I’ll bet you’ve had the experience. You hear a funny noise, or you see an odd piece of paper stuck in a crack in the back of a drawer. You’re curious, so you decide to open up that piece of paper, or investigate that weird noise. It’s perfectly understandable, really; humans tend to be curious.
It’s interesting to see how that sort of curiosity plays out in crime fiction, too. Readers can identify with the urge to find out what’s causing that noise, or what that paper says. What’s more, plot points like that can add interest and even suspense to a novel.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Helen Stoner, who has an eerie story to tell him about the death of her sister, Julia. It seems that Julia had been hearing strange, soft whistles and other noises during the night. Other odd things were happening, too. Then, just before she suddenly died, Julia said something very cryptic to her sister. Now Helen is hearing the same weird noises. She’s worried about what might be going on, and she wants Holmes to investigate. He and Dr. Watson travel to Stoke Moran, the Stoner home, and begin the search for answers. They discover that those weird sounds are not just products of the imagination, and that their client is in real danger.
Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase begins when Rachel Innes decides to rent Sunnyside, a large country house, for a summer holiday with her nephew, Halsey, and niece, Gertrude. Very soon, some strange things begin to happen. One of those things is a series of strange banging and tapping noises. Rachel is by no means a fanciful person, and decides to investigate. But she can’t find anything that really explains the sounds. Other weird things begin to happen, too, things that frighten her family maid, Liddy Allen, so that she actually ends up leaving. Then, there’s a murder. What’s worse, both Halsey and Gertrude are implicated. Rachel is determined to clear their names, so she begins to do her own investigations. And she learns that those weird sounds are important clues to what’s been going on at the house, and to the murder.
In one plot thread of Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead, Garda Ben Devlin investigates a very odd occurrence. Christine Cashell has reported hearing a baby cry on her baby monitor, but says that it’s not her son. In fact, she and her partner have no children. They’d planned a family, but their son was stillborn, and they haven’t gotten rid of the baby things they’d bought. The manufacturer of the baby monitor reports that some of the monitors may pick up the sounds of other crying babies if they are very near. But there are no babies living anywhere near Christine and her partner. Devlin looks into the matter more closely, and finds that the solution ties in with another case he’s investigating. In fact, there’s an important piece of information that comes from following up on that weird sound of an infant crying.
And it’s not just a matter of following up on odd sounds. In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, detective story writer Ariadne Oliver is visiting a block of London flats. She’s hoping to track down a young woman named Norma Restarick, who shares a flat with two other young women. During the visit, Mrs. Oliver sees a couple of furniture movers taking a desk out of the building. As they’re putting the desk into the van, a piece of paper flutters out. Mrs. Oliver tries to give it to the men, but they ignore her. That piece of paper stuck in that desk turns out to be a very important to clue to Norma’s whereabouts, and to a murder.
Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead introduces Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of Canada’s government. In that novel, they’re called in when a man named Christopher Drayton dies after a fall from Ontario’s Scarborough Bluffs. At first it doesn’t seem the kind of case, even if it is murder, that would interest the CPS. That group normally concerns itself more with hate crimes and other community-relations cases. Then readers learn the reason for the CPS’ involvement. Scraps of letters found in a drawer, and a scrap of paper found in a pocket, suggest that the victim may actually have been Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal who committed real atrocities during the Bosnian War. If that’s Drayton’s real identity, then this is a very delicate case. Questions will most definitely be asked about why a war criminal was allowed to live in Canada, and those questions could lead to the end of more than one career. So Khattak and Getty will have to be very careful as they investigate. It turns out that those little scraps of paper jammed into a drawer are very important.
And that’s the thing. Every once in a while, when you hear a weird noise, or you see a scrap of paper stuck somewhere, it leads to something much more than you think.
ps. Oh, the ‘photo? An odd noise in our heating/air conditioning system turned out to be coming from a scrap of paper stuck in one of the vents. You can just see it on the bottom right of the grill. The air currents made it rattle. You never know what you’ll find when you investigate those strange things.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Barenaked Ladies’ Curious.