Investigating murder cases is difficult, both physically and mentally. Helping victims' families cope with the trauma, facing on a regular basis the reality of what humans can do to each other, and dealing with the long hours and stress takes a toll on the detective. It takes a special kind of person to be a detective for that reason. But even detectives, both fictional and real, are human. They have their limits and they, too, feel the trauma and the bleakness of the cases they investigate. How do they manage it?
Some sleuths take liquid solace. That's quite possibly why there are so many fictional detectives who drink. The best-written detectives, though, don't completely lose themselves in their drinking. For instance, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse arguably spends more time at his local than he does at home. And when he is at home, he's never far from a bottle. As he tells one character in The Daughters of Cain,
"Don't worry. I'm the only person in Oxford who gets more sober the more he drinks."
And yet, despite the amount of drinking Morse does, he's not your typical (if there is such a thing) alcoholic who's been bested by the bottle. Dyfunctional, quite possibly. But Morse's drinking doesn't get in the way of his ability to solve cases.
The same is true for Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus, Ann Cleeves' Inspector Stanhope and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. They do certainly spend their share of time drinking. And yet, it doesn't get in the way of their being able to do their jobs.
Other sleuths cope through spirituality. For example, Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee is a traditional Navajo. In fact, in the early novels that feature him, Chee is studying to be a yata'ali, or healer. He frequently takes solace in the traditions and rituals associated with Navajo spirituality and more than once, goes through cleansing ceremonies during and after difficult cases. Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun also takes solace in the spiritual. He shares his body with a thousand-year-old shaman named Yeh Ming, and often focuses himself by meditating. Dr. Siri doesn't "officially" practice a religion. In fact, in The Coroner's Lunch, we learn that
"…he wasn't much better at Buddhism than he was at Communism…"
Still, the ancient spirituality of his native Laos is an important source of solace to him.
At times, wisecracks get detectives through the terrible work they sometimes have to do. It's not that these detectives aren't aware of how horrible murder is. But making jokes can help them cope with the terrible reality of it. For instance, in Kel Robertson's Smoke and Mirrors, Australian Federal Police officer Brad Chen is recruited to investigate the murder of former politician Alec Dennet and editor Lorraine Starke, both of whom were wearing night-clothes when they were killed. As Chen's looking at the video of the crime scene, he asks,
"'Who's the woman?'…
'Lorraine Starke, senior editor at New Horizon Books. She was working with Dennet, finalizing his memoirs.'
'It looks like she was working overtime on the hardest bits if she was visiting his bedroom in her jarmies,' said Turner."
The camera shows details of Starke's wounds:
"'See how deep that is' said Talkative as the aspiring cinematographer…
'Yeah, very nasty,' I [Chen] said. 'I don't think I can handle much more without Jaffas or a choc top.'
… Turner tapped on my shoulder with a foil-wrapped roll of chocolate-coated caramels."
Some sleuths cope with the bleakness and sorrow of murder by distancing themselves from the tragedy of it and treating it, you might even say, as a challenge. Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot does that. For example, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Captain Arthur Hastings is staying with his friend John Cavendish at Styles Court, the family home. While Hastings is there, Cavendish's wealthy stepmother Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. Staying in nearby Styles St. Mary is Hercule Poirot, who is among several Belgian war refugees whom Mrs. Inglethorp had sponsored and helped. Poirot considers Mrs. Inglethorp his benefactor and is shaken and upset by her death. But he deals with that tragedy by determining to solve the problem of her murder.
Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes also treats the tragedies he has to face as much like intellectual puzzles as anything else. It's not that he has no feelings for the victims of tragedy and their families. For instance, he acts with real compassion in The Adventure of the Dancing Men, The Adventure of the Abby Grange and The Adventure of Sir Charles Augustus Milverton. However, he detaches himself from the emotional "fallout" of the crimes and feels that he can do the most good by not getting caught up in the tragic aspect of what he does.
But even Sherlock Holmes seeks solace from time to time. He plays the violin, both to help him think and to work through his own reactions to the cases he takes. For instance, in A Study in Scarlet, he and Watson are working on the mystery surrounding the murders of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. At one point in the novel, they think they've gotten a clue to the killer from an old woman. But it turns out that the clue was a ruse. Holmes is angry with himself for being "taken," and
"…long into the watches of the night I [Watson] heard the low melancholy wailings of his violin, and knew that he was still pondering over the strange problem which he had set himself to unravel."
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch seeks solace in music, too. His choice is the jazz saxophone and in The Black Ice, we learn that he seeks out jazz music more than he does the company of people.
Of course, there are also several fictional sleuths who cope with the pain and tragedy of their jobs by surrounding themselves with loving families. That's how Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti, Caroline Graham's Tom Barnaby and Ruth Rendell's Reg Wexford cope. You might say that's the healthiest way to cope with the trauma of the job.
What about your favourite sleuths? What are their coping strategies? If you're a writer, how do your characters cope?
On Another Note…
Having good people in our lives is an important way to cope with the stresses all of us face. I'm lucky to have people such as Mason Canyon in my life. The host of Thoughts in Progress, Mason shares all sorts of reviews, guest author bloggers and updates (oh, and great giveaways, too!). My thanks to Mason for this terrific Fair Dinkum award. I'm honoured and flattered. Folks, please check Mason's blog out if you haven't already. You'll be glad you did.
NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles' Hard Day's Night.