If you have siblings, then you know that the dynamics can be complicated. But what’s interesting is that siblings tend to protect each other. You’re allowed to tease your brother or sister, but you wouldn’t likely put up with it if someone outside the family did that.
That protectiveness about siblings plays a big role in crime fiction, too. There are a lot of examples of how this plays out in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see how it works. Space only permits me to mention a few instances; I know you’ll think of plenty of others.
In Agatha Christie’s Murder With Mirrors (AKA They Do it With Mirrors), we are introduced to Ruth Van Rydock. She’s concerned about her sister, Carrie Louise, whose health seems to be poor. And Ruth is worried that her sister might be in real danger. When her old school friend, Miss Marple, pays her a visit, Ruth shares her thoughts, and Miss Marple agrees to check on Carrie Louise, who is also an old school friend. Carrie Louise lives with her third husband, Lewis Serrocold, in a house called Stonygates, which includes a home and school for delinquent boys. There are some other family members who also live there as well, and a few who visit while Miss Marple is at Stonygates. One day, one of those visitors, Carrie Louise’s stepson, Christian Gulbrandsen, is shot. Out of concern for both of her friends, Miss Marple extends her visit to help find out who the killer is, and what the truth is about Carrie Louise’s health. I see you, fans of Appointment With Death.
Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit is the story of Virginia brothers Mason and Gates Hunt. They were raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who fell in for her own share of abuse. Gates tried to protect his younger brother from their father’s attacks, and Mason is grateful for that. That protectiveness comes back to haunt the brothers later, though. As they grow, Mason takes advantage of every opportunity that comes his way. Eventually, he gets a university scholarship and goes to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his considerable athletic ability, and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments, and on money he gets from his and Mason’s mother, Sadie Grace. One day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument is put ‘on hold’ for a while, but it flares up later when the Hunt brothers encounter Thompson that night. Tempers flare more and more, and before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of loyalty and his own kind of protectiveness, Mason helps his brother hide the evidence of the crime, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason has become a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Gates has turned to drug trafficking and is arrested on cocaine-related charges. When he receives a long prison sentence, he begs his brother to help get him out. This time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens that if he doesn’t get out of prison, he’ll implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. Mason calls his brother’s bluff, and before long, finds himself accused of murder. Now, he’s going to have to clear his name, and it’s not going to be an easy process.
In Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel, Christine Moran grows up in a toxic environment. Her mother, Eve, has always wanted to acquire. And she’s never been afraid to do whatever it took, including murder, to get what she wanted. Christine’s been profoundly impacted by this environment, and she’s developed a dysfunctional relationship with her mother. Then everything changes. Christine sees that her younger brother, Ryan, is at risk of being caught in the same web, and she doesn’t want that to happen. She has to find a way to free herself and her brother if they’re going to have a chance to survive.
Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs features the members of the Franco family. At the turn of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family emigrate to the United States from Italy. They start life again in New York, where Ben gets a job in a shoe repair shop. Within a few years, he’s got his own shoe sales and repair company, and the family prospers. Tragedy strikes one night when Ben gets into a bar fight and ends up killing his opponent, Luigi Lupo. It turns out that Lupo is the son of notorious gangster Tonio Lupo, and that spells disaster for the Franco family. Lupo curses the family, promising that each of Franco’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was when he was killed. And Lupo has the connections and the will to make good on that curse. As the story goes on, we follow the three Franco sons, Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick’ and Leonardo ‘Leo,’ and we learn how the curse plays out. We also see how, in their ways, the brothers try to protect each other. There’s a strong sense of family loyalty here.
And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses. This novel begins when the South London police get an anonymous letter in which the writer confesses to the murder of a vagrant whose body was found on the tracks in an underground station. The police can’t do very much about the letter, even if it is genuine (which it soon proves to be). The story then moves to 1966 South East London. Mods, Rockers, and all sorts of experimentation are the rage, and teenage sisters Madeline ‘Midge’ and Bridget ‘Bridie’ Dolan want to be a part of it. They’re sheltered ‘good girls,’ but they want to see a bit of life. One Friday night, they coax and plead, and finally get their mother to let them go to the Palais Royale to dance. Her condition is that their cousin, Jimmy, will need to take them there and bring them back. That’s not a problem for Midge and Bridie, who think their cousin is ‘cool,’ so plans are made. The night turns tragic, though, and impacts the girls for the rest of their lives. Throughout the novel, we see how Bridie and Midge try to take care of each other, and that plays its role in the novel.
And that’s the thing about siblings. It’s one thing for one sibling to pick on another. It’s another if someone from the ‘outside’ does. And, even when that protectiveness goes too far (or is even toxic in itself), it’s often there.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rembrandts’ I’ll Be There For You.