With today’s technology, it’s not easy to ‘disappear,’ especially if the police have an arrest warrant. It might be possible to hide for a short time, especially with some help. And there are, of course, stories of fugitives who’ve escaped detection for years. As a rule, though, it’s hard to run from an arrest warrant for any length of time. And it’s even harder to avoid detection forever.
There are plenty of crime-fictional fugitives, and it’s not hard to see why. That plot point can make for solid tension and suspense in a novel. There’s the unfolding of the fugitive’s past, the tension over whether the fugitive will be caught, and more.
Agatha Christie mentions fugitives of one kind or another in several of her stories. There’s one, in fact, in which the fugitive’s past plays a crucial role in a murder. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but it brings up an interesting point. Before the days of DNA evidence, the Internet, and other technology, it was harder to track a fugitive. So, some plots that are very successful in classic/Golden Age crime fiction wouldn’t be successful in a contemporary context.
Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway begins as Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo, shoots a man outside a laundromat. He’s wounded himself but drives away without seeking medical help. And we soon learn why: Gorman is a fugitive who’s wanted by the FBI. Sergeant Jim Chee is assigned to work with an FBI agent named Sharkey to go in search of Gorman. They eventually trace the man to the hogan of one of his kinsmen, Ashie Begay. By the time they get to the hogan, though, there’s no sign of Gorman or Begay. Some distance away, though, Chee and Sharkey find Gorman’s body, apparently prepared in the Navajo way for burial. The FBI has found its quarry, but Chee’s now got two mysteries on his hands. Who killed Gorman, and what’s the connection between that murder and the disappearance of Ashie Begay?
Judges know that people who’ve been arrested might very well decide to flee. So, in many cases, they require a bail bond to ensure that the defendant will appear in court. That bail money is often advanced by bail bond agencies. So, the owners and employees of those agencies have a vested interest in making sure that defendants don’t become fugitives. If they do, then those companies send out agents to find and recover those people. And that’s exactly what Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum does for a living. She was originally hired by her cousin to do clerical work. But, as fans know, she’s discovered a talent for finding people who don’t want to be found. It’s sometimes dirty, very dangerous work. But Plum’s good at it, even though her family might have wished a different career for her…
In Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam, we are introduced to Blanche White. She is a professional housekeeper who’s trying to build a client base. As the story opens, she’s in court facing serious trouble because of a bad check that she wrote. Jail isn’t an option for her, because she is taking care of her sister’s two children. So, she tricks the bailiff who’s supposed to be watching her and leaves the courthouse. She’s not stupid; she knows that she is now a fugitive. But she doesn’t see any option. As a way of hiding out for a short time, she takes a temporary job – and soon finds herself drawn into a family mystery and the murder of a local sheriff.
In Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw, we meet Kunihide Kiyomaru. As the story begins, we learn that he was responsible for the rape and murder of a young girl. Since the crime, Kiyomaru has been a fugitive in hiding. But the victim’s wealthy grandfather, Takaoki Ninagawa, devises a way to catch the man. Ninagawa offers a one-billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru and can prove it. He makes the news widely available in newspapers and on social media, and soon, many thousands of people are looking for the fugitive. Kiyomaru, too, knows about this bounty. He knows very well that if he remains in hiding, he will be killed. So, he turns himself in to the police in Fukuoka. From there, he’ll need to be returned to Tokyo to face trial. For that, the Tokyo Municipal Police Department sends Kazuki Mekari and his team to go to Fukuoka, take custody of the prisoner, and return him to Tokyo. That won’t be easy, though, with so many people determined to get that one billion yen.
And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. A company called Vestco has produced a new seed covering that it claims will greatly increase food production and reduce worldwide hunger. A Los Angeles-based watchdog agency called the Millbrook Foundation has serious doubts about those claims, and about Vestco. But they haven’t been able to prevent the release. Now, with nine days to go until the seed covering is distributed, it looks as though Millbrook has lost the fight. Then, a Vestco employee is murdered. Three Millbrook employees are framed for the crime, but they’re not even aware of that at first. They’re en route to New Zealand when their names come up as suspects. When they land, they have no idea that they are now international fugitives. Now, they’ll have to try to find the real killer and prevent the release of the seed covering if they can, before they’re captured or killed.
There are any number of reasons a person might choose to become a fugitive. And those reasons can add much to a crime story. Little wonder we see these characters as much as we do in the genre, whether it’s in books, television or film.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Renegade.