There 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.