When you think of inheritances, your first thought may be money. And, of course, there are many crime novels in which someone inherits money. But nearly anything can be willed to someone else. And it’s interesting to see some of those inheritances, too, and the impact they have.
For example, in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, Rachel Verinder inherits a valuable diamond, called the Moonstone, from her uncle, Colonel John Herncastle. The instructions are that she is to be given this stone on her eighteenth birthday. But this isn’t the generous bequest that it may seem to be. The story is that, if the stone is removed from where it belongs, it will curse anyone who comes into contact with it. And Herncastle took it from the Palace of Seringaptam in India. Sure enough, misfortune soon befalls the Verinder family. The stone is stolen on the night it’s given to Rachel. Then, the second housemaid goes missing, only to be found dead later, a victim of suicide. Sergeant Cuff investigates the theft of the stone, and over the course of two years, traces its whereabouts. Certainly it doesn’t turn out to be the inheritance that it would seem to be on the surface.
Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun begins with an interesting story of inheritance. It seems that Captain Roger Angmering was a lover of the sea, who built himself a house on a small island off Leathercombe Bay. In 1782, when Angmering had his house built, it was considered eccentric at the very least. When he died, a cousin inherited the house and island, and it certainly wasn’t considered anything valuable – one of those odd inheritances. It wasn’t until the 1920’s, when people started going to the seaside for summer visits, that the island became valuable, and the property, now a hotel, turned a profit. As the real action in Evil Under the Sun starts, Captain Kenneth Marshall, his wife, Arlena, and daughter, Linda, travel to the island for a stay at the hotel. A few days later, Arlena is murdered. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the local police to investigate. It’s interesting how an inheritance that doesn’t seem worth much in one generation turns into something quite valuable later.
Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy is an immigrant from Ireland, who makes her way to New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. As we learn in The Death of Riley, Molly has left Ireland to put behind her the murder of a man who tried to rape her, and she’s decided to start over in New York. She needs to find some sort of income, so she persuades PI Paddy Riley to take her on as an apprentice. Everything changes, though, and Molly ends up inheriting her mentor’s PI agency. It takes some people time to adjust to the idea of a ‘lady detective,’ but Molly proves herself up to the task.
Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc also inherited an investigation firm, although it wasn’t specified in a will. Her father was a Paris police investigator who later opened a PI business. Meanwhile, she went to the Sorbonne to study medicine. When he was killed during a stakeout, though, she decided to take over the business in his stead. Now, she runs the agency with her friend and business partner, René Friant. Their specialty is computer security, but they also sometimes get involved in other cases, including murder.
There’s also Carolyn Hart’s Annie Laurence, who inherits a mystery bookshop, Death on Demand, from her Uncle Ambrose. She has fond memories of summers on the South Carolina island where he lived, so she’s happy to take over the bookshop and live on the island. It’s not long before she begins to get involved in the island’s life and mixed up in murder. In fact, in the first novel, Death on Demand, she learns that her uncle’s death might not have been accidental…
Perhaps the most unusual fictional inheritance is described in Vaseem Khan’s The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. When Mumbai Inspector Ashwin Chopra’s doctor urges him to take early retirement, he agrees, much to the delight of his wife, Archana ‘Poppy.’ But, on his last day of work, he is accosted by a woman who says that her son, Santosh Achrekar, has been murdered. The official reports and evidence don’t really support that, but at the same time, it’s possible. And Chopra wants to do the right thing by the family. So, he starts asking questions. It turns out that this death is related to some dark, ugly things happening in Mumbai, and to high-level corruption and greed. In the meantime, Chopra has another important issue: an inheritance from his beloved Uncle Bansi. It seems that Uncle Bansi has willed Chopra a baby elephant and has sent him a letter about the matter. In it, he says that the elephant is ‘no ordinary elephant.’ Chopra has no idea how to take care of an elephant, nor how he’ll feed and house it in the apartment building where he and Poppy live. But he wants to respect his uncle’s memory. And he doesn’t want any harm to come to the elephant, whom he names Ganesha. It turns out that Ganesha plays his role in this novel, and he becomes a part of Chopra’s life.
But an elephant is an odd inheritance. And that’s not the only example of strange things people can inherit. Which fictional inheritances have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Sadies.