One part of investigating a crime is, of course, looking at the evidence. Some evidence is physical, and some is not. Taken as a whole, though, evidence is a critical part of making a case against a suspect.
There’s a challenge, though, with relying on evidence. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether a piece of evidence is real, or has been planted to frame someone. That does happen in real life, and it can serve as an interesting plot point in crime fiction, too. It’s got to be done carefully, though, because it’s not as easy as you might think to plant evidence. Still, when it is done well, that plot point can add to a story.
Agatha Christie made use of planted evidence in several of her stories. In Sad Cypress, for instance, Elinor Carlisle stands trial for the murder of Mary Gerrard. There is plenty of evidence against her, too. For one thing, her former fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman, became infatuated with Mary. His feelings for her resulted in the breakup of his engagement to Elinor. For another thing, Elinor’s wealthy aunt, Laura Welman, was especially interested in Mary, and wanted her to be well provided for in her will. This could mean that Elinor would be cut out of the will, or at least get much less money. Local GP Peter Lord has become smitten with Elinor, and wants her name cleared. He asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and Poirot agrees. In the end, he finds out the truth. But at one point, he has to deal with some planted evidence that confuses matters. I know, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.
James Yaffe’s A Nice Murder For Mom, introduces readers to Dave, a New York City police detective. He’s recently widowed, and has decided that he needs a change of scene, as New York is too painful for him. So, he accepts a job as an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office in Mesa Grande, Colorado. It’s a new beginning, and the job isn’t that demanding. But then, there’s a murder. Stuart Bellamy, a member of Mesa Grande College’s English Department, is killed in his home. Most of the members of the department had very good reason to want Bellamy killed. There are other people, too, with motive. But the one person who can’t prove an alibi is Bellamy’s colleague, Mike Russo. And there’s evidence against him, too, including his admitting that he hated the victim. Russo is arrested, but he claims that he is innocent. He doesn’t deny his motive, but he says he’s not guilty. He asks Dave to help clear his name, and Dave looks into the matter. And he finds that someone has cleverly faked evidence to frame Russo.
The focus of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent is the murder of Carolyn Polhemus, who was a prosecuting attorney for fictional Kindle County. Her boss, Kindle County Prosecutor Raymond Horgan wants this case investigated ‘by the book,’ and solved quickly. He assigns Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, his best deputy prosecutor, to the case, and Sabich gets to work. What Sabich hasn’t told his boss, though, is that he had a relationship with Polhemus. It ended several months before her death, but the fact certainly compromises his investigation. When Horgan finds out, he’s understandably angry, and pulls Sabich from the case. Then, evidence starts to turn up that implicates Sabich in the murder. It’s so compelling, in fact, that he is arrested for the crime. He hires Alejandro ‘Sandy’ Stern to defend him, and the two begin to work to find out who the real killer is. I can say without spoiling the story that planted evidence plays a role in it.
It plays a role in Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil, too. In that novel, schoolteacher Jacob Schyttelius is shot. Göteborg homicide detective Irene Huss and her team begin the investigation. Very soon, they learn that Schyttelius’ parents have also been murdered; they were killed just hours before he was. At first, these murders look like the work of a Satanic group, and that wouldn’t be impossible. But it soon becomes clear that that evidence has been planted to sidetrack the police. Another possibility is that someone has a grudge against the family. But they were well-enough liked and considered ‘respectable,’ so it’s hard to work out who might hate them that much. The trail is complicated, and has much to do with the past. But, in the end, Huss finds out the truth.
In Mick Herron’s Down Cemetery Road, Sarah Tucker gets involved in a web of murder, conspiracy, and more. It all starts when a house near hers explodes, killing its owners, Thomas and Maddie Singleton. Strangely enough, their four-year-old daughter, Dinah, is not found, and Sarah worries for the child. But it’s soon clear that no-one will answer her questions or help her find the girl. Something is being hidden, and she wants to know what it is. So, she hires Oxford Investigations, which is run by Joe Silvermann and Zoë Boehm. Silvermann gets to work on the case, but he soon warns Sarah away from it. He’s uncovered information that suggests that there’s much more going on here than a child who’s wandered off, or been abducted. Sarah insists that she wants answers, though, and Silvermann reluctantly agreed. Then, he’s found murdered. What’s worse, someone plants evidence that suggests he was a drug dealer, and Sarah was one of his customers. This puts her squarely at the heart of the investigation into his death. Now, she’s going to have to get answers on her own.
And then there’s Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. In that novel, a group of people gather for a weekend ‘hen do’ for Clare Cavendish. The house they’re using belongs to the aunt of Florence ‘Flo’ Clay, who’s put the whole party together. It’s in a lonely, secluded place, so the partygoers are very much on their own. Or are they? There’s evidence that someone may be watching them. If so, who is it? That in itself makes everyone uneasy. Some past history also comes up, which only adds to the awkwardness and discomfort. Things gradually spin out of control, and what’s supposed to be a fun weekend turns sinister. As protagonist Leonora ‘Nora’ Shaw tries to piece everything together, we find that planted evidence plays an important role in the story.
Of course, any good investigator will pay attention to all the evidence. But it’s just as important to be aware that some of that evidence may be planted. The challenge is to separate that from the evidence that’s genuine.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cliff Carlisle and Mel Foree’s The Girl in the Blue Velvet Band.