Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wonderful Day for Passing My Way*

For crime fiction fans, one of the real pleasures of reading a mystery series is spending time with a character who’s become, in a way, a friend. When we read the newest release by a favorite author, we can also catch up with our favorite characters, just as we enjoy doing with friends we haven’t seen in some time. Some authors give their fans the extra bonus of writing more than one series, so that readers get to meet several sleuths. When that happens, it can be especially creative (and, let’s face it, fun) when the sleuth or some regular character from one series works with the sleuth from the other series. That way, fans of each series get to know the other series, and the author gets to add some fresh and new ideas to her or his writing. It’s also realistic, as we’ll see.

Agatha Christie’s two most famous sleuths are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Poirot is Belgian, but does a great deal of his investigation in England, including smaller English villages. Yet, St. Mary Mead, Miss Marple’s home, is not one of them. And, although Miss Marple does travel to London, she never works with Poirot. What’s odd, though, is that they should have met. Here’s why: in The Mystery of the Blue Train, we meet Katherine Grey, who lives in St. Mary Mead. Katherine’s spent ten years as companion to wealthy Mrs. Harfield. When Mrs. Harfield dies, she leaves her fortune to her companion, and Katherine decides to travel. Her first stop is Nice, where she plans to visit her distant cousin, Lady Tamplin. While Katherine’s en route to Nice, she meets Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, who’s on the same train. When Ruth is murdered, Katherine gets mixed up in the investigation, during which she meets and works with Hercule Poirot. Yet, although Katherine Grey lives in St. Mary Mead, and returns there after her trip to Nice, she never meets Miss Marple. Neither does Poirot.

There are, though, a few Christie characters who work with more than one of Christie’s sleuths. One is Mr. Robinson. Mr. Robinson is a mysterious and very wealthy gentleman. He brokers international deals and makes a great deal of money from them. He also learns a great deal of very useful information. Mr. Robinson appears in Cat Among the Pigeons, in which Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of several mistresses at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. He also appears in At Bertram’s Hotel, in which Miss Marple makes a trip to London, only to get involved in some mysterious events, and a murder, at one of London’s fine old hotels. Mr. Robinson also figures in Postern of Fate, Christie’s last novel (although not the last to be published); in that novel, he works with Tommy and Prudence “Tuppence” Beresford, who’ve retired to the village of Hollowquay. Soon, though, they get caught up in an old mystery and some unexplained deaths that have never really been solved.

Colonel Race, who works for Special Services, also works with more than one Christie Sleuth. In The Man in the Brown Suit, he works with (and falls in love with) Anne Beddingfield, who’s recently been left an orphan and decides to go out, have adventures and see the world. She promptly gets enmeshed in an international scheme involving stolen diamonds and a crime ring with an interesting ringleader. In Death on the Nile and Cards on the Table, Race works with Hercule Poirot. In the former, he’s on the trail of an international arms smuggler who’s traveling on the same cruise up the Nile as Hercule Poirot is. In Cards on the Table, he’s invited to a small dinner party by the mysterious Mr. Shaitana. So are four other guests who, it seems, have committed murder and gotten away with it. When Shaitana is stabbed after the dinner is over, Race works with Poirot, Superintendent Battle, and Ariadne Oliver to find out who killed Shaitana.

Ariadne Oliver, too, appears with more than one Christie sleuth. She works with Poirot in several novels, including Cards on the Table and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, in which she and Poirot visit the village of Broadhinney, where Poirot finds out who killed a local charwoman whom everyone thinks was murdered by her lodger. Oliver also appears with historian Mark Easterbrook in The Pale Horse, in which Easterbrook investigates what’s behind the deaths of a society girl-turned-bohemian and a parish priest.

Christie isn’t the only author whose sleuths visit other sleuths. Michael Connelly does the same thing. His most famous sleuth is L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch. However, he also has another sleuth, criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller, whom we meet in The Lincoln Lawyer. In that novel, Haller defends the down-and-out of Los Angeles. In fact, his “office” is his Lincoln Town Car (hence, the title). Then, he’s recruited to defend Louis Ross Roulet, a wealthy real estate salesman and playboy who’s charged with the brutal beating and sexual assault of an aspiring actress. Haller believes his client may be innocent, and goes to work to defend him. At first, the case seems like an open-and-shut case. But as Haller works more closely with Roulet, he finds that things are not what they seem, and when another murder occurs, much closer to home for Haller, he realizes he’s up against something far more sinister than he thought.

We meet Haller again in The Brass Verdict, where he works with Harry Bosch. In that novel, one of Haller’s colleagues, Jerry Vincent, is killed, and Bosch is investigating that murder. Vincent left behind several cases he was working on, including the case of Walter Elliot. Elliot’s been charged with murder in the deaths of his wife and her lover, and Haller serves as his attorney. Bosch is convinced that the Elliot case is tied up with Vincent’s death, and he and Haller co-operate to find out what’s behind both cases. In the end, they discover that those murders are related to a much larger conspiracy. In this novel, it’s natural that Bosch and Haller would meet. They’re both involved in the Los Angeles criminal justice system.

Joyce Christmas has also created two series with two sleuths. One of her sleuths is Lady Margaret Priam, an expatriate British aristocrat who now lives in Manhattan. Lady Margaret makes her debut in Suddenly in Her Sorbet, in which she and detective Sam de Vere investigate the murder of socialite Helene Harpennis during a charity ball that Haprennis has organized. Christmas’ other sleuth, Betty Trenka, is a retired office manager who moves from New York City to East Moulton, Connecticut, when her company, Edwards & Son, downsizes and she’s forced to take a pension. In Trenka’s first adventure, This Business is Murder, she takes a part-time temporary job in her new location. Then, one of the senior managers is killed, and Trenka finds herself drawn into the investigation. Lady Margaret and Betty Trenka join forces for the first time in A Better Class of Murder. In that novel, Trenka’s neighbor, Ted Kelso, invites her on an all-expenses paid trip to New York to help him vet Xaviera Corporation, a software company that’s made Kelso a very attractive offer to approve some secret new software that he’s afraid might be stolen. Trenka agrees and she’s soon ensconced at an exclusive hotel. There, she meets Lady Margaret and the two strike up a friendship. It’s not long, though, before Trenka finds out that the body of Jane Xaviera Corvo has been found washed up on the Connecticut shore. Near her body is a computer disk. At first, the death looks like accidental drowning. Soon, though, it’s clear that Jane Corvo was strangled. Betty Trenka and Lady Margaret work together to find out how Jane Corvo’s death is related to some very dirty dealings in the computer game business.

Perhaps the most natural and strongest integration of two sleuths is in the set of novels by Tony Hillerman, who created two sleuths, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Both are members of the Navajo Nation, and also work for the Navajo Tribal Police. So it’s natural that their paths would cross, and they do. Each sleuth “stars” in his own novels; for instance, Chee is the sleuth in novels such as The Dark Wind and The Ghostway. Leaphorn is the investigator in such stories as The Blessing Way and Listening Woman. But they work together in Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits and Sacred Clowns, among other novels. In fact, one of the appealing things about these novels is that we see how Chee and Leaphorn’s relationship develops, from initial mutual suspicion to an alliance.

There are, of course, other examples of novels where a writer brings together two or more of his or her sleuths. For example, Peter Temple’s Truth features Inspector Stephen Villani, head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad, who’s investigating the murder of a teenage prostitute. Then, there are three more murders; one young man is shot, and the other two are brutally tortured to death. Villani finds that his investigation into these murders is hampered by politics and money. For instance, the young woman’s body is found in an apartment belonging to a wealthy and powerful family with quite a lot of influence in upcoming elections. So there’s a great deal of pressure on Villani not to pursue the investigation. Although Villani is the central character in this novel, Temple’s other famous sleuth, Jack Irish, makes a cameo appearance. That makes sense, since both of these characters are Melbourne-based. I confess I haven’t read Truth yet (it is high on my TBR list), but it was a solid example of the way sleuths from one series can “visit” another. Here is an excellent review of Truth by Maxine at Petrona
and here is an excellent review of the same novel by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

Some authors (Alexander McCall Smith, for instance) who write more than one series choose not to have their sleuths meet or work together. In McCall Smith’s case, that makes sense. One of his sleuths, Mma. Precious Ramotswe, lives on Botswana; the other, Isabel Dalhousie, lives in Edinburgh. But when an author has more than one series, it can add a creative touch and a lot of interest when the series’ sleuths get the chance to interact. What’s your view of novels where this happens? Which ones have you enjoyed? Which sleuths would you like to see work together?

*NOTE: The title of this post is the first line of the Moody Blues' Lovely to See You


  1. I love AC's two main characters but I also got close to Ariadne Oliver. I haven't really read some of the others but I know I'm attached to many series characters.


  2. Ann - Oh, I love Ariadne Oliver, too : ). She's such a great character, isn't she? I think she's just about my favorite Christie "regular."

  3. I'm enjoying the picture of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple sitting together discussing a case. He would be eating, she would be knitting. Then Ariadne Oliver could come by and drop a few apples into Poirot's food. Sauce splashes everywhere. Complications ensue.

    Then there's the delightful prospect of putting Melrose Plant and Inspector Morse together - although there'd be a problem getting them out of the pub. Barbara Havers might be able to do it - she is very dedicated - but, on the other hand she's not one to pass up a few hours enjoying a few drinks. Maybe Lynley could manage it - but given recent events, he's rather depressed - it might be difficult persuading him to come down to the pub at all.

    Thanks Margot - that was fun!

  4. Great reviews. Thanks. I find a lot of characters difficult to be friends with. I never conenctes with Harry Bosch, although I do like the character.

    Stephen Tremp

  5. I think it's a lot of fun. :) I remember seeing Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys solve crimes together on the 70s TV show and thought it was *wonderful!*

    I'd like to see Jury and Linley meet up....

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. I don't know of many authors who have multiple series, but one that fits this category is Robert B. Parker. He has three distinct crime solving sleuths with multiple novels for each: Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. In paralleling Agatha Christie with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, I don't think Mr. Parker pairs Spenser and Jesse Stone; however, readers will find many of the secondary characters in the Spenser series--Dr. Susan Silverman, Hawk, Rita Fiore, and Captain Healy--appearing in Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books. I think Mr. Parker masterfully moves these characters between novels not only to advance characterizations and plots, but also to afford his readers a comforting degree of familiarity with a new novel.

    Mr. Parker passed away earlier this year. For readers who appreciate well-written crime novels, it's a big loss. My first experience with him was the TV series Spenser For Hire. I was pretty under-whelmed! Robert Urich, who played Spenser on the show, is not my idea of a "tough guy" by any stretch of the imagination. Decades later, I "read" an audio Spenser novel with Joe Mantegna as the narrator. I was much, much more appreciative of Spenser and his author. Besides his three detective series, Robert B. Parker wrote an equally excellent "Old West" series with his richly defined characters Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. I think my favorite Robert B. Parker novel is a stand-alone piece of historical fiction entitled "Double Play" in which the chief character is hired to be Jackie Robinson's body guard when Jackie first breaks baseball's color barrier. I haven't read all of Robert B. Parker's novels yet--he was quite prolific--but am sorry there will be no more forthcoming. RIP Mr. Parker, you'll be missed.

  7. I agree it is lovely to meet "old friends" with each new novel, especially as they don't answer back ;-).
    It is such a shock when an author decides to kill off one of these regular characters. Quite devastating sometimes, and as a reader one can't even commisserate with others because that would be creating a spoiler!

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