Saturday, August 21, 2010

But Whatever Road You Choose, I'm Right Behind You, Win or Lose*

Most of us benefit immensely from the help of people who guide us and mentor us as we go through life. Our mentors may be parents, other relations, teachers, or someone else. If we’re lucky, we have several mentors to help us through life’s challenges. In fact, in many cultures, all of the adults in a community are seen as mentors for the younger members in the community. We see a number of mentors in crime fiction, too, and that makes sense. Sleuths benefit from mentorship just as much as anyone else does, and they are sometimes mentors themselves.

A lot of people don’t think of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as having a mentor, but you could say his older brother Mycroft plays that role. Mycroft Holmes is seven years older than his more famous brother, and his powers of deduction are even stronger than Sherlock’s are. We don’t see much of Mycroft Holmes, because he’s sedentary, and can’t be bothered to go out and gather evidence or check on his conclusions. In The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, though, the two Holmes brothers work together with Watson to solve the strange case of Mr. Melas, a Greek interpreter. Melas was hired to do some translating in what he thought was a business agreement. Soon, though, he finds himself a victim of abduction as he’s caught in the middle of a case of kidnapping, extortion and fraud, and he visits Mycroft Holmes for help in figuring out who the people involved are, and what the truth is behind his strange commission. The Holmes brothers put the pieces of the case together, and they figure out the truth just in time to save Melas’ life. Mycroft Holmes is not as practical as Sherlock is, but his reasoning powers suggest that he’s a mentor for his brother.

We see several examples of mentorship in Agatha Christie’s novels. For example, in Cat Among the Pigeons, we meet Ronnie, a young member of British Intelligence who’s given the “cover” name of Adam Goodman. As Adam Goodman, he goes undercover at Meadowbank, an exclusive girls’ school. His assignment is to keep an eye on events at the school; a large fortune in jewels has disappeared from Ramat, a small Middle Eastern country, and there are all sorts of unpleasant people looking for them. Since Princess Shaista, a relative of the royal family of Ramat, will be attending Meadowbank, British Intelligence suspects that the jewels may end up there, or that one of the groups interested in the jewels may try to contact her. When the school’s games mistress is murdered, Ronnie works with his mentor, Colonel Ephraim Pikeway, and later with Hercule Poirot, to find out who the murderer is and how that murder is related to the events in Ramat. In another example of mentorship from this same novel, Honoria Bulstrode, Headmistress of the school, is considering retirement as the novel begins. She’s trying to decide whom to groom as her replacement. One of the possibilities is young Eileen Rich, the English and History mistress. The relationship between Miss Bulstrode and Miss Rich is not directly connected with the jewels; however, it’s fascinating to see how Miss Bulstrode serves as a mentor for the younger woman.

Hercule Poirot serves as a mentor in Christie’s The Clocks. In that novel, Colin Lamb, a member of British Intelligence, is on the trail of a spy ring that may be operating in or near the town of Crowdean. He’s searching in a quiet residential neighborhood one day when a young woman rushes out of a house, screaming that there’s a dead man inside. Lamb calms the woman down and goes inside to investigate. That act draws him into a murder case that he takes to Poirot, who is a friend of his father. Poirot helps Lamb make sense of the evidence that he and Inspector Richard “Dick” Hardcastle get, and together, the men solve the murder. In the process of interviewing other residents of the development, Lamb also finds the answers to his own quest. Throughout this story, we see how Poirot coaches Lamb in finding out information and putting the pieces of the murder puzzle together. Interestingly, we also see how Poirot benefits from being a mentor. He even admits that he is curious about the murder mystery, and in subtle way, admits that he is glad for the chance to “show the ropes” to someone.

We meet a mentor of Harriet Vane’s in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Letitia Martin is the Dean at Shrewsbury College, Oxford, Harriet’s alma mater. When Harriet is invited to attend Shrewsbury’s annual Gaudy Dinner, she’s at first quite reluctant to accept. After all, she’s attained a certain amount of notoriety as a result of being tried for the murder of her former lover; she’s been acquitted of the crime, but there’s been scandal attached to her name. However, for the sake of an old friend and because she doesn’t want to be a coward, Harriet decides to attend. When she arrives, one of the first people she sees is Dean Martin, who’s delighted that Harriet’s come back to campus. In fact, Harriet is much more warmly welcomed than she’d feared, and it’s not long before she’s glad to have accepted the invitation. After the festivities, Harriet returns home, but a few months later, she receives a letter from the Dean asking for her help. Someone’s been writing vicious anonymous letters and committing vandalism on campus, and no-one wants to call the police in. The Dean knows that Harriet writes mysteries and hopes to benefit from her experience. Harriet agrees, and returns to Shrewsbury. Throughout the investigation, we see the warm regard in which Harriet Vane holds her mentor, and in fact, the Dean is helpful in the search for answers. When Harriet herself is attacked, Lord Peter Wimsey comes to Shrewsbury and he is instrumental in finding out who’s been responsible for the events at the college.

In Shona MacLean’s novels The Redemption of Alexander Seaton and A Game of Sorrows, we meet Dr. John Forbes, spiritual father and mentor to Alexander Seaton. Seaton is a disgraced former candidate for the ministry who, in The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, has been relegated to the position of undermaster at the local grammar school. When Seaton’s friend, music master Charles Thom, is arrested for the murder of Patridk Davidson, the apothecary’s assistant, he begs Seaton to clear his name. Seaton agrees and soon embarks on his own investigation of what happened to Davidson. Along the way, Seaton has to face his own personal demons, including his inability to forgive himself for the events that led up to his disgrace. He is greatly helped by Forbes, who encourages his former pupil to move on with his life and be open to those who wish to befriend him. In fact, Forbes is partly responsible for the offer Seaton eventually receives to teach at the university in Aberdeen. It’s in that context that we follow Seaton’s adventures in A Game of Sorrows, when he travels to Ireland to find out the truth behind a curse that seems to have been laid on his mother’s family and that seems to already be coming true.

In Pablo de Santi's The Paris Enigma, world-famous detective Renato Craig opens an Academy for Detectives, to which Sigmundo Salvatrio eagerly applies. We see mentorship in this novel when Salvatrio is sent to the Paris World's Fair in his mentor's stead when Craig is unable to attend. Salvatrio meets the other members of a detective group called The Twelve, all of whom also have apprentices whom they mentor. When one of them is killed, Salvatrio works with the co-founder of the group, Viktor Arkazy, to find out who committed the murder.

You could say that Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse s
erves as a mentor for Sergeant Lewis. In many novels in the Morse series, we see how Morse acts as not only the lead investigator, but also as a tutor and mentor for Lewis. And as the years go by, we see Lewis come into his own as an investigator in his own right. That’s quite clear, for instance, in The Remorseful Day, in which Lewis does a great deal of the work on his own. Of course, Lewis is not blind to his mentor’s faults, and certainly their professional relationship isn’t one-sided.

Neither is the relationship between Ian Rankin’s Sio
bhan Clarke and her mentor, John Rebus. When she first joins Rebus and his team as a constable, Clarke isn’t as sure of herself as she becomes later in the series. As the series goes on, we see the way that Rebus mentors her and helps her. We also see Clarke come into her own in novels such as The Falls, where her computer skills become crucial to the investigation. In Exit Music, Clarke is very much aware that she’s ready now to strike out on her own. On one hand, she is eager to do exactly that. On the other, of course, she has a strong bond with Rebus and knows that she will miss him. That conflict is probably quite typical of the way we feel about our mentors.

Caroline Graham’s Sergeant Gavin Troy is mentored by his boss, Inspector Tom Barnaby. Barnaby isn’t nearly as “prickly” as Inspector Morse is. In his own subtle and more gentle way, he tries to guide Troy away from his tendency to jump to conclusions and make snap judgements. As the series goes on, Troy does learn some lessons from his boss and becomes a little more skilled at conducting investigations. You could argue that he never quite comes completely out from under Barnaby’s “shadow,” but he does mature.

And then there’s Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. When she’s laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer, Plum’s forced into finding new work in order to keep going. She’s hired at her cousin’s bail bond agency and before she knows it, she’s become a bounty hunter. At first, she’s not much goo
d at the work, since she has no experience. But Plum is mentored by Ricardo Carlos Manoso, better known as Ranger. Ranger is a veteran bounty hunter with more than one “business venture” on the side. He’s skilled at all of the strategies needed to apprehend fugitives and stay alive at the same time, and Plum learns a lot from him.

There are many other examples, too, of mentoring relationships in crime fiction. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mentors more than one new partner. And Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley serves as a mentor for Sergeant Havers. Which fictional mentoring relationships have you enjoyed?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rod Stewart’s Forever Young.

On Another Note…
Thanks very much to Mason Canyon at Thoughts in Progress for this lovely You Deserve a Star blog award. Mason’s blog has a wealth of book reviews, lots of interesting authors who guest blog, and thoughtful points to ponder, so I am honoured at this award. Folks, do pay her blog a visit; you’ll be glad that you did. Thanks, Mason!!


  1. I am always in awe of your post. You bring up different aspects of a book to ponder that I would have never considered. These are all great books that point out mentors that one would not thought of as mentors.

    Congratulations on your award. It is richly deserved and thank you for your kind words.

  2. Mason - Why, thank you : ). And trust me, I learn every time I visit your blog; it's my pleasure to "plug" it. It is interesting, isn't it, how many mentors there really are in crime fiction. I think that's especially true in crime series, where we can see how the characters develop over time. There are so many I didn't mention, too, like Tony Hillerman's Frank Sam Nakai, who mentors Hillerman's sleuth, Jim Chee.

  3. I am so glad you received the award! I feel bad that I didn't give it to you. I'm currently reading a series by Deborah Crombie with Detectives Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant Gemma James. Duncan is Gemma's superior and often helps her out as a mentor. But, I think that's the job of older inspectors.


  4. Clarissa - Thank you : ). You know, I'd thought of Kincaid and James when I was writing this post. Their relationship certainly does have elements of mentorship in it, so I'm glad you brought it up. Perhaps you['re right; older inspectors and other police officers are supposed to mentor the younger ones.

  5. Agree with Mason--in awe, as usual! And thanks for blogginf at my blog on Friday. Great success!!

    Have you read the extension series of Holmes stories? Caleb Carr wrote one that was deemed worthy of its own book, while the others were included in a compilation publication. I haven't read any but Carr, but enjoyed that one greatly. It includes Mycroft, which is what reminded me of it here...

    Happy Birthday Blogfest at SouthernCityMysteries

  6. Michele - very kind of you : ). And I did enjoy being your guest.

    Thanks for bringing up the extension stories. I have to admit, I haven't read many of them; I think it's because I'm rather a bit of a purist. Still, I've heard from others that the Carr one is well-done. I may have to go a'looking for that one...

  7. Margot, your blog is always so interesting. I can come up with two slightly different mentors that you haven't mentioned.

    Hakan Nesser's Van Veeteren is a mentor to his subordinates, Munster and Moreno, so much so that I believe when he retires, and opens a bookshop, they still come to him for advice.
    You could even consider Colin Cotterill's wonderful Mr Geung to be a mentor to Dr Siri as he remembers things much better than the aging doctor.

  8. Norman - Why, thank you! And I agree completely about Mr. Geung. He does serve, in his way, as a mentor, even though he's younger and has what many would call special needs. Yet, he does have that phenomenal memory. I'm a bit less familiar with Van Veeteren, but yes, I can certainly see him in that mentor role with Munster and Moreno; I'm glad you mentioned them.

  9. Congratulations on your well-deserved award!

    I just read Norman´s comment and agree that Mr Geung is a wonderful mentor (in the first book he even shows Dr Siri that he has been inconsiderate to nurse Dtui). It is such a fine thing to see how Colin Cotterill respects characters who seem to be less than perfect.

  10. A mentor is so useful as someone to run your ideas by in a crime novel. Someone to shoot down the bad ones and encourage the good ones.
    How do you think of a different and interesting topic so often. In the two novels I have tried to write-one used a mentor and one didn't. It was harder to get information out without one.

  11. Dorte - Thank you : ). And thanks for that mention of Mr. Geung. I agree that he really does serve as an excellent mentor, and what I like is that Dr. Siri respects the lessons he learns. Cotterill really draws his characters well, in my opinion.

    Patti - I like your description of the way a mentor can help in terms of trying out ideas for the solution of a crime. They can be really useful, can't they? Without a mentor, I think it can be harder to have the confidence to put forward an idea. I really do hope to read your novels...