Have you ever met someone really famous? It can actually be awkward, if you think about it. On the one hand, famous people are just people. They may have extraordinary talent, or have done something to make them famous, or are members of a certain family. But they’re just people. On the other hand, meeting a famous person isn’t really like meeting other sorts of people, especially if that famous person is someone you hero-worship.
‘Brushes with fame’ can lend an interesting touch to a story. There’s the suspense, the awkwardness, and even a feeling of euphoria. All of that can add a layer to a crime novel, and dimension to a fictional character.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), we are introduced to Heather Badcock. She lives a more or less ordinary life in the new council housing in the village of St. Mary Mead. Heather is excited when she learns that her film idol, Marina Gregg, has purchased Gossington Hall (that’s right, fans of The Body in the Library. It was the home of Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife, Dolly). Things get even better for Heather when an announcement is made that the new owners plan to continue the tradition of an annual fundraising fête at the hall. On the day of the big event, Heather goes to Gossington Hall, and actually meets Marina Gregg. The star even goes so far as to hand Heather a drink. Shortly afterwards, Heather becomes sick and then dies of what turns out to be poison. At first, it looks very probable that the poison was actually meant for Marina. But it’s not long before Miss Marple begins to suspect that Heather was the intended victim all along. She and Dolly Bantry investigate, and in the end, find out who killed Heather Badcock and why.
Pablo de Santis’ The Paris Enigma introduces readers to Sigmundo Salvatrio, the son of a Buenos Aires shoemaker. Sigmundo is a would-be detective whose idol is famous detective Renaldo Craig. So, when he learns that Craig is opening a new school, the Academy for Detectives, Sigmundo immediately applies for admission. He is accepted, and, right away, starts trying to learn all that he can from his hero. Craig has been planning to go to Paris as part of a group of world-famous detectives known as The Twelve. They’re scheduled to make a presentation at the upcoming World’s Fair, and Craig is an important part of their plan. Then, a shocking incident leaves him ill and unable to travel. So, he sends Sigmundo in his place. The boy is thrilled to go, and eager to meet the other detectives and their assistants. Shortly after Signmundo’s arrival, one of the master detectives is murdered. Now, Sigmundo works with the group’s co-founder, Viktor Arkazy, to find out who the killer is. Among other things, it’s really interesting to see how Sigmundo’s view of his hero changes as the novels goes on.
Peter James’ Not Dead Yet sees Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace investigating the bizarre case of a body discovered in a disused chicken coop. It’s a difficult matter, made even more so when he’s told he will also have another charge. It seems that international superstar Gaia Lafayette, who’s originally from the area, will be in town to do a film. There’s already been at least one death threat against her, and it’s important that the police demonstrate their commitment to her safely. Grace has no wish to see her in danger, but at the same time, his plate’s quite full, as the saying goes. Still, orders are orders, and he prepares as best he can for the star’s visit. Among those most eager for Gaia’s arrival is Anna Galicia, who is completely obsessed with the superstar. She follows all of Gaia’s news, her home is filled with merchandise and memorabilia, and she’s been to every concert she can afford. She can’t wait for the opportunity to finally meet her idol. Gaia and her entourage arrive and settle in at the luxury suite set aside for them. It looks like it’s going to be a routine filming, but this trip turns out to be anything but…
Stephen King’s Misery shows just how dedicated fans can be when they meet their idols. In the novel, famous novelist Paul Sheldon is driving through a heavy snowstorm when he has an accident. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a deeply devoted fan of Sheldon’s work. At first, Sheldon is very grateful; he’s safe and warm, is healing from injuries related to the accident, and can get back to work on his new novel. It’s still in manuscript form, and Sheldon is looking forward to getting the project done. His host, being the dedicated fan that she is, is very interested in the story, and follows its progress. She doesn’t like the direction the story is taking, though, and decides to take matters into her own hands. And, this being a Stephen King novel, you can imagine how that’s going to work out for Paul Sheldon…
Of course, not everyone is ‘starstruck.’ Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters, for instance, doesn’t engage in hero worship. He’s a Hollywood PI during the early 1940s. And his business often involves very famous screen stars. Peters, though, has seen the all-too-human side of these celebrities, having been a former security guard at Warner Brothers studio. And his cases often involve the off-camera lives of those famous people. So, he’s become rather jaded.
A lot of people haven’t, though. And, personally, I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to meet a famous person you really admire. I mean, so what if you have to wait out in a blizzard, starting at 2:00am, to get tickets? It’s worth it! Right? RIGHT? What?! 😉
If you’re reading this, Happy Birthday, Mr. Joel!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Oyster Bay.