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.