Even if you’re not into playing sports, you may have a bit of the competitive spirit, especially if there’s a prize worth the winning. It’s a very human trait, and it can add a great deal to a fictional character. It can also add a layer of suspense to a story, too, not to mention a motive for all sorts of things…
For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, pawn shop owner Jabez Wilson gets caught up in a strange sort of contest. His shop assistant tells him about an advertisement for a new job, which promises good pay for easy work. The only requirement to apply is naturally red hair. Wilson goes to the job interview and finds that many, many other men with red hair are competing for the same job. But Wilson is chosen, and soon begins work. The job is as easy as promised: copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The pay is good, too. One day, though, Wilson goes to his work as usual, only to find that the building is shut and there’s a sign saying that the Red Headed League has been disbanded. It’s a puzzling matter, and Wilson takes it to Sherlock Holmes, who agrees to find out what’s going on. It turns out that the Red-Headed League was just a cover for some nefarious business.
Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), introduces us to Jane Grey, a London hairstylist’s assistant. She takes a chance on the Irish Sweeps, and turns out to be a winner. While there are all kinds of well-meaning suggestions for how to spend her winnings, Jane decides to take a trip to Le Pinet, just as her wealthy clients do. On her way back after the trip, she takes a flight from Paris to London. On that same flight is a Paris moneylender named Marie Morisot. When the flight lands, one of the stewards discovers that Mmlle. Morisot has died of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the killer is. In this case, it turns out that winning the sweeps competition wasn’t all celebration for Jane…
Hugh Pentecost’s The Fourteen Dilemma tells the story of the lucky Watson family, who wins an all-expenses paid trip to New York City, including a stay at the ultra-exclusive Hotel Beaumont. Everything is carefully planned for their comfort, and all starts off well enough. Then, their twelve-year-old daughter, Marilyn, wanders off and is later found dead, stuffed into a trash can. The family is devastated, and of course, the hotel will do everything it can to find out the truth. PR Director Mark Haskell works with the hotel’s manager, Pierre Chambrun, and with the police, to find out who killed Marilyn. And the truth turns out to be much more complicated than it seems on the surface.
Waldemar Leverkuhn learns that winning a competition isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be in Håkan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery. He and some friends go in together on a lottery ticket and, wonder of wonders, they win. They go out to celebrate and it looks as though everything will go well for them. But that night, Leverkuhn is stabbed to death. Intendant Münster and his team investigate the killing. And, of course, they focus on the friends that Leverkuhn was with that night. But it turns out that there are several other possibilities, too. And in the end, the murder is related to something that has nothing to do with a lottery ticket.
But don’t worry. Getting into a competition isn’t always dangerous. I promise. For instance, there are still a couple of days left for you to enter the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt competition! What’s in it for you? Possibly one of three signed copies of Past Tense, my newest Joel Williams novel, which is coming out on 1 November. Wanna be a part of it? It’s easy! The instructions are right here. C’mon, play along!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Easy Money.