Ask any writer about the writing process, and you’ll probably hear that it’s a lot easier to write when one’s inspired – when the muse is helping out. It’s awfully difficult to do it without the muse. For some people (writers included), the muse takes a human form. Spending time with that person, getting that person’s ideas, and learning from that person spark the imagination and push one to do better. If you have your own muse, you know what I mean.
There are muses in crime fiction, too. By that I don’t mean, for instance, spouses whom fictional sleuths talk to about their cases. Those are important characters (and really, worthy of a post in and of themselves). I mean muses in the more traditional sense of the word.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s short story Within a Wall, we are introduced to well-known artist Alan Everard. He first gained notice as a painter whose work showed both real skill and depth, but has since become a
‘….fashionable painter of portraits.’
One evening, he hosts a tea at which one of his guests discovers a painting of Jane Haworth, godmother to his daughter Winnie. As it turns out, Jane is also Everard’s inspiration – his muse. Although she’s eager to please and to praise his work, Everard can always tell by her reaction whether something he’s done is truly excellent or not. She irritates him no end, but pushes him to achieve. Everard is also married; his wife Isobel is ‘well born’ and wealthy, and wants her husband to have financial success. And therein lies the dilemma. As the story goes on, we see Everard pulled between the muse who drives him to do his most outstanding work, and his wife, who wants him to do society portraits and other work that will earn him a lot of money. Admittedly, this story isn’t a traditional crime story in the sense that a lot of Christie’s other work is. Still, it depicts very clearly the relationship between muse and creator. I know, I know, fans of Five Little Pigs.
Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory features gifted violinist Gideon Davies, who’s become a world class talent. In one plot thread of this novel, when he finds himself unable to play, he’s upset enough about it to go for psychological counseling. He hopes that by doing so, he can get to the root of his musical ‘block.’ In the course of his counseling sessions, Davies discusses the people who are important to him in his life; one of them is his mentor and muse, Raphael Robson. Robson has been his violin coach for years, and as Davies discusses him with the counselor, we learn the slowly-unfolding story of his family. That includes the twenty-year-old tragic death of his sister Sonia. It turns out that that event is related to his current struggle. It’s also related to another plot thread of this novel, in which Davies’ mother Eugenie is killed by what looks like a hit-and-run accident. Inspector Thomas ‘Tommy’ Lynley and his team investigate whether it really was an accident, what’s behind it, and how it is connected to Gideon Davies’ predicament.
Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to a different sort of muse, ten-year-old Kate Meaney. As the story opens in 1984, Kate is a budding detective who’s just opened her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a good deal of her time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she suspects there’ll be a lot of crime for her to solve. Kate is content enough with her life, but her grandmother Ivy, with whom she lives, believes that she’d be better off going away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate is finally persuaded to go when her friend Adrian Palmer agrees to go with her for moral support. On the day of the exam, Kate and Adrian travel to the school, but only Adrian returns. A massive search turns up nothing – not even a body. A lot of people are convinced that Adrian is responsible – so many, in fact, that he leaves town, swearing not to return. Twenty years later, his younger sister Lisa is working at the mall. One night, she happens to meet Kurt, a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, go back to the past to find out what really happened to Kate. As we learn, Kate’s disappearance has left a gaping hole in several people’s lives. She served as an inspiration and a muse for more than one of the characters, in ways they weren’t even aware of until she disappeared.
Sulari Gentill’s historical series features Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, an artist from a well-to-do New South Wales family. He’s talented and motivated; but, like all artists, he benefits from inspiration. And he gets his share of it from his good friend Edna Higgins. She a sculptor in her own right, as well as a model and sometimes-actress. She is also Rowly’s muse. Not only is she his love interest, but she is also intelligent, well-read, and not afraid to speak her mind. She helps to spark his talent, and she’s an interesting character in her own right.
The focus of Gail Bowen’s series is Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, political scientist and now-retired academic. She and her lawyer husband Zack are parents to Taylor, who is a gifted artist. In The Gifted, Taylor, who is fourteen at the time, is invited to submit two of her pieces for inclusion in a charity art auction in aid of the Racette-Hunter Centre. Taylor has shown her parents one of the pieces that she is submitting. The other one, though, is to be kept secret until the auction. That piece, BlueBoy21, is a portrait of Taylor’s muse, Julian Zentner. He is also her first love interest, so naturally, her parents have been concerned about the amount of time she spends with him. But this painting will have consequences that go far beyond a first love. One of the elements that runs through this novel is the way Taylor is inspired by her relationship with Julian.
Muses serve as inspiration for all sorts of creativity. But they can also be very interesting, sometimes even complicated, in their own rights. Which ones have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s The Muse.