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.