When you start a new job, get promoted, or face a new situation, it can help to talk things over with someone who’s ‘been there’ – someone you trust. That person may or may not be an ‘official’ mentor, but it’s usually someone farther along in life. People who’ve had more experience (and, hopefully, more wisdom) can offer important insights and advice. That relationship can add a lot to a crime fiction series as a character grows.
For example, Håkan Nesser’s series begins with Chief Inspector Van Veeteren in charge of investigations in the fictional town of Maardam. Van Veeteren is good at his job. Unlike some other fictional police sleuths, he’s got the trust of those who work with him. They look up to him and respect him. As the series goes on, Van Veeteren retires to live out his dream of owning a rare book shop. But he’s still a natural detective and still interested in what’s going on with his former colleagues. And they still rely on him. In The Unlucky Lottery, for instance, Intendant Münster has been promoted, and leads the investigation into the murder of Waldemar Leverhuhn. The victim was out with some friends celebrating an unexpected lottery win. The next morning, he was found dead in his bed. There are several possible motives, and more than one suspect. Münster is bright and capable, but this is a difficult case. So, he consults more than once with Van Veeteren to get some insight and advice. In the end, he and his team find out who the killer was and what the motive was.
Tony Hillerman’s Sergeant Jim Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation. He’s also a member of the Navajo Tribal (now Nation) police. In several of the novels, he works for Captain Largo and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. In The Fallen Man, Chee takes a promotion to Acting Lieutenant. He soon gets involved in the investigation of an old missing person case, when Leaphorn (who has now retired) brings it to his attention. Chee’s under pressure to solve a series of cattle thefts in the area, but he does respect Leaphorn. So he starts looking into the matter. Among other things, Chee gets helpful input from Leaphorn about managing the administrative duties he now has. He and Leaphorn don’t always agree, but Chee knows that his former boss has a lot of wisdom, so he listens to what Leaphorn says.
Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche introduces Saskatoon PI Russell Quant. As the series begins, Quant isn’t exactly what you’d call immature, but he does have some growing to do. In the course of the series, he gets help with some of his cases, and with his personal life, from his uncle, Anthony Gatt. Gatt is the owner of a popular upscale men’s clothing business, so he is very well connected. Those connections are sometimes quite useful as Quant investigates. Both Quant and Gatt are gay, so Gatt’s also been helpful on a personal level as Quant has come to terms with his identity. Quant trusts his uncle, and usually listens to his advice and direction, even if it takes some time for him to do so.
Keigo Higashino’s Yanabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa is a Tokyo mathematician and physicist. He is also an old friend of police detective Shunpei Kusanagi. In Salvation of a Saint, Kusanagi and his team face a challenging case: the suicide (or was it?) of Yoshitaka Mashabi, who was found dead from poisoned coffee. If it was murder, there are several questions as to how the poison got into the coffee, who had access to both poison and coffee, and of course, who had a motive. Junior Detective Kaoru Utsumi wants to make good on this case and impress her superiors. She listens to what Kusanagi says, and makes efforts to learn from him. She is convinced that the victim’s wife is guilty, but can’t work out how the murder was committed, since the wife was out of town. She decides to consult with Yukawa about the case, and gets helpful advice from him. In this case, Utsumi gets useful guidance from more than one person who’s ‘been there.’
One of K.B. Owen’s series features Concordia Wells, a teacher at Hartford Women’s College. This series takes place at the very end of the 19th Century, a time when ‘proper’ ladies do not involve themselves in criminal investigations. But, in Dangerous and Unseemly, Miss Wells feels that she has no choice. The school she loves seems to be under threat. Worse, she’s had a death in her family. She starts asking questions, and soon finds that there’s much more going on than she had imagined. As the series goes on, she continues to try to balance what’s expected of her by society with her own interests. It’s not always easy to achieve, but she gets guidance from Miss Penelope Hamilton, who is a Pinkerton’s agent. Miss Wells consults with Miss Hamilton, gets advice from her, and even takes a dangerous train journey with her in Unseemly Haste. It’s an interesting relationship, and we see, as the series continues, how both women benefit from it.
Inspector Antsi Ketola features in Jan Costin Wagner’s The Silence. He’s on the point of retirement, but he’s still haunted by the 1974 disappearance and murder of Pia Lehtinen. The case remains unsolved, and Ketola doesn’t want to leave without some answers. Then another case comes up. Sinikka Vehkasalo disappears on the way to a volleyball game. Her bicycle is found near a cross that marks the place where Pia went missing, and there could be a connection. Inspector Kimmo Joentaa is in charge of this new investigation, and he knows that Ketola has ‘been there,’ and understands what he’s facing. So Joentaa consults Ketola about both cases. It turns out that some secrets have lain hidden for long time.
It can be helpful and even comforting to get some input from someone who’s been there and can offer useful insights. That’s especially true when a person’s new at a job. Little wonder that this happens a lot in crime fiction. These are just a few examples. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Maria.