When you think of famous film stars, athletes, authors, and so on, you probably don’t think of their agents. But the fact is, an agent can be a very powerful person. Many of the best-known publishers won’t even consider an author who doesn’t have an agent (trust me). And if a sports team wants a certain player, that team has to work the details out with the player’s agent. The same thing goes for a producer or director who wants a certain star in a film or stage performance.
Agents are an important part of life for certain professions, so it’s little wonder we see them in crime fiction, too. And, since there are all sorts of agents, and they play different roles, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to plots, character types, and so on. They can make effective sleuths, suspects, sources of information, and even murderers.
In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld’s letter says that his life is in danger, and pleads with Poirot to go to France and help. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the small town of Merlinville sur Mer, where the Renaulds live, but by the time they get there, it’s too late: Renuald has been murdered. Poirot works with the police to find out who killed the victim and why. One line of questioning leads to an acrobat act that was playing in Paris. Poirot wants to find the acrobats, so he visits a theatrical agent, Joseph Aarons. Aarons quickly gives Poirot the information he needs about the act and its members, which proves very helpful. Christie fans will also know that Aarons makes appearances elsewhere in Christie’s work, including The Mystery of the Blue Train.
One of Harlan Coben’s most popular series features Myron Bolitar. He’s a former basketball star whose career ended after an injury. He wanted to stay in the world of sport, though, and became an agent (later in the series, he becomes an investigator). In the early novels, Bolitar often gets drawn into cases through his clients. For example, in Drop Shot, one of Bolitar’s clients, Duane Richwood, is competing in a tennis tournament. During the event, former tennis great Valerie Simpson is found dead. Richwood could have known her, and could have a motive for murder. What’s more, Bolitar had been getting calls from Simpson, who wanted to resurrect her career. With those personal connections to the case, Bolitar starts asking questions, and we find out who killed Simpson and why.
There’s another look at a sports agent in Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter, the first of her Kate Henry series. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, so she follows the Toronto Titans team to all of their games. When one of their members, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is murdered in his home, it looks like a home invasion gone wrong. But then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered at the team’s clubhouse. Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro works both cases, and he finds that Henry has useful information. For her part, Henry wants to find out who the killer is, and not just because it’ll be a big story for her. She’s gotten to know the players, and she wants to know the truth about what happened. One of the ‘people of interest’ is Sam Craven, who represented Thorson. It turns out that Thorson wanted to end their contract, and Craven had refused. In fact, they had a major argument about it. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how he and what he does are portrayed.
In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to literary agent Melanie Lenehan. Part of her job is to keep her clients’ names ‘out there,’ so she encourages them to attend literary events, signings, and so on. That’s a tall order for one of her clients, mystery novelist Martin Canning. He’s a basically shy, introverted writer who’d much prefer, in many ways, to live in the 1950s world he’s created for his sleuth. It’s a bit of a struggle for her, but Lenehan finally convinces Canning to appear at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, join a panel, and answer some reader questions. During his trip, Canning gets ready to attend a lunchtime radio comedy broadcast, for which he’s gotten complimentary tickets. He’s waiting to pick up those tickets when he witnesses a blue Honda crash into the silver Peugeot in front of it. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. When the Honda driver starts to attack Paul Bradley (who’s driving the Peugeot), Canning acts out of instinct, and throws his computer case at the Honda driver. Out of a sense of obligation, he accompanies Bradley to a local hospital, and gets drawn into a strange case of fraud and murder. Certainly not what Melanie Lenehan had in mind when she booked Canning for the event!
In one plot thread of J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm, private investigator Coromoran Strike gets a new client. Leonora Quine wants him to find her husband, famous – well, notorious, really – author Owen Quine, who’s gone missing. He’s always been a ‘fringe’ sort of writer; his last novel, Bombyx Mori, is considered unpublishable because of some of its unpleasant themes and scenes. The manuscript for the novel was leaked at about the same time as Quine went missing, so there’s a good possibility that his disappearance has something to do with what’s in the novel. One of the people Strike meets as he searches for his client’s husband is literary agent Elizabeth Tassel, who handles Quine’s work. She’s an unsuccessful writer who deeply resents the London literary community that wouldn’t accept her and won’t accept her client. As you can imagine, she has a rather pessimistic attitude about writing success. In the end, and with information he gets from Tassel and the other people in Quine’s life, Strike finds out who the killer is and what the motive is.
Whether their specialty is films, sport, music, books, or something else, agents are an important part of many professions. And they can have a lot of power. Little wonder they make so many appearances in the genre…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s You’ll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again.