Most of us have routines for doing things – routines that make sense and work for us. And those routines tell a lot about us. So, when they are interrupted, that, too, can give a lot of information. For example, say you come home, and your partner isn’t there, but the keys are, the door is unlocked, and the dog doesn’t come to greet you. You can guess that your partner probably took the dog for a walk and both will be back soon.
Those conclusions aren’t, of course, completely foolproof. But they do give helpful information, and in crime fiction, they can be very helpful as a sleuth tries to put the pieces of a puzzle together. I started thinking about this after a really interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books. Her post (which you should read) was a review of how this works in one crime novel, but there are plenty of other examples. Here are just a few.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Commissioner Peterson breaks up a scuffle between some thugs and a man they had targeted. Their would-be victim runs off, dropping his hat and a goose as he goes. Peterson takes the goose home to his wife, who starts to prepare it for cooking. When she does, she discovers a valuable gem in its craw. Peterson takes the jewel and the hat to Sherlock Holmes, who starts by making some useful deductions just from the hat. Then, he uses what Peterson tells him to work out what the man’s routine would have been. That gives him valuable information about how the jewel got into the goose’s craw, and what happened to the man who had the goose. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will know that he frequently uses clues like that to work out the events of a crime.
So does Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot at times. In Murder in Mesopotamia, for instance, he is persuaded to interrupt his travels in the Middle East to investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. Her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, is leading an excavation a few hours from Baghdad, and she’s decided to join the team, although she’s not involved in the actual work of digging. One afternoon, she is murdered in her room. No-one is seen entering or leaving that room, so at first, it’s hard to tell exactly how the murder occurred. But Poirot uses the clues he has to work out what likely would have happened – what her routine would have been. That information gives some valuable clues about who would have killed the victim, and how the murder occurred.
Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn is the story of the murder of Nicholas Quinn, the only Deaf member of the Oxford Foreign Exams Syndicate. This group oversees exams given in countries other than the UK that follow the British system of education. Quinn is poisoned one afternoon, and Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate. They soon learn that the members of the Syndicate are keeping secrets – things that Quinn discovered and that might have been worth murdering him to keep hidden. As a part of working out who killed the victim, Morse works out what his afternoon routine would have been like on the day he was killed, and that’s helpful. It’s not spoiling the story to say that another aspect of Quinn’s usual way of doing things proves vital to the case.
In Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, Tapani Lehtinen becomes concerned about his journalist wife, Joahnna. She’s been following a story and hasn’t been in contact with anyone for twenty-four hours. That’s very unlike her, and Lehtinen has good reason to be worried. The world in which this story takes place has fallen into chaos due to wars and climate change, and millions of refugees have gone north to try to make lives for themselves. Helsinki, the setting for the story, has been reduced to near-anarchy, and the police are spread so thin that they can do little to solve any but the most major of crimes. Lehtinen starts at Johanna’s office, and uses notes and other clues to work out that she left the office quickly to work on her story. Her boss isn’t much help, but he does say that she was working on a story about a man called the Healer. This man has been responsible for the murders of several people, such as CEOs of certain corporations, that he believes are responsible for the climate change which has so impacted the world. Lehtinen believes that if he pursues that story himself, he’ll be able to find Johanna, so he begins to track the Healer. That choice gets him into danger, and he learns that several people involved in this case are hiding things. But, in the end, he learns the truth.
Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime shows how those little routines can also be used to make a certain impression. In that novel, we meet Barcelona brothers Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez. Together, they own a PI business that’s just getting started. Borja is of the strong belief that people won’t be willing to hire PIs who aren’t successful, so the office is designed to look much more prosperous than it is. For instance, there’s a receptionist/secretary’s desk, even though the brothers can’t afford to pay a secretary. In order to give the illusion that they can, they leave a cardigan or a jacket on the chair. Sometimes, they leave a bottle of nail polish on the desk, to make it look as though their secretary just went to the restroom for a moment. Or, they leave papers and other things on the desk to make it look as though someone was in the middle of something, and just had to run out for a bit. It’s a clever ruse, and it convinces potential clients that the firm’s doing well.
Those little clues to routines can be very helpful to detectives who are trying to work out exactly how a crime occurred. But they can also be useful if a criminal wants to leave a false trail (right, fans of Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Mews?). Either way, they can add to a story.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alvin Lee’s The Bluest Blues.