Several of Agatha Christie’s novels include characters who try to start over. For instance, in The Hollow, we meet successful Harley Street specialist John Christow. He’s got a devoted wife and two healthy children, but he’s never quite been able to forget his first love Veronica Cray. Then one week-end, Christow and his wife Gerda are invited to the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Unbeknownst to Christow, Veronica Cray has taken a “getaway” cottage nearby and one night during the Christows’ visit, she bursts in on the gathering. It turns out that she’s orchestrated her visit because she’s never been able to forget John, either. She insists on having him see her back to her cottage and in no time, it’s clear to Christow that his former love wants to rekindle their romance. Christow discovers, though, that he’s no longer interested. He tells Veronica that he really doesn’t love her, although he once did. Veronica is baffled, upset and hurt at this rejection as she realises that the two of them are not going to be able to start over. Her feelings quickly turn to hatred, andex this gives her a motive for murder when the next afternoon, John Christow is shot by the Angkatells’ swimming pool. Hercule Poirot has also taken a nearby cottage and gets involved in the investigation of Christow’s murder. Poirot and Inspector Grange sift through the clues and evidence and find out who really killed Christow and why.
Mystery novelist Harriet Vane gets a chance to start over in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. In that novel, she’s arrested and charged with the poisoning murder of her former lover Philip Boyes. There’s plenty of evidence against her, too; she and Boyes had recently quarreled, and she actually had arsenic in her possession (she claims that she was using the arsenic for research for an upcoming novel). Lord Peter Wimsey attends her trial and becomes smitten with her. When the jury can’t reach agreement on a verdict, Harriet Vane gets a “do-over” – a second chance to prove her innocent. This time, Wimsey determines to clear her name, since he wants to marry her. With help from some of his friends, Wimsey gets the clues he needs to find out who really killed Philip Boyes.
Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus has certainly had his share of moments to regret. He has quite a lot of difficulty with the policies and authority structure of the police department, and frequently gets himself in trouble because of his inability or unwillingness to “play by the rules.” Still, he’s a brilliant detective with a lot of courage, and the department is loath to get ride of him entirely. So in Resurrection Men, they offer Rebus and several other police officers a chance to start over. Rebus is in serious trouble for throwing a mug of tea at DCS Gill Templer. Immediately he realizes he’s gone too far:
“Rebus sat down then, one finger punching the desk as if trying to find the rewind button on life’s remote control.”
The department remands Rebus to Tullialan Police College, along with several other officers who’ve also had difficulties with authority. Their purpose there is re-education and the opportunity to learn to work as a team. To that end, the Resurrection Men (or “Wild Bunch,” as they are also called) are given a cold case to solve. In 1995, Eric Lomax, a small-time gangster and crook with a vicious reputation, was beaten to death. His murder was never solved, so the Resurrection Men are assigned to go over the facts, get any fresh evidence they can and solve the murder. Beneath the surface, though, Rebus has another purpose for returning to Tullilalan: it’s suspected that some of the other Resurrection Men are involved in illegal activities, and it’s Rebus’ mission to find out who’s involved. While this is going on, Siobhan Clarke is investigating the murder of art dealer Edward Marber. She gets surreptitious help from Rebus in solving the case and as it turns out, that case has a surprising tie to the Lomax murder.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch gets a “do-over” in Echo Park when Raynard Waits is convicted of two brutal murders. Waits knows he’s probably going to get the death penalty, so he hints that in exchange for his life, he’ll give the police information on other cases. One of those cases is the disappearance of Marie Gesto, who walked out of a Hollywood supermarket one night and never made it home. Bosch investigated the Gesto case and, although he had a suspect in mind, he was never able to make a case. When he finds out that Wait may know something about the Gesto case, Bosch goes to see him. In the course of their interactions, Bosch learns that when he first investigated the Gesto disappearance, he missed an important clue. This time, he’s determined to put that right and bring the killer of Marie Gesto to justice.
You might say that Bosch gets a personal “do-over,” too. In The Black Echo, Bosch’s first outing, he meets FBI Agent Eleanor Wish. Bosch discovers that a dead man found in a drainage ditch is a former army buddy of Bosch’s from Viet Nam named William Meadows. At first, Meadows’ death is considered the regrettable but straightforward death of a junkie. Bosch soon suspects otherwise, though, and before he knows it, he’s involved in a much more complicated case than he could have imagined. In the course of the investigation, he gets involved with Wish. Their relationship is interrupted, but Bosch and Wish get a chance to start over in Trunk Music. In that novel, Bosch is investigating the apparent mob killing of independent film-maker Aliso, whose body is found stuffed in the trunk of his Rolls Royce. The L.A.P.D. doesn’t seem particularly interested in finding out the truth about Aliso, but, Harry Bosch being Harry Bosch, that doesn’t stop him from investigating. He “follows the money” in this case, and it leads him to Las Vegas – and right back to Eleanor Wish. The two of them re-establish their relationship and end up together. But again, Harry Bosch being Harry Bosch, we know it’s not going to be as simple for them as that…
In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Mma. Precious Ramotswe gives a “do-over” to a client, Mr. Molefelo, a successful civil engineer who’s also a landowner and ostrich-rancher. A near-death experience at his ostrich ranch has convinced Mr. Molefelo that he needs to go back and set several things right. Years ago, when he was a very young man, Mr. Molefelo lived with generous and kind Mma. Tsolamosese and her husband while he attended college. At the time, he got his girlfriend, Tebogo Bathopi, pregnant and did nothing to help her; in fact, he sent her away. He also stole a radio from Mma. Tsolamosese. Now, Mr. Molefelo wants a “do-over;” he wants to meet with both women, ask their forgiveness and give them money in recompense. Mma. Ramotswe agrees, and patiently tracks down both women. In the end, they are re-united with Mr. Molefelo so that he can make a fresh start.
In Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig’s) Delicious and Suspicious, we meet Sebastian “Seb” Taylor. He’s the son of Lulu Taylor, who owns Aunt Pat’s Barbecue in Memphis. Seb’s made somewhat of a mess of his adult life in New York City, so he decides to go home to Memphis and be “just Seb Taylor,” surrounded by family and friends. His plans are scuttled when Rebbeca Adrian, a scout for the Cooking Channel, is poisoned just after eating at Aunt Pat’s and the Taylor family comes in for its share of suspicion in her murder. Lulu Taylor is determined to clear the names of her family and her restaurant, so she investigates the murder. In the end, she’s able to find out who’s responsible.
It’s the most natural thing in the world to wish for a “Restart.” That’s why characters who are in that situation can have so much appeal. We sometimes cheer them on in their efforts to start over. Which are your favourites?
My sincere thanks to Clarissa Draper, who was kind enough to award Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... this beautiful Cherry on Top Award. I’m quite honoured and flattered, especially considering what a superb blog Clarissa has.
As a part of this award, I’m supposed to answer this question:
If I had the chance to go back and change one thing in my life, would I, and what would it be?
Like everyone else, I’ve made my share of mistakes, bad decisions and the all-too-common opening-mouth-before-thinking blunders. But really, I’m a very fortunate person. I really think the only thing I would change, if I could, is that I might have started writing fiction sooner than I did…. Not bad, I guess ;-).
How about you? I’ve been asked to actually pass this award along, but I think it’d be more interesting to just put the question out. What do you think??? Would you take advantage of a “do-over?”
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over.