Not everyone is comfortable being around others. For a variety of reasons, some people are reclusive. Recluses are often regarded as eccentric, to say the least. And some recluses are. Even when they’re not, though, they’re often interesting people with their own unique way of looking at life.
And that can make them appealing characters in novels. Authors can use such characters to add leaven to a story, to create plot points, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see reclusive characters in crime fiction. There are a number of them in the genre; one post won’t do justice to them. But here are a few examples.
In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to Martin Canning. He is a mystery novelist who’s, in his way, much more comfortable in the imaginary world he’s created for his sleuth than in the everyday, real-life world. In that sense, he is reclusive. But he is also wise enough to know that readers want to make connections with authors. So, he allows his literary agent to persuade him to participate in a panel at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. One afternoon while he’s in Edinburgh, Canning is waiting to get tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. That’s when he witnesses a car accident. A blue Honda hits a silver Peugeot from behind, and the two drivers get out of their cars. During the ensuing argument, the Honda driver brandishes a bat, attacking the Peugeot driver. By instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving the other man’s life. Out of a sense of obligation, Canning accompanies the Peugeot driver, whose name is Paul Bradley, to a local hospital. That act draws the ordinarily reclusive Canning into a web of fraud and murder.
Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret features her sleuth, Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig. As this novel begins, Craig is a sessional lecturer who’s working at Grant McEwan University in Edmonton. When her friend, Denise Wolff, asks Craig to help put together an alumni reunion event for the University of Alberta (where Craig got her M.A.), Craig agrees. Then, she learns that a new novel, Seven Bird Saga, is about to be released. The author is the extremely reclusive and enigmatic Margaret Ahlers. And that’s when Craig starts to get concerned. She did her thesis on Ahlers and knows that the author died years earlier. So, is this new book a recently-discovered manuscript (unlikely, but possible)? Or did someone else write the book? If so, who? As the story goes on, we learn more about Craig’s thesis and her search for the truth about Ahlers. As the time for the alumni even gets closer, Craig becomes more and more convinced that someone who will be attending knows more than it seems about Ahlers and the new book and could pose a real threat to her. In the end, Craig learns the truth about the new book, but not before there’s a murder.
Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip introduces readers to Mick Stranahan, former investigator for Florida’s Attorney General. He’s quite reclusive now, living on a deserted island. His life of solitude is interrupted when he happens to be out in his boat, and sees a young woman in the water, struggling with exhaustion. She is Joey Perrone, whose husband, Chaz, threw her overboard during a cruise of the Everglades. What Chaz forgot, though, is that Joey is a former champion swimmer. She’s survived in the water because of her skills, but she’s near the end of her strength. Stranahan rescues her, and Joey soon recovers. When she does, she wants to find out why her husband tried to kill her. So, she and Stranahan concoct a plan to unsettle Chaz. It works, and Chaz soon comes to the attention of police detective Karl Rolvaag, who’s trying to solve Joey’s disappearance. If he’s going to avoid arrest, Chaz is going to have to stay one step ahead of his wife and of Rolvaag.
In Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, idealistic young attorney Regina Robichard is working for the NAACP in New York City. One day, the NAACP gets a letter from a reclusive author, M.P. Calhoun. The letter alleges that a black veteran named Joe Howard Wilson was murdered, and it’s clear that Calhoun wants this death investigated. Robichard’s interest is piqued, especially since Calhoun wrote one of her best-loved books from childhood. So, she makes the trip to Revere, Mississippi, where Calhoun lives, and where the murder took place. When Robichard arrives, and starts asking questions, she learns that things aren’t as they seem. To find the answers, she’s going to have to navigate the complicated social ‘rules’ of this small town, and that isn’t going to be easy. Among other things, it’s interesting to see Calhoun’s role in the novel, considering how reclusive this author is.
And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Former school principal Thea Farmer has decided to retire and have a dream home built in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. She’s purposely chosen the location to be away from everything, as she doesn’t like to be around people very much. Everything changes when bad luck and poor decision-making force her to give up that dream property and settle for the house next door, a place she calls ‘the hovel.’ To make matters worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home that Farmer still thinks of as hers, and they move in. The reclusive Farmer doesn’t want anyone living that close, especially not in that home, so she’s inclined to do everything she can to avoid these new people. That proves impossible when Campbell’s niece, Kim, comes to live with him. Against all odds, Farmer forms an awkward sort of friendship with the girl and becomes concerned when she begins to think that she’s not being given an appropriate home. When the police won’t do anything about it, Farmer makes her own plans.
There may be any number of reasons for which someone might not want to be around others. And, in a story, those reasons can make for interesting character development. They can add plot points, too. Which have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Neil Young.