You’d Think I’d Know by Now*

Crime writers get to know the worst side of human nature. After all, they’re the ones who create stories in which people do pretty awful things to each other. Crime writers do research, too, when they’re working on a novel. So, they know about all sorts of dangers and risks.

With all of that background and preparation, you’d think they’d know better. And yet, fictional crime writers are always getting into trouble. Perhaps it’s the same curiosity and interest in crime that got them started writing in the first place.  Whatever it is, all it takes is a quick look at some fictional crime writers to see that forewarned isn’t always forearmed. Some crime writers just can’t stay out of trouble…

For example, Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver is a sensible person. Yet, she certainly gets herself into danger. In Third Girl, for instance, a young woman named Norma Restarick pays a visit to Hercule Poirot, and tells him she may have committed a murder. She leaves, though, without telling him her name, so he can’t really help her. It happens that Mrs. Oliver knows Norma, though, and decides to help Poirot find her. That turns out to be difficult, though. Still, one day, Mrs. Oliver gets her chance. She knows that Norma has been seeing a young man named David Baker. When she spots Baker one afternoon, she decides to follow him. And that gets Mrs. Oliver into quite a lot of danger. In the end, though, we learn what happened to Norma Restarick, and we learn the truth about the murder.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ Harriet Vane is, as fans can tell you, a detective novelist. She isn’t a particularly rash or reckless person, but she is independent and intelligent. And somehow, trouble has a way of cropping up around her. For instance, in Gaudy Night, she gets an invitation to attend her alma mater’s annual Gaudy Dinner and festivities. She’s not inclined to go, but an old friend persuades her to attend. She is warmly welcomed back, and ends up enjoying herself. But then, some scary things begin to happen at the school. There’s vandalism, nasty anonymous notes, and more. The administrators don’t want to bring the police in, so they ask Harriet to see what she can find out. Under the guise of doing research for a new novel, she returns to the school and starts looking into the matter. And before she finds out the truth, she’s nearly killed.

Any fan of Ellery Queen can tell you that he is, among other things, a detective novelist. And in several of the Ellery Queen stories (I’m thinking, for instance, of Calamity Town and of Origin of Evil), he’s looking for some peace and quiet so that he can write. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes, he’s drawn into cases because he happens to be on hand (that’s what happens in Calamity Town). And sometimes, he’s drawn in because someone insists on it (that’s the case with Origin of Evil). Admittedly, he doesn’t usually get into life-threatening danger. But that doesn’t mean he never faces trouble (right, fans of Four of Hearts?). You would think that, with a police inspector for a father, and his own experience, Queen would know better, but that’s often not enough to keep him out of trouble.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to crime writer Martin Canning. Canning generally tries to avoid trouble as much as he can. In fact, he very much wishes life could be as pleasant as the fictional world he’s created. But it’s not. When his agent persuades him to appear at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, Canning goes, but not eagerly. While he’s in Edinburgh, he plans to attend a lunchtime comedy radio broadcast, mostly because he’s got a free ticket. He’s at the studio to pick up his ticket when he witnesses a blue Honda collide with the Silver Peugeot in front of it. The two drivers get out and begin arguing. Then the Honda driver pulls out a baseball bat and attacks the Peugeot driver, whose name is Paul Bradley. Without really thinking about it, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, knocking him over and saving Bradley’s life. That one gesture gets him involved in fraud, murder and more. And that’s sort of thing he’s always tried very hard to avoid.

And then there’s Lynda Wilcox’s Verity Long. She is research assistant to best-selling crime novelist Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. Her job is supposed to be looking into true crime cases, and selecting those that might work as plot inspirations for her boss. You would think that wouldn’t be a particularly dangerous job, but it is. In Strictly Murder, for instance, Long is looking for a new place to live. A house agent shows her a nice home, but it happens to have a body in it. She gets advice from more than one person to stay out of the matter, but she feels that she’s already involved, since she found the body. And in Organized Murder, Davenport gives her a simple request: travel to Bellhurst and meet with MBE Ernest ‘Ernie’ Rutland. Rutland wants Davenport to open the Bellhurst Christmas Market, and the details have to be worked out. When Long gets to St. Isadore’s Church Hall, where she’s to meet Rutland, she finds that a murderer has been there before her. Rutland’s body is hanging from one of the pipes on the roof of the building. Once again, she’s drawn into a search for a killer.

See what I mean? Crime writers really do know all the dangers out there, but that doesn’t stop them getting into trouble. Knowing all of the risks doesn’t mean you avoid them…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ozma’s You’d Think I’d Know.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, Kate Atkinson, Lynda Wilcox

25 responses to “You’d Think I’d Know by Now*

  1. Always love a fictional crime writer, of course!
    A rather interesting book was Henry Sutton’s My Criminal World, in which a crime writer struggles to finish a book and becomes involved in crime instead.

  2. Col

    I can’t recall anything from my own reading. I have Gaudy Night and the book Marina Sofia mentions on the pile to get to.

  3. Lovely topic Margot – I suppose it is inevitable that authors would either try to inject themselves into their stories in the Queen style or have some sort of ‘proxy’ – because, as you say, it’s what they know. Stephen King did a while range of these (MISERY, the novella ‘Secret Window, Secret Garde’ and THE DARK HALF) I suppose Jessica Fletcher or Castle on TV would be the modern nil plus ultra of this.

  4. Haha luckily this doesn’t extend to readers of crime fiction or I would be in trouble 🙂

    • You know, Cleo, that is a great idea for a story… 😉 – It’s true that crime fiction readers learn quite a lot as they read. That’s actually really interesting. I may have to do a post on that at some point – thanks for the inspiration.

  5. The fact that crime fiction writers tend to get themselves into trouble just makes it that much more realistic to me. Great examples, Margot, and more books for my ever-growing list. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Mason – glad you enjoyed the post. And you make an interesting point. When fictional crime writers get themselves in danger, they’re simply being, well, human. And that makes them more realistic.

  6. Anthony Horowitz’s recent and brilliant book Magpie Murders, involved a crime writer who came to a sticky end just as he’d finished his latest novel and sent it off to his editors – but does the story in his novel cast any light on what may have happened in real life?? And of course, there’s Jessica Fletcher. She’s another one of these people that I’d run a mile to avoid – no-one is safe when she’s around!

    • Haha! No, FictionFan, no-one is safe anywhere near Jessica Fletcher! Cabot Cove, Maine, has to have the highest mortality rate in the world. And thanks for mentioning the Horowitz. That’s another great example of a crime writer who comes to an unpleasant end. I should have included that one, but didn’t. So I’m glad you did.

  7. I read a lot of Ellery Queen novels years ago but not any recently. I have got to do something about that.

    • I don’t think anyone has the time to read all of the good series out there, Tracy. But some of the Queens are brilliant; well worth reading when you get to it.

  8. I think some crime writers just can’t resist putting a writer in their work. I’m trying to think of a case where the crime writer goes after a mean reviewer… perhaps these days they’ll be chasing down bloggers! (Even though we are lovely, law-abiding people who don’t write horrible reviews.)

  9. The last line of this post sums it up beautifully.

  10. Wonderful post, Margot! Enjoyed reading this. 😊

  11. It’s a bit of a tangent but I like to try and guess the song which inspired your post titles before reading your post. I was humming ‘Movin Out’ by Billy Joel. Close, but not quite. Thanks for keeping me entertained and expanding my musical and mystery knowledge base 😊

    • Thanks for the kind words, Jml297. I’m glad you enjoy the musical aspects of these posts. And no, this one’s not a Billy Joel song. But Movin’ Out is an excellent song!

  12. I have to admit I really like writers detectives, I’m not sure why. Besides, I’m a log-time fan of Murder She Wrote.
    And Ellery Queen!! That was one of my very favourite shows when I was a kid. Can’t even remember when last I’ve seen an episode. Mhm… should hunt the net for them 😉

    • Oh, that series is great, Jazzfeathers! It’s available (or was) on DVD; I hope you find a copy. And, yes, there is something the writer-as-sleuth, isn’t there? I’ve felt the same appeal.

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s