The police can’t always solve crimes with just their own expertise. For example, if the crime involves stolen art, the police consult with art historians and art experts to try to trace the missing work. There are a lot of other ways, too, in which experts in different fields can be extremely helpful to the police. Such experts can also be helpful to attorneys who are either defending clients or prosecuting defendants.
Given the number of times that experts are tapped in investigations, it makes sense that we also see plenty of them in crime fiction, too. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I know you’ll think of lots more.
In Agatha Christie’s Funerals are Fatal), wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie dies rather suddenly. When his family gathers for his funeral, his youngest sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that she knows her brother was murdered. Everyone immediately hushes her; she herself even asks everyone to ignore what she’s said. But privately the various family members begin to suspect that she may be right. And when she is murdered the next day, that suspicion grows even stronger. The family’s attorney, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot to help investigate, and Poirot agrees. One of the minor characters in this story is an art expert, Alexander Guthrie, whose knowledge of art turns out to be quite important.
So does the art knowledge of Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere, whom we meet in Aaron Elkins’ Loot. One day, Revere gets a call from pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. He’s just gotten a new painting in his shop, and he thinks it may be valuable. When Revere sees the painting, he suspects that it might be a Velázquez, in which case it is indeed worth an awful lot of money. Revere wants to do a little more research, so he asks Pawlovsky to let him put the painting somewhere safe while he does. Pawlovsky insists on keeping the work in his shop, and finally, a reluctant Revere leaves to do his research. By the time he returns, Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Guilty at leaving his friend in such a vulnerable position, Revere decides that if he can trace the painting from its last known place – among pieces of art ‘taken for safekeeping’ by the Nazis – he can find out who took the painting to the shop, and who probably killed Pawlovsky. He persuades the police that his lead might be worth exploring, and he takes off for what turns out to be a very dangerous adventure…
In Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling, Port Dundas, Onatrio, DI Hazel Micallef and her team are faced with a bizarre set of murders. In each case, the evidence shows that the murderer was admitted willingly, and that the victim put up no resistance. Very slowly, the team starts to put together some evidence that may link the deaths. One piece of evidence comes from photographs of the victims’ mouths. They don’t mean much until speech reader Marlene Turnbull lends her expertise to the investigation. That’s when things start to make sense to Micallef; the help Turnbull provides is important to putting the team on the right trail.
In Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective, we are introduced to Edinburgh Ph.D. candidate and oceanographer Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill. He is an expert on wave patterns, and is using his knowledge both to complete his degree and to solve a mystery of his own. Then he meets Basanti, a young girl who was trafficked from India to Scotland. She is looking for her friend Preeti, who was also trafficked, and suspects that McGill may be able to help. Once he discovers what he thinks happened to Preeti, his next step is try to get the police to use what he’s found out. That proves to be more difficult than it may seem. Among other things, he’s already been on the police blotter for environmental activism that wasn’t completely legal. But he convinces D.S. Helen Jamieson that he may be right. When she uses the expertise he provides, she’s able to track the traffickers.
Keigo Higashino’s Tokyo police detective Shunpei Kusanagi and his team sometimes have some difficult cases to investigate. But they don’t have to rely just on their own knowledge. Kusanagi often turns to mathematician and physicist Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In The Devotion of Suspect X, for instance, Galileo uses his mathematics ability to help solve the murder of Shinji Togashi. Togashi’s ex-wife Yasuko Hanaoka is the chief suspect, but Kusanagi doesn’t have any real evidence to use against her. So he consults with Galileo, who is able to find out what really happened. In this case, his mathematics expertise comes in especially handy, since he is up against someone with plenty of mathematics knowledge.
There are plenty of other novels and series, too, in which experts from all walks of life work with the police to help them solve cases. Such experts really are helpful in real life, and they can add a layer of interest and some character development to a crime novel or series. Which ones have stayed with you?
Oh, and you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned any of the myriad forensics, medical and anthropology experts out there in crime fiction. Too easy ;-)
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Robert Wyatt’s Mob Rule.