I’m a Lot Like You*

It’s interesting to see how similar parents and their children can be, whether that’s what they want or not. Sometimes it’s very conscious (‘I want to be a _____, just like my mother/father.’). Other times, the similarities are almost subconscious. But they’re often there. If you’ve ever heard yourself saying things your parent said, or enjoying the same hobby, or sharing a parent’s political beliefs, you know what I mean. If you see yourself in things that your child says or does, you know what I mean.

Crime-fictional characters are no different, really. And exploring those similarities can add depths to a character and interest to a story. Sometimes, they’re a major part of the plot. But even when they’re not, it’s interesting to see how certain traits and even mannerisms are passed along.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, for instance, Harley Street specialist John Christow and his wife Gerda are invited to spend the weekend at the home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. On the Sunday afternoon, John Christow is shot by the swimming pool. Hercule Poirot has been invited for lunch, and he arrives just in time to see the immediate aftermath of the shooting. At first, the case looks very clear: Christow is lying by the pool, and there’s a pistol in the hand of his killer. But things are not that simple. When the pistol is found to be different to the one that killed the victim, Inspector Grange knows that this case will be complex. He and Poirot, each in their own way, work to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the course of the story, we get to know Christow’s son, Terry. Like his father, Terry has a real interest in science, and likes to do experiments. He also wants to get to the truth about his father’s murder. In fact, at one point, Gerda says, ‘Terry always has to know.’ It’s not spoiling the story to say that Terry is not the killer. But it is interesting to see the similarities between him and his father.

Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc is a Paris private investigator. She and her business partner René Friant own the PI firm Leduc Detective. Their specialty is computer crime, electronic security, and hacking.  But they get drawn into murder, too, beginning with Murder in the Marais.  In that novel, we learn that Aimée’s father used to own the agency. He was killed during the course of an investigation, and his murder has never been solved. One story arc that’s woven through the series is his daughter’s search for the truth about his death. The two have a very similar curiosity and determination as well as resourcefulness.

Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide is the story of the Bretton family. Allan ‘Tug’ Bretton captains the Brisbane-based fishing trawler Sea Mistress. He is sidelined, though, when his leg is broken during an incident that leads to the murder of Ewan McKay, a deckhand from another trawler. The Brisbane police believe that Bretton is the murderer, but he claims innocence. Still, he’s unable to take the Sea Mistress out to keep the family fishing business open. Bretton’s twenty-nine-year-old daughter Samantha ‘Sam’ finally convinces her father to let her skipper the trawler, so they can take care of their financial needs. He’s reluctant, but there really is no choice. Sam’s going to need a deckhand, and for that, she hires Chayse Jarrett. What she doesn’t know at first is that Jarrett is an undercover cop investigating the McEwan murder. His assignment is to find out if there is any connection between the Bretton family and the drugs trade, and if Tug Bretton killed McKay. Sam wants to find McKay’s killer, too, to clear her father’s name. Both she and Jarrett find a great deal more danger than either one planned. They also find an important connection between the murder and the long-ago voyage of another ship. Throughout the novel, we see that Sam is very much like her father. She loves the sea and is a skilled skipper. She’s also devoted to the family busines, as her father is, and has a similar sense of independence and even stubbornness. Their similarities aren’t a major psychological thread in the novel, but they’re definitely there.

There are also real similarities between parent and child in Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Gerda Klein and her family left (then) East Germany during the early 1980s, a time when that country was firmly under control of the dreaded Stasi – secret police. They ended up in a small town on New Zealand’s South Island and made a new life for themselves. As the novel begins, Gerda’s daughter, Ilse, is a secondary school teacher. She begins to be concerned about one of her most promising pupils, fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. The girl’s been missing a lot of school; when she is there, she doesn’t participate. A visit to the Freeman family is unsuccessful, and Ilse remains worried. Then, Serena disappears. Now, Ilse is truly afraid for the girl. She and Gerda start working together to find out what happened to Serena, and find themselves more deeply involved in her life than they thought they would. Gerda and Ilse Klein do have differences, but they are both strong, independent women who have the same sense of right and wrong, and the same willingness to get involved when they are needed. Their personalities are more similar than it may seem at the surface.

And then there are seventeen-year-old Lee Southern and his father Jack, whom we meet in David Whish-Wilson’s True West. As the novel begins, Lee is driving his father’s truck to Perth, in search of a new life. He’s hoping to make a living using the truck to rescue stranded motorists. At the very least it’s a start. He’s also trying to outrun a gang called the Knights, who may very well be after him. As though that’s not enough, he soon finds out that the tow business is already controlled by a vicious gang who have no interest in sharing the proceeds with him. Things get very dangerous, and Lee has to use all of his survivalist skills to stay alive. Interestingly, he learned those skills from Jack, who is a dedicated survivalist. The two are quite similar in their personalities, and they have a similar love of and knowledge of the outdoors. Throughout the novel, we see how much Lee resembles his father.

And that’s the thing about parents and their children. Sometimes, of course, they’re not alike at all (that’s the stuff of another post!). But sometimes, it’s remarkable how similar they can be. Which parent/child sets have stayed with you?

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Old Man.


10 thoughts on “I’m a Lot Like You*

  1. Oh no my previous comment just disappeared. Wanted to say thank you for introducing me to some new books and characters above. I quite like the parent/child relationship as long as it doesn’t overwhelm the story. In the later books in the Wallander series, his daughter Linda joins the police too and displays her father’s stubbornness and quick temper.

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    1. I’m so sorry to hear your other comment disappeared, Marina Sofia. I checked my spam folder, and it wasn’t there, so I’m not sure what happened. At any rate, I like the way Linda’s character develops, too. She is similar to her father in some ways, as you say. And it’s especially interesting to see how they interact. Parent/child relationships can be awfully complicated, but they can add to a story if they’re woven in effectively, I think.

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  2. Margot: Your post set me thinking in real life and fiction. Litigation forms the majority of my practice and my two sons are litigators. It is a regret that they practise in Calgary rather than here with me. They are happy and I am glad they enjoy being lawyers.

    It occurs often in real life that children join their parents in the practice of law.

    Thus it was a surprise when I went through the list of legal mysteries I have read and found only two books in which I can recall parent / child law practice. And both involved daughters joining fathers.

    One was Scott Turow’s most recent book, The Last Case, in which Sandy Stern is joined by his daughter, Marta. Were he to have carried on his granddaughter, Pinky, might have made it a tri-generation firm.

    The other was in the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey in which Perveen joins her father, Jamshedji, in his Bombay practice.

    I am going to have think further about the dearth of multi-generational fictional law firms.

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    1. That’s a really interesting perspective, Bill. I’m glad you mentioned both novels. Sandy Stern is a great character, and I like it that Turow explores his family that way. It’s a sort of natural development in her career, as it is in Purveen Mistry’s as she joins her father. It is fascinating that there aren’t more characters and plot points like that in legal novels, as it does happen in a lot in real life, I should expect. I’m glad your sons are happy being attorneys. They have a good role model.

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  3. None spring to mind to add to your list, but I do like knowing a little about characters’ families, so long as it’s kept fairly low-key. It’s always a bit unrealistic when detectives, especially younger ones, never seem to visit parents or siblings.

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    1. That’s true, FictionFan. We all come from somewhere, and it is more realistic to show those ties to parents and other family members. And, yes, doing it low-key works better, I think. For me, plot and character are a lot more important than all of those details, so it’s best done as a matter-of-fact sort of thing. Hmmm…you’re giving me ‘food for thought’ for the next Patricia Stanley novel. Thank you 🙂

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  4. I’m struggling to think of any examples I can recall from my reading. I have True West on the TBR pile, it sounds so good, plus he has another Frank Swann book out towards the end of the year. I also like the sound of the Richardson book also, I like books featuring the Stasi, though here it might just be background rather than relevant to the main story.

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    1. I’m really looking forward to Whish-Wilson’s next Frank Swann book, Col. Line of Sight and Zero at the Bone were excellent, I thought. And I recommend True West when you get to it. It’s a standalone, and it’s just very well done, in my opinion. I have to admit to a bias when it comes to Paddy Richardson’s work. I’m a big fan of hers, and I think Swimming in the Dark is a top-notch novel. And there are sections in the novel that portray what life was like under the Stasi. It’s one part of the book, not the major part of the novel, but it does give, as you say, some background on the characters.

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