In many crime fiction novels, characters lose their lives. Those deaths are often the focus of the novel. But there’s another side to the genre. Sometimes, characters’ lives are saved. If you’ve ever had the experience of saving someone’s life, you know that it’s hard to put that feeling into words. And the person whose life is saved most likely feels at least as strongly about it. When it happens in crime fiction, saving a life can lift a novel up. Certainly it can add welcome relief to a story.
Some of Agatha Christie’s stories involve someone saving a life. In The Hollow, for instance, Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell invite several people to their home for a weekend party. One of the guests, Dr. John Christow, is shot on the Sunday afternoon. Hercule Poirot has taken a cottage in the area, and in fact, was invited for lunch on that day. When he arrives, he finds Christow’s body by the pool, with the supposed killer standing nearby, holding the gun. All is not as it seems, though, and Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who the killer really is. In one sub-plot of the novel, a romance is developing between two guests, Midge Hardcastle and Edward Angkatell. At one point, Edward attempts suicide. Midge finds him just in time and is able to rescue him. It’s a poignant moment for both of them, and it shows the impact of saving a life/having one’s life saved.
Tony Hillerman’ The Ghostway features Navajo Tribal Police (now Navajo Nation Police) detective Sergeant Jim Chee. One of the cases he’s pursuing is the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi. She went missing from the residential school she attends, and Chee is working to find her as soon as he can. He learns that she is a relative of a man whose murder he is investigating, and he’s afraid she may be the next victim. He manages to trace the girl to the Los Angeles area, where he sees her getting into a van belonging to the killer he’s seeking. He pretends to be very drunk, and approaches the van, making himself as obvious as he can. That distracts the killer just long enough that Margaret can get out of the van. The ruse works, and in fact, Margaret ends up saving Chee’s life, too. The two of them have a special sort of bond because of that.
In Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, we are introduced to Buenos Aires police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. It’s the late 1970’s, a very dangerous time to live in Buenos Aires, and Lescano has to be very careful about everything he says and does. Any hint of disloyalty, however imaginary, can be a death warrant. One morning, Lescano is called to a riverbank, where three bodies have been discovered. The first two bear all the hallmarks of an army ‘hit,’ and Lescano knows better than to question them. The third, though, is just different enough that Lescano decides to investigate quietly. What he finds turns out to be very dangerous, and he will have to use every strategy he knows to stay alive. At one point, he and his men are ordered to clear out a brothel. As he’s doing a final search of the place, he discovers a young woman named Eva hiding under a table. He knows that she will likely be killed if she is caught there. So he takes her to safety and gives her temporary shelter at his home. A real bond develops between them as a result of that moment.
In Vanda Symon’s Containment, Detective Constable Sam Shepherd tries to help keep order when a ship runs aground in Otago Harbour. The ship’s cargo spills out, and before long, there’s a lot of looting and fighting over it. When Shepherd tries to break up a fight between two people, one of them attacks her. She’s not very badly wounded, but her attacker is, and in fact, nearly dies in the ambulance. Shepherd saves his life, in part because that’s what she’s been trained to do, and in part because it’s the right thing to do. The experience is intense, and it has a real impact on her.
In Paul Cleave’s Whatever it Takes, we meet Deputy Noah Harper, who works in the small town of Acacia Pines. When seven-year-old Alyssa Stone goes missing, Harper determines to do whatever it takes to find her and bring her back safely. And that means crossing a lot of lines. He finds out where Alyssa is in time to save her life, so on that score, he’s succeeded. But this case has cost him everything. So, he pulls up stakes and moves to the city. Still, he feels an obligation to Alyssa, and she feels a bond with him. Twelve years later, that bond comes back to the surface when Alyssa goes missing again. Harper returns to Acacia Pines to find her, and he’s just as determined this time as he was before. This case is a lot more complex than he things, though, and a lot more dangerous.
There is something unique about saving someone’s life. Whether a person is a trained professional (like a first responder) or an everyday ‘average Joe,’ saving a person’s life has a way of linking two people together. These are just a few examples of how that works in crime fiction. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Elton John.