Friday, July 23, 2010

The Name Game?

An interesting comment exchange with Maxine at Petrona, and an interesting post from Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise got me to thinking about character names. Writers have lots of different inspirations for the names they give their characters. Some get ideas from names they’ve heard; some get ideas from online and other resources. Still others have other sources of inspiration. In my own case, I’ve gotten names from people kind enough to comment on my blog. What’s also interesting to think about is the number of names that come up in more than one crime fiction novel. Perhaps authors get inspired by other authors, or perhaps certain names just lend themselves to a crime fiction story. Either way, I thought that, just for fun, it’d be interesting to take a look at some names that have been given to characters in different crime fiction stories or series.

For example, David Hunter appears in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide). His sister, Rosaleen, has recently married wealthy Gordon Cloade. When Cloade is tragically killed in a bomb blast, Rosaleen inherits his vast fortune. Cloade’s relatives are none too happy about that, since they’d been taught to expect that his fortune would pass to them. David Hunter moves to the small village of Warmsley Vale with Rosaleen, as much to protect her from the Cloade family as anything else. Then, a mysterious stranger calling himself Enoch Arden comes to Warmsley Vale. Arden hints that he may be Rosaleen Cloade’s first husband, long thought to be dead. When he’s killed one night, David Hunter soon becomes the prime suspect, since if Rosaleen was already married at the time of her wedding to Gordon Cloade, she couldn’t inherit his money. Hercule Poiriot is called in to investigate by members of the Cloade family, who want to know for sure whether Rosaleen Cloade is eligible to inherit. Poirot uncovers the truth about Arden’s identity and about his death.

David Hunter is also the name of Simon Beckett’s sleuth. He’s a forensic anthropologist who’s called in to help identify bodies, establish cause of death and so on. He frequently finds himself getting mixed up in murder cases in novels such as The Chemistry of Death, Written in Bone, and Whispers of the Dead. He’s quite different in personality from Agatha Christie’s David Hunter, so it’s very interesting that the two characters have the same name.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey has a good friend, Inspector Charles Parker. Parker and Wimsey work closely together on several of Wimsey’s cases. For instance, in Unnatural Death, they both solve the mystery of the death of Miss Agatha Dawson when her doctor, Edward Carr, is not satisfied that her death was natural.

Charles Parker is also the name of John Connolly’s policeman-turned-private investigator. After Parker’s wife and daughter were brutally murdered, he left the New York City police force and tried to drown his trauma in alcohol. Several months later, he sobers up and gets drawn into investigations as a private detective in Every Dead Thing. He doesn’t have a lot in common with Dorothy Sayers’ Charles Parker, other than the fact that both are investigators, so again, it’s interesting that they share a name.

And then there’s Veronica Cray. In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours), she’s a very famous actress who was once involved with Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. When she returns to England after a long absence, she finds out that Christow sometimes spends week-ends at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. So she arranges to take a cottage nearby in the hopes of seeing him. One week-end while Christow and his wife, Gerda, are visiting the Angkatells, Veronica makes a dramatic appearance and tries to rekindle their romance. The results are surprising, and Veronica Cray is drawn into events at the Angkatell home when Christow is shot one afternoon. Hercule Poirot, who’s taken the cottage next to Veronica Cray’s, gets involved in the murder investigation when he’s invited for lunch, only to come upon the murder scene instead. In the end, Poirot and Inspector Grange find out who shot Christow and why, and what role Veronica plays in the drama.

Veronica Cray is also the name of a DI in Michael Robotham’s Shatter. In that novel, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is called to the scene when Christine Wheeler is about to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. He’s unable to prevent her death, and is soon approached by her daughter, Darcy. Darcy Wheeler is convinced that her mother was manipulated into committing suicide. Although O’Loughlin is doubtful that anyone could manipulate someone into committing suicide, he agrees to look into the case. He asks his old friend, Inspector Vincent Ruiz, to help him find out who might be behind Christine Wheeler’s death. Then another death occurs and soon, it’s clear that a serial killer is at work. DI Veronica Cray works with the team to track down the killer.

The name Tanya Jackson also comes up in at least two crime fiction novels. In Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, she’s the teenage grand-daughter of Alfred Jackson, a famous writer who built a writers’ retreat that’s now run and managed by his family. Tanya has serious mental and emotional problems, and her father, who’s trying to run the writer’s retreat, has his hands full with her. When former politician Alec Dennet and editor Lorraine Starck are brutally murdered while they’re at the retreat, Australian Federal Police officer Brad Chen is called in to help investigate. While Tanya Jackson doesn’t play a pivotal role in the murder itself, her character adds to the story and helps give some interesting background. When Chen and his team find out who really murdered Dennet and Starck, it turns out that that background is important.

Tanya Jackson is also the name of one of the victims in James Patterson’s Four Blind Mice. In that novel, Alex Cross and his colleague and friend John Sampson investigate a series of brutal murders for which Sampson’s friend Ellis Cooper has been found guilty. Cooper is believed to have burst in on a gathering of some military wives who were having a get-together, and murdering each in a violent rage. Cooper insists on his innocence, and Sampson believes his friend. Cross and Sampson look into the case and find other incidences of men who were convicted of similar murders that they claim not to have committed.

In Robin Cook’s Fever, we meet Charles Martel, a cancer researcher who discovers that his daughter Michelle has contracted acute myeloblastic leukemia. He also discovers that illegal toxic waste dumping is likely responsible for her condition. Martel works feverishly to get Michelle the treatment she needs – a treatment his employer has specifically told him to abandon in favor of another. He works almost as frantically to try to force the company responsible for the toxic waste to take responsibility for its practices.

Charles Martel was also the pseudonym of 19th Century crime fiction writer Thomas Delf, author of 1860’s The Diary of an Ex-Detective. I confess I haven’t read this one, but it’s said to be a casebook, much like other detective fiction of the day was styled as collections of the sleuth’s cases.

These are just a few examples of names that appear in more than one crime fiction story. There are lots more. Have you spotted recurring names? In which books?


  1. One time when names give you a start is when you read them in a couple of books, one after the other. That has happened to me this week when the family name Morrow, which I don't regard as particularly common, has cropped up in both Louise Penny's A RULE AGAINST MURDER, and Ruth Rendell's THE MONSTER IN THE BOX

  2. Kerrie you now need to read Denise Mina's Still Midnight in which the lead detective is a woman called Alex Morrow :)

    I can't think of other recurring names

  3. Kerrie - I agree; when you read names that crop up that quickly, it does cause you to pull up. That actually happened to me when I re-read Taken at the Flood just before reading Whispers of the Dead. I haven't read A Rule Against Murder yet, but yes, the name Morrow does show up in the Ruth Rendell novel. Folks, Kerrie's fine review of A Rule Against Murder is here.

    Bernadette - Morrow must be a much more common name than we thought! Folks, here is Bernadette's excellent review of Still Midnight.

  4. Very interesting post. I had never thought about characters having the same name. Does make you wonder where those authors got the names and how far apart (time wise) they were published and was it the same publisher.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. Mason - Thank you : ). You raise an interesting question, too. I do wonder whether publisher might have something to do with it, or perhaps the author is a fan of an author who's used the same name. Sometimes, too, a name is just a very common name that might occur to anyone.

  6. Could be a tribute, an accident, a joke, carelessness. But interesting.

  7. Patti - It is interesting, isn't it? Probably for every author there's a slightly different reason that it could happen...

  8. I am quite sure some authors recycle names as a tribute. One of my Danish writing friends uses a ficional setting in England. The two main towns are Cornwell and Grafton. She wrote the first one in 1999. I can´t help wondering if she would also have used the name Cornwell if she had started the series today. ;)

  9. Hmmm. Maybe I'll name a character Hercule Poirot. :)

    See, in some cases it just won't work. I hadn't noticed the overlap in some characters' names, but it's unlikely we'll see folks borrow the famous characters with unusual Miss Marple, Jack Reacher, or V. I. Warshawski, for instance.

  10. Dorte - Oh, that's interesting! Yes, I would imagine it might be different if your friend started the series now... It's funny you would say that about tributes. I know that's where I've gotten a few of the names I use when I write, too. You're probably right that authors do that generally.

  11. Patricia - I think you're absolutely right about very famous characters' names. That just doesn't translate well. Of course, Lorna Barrett's sleuth Tricia Miles has a cat named Miss Marple. Still...

  12. Another thing that I thought interesting was Veronica Cray in SHATTER goes to great pains to be called Ronnie (which is a sort of ambivalent name) taking great pains to assure everyone she is not related to the infamous Cray brothers.
    She is a large woman, really after the stamp of Vera Stanhope in Ann Cleeves books - mistaken once for a baglady.
    Another large Veronica is Veronique in Louise Penny's A RULE AGAINST MURDER - she is the chef whome Gamache at one stage suspects of involvement in the murder.

  13. Kerrie - You're absolutely right about Robotham's Veronica Cray; and that's so very different from Christie's Veronica Cray. Robotham's Cray is certainly not the traditionally feminine fashion plate that Christie's is (and thanks for the very apt comparison to Vera Stanhope; I agree with you on that one). I've got that Louise Penny on my TBR list and can't wait to get to it : ).