In many stories, there’s a point of decision. And that decision has consequences that drive the rest of the plot. It may not seem like a momentous decision at the time the character takes it, but it often turns out to make all the difference in the story.
Certainly, we see those sorts of moments in crime fiction. For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t envision a life for herself as, say, a typist. And she’s not really interested in settling down and marrying. She’s a bit at loose ends when she happens to witness a tube accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under an oncoming train. Anne happens to pick up a piece of paper that the dead man had in his pocket, and soon works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she goes to a travel agency and books passage on the ship. That decision turns out to have important consequences for her, as she ends up caught in a web of intrigue, smuggled gems, and murder.
William Hjortsberg’s historical (1959) novel Falling Angel is the story of a low-rent New York private investigator named Harry Angel. One day, he gets a call from the upmarket law offices of McIntosh, Winesap, and Spy. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man named Jonathan Liebling. Better known as Johnny Favorite, Liebling was a gifted jazz musician. Cyphre says that he helped Johnny Favorite at the start of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He returned from the war physically and emotionally badly damaged, and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Then, he disappeared from the hospital. Now, Cyphre wants to find him. Angel’s decision to take the case and look for Johnny Favorite turns out to have major consequences, and drives the rest of the plot. He ends up caught in a case of horror, multiple murder, and worse.
In Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has died in a car crash. Delorme will miss his wife, but their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time. What’s worse, in his mind, is that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who also died in the crash. Against his better judgement, Delorme sneaks a look at the information the police have on Arnoult. That’s how he learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Delorme’s decision to peek at that information, and then act on it, turns out to be a fateful one. He becomes obsessed with Martine, and it’s not long before things spiral completely out of control for both of them.
Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red is the first to feature Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s at a crossroads in her career, and wants to cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. It’s not going to be easy, as there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists coming up the ranks. Then, she learns about a possible story that could exactly what she needs. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh might be innocent. If that’s true, it’s a major story. Several people caution Thorne against pursuing the story. But she decides to go after it. Doing so has real personal and professional consequences for her, and for other people in her life.
And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In it, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has ‘gone straight,’ and now owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes keys. Then, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him quite a lot of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses outright. He doesn’t want to have any more to do with police or prison. Not long afterwards, he gets a visit from his former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband died in what looked like a carjacking gone wrong. It’s since been proved to be a murder, and she’s suspected of hiring the killer. She has a good motive, too, as she stands to inherit a fortune. Now, she needs a good lawyer to help her clear her name, and she asks Singh for help. He’s still more than half in love with her, although she broke his heart. So, he agrees to get the money she needs. That decision draws Singh into the underworld again, and ends up putting him under suspicion of murder.
A decision may seem like a trivial one on the surface. But sometimes, even those smaller decisions can lead to very big consequences. And those consequences can be dangerous…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Malloy’s Hero.