Even fictional characters enjoy escaping. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot investigates the shooting death of his dentist Henry Morley. At first, Morley’s murder is assumed to have a personal motivation, but it’s soon proven that Morley’s death was part of something larger. One of the witnesses Poirot interviews is Morley’s page-boy Alfred, whose duties are to answer the door at the practice, escort patients in and out and inform Morley and his partner when patients arrive. When he’s not on duty, Alfred enjoys reading detective stories. In fact, he’s reading one when Morley is shot. As he later tells Poirot,
It's an American detective story. It's a corker, sir, it really is! All about gunmen."
In Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, we meet Miss Russell, housekeeper for wealthy retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd. One day, Miss Russell visits Dr. James Sheppard, local doctor in the village of King’s Abbott. After consulting him on the medical business she says has brought her there, Miss Russell begins to ask Dr. Sheppard about rare poisons:
“‘Ah,’ I said, ‘You’ve been reading detective stories.’
She admitted that she had…
I should never have suspected Miss Russell of a fondness for detective stories. It pleases me very much to think of her stepping out of the housekeeper’s room to rebuke a delinquent housemaid, and then returning to a comfortable perusal of The Mystery of the Seventh Death or something of the kind.”
Miss Russell’s visit to the doctor takes on a different meaning when Ackroyd is found stabbed to death one evening in his study. Hercule Poirot, who has moved into the house next door to Dr. Sheppard’s home, is persuaded to take the case, although he had planned to retire. He finds that, like just about all of the suspects in the murder, Miss Russell was hiding something. In the end, Poirot finds out who is hiding the fact of being a murderer.
Eugene “Huge” Smalls who stars in James W. Fuerst’s Huge, enjoys escaping through reading, too. He’s a twelve-year-old misfit who’s highly intelligent but has few social skills. To make matters worse, he’s on the small side and has trouble managing his temper. He’s a little awkward, too. The one thing Huge enjoys doing is reading about famous detectives such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He’s caught up in those characters and wants to be a detective himself. Huge gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who’s defaced the sign at the retirement home where she lives. Huge takes the case and ends up learning about himself as he finds out who’s responsible for the vandalism.
Of course, in real life we like to read for escape, too. Sometimes, we escape through thrillers. Fans of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon, for instance, enjoy being caught up in the crosses, double-crosses, excitements and chases of Allon’s work as a member of an exclusive and top-secret Israeli Intelligence group called The Office. For most of us, our daily lives don’t involve catching terrorists and being paid to carry off assassinations. So it can be an enjoyable escape to follow along with someone whose daily life does involve those things.
And then there’s Lindy Cameron’s Redback, which I’m savouring right now. That’s the story of Redback, a crack retrieval team led by Bryn Gideon. The team gets involved early in the novel in the rescue of a group of people who’d attended a conference on Laui Island in the Pacific. But their work is far from done once that rescue’s been pulled off. American journalist Scott Dreher is investigating the way governments use computer games for recruitment. That research, plus a series of murders and other attacks shows that there’s a dangerous international terrorist plot to use those recruitment games for very nasty purposes. Now Dreher, the Redback team and the intelligence forces of several nations get swept up in the effort to quell the terrorist plot and stop the “bad guys.” I confess, I’ve not finished the novel yet, but I’m enjoying the ride! Part of the appeal of well-written thrillers like this one is that we can believe the events could happen. There’s just enough reality in them to catch our attention. And the pace and action keep readers turning pages and leaving the regular life of work, dishes, commuting and so on behind.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of thrillers. Some people like to escape into other historical times. And there are lots of good historical mysteries that allow the reader to experience what it’s like to live in another time. That’s part of the appeal of novels like Shona MacLean’s Alexander Seaton novels, which take the reader to 17th Century Scotland and Ireland. Seaton is a teacher, first in a grammar school in Banff and then as a university teacher in Aberdeen. As Seaton gets involved in solving crimes and unravelling mysteries, we get to see what life was like for those who lived in that place, in that time. MacLean’s novels stay focused on the mysteries at hand, but we also learn about customs, lifestyles and even language patterns of the time in which the novels are set. That’s also the appeal of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series and Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel novels. Both of those series take place in 1930’s Germany and in them, readers can experience what life might have been like for ordinary people during that time. The novels are focused on the mysteries at hand, but we also get a look at the times during which they take place.
Still other readers escape through comic capers or light cosy reading. Our “escape” novels may not leave us with a great deal of new information, or a lot of “food for thought.” But if they have solid plots and can whisk us away, maybe that isn’t such a problem. But what do you think? Do you read just for escape? Or do you prefer reading that has more “meat” to it? If you read for escape, what’s your preferred “getaway vehicle?” If you’re a writer, do you write with “escape” in mind?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Piña Colada Song).