For example, in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA A Holiday For Murder and Murder For Christmas), Simeon Lee invites all of the members of his family to spend the Christmas holiday at Gorston Hall, the family home. Simeon Lee is an unpleasant man who’s treated many of his family members badly; but, he’s also a very wealthy man with a strong personality, so no-one dares refuse his invitation. Everyone gathers at Gorston Hall, but tragedy strikes on Christmas Eve when Simeon Lee is brutally murdered. Hercule Poirot is spending Christmas with a friend nearby, and gets involved in the investigation. All of the guests come in for their share of suspicion, and not all of the family members get along. So the atmosphere is tense and uncomfortable. But in the midst of this atmosphere, two of the guests have one of those “magic moments.” Simeon Lee’s grand-daughter Pilar Estravados, and Stephen Farr, son of Lee’s old business partner, discover a storage closet where they find all sorts of Christmas decorations and treats that weren’t brought out because of the tragedy. One of the things they find is balloons. Like two children, they blow up balloons and start tossing them back and forth to each other up and down a long hall. It’s a fun little moment in the midst of an ugly murder investigation.
In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, mystery novelist Harriet Vane has been invited back to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College, Oxford, to participate in its annual Gaudy Dinner celebration She’s not at all sure she should accept the invitation. She’s recently achieved a certain amount of notoriety after being on trial for murder (Strong Poison tells this story) and is not sure of her welcome. On the way to Oxford, though, Harriet has one of those “magic moments.” She’s very glad she’s got her own car, instead of having to go to Oxford by train as she did when she was a student:
“For a few hours more she could ignore the whimpering ghost of her dead youth and tell herself that she was a stranger and a sojourner, a well-to-do-woman with a position in the world.”
That drive to Oxford lifts Harriet’s spirits, and when she gets there, she finds herself much more warmly welcomed than she’d feared. After the celebration, Harriet returns home, only to go back to Shrewsbury a few months later when the Dean of the College asks her to help get to the bottom of a disturbing series of events at the school. In the end, with help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet finds out who’s responsible for the vandalism and other occurrences (including an attack on Harriet herself) that have upset everyone at the school.
Caroline Graham’s Inspector Barnaby has one of those special moments in A Place of Safety. In that novel, Charlie Leathers is out late one night walking his dog when he sees what looks like a murder. Curate’s wife Ann Lawrence is struggling on a bridge with Carlotta Ryan, a troubled teen who’s been living with the Lawrences. Carlotta goes over the bridge and apparently drowns. All is not as it seems, though and very soon afterwards, Leathers himself is garroted. Inspector Tom Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy investigate both incidents, and find that they’re related to each other and that there’s more to Carlotta Ryan’s disappearance than it seems. In an interesting sub-plot, Barnaby and his wife Joyce are about to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. There’s much discussion of gifts and so on, and at the end of the novel, the Barnaby family goes out to dinner. They arrive home when Barnaby discovers to his delight that his gift is a new lawn mower. He and Joyce are out in the yard when they hear that Barnaby’s daughter Cully and her husband Nicolas have put music on and are playing it for them. The very last words of the novel really show a special side of Tom and Joyce Barnaby:
“They stood quietly as more and more stars gathered, holding fast against the relentless movement of time that changes all things. And then they began to dance.”
In Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, newspaper columnist Jim Qwilleran investigates a series of suspicious fires at old mines. What’s making matters worse is that the area is suffering a terrible drought, so there’s an even greater than usual risk that the fires will spread and wreak havoc. In fact, everyone’s hoping for the arrival of the first major snowstorm of the year. Then a fire brigade volunteer is shot dead in one of the mine shafts. Qwilleran is sure that the murder and the arson fires are connected, and so they are. At the end of the novel, after the case is solved, the weather finally begins to co-operate and when the first lazy flakes of the coming storm fall, there’s an appealing “magic moment” scene when the usually-cynical Qwilleran, entranced by the scene, goes outside and sticks out his tongue to catch snowflakes.
Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has a “magic moment” in The Serpent Pool, in which she and her Cold Case Review team investigate the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. It turns out that this case is related to two more recent murders – the deaths of book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg. Those two murders are being investigated by Scarlett’s friend and co-worker Fern Larter. The two agree to have breakfast one morning at the Beast Banks Breakfast Bar to discuss the cases and indulge in deliciously unhealthy food. The scene gives the reader some important information about the cases, but we can also see that that visit to the restaurant gives both women a needed lift. It’s a warm conversation between friends, and Fern, especially, lightens the mood of the story at that point.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe has learned a great deal about savouring those “magic moments.” In many of the novels in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, we see how Mma Ramotswe takes the time to relish a walk, a cup of bush tea, the view from a window or the taste of a meal. It’s an interesting perspective on life, and awfully appealing.
But what do you think? Do you reach out for those “magic moments?” Do you think they have a place in crime fiction, or do you think they take away from the story? Which are your favourite “magic moments” in the novels you’ve read?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.