One of the interesting things about human interaction is the influence people have on each other. For example, you might not be inclined to take that healthful early-morning walk or run yourself. But if you have a buddy to go with you, you might do it. Of course, that sort of influence isn’t always positive. You might spend more money if you go shopping with someone than you would if you shopped by yourself.
Whether the influence is positive or negative, it seems to be that case that people can, for lack of a better word, push each other. For example, I once had the rare privilege of seeing Billy Joel and Elton John together in concert. The show was among the best I’ve seen, and part of the reason is that the two artists spurred each other on, so that each was at his best.
We see a lot of that sort of influence in crime fiction, and that makes sense, considering it’s part of human nature. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, who was strangled during a trip on the famous Blue Train. Her estranged husband, Derek Kettering, is one of the suspects. He’s in real need of money, and she had a fortune to leave. What’s more, he has an expensive mistress, Mirelle, who was, as she puts it, not born to be poor. Another suspect is Armand de la Roche, who was having an affair with the victim. He, too, is eager for money, and Ruth had with her a valuable ruby necklace that’s been stolen. There are other possibilities as well. At one point in the novel, Mirelle is furious because Kettering has broken things off with her. In her anger, she visits de la Roche, and tells him that she knows Kettering is guilty. Whether not Kettering is the murderer, both she and de la Roche know that it’s in their interests for him to be blamed. It satisfies Mirelle’s desire for revenge, and it gives de la Roche the opportunity to blackmail Kettering (i.e. ‘I won’t go to the police with what I know if you pay me….’). And, if either Mirelle or de la Roche is the murderer, framing Kettering is of benefit. It’s an interesting example of each one pushing the other, so to speak.
There’s a chilling example of this sort of influence in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. That’s a fictional account of the 1959 murders of Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their children. The murderers, Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock and Perry Smith, were tried, convicted, and later executed. Among other things, the novel tells the story of how they planned and committed the crimes. It’s possible that neither man alone would have committed the murders. But Hickock had heard that the Clutters had a safe with a lot of money in it. His plan was to rob them. And he knew that Smith would be a useful ally. If either man had acted alone, the crime might not have ended in so much tragedy. But they encouraged each other, in their way, and things got out of control.
That’s what happens in Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, too. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks has recently moved from London to the small Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He doesn’t have much time to settle in before several cases come up. One is a voyeur who’s been making the lives of Eastvale’s women miserable. Another is a series of home invasions. Then there’s a murder. Possibly mixed up in it all are two teenagers, Trevor Sharp and Mick Webster. Separately, each has had his troubles. But together, they’re even more trouble. And they’re not exactly fans of the police. It’s really interesting to see the dynamic between these two, and to see how it influences them.
Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders introduces Melbourne police detective Titus Lambert, and his assistant, Sergeant Joe Sable. They investigate when Xavier Quinn and his father, John, are brutally murdered on Christmas Eve. They’re soon joined by Constable Helen Lord, and the three look into the killings. One possibility is that someone is targeting the Quinn family for personal reasons. But another possibility is that the murders are political in nature. There’s evidence in the home that connects the Quinns to Australia First, a far-right group that includes pro-Nazis (the novel takes place in 1943). As the three investigate the murders, we see how people can influence one another to act in ways that they might not act alone.
That’s also true in Herman Koch’s The Dinner. In that novel, two couples meet for dinner in an ultra-exclusive Amsterdam restaurant. Paul Lohman and his wife, Claire, have made plans to dine with Paul’s brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. On the surface, it looks like two couples having a fancy meal. But as the novel goes on, we soon learn that it’s much darker. As each course unfolds, we learn more about this very dysfunctional family. Readers find out about their backgrounds, and about the real reason they are meeting. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the cousins committed a terrible crime, and Lohmans are meeting to decide what they should do. As we find out what the crime is and how it came about, we also see how cousins interacted, and how that mutual influence impacted what happened.
And that’s how it often is when people act together. It can be for the good, or…not. Either way, mutual influence can spur us on to do things we might not do alone.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Doug Robb’s Fist Bump.