Violet Hunter takes a dangerous leap of faith in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. She’s been offered an enticing job as governess at the home of Jephro Rucastle on the condition that she cut her long hair short. Other comments that he makes also make her nervous. She’s unsure of she should take the job, so she visits Sherlock Holmes and asks him what he thinks. He counsels her against accepting the offer, but Violet cannot resist the phenomenally high salary that Rucastle is willing to pay. So she accepts the offer and moves into the Rucastle home to take up her duties. She soon finds herself drawn into an eerie mystery, and discovers that the Rucastles are not at all what they seem to be. Now afraid, she contacts Holmes and asks his help. Holmes discovers that Violet Hunter has been a pawn in an inheritance battle.
There are several leaps of faith in Agatha Christie’s novels. For instance, in Murder in Mesopotamia, Nurse Amy Leatheran takes a leap of faith when she accepts a job at an archaeological dig in Iraq. Dr. Eric Leidner, the archaeologist who’s heading up the dig, hires Leatheran to look after his wife, Louise. Louise Leidner has been having all sorts of fears, and recently says she’s been seeing faces and hearing hands tapping on her window. Soon, Nurse Leatheran finds out that Louise Leidner is afraid for a very good and specific reason: her former husband, long thought dead, may in fact be alive and threatening her life. Amy Leatheran’s leap of faith gets her mixed up in a murder when Louise Leidner is killed one afternoon. Hercule Poirot, who’s traveling in the area, investigates the case and finds out that Louise Leidner’s murder had everything to do with her complicated personality.
In Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), ten people receive invitations to Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Each of the invitations is a bit unusual, but each guest takes a leap of faith and accepts. When the guests arrive, they are surprised to find that their hosts are not there. Still, they are seen to their rooms, and served an excellent dinner. That evening, their surprise turns to shock when each of them is accused of having caused the death of at least one person. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Another dies later that night. It’s now clear that there’s a murderer on the island. As other guests die, one by one, the survivors begin to figure out that one of them is the murderer. In this case, taking a leap of faith is a deadly choice.
It’s not always deadly, though. In Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for her life, accused of poisoning her former lover, Philip Boyes. Lord Peter Wimsey attends the trial and becomes smitten with Harriet. One of the jurors is not convinced of Harriet Vane’s guilt, and her refusal to send down a “guilty” verdict forces a new trial. Wimsey takes advantage of this and visits Vane in prison. He offers to find out who really killed Philip Boyes. At first, Vane is unconvinced that anything can be done. But she takes a leap of faith and co-operates with him. Wimsey, with the help of several of his friends, looks in the case. He finds out the truth about Philip Boyes’ death, and amply justifies Harriet Vane’s faith in him.
In Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up in Tinsel, Agatha Troy is commissioned to paint a portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasmin, a wealthy and successful antiques dealer. Bill-Tasmin is a strong believer in the redemptive power of honest work, so he has taken a leap of faith in hiring former convicts as members of his staff. In fact, all of his staff have served prison sentences. Troy’s visit coincides with the Christmas holiday, so she’s there when Bill-Tasmin hosts a Christmas party for the locals. His uncle F. Fleaton “Uncle Flea” Forrester is tapped to dress up as a Druid and distribute gifts to the children at the party. At the last minute, though, Uncle Flea falls ill and can’t do the job. So his servant Alfred Moult takes his place. Shortly after the gifts are delivered, Moult disappears and is later found dead. Troy’s husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, investigates the case. At first, it looks as though one of the staff members is probably the killer, since Moult had antagonized the staff. But as the case unfolds, we find that it’s not that simple, and that perhaps Bill-Tamsin’s faith in his staff was justified.
Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph also has an interesting example of a leap of faith. Deborah St. James is deeply troubled by the fact that she and her husband Simon haven’t been able to have children. One day, she happens to be in a local museum where she meets Robin Sage, the vicar of Winslough. He gives Deborah some peace of mind and she feels drawn to him. She takes a leap of faith and convinces her husband Simon to take a holiday in Winslough so that she can hear the vicar again. By the time the couple arrives, though, it’s too late. Robin Sage is dead of an apparent accidental poisoning. Simon St. James doesn’t think the poisoning is accidental, though, so he also takes what you might call a leap of faith and enlists the help of his friend Inspector Thomas “Tommy” Lynley in finding out what really happened.
Sometimes, of course, it’s the sleuth who takes a leap of faith. For example, in Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice, Harry Bosch finds out by accident that Calexico “Cal” Moore, a member of an L.A.P.D. undercover drug squad, has died in an apparent suicide. He finds that the evidence doesn’t really add up to suicide and begins to investigate. The police department isn’t interested in a deep investigation, because it’s suspected that Moore might have “crossed” – turned “dirty.” But Bosch has his own reasons for wanting to find out the truth about Moore’s death and besides, if Moore was murdered, Bosch wants to catch the killer. Some clues he finds lead Bosch to believe that there’s a connection between Moore’s death and drug-running from Moore’s home town of Mexicali. So Bosch takes a leap of faith and travels to Mexico to unravel the secret. He also has to take several other leaps of faith. For instance, in his travels, he meets up with two DEA agents who may or may not be trustworthy; Bosch has to take a leap of faith and work with them. He also has to work with a member of the Mexican State Judicial Police who may or may not have been involved in another murder that seems to be related to Moore’s death. In the end, the leaps of faith pay off, and they add a great deal of suspense to the novel.
In Deborah Crombie’s Now May You Weep, Hazel Cavendish invites her friend and former housemate DI Gemma James for a cookery weekend at the Innesfree Guest House in the Scottish Highlands. What Gemma doesn’t really know is that that Hazel’s past life is intimately wrapped up with those of John and Louise Innes, who own the guest house, and with that of Donald Brodie, another guest. It turns out that Donald Brodie is Hazel’s former lover; the two were from rival distilling families, but they had a passionate affair. Even though Donald and Hazel have ended their relationship, Brodie is still convinced she is his, and is determined to get her back, whatever the cost. When Brodie is shot, Hazel is the most likely suspect, and she’s arrested for the crime. Gemma believes her friend is innocent, and that there is more to Brodie’s shooting than it seems on the surface. So she takes a leap of faith and asks her lover, Scotland Yard detective Duncan Kincaid, to join her and help investigate. As they look into the case, they find that very little in this case is a as it seems on the surface. It takes Gemma’s faith in Hazel and Duncan’s faith in Gemma to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Leaps of faith can cause a lot of anxiety and tension, so they often serve as effective sources of tension in crime fiction. What’s your view? Which novels have you enjoyed that use this plot point?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John and Tim Rice’s The Circle of Life.