Modern security has changed a lot about airport experiences. But, if you think about it, they’re still places where hundreds of thousands of people pass through. If you bring all of these disparate people together, any number of things can happen. And they do. I’m sure you have your own stories that could start this way: ‘I was at the airport, when…’ Airports are like that.
It’s little wonder, then, that airports figure so often into crime fiction. For one thing, plenty of people use them; an airport experience is a real-life sort of thing. For another, there are many possibilities for interactions, conflict, suspense, and more.
Agatha Christie’s Passenger to Frankfort, for instance, begins as Stafford Nye, a low-level British diplomat, is waiting in an airport. A young woman approaches him and tells him that her life is in danger, and that she needs to flee the country. At first, Nye refuses to help her, but she persists. Finally, he relents and allows her to use his passport and diplomatic credentials (I know – that would never happen in today’s airline travel). Before long, that chance encounter (or was it really by chance?) draws Nye into a web of international intrigue and murder. Behind it all is a shadowy group bent on world domination. This one isn’t, perhaps, one of Christie’s best. But the airport scene shows that you never can tell what will happen in an airport.
Scott Young’s Murder in Cold Climate features Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. As the novel opens, he’s at the airport in Inuvik, on the first leg of a trip to his home in Ottawa. His plan then is to travel to an international conference. Instead, he gets a call from his boss, who wants him to look into the disappearance of a Cessna that was carrying three men. Matteesie agrees to see what he can find out, and gets on board his flight, which is heading to Edmonton. On the same flight is a Native Activist named Morton Cavendish. When the plane stops at the Fort Norman airport, a gunman forces his way onto the plane and shoots Cavendish. Matteesie was a witness to the murder, and in any case, he knew Cavendish. So, he wants to find out who the killer is. And it turns out that this murder may very well be related to the missing Cessna case that Matteesie’s already investigating.
In Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride), we are introduced to Gundar Jormann. He’s lived a very quiet life in the Norwegian village of Elvestad. There, he has the reputation of being a steady worker and a good man, if not exactly brilliant or scintillating. When Jormann decides he wants to get married, people are surprised, although, as he sees it, he’s not a proverbial bad catch. But when he decides to go to Mumbai to find his bride, everyone’s shocked. He goes ahead with his plans, though, and makes the trip. There, he meets Poona Bai, and it’s not long before he is smitten with her. After a short time, he proposes to her, and she accepts. But she needs some time to manage the details of leaving India and getting to Norway. So, the plan is for Jormann to go back to Elvestad and meet his bride at the airport when she arrives. His plans have to change, though, when his sister, Marie, is involved in a car accident. Since he can’t leave Marie’s side, he asks a friend to meet Poona at the airport. His friend duly travels to the airport and waits for Poona. But the two miss each other. If you think about it, that’s not an impossible scenario, since they don’t know each other, and since airports can be busy, crowded place. The next morning, Poona’s body is found in a field not far from Jormann’s home. Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the murder. They find that several people in Elvestad aren’t telling everything they know.
Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts begins as Saskatoon PI Russell Quant visits Hawai’i. He’s there to spend time with his partner, Alex Canyon, who’s based in Melbourne. When the visit’s over, Quant goes to the airport to return to Saskatoon. While he’s there, he meets an enigmatic stranger named Walter Angel, who turns out to be an archivist. Angel slips a cryptic message, much like a treasure map, into Quant’s hand luggage; shortly afterwards, he is murdered. Quant uses the message he was giving to try to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. It turns out that this death is related to some secrets that are based back home in Saskatoon.
In T.J. Cooke’s Kiss and Tell, London attorney Jill Shadow gets a call from a custody sergeant at Heathrow Airport. It seems that a young woman named Bella Kiss has been caught carrying drugs into the country. She insists on talking to Shadow. Although Shadow’s never met the woman before (even the name is unfamiliar), she goes along to the airport. When she meets Bella, she hears a little of the story. Bella admits to bringing drugs into the country, but she won’t say who paid or coerced her. It’s obvious that she fears for her life, and she wants Shadow to help her. At the same time, she’s uncooperative. So, Shadow has to find out the answers for herself. And they lead to some dangerous high places.
See what I mean? Airports are busy places where a lot happens at once, and where thousands of people are at the same place at the same time. Anything can happen there, so it’s little wonder they’re present in crime fiction.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s Just a Song Before I Go.