This week I decided to look at sleuthing couples in crime fiction, as part of this month’s Tuesday Night Blogger theme, love. I think for most readers many of my choices won’t be surprising, but I guess one of the reasons why certain sleuthing couples are so well known is that they are also really good and memorable characters.
Beginning with the queens of crime there is of course Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford who feature in four novels and one short story collection. Unlike some sleuths from the golden age of detective fiction, these two age naturally and that is part of their charm as you see how their sleuthing adapts and changes depending on where they are in life. I would also say this sleuthing couple arguably have one of the most equal partnerships as in every case Tuppence has a dominant role to play and won’t take being pushed to side lines sitting down, as she demonstrates in N or M? (1941).
Equality is a key issue in my next sleuthing couple’s relationship and having said that no one will be surprise that the couple in question is Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. For some mystery fans their slow developing relationship is a turn off, but for me I really enjoyed seeing the process of it. In so many mysteries the couple get together over the course of one mystery and often in rather a predictable way. Therefore it is great to see a relationship developing perhaps a bit more realistically and from such unpromising starts in Strong Poison (1930) as well, as Wimsey first meets his future wife when she is being tried for murder. Equally I also love how meeting Vane turns Wimsey into a more fully fledged and more developed character.
Moving across the Atlantic to America, a sleuthing couple I enjoy on the whole (except in If the Shrouds Fits (1941)) are Kelley’s Roos’ Jeff and Haila Troy. At their best such as in The Frightened Stiff (1942), they are a pleasure to read with Roos’ pitching the comedy of their relationship at just the right level and both characters contribute significantly to the solving of the mystery.
From one Troy to another, I am not a massive fan of Ngaio Marsh’s work on the whole, but one which I do remember enjoying is a Clutch of Constables (1968), which is one of the rare stories where Inspector Alleyn’s wife, Agatha Troy plays a considerable role in the investigation, being at the heart of the case from the very beginning. Troy is an intelligent and sympathetic character to follow and it is a shame she doesn’t get such a prominent role in the series, excepting during Alleyn’s awkward and tentative courtship of her. The same could be said of Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways and his explorer wife Georgina. Not only is she given an early demise in the series, she only really features significantly in two of the 16 mysteries: Thou Shell of Death (1936) and The Smiler with the Knife (1939). This again I felt was a shame as she is a can do and capable woman, with a strong sense of adventure, (which probably helps when you are an explorer) and I think she and Nigel could have gone on to solve many a mystery in an exciting and daring fashion.
Looking at my choices so far a key determining factor has been the comic style which narrates their investigations and this is definitely the case with my next choice of Delano Ames’ Jane and Dagobert Brown. Their cases take place around the world and I think they are an engaging, though not always equal partnerships. The comedy often centres on the maverick nature of Dagobert and Jane’s responses to it, though I think she enjoys how her life is not always that conventional or ordinary. So far I have read the first four books in the series and until the last week or so I would have been adding a moaning sentence here of how impossible, The Body on Page One (1951), the fifth book in the series is to get a hold of, without having to schedule a bank robbery first. However, at long last I have found a more reasonably priced copy, with dust jacket to boot, so watch this space as I am definitely looking forward to reviewing this book soon.
My final choice are two characters who are more well-known for their appearance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Carrie Bebris’ seven book series, beginning with Pride and Prescience (2004), Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy (now married) work together to unravel various mysteries and crimes which occur on their travels. For the mystery purist I would recommend starting from the third book in the series, North by Northanger (2006), where the detection element is the dominant focus. Normally continuation novels are not my thing but this is one of the rare occasions where it works and I think Bebris has faithfully recreated Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as the other famous characters in Austen’s canon and have all these characters interact plausibly with one another, which is no mean feat. This is a series I will finally be returning to soon, as the next review coming up will be The Suspicion at Sanditon (2015). Having not read the original incomplete story this is based on I am intrigued to see how it will fare.
In my TBR pile I am looking forward to returning to Elizabeth Dean, with her book Murder is a Collector’s Item (1939). Emma March and her criminologist boyfriend Hank are the amateur couple this time round and the mysteries they become involved in, in this book and others, revolve around the antique business March works for. Looking at the synopsis I have high hopes that March will be fully involved in the sleuthing.
With the end of the post I guess it is time to comment briefly on omissions from the list. In the case of Frances and Richard Lockridge, who created the sleuthing couple Mr and Mrs North, I have only read one of their cases quite a while ago and I didn’t feel I could remember enough about them to include them on the list. Whilst writing this piece I was tempted to include June Wright’s Maggie Byrnes and her husband in So Bad a Death (1949), yet what held me back is that they don’t tend to work together. Instead they get involved into a case in their own way and take independent actions which yield key pieces of the mystery. It is only nearer the end that information swapping really begins to take place. There are also a few other omissions due to my personal bugbear of reading about couple sleuths, where the female half doesn’t seem to do very much other than get into peril or act like a nincompoop. Chief culprits of this misdemeanour are Frances Crane, Margaret Scherf and Francis Durbridge.