedding was as beautiful as some of these proposals? I especially liked the one in Camilla Lackberg series, the romantic relationship between Erica and Patrik is so realistically portrayed that I think it works very well against the backdrop of the crimes.

    • I think it does, too, Cleo. I like the fact that things are not always ‘hearts and flowers’ between them. At the same time, it’s not endless sadness and depression, either. It’s clear that they love each other. And yes, my friend’s wedding was absolutely lovely! Perfect weather, a beautiful ceremony, fine people, and great food, drink and music. Couldn’t ask for more!

  13. I love that picture, Margot. What a great subject for a post. Hope you had a blast at the wedding. My very best to the happy couple. ❤

  14. Such an interesting post, Margot. Marriage proposals certainly are fertile grounds for crime – jealousy, revenge, money, secret affairs, stepchildren etc.But they also, as you pointed out, can be romantic and the mix of romance and mystery is a winning situation – at least for me it is.

    • Romance and mystery certainly can work well together, Carol, no doubt about that. And it’s interesting, if you think about it, to consider all of the possibilities when it comes to marriage proposals. As you say, there can be all sorts of issues such as jealousy, hidden secrets, or even the motive for the proposal. And you can create this kind of plot point for nearly any culture or socioeconomic status, which means it’s also really flexible.

  15. Ah, what an unusual and happy (for once) subject for crime fiction reads! Love your picture, and it does sound like an unforgettable evening.
    I do think there’s a bit more of an emphasis on proposals in the US than there is in Europe. I remember when I was working for an American company and the girls would come into the office with diamond rings on their fingers after a holiday or romantic meal and talk about the men getting on their knees and other dramatic gestures.
    Meanwhile, the English and other nationalities in the office would roll their eyes or look at each other with embarrassment…

    • How interesting, Marina Sofia, that you’ve seen a culture-based difference in the way proposals are handled. It’s not surprising, of course; culture affects everything, so why not this as well? And there are personal differences, too. Some people are just quieter about that sort of thing than others are. But it is a happy subject, isn’t it? And thanks for the kind words; it was a wonderful evening.

  16. I hope your friends will be eternally happy. I never had a proper proposal and actually when it (sort of) came it was when we were both in a telephone box making a call. We were both speaking to his tour manager in the Channel Islands, sharing the receiver of the old fashioned red box type phones with buttons A and B, when he turned to me and casually remarked, ‘Brian says will you marry me?’ Confused? Yes. I accepted once I decided that I wasn’t being asked to marry Brian. Romantic? Nope. Grounds for murder in the future? possibly.

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