Ever had the urge to just drop it all, pack a few things, and go? If so, you’re not alone. It can happen to all of us, especially when life gets stressful, or when the ordinary rhythms of life get too ‘same-y.’
People do just pick up and go in real life, and they do in crime fiction, too. That plot point gives the writer some interesting possibilities for action, for character development, and more. It’s flexible, too. Stories of people wanting to just go somewhere else and try something else can be very dark, or comic, or somewhere in between. There are plenty of such stories in the genre; here are just a few.
In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we meet Anne Bedingfield. As the story begins, her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. At first, her father’s attorney takes Anne in, and she knows it’s out of kindness. But life in London doesn’t really appeal to Anne. Neither does the prospect of a job such as a typist, or the desperate scramble for a husband. So, Anne opts for adventure. She happens to be at a train station one day when she witnesses a terrible accident: a man has fallen under an oncoming train. Anne happens to find a piece of paper that was in the dead man’s pocket, and finds herself intrigued. The note on the paper is cryptic, but Anne works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she books passage on the ship, and soon finds herself drawn into a web of international intrigue, jewel smuggling, and murder.
Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed! is the story of bank manager Martin Carter. His marriage has ended, which is stress enough in itself. Then, he’s made redundant at the bank where he works. On his last day there, Carter gives in to the temptation to help himself to a million-dollar payroll. Then, he takes off in a stolen police-issue 4WD. Among other things, it’s all a chance for him to break free and start something new and different. And ‘different’ is certainly what he finds. He has encounters with all sorts of people, including a new-age bikie gang, a librarian on the run from her own problems, and more. The story has comic overtones, but it also depicts the feeling of just wanting to drop everything and go.
In Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat, we are first introduced to Anna Pigeon. She had a solid life in New York, with her beloved husband, Zach. But Zach was killed when a taxi ran him down. With nothing much but grief tying her to New York, Pigeon decided to leave. She became a U.S. National Park Service Ranger, which means that she has experience in several different parks as the series goes on. It’s a far cry from the ‘social life’ she led in her earlier life, but it suits her. And we see how she evolves as a character during the course of the series.
One of the cases in Alexander McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe is the disappearance of Michael Curtin. Years earlier, he and his parents came from the US to Botswana for a few years in connection with his father’s business. When it was time to return, Michael decided not to go along with his parents. Instead, he chose to pack up and join an eco-commune, and stay in Botswana. Then, he went missing. There was a search, but there was no real resolution to the case. Now, ten years later, Michael’s mother, Andrea, wants answers. So, she visits Mma Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only female private detective. She wants Mma Ramotswe to find out what really happened to Michael. At first, Mma Ramotswe isn’t sure how helpful she can be, but she agrees to look into the matter. The official police report is that a wild animal probably found and killed Michael. That isn’t unheard of in Botswana, and it is a good possibility. But Mma Ramotswe isn’t sure that’s what really happened. So, she investigates, and finds out the truth.
And then there’s Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making. In that novel, it’s 1868, and Chad Hobbes has recently completed his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford. He expects that he’ll settle somewhere in England and work in a law firm. But right now, he wants to get away from ‘it all’ and see the world. So, armed with a letter of introduction to the Governor, he travels to the-then frontier town of Vancouver. That letter is enough to get him a job as constable, under the supervision of Augustus Pemberton. At first, the job doesn’t amount to much beyond breaking up the occasional drunken quarrel and clearing out local prostitutes. Then, a group of Tsimshian Indians arrives in town, claiming that they’ve found a body. The dead man is Richard McCrory, an American who billed himself as an alienist, as well as a mesmerist and phrenologist. The case looks clear enough. It turns out that McCrory had been involved with a Tsimshian woman named Lukswaas, and that her partner, Wiladzap, knew about it. Wiladzap is immediately arrested, and Hobbes is expected to ‘rubber stamp’ that account of the murder. But he also has to ask some perfunctory questions, to prove that the police are fair. Those questions stop being perfunctory when they turn up some other very likely possible killers.
The urge to just drop everything and go can be strong. And it can lead to some interesting, even exciting adventures. But it can also lead to real danger. These are just a few examples. Over to you.
NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart.