For example, one of the very interesting characters in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect) is famous painter Amyas Crale. Oddly enough, when the novel begins, Crale’s been dead for sixteen years. His daughter Carla Lemarchant asks Hercule Poirot to investigate Crale’s murder; her mother Caroline Crale was arrested, tried and convicted for the murder and died in prison. But Carla is sure she was innocent. Poirot agrees to take the case and through his interviews with the people who were present at the time of the murder, and their accounts of the murder, we learn much about Amyas Crale. He’s a gifted painter whose creativity has made him truly passionate about his art. In Crale’s case, that passion has blinded him to the very real conflicts going on around him. In some ways, he’s self-aware; for instance, he tells his mistress Elsa Greer not to believe him or trust him, except for his art, saying that the best of him is in his art. That doesn’t keep him safe, though, and Poirot discovers that Crale’s obsession with his art is, in part, responsible for his murder.
And then there’s Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor whom we meet in Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours). She’s so focused on her creations that in many ways, they’re more important to her than are the people in her life. As a matter of fact, that quality in her is irksome to Dr. John Christow, successful Harley Street specialist whose mistress Henrietta is. In fact at one point, Christow says to her:
“‘I want to come first.’
‘You do, John.’
‘No, if I were dead, the first thing you’d do, with the tears streaming down your face, would be to start modelling some damned mourning woman or some figure of grief…’”
One week-end, Christow and his wife Gerda visit the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. When Christow is shot during their stay, Hercule Poirot, who’s staying at a cottage nearby, gets involved in the investigation. As he gets to know the various members of the Angkatell clan, Poirot sees the interesting kinds of creativity that run in the family. That creativity adds interest to this story.
John Christow’s character shows that creativity doesn’t have to take just one form. He’s passionate about his medical research, and in fact, is working on some groundbreaking treatments for Ridgeway’s Disease. Throughout the novel, we see his creativity come through as we learn about the different treatments he’s trying. We also see that kind of scientific creativity in some of Robin Cook’s work. For instance, in Acceptable Risk, we meet Edward Armstrong, a noted neuroscientist. He’s passionate about finding new treatments for clinical depression, so he’s excited to team up with Genetix, a breakout biotechnology company. Armstrong and his team are even more excited when they discover that a simple ergot may hold the key to a new treatment for depression. As they work around the clock to develop the treatment, we can see how their creativity comes through. We also see how it consumes them and what the terrifying consequences of that all-consuming passion are.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti meets some very creative people in Through a Glass, Darkly. In that novel, he and Ispettore Vianello investigate the death of Giorgio Tassini, who works nights at Giovanni De Cal’s glass-blowing factory. As they interview people and find out more about the factory, we get to see the passion people have for creating beautiful things. In fact, Brunetti is reminded of his childhood, when his own father worked in a glass-blowing factory, and he appreciates the creativity he sees at the factory:
“As they watched, he blew into one end of the iron canna, inflating the blog of glass at the other end. Quickly, with the grace of a baton twirler, he swung the glowing mass until it was just about the bucket and squeezed it carefully into the cylindrical tub, moving it up and down and slipping it around until it slid inside. He blew repeatedly into the end of the pipe, each puff forcing a halo of sparks to fly from the top of the tub.”
That spark of creativity isn’t the reason for Tassini’s murder, but it adds a fascinating layer to this story.
Very often, it’s the sleuth who’s creative. That makes sense, too. When we tap our creativity, it allows us to stretch our thinking and for the sleuth, it allows the chance to look at cases from different angles. Sometimes that’s just what’s needed to solve a case, too.
For instance, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is creative. His creative outlet is gardening, especially the growing of orchids. He tends to his garden all the time, and it’s often there that he reflects on the cases he’s investigating. In fact, he almost never leaves his home, because he finds the inspiration he needs there.
Ngaio Marsh’s Agatha Troy is an artist. That creativity gives her a very interesting perspective on the world. That perspective’s often quite helpful to her husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Agatha Troy has insights into people that help Alleyn makes sense of his cases. Of course, that creativity also gets Troy involved in murder cases…
And then of course, there’s Ariadne Olver, Agatha Christie’s fictitious detective novelist. Her creativity is with words, and she taps that creativity when she’s involved in cases. She’s got a rich imagination, and although it’s sometimes not focused, it’s made her, as Poirot puts it, a very shrewd judge of character. In Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, Oliver’s involved in the investigation of the strangling murder of fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker. Marlene was playing the part of the victim in a Murder Hunt (rather like a scavenger hunt) that Oliver created for a fête. When Inspector Bland asks Oliver if she can imagine why Marlene Tucker was killed, she says,
“At least, of course, I can imagine – I can imagine anything! That’s the trouble with me. I can imagine things now – this minute. I could even make them sound all right, but of course, none of them would be true. I mean….”
Oliver then mentions six different kinds of reasons that Marlene Tucker could have been murdered, much to the dismay of the inspector, who’s trying to make sense of her ideas.
That spark of creativity can “recharge batteries,” make people interested and interesting and add depth and life to a fictional character. How are you creative (and please don’t comment to tell me you are not!)? Which novels have you enjoyed that feature creativity?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Closer to the Heart.