Endless Irritation, Endless Aggravation*

Frustrations and IrritationsIt never fails, does it? You’re busy with your life, when something happens to disrupt your routine. It may be someone coming in to fix the boiler/air conditioning/etc., or it may be that your access to the Internet isn’t working. There are lots of other things like that that happen, and they always manage to happen just when you’re in the midst of everything.

It’s frustrating in real life, of course. And it’s realistic in crime fiction, too. After all, those are the sorts of frustrating things we all have to deal with at times. And for the writer, those discomforts also allow for added tension and sometimes conflict.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence pays a visit to Hercule Poirot. Spence is concerned because James Bentley is soon to be executed for the murder of his landlady, Mrs. McGinty, and Spence thinks Bentley may be innocent. He asks Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot travels to the village of Broadhhinny to investigate. There’s not much available in terms of lodging in such a small village, but Poirot finds a room at Long Meadows, the property of Johnnie and Maureen Summerhayes. Almost immediately, Poirot finds that his accommodations are, to say the least, not to his taste. His hosts are not skilled at running a guest house, so the food is bad, the room is uncomfortable, and the home is completely disorganized. Needless to say, those frustrations add tension (and actually, some funny moments) to the story. And they don’t make Poirot’s investigations any easier!

Stan Jones’ White Sky, Black Ice introduces readers to Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. Although he is Inupiaq, he was adopted and raised by white parents in Anchorage. So when he is assigned to the small northern town of Chukchi, there are a lot of adjustments he has to make. Shortly after his arrival, Active gets involved in the investigation of two deaths that, on the surface, look like suicides. One is George Clinton, who’s found dead outside a bar. The other is Aaron Stone, who’s found dead on what was supposed to be a hunting trip. Investigating Stone’s death involves going out to Katy Lake, where the victim’s hunting cabin was, so Active gets a ride from bush pilot Cowboy Decker. The plane is extremely small and uncomfortable, with so much noise that both pilot and passenger have to wear headphones so that they can communicate. And the trail isn’t any more comfortable, especially with night coming on and winter approaching. Fortunately, Active finds a place for the night with Amos Wilson, who has a cabin in that area. The cabin is far from what most of us would think of as comfortable, but it’s warm and safe.

In one sub-plot of Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets a temporary office-mate. There’s been vandalism in the building that houses the Department of Journalism at the university where Kilbourn works, and several of the faculty members in that department have to find temporary office space elsewhere until the damage has been repaired. Kilbourn offers to share her office with a colleague and friend, Ed Mariani. On the one hand, the two like each other, so they both work to make this arrangement go as smoothly as possible. On the other hand, it’s awkward for both of them. If you’ve ever had to share an office with someone, you know how uncomfortable that can be, what with people’s different habits, schedules and so on. Still, the two of them make the best of the situation. Matters get even more uncomfortable, though, when Kilbourn begins to wonder whether her friend and temporary office-mate might have committed murder…

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is asked to lend his expertise when the body of a young woman, Catherine McBride, is discovered. It turns out that the victim is a former client of O’Loughlin, so he rather reluctantly agrees to try to help find out who would have killed her. Then there’s another murder. And this one implicates O’Loughlin. DI Vincent Ruiz was already under the impression that O’Loughlin might know more about the case than he let on; now he begins to suspect him. O’Loughlin will have to clear his own name, and go up against a very dangerous killer, to avoid being convicted of crimes he didn’t commit. At the same time as all of this is going on, the boiler in the O’Loughlin home is broken, and a plumber will have to be called in. That means strange people coming in and out of the house, a disruption of routine, and, of course, the expense. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how frustrating the whole thing can be.

And then there’s Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. In that novel, which takes place in London in the early 1920s, Emily Wray has recently lost her husband. At this time, and in this place, ladies don’t really have careers, as a rule. So Emily and her daughter Frances have no other option, as they see it, but to open their home to lodgers (they’re called ‘paying guests’ as a euphemism). The Wrays put out discreet advertisements, and soon enough, Len and Lilian Barber accept the terms and move in. Everyone knows that the arrangement is more or less necessary. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, fun, or smooth. For one thing, there’s the awkwardness of having strangers in the house. For another, there are the inevitable annoyances such as extra noises, not enough hot water when you want it, and so on. But everyone tries to make it work. Before long, though, things begin to spin out of control, and the end result of this arrangement is real tragedy.

Not all of those frustrations do end up that way, but they’re often enough to put us completely out of sorts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my Internet’s about to cra –


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from No Fun at All’s Trapped Inside.  



Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Michael Robotham, Sarah Waters, Stan Jones

19 responses to “Endless Irritation, Endless Aggravation*

  1. Yesterday at work we lost access to all systems for nearly the whole day. That was chaotic. Every bit of work nowadays is tied into using some system, available either via internet or intranet.

    I look forward to finally getting to Stan Jones’ White Sky, Black Ice some day soon.

    • Oh, Tracy, that must have been so extremely frustrating for you!! Yikes! You’re right, too, that so many workplaces now depend on the Internet and other computer systems. When those don’t work, everything comes to a standstill.

      I do recommend White Sky, Black Ice, when you get to it. If you do, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  2. kathyd

    Life is full of aggravations, large and small, every day. The Internet is one source of frustration, especially when a user can’t figure out why it’s not working, or one has to go to use the PC because the network will not work on the laptop because it’s 8 feet from a brand-new router!
    However, even worse is the interruption of reading time. I planned to spend much of Wednesday reading the Petrona-winning book, “The Caveman,” by Jorn Lier Horst of Norway. Did I get to read one page today? Nope. Not yet. And I even bought chocolate frozen yogurt to accompany the book.
    Will stay up late reading, but so much to do.
    Can I tell people “Sorry, I can’t do that or discuss that because this is my reading day?” I wish I could put a “Do not Disturb” sign on my phone and email.

    • Oh, wouldn’t it be nice, Kathy, if we could put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign to protect our reading time? I’d love that. And it sounds like you had one of those days where everything got in the way of reading. You’re right, too, about the way that technology can get irritating. And it always seems to happen just when you’re most depending on it to work!

  3. Col

    Another reminder to read Stan Jones……..not enough hours in the day!

  4. Ah, bless you, Margot, you must have been thinking of my endless saga of no internet and phone connection! And last night my children *kindly* reminded me that I haven’t organised any birthday or farewell parties for them before we leave this part of the world, but it’s so difficult to find out what is happening when without internet – as they want a proper send-off, not just a party in the garden this time!
    Anyway, I could go on about this and bore everyone to death. I’ve discovered that no one wants to hear about other people’s ‘home appliances’ problems, unless they can top their story with an even worse experience!
    But I am not surprised it can lead to murder… let’s put it this way!

    • I actually was thinking of your no-Internet/no-‘phone situation, Marina Sofia, when I wrote this. We depend so much on such things to work that when they don’t, it just gets in the way of everything. I hope you’ll be able to put together a party for your sons. But mostly, I hope you get everything sorted, so that you can have some sanity back! And you’re right; as aggravating as such situations are, it’s little wonder when they lead to murder…

  5. I find when a little chaos is added to a story it makes it more realistic. But if an author goes overboard with it then it’s unproductive for the story. I remember listening to an audio where the protagonist had one problem after another. At first I started thinking this is just too much, but the more I listened the more everything sort of fell into place. One problem lead to another and that one to another and so on. In the end it made perfect sense and worked as it would have in real life, as well as building tense and suspense in the story.

    • You make a well-taken point, Mason. Some aggravation and chaos can add to a story, and when those aggravations are worked out logically, they can be realistic. But too much aggravation takes away from the story. It’s interesting how the author of the book you were reading found a way to bring it together.

  6. LOL Love how you ended this post. So funny!!!

    I’ve been dealing with spotty internet in my sunroom especially, where I work in the nice weather. Freaky annoyances, too, like the microwave interrupting my signal, even a strong wind can knock me off-line. We live on a mountain and often times have spotty cell signals, too, so it’s not surprising we deal with internet issues as well. Thankfully the view outweighs the annoyances most days. But it always seems to happen at the worse possible time. Hmm…maybe we have a ghost who’s toying with me.

    • Oh, that could be, Sue. And so many endless possibilities for a story, too (writer is trying to work on her WIP, but someone’s trying to sabotage her by messing with her mind, with the Internet, with the signal….). In all seriousness, I can completely understand how annoying it must be when the signal/service goes in and out. I’ve been told by other people who live on mountains or in more remote places that you just get used to it, and that it’s best not to have a lot of expectations, if that makes sense. And as you say, you sure get gorgeous views and other advantages of living in a beautiful place.

      …and thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed that bit at the end.

  7. Pingback: The Vitriol of Life Led Offline – findingtimetowrite

  8. Fun post, Margot, and a good reminder that we need to be ready for the unexpected at all times. Sudden change or disaster does make a great plot point for almost every novel genre.

    • It really does, Pat. And thanks for the kind words. I think that probably the sanest thing to do is understand that things are going to go haywire, at least sometimes. Accepting that that’s going to happen once in a while makes coping with it all easier, I think.

  9. In Christie’s Pale Horse there’s a bit of a scam going on involving people turning up at the door claiming to be either market research or workmen doing a job…. beware of those callers…

    • Oh, that is a good example of those annoyances that never fail to happen when we least have the energy and time for them, Moira! Thanks for filling in that gap. And yes, it’s always best to beware…. Oh, and that reminds me (just a hint – not a real similarity) of ‘Nicci French’s’ Blue Monday. In that case, it’s religious evangelists.

  10. Margot, I like the setting of Stan Jones’ “White Sky, Black Ice.” It sounds like a very intriguing novel. Thanks for the reminder about Gail Bowen too.

    • In my opinion, Prashant, Jones does a highly effective job of evoking the Alaska setting. If you do read his work, I hope you’ll enjoy it. The same for Gail Bowen’s work as well.

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