Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Rush...

Most of us have something that gives us energy and vitality, and “charges our batteries.” It might be sports, it might be a hobby such as ceramics, gardening or woodworking, or it might be something else. Whatever it is, it gives us a “rush,“ and that “rush” can often “recharge” us. In crime fiction, that “rush” can play an important role in a story. And even when it doesn’t, when we get to know characters and we learn what “recharges” them, this adds depth to a character, and interest to a story.

Some sleuths find that their work gives them that all-important “rush” of satisfaction. That’s the case, for instance, with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he craves the intellectual stimulation of problems so much that when he’s between clients, he substitutes cocaine and morphine for the “rush” he gets from solving cases. He’s never happier than when he’s been presented with a new problem. For instance, here’s a glimpse of Holmes’ eagerness when he rouses Watson to join him in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange:

“The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and told me at a glance that something was amiss.

"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"

In that story, Holmes and Watson discover who murdered Sir Eustace Brackenstall. It looks on the surface as though the notorious Randall gang, a well-known father-and-sons thieving operation, has struck the Brackenstall residence. But Holmes suspects the Randalls may be innocent of this crime, and he uses his famous deductive powers to find out who is really guilty.

P.D. James’ Inspector Kate Miskin also gets a “rush” from her job. In A Taste for Death, for instance, she and Commander Adam Dalgliesh are interviewing a suspect in the murder of MP Paul Berowne. The process of interviewing the suspect and getting closer to the killer gives Miskin a real “jolt” of satisfaction:

“She had enjoyed herself. Every minute of her brief confrontation with that self-satisfied poseur had been deeply pleasurable."

Dalgliesh senses his partner’s reaction and asks her about it. When Miskin responds that she enjoys the sense of power that investigating brings, Dalgliesh responds:

“No one joins the police without getting some enjoyment out of exercising power. No one joins the murder squad who hasn’t a taste for death. The danger begins when the pleasure becomes an end in itself. That’s when it’s time to think about another job.”

There are, of course, a lot of other fictional sleuths who also get that “rush” from their jobs, either the satisfaction of catching a “bad guy,” or the intellectual satisfaction of solving a puzzle.

Sometimes, of course, that “rush” can be dangerous. That’s what famous painter Amyas Crale finds out in Agatha Christie’s
Five Little Pigs. Crale has become infatuated with Elsa Greer, a beautiful and wealthy woman several years younger than Crale is. He agrees to paint her portrait, and brings her to his family home to sit for the painting, much to the consternation of his wife, Caroline. Crale and Elsa Greer are having an affair, but what really “recharges” Crale is his painting. That’s all that really matters to him and it gives him such deep satisfaction that he doesn’t even concern himself overly with the growing conflict between his wife and his mistress. He keeps saying it will “all pan out.” That focus on painting proves deadly when Crale is poisoned one afternoon. Caroline Crale is the logical suspect, and there is physical evidence against her. So she’s arrested, tried and convicted for the crime and dies in prison a year later. Sixteen years after the murder, the Crales’ daughter Carla visits Hercule Poirot, asking him to re-investigate the case. Carla is sure that her mother was innocent and wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees, and he interviews the five people who were “on the scene” the day of the murder. He also gets written narratives from each one, detailing the events of the day. From those narratives and his conversations, Poirot is able to figure out who the murderer was. What’s fascinating about this murder is that Amyas Crale was so caught up in the “rush” he got from painting that he wasn’t even aware of the danger around him.

Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) we meet Lady Cecily Horbury. She’s a former actress who’s married into the gentry, so to speak. Lady Horbury gets into trouble because she’s got two dangerous sources of that “rush of energy.” One is gambling. In fact, it’s gambling debts that cause her to borrow money from Madame Giselle, a French moneylender. When Lady Horbury finds herself unable to pay her debts, she becomes more and more desperate. This desperation gives her a very strong motive for murder. In fact, she becomes a suspect when Madame Giselle is poisoned during a flight from Paris to London, a flight on which Lady Horbury is also a passenger. Lady Horbury’s other source of a “rush” is cocaine, which she uses several times in the novel. Her drug use isn’t a major theme in the story, but it adds to her motive and it causes her thinking to be less clear and much more paranoid than it might otherwise be. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight as Madame Giselle is when she is poisoned, so he gets involved in the investigation. He looks into the backgrounds of the various suspects in the murder, and in Lady Horbury’s case, we see how the “rush” she gets, both from gambling and from cocaine use, have gotten her into trouble.

There are several novels, too, in which the criminal kills because of a certain “rush,” or in which the murder ends up giving the killer a dangerous “rush” of energy. For example, in Simon Beckett’s
Whispers of the Dead, forensic anthropologist David Hunter is up against a dangerous killer when he takes a trip to Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropological Laboratory. During that trip, a decomposing body is found in a cabin not far from the lab, and Hunter gets involved in the investigation. While the police and the forensic team are trying to get some answers, another body is discovered. Now the team knows that a serial killer is at work. But this isn’t a “typical” serial killer (if there is such a thing) who strikes back in revenge for childhood abuse. This killer is looking for a particular “rush,” which leads him to kill for a very specific reason.

That’s also true in Martin Edwards’
The Serpent Pool. In that novel, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her friend, Fern Larter, are faced with three murders. Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team are investigating the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. Larter and her squad are trying to find the killer of book collector George Saffell and successful attorney Stuart Wagg. The two detectives come to the conclusion that the deaths are all related, and so they are. As it turns out, this killer gets that sense of energy – that “rush – in a particular way that’s related to the murders. When Scarlett finds out what that “rush” is (with help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind), she’s able to figure out who the killer is.

Most of us enjoy that “jolt” of energy and satisfaction that we get from our work, our hobbies or something else. But sometimes, it can be dangerous. Which novels have you enjoyed that feature that “rush?”


  1. I love that moment in time in each mystery when the detectives find out who the murderer is and when they actually catch it. It's as much as a rush for me as it is for those on the trail. I think that's something readers of detective/suspense/thrillers get enjoyment from.
    Other than that, I can't really think of any jolting examples.

  2. Clarissa - Oh, I agree. The moment in the novel when the sleuth catches the "bad guy" is a "rush." It often is for the sleuth (unless the sleuth has a good reason to be sympathetic towards the murderer), and you are right; it is for the reader, too. That probably is one of the reason crime fiction fans love crime fiction: there is that "jolt" one gets from reading a good twist-and-turn-with-suspense kind of novel...

  3. The character that came to mind while I was reading this was Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb's series. Det. Eve Dallas always seems to get a 'rush' or 'jolt' when she's up against the killer.

    Thoughts in Progress

  4. Mason - You're right about Eve Dallas. She really does get a "rush" from besting a "bad guy." Thanks for mentioning her :-).

  5. What I think about first with the word "rush" is the rush that sociopaths get from their crimes. I find it very hard to read such books--ones about serial killers or abusers.

  6. Patti - Oh, I know what you mean. I find it disturbing to "get in their heads," too. Some of those books are well-written, but yes, it is awfully difficult.

  7. Oh, I LOVE five little pigs! I think the TV adaptation was fantastic as well!

  8. Alexandra - Isn't that a great novel? It works on many levels, not the least of which is the character development. We really learn about each character bit by bit, and that keeps the suspense strong.