Look Out of Any Window*

windowsI’ll bet you do it without even thinking about it. I’m talking about looking out the window. Even if your view isn’t exactly stunning, it’s almost impossible to resist glancing out, especially if you see movement or hear something. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go for a day without looking out of your office window if you work from an office that has one. I’ll bet you’d find it hard-put to avoid looking out of your windows at home, too.

But windows can be very dangerous things, if you think about it. Just a quick look at crime fiction shows that looking out of a window can put you smack in the middle of a crime. And that can be risky. Windows can make people quite vulnerable, too.

In John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Mystery, Julius Tregarthan is shot one night through the open window of his sitting room at the family home, Greylings. Dr. Pendrill is summoned to the scene, and brings with him his old friend, the Reverend Dodd. It’s soon very clear that this was neither an accident nor a suicide. Inspector Bigwell takes the case, and works to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. What’s interesting is that three shots were fired through the window, from three slightly different angles. Two went wide; one found its mark. So, one question is: were there three killers? If not, how did the murderer fire from three different angles so quickly? It’s a complicated case, but the Reverend Dodd slowly puts the pieces together, and works with Pendrill and Bigwell to get to the truth.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way by train to visit her friend, Miss Marple. She happens to look out her window just as another train goes by, heading in the same direction. Her view lets her see through the windows of the other train, which is how she sees a woman apparently being strangled. She alerts the conductor, but no-one believes her, since there hasn’t been a body discovered. Miss Marple does take her seriously, though, and does some research of her own. She deduces that the body is likely on the property of Rutherford Hall, which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. Not having an ‘in’ of her own, Miss Marple enlists her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to be her eyes and ears. Lucy agrees and is soon hired as the Crackenthorpes’ housekeeper. Sure enough, she finds the body of a woman, and the police soon take charge. In her own way, Miss Marple stays involved, and works out who the killer is. There’s even a Christie novel in which a murder is committed through a window. But no spoilers!

In one plot line of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the strangling murder of Annette Bystock. She was killed in her bed, so it’s going to be important to find anyone who might have seen someone coming or going at the time of the murder. Fortunately for the police, retiree Percy Hammond lives next door to the murder scene, and spends his share of time looking through his window. And it turns out he saw something very important to the investigation. In the end, this murder is related to a missing person case that the police are also investigating.

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa is faced with a difficult and dangerous case in A Window in Copacabana. Three police officers are murdered with expert precision, and in quick succession. Now, there’s a general fear that someone is targeting cops. But that’s not the only possibility. The victims might have been involved in corruption and gotten mixed up with the wrong people. There’s nothing in their backgrounds or records to suggest that, but it’s certainly not impossible. Everything changes when the mistress of one of the victims is found shot in her car. Then, Rosita, who was the mistress of another of the police victims, is killed by a fall from her window. It looks like suicide at first. But Serena Rodes, the wife of a wealthy businessman, contacts Espinosa. It seems she was looking out her window and saw Rosita get pushed through the window (‘though she didn’t see by whom). This complicated case turns out to be rooted in corruption – only not in the way you might think.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage features Maura Cody, a former nun who’s now trying to live as quiet and unassuming a life as she can. She looks out her window one day and sees something that puts her in grave danger. It’s relevant to two cases that Dublin D.S. Bob Tidey, and Garda Rose Cheney, are working. So, they do their best to protect her as they get to the truth about those cases, and the link between them. What’s interesting here is that Maura had no desire to get involved in something so risky. But a look out the window changes everything for her.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane learns the hard way how risky windows can be in Quite Ugly One Morning. He wakes up one morning with an awful hangover, and hears a commotion outside. So, he leaves his flat and goes downstairs to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, his door locks behind him and he’s forgotten his key. He does remember that he left a window open, though. So, he decides that the best thing to do is to sneak through the downstairs flat, which has a corresponding window, and get back into his own place that way. Things don’t work out well, though. First, he discovers a brutally-murdered body in the flat downstairs. Then, as he’s trying to sneak out the window, he’s caught by Jenny Dalziel,the police detective who’s investigating that murder. After a great deal of initial suspicion, he and Dalziel see that they can be of help to each other, so they work together to find out who the killer is.

See what I mean? Looking out the window or using it is as natural as anything. But safe? I’m not so sure of that. Right, fans of Jeffery Deaver’s The Broken Window?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Gene Kerrigan, Jeffery Deaver, John Bude, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Ruth Rendell

29 responses to “Look Out of Any Window*

  1. Heartafire

    Lovely text…a whole new slant on looking out that window…still I think I shal risk it 🙂

  2. Col

    A few mentioned that I’ve read, Kerrigan’s The Rage and the Brookmyre years ago. I like the trope of the window/mirror/two way glass in the interview room that the savvy criminal suspect knows he’s being observed through. Prevalent in a lot of films, I’m struggling to find a bookish example.

    • Oh, yes, that’s quite true, Col! It is done very well in some films, and I’ve seen it in books, too. There are a few scenes where the suspect knows he’s being watched, and the cops on the other side are, indeed, observing, making notes, and the like. It’s a great setup for a tense scene.

  3. this is deeply well organized and detailed post, just watching a movie…

  4. Margot: There was a real life Saskatchewan court case on looking in a window. The question was whether a man could be convicted of a criminal offence for what he was doing in his own home that was witnessed by a girl looking through his window. It was clearly an offence outside the house. On appeal the court decided not to convict based on the principle that the looker should not look through a window if they might not like what they see happening. It was the reverse of a Peeping Tom. While the man’s actions were offensive I am glad the judge decided not to criminalize private actions in your own home.

    • That sounds like a really interesting case, Bill. It raises fascinating questions, too, of what is or isn’t allowed in one’s own home. That’s an important precedent, too, when you think about it. I’m glad you shared that case. Plenty of good ‘food for thought’ there…

  5. A very interesting post, Margot! And yes, it is very hard to keep from glancing out the window now and then! 🙂

  6. I’ve had to climb in through a window when I locked myself out of the house once – but fortunately, no dead bodies were found, although I did think I might expire trying to squeeze through. Another stroke of luck: no police around to ask me what on earth I was up to…

    • What a mental picture, Marina Sofia!! Oh, my! Yes, you were lucky that the police didn’t stop you, and that there weren’t any dead bodies around. Also good to know you got in without hurting yourself too badly. Your story reminds me of a scene in Donna Malane’s Surrender, where the protagonist gets into someone’s house through a window – with tense, but also quite funny, results.

      • Oh, and then there’s my friend who climbed in through a window after getting back home from a party worse for wear… and ended up in someone else’s house. He was wondering why the key hadn’t worked in the lock, but obviously not too hard!

        • Oh, my goodness, Marina Sofia!! That’s hilarious!!! I wonder what the poor homeowners must have thought. That’s such a great story, even though it must have been tense for everyone at the time.

  7. Rear Window springs to mind.

    Unrelated, but if you’re looking for promotional venues for Past Tense, I’d love to have you on the blog. If you’re interested, shoot me an email: sue@suecoletta.com with ideas. Perhaps a post about the research behind the book, or anything crime-y would work, including tips for crafting an engaging mystery.

  8. I’m thinking of train windows – and Girl on a Train… She looks out and sees rather too much and lets her imagination run riot.

  9. I’d hate not being able to look out of my window!! My first thought was Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington too. Plus am I imagining it, or was the Johnny Depp film Secret Window based on a book?

  10. Janet F

    I opened your blog and there at the start of your post was the very book I am currently reading, John Bude’s ‘The Cornish Coast Murder’, and enjoying very much. About three quarters of the way through so glad there were no spoilers, I know you wouldn’t, of course!

  11. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…11/21/16 – Where Genres Collide

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