For instance, in Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate a series of murders that are linked only by cryptic warning notes sent to Poirot before each killing, and an ABC railway guide found next to each body. When it becomes apparent that this is a series of killings, and not isolated cases, Inspector Crome from Scotland Yard is assigned to the team of investigators. Crome has just successfully caught the killer in a series of child murders, so he’s confident that his expertise can help. The only problem is that he and Poirot (and he and Hastings) just rub each other the wrong way. They’re all aware that squabbling won’t solve the case, so they manage to work together. But it’s obvious that Crome thinks Poirot outdated in his methods and not well-equipped to solve this case. For their parts, Poirot and Hastings think Crome is arrogant and condescending, so it’s not a particularly congenial mixing of personalities. The group (which also includes Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp) does work together and in the end, the killer is caught. But throughout the novel, there’s an undercurrent of added tension that adds to the story.
In Christie’s Hickory Dickory Death (AKA Hickory Dickory Dock), Poirot investigates a series of mysterious thefts and other events at a hostel for students. When one of the residents, Celia Austin, admits that she’s responsible for most of the thefts, everyone thinks that the matter is settled. Then, two nights later, Celia dies in her sleep, seemingly the victim of suicide by poisoning. But Mrs. Hubbard, who manages the hostel, shows Poirot and the police evidence that Celia didn’t kill herself, so now they have not just some odd thefts, but a murder on their hands. As Poirot and Inspector Sharpe look into what’s been going on at the hostel, they also uncover some interesting animosities. For example, one of the residents is disliked because of her sanctimoniousness. Another is disliked because he enjoys saying things that he knows annoys other people. There are other personality clashes, too, that add a very interesting layer of suspense to this novel. In fact, ironically enough, the only resident of the hostel who doesn’t seem to have any of this sort of conflict is the victim, Celia Austin. She’s not particularly bright, but no-one actively dislikes her. In the end, Poirot finds out the truth about the events at the hostel, and we learn that having a pleasant personality couldn’t save Celia from the danger she was in.
There are some interesting ongoing personality conflicts in Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series. Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, Brown’s sleuth, is the former postmistress of tiny Crozet, Virginia, where everyone knows everyone else. One of the other residents of Crozet is Olivia “Boom Boom” Craycroft, whose husband, Kelly, is murdered in Wish You Were Here. She and Harry have never gotten along very well, not even in high school. Harry considers “Boom Boom” to be man-crazy, looks-obsessed and shallow. “Boom Boom” thinks of Harry as awkward, frumpy and almost unfeminine. Things are not improved, either, by the fact that she had an affair with Harry’s husband, Pharamond “Fair” Haristeen. In fact, that’s an important part of the reason Harry and Fair divorced. As the series goes on, the two women make a sort of peace with each other. In fact, they work together on a few of the cases that Harry investigates. But they never really become close friends, and it’s interesting to see the way these two very different people interact.
In Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, there’s an ongoing, sometimes very funny, personality conflict between Plum and Joyce Barnhardt. They grew up together and have never liked each other. In fact, in more than one of the books in the series, Plum recounts unkind things that Joyce Barnhardt has done to her. The most flagrant was when Plum came home from work shortly after her marriage to attorney Dickie Orr, only to find him with Joyce. The two women have more than one run-in throughout the course of the series. For instance, in Four to Score, Plum finds out that Joyce is having an affair with Vinnie Plum, Stephanie’s married cousin and employer. That’s bad enough, but then, she finds out that Joyce wants to work for the bail bond agency that Vinnie owns. The last thing Stephanie Plum wants to do is work with Joyce Barnhardt, but Vinnie insists. Almost immediately, sparks fly. For one thing, Joyce has a habit of taking all the cases for herself (which means she’s the one that gets the money for catching the fugitive). For another, she’s not cut out for the dirty, difficult work that is fugitive apprehension. Fortunately for Stephanie, Joyce doesn’t last long as a bounty hunter, but the conflict between them continues to flare up throughout the series.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series featuring Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir features a personality conflict between Thóra and Bella, secretary for Thóra’s law firm. Bella is often rude, doesn’t do her job, smokes in the office (although she’s been asked not to do so), and complains about everything she’s asked to do. Needless to say, she and Thóra do not get along. The problem is that Thóra and her law partner Bragi can’t fire Bella. When they originally took the offices where they practice, their landlord (who’s also Bella’s father) included a proviso that they had to hire Bella as their secretary. They can’t get out of the contract, so they have to tolerate Bella, although Thóra is sure she’s cost the firm dozens of potential clients. The ongoing feud between Thóra and Bella makes for realistic comic relief in the series.
In Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover has an interesting conflict with her next-door-neighbor, Erma Sherman. Erma’s a busybody whose favorite topics of conversation include her own health and other people’s doings. Myrtle isn’t happy about the fact that Erma encourages squirrels and other wild animals into the area, since they’re harmful to lawns and gardens. She’s also not fond of Erma’s habit of trying to run her life. Erma thinks Myrtle’s ungrateful and sometimes un-neighborly. She’s also not fond of the large collection of ceramic gnomes that Myrtle puts in her yard whenever she’s angry at her son, Red. To Myrtle’s chagrin, she has to co-operate with Erma when she decides to investigate the murder of beautiful but malicious real estate developer Parke Stockard. When Parke’s body is found in a local church, Myrtle sees it as a perfect opportunity for her to prove that she’s not ready to be “put out to pasture” just yet. So she starts to gather clues, listen to gossip and choose the most likely suspects. Much as Myrtle doesn’t want to admit it, Erma proves helpful a few times throughout the novel; their “oil and water” relationship, though, adds an interesting twist and some humor to the story.
Colin Cotterill’s sleuth is Laos’ chief medical examiner Dr. Siri Paiboun. The Dr. Siri novels take place in 1970’s Laos, a time of Communist party rule and entrenched bureaucracy. Dr. Siri is not one to kowtow to authority, and he has a great respect for the old ways of Laos. So he doesn’t take kindly to officious bureaucrats, and he has some interesting personality conflicts with those who try to use their “clout” to interfere with what he’s doing. For instance, in Thirty-Three Teeth, Dr. Siri and his assistants, Nurse Dtui and morgue assistant Geung, are investigating the deaths of a pair of bicyclists and a woman who’s apparently been killed by a wild animal. In the midst of this, Dr. Siri is sent north to Luang Prabang to identify two charred corpses and find out how and why they died. When he arrives at Luang Prabang, he runs headlong into Comrade Houey, the head Communist leader of Luang Prabang. Comrade Houey is bloated with his own importance, rude to Dr. Siri and disrespectful of local customs. Dr. Siri, of course, is not one to calmly accept such disrespect, so he and Houey go up against each other several times in the novel and that personality conflict adds an interesting layer of tension to it.
And then there's Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers. When they first meet in A Great Deliverance, they don't get along at all. Mostly that's because of differences in their backgrounds and approaches. As the series moves along, they come to work better together, but that first novel is a clear example of a personality conflict.
Personality conflicts are a part of life for most of us, so it’s not at all surprising that they also show up in crime fiction. Which novels have you enjoyed that feature these conflicts?