When a person goes missing or is murdered, the police often talk to that person’s best friend(s) to get information. After all, we often tell things to our best friends that we don’t tell anyone else, even our families. So, it’s almost always worth the time it takes to find out who that best friend is and talk to him or her.
In crime fiction, a victim’s best friend can provide plenty of important clues, if that’s what the author wishes to do. And, since friendships – even best friendships – can be very complicated, there are all sorts of possibilities for plot twists. So, it’s little wonder we see fictional sleuths paying all sorts of attention to best friends. There are far too many examples for me to mention here. I hope you’ll add your own, to complete this post.
Agatha Christie introduced one of her most famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In that novel, Poirot has recently emigrated to England, and is now living in the village of Styles St. Mary, not far from his benefactor, Emily Inglethorp, who lives at Styles Court. As it happens, Captain Arthur Hastings is a friend of her stepson, John Cavendish. He’s visiting Cavendish when Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. By chance, he meets up with Poirot, whom he also knows, and persuades the detective to investigate. One of the people Poirot talks to is the victim’s best friend and companion, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. And Miss Howard certainly has plenty to say against her friend’s husband, Alfred Inglethorp. It’s an interesting perspective on the victim, and it turns out to be useful in solving the case. I know, fans of Death on the Nile.
In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the disappearance of Andreas Winthur. It seems that he spent the day with his best friend, Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, and never came home. When his mother, Runi, gets worried about him, she goes to the police. At first, Sejer doesn’t worry too much, since Andreas is not a little child. But after some time goes by, he, too, gets concerned. That’s when he and Skarre start to look into the matter. They soon find out about Zipp, and Sejer has more than one interview with him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he knows more than he is saying, and it takes Sejer quite a while to get that information. Among other things, this novel offers an interesting perspective on young adult friendships. Fossum also explores this in other novels, such as Black Seconds and Bad Intentions.
Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces readers to Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove police. In the novel, groom-to-be Michael Harrison disappears a few days before his wedding. It all started innocently enough with a ‘stag night’ prank. But a terrible car accident left Harrison stranded and in real danger. His fiancée, Ashley Harper, goes to the police for help, and DI Glenn Branson agrees to investigate. He brings Grace along, and soon enough, there’s an all-out search. As a part of the investigation, the police talk to Harrison’s best friend and best-man-to-be, Mark Warren. Warren wasn’t in town at the time of Harrison’s disappearance, so he doesn’t know exactly what happened. But he does have background and other useful information, which turns out to be important to the case.
Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen is faced with a tragic case in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. He’s recently been stationed at Tiverton, in rural South Australia, and is adjusting to life there. One day, the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road. There are definite signs that the victim wasn’t killed there, so there are plenty of possibilities. This won’t be an easy case. It’s made even harder by the fact that Hirsch is a pariah among his fellow coppers, because he’s seen as a ‘whistleblower.’ So, he’s going to get no help with the Melia Donovan case. As you’d guess, Hirsch starts with the victim’s family and friends. That includes her best friend, Gemma Pitcher, who works at a local convenience shop. At first, she does her best to avoid talking to him. But eventually he catches up with her, and the information she finally provides turns out to be helpful.
The focus of Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street is the disappearance of June Giatto. One summer night, she and her best friend, Valerie ‘Val’ Marino decide to take a raft ride on the bay near their Brooklyn area of Red Hook. The next morning, Val is found, injured but alive. June, though, has disappeared. Despite a major search, there’s no sign of her – not even a body. The police, of course, have plenty of questions for Val, but she claims not to know what happened to her friend. In fact, she’s devastated by June’s loss, and upset by the insinuations that she might know more about it than she’s saying. As time goes by, we slowly learn what happened to June, and we get an ‘inside look’ at the friendship between the two girls.
And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated ever since the disappearance of his twin, Alyssa, a year earlier. He’s determined to find her, or at least, find out what happened to her. And he’s got a map and a plan. One day, he’s skipping school, spending time by the local river, when he witnesses another death. The victim this time is David Wilson, a local college professor. And he just might have had some information about Alyssa. Local police detective Clyde Hunt knows the Merrimon case well; he investigated it. And it’s haunted him ever since that he wasn’t able to get answers. So, he stays in contact with the family, and tries to help Johnny in his own way. One of the people Hunt talks to is Johnny’s best friend, Jack Cross. As the story evolves, we learn more about their friendship, the role it plays in Johnny’s life, and Jack’s perspective on Johnny. And that information turns out to be important.
Best friends can be the most loyal and helpful people in one’s life. Or the most dangerous. And that’s part of what makes those characters so interesting in crime fiction. Right, fans of Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Queen.