For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson reads detective novels. Of course, they pale by comparison to his experiences working with Sherlock Holmes, but he does enjoy reading them.
Several of Agatha Christie’s characters, too, enjoy reading crime fiction. For instance, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd. In the process of finding out the truth about the murder, Poirot gets to know several members of Ackroyd’s household, including his housekeeper, Miss Russell. During one conversation, she admits to reading and enjoying detective novels. Her comment amuses Dr. James Sheppard, the local GP and a friend of Ackroyd’s. Sheppard lives next door to the house Poirot has taken, and when Poirot gets involved in the mystery, Sheppard follows along; the story is actually told from his point of view.
In Murder in Mesopotamia, Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner, wife of noted archeologist Eric Leidner, while they are on a dig near Baghdad. This story is told from the point of view of Amy Leatheran, a nurse whom Leidner hires to help look after his wife when she begins to show signs of paranoia. Shortly after Leatheran arrives at the expedition house, Louise Leidner is murdered by a blow to the head, and Poirot, who’s traveling in the area, is persuaded to break his journey and find the killer. Shortly before the murder, there’s an interesting scene in which Nurse Leatheran is resting in her room after lunch. She’s reading a novel called Death in a Nursing Home, and crime fiction fans can appreciate her enthusiasm for the book when she finally puts the book down, only then realizing how late it’s gotten. As Vanda Symon reminds us, it’s also a neat little nod to Ngaio Marsh, as that’s the title of one of Marsh’s novels.
Christie actually uses a detective novel to provide a clue in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death). That’s the story of the shooting murder of Henry Morley, a successful dentist. He’s shot in his surgery one day, and since Poirot was one of his patients that morning, he gets involved in the investigation. Poirot and Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp interview all of the staff and patients, including Alfred, the page boy whose job it is to see patients in and out of the office and operate the elevator. Alfred confesses that he didn’t see exactly what everyone in the office was dong all morning, because when he wasn’t needed, he was busy reading a detective novel that he describes as:
“… an American detective story. It’s a corker, sir, it really is! All about gunmen.”
The title of that novel actually becomes a clue to the killer.
In Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear’s The Visitant, archeologist William “Dusty” Stewart and forensic anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole search for the truth about the deaths of eight women whose remains have recently been found in New Mexico’s Sonora Desert. As they undertake a modern-day investigation, we follow the parallel story of 13th Century War Chief Browser and his deputy and friend, Catkin. These two also investigate the strange and frightening incidents that have led to the murders. Stewart uncovers what he thinks is the explanation for the murders and for the some of the forensic phenomena Cole has found. He suspects that the ancient Anasazi, who lived in that area, might have used the bodies for witchcraft purposes. His inspiration for that idea comes from crime fiction he’s read. In fact, when Cole asks about Stewart’s idea, Stewart responds,
“Don’t you read Tony Hillerman?”
Eugene “Huge” Smalls is also a crime fiction devotee whom we meet in James W. Fuerst’s Huge. He’s a twelve-year-old New Jersey misfit who’s extremely bright, but has a lot of trouble fitting in. He’s read lots of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and other authors and wants to be a detective. He gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the nursing home where she lives. In the process of looking for clues and investigating suspects, Huge tries to emulate his heroes. In the end, he finds out who was responsible for the vandalism; he also finds out a lot about himself.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of another crime-fiction fan, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. Christopher has autism, which in some ways enhances his detection skills, since he can remember many details that other people can’t. He’s a particular fan of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, and wants to be a detective like Sherlock Holmes. When he finds the body of a neighbor’s dog, he decides to be a detective and find out who killed the dog. As he searches for the truth, Christopher also finds out some other buried secrets.
Paricia Stoltey’s sleuth, retired judge Sylvia Thorn, is also a crime fiction fan. She enjoys curling up with her favorite crime fiction authors and enjoying a glass of wine. Crime becomes all too real for her, though, in The Prairie Grass Murders, when her brother Willie finds a dead man on the family’s former farm. In The Desert Hedge Murders, Sylvia and Willie get involved in murder again when Sylvia accompanies her mother and group of her mother’s friends to Las Vegas, only to find a dead man in a bathtub.
As you can see, there are a lot of crime fiction addicts both in real life and in crime fiction. Perhaps you enjoy crime fiction yourself. Of course, there’s a difference between enjoying crime fiction and being an addict. So, to help you decide whether your crime fiction habit has gotten the better of you, here are some helpful (?) guidelines:
You might be a crime fiction addict if..
…a disturbing number of the titles in your TBR pile/list include the words dead, kill, blood, murder or body, or some variation.
…you are still upset about what happened in Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast and/or Elizabeth George’s With No One As Witness.
…you have ever missed a train, bus or tram stop because they’d just found the body in the novel you were listening to or reading.
…you know what TGWTDT means.
…you get upset when literary critics say that crime fiction cannot count as “literature.”
…you can give at least five examples of novels and authors that prove those critics wrong.
…you can name at least three Swedish crime fiction authors.
…besides Stieg Larsson ; ).
…you ever got in trouble in school because instead of reading the required books, you were reading Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew and later the likes of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sue Grafton or Henning Mankell.
…you have a strong opinion on who was the best Hercule Poirot on films and television (um, it’s David Suchet ; ) ).
…your most expensive purchases in the last year have been new crime fiction releases (Well, there was the new Theorin, and Peter Temple’s Truth, and Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool and Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams' Delicious and Suspicious, and Alan Orloff's Diamonds for the Dead and oh yes, you just had to have that Tonino Benacquista, and…)
…you usually spot the killer fairly early in a mystery because this story is exactly like one you just read last week (or last month…).
So…are you a crime fiction addict? What are your telltale signs that you’re addicted? If you are hooked on crime fiction, I hate to tell you, but there is no hope. You are addicted and you will be for life. But that’s OK; crime fiction writers wouldn’t want it any other way ; ).
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Chicago.