People are often very protective of friends, loved ones, and others who matter. Many are willing to do quite a lot to take care of those they care about, even to the point of lying for them. That’s why, in both real life and crime fiction, police and other sleuths have to take what they’re told with a grain of salt, as the saying goes. Anyone might lie to protect someone else, so corroborating (or giving) an alibi for a suspect doesn’t mean that suspect is really innocent.
Agatha Christie used this plot point in a lot of her stories. One of them is Evil Under the Sun. In that story, Hercule Poirot takes a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Also staying there are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, and her stepdaughter, Linda. One day, Arlena is strangled, and her body discovered near Pixie’s Cove, not far from the hotel. Poirot works with the police to find out who the killer is and what the motive was. One of their tasks is to establish where each hotel guest was and what each was doing at the time of the murder. And, as it later turns out, two of the guests provide alibis for each other, because each one thinks that the other is guilty – and wants to protect that person.
In Vera Caspary’s Laura, New York homicide detective Lieutenant Mark McPherson is faced with a puzzling case. He’s assigned to investigate when successful advertising executive Laura Hunt is found shot to death in her apartment. As he begins to look into the matter, McPherson traces the victim’s last days and weeks. He soon learns that she was about to marry a ‘blueblood’ named Shelby Carpenter. She’d postponed the wedding for a short time though, so she could get away from city for a break. As it turned out, she never left the city, and it’s not clear why. She had plans to have dinner with an old friend and former lover, a writer named Waldo Lydecker. But she called him to cancel those plans. So, no-one is really sure what, exactly she did on the night of her death, or why she changed all of her plans. Then, it comes out that the dead woman was not Laura Hunt. In fact, Laura herself comes back from a stay at her place in the country, and startles McPherson, who’s in her apartment at the time. Now, the investigation changes completely. The first step is to identify the real victim, who turns out to be a woman named Diane Redfern. Laura admits to knowing her, and even giving her permission to use the apartment during her own absence. It seems that Laura had acted as a kind of mentor to Diane. When it also comes out that Diane was having an affair with Shelby Carpenter, Laura is very much in the picture as a suspect. There are other possibilities, too. In order to get to the truth, McPherson will have to untangle the network of relationships among the characters. He’ll also find that not everyone’s alibi actually holds water, as the saying goes, because of people’s tendency to cover up for those who matter to them.
In Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, the body of former TV star Geraldine ‘Geri’ Jackman is found in Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. Diamond and his assistant, Detective Inspector John Wigfull, investigate. It’s soon established that the victim didn’t drown, and that her death was likely not an accident. So, they trace the victim’s life to find out who would have wanted to kill her and why. Her husband, Professor Gregory ‘Greg’ Jackman is one very likely suspect. He admits that the marriage wasn’t a happy one, and there is evidence against him. There’s also Dana Didrikson, whom Jackman had met when he saved her son, Matthew from drowning after a fall from a bridge. And there are other suspects, as Diamond and Wigfull discover when they find out more about the victim’s complicated life. In the end, Diamond gets to the truth about the murder, but not before discovering that someone has lied to protect the real killer.
We also see that in Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall. One morning, Gurdial Singh goes on his usual round of delivering the Globe and Mail to his customers. One of them is well-known Toronto radio personality Kevin Brace. When Singh gets to the Brace residence, he finds the door left a little open. He knocks, and eventually Brace appears. Instead of his usual greeting, Brace says,
‘‘I killed her, Mr. Singh…I killed her.’’
‘Her’ refers to Brace’s common-law wife, Katherine Thorn, whose dead body is in the bathtub. It turns out that she’s been stabbed. The police, in the form of Officer Daniel Kennicott and his boss, Detective Ari Greene, investigate, and they soon arrest Brace. He has nothing to say, but he indicates that he wants to be represented by barrister and solicitor Nancy Parish. She meets with Brace, but he won’t communicate with her except by notes he writes. She’s not going to have an easy job defending her new client, because at no time does he protest his innocence, or suggest anyone else as the murderer. She’ll have to find out whom he’s protecting if she’s going to do her job.
And then there’s Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X. In that novel, Tokyo Inspector Shunpei Kusanagi investigates the murder of Shinji Togashi. The most likely suspect is the victim’s ex-wife, Yasuko Hanaoka, and there is good reason for that. But Kusanagi can’t find convincing evidence against her. What’s more, her alibi seems to unbreakable. So, although he strongly believes she’s guilty, Kusanagi can’t follow through. So, he asks for help from an old college friend, Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa, a physicist who sometimes consults with the police. Yakuwa soon learns that a brilliant math teacher named Tetsuya Ishigami lives next door to Yasuko, and Yakuwa begins to suspect that he knows more than he is saying about the crime. But Ishigami corroborates her alibi, and does everything he can to protect her, chiefly because he is in love with her. It’s going to take all of Kusanagi’s and Yukawa’s skill to find out what really happened on the night of the murder.
There are plenty of other novels, too, where someone lies to corroborate an alibi, or other wise protect someone who’s a murder suspect. And that protectiveness can prove quite a barrier to an investigation. It can also add an interesting plot point to a novel.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Diane Warren.