For example, in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), we meet Julia and Isabel Tripp. They’re spiritualists, vegetarians and firm believers in mysticism, and they’ve gotten their friend Wilhelmina “Minnie” Lawson interested in the “spirit world.” Minnie Lawson’s employer Miss Emily Arundell doesn’t think much of spiritualism but she doesn’t see any harm in it either. Besides, Miss Arundell’s got other things on her mind. She’s a wealthy woman with financially-desperate relations. One night, Miss Arundell has a fall down the stairs of her home and is nearly killed. Everyone thinks it’s an accident, but Miss Arundell suspects otherwise. So she writes a letter to Hercule Poirot asking him to investigate. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Miss Arundell’s home in the village of Market Basing, but by the time they get there it’s too late; Miss Arundell has died of what’s suspected to be liver failure. Poirot believes she was murdered, though, and he and Hastings look into the matter. Throughout the novel, the Misses Tripp add a touch of fascinating colour to the story because of their unusual personalities and lifestyles. They and Miss Lawton also provide an important clue to Poirot when they describe a séance they had shortly before Miss Arundell’s death.
In Christie’s Third Girl, Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who thinks she may have committed a murder. She leaves without giving her name, though, and Poirot doesn’t see how he can help. Then, with help from detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot discovers that the woman is Norma Restarick and that since her visit to Poirot, she seems to have disappeared. As he and Oliver search for Norma, they meet Norma’s boyfriend David Baker, who is very much a non-conformist. Baker wears his hair long, dresses, as Poirot puts it, “not unlike a VanDyke portrait,” and has such a colourful appearance that Oliver refers to him as The Peacock. Baker is also a non-conformist in other ways, especially for the time during which the novel was written. That’s part of what draws Norma to him. Interestingly enough, because David is a non-conformist, he comes under suspicion when Norma disappears. Later, when Ariadne Oliver has an unusual encounter with him, he comes under even more suspicion. It’s not until Baker becomes a victim himself that we begin to see how he fits into the larger scheme of things.
In Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, Queen takes a home in one of the suburbs of Hollywood so he can get some peace and quiet for writing. His writing is interrupted by Lauren Hill, whose father Leander has recently died of a heart attack. Lauren’s convinced, though, that her father’s death was deliberately brought on by a mysterious person who’d been sending warning letters and “gifts.” Queen is persuaded to begin investigating when Lauren Hill tells him that her father’s business partner Roger Priam has also been receiving eerie “gifts.” So Queen begins to look into the lives of both men. That’s how he meets Priam’s stepson Crowe “Mac” MacGowan. Mac is very much a non-conformist. He lives in a tree house on the Priam property, dresses in loincloths when he has to and nothing at all when he can get away with it, and believes that society is on the brink of destruction. In fact, he claims that his whole lifestyle is really in preparation for life after The Bomb that he is convinced will destroy life as we know it. In the end, though, Mac does provide Queen with some useful information he needs to solve the mystery.
There are several non-conformists in Shona MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. That novel takes place in 17th Century Scotland, a very different time and place to today’s world. Marion Arbuthnott is the daughter of the local apothecary. She’s also in love with her father’s assistant Patrick Davidson. When Davidson dies of what turns out to be poisoning, many people begin to think that Marion Arbuthnott may know more than she’s saying about the death. She knows an unusual amount about plants and herbs, goes off by herself and in other ways does not behave “normally.” Rumours about her begin to spread even more when she disappears and then is later found dead. Then, it’s discovered that she’d been spending time visiting an old woman known as the Wise Woman of Darkwater. Rumours have been going round for quite a while that the Wise Woman is engaged in witchcraft. So now, the story begins to spread that Marion Arbuthnott, too, was a witch. The fact that she has not conformed to what society expects of her has tragic consequences in this case. In the end, though, grammar school undermaster Alexander Seaton (himself somewhat of a non-conformist) gets to the bottom of both Marion Arbuthnott’s death and that of Patrick Davidson.
Harry Beam, a “regular” in M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, is also not much of a conformist. He’s a team member in the detective agency she owns. Harry prefers motorcycle leathers to more conventional clothes, has a shaved head and can seem intimidating. He’s also technologically extremely savvy and is very helpful to his boss.
And then there’s Lisbeth Salander, one of the main characters in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. She works as a research assistant with Mikael Blomqvist, publisher of Millennium magazine. When Blomqvist loses a libel suit in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he finds himself in need of money if he wants to continue publishing Millennium. So he accepts a commission from wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to find out the truth behind the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet Vanger. Salander has the technical skills and the intelligence to be of great help during the investigation. She’s also a flagrant non-conformist. Multiply-tattooed and pierced, she’s a skilled kickboxer with no fear at all of what society will think of her. Although Salander’s refusal to conform puts her at grave risk, it also frees her, in a sense. She has no fear of “upsetting the apple cart,” and that helps her find answers.
These are only a few of the non-conformists that “spice up” crime fiction. Who are your favourites?
On Another Note…
My very sincere thanks to Clarissa Draper for passing along this Stylish Blogger Award. I truly appreciate it and I’m honoured – wow!
This award asks me to tell you seven things about myself. So in keeping with today’s post, I’ve decided to share seven things about me that may not exactly conform – at least not to popular culture ;-)
- I’m not in the least interested in celebrities, be they in movies, music, television or any other sphere. I really don’t follow their doings and don’t feel I’m missing out. OK, maybe Billy Joel, but that’s it.
- I like snow. Not that I don’t have my limits, but I like snow very much.
- If forced to choose between having TV or Internet, I’d give up television easily. But don’t come anywhere near my Ethernet cable!
- I home-schooled my daughter through high school. Not for religious reasons, but because our local high schools left far too much to be desired. So we enrolled her in a charter school with a major home school component. Looking back, I’m glad I did.
- I think best and work most productively at insanely early hours of the morning.
- When I travel, I avoid popular tourist stops. I much prefer to strike out on my own and explore.
- When I was a university student, I lived for a time in an off-campus dormitory that was – literally – located on the property of a junk yard. Really.
I know this award gets passed on, but if I did that, I’d be conforming ;-). I’d rather you celebrate what is unique about you and keep the award for yourself if you wish to. Tell ‘em Margot gave it to you.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Five Man Electrical Band's Signs.