A survey study that I read suggests that the average person has five careers in his or her lifetime. Of course, averages don't necessarily tell much about one person. But with many people living longer and being more mobile, it's not surprising to find that a lot of people don't stay with the same career throughout their entire lives. There's also the fact that for many people, there is nothing mandatory about retirement; they' re interested in life and want to find ways to continue to be creative and productive long after the age of sixty-five. So a lot of second (or third, or fourth….) careers begin after retirement. People who've had more than one career bring an interesting perspective to what they do. That's why, for instance, crime fiction novels written by former law enforcement professionals, attorneys or forensics professionals can be really informative. We also see this tendency for people to have more than one career, even after retirement, in crime fiction and that varied background can really make a sleuth an interesting person.
Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, for instance, has had more than one career. He was a member of the Belgian police force during a time when most people had one career throughout their lives. World War I forced him to flee to England where he had to start his life over. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, we find that he decided to retire from being a police detective and live a quiet country life. However, when wealthy retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd is stabbed in his study one night, Poirot is called back into action, so to speak. Ackroyd's niece Flora begs Poirot to find out who really killed Ackroyd and clear her fiancé Captain Ralph Paton of suspicion. In the course of the novel, Poirot realises that retirement is not for him, and becomes a world-famous private detective.
Private investigating is also a second career for Walter Mosley's Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins. Rawlins had a career working in an aircraft-manufacturing plant. But after World War II ended, the defense industry changed considerably and Rawlins was laid off from his job. Now unemployed and desperate to earn enough money to keep his house and take care of his family, Rawlins accepts an unusual commission in Devil in a Blue Dress. He's hired by DeWitt Albright to track down Daphne Monet, who seems to have stolen thirty thousand dollars from Todd Carter, a wealthy investment banker whom she jilted. Rawlins' success in this case earns him enough money to start life over, and so begins his new career as a PI.
Dick Francis' Sid Halley's been forced to take up a new career. He was a successful jockey. But in Odds Against, Halley's had a career-ending injury to his left hand. He needs a job desperately, so he takes a job with Hunt Radnor Associates, a private detective agency. Two years into his job there, he's shot. While he's recovering, his father-in-law Charles Roland convinces him to investigate Howard Kraye, whom Roland suspects of trying to take over his racetrack. Halley agrees and that decision hurtles him into a new career as a racetrack investigator.
And then there's Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder. He's a former New York City police officer whose life fell apart when he accidentally killed a young girl. In Sins of the Fathers, we learn that Scudder turned to drink, left his family and now earns his living as a private investigator. At first, he's unlicensed and earns his money doing what he calls "favors for friends." Later in the series, he stops drinking and actually earns his "official" PI license.
Private investigation wasn't the first career choice for Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, either. She joined the Santa Teresa, California police force, only to find that the structure and regulations of working on a police force didn't really suit her personality. So she joined a private investigation agency and since then, has struck out on her own. Millhone's case is interesting, too because we get to see the influence of her police academy training on the way she goes about her investigation.
My own Joel Williams has changed careers, too. He's a former Tilton, Pennsylvania police detective. After eighteen years on the force, he decided that he wanted to teach about law enforcement instead of practice it. So he went back to school and got his Ph.D. Now, he's in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, and he likes it. He enjoys teaching and working with students, and he very much enjoys keeping "real" hours and being able to be home for dinner most nights. Um, that doesn't stop him from getting involved in crime, though…
Some fictional sleuths don't leave the police force; instead, they change careers within the police force. For example, Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone was an L.A.P.D. homicide detective. But when his actress wife Jennifer Stone left him, he developed a drinking problem that cost him his job. Loaded with personal problems and the remnants of an injury from his days playing minor league baseball, Stone showed up drunk for an interview for the job of police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts. He got the job because the Powers that Be in the town thought that they could manipulate him. They were wrong. As the novels featuring him go on, Stone shows what a determined and independent-thinking police chief he is. As a person Stone's evolved, too. He struggles with his alcohol problem but is determined not to let his drinking rule his life. He's also trying to get his personal life back together.
Tim Comstock's Will Kempton has made a major change in careers within the police force, too. He worked for fourteen years as a narcotics cop in Jersey City, New Jersey (trust me; not a plum, easy assignment). After the death of his wife Debbie, Kempton moved with his two children to beautiful, peaceful Carmel, California to serve as chief of police. In Reunion at Carmel, Kempton and his children are settled into his new life and all's going well. Then, nineteen-year-old Brady Carson is brutally murdered. Then, there's another gruesome killing. Mayor Elliott Randolph is up for re-election against a media-savvy opponent who's only too eager to paint Randolph as a poor mayor and Kempton as an inept cop. So there's a lot of political and media pressure to solve the crime. Kempton hastily assembles a small group of local police officers to find the killer; they soon discover, though, that this murderer is not typical. He's a vicious, conscienceless killer who seems to be far more than the small team can handle. Now, Kempton has to, in a way, return to his old life to catch the criminal.
I'll be interested to see what this new year may bring in terms of sleuths' career changes. Patricia Stoltey's Sylvia Thorn retired from her position as a Florida judge at the end of The Prairie Grass Murders, and I look forward to finding out what she chooses next as a career. And Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus has retired, too. I wonder whether he'll be back and in what capacity. And what about Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch? He's approaching mandatory retirement age, and it'll be very interesting to find out what he does when that time comes. Only time will tell…
What about you? Have you changed careers? Have your favourite sleuths?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an REO Speedwagon song.