As this is posted, it’s 134 years since Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was published as a novel (it had previously been published in serial form in Young Folks magazine). Even now, the story is popular, although our lives are, in many ways, so much different.
There’s just something about adventure stories such as Treasure Island that can capture the imagination, and keep readers turning or swiping pages. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that there are so many adventure stories in crime fiction. Readers get to take part in the adventure without really undergoing the actual dangers. These stories can be fun, too.
Agatha Christie wrote more than one adventure-type crime novel. For instance, in The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with no real family, and little in the way of money. She decides she doesn’t want to stay in London, but isn’t sure at first just what she does want to do. Then one day, she happens to be on hand when a man falls, or is pushed, under a train. She finds a piece of paper that had been in the dead man’s pocket, and soon works out that it refers to an upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she books passage and prepares for an adventure. And adventure is what she gets. She discovers that the man’s death (and another death) are related to international intrigue, stolen jewels, and a crime syndicate.
In Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide, we are introduced to Brisbane police officer Chayse Jarrett. He’s been assigned to work on the investigation of the murder of a deckhand, Ewan McKay. Allan ‘Tug’ Bretton, captain of the trawler Sea Mistress, has been accused of the murder, and it’s believed that it all might be connected to the drugs trade. Jarrett is instructed to go undercover on Sea Mistress and find out whether Bretton is involved in the drugs trade, and whether he killed McKay. As it happens, Bretton broke his leg in the incident that ended in McKay’s murder, so he’s not able to skipper Sea Mistress. His daughter, Samantha ‘Sam’ wants to take his place, so that the family’s income won’t be in jeopardy. Bretton doesn’t like the idea, but he also sees little choice if the family is to keep going. So, he gives his consent, and Sam takes the wheel, with Jarrett on board as the new deckhand, and her other crewmate Bill Marvin rounding out the team. The crew soon finds that the sea isn’t their only danger. For one thing, Melbourne drug lord Stefan Kosanovos is trying to make inroads by sea into Brisbane, and does not welcome any interference. For another, both Sam Bretton and Chayse Jarrett are determined to find and bring down McKay’s murderer, and that presents its own risks. In the end, we learn who killed McKay and why, and how it’s connected with the long-ago voyage of another ship. This is a crime novel, but it’s also an adventure story, with narrow escapes, nasty villains, and so on.
Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night sends octogenarian Sheldon Horowitz on a series of adventures. He’s recently moved to Norway to be nearer his granddaughter, Rhea, and her Norwegian husband. The plan is for him to settle into life as an older man, living out his final years peacefully. That’s not what happens, though. One day, Horowitz inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman. He rescues her young son, and the two of them go on the lam, since it’s very likely that the killers will go after the boy next. As the police look for the killer, Horowitz and his travel companion go on all sorts of adventures, including on a tractor. In the end, they help to catch the killer.
Stark Holborn’s Nunslinger series is the story of Sister Thomas Josephine. It’s 1864, and Sister Josephine is making her way across the western United States from her convent in St. Louis to a new life in Sacramento. Sister Josephine is intelligent and quick-thinking, and she’s not so naïve as to believe that everyone she meets is going to be pleasant and helpful. But she’s not prepared, at least at first, for the adventure and risks that she’ll encounter. Theft, murder, arson, and more are a part of life in what’s often been called ‘the Wild West,’ and Sister Josephine runs into more than her share of those dangers. She learns quickly, though, and becomes, if I can put it this way, a little tougher as time goes by. In the end, she adapts to this very adventurous life. Holbern has set up this story as a series of short (novella-length) books, some of which end on cliffhangers. That sort of story ending isn’t to everyone’s liking, but it reflects the fact that this is an adventure series as much as it is anything else.
There’s also Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty, and F***ed. In that novel, we meet Martin Carter, a banker who’s just been made redundant. As if that’s not enough, his marriage has fallen apart. On his last day of work, Carter gives in to temptation, and makes off with a million-dollar payroll. He makes his escape in a stolen police-issue 4WD, and takes off on what turns out to be a series of adventures.
Adventure stories can require more suspension of disbelief than some readers want. But they can be exciting and fun, too. Little wonder so many people love them.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jim Steinman’s Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.