Garage Sale Sunday*

Garage and Yard SalesSometimes they’re called jumble sales. They also go by names such as yard sales, tag sales, boot sales, and garage sales. They have other names, too. Whatever you call them, they’re opportunities for people who are getting rid of things to sell them to people who may want those things. Sometimes the proceeds go to a charity; other times, they’re private sales, with the seller keeping any proceeds.

You never know what you’ll find at such sales, really. Sometimes it’s nothing worth much. But there are times when you find something really special. And sales like that can be great places to find things like vintage clothes and jewelry, collectibles and so on. And they can be fun, too. So it’s little wonder that so many people make a weekend hobby of going the rounds of whatever sales there are in the area.

This kind of sale can make a useful context for a crime novel, too. There are all sorts of possibilities for clues and ‘red herrings,’ and motives for murder as well. And with a group of disparate people, you never know what conflicts might arise.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Hercule Poirot visits the village of Broadhinny at the request of Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence. One of the residents, James Bentley, has been convicted of murdering his landlady, and on good evidence. But Spence isn’t convinced of Bentley’s guilt, so he asks Poirot to look into the matter. As he settles into Broadhinny, Poirot is told about the village’s Bring and Buy sales that are held at the village hall. He also learns that Mrs. McGinty was murdered in November, after the autumn Bring and Buy, but before the Christmas event. That fact turns out to be significant as Poirot works to find out who would have been in a position to commit the crime.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Wasn’t There takes place in the fictional town of Pickax, ‘four hundred miles north of nowhere.’ In one plot thread of the novel, we learn that beloved local GP Dr. Hal Goodwinter has died, and that his daughter, Melinda, has inherited his house and its effects. She doesn’t plan to live in the house, so she puts the contents up for sale. Later, she’ll sell the property itself. The event draws thousands of people, and the town has all it can do to manage the logistics and safety issues. So it’s not until later that anyone learns that some professional thieves used to sale as a cover and distraction for their own plans.

Hallie Ephron’s Never Tell a Lie takes a darker look at yard sales. David and Ivy Rose have purchased a Victorian home, where they plan to start their own family. As a matter of fact, Ivy is eight months pregnant with their first child. To make more room, and clear things out, they decide to host a yard sale one November day. As anyone who’s ever held such a sale can attest, people arrive early and the place is soon crowded. One of those people is Melinda ‘Mindy’ White, whom the Roses knew in school, and who is heavily pregnant herself. Mindy never really fit in in high school, and she’s still a bit of an ‘oddball.’ When the sale is over, everyone leaves, but Mindy never makes it home. In fact, no-one can remember seeing her after the sale. When she’s officially reported missing, the police investigate, and one of their first stops is the Rose’s home. David and Ivy claim to know nothing about her disappearance, but there’s evidence to suggest they may know much more than they’re saying. The truth about Mindy’s disappearance turns out to go a lot deeper than a case of someone who wandered off during a yard sale.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows takes place mostly at an ultra-exclusive, gated community outside Buenos Aires. Called Cascade Heights Country Club, it’s usually called The Heights. Every potential resident is thoroughly ‘vetted,’ and only the very wealthy can afford to live there. They all have domestic staff, shop only in exclusive stores, and send their children to the ‘right schools.’ It’s that kind of place. Everything changes when Argentina goes through an economic crisis (the novel takes place at the end of the 1990s/beginning of the 2000s). People are losing jobs, and no-one’s lifestyle is secure any more. One night, there’s a tragedy, and we see as the book develops what has led to it. One of the ‘things people do’ in this community is to give to the ‘right’ charities and do the ‘right things’ to help the needy. To accomplish this, some of the residents create a charitable group called ‘The Ladies of the Heights.’ This group decides to hold a jumble sale in aid of a local children’s free meal centre. The sale is duly held and the money donated. Admittedly, the jumble sale and the preparations for it aren’t the cause of the tragedy. But they do highlight the social divisions that play a key role in the story, and they show the attitudes that also play an important role.

And then there’s David Houswright’s Unidentified Woman #15. Former Minneapolis police officer-turned-occasional-PI Rushmore McKenzie is witness one night to the attempted murder of a young woman. McKenzie rescues her, but she is badly injured and is rushed to the nearest hospital. Her physical wounds heal, but she’s lost her memory. St. Paul Police Commissioner Bobby Dunstan believes she may be in danger, so he asks McKenzie (who’s a former colleague and friend) to take her in for a short time. This McKenzie agrees to do. All goes well enough for a short time, but then, the young woman disappears. Now, McKenzie and the police have to find the woman (whose name they still do not know) and try to find out who was targeting her. As it turns out, this case is connected to another case, which involves stolen merchandise being sold at a series of garage sales. It’s an interesting way to weave the garage sale tradition into the larger plot.

Of course, not all jumble, yard, garage or tag sales are dangerous. Sometimes you can find fantastic bargains, and who knows? You may find something priceless if you keep your eyes open. But perhaps it’s just as well to keep your wits about you…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Granddaddy’s Where I’m Anymore.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, David Housewright, Hallie Ephron, Lilian Jackson Braun

27 responses to “Garage Sale Sunday*

  1. I’m not sure I’ve read a book with one of those sales in (though I very well may have) but I can see how they’d play well in a crime novel. All those people entering and leaving the scene. And all that property to be used in nefarious ways. Brilliant ground 🙂

    • That’s what I think, too, Rebecca. And of course, who pays attention to the other people at a sale like that? Unless, that is, there’s a dust-up of some kind. SO there are all kinds of possibilities for sneakiness…

  2. Your underlying hint at the actual ‘timelessness’ of the really important surroundings in crime fiction is a prudent insight indeed. It depends all on how it is used and how thrilling it is to the readers.

    A smartphone combines TV & phone, to simplify, but an old phone and a coffee shop with TV would serve the same function…

    I vaguely remember a crime fiction within which a crime in World War 2 is repeated or copy-catted in modern time, and the investigators both go through their specific world in their own way to solve it.

    And your fondness of sneakiness… whoa, Margot. I was already struggling with my fear of pick-pockets… 😉 A real heavy-hitter indeed. The stalker, the Rapist and the Serial, or any sinister-scheme agent, could get on our trail in such ‘public but hard to overlook’ situations and places…

  3. Pingback: Garage Sale Sunday* — Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… | sweatingthewriting

  4. And if it is after WW II in Berlin it is a vast coming together of desperate sellers and not enough buyers in an open area where ordinary Germans are selling what they have to gain enough money to live for another day or week or month. I believe such a market existed in German Requiem by Philip Kerr.

    • That’s quite true, Bill. And I think you’re right about A German Requiem, too.That desperation really does cast a whole new light on such sales, and adds to the tension.

  5. I really don’t know how you come up with all these posts Margot but you’ve highlighted at least one book here that has caught my fancy – Never Tell a Lie sounds like just the sort of set-up I enjoy so thank you!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Cleo. And I really do think you’d like Never Tell a Lie. It has a really effective premise, and the sort of context and setting that I think would appeal to you. If you do read it, I hope you’ll like it.

  6. Margot, I have been fascinated by yard sales and garage sales in the US, especially since I first read about them in Archie Comics. We don’t have anything like that. We sell most of our used stuff, including furniture, to the scrap dealer or old paper mart or put them up for sale online. Indians usually hold on to stuff for decades, handing it down from one generation to another.

    • Oh, that’s really interesting, Prashant! I didn’t know that. It’s one of those things that different cultures think about differently. And it makes sense to get as much use out of your things as you can, so I suppose things do get worn out enough that it would be hard to sell them at a yard or garage sale, anyway, if you sue them as long as you can.

  7. It’s that time of the year! The best ones are the ones where several neighbors are involved. A multi-family sale might also provide a nice setting for murder. 🙂

    • Oh, it sure is that time of year, Elizabeth! And you’re right; those multi-family sales are the best in terms of what’s available. And what a good premise for a murder mystery, too! Lots of possibility 🙂

  8. Margot, I don’t think I’ll ever pass (or stop) by a yard sale again that I don’t think about this post. 🙂 Yard sales can provide for good tension – especially if two people want the same item.

    • Oh, that’s quite true, Mason. That sort of conflict can lead to tension, can’t it? That’s a good example of what a solid context a garage or yard sale is for a crime novel.

  9. On the brink of organising my own garage sales, so I’ll be very careful what I include in there…

  10. I just finished a crime fiction book about the economic crisis in Iceland, now I will have to read Thursday Night Widows. Which I have because of your Spotlight post earlier.

    • Oh, I hope you’ll like Thursday Night Widows, Tracy. If you do read it, I’ll be really interested in knowing what you thought. And there really are some great books out there about the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, and the crash that followed. Not surprising, either, since it was a pivotal time.

  11. Kathy D.

    I didn’t remember the yard sale in Thursday Night Widows nor in other books.
    I have, however, co-organized my share of “rummage” sales in schools or other sites. No yards or garages here.
    Lots of fun with all sorts of donated clothes and other goods. People trying on fur capes, hats and wild jewelry. Hilarious times.

    • Rummage sales can be a lot of fun, can’t they, Kathy? And as you say, so many different kinds of things for sale. Often, they all have stories, too, and that makes it all the more interesting.

  12. Like Cleo, I was caught by your description of Never tell a Lie, I found your description very enticing. And so glad you mentioned Mrs McGinty’s dead, the weapon at the parish fete is a brilliant touch. It’s the weird sugar chopper isn’t it? Still gives me the shivers…

    • Good memory, Moira! It is, indeed, a sugar hammer, and it is creepy, isn’t it? I like the way Christie puts that in there without actually being brutal about it. She was so good at inviting readers to use their own imaginations. And if you do try Never Tell a Lie, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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