Who Could Imagine I’d be Wandering So, Far From the Home I Love*

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how important it is for a lot of parents and other adults to pass on traditions. And it is. That’s how cultures are perpetuated, and many families see those traditions as legacies.

As always happens on this blog, the discussion was a lot more interesting than the post itself. And one of the topics that came up was: what about children who don’t choose to carry on those traditions? It’s a good question, and certainly it’s a plot point in a lot of crime fiction. That makes sense, too, since that choice can add interesting layers of character development (to say nothing of plot threads) to a story.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), for instance, we meet the members of the Abernethie family. As the novel begins, family patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died, and his family attends the funeral. Afterwards, they gather at the family home, Enderby, to hear the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, that suggestion is brushed aside. But when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems all too plausible. Mr. Entwhistle, the family attorney, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the case, and Poirot agrees. One of the main motives, of course, would be money, since Abernethie was a wealthy man. So, Mr. Entwhistle tries to find out the different family members’ financial situations. At one point, he has a conversation with Timothy Abernethie, brother of both victims. Here’s what Timothy has to say about the family:

‘‘Our father left us all a perfectly reasonable share of his money–that is, if we didn’t want to go into the family concern [a company that makes foot preparations]. I didn’t. I’ve a soul above corn-plasters, Entwhistle!’’

Timothy’s choice to break with the family company tradition means he and his wife, Maude, haven’t had as much access to the family fortune. It’s an interesting look at the later consequences of not staying in the family business.

S.J. Rozan’s Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by Lydia Chin, is a Chinese-American PI, based in New York City. Her family is very traditional, and her mother in particular would like her to settle down, marry a Chinese man, and raise a family, in the traditional Chinese way. But that’s not what Chin wants. For one thing, she hasn’t found a person she wants as a partner, and she would rather make that choice herself. For another, she likes what she does, although no-one in her family approves. She’s good at her job, too. Because she’s multilingual (mostly using English and Cantonese), she can work with a wide variety of clients. And she knows New York City very well. Breaking with family tradition isn’t always easy for Chin, but she’s almost always content with her choice.

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair is a member of a wealthy New South Wales family. At the time that this series takes place (the early/mid 1930s), the worldwide Great Depression is in full force, and millions of people are hard-hit.  Plenty of them want major changes in the government and economic systems; some even call for a revolution. The Sinclair family, now headed by Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred, is well-off and politically conservative. Rowly himself isn’t overly interested in politics, but he has plenty of friends on the left, even the far left. And he doesn’t really have a desire to take over the family businesses. Instead, he’s an artist, as are several of his friends. Wilfred doesn’t exactly approve of his brother’s lifestyle, companions, or choices, and he is concerned about the family reputation. Here’s what he says to Rowly about it in A Few Right Thinking Men:

‘‘Why can’t you just drink too much like everybody else’s wayward brother?’’

For his part, Rowly is mostly content with his choices. He can’t bring himself to agree with Wilfred on politics, and certainly won’t be lectured to about his life. The conflict sometimes leads to tension, and that adds to the plots in this series. It also adds to the characters.

Geraldine Evans’ Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty works with the Elmurst CID in Essex. He’s hardly perfect, but he’s good at what he does, and he likes police work. That career isn’t what his family would have liked, though. Rafferty comes from a large, Irish working-class family, some of whose members are involved in not-exactly-legal ‘enterprises.’

‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’

Rafferty’s career is tolerated, because it’s convenient to have a police officer in the family when you’re arrested. But in many ways, the family would prefer if he had a ‘regular’ sort of working-class job, ‘like everybody else.’

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel. When we first meet him, in The Half-Child, Patel is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop in the ‘Little India’ section of Bangkok. His family’s plan is for him to spend some time there, then return to his native India, marry someone of whom his family approves, and settle down there. But that’s not what Patel wants. His dream is to see some of the world, to explore. And he wants to start by seeing a great deal more of Thailand than just the small part of Bangkok where others from India live. So, when he meets PI Jayne Keeney, he’s intrigued. She’s an ex-pat Australian who speaks fluent Thai, and who has had her share of travel experiences. And, when he helps her solve the mysterious death of a young volunteer at a children’s home, he sees an opportunity for the sort of interesting life he wants. He ends up becoming her business partner as well as her partner in life.

Sometimes, making the choice to part with family traditions and expectations has really positive consequences. But it’s never easy to do, even in the best of situations. And it can cause plenty of conflict.

Thanks to those of you who suggested this post: I appreciate the ‘food for thought.’


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick’s Far From the Home I Love.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Geraldine Evans, S.J. Rozan, Sulari Gentill

18 responses to “Who Could Imagine I’d be Wandering So, Far From the Home I Love*

  1. I always love when your music quotes are from musical theatre, Margot! And Fiddler is the go-to musical for celebrating (and breaking) traditions!

    After the Funeral ranks in my top five Christie’s! It’s maybe my favorite Poirot. The generational aspect is so interesting here. You got me thinking how increasingly desperate Richard Abernethie must have felt as, one by one, the members of the new generation disappointed him. And leave it to Christie to strike a note for women: Susan is the only relation worthy enough to run the Abernathy empire.

    • I really like Christie’s depiction of Susan Abernethie, too, Brad. She’s not perfect, by any means. But she’s got brains, planning skills, and ‘hustle.’ As you say, a neat stroke for feminism. You make a well-taken point, too, about the generational issue. Richard Abernethie was clearly of one generation; his relatives from another. And I can see how he be very worried about who would run his empire. Nice weaving in of those family issues, I think.

      You’re right, too, about Fiddler…. It’s such an excellent depiction of the value and the challenges of keeping traditions. The stories from which it comes, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories (by Sholem Aleichem) shows this, too. OK, not crime fiction, but recommended…

      • I had the good fortune of both directing this show with my students and acting in it (I played Avram and kicked up my heels in the Wedding Dance!!)

        • Oh, I wish I’d seen that one, Brad! I’ll bet you had a great time, and I can see you as Avram. I’m sure your students had a terrific experience, too.

  2. I’m drawing a blank. I think the heat is frying my brain. LOL Loved your examples, though!

  3. As my mind tends to go into different directions upon reading your superb postings, I have been thinking about Erlendur’s adult children in Indridason’s Icelandic crime novels. Now there is a family with communication and relationship problems. But it gives the novels very interesting texture and enriches the Erlendur characterization.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Tim. That series is very well-written, and that includes rich characters. I’m glad you mentioned it. You’re right, too, that Erlendur’s children have no desire to follow in his footsteps. And thanks for the kind words.

  4. Ah, I knew there was one example I should have mentioned yesterday about following in the family profession: Linda Wallander, daughter of her more famous detective father immortalised by Henning Mankell. But that is contrary to today’s discussion.
    The only example I can think of is from the true crime book The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere. The murderer Jean-Claude Romand refused to follow his father’s choice of career into forestry management in the Jura mountains and proclaimed he was going to have a prestigious career as a doctor instead. Except he failed his second year exams and he didn’t dare to admit that, so he pretended his whole life that he was in a career for which he had no qualifications. Until the whole edifice of lies threatened to collapse around him, which is when he turned to murder. An extreme example of breaking with family tradition but not being able to be honest about it.

    • I’m glad you mentioned Linda Wallander, Marina Sofia. She has a very complicated relationship with her father, but you’re right that she follows in his professional footsteps. I should have mentioned that one yesterday, but didn’t. Thanks for filling in that gap.

      Thanks also for mentioning The Adversary. The story of Jean-Claude Romand is a perfect example of someone who didn’t follow his father’s career – with disastrous results. It makes one wonder what might have happened had he tried forestry. He might still have turned out to be a murderer, but I can’t help but wonder…

  5. Great stuff, Margot. And I love my work being mentioned in the same post alongside my friend Sulari Gentill. She has a new, stand alone novel coming out with Poison Pen Press called Crossing the Lines next month, which I know you’re going to love.

    • Thanks, Angela – I will look out for it. I know it’ll be great. And I appreciate your suggestion, and Marina Sofia’s, to do another post on this topic. Nothing I love better than a good conversation where I learn and get thinking. And thanks for the kind words.

  6. Great post, Margot. I love that touch of conflict this causing in a family when a child doesn’t follow in the family business. But yet, when the chips fall, the family pulls together despite their differences.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mason. And I think you have an important point. In a lot of cases, you do see the family pulling together, even if there’s been conflict like that. Both of those situations can add interesting tension to a plot.

  7. Col

    No books spring to mind, but I just watched a film last evening where two sons, one followed his father into the police and the other took a different path and was kind of an outsider to his family before events altered his course – We Own the Night (2007) with Robert Duvall, Mark Wahlberg and Joachin Phoenix

    • Oh, I’ve heard of that one, Col, ‘though I’ve not yet seen it. I hope you enjoyed it. It’s a solid example of what I had in mind with this post, so thanks.

  8. The son who wants to do something arty – paint, write, act – while his father assumes he will go into a profession, or the family business, is quite the crime story trope, isn’t it? I would say daughters had fewer pressures – but they also had fewer opportunities…

    • That’s quite true, Moira. And you’re right about the arty son; that plot point turns up a lot in the genre. Interesting how things are different for young women when it comes to not doing what the family wants…

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