For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, Hercule Poirot investigates the strangling murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, who was killed while she was en route to Hyères to meet her lover, Count Armand de la Roche. Ruth had with her a valuable ruby necklace that’s been stolen and in order to track down her killer, Poirot wants to find out what’s happened to the necklace. He knows that it could take a very long time to do that, if it’s even possible, by going through the usual procedures. So instead, he contacts an acquaintance, M. Demetrius Papopolous, a well-known dealer in jewels. Poirot did M. Papoplous a favour many years earlier, so Papopolous is happy to be of service. Without directly saying anything, he tells Poirot what he knows about the jewels, and with that information, Poirot is able to trace what’s happened to them. That information helps him catch Ruth Kettering’s killer.
Poirot uses his social connections, too, when he investigates cases. For instance, in Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), he’s investigating the sixteen-year-old poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. Crale’s wife Caroline was convicted and imprisoned for the crime, and with good reason. The evidence incriminated her and she had reason to believe that her husband was going to leave her for another woman. The Crales’ daughter Carla believes that her mother was innocent, though, and asks Poirot to look into the matter. In order to find out the truth, Poirot meets and talks with all five of the other people who were “on the scene” on the day of the murder. With several of them, that’s easy enough, but not with Meredith Blake, one of Crale’s close friends. Blake’s old-fashioned and Poirot knows that he can’t “barge in” announced. So he brings with him two letters of introduction. Interestingly, one of them is from Lady Mary Lytton Gore, whom we meet in Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts). Once Blake reads these endorsements, he slowly unbends. It’s a really interesting example of investigation being a matter of whom one knows.
We also see examples of how important “who you know” is in Dorothy Sayers’ novels. For instance, in Strong Poison, Lord Peter Wimsey attends the murder trial of mystery novelist Harriet Vane, who’s been charged with poisoning her former lover Philip Boyes. Wimsey is immediately smitten with Harriet and wants to clear her name so that he can marry her. Wimsey gets help and information from several people he knows in order to find out who really poisoned Boyes. For instance, one of his acquaintances, Miss Katherine Climpson, runs an employment agency, and Wimsey uses that connection to place a “mole” in the office of one of his suspects. Wimsey and Inspector Charles Parker use their friendship to compare notes and get evidence that wouldn’t be easily available to either of them otherwise, and together, they solve the case.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti is well aware of how things really get done in his city of Venice. Very little actually gets learned through official procedures, so much of his work is accomplished through his and others’ connections. For instance, in About Face, he’s approached by Maggior Filippo Guarini of the Carabinieri. Guarini wants Brunetti’s help with an investigation into illegal trucking and shipping activities. Brunetti has no love for the Carabinieri, and he has no reason to trust Guarini. So at first, the men’s conversation is more a “fencing match” than it is an actual exchange of information. Then, the two men realise that they’re not getting anywhere, so they hit on the idea of finding a mutual acquaintance who will speak up for each man. They agree on Beppe Avisano, a well-known journalist. It’s not until Avisano vouches for both Brunetti and Guarini that the two men agree to work together. In this novel as well as several other of Leon’s novels, we see quite a number of examples of using connections in the work of Signornia Elettra Zorzi. She’s the assistant to Brunetti’s boss Guiseppe Patta, and has connections all over Venice. She often finds out important information from friends, family members and acquaintances.
Sometimes, “who you know” becomes a hindrance to detectives, too. For instance, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch goes up against highly-placed people. In Angels Flight, for example, he’s investigating the murder of well-known attorney Elias Howard. Howard has a track record of prosecuting lawsuits against the L.A.P.D. and in fact, was on the point of starting a new trial when he was killed. This case was on behalf of Michael Harris, who was convicted of the rape and murder of twelve-year-old Stacey Kincaid. Harris claims not only that he was innocent, but also that the police tortured him to make him confess to the crime. Since Howard was championing Harris’ cause, the most likely suspects in his murder are highly-placed members of the L.A.P.D. So now, Bosch has to contend with powerful opponents at the top of the L.A.P.D “ladder” who know all sorts of influential people. He’s also up against Stacey Kincaid’s killer, who also knows enough of the “right people” to have remained “hidden.”
We also see a case of “who you know” in C.J. Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye. Jack and Melissa McGuane are the happy adoptive parents of beautiful baby Angelina. Their lives are shattered when Angelina’s biological father, eighteen-year-old Garrett Moreland, decides to exercise his paternal rights. He’d never legally waived them, so what he’s doing is, technically, legal. Still, McGuane can’t imagine why he would suddenly take an interest in Angelina since he never had before. The McGuanes resolve to do whatever it takes to keep Angelina, but they are up against formidable opponents. Garrett Moreland’s father is a powerful judge who will do whatever is necessary to support his son. Besides that, Garrett’s got other, much less respectable but equally powerful, friends who will support him. In the end, Jack McGuane goes to lengths he would never have imagined to try to keep his family together.
In Shona McLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, grammar-school undermaster Alexander Seaton is shocked when the body of Patrick Davidson, the apothecary’s assistant, is found in his classroom one morning. It turns out that Davidson’s been poisoned, and Seaton’s friend Charles Thom is accused of the murder. Thom’s got a motive, too, since he and Davidson were rivals for Marion Arbuthnott, the apothecary’s daughter. Thom begs Seaton to clear his name, and Seaton agrees. He’s up against some powerful forces, though. Davidson’s killer makes good use of highly-placed friends to “hide.” In the end, though, Seaton discovers who the killer is.
The network of people one knows often plays an important part in real life, and certainly in crime fiction, too. Which novels have you enjoyed that feature that plot point?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Marx’s Don’t Mean Nothing.