You Don’t Know How Far I’d Go to Ease This Precious Ache*

infatuationThere’s something about being fully, completely, totally infatuated with someone. That feeling can feed on itself, especially if the other person reciprocates (or at least, seems to). And it’s intoxicating. So, it’s no wonder that there are so many songs about falling in love, about attraction (mutual or otherwise), and so on. It’s an important part of the human experience for a lot of people.

Sometimes, though, infatuation goes over the line, so to speak. I’m not talking here of the serial-killer sort of obsession (too easy!). Rather, I’m talking about the sort of attraction that leads a person to stop thinking rationally. That sort of love can get a person into trouble. And crime fiction is full of such characters. Here are just a few; I know you’ll think of lots more than I could, anyway.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (did I have any other choice, Christie fans?), we meet Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. She’s fallen deeply, madly in love with Simon Doyle, and he loves her, too. She wants very badly for them to marry, but they can’t until Simon has a regular, steady job that can support them. So, she asks her good friend Linnet Ridgeway for help. Linnet is one of the wealthiest young women in England; and, as it happens, she’s recently purchased (and is remodeling) Wode Hall. Since she’s in need of a land agent, Jackie hopes Linnet will hire Simon for the job. Linnet’s happy to oblige, and it first, it looks as though all will be well. But Linnet finds herself attracted to Simon. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and very rich, so Simon doesn’t need much encouragement. The two marry, and go on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile. Jackie follows them, much to Linnet’s chagrin, and makes life miserable for the couple. Then, on the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. At first, Jackie is the most likely suspect. But it’s soon proven that she could not be the killer. So Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, has to look elsewhere for the killer.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity introduces readers to insurance sales representative Walter Huff. He’s in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles one day when he finds himself close to the home of one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. On the spur of the moment, Huff decides to stop by and try to renew Nirdlinger’s insurance policy. Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis is. Huff is attracted to her right away, and Phyllis does nothing to discourage him. Before long, they’re having an affair. Huff is completely infatuated, so when Phyllis suggests a plot to kill her husband for his life insurance money, Huff goes along with it. He even puts together the double indemnity policy she wants, and commits the crime. But that’s just the beginning of his troubles. It turns out that, instead of that murder putting everything right for them, everything starts to go very, very wrong.

The focus of Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair is Gilbert Hand, who works with a publishing agency. After the death of his wife, Rachel, Hand decides to sell the home they had shared, and move to a quiet, respectable London hotel. He’s settling into his room when he discovers an unexpected package in the davenport he’ll be using. He unwraps the package and finds a long coil of dark hair. Hand learns that the room was previously occupied by a man named Freddie Doyle, so he begins to get curious about Doyle. That curiosity leads to a kind of obsession. More, it leads Hand to Doyle’s girlfriend, Gladys Wilson. Hand becomes infatuated with her in his way, and when she disappears, he’s frantic to find her. For Hand, it’s all come down to a contest for Gladys between him and Doyle. And, as you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth is university professor and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. She is also the mother of four children, and, of course, wants the best for them. That’s why she’s so concerned in The Wandering Soul Murders. In one plot thread of that novel, the family gets a visit from Christy Sinclair, who is Joanne’s son, Peter’s, ex-girlfriend. As far as Joanne is concerned, Peter is well rid of Christy. Peter himself has no desire to get back together with her. But Christy has other ideas. She manages to get herself invited to a family event: the engagement party for Peter’s older sister, Mieka. What’s more, she says that she and Peter are getting back together. The story takes a tragic twist when Christy dies of what seems to be suicide. But is it?

And then there’s Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger. When Sylvie Delorme is killed in a car accident, the police inform her husband, Fabien. They also tell him that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who was also killed in the crash. The Delorme’s marriage hadn’t been a very happy one, so although Fabien feels Sylvie’s loss, he’s almost more hurt that she had a lover than he is that she is dead. At least his pride is hurt. He finds out that Arnoult left a widow, Martine, and after finding out a bit about her, determines to have her. He learns that Martine and a friend are planning a trip to Majorca, and follows them there. He and Martine begin an affair, and it’s not long before he is infatuated with her. The affair spins out of control for both of them, and, as you would expect if you’re a fan of Garnier’s work, it heads right towards tragedy.

That feeling of infatuation is one of the headiest experiences in life. So, it’s little wonder people fall in love. And many times, it enriches life. But not always…


*NTOE: The title of this post is a line from Melissa Etheridge’s Come to My Window.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Gail Bowen, James M. Cain, Pascal Garnier

22 responses to “You Don’t Know How Far I’d Go to Ease This Precious Ache*

  1. Heartafire

    Excellent text!

  2. fascinating words…

  3. tracybham

    Double Indemnity is the perfect example, Margot. I recently read Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac, and that also has a story of a man’s obsession with a woman. A chilling story.

  4. Margot: Gail Bowen returned to obsession in the plot of her latest mystery, What’s Left Behind, in which the obsessed former lover of the sister to her new daughter-in-law sits in a canoe at the lake where the wedding is taking place. A restraining order keeps him from coming ashore but he sits in his canoe over 4 hours.

    • That’s a great example, Bill, and I’m glad you’ve shared it. It shows just how strong infatuation can be, and that it can lead to really irrational choices.

  5. kathyd

    Infatuation: Didn’t that get the main character in a lot of trouble in the classic “An American Tragedy,” by Theodore Dreiser. I suppose it could be categorized as crime fiction as well as literary fiction. And there is certainly a crime committed due to infatuation.
    As for me, I’m glad I’m not still a teenager or a college student, moved beyond the infatuation phase of my life and sanity hit.

    • I know what you mean about growing up beyond that, Kathy. I feel the same way. And thanks for mentioning the Dreiser. It’s a good example of the sort of infatuation that can really get a person into trouble…

  6. I was also thinking of Five Little Pigs… 🙂

  7. Certainly one of the catalysts for crime in many novels. I am thinking of Megan’s THE FEVER here.

    • Oh, yes, indeed, Patti. It really is. And The Fever is a great example. Folks, if you don’t know the work of Megan Abbott (or Patti (Patricia) Abbott, for the matter of that), give it a try. You won’t regret it.

  8. A Hank of Hair really did illustrate this kind of obsession very well indeed Margot – I’m thinking I will have to look out for Double Indemnity too!

    • I agree about A Hank of Hair, Cleo. It’s a good example, in my opinion, of Jay’s work, too. And I do recommend Double Indemnity. There are many who say that The Postman… is better, and it’s truly excellent. But, at least for me, Double Indemnity holds its own.

  9. Margot, James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” has been on my wish-list for years. A close acquaintance keeps reminding me to read the book.

    • It is a fine read, Prashant. I recommend it highly, myself. And it’s not very long, either, which makes it all the better. If you get the chance to read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  10. Obsession in any form is so deliciously rife with conflict. No wonder we, crime lovers, love it so much. Excellent examples, Margot. Double Indemnity was the perfect choice!

    • Thanks, Sue! And I agree: Double Indemnity really does exemplify that sort of infatuation. It is one of those human experiences that just lends itself to a crime novel, doesn’t it?

  11. There’s something very noir about those sharp sudden infatuations, the ones that lead to murder. But as you say, they fit into other kinds of book. In Christie’s Sad Cypress, poor Elinor loses Roddy to his sudden mad passion for Mary…. and disaster follows….

    • Yes! Thanks for that reminder, Moira. And it’s interesting about that book. Elinor, too, has an infatuation with Roddy. It may not be sudden, but she feels very passionately about him. I’m really glad you mentioned that one.

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