For example, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide), we meet the Cloade family. Wealthy patriarch Gordon Cloade has always taken care of the family financially, and made it clear that he was planning to provide well for the family at his death. Then, he suddenly tells the family that he’s gotten married. As if that weren’t enough, he’s killed in a tragic wartime bomb blast before he’s able to rewrite his will. This means that his young widow Rosaleen will now inherit his fortune. Now, the members of the Cloade family have to re-think everything. The tension caused by their resentment of Cloade’s widow adds an interesting layer to this story. So does the changed relationship between Rowley Cloade, one of Gordon Cloade’s nephews, and his fiancée, Lynn Marchmont. The two got engaged before World War II, and Rowley had always taken their marriage and life together for granted. So had
In Christie’s Third Girl, Poirot and his friend, novelist Ariadne Oliver, investigate what may or may not be a murder when a young woman, Norma Restarick, visits Poirot, claiming that she may have committed a murder. As Poirot and Oliver begin to look into the case, they find out more and more about Norma’s father, Andrew Restarick, and his wife, Mary. Gradually, we find out that much of what Norma had always taken for granted about her life and her family is not true. In fact, those things Norma has always believed are at the core of this mystery. In the end, Poirot and Oliver find out who Norma believes she may have killed, and what the truth really is.
In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone takes several things for granted about his life. He has established routines for going to school, for what happens at school, and for what happens at home, too. In fact, he depends heavily on those routines because he’s autistic. One night, everything Christopher takes for granted begins to fall apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog’s been killed. Christopher doesn’t know who’s responsible, but he’s always loved classic detectives, especially Sherlock Holmes. So he decides he’s going to be a detective himself and find out who killed the dog. Christopher’s father doesn’t want him to get involved, but Christopher persists and in the process, discovers that he can’t depend on several things he’s always taken for granted. In the end, Christopher finds out what happened to the dog. He also finds out that he’s able to function even after he has to completely re-think his entire conception of the world.
There’s an interesting look at taking one’s family background for granted in Rita Mae Brown’s Murder at Monticello. In that novel, archeologist Kimball Hayes is leading a team that’s excavating a cottage on the property of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. In the process, they find a man’s skeleton, and the team begins to research who the man was and why he might have been there. The closer Hayes and the team gets to finding out the truth, the more is revealed about some of the people who live in and near tiny
Sometimes, it’s the basics of life, such as easy access to food, water, heat, and so on that we take for granted. When those are gone, the result can add another level of tension to a story. That’s what happens in E.X. Ferrars’ Something Wicked. Professor Andrew Basnett makes an agreement with his nephew, Peter Dilly, to take Dilly’s cottage during the winter while Dilly’s away. The agreement makes sense for both of them, since Dilly wants his cottage occupied during the winter, and Basnett wants a quiet place to write while his own flat is being remodeled. Basnett arrives at the cottage and is welcomed by Dilly’s neighbors, who soon fill him in on the local gossip about Pauline Hewison, a widow whom everyone thinks killed her husband six years earlier, although nothing was ever proven. Basnett’s curiosity gets him interested in the murder, and he’s just beginning to put some of the pieces together when a severe winter storm strikes, knocking out all of the power. Now, the heat and food that Basnett’s come to take for granted aren’t as easily available, and he has to depend on his neighbors for help. Then, in the midst of the storm, another murder occurs in the cottage where Basnett’s staying, and he’s drawn more and more into the mystery. The effort to stay fed and warmed is woven throughout this novel, and adds an interesting layer of tension to it.
Alex Scarrow’s Afterlight offers a very fine example of what happens when we cannot take even the basics of life for granted. In that novel, the Sutherland family has to cope with the realities of life in
Finding out we can’t take things for granted can turn our worlds upside-down. That experience can also add memorable layers of interest and tension to a good crime fiction novel. Which novels have you read where this is a theme?
NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Hello It’s Me, from
On Another Note...
Please stop by Crime Scraps and check out Parts 2 and 3 of my Choices for the Dartmoor Dozen : ). Thanks again, Norman, for hosting me : ).