There’s an old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Certainly children are influenced not just by their parents and siblings, but also by a lot of other people, too. And sometimes they form friendships with people you wouldn’t expect. There’s even a certain bond that develops sometimes between children and older people.
That may be because older people have the time and patience to hear what children have to say. And for their part, children often have a different perspective on what their grandparents and other older people have to say. Those friendships are woven into crime fiction, and they can add interesting layers of plot and character development to a story.
Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun introduces readers to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She and her father, Captain Kenneth Marshall, take a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. With them is Marshall’s second wife, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. Linda’s going through all of the awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. And things are not made any easier by the fact that her stepmother is beautiful and graceful. Linda’s very unhappy, but doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about what’s on her mind. One day, Arlena is found strangled not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot, who’s taking a holiday at the same place, works with the police to catch the killer. As a part of the investigation, he has to find out what Linda knows and whether she might have been involved in some way. And it’s interesting to see how he reaches out to her. In her own awkward way, Linda reaches out, too, and that adds to this story. I agree with you, fans of Dead Man’s Folly.
In Arthur Upfield’s The Bushman Who Came Back, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte investigates a murder that takes place at Mount Eden, a homestead belonging to Mr. Wooten. One day, Wooten’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bell, is found shot in the kitchen. What’s worse, her seven-year-old daughter Linda has gone missing. There’s evidence that a local bushman nicknamed Ol Fren Yorky was at the scene of the crime. He knew the people living at the ranch, too, and is thoroughly familiar with the area. So it wouldn’t have been hard for him to take the child and disappear. No-one wants to believe that Yorky would have committed this crime or hurt Linda, since he’s well-liked. But it is a possibility, so he has to be found. Boney works with the local police to find out the truth behind this case; and, as he does, we learn that Linda and Yorky are friends in that way that children make friends with older people. It adds both a plot point and a layer of interest to the novel. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death of a Swagman.
Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his longtime lover, Livia Burlando, make friends with a young boy named François in The Snack Thief. In one plot thread of that novel, Montalbano investigates the murder of a retired business executive who was killed in the elevator of his apartment building. The key to this mystery, and to another murder that Montalbano and his team are investigating, may be Karima, a housekeeper and sometimes-prostitute who could be a connection between the two cases. By the time Montalbano discovers this link, though, Karima has disappeared, leaving behind her son François. While the police team is looking for the boy’s mother, he has to stay somewhere safe, so Montalbano and Livia (who happens to be visiting) take him in. In the process, they strike up a friendship with him, and Livia in particular begins to bond with him. François isn’t the reason for the murders, but that friendship adds character depth to Montalbano and to Livia, and an interesting plot thread.
Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice features former school principal Thea Farmer. She bought a piece of land in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a dream home built, with the idea of living out her retirement there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions have changed her plans. Now, she lives in the much smaller house next door to the home she used to own. What’s worse, the home she still considers hers has been purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, people she refers to as ‘invaders’ and ‘aliens.’ Thea’s just getting used to that when Frank’s twelve-year-old niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Oddly enough, considering that Thea tends to be a misanthrope, she and Kim form an odd sort of friendship. They begin to spend time together, and Kim even attends a writing class that Thea’s taking. In fact, Thea sees real promise in the girl. So when she suspects that Frank and Ellice may not be providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea gets concerned. She has no real evidence, though, so the police aren’t likely to do anything about it. So, Thea decides to make her own plans. The relationship between Thea and Kim is a really engaging (and important) plot thread in this novel.
And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. Sheldon Horowitz has moved from his native New York City to Norway, to be closer to his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars. One day, he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman who lives upstairs from Rhea and Lars. He rescues her young son, and he and the boy go on the lam. Horowitz knows that the killers could be after the boy, and wants to keep him safe. Neither speaks the other’s language, but the two form a sort of friendship as they try to elude the murderers. For the boy, Horowitz represents a kind of safety. For Horowitz, the boy adds a purpose to his life.
And that’s the thing about the friendships that can develop between children and older people. Each fulfills a need that the other has, and that bond can do much for both. And in novels, such friendships can add character development and interest.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.