Taking Public Transportation
Millions of people commute every day on trains, buses or trams and don’t think anything of it. But it’s amazing how often this gets people involved in murder cases. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, Anne Beddingfield is waiting at Hyde Park Corner’s tube station when she notices a man who’s waiting on the same platform. Then, without warning, the man notices something or someone who frightens him, steps backwards and falls beneath an oncoming train. Anne’s horrified, but at the same time fascinated. When the man’s body is pulled from the train tracks back up onto the platform, Anne notices a piece of paper that’s fluttered out of the dead man’s pocket. She picks up the paper inconspicuously and tries to decipher the cryptic message written on it. Before she knows it, Anne Beddingfield is involved in a high-stakes adventure that includes international intrigue, stolen jewels and murder.
In Luiz Alfredo García-Roza's Alone in the Crowd, a group of people are waiting at a bus stop a block away from Rio de Janeiro’s 12th Precinct police station. Most of them are going through their regular routines and not paying any attention. They’re suddenly drawn into an investigation when Laura Sales Ribeiro falls – or is pushed – in front of an oncoming bus. Inspector Espinosa of the 12th Precinct is informed of Dona Laureta’s death – and of the surprising fact that just half an hour before her death, Dona Laureta had actually visited the station, asking to speak to him. At the time, Espinosa’d been in a meeting and couldn’t see anyone, and Dona Laureta had told the receptionist that she’d come back shortly and talk to the inspector then. Now, Espinosa is intrigued by Dona Laureta’s death, and he and his team begin to retrace her steps to try to find out what she’d have wanted to tell him. Espinosa’s search for answers leads him to Hugo Breno, a teller at Rio de Janeiro’s Caixa Econômica Federal – and to Espinosa’s own past.
Being at Work
We may get angry at co-workers or bosses, but those of us who aren’t private investigators or police detectives don’t expect to get involved in a murder investigation while we’re at work. Yet that’s just what happens in plenty of crime fiction. For example, in Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, we get an inside look at the employees of Pym’s Publicity, Ltd., a most respectable advertising agency. One afternoon, copywriter Victor Dean falls to his death down a spiral staircase. At first, his death is passed off as a terrible accident. But Dean left behind him a half-finished letter in which he insinuated that a fellow employee has been using company resources for illegal purposes. So the company’s top managers decide to look into the matter. They’re too concerned about the company’s reputation to call in the police, so they engage Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate. He goes undercover at the agency and finds out that one of the employees has been using company advertising to arrange meetings between a powerful drugs ring and local dealers. Now, all of the employees are caught up in a murder investigation as Wimsey works to find out which employee is guilty.
In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly, the employees of Giovanni De Cal’s Venice glass factory find themselves unexpectedly caught up in a murder investigation when the body of Giorgio Tassini is found near one of the company’s furnaces early one morning. Tassini worked nights at the factory, and at first, his death is believed to be an accident. Soon, though, Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello discover that Tassini was murdered. There’s motive, too, since Tassini was a vocal critic of the local glass factories’ unsafe and illegal disposal of toxic waste. Now, everyone in the company is involved as the detectives investigate the murder.
Walking the Dog
What could be more safe and innocent than walking the family dog? And yet, it’s surprising how many witnesses are drawn into an investigation because of what their dog has found. Just ask Colonel Jerome, whom we meet in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Early one morning, he takes his dog for a walk along the beach near Bexhill. The dog discovers the strangled body of twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Barnard. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings get involved in the investigation because this death seems to be the work of a serial killer who sends Poirot cryptic warning letters before each murder, and leaves an ABC railway guide near each body. In the end, and after two more deaths, Poirot is able to figure out who the killer is and what ties the victims’ lives together.
And then there’s Mackenzie “Mac” Smith, a Georgetown University Law School professor whom we meet in Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center. He’s walking his dog late one night when the dog finds the body of Andrea Feldman. Feldman was a staffer for Senator Ken Ewald, who’s making a bid for the presidency of the United States. As it turns out, Smith is a friend of the Ewald family, so when Paul Ewald, the senator’s son, is arrested for the murder, the Ewald family asks Smith to take over the defense. He agrees and begins looking into the matter. Smith’s investigation leads to several hidden secrets, dirty politics and power hunger.
Eating at a Restaurant
Most people think of a meal at a pub or restaurant as a relaxing way to enjoy oneself. But even going to a restaurant can catch people up in the web of murder. For instance, in Philip R. Craig’s A Vineyard Killing, the E. and E Deli on Martha’s Vineyard is busy with the lunchtime crowd. Then, Donald and Paul Fox and Brad Hillborough enter the restaurant. The Fox brothers own Saberfox, a very unpopular real estate development company; Hillborough is Donald Fox’s assistant. Just as the three men leave the restaurant, a shot rings out and Paul Fox crumples to the ground. He escapes death only because he happened to be wearing a bulletproof vest. Now, the police begin an investigation that involves everyone who was at the restaurant, including J.W. Jackson, a local fisherman and part-time private investigator, who’s Craig’s sleuth. Jackson soon finds that several local people had a strong motive to want Paul and Donald Fox out of the way.
And then there are the patrons of Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, whom we meet in Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Delicious and Suspicious. Aunt Pat’s is popular and has a very loyal following, so it’s crowded one afternoon when Rebecca Adrian, food scout for the Cooking Channel, visits. She’s in Memphis to find out which restaurant has the best barbecue in town. Aunt Pat’s is one of the finalists, so everyone’s excited and determined to make her meal perfect. Shortly afterwards, Rebecca Adrian dies of what turns out to be poison. The restaurant was busy, so no-one paid much attention to what anyone was doing. That means that just about everyone in the restaurant is caught up in the investigation. Lulu Taylor, the restaurant’s owner, knows that her family members and staff are under suspicion, so she decides to find out who killed Adrian.
Relaxing at Home
With all of the risk involved in even everyday things, maybe it’s best just to stay home. Surely that couldn’t involve anyone in a murder. Or could it? In Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, architect Alfred Thipps finds the body of an unknown man in his bathtub. Soon enough, he’s accused of the murder. But his employer, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, doesn’t think Thipps is guilty. So she asks her son, Lord Peter Wimsey, to investigate. He agrees and soon finds that this case is much more complicated than it seems on the surface. In fact, the dead body in Thipps’ bathtub is connected with the disappearance of well-known financier Sir Reuben Levy, although not in the way you might think.
And in Elizabeth Ferrars’ Something Wicked, retired professor Andrew Basnett thinks he’s going to have a quiet, even relaxing winter staying at the cottage of his nephew Peter Dilly. When he arrives in the village of Godlingham, he soon settles in and is welcomed by the locals. Then he begins to hear local gossip about his wealthy neighbour Pauline Hewison, who’s said to have murdered her husband Charles in order to prevent him from giving most of his fortune to underwrite Newsome’s, a school run by his brother Henry. Basnett’s curious about the case and intrigued by the enigmatic Pauline Hewison. So he begins to ask some questions and look into the stories he’s heard. Then one day, he gets a call from Henry Hewison, who tells Basnett he’s found something new about the death that he wants to share with Basnett. They agree to meet at Basnett’s home but when Basnett arrives, he finds Hewitt’s body in his living room. Even at home, Basnett’s caught up in the murder investigation.
Let’s face it; murder happens in lots of different places. Crime fiction shows us that even doing everyday things like commuting, eating at a restaurant or just being at home doesn’t mean you can’t get caught up in murder. You can even get caught up in a murder investigation by reading blog posts…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Amy Macdonald’s An Ordinary Life