We’ve Got Tonight, Who Needs Tomorrow?*

Is it possible to have a truly ‘no strings attached’ sort of relationship? Plenty of people say ‘yes;’ and plenty of those have had them. Many other people disagree. To those people, there’s always some connection, even if it was just a one-night stand.

Crime fiction doesn’t seem to offer a definitive answer on this question, and that makes sense. There are a lot of factors involved, if you think about it. People’s personalities vary greatly. So do contexts. And it’s interesting to see how those ‘no strings attached’ relationships (or are they?) figure into character development, plot points, and more.

Some crime-fictional relationships really do seem to involve no obligations. One of them is the relationship between John ‘Duke’ Anderson and Ingrid Macht, whom we meet in Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes. As the novel begins, Anderson’s recently been released from prison, and is on the ‘straight and narrow.’ Then, he gets the chance to visit a posh Manhattan apartment building and gets the idea of robbing all of the apartments. It’s a major undertaking, and Anderson can’t do it alone. So, he recruits a number of associates to help at different points. What he doesn’t know is that many of the conversations he has have been recorded in one way or another. The FBI and various police agencies have an interest in several of the people Anderson deals with, so they’ve been secretly keeping tabs. The question becomes: will Anderson and his team get away with their robbery before they’re caught? Throughout the novel, Anderson has a number of conversations with Macht. They like each other, and sometimes sleep together, but neither feels an obligation to the other. And neither has any illusions that they have an actual relationship.

In Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol, we are introduced to San Diego PI Boone Daniels. In this novel, he investigates a warehouse fire (was it or was it not arson?), a missing stripper, a murder, and an ugly truth behind it all. While Daniels is an investigator, he is also, first and foremost, a surfer. Almost every morning, he and his friends (they call themselves the Dawn Patrol) go surfing together. One of those friends is a lifeguard who has the nickname Dave the Love God. He is legendary among women, both local and tourists. In fact, when tourists return to their homes, they often recommend Dave to their friends. Dave the Love God treats his dates well and is completely upfront with them. There are no lies, promises, or expectations. Everyone knows it’s just for fun, and it works well for Dave and for his companions.

In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, we meet Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney. Originally from Australia, she now makes her home in Thailand. She gets involved in a murder investigation when her good friend, Didier de Montpasse, is accused of murdering his partner, and then is killed himself. At this point in her life, Keeney isn’t really looking for a relationship. She likes her independence. But that doesn’t mean she wants to be a hermit. For Keeney, it works best – at least at the outset of this series – to have relationships with no expectations. Later, she chooses a partner, and it’s interesting to see how she makes the transition from preferring no strings to feeling a real bond.

Of course, not all ‘no strings attached’ relationships work out. In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, for instance, Dr. John Christow and his wife, Gerda, are invited for a weekend to the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. What Christow doesn’t know at first is that one of the nearby cottages has been taken by an old flame, Veronica Cray. On the Saturday night, she bursts in at the Angkatell home and asks to borrow some matches. She then sees Christow and insists on having him accompany her home. For Christow, it’s a one-night stand – no obligations or expectations. But that’s not how Veronica Cray sees it. She wants to rekindle their romance and is infuriated when Christow refuses her. The next afternoon, Christow is shot, and Cray becomes one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case.

And then there’s Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. When Eva Wirenström-Berg discovers that her husband, Henrik, has been unfaithful, she is devastated. She’d always imagined the proverbial ‘white picket fence’ life for them and their son, Axel. When she finds out who the other woman is, Eva makes her own plans, and they turn out to have tragic consequences. One night, she stops into a pub where she meets Jonas Hansson, who has his own issues to face. The two begin talking and end up in bed. For Eva, it’s a no-strings-attached relationship, in part intended to cope with Henrik’s betrayal. But that’s not how Jonas sees it. Before long, things begin to spin out of control for both of them and end up very badly indeed.

And that’s the thing about those one-night or no-strings sorts of relationships. Sometimes they work out for both people. That’s especially true if both people agree that there will be no expectations. But things aren’t always that easy or clear. And then, it can all get very ugly.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s We’ve Got Tonight.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Don Winslow, Karin Alvtegen, Lawrence Sanders

15 responses to “We’ve Got Tonight, Who Needs Tomorrow?*

  1. Matt Scudder in Lawrence Block’s series has that sort of relationship with Elaine, who when they first meet is a high-class prostitute, and that suits them fine. In the end though several books later in the series, it becomes more than that.

    • That’s a fine example, Christine. I’m glad you’ve filled in that gap. I like Matthew Scudder as a character, and part of the reason is that he grows and develops over time. He doesn’t stay static.

  2. Col

    I’m more determined than ever to read the Sanders book. Winslow sits on the pile and Christine has reminded me of the need to get back to the Scudder series. His man Keller has been occupying my time of late.

  3. Matters of the heart are the most complex of all narratives in crime fiction purely because we all tend to judge others by our own experience/standards. I personally think that a no strings attached kind of relationship tends to work better for the one who proposes it than the one who agrees to it. Love your examples especially the Agatha Christie ‘old-flame’ which brings another layer of emotion into the story-line!

    • You make a very interesting point, Cleo. We do tend to judge what others ‘should’ want and would benefit from by our own experiences and perspectives. And you offer a very interesting way to look at the ‘no strings attached’ sort of relationship. Does it really benefit both people involved? Hmm…intriguing.

      Thanks, too, for the kind words. I agree with you about old flames. That adds a whole new layer to a story, doesn’t it?

  4. Elizabeth Tierney

    That song!! I haven’t thought of it for 35 years!! ❤ ❤

  5. I rather wish I’d met Dave the Love God back when I still had the energy… 😉

    I think Cleo makes a very valid point about the imbalance between the proposer and the accepter in “no strings” relationships. But where would crime fiction be without those imbalances?

    • Yes, Dave the Love God is quite the character, FictionFan. Certainly never a dull moment when you’re with him. 😉

      I agree with you (and Cleo) about the imbalance in those ‘no strings’ agreements. Even if both parties see it as an agreement between equals, you do have to wonder whether it really is. And that does lead to some interesting plot points, tension, and so on in crime fiction.

  6. Spade & Dagger

    Thanks to your blogs Margot, bringing Lawrence Sanders to my attention, I’ve discovered in our library a single copy of his McNally series. Archy McNally, who strikes me as a wily & knowing version of Bertie Wooster, has a long term ‘open’ relationship with Connie & is a prime example of the half of the couple who benefits most from this arrangement. After all, one of his favourite songs is ‘Anything Goes’ – as he regularly finds out while conducting his investigations.

    • I’m so glad you’ve gotten the chance to enjoy some of Lawrence Sanders’ work, Spade & Dagger. And that example – of Archy McNally and Connie – is excellent. It’s a good reminder of that sort of ‘no strings attached’ relationship, where one person clearly benefits. Interesting, isn’t it, how things work out that way.

  7. Patti Abbott

    Haven’t heard Sanders name in years! Love THE DAWN PATROL.

  8. Pingback: Writing Links 3/5/18 – Where Genres Collide

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