A police investigation is supposed to be objective. That is to say, individual police are not supposed to investigate cases if they have close ties to one of the people involved (e.g. the victim, or one of the suspects). That makes sense, too, especially if that relationship makes the police officer a ‘person of interest.’
And, yet, if you look at crime fiction, you see several novels and stories in which the sleuth does have a close tie to either the victim or a suspect. Whether or not that plot point works depends a lot on the author’s way of handling it. Sometimes, it can be successful. Sometimes, it pushes the limits of credibility. I was reminded of this by an interesting comment exchange with Bill Selnes, at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. You’ll want to make that excellent blog one of your blog stops; I know it’s a must-visit for me. It’s a treasure trove of rich reviews and news about, especially, Canadian crime fiction.
In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot receives a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. In the letter, Renauld claims that his life is in danger, and makes reference to a secret that he has. He then pleads for Poirot to come to his aid. Poirot and Captain Hastings make the trip to France, only to find that Renauld has been killed. The investigation is in the hands of M. Giraud of the Sûreté, but Poirot feels an obligation to his now-dead client, so he looks into the matter. It turns out that there’s more than one possible suspect, and Poirot’s task is not made any easier by the relationship that Hastings develops with one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case.
Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent introduces readers to Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, a Deputy Prosecutor for Kindle County, and a respected attorney. When another prosecuting attorney, Carolyn Polhemus, is murdered, the rest of the team goes full out to find her killer, and Sabich is put in charge of the investigation. What he doesn’t tell anyone, though, is that he had an intimate relationship with the victim. It didn’t last, and it was over by the time she was killed. But it still puts Sabich very, very close to the case. Still, the investigation gets underway, and it soon comes out that Polhemus had a complicated personal life, as well as a complex past. So, there are several possible leads. Then, Sabich’s boss, Raymond Horgan, learns of Sabich’s affair with the victim. He immediately takes Sabich off the case and replaces him with another prosecutor, Tommy Molto. Sabich’s decision to keep quiet about his relationship adds fuel to the proverbial fire when he himself becomes a suspect, and ends up on trial for the murder.
T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton features solicitor Jim Harwood. He gets involved in a case of murder when the body of Sarena Gunasekera is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. It’s soon clear that the victim was murdered (i.e. this isn’t a case of an accidental fall or a suicide). The most likely suspect in the case is a mentally troubled young man named Elton Spears. He has a history of inappropriate contact with women, and he was known to be in the area at the time of the death. Spears is unable to defend himself against the charges; in fact, he’s quite inarticulate. Still, Harwood knows the young man, and takes the case. He works with his colleague, Loren Granger, and with barrister Harry Douglas to clear Spears’ name. All along, though, there’s a secret relationship with the victim that’s woven through the novel, that profoundly impacts the case, and that would change everything, were it known.
Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion is the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis joins the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London, just as the team is investigating a series of murders. Thus far, the victims have been older prostitutes. This time, though, the victim is seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens. There is a possibility that the killings were committed by the same person; many things about the deaths are the same. But this victim was not only young, but also not a prostitute. So, it’s just as likely that she was killed by someone else. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, Travis, and the rest of the team work to find out the truth. One very likely suspect is beloved television actor Alan Daniels. But the team will have to be very careful. Daniels, is wealthy, charming, and well-connected. If he’s the killer, the team will have to have incontrovertible evidence. Daniels and Travis meet, and he wants to see her to ‘help out the case’ if he can. On the one hand, Travis doesn’t lie about his interest in her (and, truth be told, she finds him intriguing, too). Her colleagues know that she sees him socially; in fact, they use that opportunity to support her as she tries to get information from him. On the other hand, more than once, she doesn’t tell her colleagues about every time that he calls and visits. It’s a very delicate situation, especially if Daniels is the killer. And it leads to some real tension in the story.
And then there’s Gordon Ell’s The Ice Shroud. That’s the novel that sparked the comment exchange I had with Bill. The body of Edie Longstreet is retrieved from the icy waters near Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island. Detective Sergeant (DS) Malcolm Buchan has recently moved from Dunedin to head the local Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB). This is his first murder investigation with this team (although not his first murder case), so he wants to ‘make good.’ As the team looks into the killing, Buchan chooses not to tell anyone that he had an intimate relationship with the victim. It ended amicably, and was completely over before she was killed. Still, he says nothing about it. On the one hand, that does, as Bill says, add tension to the story. On the other, it compromises the investigation, and you could argue that it’s not realistic.
And that’s the thing. If the author is going to include such a ‘hidden relationship,’ it’s got to be done in a credible way. And that isn’t easy to do. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stevie Wonder’s Part-Time Lover.