You Put My Life in Danger*

Most people don’t want to think that someone they know may be in danger. It’s a very unsettling feeling, if you think about it. That’s part of why it’s so tempting to dismiss that sort of threat, rather than take it seriously. ‘Maybe you’re just under stress,’ or ‘Perhaps you’re just misinterpreting something,’ or, less charitably, ‘It might be your imagination.’

Sometimes, of course, the threat of danger isn’t real, but a product of imagination, stress, or misinterpretation. But every once in a while, it’s quite real. And that possibility can add tension and plot points to a crime novel, especially if the threat turns out to be real…

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, we are introduced to Louise Leidner. She is accompanying her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, on a dig a few hours from Baghdad. And the trip isn’t easy for her. As she tells her husband, she’s been hearing odd noises, and seeing strange things out her window. She’s even begun to fear for her life. She isn’t really taken seriously, though. One of the people on the dig even refers to Louise’s fears as ‘fancies,’ and even those more kindly disposed aren’t convinced of the danger. One afternoon, Louise is tragically proved right about the danger she’s been in when she’s found murdered in her room. Hercule Poirot is in the area and is persuaded to look into the matter. He finds that this murder has much to do with the sort of person Louise was, and how that impacted others.

In Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn gets drawn into the lives of wealthy business executive Harlan Reid and his daughter, Jean. Through their housemaid, they’ve met a man named Jeremiah Tompkins, a man who, as he puts it, is cursed with being able to predict the future accurately. Since their meeting, Reid has begun meeting with Tompkins whenever he has a big decision to make. So far, all of what Tompkins has said has proven true, and now Reid believes in him utterly. Then comes a shocking prediction. Tompkins says that Reid will die on a certain night at midnight. Jean isn’t sure whether it’s going to happen or not, but her father has no doubt at all. That belief dramatically affects him, and by extension, his daughter. When Shawn meets the Reids, they’re already distraught. Shawn isn’t sure whether any of the danger is real. What’s more, he does know that there are plenty of scammers who pretend to predict things. But he feels for Jean, and he does want to protect Reid if he is, in fact, in danger. That possibility – that Reid and Tompkins are right – adds real tension to the novel.

Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil begins as Queen rents a home in the Hollywood Hills so that he can do some writing. His peace and quiet don’t last long, though. He gets a visit from nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill, who wants him to investigate the death of her father, Leander. He died of a heart attack, but Laurel thinks that it was deliberately induced. Before he died, he received a series of macabre ‘gifts’ that Laurel says caused his death.  What’s more, his business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving similar ‘gifts.’ Queen’s not inclined at first to get involved. But the puzzle does intrigue him. So, he starts to look into the matter. When he talks to Priam, though, he’s surprised to find that the man has no interest in whether anyone might be trying to kill him or might have killed his business partner. At first, he refuses to have anything to do with the investigation. Queen pushes the issue, and then there’s another attempt on Priam’s life. Now it’s clear that Laurel’s belief, and her father’s fear, were justified, and that someone has targeted both men.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of the Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family, who emigrate from Italy to New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. Shortly after they arrive in New York, Franco gets a job at a shoe repair shop. Before long, he’s saved up enough money to open his own shoe sales and repair business, and the family prospers. Then, one night, Franco kills a man in a bar fight. To make matters worse, the victim turns out to be Luigi Lupo, son of notorious crime boss Tonio Lupo. Lupo curses the Franco family, saying that each of his sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was at his death. As the story goes on, we learn what happens to Franco’s three sons. And it’s interesting to see how each of them reacts to the threat of being killed.

And then there’s Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. One night at a private party, famous Bollywood director Nikhil Kapoor makes the eerie pronouncement that one of the people at the party has killed and will kill again. Not long afterwards, Kapoor himself is killed one night while he is working at his film studio. A few hours later, his wife, noted actress Mallika Kapoor, also dies, apparently of a drug overdose. Both deaths look like terrible accidents on the surface. But Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan sees little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. At first, the other people at the party aren’t overly concerned about Kapoor’s comments. But then, there’s another death. That, plus the Kapoors’ deaths, makes everyone tragically aware that what Kappor said was true, and that they might be the next victims.

It’s very tempting to put the fear of danger aside. The alternative is a lot too unsettling for many people. But sometimes, those fears are real…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steel Pulse’s Said You Was an Angel.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Cornell Woolrich, Ellery Queen, Shadaab Amjad Khan

7 responses to “You Put My Life in Danger*

  1. Sometimes the threat of danger can cause a person to be so overly cautious that they don’t really live. When a writer can use that in a story and make i plausible, it makes for a very intriguing story.

    • You make a really interesting point, Mason. That sense of fear can add real tension to a story, can’t it? I think that’s especially true if the reader isn’t sure whether the threat is real or not.

  2. Col

    The Woolrich sounds tempting. I only read him for the first time last year and I enjoyed myself.

  3. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist Blog on the use of the threat of danger in crime fiction.

  4. There’s always the plotline where someone says they are in danger, claims to be threatened and at risk. But it turns out that they are the villains, and are using this as a cover for an attack on someone else. No spoilers of course, so can’t name any books, but I know you know which Agatha Christie book I am thinking of!

    • I do, indeed, Moira. And it is a really effective plotline. Not only is it engaging on a psychological level, but it’s a really interesting approach to the ‘garden path,’ isn’t it? It’s not easy to pull that off, but Christie did it well, I think.

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