You’ve Got to Get Tough*

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, we are introduced to Amy Folliat. Her family owned Nasse House, Devon, for generations. The property had to be sold, though, and now she rents the lodge from Nasse House’s owner, Sir George Stubbs. She’s weathered her share of other troubles, too, including the deaths of her husband and sons. Then, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is murdered during a charity fête at the estate.  On the same day, Sir George’s wife, Lady Hattie Stubbs, disappears. Detective novelist Ariadne Oliver has been commissioned to design a Murder Hunt, a bit like a scavenger hunt, for the fête, and she senses very early on that something isn’t right. So, she persuades Hercule Poirot to visit. At one point, he has a conversation with Mrs. Folliat, during which he says that it must be hard for her to have strangers living on her family’s property. Her response is, ‘So many things are hard, M. Poirot.’ And they are. Yet, Mrs. Folliat gets on with her life, and bears her burdens, as the saying goes.

Mrs. Folliat has grit and resilience; she is a survivor. But she’s certainly not the only tough character in crime fiction. We also see that sort of grit in the character of Helena Nováková, whom we meet in Heda Margolius Kovály’s Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street. This novel takes place in 1950’s Prague, at a time when Czechoslovakia is very much under the control of the ruling Communist Party. Dissension is brutally crushed, and everyone is afraid of being denounced. Helena works at the Horizon Cinema, and doesn’t have much of a life outside of her job. Part of the reason for that is that her husband is in prison for ‘subversion.’ Helena has to cope with that loss and stress; she also has to cope with being a social outcast. No-one wants to be seen spending time with the wife of a subversive, which means she has very few friends. Then, the body of eight-year-old Josef Vrba is found in the projection room at the cinema. Captain Václav Nedoma investigates, and all of the employees, including Helena, are under suspicion. As if that’s not enough, Nedoma’s body is found in his car on the street outside the cinema. Now there’s even more suspicion, and it doesn’t help Helena at all that she’s already considered questionable. Despite all of these difficulties, though, she goes to work, she does her job, she gets through life as best she can.

There’s also James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, a police detective based in New Iberia, Louisiana. As we learn early in this series, he’s a Vietnam war veteran who saw some truly ugly action during that war. That experience has left him with occasional nightmares and other signs of PTSD, but he gets on with his life. As the series goes on, Robicheaux goes through quite a lot. He loses loved ones, gets into serious danger, and is betrayed more than once by people he thought he could trust. He’s no superhero; he makes mistakes, gets injured, and feels fear and pain when they come. At the same time, he has grit. He keeps living and he keeps trying to do the best job that he can.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s Charlie Berlin has, quite literally, been through the war. In The Digger’s Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947, we learn that Berlin was a member of the RAF during the war. He was captured and spent time as a prisoner of war. When the war ended, he returned to his home in Melbourne. Now, he’s been seconded to Wodonga to help solve a string of robberies. While he’s there, he also gets involved in a murder investigation when the body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is discovered in an alley. In this novel, as well as the other Berlin novels, Blackwattle Creek and St. Kilda Blues, we see that Berlin’s got grit and toughness, which he needs. He endures more than his share of trouble, and he’s certainly impacted by them. But he wakes up in the morning, does his job, and keeps going.

So does Cat Connor’s Ellie Iverson, who ‘stars’ in Connor’s Byte series. She’s a Supervising Special Agent (SAS) for the FBI, who’s seen more than her share of danger and worse. In more than one book in the series, she’s lost friends, colleagues, and loved ones, and she feels each loss. She grieves those losses and feels the trauma she’s been through, as people do. But she doesn’t let the things that have happened to her rule her life, if I can put it that way. She does her job, she has friends, she has a loving husband and children, and she moves along. She’s a human being with vulnerabilities, but she has grit.

There are a lot of other crime-fictional characters with grit and perseverance; space doesn’t allow me to mention them all. They feel the same pain, fear, grief, sorrow, and more that anyone might feel who’s been through difficult times. But they get on with life. They don’t bemoan their fates, complain loudly, or give up. They keep going. Which gritty, tough characters have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s All About Soul.


6 thoughts on “You’ve Got to Get Tough*

  1. Margot: Your mention of a Czech book set during Communist times reminded me of the only book I have read set in that era and country. Daniel Smiricky in The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky lives through Nazi occupation and then Communist dictatorship. While he is not physically tough he has a mental toughness I am not sure I could have maintained in those difficult times.


    1. Thanks, Bill, for bringing up the Skorecky. I’ll admit I’ve not (yet) read it, but I know what you mean about mental toughness. That’s at least as important as physical toughness when it comes to surviving life’s ups and downs, especially at that time and in that society. Folks, do read Bill’s excellent review of The Miracle Game


  2. How about Harry Bosch, Margot? He has been mentally scarred by serving in Vietnam and has other losses along the way, but he keeps going . . .


    1. You’ve absolutely right, Christine. Harry Bosch is definitely a character with grit and resilience. He keeps his focus, does his job well, and doesn’t let his trauma get in the way of doing the best job that he can. I’m glad you mentioned him.


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