Do you know who Paul Allen is? No? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of his business partner, Bill Gates. Yes, the Bill Gates. As this is posted, it’s 43 years since the founding of their joint venture, Microsoft. As you’ll know, Microsoft has become one of the most valuable brands in the world, and it all started with the ‘garage pairing’ of these two people.
It’s been a phenomenally successful partnership, and it’s not alone. In fact, one of Microsoft’s chief rivals, Apple, was also founded by business partners (in this case, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), just a year later. There’s something about the synergy that happens when two people with complementary skills and a common dream get together.
Of course, business partnerships aren’t problem-free by any means. There are bound to be differences of opinion and more. And, if the company has real success, there’s the issue of all of that money. Business partnerships are really interesting dynamics, so it’s little wonder we see a lot of them in crime fiction. There’s plenty of possibility for character development, interesting plot points, and tension.
For instance, in Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, Queen has decided to take a house in the Hollywood Hills, so that he can get some peace and quiet to write. It’s not to be, though. When nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill finds out he’s there, she visits him, asking for his help. Her father, Leander Hill, recently died from a massive heart attack, and she believes it was deliberate. Shortly before his death, Hill had been receiving some eerie, anonymous ‘gifts,’ that Lauren believes frightened him so badly that he died. What’s more, Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving ‘packages.’ At first, Queen doesn’t want to get involved. But he is intrigued by the mystery of those parcels, so he starts to ask questions. In order to find out the truth, he has to go back to the start of the successful Hill/Priam partnership, and discover who hated both men so much as to want to kill them.
In A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, we meet successful Chicago developer Todd Gilbert. He and his friend and business partner, Dean Kovacs, have done quite well, and Todd lives in a posh Chicago home with his common-law wife, Jodi Brett. She’s a successful psychologist, so the two have a good life, materially speaking. Everything changes when Todd begins an affair with his business partner’s daughter, Natasha. In a number of ways, that’s a very foolish decision. For one thing, it sabotages his partnership with Dean. For another, Jodi is devastated. Todd’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different. Natasha becomes pregnant and wants to get married and have a family. Todd tells her (and himself) that that’s what he wants, too, so he leaves Jodi. Then, his lawyer presents her with an order of eviction from the home she’s lived in for twenty years. Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone very wrong. But the police soon begin to suspect that someone arranged for this murder. And it turns out that there are several possibilities for who that someone might be.
Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money introduces Australian former police officer-turned PI Max Quinlan. Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother, Charles. His last known address was a Bangkok apartment, so Quinlan starts there. When he gets to the apartment, he finds no sign of Avery. But he does find the body of Avery’s business partner, Robert Lee. He also discovers proof that Avery has gone to Cambodia. With that information, Quinlan heads for Phnom Penh, where he picks up the trail again. Very slowly, he traces Avery’s last days and weeks, and finds out what drew him to Cambodia, and why this business partnership ended in murder. It turns out that Avery was mixed up with some very dangerous deals and ruthless people, and that spelled disaster for the partnership.
Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink is the story of former Johannesburg journalist Lucy Khambule. She’s now one half of The Publicists, a publicity company that she owns with her friend, Patricia Moabelo. She hasn’t been happy with the way the business is going lately, though. For one thing, she’s been bringing in more money to the company than her partner has, but the business agreement doesn’t reflect this. For another, Patricia has been less engaged with the business lately. Lucy is not sure what she’s going to do about the business and her role in it, so she’s a bit at loose ends when she gets a telephone call from a man named Napoleon Dingiswayo, who’s in a maximum-security prison for a series of horrific murders. It seems that, when she was a journalist, Lucy had written to him asking for an interview. Now, he wants to meet with her, and have her write a book about him. A chance like this doesn’t happen very often, and Lucy is intrigued. She’s wise enough to know that this could be very dangerous, but the chance is too irresistible to pass up. So, she agrees to the meeting, and starts some notes for the book. As she gets to know her interview subject, a series of frightening and violent things starts to happen. Napoleon is in a closely-guarded prison, so he can’t be responsible. But if he’s not, then who is? And what does it mean for the other murders, and for Lucy herself?
There are also, of course, several successful PI business partnerships. For instance, Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc owns Leduc Detective with her business partner, René Friant. Their specialty is computer safety and cyber security, but Leduc often finds herself drawn into cases of murder. Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, an Arizona-based PI firm. They know the area, they are smart and shrewd, and they are loyal to each other. But that doesn’t mean they never have their share of danger.
And no discussion of PI business partnerships would be complete without a mention of Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her business partner Rajiv Patel (they are also partners in their private lives). They sometimes have very different outlooks on cases, but their skills are complementary. They have their conflicts, but they respect each other, too, and it’s interesting to see how that partnership has evolved.
There are many, many other business partnerships in crime fiction. For instance, I haven’t even touched on fictional legal partners, and there are plenty of those in the genre. It’s a fascinating dynamic and can add much to a crime novel. Which partnerships have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Irving Taylor’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own.