Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has a passion for order and neatness. One of his “pet peeves” is sloppiness, whether it’s in the way something is folded or the way someone thinks. More than once he gets annoyed with Captain Hastings, for instance, for untidiness. For example, in The ABC Murders, the two work with the police to solve a series of murders. Before each murder, Poirot receives a cryptic warning letter. One of the warning notes arrives only a few hours before the murder is supposed to occur. With little time to lose, Hastings tries to help by packing a suitcase for himself and one for Poirot. Here’s Poirot’s reaction:
“‘Mais qu’es-ct que vous faites-là?’
‘I was packing for you. I thought it would save time.’
‘…Is that a way to fold a coat? And regard what you have done to my pyjamas. If the hairwash breaks what will befall them?’
‘Good heavens, Poirot,’ I cried, ‘this is a matter of life and death. What does it matter what happens to our clothes?’
‘You have no sense of proportion, Hastings. We cannot catch a train earlier than the time that it leaves, and to ruin one’s clothes will not be the least helpful in preventing a murder.’”
Interestingly, there are a few stories in which Poirot’s “pet peeve” about neatness helps him to solve cases. For instance, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he and Hastings investigate the murder of wealthy Emily Inglethorp. Most of her relations are eager for money, so there are plenty of suspects. Poirot’s looking for a key piece of evidence against the person he’s sure is the murderer. It’s not until Hastings makes a remark about Poirot’s habit of setting untidiness to rights that Poirot realises where the evidence must be. He finds it and it proves to be central to incriminating the culprit.
Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse is rather cantankerous and has several “pet peeves.” One of them is language usage. He’s quite a purist when it comes to standard English, and gets irritated at what he perceives as mistakes. For instance, in The Secret of Annexe 3, he and Sergeant Lewis are investigating the New Year’s Eve murder of a costumed partygoer at the Haworth Hotel’s New Year’s gala. Towards the end of the novel, Lewis gets a hard-won statement from someone who was, in a way, a party to the crime, and he’s very pleased with himself. Excited, he brings the statement to Morse who reads it over. Morse’s response?
“‘The adverb from ‘bad’ is ‘badly,’ mumbled Morse.”
Lewis, too, has “pet peeves.” One of them is his boss’ tendency to leave Lewis to pay his pub tabs.
Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus also has a few “pet peeves.” One of them is office politics. He wants to get the job done, and he has very little patience for the niceties of officaldom. In fact, as any fan of the Rebus novels knows, Rebus gets in more than one conflict because he doesn’t respect the “way things work.” Rebus also isn’t much of a one for traveling. Although he does go afield in Tooth and Nail and Black and Blue, Rebus much prefers his own Edinburgh.
And then there’s Andrea Camilleri’s Commissario Salvo Montalbano. He takes his cuisine very, very seriously, and one of his pet peeves is when people don’t appreciate fine food. For instance, in The Snack Thief, Montalbano and his team investigate two quite different but related murders. One is the shooting of a Tunisian sailor working on an Italian fishing boat. The other is the stabbing of a retired businessman in the elevator of his apartment building. One afternoon, Montalbano is having lunch at one of his favourite local restaurants when his colleague Mimì Augello joins him at the restaurant. Augello then orders his own meal.
“When the spaghetti arrived, Montalbano had fortunately finished his hake. Fortunately, because Mimì proceeded to sprinkle a generous helping of Parmesan cheese over his plate. Christ! Even a hyena, which, being a hyena, feeds on carrion, would have been sickened to see a dish of pasta with clam sauce covered with Parmesan.”
Of course, Augello’s taste in food isn’t the only thing that annoys Montalbano about him, but this is a good example of the way Montalbano feels about anyone who doesn’t respect good food.
In Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s short story collection Candied Crime, we meet Knavesborough resident Arnold Kickinbottom, an amateur mushroom enthusiast. One of his pet peeves is his wife Mildred’s relations, especially her two aunts. In fact, in A Christmas Tragedy, Arnold is terribly upset because Mildred’s aunts are spending the Christmas holidays, and
“…Christmas with Mildred’s catty old aunts around the house was already more than most human beings could bear.”
When Mildred’s crazy uncle visits, too, it’s more than Arnold can stand, so he devises his own way of dealing with the problem.
Whether it’s loud neighbours, litterers, or something else, we all have “pet peeves,” so it really does make sense that crime fiction characters would have them, too. What are the pet peeves of your favourite sleuths? If you’re a writer, what is it that most annoys your protagonist?
On Another Note...
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel's Close to the Borderline.