Just as Long as You Stand, Stand by Me*

loyalThere are a lot of qualities we value in others. One of the most important is loyalty. Whether it’s friends or co-workers, people tend to prefer those who are loyal. In fact, for some people, loyalty is more valuable than just about any other quality.

Loyalty also impacts the relationships that we have with others, and therefore, the way we behave. Some people hide things, lie, or more out of a sense of loyalty. But even those who don’t do those things will often let their loyalties impact what they do.

Because of that, loyalty can be a very interesting thread in a crime novel. It comes up in all sorts of different ways, and there are far too many examples for me to share them all. But here are a few to give you a sense of how loyalty can work.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Air, Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to London when one of his fellow passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. The victim was a well-known moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, so as you can imagine, there is more than one suspect. But the only people who could have committed the crime are the other passengers. So Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out which person is the killer. Part of the trail leads to Madame Giselle’s maid, Elise Grandier. When Poirot interviews her, he finds that she was intensely loyal to her employer, and for good reason. Out of that loyalty, she’s kept some information that could prove to be useful. Poirot has to find a way to get her to share that information; and at first, it’s not easy. But he finally persuades her to confide in him.

In Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed, we meet former Glasgow police officer Douglas Brodie. He’s recently returned from war (the novel takes place immediately after WWII), and has settled in London. One day, he gets a call from an old friend from school, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan, who’s scheduled to be executed. It seems Donovan was arrested for the kidnap and murder of a young boy, Roy Hutchinson, and there is evidence against him. He claims to be innocent, though, and wants Brodie’s help in clearing his name. Brodie isn’t eager to go back to Glasgow for a number of reasons. But Donovan is an old friend and wartime buddy, so Brodie feels a sense of loyalty to him. He travels to Glasgow and starts asking questions about what happened to Roy Hutchinson, and it’s not long before some dangerous people in high places decide that he’s too curious for his own good…

Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar begins as Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney travels to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner, Nou, is brutally murdered. Didi himself is the most convenient suspect, and the police focus on him, although he claims he’s innocent. One night, the police raid his home, killing Didi in the process. Their account is that they’d come to arrest him, and he resisted to the point where they had no choice but to kill him. But Keeney doesn’t believe that’s so. Nor does she believe her friend would have killed his partner. So, out of loyalty, she changes her plans and remains in Chiang Mai to try to clear Didi’s name, and find out who really killed Nou.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss investigates the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. It’s soon discovered that she was a commercial sex worker, so the police concentrate on that aspect of her life. In order to find out more about her, Morriss gets to know some of the other sex workers in the area. Through them, she finds out that the victim was working for a notorious pimp, Charlie Hawes. There is no concrete evidence against him, but Morriss is sure that he had something to do with the murder, even if he wasn’t directly responsible. As she tries to find the truth, Morriss finds that the group of sex workers she meets have a solid sense of loyalty to each other in their way. They help each other, and they’ve formed a social group of their own. Among other things, this novel shows how that bond can develop.

Loyalty is a proverbial double-edged sword, of course. It can be the reason that people don’t report a crime, or don’t ‘blow the whistle’ when they might otherwise do so. That can make it very difficult for someone who does speak up. For instance, in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, we are introduced to Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen. He’s just been stationed in Tiverton, in rural South Australia. He’s there mostly because he got a reputation as a ‘whistleblower’ in an internal investigation in Adelaide, and has basically been exiled from there. Hirsch’s reputation has followed him to Tiverton, and all of the other police there treat him as an outcast. They do everything they can to sabotage his work, embarrass him, and make his life harder. They see him as disloyal, and that’s an unforgivable sin to them. Still, Hirsch has a job to do, so when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is found by the side of Bitter Wash Road, he investigates. It’s not easy, since he has no support from his colleagues. But in the end, he gets to the truth.  

There are lots of other examples, too, of novels where we see what happens to characters who are seen as disloyal. It’s an important character trait that many see as essential. And the quality of loyalty can add an interesting layer to a fictional character. Which loyal characters have you enjoyed (I agree completely, fans of Craig Johnson’s Henry Standing Bear)?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Stand by Me.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Craig Johnson, Garry Disher, Gordon Ferris, Maureen Carter

22 responses to “Just as Long as You Stand, Stand by Me*

  1. I am fiercely loyal. Margot, sometimes to my detriment. What an excellent topic for today’s post 🙂

  2. R. T.

    Loyalty as a two way street between Watson and Holmes, and Poirot and Hastings is most impressive.

  3. tracybham

    I love that song, Margot. I agree that both The Hanging Shed and Behind the Night Bazaar are great examples of this. Loyalty is often what gets a sleuth involved in the first place and keeps them hanging in there. I am only halfway through All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards, but it seems that loyalty plays a bit part in that story.

    • Oh, it does, Tracy. And I’m so glad you mentioned the Harry Devlin novels. Folks, if you’ve not tried Martin Edwards’ work, I heartily recommend both this series and his Lake District series. And as for the song? I’ve always loved it, too. I had the rare privilege of seeing Ben. E. King in concert once, and he did this one – a great experience.

  4. Jo, I think Jo in “Little Women” is loyal to her family. She tried and did support them with her writing while the father was off to war. I should have mentioned a mystery. None came to mind immediately. I like especially two titles from your post: “Behind The Night Bazaar” and “Working Girls.”

    • You make a good point, Acacialane, about Jo. She’s a bit ‘rough around the edges’ as the saying goes, but she is, indeed, quite loyal to her family. And I’m glad you enjoyed both Behind the Night Bazaar and Working Girls. Both are terrific reads, in my opinion.

  5. I’m fiercely loyal; almost to a fault. That’s gotten me into trouble in the past, but I rather enjoy being able to lay my head on the pillow at night without regret.

  6. Thank you, Margot. I just love it when s reference to one of my novels pops up under the title of a song that I love!

    Like many of your readers/fans, I’m also über loyal, as in ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’ type loyal (I put it down to being a Leo!). Loyalty can be blinkering, as happens in two novels I can think of: Emma Viskic’s ‘Resurrection Bay’ and Jock Serong’s ‘The Rules of Backyard Crickey’ – both highly recommended for lovers of quality Australian crime fiction.

  7. Margot, Della Street is probably the most loyal character I have read about. She’s not just loyal but protective and possessive of Perry Mason as well, though, of course, we know why that is. Personally, I’m quite loyal to authors I read for I never abandon their books no matter how uninteresting they are.

    • You’re quite right, Prashant, about Della Street. I’m glad you’ve filled in that gap. She is certainly a terrific example of a character who is extremely loyal. You make an interesting point, too, about loyalty to authors. I’m that way, too, about some authors.

  8. I’m just finishing up a debut mystery called The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf that has this loyalty theme running throughout. The main character returns to his hometown, suddenly three people are murdered, all with a relationship to the main character, but there are two high school friends who will remain loyal to the main character, no matter what. These are all characters I’ve enjoyed getting to know (and I’m still not sure who the killer is this close to the end…although I have a prime suspect). That’s always a bonus because I don’t like figuring it all out too early in the novel.

    • Oh, I agree, Pat. I prefer it, too, if I don’t figure it all out right away; it lets me ‘match wits’ with the author, which I like to do. The Homeplace sounds really interesting, too. I hope you’ll post on it when you’ve finished it.

  9. Col

    I like that aspect of character in my books. Sometimes it can be misplaced, but often not.

  10. kathy d

    Agree that Behind the Night Bazaar is an excellent book and loyalty definitely is a factor. There is so much substance to this mystery that everyone should read it.
    Bitter Wash Road: It’s true about loyalty.
    Among police forces, loyalty is expected, sometimes to the point of covering up the truth in fiction and the real world.
    V.I. Warshawski, private detective, is very loyal to her friends, and they to her.
    And across the world in Venice, there is a lot of loyalty in the questura, but not necessarily to the top officials. Guido Brunetti is loyal to his job, to the public, to his colleagues and his family, even his in-laws. But he will pursue a case against the orders of his commander if it helps civilians and solve a crime. And he is very loyal to Signorina Elettra Zorzi, and she to him — in their minor conspiracies to share information using high-technology.
    I am also a very loyal person in relationships and commitments.

    • You’re quite right, Kathy, that loyalty is expected among the police, and disloyalty has real consequences. And you have a good point about Warshawski and Brunetti. Both are loyal, and so are the members of their ‘inner circles.’ I think that adds to those series. And yes, both Angela Savage’s books and Garry Disher’s books are really well written.

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