Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Am a Living Legacy to the Leader of the Band*

Here in the U.S. it’s Father’s Day (or soon will be, depending on where you live). A father’s relationship with his children is a unique bond; it’s quite different from the mother/child bond, and research shows that fathers play a critical role in their children’s lives. That father/child bond can be extremely strong and a real source of richness for both fathers and their sons and daughters. So it’s not surprising that there’s a day to honor fathers and all that they do for their families. It’s also not surprising that there’s quite a lot of crime fiction in which that father/child bond plays a role.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we meet Rufus Van Aldin. He’s a very wealthy American businessman who’s devoted, above all else, to his daughter, Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. Even though she’s married and has a home of her own, he still worries for her, and likes to spoil her. When he gets the chance to buy Ruth the famous ruby, “Heart of Fire,” Van Aldin can’t resist. He buys the jewel and the necklace on which it hangs, and gives it to his daughter as a surprise. He soon finds, though, that Ruth has taken up again with a former love, a scoundrel who calls himself the Comte de la Roche. Ten years earlier, Van Aldin had forcibly ended Ruth’s relationship with the count, because he saw that the count was only after Ruth’s considerable fortune. Now that Ruth’s resumed her relationship with the count, Van Aldin is frantic with worry, and we can feel his protective instincts as he tries to stop his daughter. We can feel Ruth Kettering’s love for her father, too, as she agonizes over whether to go to meet the count. In the end, she takes the Blue Train to Hyères to meet the count, but she’s murdered on the first night of the journey. When Van Aldin finds out what’s happened, he rushes to France, and before long, he’s asked Hercule Poirot, who was on the same train, to find out who really killed Ruth. The most likely suspect is the count, but he seems to have an alibi, so Poirot looks further into the case. In the end, Poirot is able to find the murderer, and earns Van Aldin’s lifelong gratitude for that; in fact, Van Aldin’s name comes up again in other Christie works such as Death on the Nile.

In C.J. Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, we see an especially powerful and eloquent picture of a father’s devotion. Jack McGuane is the proud adoptive father of beautiful baby Angelina, His world seems complete until the awful day when he and his wife, Melissa, find out that Angelina’s biological father, eighteen-year-old Garrett Moreland, never legally waived his parental rights and has decided to assert them. At first, Jack thinks this must be a terrible mistake, but then, he finds out that Garret’s powerful father, Judge Moreland, is supporting his son. Moreland has seen to it that the McGuanes have twenty-one days to relinquish custody of Angelina. Several father/child relationships are explored in a wrenching way in this novel as Jack works desperately to keep Angelina. In the end, his demotion to his child pushes Jack to do things he would never have dreamed of doing.

In Caroline Graham’s The Ghost in the Machine, we meet Mallory Lawson, who’s just inherited a fortune from his wealthy aunt, Carey Lawson. The only proviso is that he and his family move to the Lawson home and employ Carey Lawson’s former companion, Benny Frayle. This the Lawsons agree to do. Mallory Lawson’s daughter, Polly, is a headstrong young woman who soon gets herself into much more trouble than she bargained for when she thinks she’s found a way to make a fortune. When her plan fails in what for her is a frightening way, Polly disappears. Polly’s story is not the main plot of this novel, which focuses on the murder of the Lawson’s financial advisor, Dennis Brinkley. However, she does play an important role in the story, and her father’s frantic search for her and determination to help her is quite moving.

We also see a strong father/child bond in Michael Gilbert’s short story, The Amateur. In that story, Chief Inspector Hazelrigg investigates the kidnapping of David Collett, the young son of a wealthy shipping magnate. David’s father wants to be a part of the investigation, but Hazelrigg demurs at first. He gradually sees, though, that Collett is skilled, especially for someone without a law enforcement background. Collett finds out that his son is still alive, and even finds out where he’s being held. The police make plans to rescue the boy, and Collett insists on being included in the plans. In the end, Collett uses his own unique background to help the police find and free his son.

There’s also a powerful treatment of fatherhood in Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph. In fact, that’s one of the themes in the novel. Deborah St. James is despondent over not having children, but one day, on a trip to a local museum, she meets Robin Sage, the vicar of Wimslough, who gives her a real sense of peace. In fact, Deborah finds his message so positive that she convinces her husband, Simon, to take a holiday in Wimslough so they can meet the vicar again. When they get there, it’s too late; Sage has died from what seems at first like a tragic poisoning accident. St. James doesn’t believe the death was an accident, though, and asks his friend Inspector Lynley to investigate. Lynley agrees and begins to look into the backgrounds of the people of Wimslough. He finds that there’s much more to Sage’s death than a simple accident, and that several people in Wimslough are hiding some dark secrets. One of the residents of Wimslough is thirteen-year-old Maggie Spence. She’s the daughter of Juliet Spence, a local herbalist who actually served Sage the last meal he ate before he died. Juliet’s a single mother who’s never really told Maggie anything about the circumstances of her birth. Maggie is in a desperate search to find her father, and her desire to have that bond is an important aspect of this novel.

There are lots of fictional sleuths, too, who are devoted fathers, and for whom fatherhood plays an important role in their lives. For instance, Ellery Queen’s short stories and novels feature a fascinating father/child bond. Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department and his son, Ellery, often work together on cases. They depend on each other, and we can see how they help one another. Permeating the books, too, is a sense of the respect each has for the other.

And then there’s Caroline Graham’s Inspector Tom Barnaby. His outspoken, independent daughter Cully is the proverbial apple of his eye. Cully’s a well-regarded actress who’s “butted heads” with her father more than once. Underneath the surface, though, Barnaby loves his daughter deeply, and she’s just as fond of her dad. Their relationship is an interesting and welcome thread running through the Barnaby series.

Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Reg Wexford is also a proud father. His daughters, Sheila and Sylvia, mean the world to him, even though he and Sylvia have a sometimes difficult relationship. Wexford’s feelings for his daughters comes through in novels such as The Veiled One, in which Wexford’s worried about Sheila she’s committed damage to the property of a nuclear facility as a protest. Since she’s an actress, her name and the incident will be in all the papers, and Wexford’s worried about that.

Even fictional sleuths who aren’t what you would call “family men” are devoted fathers. For instance, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus has a difficult time maintaining intimate relationships. But he’s always there for his daughter Samantha. Fathers really do play crucial roles in our lives. So if you’re a father, take some credit for the important role you play in the lives of your children. Who are your favorite crime-fictional fathers?

Oh, and the picture? That’s a ‘photo of one of the finest fathers I know: Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. The picture was taken when our daughter (who is now 19) was three. Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist!

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg's Leader of the Band.


  1. What a wonderful photo! Happy Father's Day, Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist from me, too!

    Leader of the Band is one of my favorite songs ever, even if it makes me cry every single time I listen to it.

  2. Ingrid - Oh, I love that song, too! Isn't it marvelous!? I always get a lump in my throat, too : ). And I'll pass your good wishes on...

  3. What sweet words for your husband! Happy Father's Day to him...

    I have 'Missing Joseph' on my TBR shelf right now. Now I'll keep your insight in mind when I read it!

    Another interesting father-daughter relationship takes place in 'Still Life' by Louise Penny. The new detective to the team (a woman, but I can't remember her name) is close to her father and that relationship is a big part of her characterization. It turns out, a huge story her father has brought her up on is a lie! This isn't central to the plot, but it is central to her unique character.


  4. Lovely photo and a Happy Father's Day to Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

    While reading your post the father/son team I thought about was author Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan and his 'Number One Son' Lee. I've never read the novel but many of the movies I've seen.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. Michele - Oh, I hope you'll enjoy Missing Joseph. It is a wonderful book - quite, quite moving. And thanks for mentioning Still Life. I hadn't thought about that one, but you're right, it does show a solid example of how father/child relationships affect us.

    Mason - Thank you : ) : ). I'll pass your greeting along. And I used to like the Charlie Chan series; Chan's relationship with his Number One son is a terrific example of what I was getting at, so I'm glad you brought it up

  6. I have just started the second of Rob Kitchin's police procedurals The White Gallows. The concern shown by young Gemma about her widowed father Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy, whose wife died of lung cancer, overworking and not eating properly adds a lot to the plot. Seventy pages in I think Rob has another winner with this one.

  7. What a great picture! And a nice tribute to your Mr. :)

    "Missing Joseph" was definitely one of the more moving mysteries I've read.

  8. Norman - Oh, you've really whetted my appetite for The White Gallows (as though I hadn't planned to read it, anyway). And your example fits in exactly with what I had in mind. Thanks : )

    Elizabeth - Thank you : ). He's a great guy. And yes, Missing Joseph is one of those stories that haunts one...

  9. Missing Joseph is a particular favorite but some of these I've yet to read.

  10. That's a really nice post, Margot. I love the choices you discussed there, they are wonderful examples.


  11. Clarissa - Why, thank you : ). I appreciate it. It's amazing how often fathers and the father/child bond are woven into literature.

  12. Patti - Whoops! Sorry that I hadn't seen your comment before. I agree; Missing Joseph is excellent. It's a very powerful book, in my opinion.

  13. Great post, as usual, Margot, and I do so love that Father/daughter picture. We have father's day in the UK here, too, and Prof P has had a good day - one daughter phoned, two at home with him - one even gave him a game of tennis but could not be so nice as not to beat him (6-0) ;-)
    Love your examples - Rendell in particular has explored many aspects of the father-daughter dynamics in the Wexford series, interestingly from the father point of view always, though the author is a woman. I've just finished a Wexford novel, actually - they really are very good indeed.

  14. Maxine - Why, thank you! And thanks for the nice words about the picture. I want you to know I got "official clearance" from the subjects of the 'photo before I posted it ; ). And please wish Prof. P a very happy Father's Day. I'm so glad he's had a good day (although yes, a win at tennis would've been nice ; ) ). Your comment about Rendell and using Wexford's perspective just reminds me of how talented she is. It can be a challenge to take a very different perspective when one writes, and I respect folks who can do that well, as she most definitely can.

  15. Great photo!

    Wexford and Barnaby are certainly among my favourite fictional fathers. And I like your acknowledging that the bond between fathers & children may be as important as the one between mothers & children. I had a wonderful father myself, and fortunately my children have the same :D

  16. Dorte - Thank you : ). I really like that 'photo, too. Fathers really can play a very important role in their children's lives, can't they? That bond can really be powerful. I've glad that you had such a wonderful father, and happy for you and your children that they do, too.