Can good come out of something as awful as murder? You might not think so; after all, murder is a horrible thing, and it has a lifelong impact on those affected by it. And yet, it is sometimes possible for good to come out of a tragedy. And it can add a welcome note of hope to a story when that happens in crime fiction. It’s got to be done carefully. In real life, people don’t live ‘happily ever after’ in the wake of a murder. But if it’s done well, having something good come out of a tragedy can lighten an otherwise very sad story.
There are several examples of this in Agatha Christie’s stories. One of them is Sad Cypress. Elinor Carlisle is put on trial for murder in the poisoning death of Mary Gerrard. She had motive, too. For one thing, Elinor’s fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman, had become infatuated with Mary. He and Elinor grew up with her, but they hadn’t seen her for several years. When they returned for a visit, Roddy was immediately enthralled. As if that’s not enough, Mary stood to inherit a fortune from her patron – and Elinor’s aunt – Laura Welman. It had always been assumed that Elinor would be the beneficiary, but Aunt Laura developed a fondness for Mary. With all of this, plus some other evidence, it looks very much as though Elinor murdered Mary. But the local GP, Peter Lord, doesn’t believe Elinor is guilty. And even if she is, he wants her name cleared, because he’s become smitten with her. So, he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. It’s a very difficult time for Elinor, and at the end, she’s mentally and physically exhausted. So, she takes some time away to stay at a sanatorium. The one person she wants as a visitor is Peter Lord, and we see that their friendship – or could it be more? – is a good thing that’s come out of all that happened.
In Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn reconnects with an old friend, famous artist Sally Love. The Mendel Gallery is planning to open an exhibition of Sally’s work, and Joanne is looking forward to attending, and, perhaps, to re-establishing a friendship that fell apart after Sally left town at the age of thirteen. It’s not as easy as Joanne hoped to be Sally’s friend again, and matters get even murkier when Clea Poole, who owns the Mendel, is murdered. And when Sally becomes a suspect, Joanne is drawn into a dark case that changes the way she views her friend and her own past. As it turns out, Sally has a young daughter, Taylor. At the end of this sad, unsettling story, Joanne takes Taylor in, and in the course of the series, forges a relationship with her and ends up adopting her. It’s one good thing in Joanne’s life (and Taylor’s) that has come from the tragedies in the story.
Donna Morrissey’s The Fortunate Brother is the story of Sylvanus and Addie Now. They live in The Beaches, Newfoundland, with their son, Kyle. Their daughter, Sylvie, is grown and has left home. Three years before the events in the novel, the oldest Now child, Chris, was killed in an oil rig accident in Alberta, and the family is still reeling from the loss. They’ve become fragmented, and they haven’t communicated well. Everything starts to change when a local bully named Clar Gillard is murdered. The police begin their investigation, and they soon find plenty of suspects. Gillard was abusive to his wife, and malicious to many other people in town. Gradually, though, it begins to look as though one of the members of the Now family might be responsible for the murder. Each one of the family members comes under scrutiny, as each one could have had a motive. It’s an awful time for all of them. But the one good thing that comes out of it is that the family draws together. The experience of being suspected of murder leads them to depend on each other and support each other. And in the end, this allows them to start the process of healing from Chris’ death.
Greenlight is Kalpana Swaminatham’s sixth book to feature retired Mumbai police detective Lalli. The focus of the novel is the small slum of Kandewadi. The people there have little money, but they do have pride and strong family bonds. The community is badly shaken when a series of its children go missing and are later found dead. It’s a harrowing and terrifying situation for the residents. When the media get hold of the story, there’s pressure to find out who is responsible, so the case is given to Inspector Savio, who has worked with Lalli before, and still consults her on some cases. The truth about the killings is ugly, but some good does come out of the awfulness. There are some real questions raised about the inequities of social class differences, and those questions force the inequities into the spotlight as a result of what happens.
There’s also Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. The protagonist, also called Finn Bell, reaches a watershed time in his life. His marriage has ended, and a car crash has left him without the use of his legs. He’s hit bottom, so in an effort to start over, he takes a cottage in the small town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island,
‘…almost as close to the bottom of the world as you can get without actually moving to Antarctica.’
He hasn’t been there long when he discovers that tragedy struck the former owners of the cottage. In 1988, Emily and James Cotter’s daughter, Alice, went missing and was never found. A year later, James also disappeared. Bell starts asking questions about what happened, and ends up being drawn into real danger as he turns up some ugly things going on in the town. It’s a very sad story, but some good does come out of it. As Bell investigates, he slowly starts to find his way back to the human race, as you might say, and begins to see some purpose in his life. He also begins to fit in with the other people in Riverton in a way he hadn’t imagined he could.
Murder is awful and tragic. But sometimes, in real life and in crime fiction, some good can be salvaged from the sorrow. And when that happens, it can make the fact of the killing just a little easier to bear.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lucy Dacus’ Map on a Wall.