As this is posted, it’s 82 years since King Edward VIII announced his abdication of the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson. As you’ll know, their relationship was considered scandalous, and the couple took a great deal of criticism.
It’s a very famous scandalous marriage, but it’s hardly the only one. For a long time, people have disapproved of certain marriages, and that topic comes up in crime fiction, too. It’s no surprise, either, considering that that plot point can add an interesting layer of tension to a story.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, famous actress Jane Wilkinson wants a divorce from her husband, the 4th Baron Edgware, so that she can marry the Duke of Merton, with whom she’s fallen in love. She asks Hercule Poirot to convince her husband to agree to the divorce, and he pays a visit to Edgware. During the visit, Edgware says that he has already withdrawn his objection, and is willing for the divorce to go ahead. That’s odd enough, but when Edgware is stabbed that night, the case gets even more complicated. In the midst of it all, Poirot gets a visit from the Dowager Duchess of Merton. Now that Edgware is dead, Jane Wilkinson is free to marry her son, and she’s upset about that. To her, the actress is absolutely not a suitable wife, and she wants Poirot to stop the marriage. He can’t agree to that, which infuriates her. That visit doesn’t solve the crime. But it’s interesting to see how it sheds light on the characters involved.
Colin Dexter’s Death is Now My Neighbour begins as Sir Clixby Bream prepares to step down as Master of Lonsdale College, Oxford. The matter of who will succeed him is not a trivial one, and he considers the question carefully. The two most likely candidates are Julian Storrs and Denis Cornford. They’re equally qualified, and each has behaved ‘properly.’ Both are married to women who’ve learned how to make their husbands look good, and both men have their supporters. Then, a dubious journalist named Geoffrey Owens starts digging around, and discovers that someone has a shady past – something that Bream would likely find unacceptable. When Owens is shot, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate. They find out that more than one person involved has a secret.
Megan Abbott’s historical novel (1950s) Die a Little introduces Lora King, a Pasadena, California teacher. She’s especially close to her brother, Bill, so when he meets and falls in love with Alice Steele, Lora wants to be happy for him. But it’s not long before she begins to have her doubts. Alice has a murky background, and some things about her make Lora uneasy. Still, the relationship continues, and Bill and Alice marry. Lora tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake. But the more she learns about her, the more concerned she is. At the same time as she is repulsed by Alice’s life, though, she is also drawn to it. Then, there’s a death. And Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s trying to help her brother, Lora starts asking questions. And she finds herself more caught up in the events than she’d thought possible.
In Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy, locksmith Jeet Singh has been trying to ‘go straight’ since he spent time in prison. Now, he runs a legitimate key-making business from a Mumbai kiosk, and wants to stay out of trouble. But trouble finds him. He gets an opportunity to do a safecracking job, and at first, he rejects. Everything changes, though, when he gets a visit from a former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband, Pursumal Changulani, has been murdered. He was killed in what looked like a carjacking gone horribly wrong. But evidence has turned up which shows that this was likely a planned assassination. Changulani’s children have never approved of his marriage to Sushmita, and are now saying that she was never officially his wife. If that is true, she can’t inherit any of his fortune. What’s worse, these same children believe that she hired the person who killed their father. Sushmita tells Singh that she is innocent, but can’t pay for a good lawyer. He agrees to help her if he can, and takes on that job he originally rejected. It’s not long before Singh finds himself drawn in much deeper than he had thought.
And then there’s M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth. He’s constable for the Highlands village of Lochdubh, and is quite content to stay there. He’s not professionally ambitious, and he likes the town he serves. Fans will tell you, though, that he’s not lucky in love. One of the regular characters in this series is Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, whose ‘blueblood’ parents have a fine local manor. Macbeth loves Patricia, and she cares very much for him, too. But their relationship is not exactly smooth sailing. One of the reasons for that is that her parents don’t think a ‘mere constable’ is a suitable match for her. Priscilla’s father, in particular, is determined that she will meet and marry ‘one of her own kind.’ And it’s interesting to see how those ideas of what is and isn’t a suitable match play a role in the series.
There are a lot of other examples of fictional marriages where there’s a lot of disapproval. It’s difficult to maintain a relationship under those circumstances, and it’s hard on everyone. But it can make for an interesting plot point.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wes Farrell and Bert Berns’s Hang on Sloopy.