There are all sorts of clues that can drive a crime fiction novel. Some of them even inspire the sleuth. Those clues can take different forms, but, when they’re done well, they can invite the reader to follow along and find out what the clue means. And they can make for a credible reason that the sleuth investigates a case.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s N or M?, we find that Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are now middle-aged, and have gotten out of the espionage business they had joined as young people. They are drawn back in when a British agent dies, living a cryptic note: N or M. Sang Susie. The note’s been decrypted a bit: Sang Susie refers to the Sans Souci, a seaside hotel. And N and M are German secret agents, one male, and one female. Tommy is asked to go to the Sans Souci and work out who (M, N or both) is at the Sans Souci, and try to identify the enemy agents if he can. Not to be left behind, Tuppence makes her own plans, and joins Tommy at the Sans Souci. It takes some time; but in the end, they work out who the enemy agents are and why they’re at the hotel. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Clocks.
In one plot strand of Steve Robinson’s In the Blood, we are introduced to Amy Fallon, who lives in a Cornwall cottage named Ferryman’s Cottage. Two years earlier, her husband, Gabriel, was lost in a storm, so she’s been doing her best to go on as a widow. Just before he died, Gabriel told Amy that he’d found out a secret. He never got the chance to tell her what it was, but construction on their home has revealed a staircase that leads to a hidden room. When Amy goes into it, she finds a very old carved wooden writing box with a love letter in it. Now, she’s curious about the letter and the box. So, she starts a search to find out who might have lived there and left the box. The trail leads to a long-ago murder, so she ends up visiting Dartmoor and the Prison Museum that’s there. That’s where she meets genealogist Jefferson Tayte, who’s there as a part of tracing a client’s ancestry. In the end, they both discover more danger than they’d thought, and both of them learn about some dark secrets from the local past.
In Steve Hamilton’s Ice Run, PI Alex McKnight arranges to meet his new love interest, Natalie Reynaud, a constable with the Ontario Police Service (OPS). Their plan is to meet at the Ojibwa Hotel in Sault Ste. Marie (Soo). While he’s in the lobby, McKnight has a strange encounter with an old man wearing a homburg hat. Later, while McKnight and Reynaud are at dinner, the man sends them a bottle of champagne. Then, when the two go up to their room, they see that the homburg hat, now filled with snow and ice, is outside the door. With it is a note that says I know who you are. McKnight tries to find out who the man was and learns that his name was Simon Grant. What’s more, he discovers that the man died of exposure not far from the hotel, and not long after leaving the hat and the note. Now even more curious, McKnight tries to find out more about Grant, but there are some very dangerous people who want him to leave everything alone…
Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer begins as writer Tapani Lehtinen begins to worry about his wife, Joanna. She is a journalist who sometimes does go out of town, or ‘drop out of sight’ to do her stories. But she always gets in contact within twenty-four hours to let her husband know she’s all right. This time, she hasn’t, though, and he’s concerned. Joanna’s editor doesn’t know where she is, either. Lehtinen gets an idea, though. Joanna’s editor knows from notes she’s left that she is pursuing a story about a man called The Healer. This man has been claiming responsibility for the murders of CEOs of companies he blames for the current climate crisis. Lehtinen believes that if he follows up on those notes, and pursues the story as Joanna was, he can find his wife. And that’s what he sets out to do. It won’t be easy, though. This story takes place in a world that’s fallen into chaos. Millions of climate refugees have surged into Helsinki, and the police are so stretched that they can’t do much investigating, except for the most serious of crimes. There’s little food, and less order. So his search will be dangerous.
And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is in Hawai’I, where he’s spending time with his partner, Alex Canyon. He’s in the airport, ready to return to Canada, when he meets an enigmatic archivist named Walter Angel. Without Quant’s knowing it at first, Angel slips a cryptic message, a bit like a treasure map, into Quant’s hand luggage. Shortly afterwards, he is murdered. Quant follows up on the message and uses it to try to work out who would have wanted to kill Angel and why. The trail leads to Saskatchewan’s past, and to some secrets still hidden in Saskatoon.
Notes, messages, and other clues can be interesting in themselves. And, in crime fiction, they can motivate the sleuth to look into a case. Let’s face it: they’re intriguing, too. So it’s little wonder we see them in the genre.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bonnie Raitt’s Papa Come Quick (Jodi and Chico).