At Every Occasion I’ll be Ready For the Funeral*

funeralsAn interesting comment exchange with crime and true crime writer Vicky Blake has gotten me thinking about funerals. Now, before I go on, do pay a visit to Vicky’s excellent website, and try her work. You’ll be glad you did.

Right, funerals. It’s inevitable that, in crime fiction, there’d be plenty of crime-fictional funerals. After all, in a lot of crime novels, there’s at least one murder. Police and other sleuths can find those events quite useful, actually. Most people are killed by people they know. So, attending a funeral can give the police a good idea of how people react to the death in question. And that can give them important clues.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), the family of wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie gathers for his funeral. After the actual ritual, they return to the family home at Enderby, where Abernethie’s attorney, Mr. Entwhistle, prepares to read his client’s will. At that gathering, Abernethie’s youngest sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that he was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up. Even she tells everyone not to pay any attention to what she’s said. But privately, people do begin to wonder. And when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was right. Mr. Entwhistle has his own concerns, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. As it turns out, something at that funeral gathering provides an important clue. And so does something that’s said at a later gathering, where Abernethie’s family members decide which pieces of furniture and other belongings they want.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances marks the debut of her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In that novel, up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned one afternoon when he’s about to make an important speech at a community picnic. He was a good friend and political ally of Joanne’s so she is devastated by his death. As a way to deal with her grief, she decides to write a biography of her friend, and starts to gather material. As she does, she slowly finds out what really happened to him and why. At one point, she accompanies Boychuk’s widow, Eve, to his funeral. There’s quite a police presence there, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. The purpose is, of course, to see who attends and how the different people react. It’s an interesting look at the way police use information they get from funerals.

The real action in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent begins with the funeral of Carolyn Polhemus. She worked as a prosecutor for (fictional) Kindle County before she was murdered. Because of her ties with that office, it’s extremely important that the investigation into her death be handled scrupulously and transparently. So Kindle County Prosecutor Raymond Horgan assigns his best deputy prosecutor, Rožat “Rusty” Sabich, to the case. At the funeral, Sabich notes how big the police presence is, and for good reason:

‘Killing a prosecutor is only one step short of killing a cop, and Carolyn had many friends on the force…’

Attending the funeral doesn’t give Sabich (or the reader) the answer to the question of who killed Carolyn Polhemus. But it’s interesting to see how the police react to this ‘(almost) one of their own’ funeral.

In Jane Casey’s The Burning, Met DC Maeve Kerrigan. Her team is investigating the case of a killer who tries to incinerate his victims. For that reason, the press has dubbed him ‘The Burning Man,’ and there’s a lot of pressure to solve the case quickly. And Kerrigan wants to be a part of the investigation. When the body of PR professional Rebecca Haworth is discovered, it’s believed at first that she was another victim of this serial killer. But Kerrigan isn’t completely sure. There are enough differences between Haworth’s murder and the others that it could also be a case of a ‘copycat’ killing. She’s put on the Haworth case, both to prove to the public that the police aren’t neglecting other cases, and to explore that lead if this is a ‘Burning Man’ killing. As a part of looking into the murder, Kerrigan attends Haworth’s funeral. There, she meets the victim’s parents and other people close to the victim. She also witnesses something that turns out to have some significance later in the novel.

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Finger Lickin’ Dead features her sleuth, Lulu Taylor, who owns and runs Aunt Pat’s, one of Memphis’ most popular eateries. She gets drawn into a case of murder when food critic Avery Cawthorn is murdered. One of the suspects is Lulu’s friend, Evelyn Wade, so she has a personal interest in finding out the truth about the murder. And there are plenty of possibilities, too, as Cawthorn had been merciless in his criticisms, and not exactly a ‘model citizen’ in his private life, either. Several of the people involved in the case attend his funeral, and it’s interesting to see how people’s reactions to it and one another provide clues.

And that’s the thing about funerals of murder victims. As harrowing as they are for family members, they can provide interesting opportunities for the police (or other sleuths) to find out information. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

Thanks, Vicky, for the inspiration!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Band of Horses’ The Funeral.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Jane Casey, Riley Adams, Scott Turow, Vicky Blake

24 responses to “At Every Occasion I’ll be Ready For the Funeral*

  1. I think in Ann Cleeves first Vera book, Crow Trap, investigator Vera first turns up at the funeral, in a very funny, clever and misleading scene…

  2. Betting there are more funerals than weddings in crime fiction.

  3. In Harlan Coben’s Six Years, the protagonist Jake was dumped by his girlfriend Natalie, who then married another man. Six years later, Jake sees an obituary for this man and can’t resist going to his funeral for a peek at Natalie. But when he gets there, he discovers that the woman masquerading as Natalie isn’t the woman he used to know…

    Possibly my favourite funeral scene, though, isn’t crime – it’s the one in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Huck attend their own funeral…

    • Oh, that funeral scene in Tom Sawyer is fantastic, isn’t it, FictionFan!? Just excellent, and I’m so glad you mentioned it. I’m also glad you mentioned Six Years. There’s nothing like a funeral, is there, to really let you know who’s who…

  4. Pingback: At Every Occasion I’ll be Ready For the Funeral* | picardykatt's Blog

  5. You’d think there would be more funerals in crime fiction but I’ve gone through the list of the books I’ve read in the last couple of years and I can’t remember reading one. That’s strange. But yes, you never know who will turn up at the funeral of a murder victim.

    • That’s interesting, Rebecca, that funerals haven’t figured more in your crime fiction reading. As you say, you’d think they would. And it is interesting to see who shows up at a funeral…

  6. A few years ago I read a compelling opening that took place at a funeral, and it’s stayed with me; so visceral and real, the author really nailed it. I wish I could recall the title. Larry Brooks also uses a funeral to draw in the reader in The Seventh Thunder. I’ve used this scenario as well; it works remarkably well to introduce and gain empathy for the main character. But of course, it must fit the story. Fascinating post, Margot. Thanks much.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sue. And I appreciate your reminding me that I need to read more of and spotlight some of Larry Brooks’ work. He’s an author who deserves more attention, in my opinion. If you do remember that other book or author, let me know.

  7. Thanks for the mention, Margot! Funerals are so useful for mystery writers!

  8. Col

    Another blank…..more coffee needed!

  9. You’re very welcome Margot and I’m honoured to be mentioned by you on your wonderful blog. The comment by Rebecca is interesting and I wonder if funerals are used more in film and television than in books. There was a good scene in The Night Of with the excellent John Tarturro when he goes to a funeral.

    • I thought Rebecca’s comment was interesting, too, Vicky. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a number of TV/film funerals. They have real visual impact, and you’ve given a great example.

  10. SteveHL

    Not funerals exactly, but a funeral home is central to Patti Abbott’s excellent Shot in Detroit.

  11. Margot, I’m with Col, except I need more tea. I can’t go beyond associating funerals with gangster movies.

  12. I always wonder whether police in ‘real life’ attend funerals trying to see whether the murderer turns up or is that only in fiction? As you say there tends to be a fair few funerals in crime fiction and any suspects use the time to behave most suspiciously. I love the reference to The Burning, a really great read.

    • Thanks, Cleo; I liked The Burning very much, too, and I like the Maeve Kerrigan character. I wonder, too, whether the police really do show up at funerals. It certainly might inform them as to who cared enough about the victim (or felt compelled for some other reason) to go to the funeral. I could see how that would be informative. Certainly in fiction, there are quite a lot of funeral scenes. My guess is, that happens in real life, too.

  13. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…11/1/16 – Where Genres Collide

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