For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, we meet Arthur and Alice Charpentier, siblings whose mother owns a boarding house. Staying in that boarding house are Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. When Madame Charpentier learns that Drebber has made advances on Alice, she evicts both Drebber and Stangerson. Drebber returns to the boarding house later and makes another advance on Alice. Arthur goes to his sister’s defense and tries to attack Drebber, who manages to escape. Arthur Charpentier’s standing up for his sister gets him arrested for murder when Drebber is later found dead. Sherlock Holmes is called in on the case by Inspector Gregson, who wants his help in explaining some strange aspects of the murder. When Stangerson is also found murdered, it’s clear that this is more than a simple case of one sibling looking out for the other. In the end, Holmes finds out who really killed Drebbera and Stangerson and why.
n Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), we meet siblings Charles and Theresa Arundell. They’re the nephew and niece of wealthy Emil Arundell, who dies suddenly of what seems at first to be liver failure. However, before she died, Emily Arundell wrote a letter to Hercule Poirot asking him to investigate a delicate matter. She wasn’t specific in her letter, but Poirot and Hastings visit the village of Market Basing anyway to find out what’s behind Miss Arundell’s letter. By the time they get there, Miss Arundell has already died, but Poirot decides to continue the investigation. He finds that all of Miss Arundell’s relations, including Charles and Theresa, were desperate for money. In fact the brother and sister planned at first to try to upset their aunt’s will, which in which she’s left her fortune to her companion. In the end, Poirot finds out who was desperate enough to murder Miss Arundell. Throughout the novel, we see the interesting interplay between the siblings, and we see how each one has an interesting insight into the other and how each tries to protect the other.
Christie also explores sibling relationships in Appointment With Death. In that novel, the Boynton family takes a holiday in the Middle East. Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch, is a tyrannical mental sadist who’s kept her family cowed for years. Sister and brother Carol and Raymond Boynton are desperate to free themselves and their younger half-sister, Ginevra (Jinny) from their stepmother’s grip. When Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies while the family is at Petra, everyone thinks that she died of heart failure. That makes sense, too, since she was elderly and in poor health. However, it’s soon discovered that she was poisoned. Now, Raymond and Carol Boynton come under suspicion as Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate. As Poirot interviews the members of the Boynton family, we can see the way the Boynton children care about each other and try to protect each other.
We also see that kind of protectiveness in James W. Fuerst’s Huge. That’s the story of twelve-year-old Eugene “Huge” Smalls. He’s a bit of a social misfit who dreams of having his own detective agency. Huge gets his chance one day when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the nursing home where she lives. As Huge collects clues and tries to figure out who’s responsible, he begins to suspect that the culprit is a local boy who Huge thinks has been harassing his sister, Eunice “Neecey.” One night, Neecey has been invited to a party and Huge decides to sneak into the party because his favorite suspect is there. He attacks the other boy in a futile (and funny, actually) attempt to stand up for his sister. Throughout this novel, we also see how Neecey tries to stand up for her brother, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially as Huge finds that as he gets closer to finding out who defaced the sign, he also makes some important discoveries about himself.
In Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia and Willie novels, we see the interesting relationship between Sylvia Thorn, retired Florida circuit court judge, and her brother, accountant and Viet Nam era veteran Willie Grisslejon. In The Prairie Grass Murders, Willie is visiting the old family farm in Illinois when he comes upon a man’s body. At first, Willie is accused having murdered the man, and is arrested. He calls his sister, who comes to Illinois to free her brother and before either of them know it, they’re embroiled in a murder case, a land dispute and some old memories. Throughout this novel, too, it’s obvious that Sylvia and Willie care deeply about each other and try to take care of each other. That relationship provides a layer of interest and engagement in the novel.
We see that same kind of caring in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool, in which Oxford historian Daniel Kind tries to help his sister Louise when she believes she may have seriously injured, even killed, her lover, Stuart Wagg. Wagg disappears after Louise claims she attacked him with scissors, and Daniel tries to help her by asking DCI Hannah Scarlett for assistance. As it turns out, Wagg’s disappearance is related to a six-year-old drowning death that Scarlett and her team are investigating, and to another recent death. As Scarlett and Kind find out who’s behind the deaths, we also get to see quite a lot of the caring, loving, yet complicated relationship between Kind and his sister. We also learn more about their father, former police officer Ben Kind through their conversations
Of course, not all sibling relationships are loving or protective. There’s a very complicated relationship between Virginia attorney Mason Hunt and his brother Gates in Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit. When the two were young men, they were involved one night in a shooting in which Gates Hunt shot Wayne Thompson in an argument over Gates Hunt’s then-current girlfriend. Out of a sense of brotherly protectiveness, Mason helped his brother cover up the crime. Mason Hunt also felt a sense of duty, because Gates had protected him from their abusive father when both were boys. Now, years later, Gates Hunt is sent to prison for cocaine trafficking. He begs his brother, who’s become a commonwealth attorney, to help get him out. Mason refuses, because Gates is almost blatantly guilty. Moreover, Gates has wasted his adult life, turning to petty crime and living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and money he gets from their mother. Gates turns on his brother then, and threatens to accuse him of the murder of Wayne Thompson. When Gates makes good on his threat, Mason has defend himself against the charge.
And then there’s the Longley family, who feature in Ruth Rendell’s first novel as Barbara Vine, A Dark-Adapted Eye. This ultra-respectable, middle-class class family shies away from any hint of scandal. But the family is hiding some ugly secrets. Vera Longley Hilliard was hanged for murder, and the secret of the murder lies in the family relationships. The family does its best to remain in denial about it until years later when investigative journalist Daniel Stewart decides to do a story on the murder. He asks Faith Longley Severn, Vera’s niece, to help him uncover the truth, and as she does, we get to learn about the Longley family and the relationship between sisters Vera and Edith Longley.
Martin Edwards explores dysfunctional sibling relationships in The Cipher Garden, in which DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. Howe was found murdered by his own scythe and at first it was assumed that his wife Tina was responsible. She had motive, too, since Howe was an abusive and unfaithful husband. But there wasn’t enough evidence for the police to pursue a case. Now, some anonymous notes accuse Tina of the crime, and Scarlett and her team look into the murder. So does Oxford historian Daniel Kind, whose cottage garden was designed by the landscaping firm that employed Howe. Each in their own way, Kind and Scarlett find out what really happened to Howe. As they do, we see the complicated and dysfunctional relationships among the members of Howe’s family, including his daughter, Kirsty and his son, Sam. It’s unsettling to see in this novel how Howe’s lifestyle and death has damaged his family, and it makes for a fascinating undercurrent.
A sister or brother can be one’s best friend. Those relationships, though, can also be complex, problematic and worse. But if one has siblings, it doesn’t matter what sort of relationship one has with them, that bond affects everyone. Which of your favorite crime fiction novels feature siblings?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the name of a popular song written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell.