Most of us like to have some sense of security. And that means, perhaps, a certain amount of predictability. That makes sense, too, since humans like to impose some sort of order on our worlds. But sometimes, there are decisions we take, or new ventures we start, that require having some faith.
In those situations, we give up at least a little of our sense of security in exchange for what we hope will be a better situation. If you’ve ever moved house, started a new job, gotten married or opened your own business, you know the feeling. On the one hand, there’s the anxiety that comes with the unknown. On the other, there’s the faith that things will work out.
That mix can add some interest and tension to a story. And as we see characters dealing with the unknown, and relying on their faith that things will be all right, we can identify with the mixed feelings that come with change. So, it’s no surprise that we see this plot point in crime fiction.
In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, Anne Bedingfield has recently lost her father. And, since he wasn’t wealthy, she’s going to have to earn her living. She doesn’t want to become a typist or work in an office. But she knows she’ll have to do something with her life. One day, she happens to witness a terrible accident (or was it an accident?) at an Underground station. A man falls or is pushed under an oncoming train. Anne doesn’t know the victim, but she ends up with a piece of paper that the man had in his pocket. After a short time, she learns that the note on the paper refers to the upcoming sailing of the HMS Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she books passage on the ship, and finds herself drawn into a web of international intrigue, jewel theft, and murder. It requires some faith to book that passage (which isn’t cheap), but Anne gets past her anxiety, and certainly does have adventure to show for her decision.
Claire McGowan’s The Lost introduces forensic psychologist Claire Maguire. As the novel begins, she’s living and working in London, mostly with missing person cases. She’s good at her job, and her work gets noticed. In fact, she gets an invitation to return to her home town of Ballyterrin, in Northern Ireland, to help set up a cold case review team. Two girls have recently gone missing, so there’s finally enough interest to fund a team. Maguire had her own reasons for leaving Ballyterrin in the first place, so she’s in no great hurry to go back. But, her father, who still lives in the area, has recently broken his leg, and could do with some assistance. Besides, there are the missing girls. So, with a mix of anxiety and faith that things will work out, Maguire goes back to Ballyterrin. And what she finds is a complicated case that turns even more tragic when one of the girls is found dead.
In Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands, we meet twelve-year-old Steven Lamb. He lives with his mother, his grandmother, and his younger brother in the Exmoor town of Shipcott. This isn’t a particularly happy family, though. Nineteen years earlier, Steven’s uncle, Billy Peters, went missing and was never found. Everyone’s always believed that a man named Arnold Avery was responsible, but he was never brought to justice on the matter. He’s in prison, though, on charges relating to other child murders. Steven wants to find a way for his family to heal. So, he decides to look for Uncle Billy’s body. He searches the moor but doesn’t have much success. Then, he has another idea. He’ll write to Avery, and to try to get him to tell where the body is. Steven’s anxious about the whole thing, but he also has faith that he can find out what he wants to know. So, he and Avery begin a correspondence that turns into a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Ian Sansom’s The Case of the Missing Books is the first in his Mobile Library series. Israel Armstrong dreams of being a librarian, maybe even a curator in the British Library someday. But for now, he’s working as a bookseller’s assistant. Then, he gets the opportunity to start his library career. Tumdrum and District Library, in Tumdrum, Ireland, is looking for a librarian, and Armstrong gets the job. He knows that it’s a small place without any real reputation. But, he thinks, it’s a start. So, he pulls up stakes in London, and goes to Ireland. He’s got faith in himself as a librarian, but he’s unprepared for what he finds. When he arrives, he discovers that the library has closed, and that, in fact, he’s been hired to drive a mobile library bus. He refuses the job at first, but then is practically shamed into going through with the contract. That’s when he finds that the bus is broken down and in need of repair, and that the entire collection of books has gone missing. Now he’ll have to find the books and get the library going if he’s to have any success.
And then there’s Mick Herron’s Down Cemetery Road. Sarah Tucker is at a sort of crossroads in her live. She’s not happy in her marriage, but she doesn’t have a real career or direction. Then, one night, an explosion destroys a house not far from where she lives. The home’s owners, Thomas and Maddie Singleton, have died. But there’s no sign of their four-year-old daughter, Dinah. Worried about the child, Sarah starts to ask questions. But she soon finds that no-one wants to answer them. So, she hires a private investigation company, Oxford Investigations, run by Joe Silvermann and Zoë Boehm. It’s not long before Silvermann lets her know that she’s getting into something much more than she thought. But Sarah persists. When Silvermann is murdered, Sarah knows that she’s gotten into something very dangerous. It’s all very new to her, and she has plenty of very well-founded anxiety. But she also has faith that she can do this. In the end, and after several deaths, she finds out the truth about the Singletons. And it all leads to some very dark truths in some very high government places.
Doing something new and different, especially if there’s danger involved, can cause a lot of anxiety. But there’s also often a sense of faith that things will come out all right. And that mix is both very human, and very effective in a story.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road.