It’s not for everyone, but lots of people enjoy going camping. Of course, people’s definition of what ‘counts’ as camping vary. For some, it’s not camping unless it’s in a wood or other wild area, with rudimentary shelter, a fire you make on your own, and dinner caught from the local river. For others, camping is simply a slightly rustic hotel with paths you can walk when the weather is nice. However you define camping, it’s a popular activity, with lots of blogs, shopping sites, campgrounds, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that it comes up a lot in crime fiction.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock, Hercule Poirot’s frighteningly efficient secretary, Miss Lemon, is concerned about some strange events going on at the student hostel that her sister manages. Poirot offers to look into the matter, and Miss Lemon gratefully arranges for him to do so. Shortly after his first visit, one of the residents dies. At first, it looks as though it’s a suicide, but soon enough, it’s proven otherwise. As Poirot and Inspector Sharpe investigate, they find out about some nefarious things going on at the hostel. The victim found out one of those secrets and paid for it with her life. Part of Poirot’s search for the truth takes him to a local camping outfit store, where he buys a rucksack for a fictitious nephew (Poirot himself would most assuredly not want to go camping…):
‘He makes ‘le camping,’ you understand,’ said Poirot at his most foreign. ‘He goes with other students upon the feet and all he needs he takes with him on his back, and the cars and the lorries that pass, they give him a lift.’ The proprietor, who was a small, obliging man with sandy hair, replied promptly. ‘Ah, hitch-hiking,’ he said. ‘They all do it nowadays. Must lose the buses and the railways a lot of money, though. Hitch-hike themselves all over Europe some of these young people do.’
The rucksack turns out to be very useful to Poirot, and the reader gets a look at how young people took to camping at the time the novel was published (1955).
For some fictional sleuths, camping isn’t just an occasional thing. It’s part of what they do. For instance, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are both accustomed to camping. In more than one story, one or the other (or both) make camp because weather, distance, or something else keeps them from getting home. The same is true of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte, of the Queensland Police. He knows ‘the book of the bush’ very well, and often spends time ‘out bush’ as he investigates.
New Zealand is home to some world-famous camping areas, so it’s not surprising that Kiwi crime fiction includes stories of camping. For example, in Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, we are introduced to Stephanie Anderson. She’s a young Dunedin-based psychologist who has her own tragic past. Seventeen years before the main events of the story, her younger sister, Gemma, went missing and was never found. When Stephanie hears an eerily similar story from a new client who lost a sister, she decides to learn the truth about both missing girls. She returns to her hometown of Wanaka to find out who was responsible for so much heartbreak. Along the way, she meets a hunting guide named Dan, who invites her on a camping/hunting trip. Stephanie’s reluctant, but finally agrees. The trip doesn’t solve the mystery, but it’s a wonderful (and eye-opening) experience for Stephanie, and it has the potential to change everything for her. Richardson depicts the wild beauty of the camping area, and it’s not hard to see why people find camping so appealing.
There are lots of popular camping areas in Australia, too, and of course, plenty of novels that depict that outdoor beauty (and danger). In Jane Harper’s Force of Nature, for instance, a company CEO, Daniel Bailey, co-arranges a camping weekend for his staff as a team-building activity. The employees will be divided into two teams, and they will have to work together to get to the campground and then return to where they’ll be transported back to their homes. One group duly returns; the other is delayed. When the second group returns, it’s without one of its members. As we learn the truth about what really happened, we learn some dark things about some of the characters, and we find out what really happened to the missing camper.
And then there’s Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a senior in secondary school, who’s working on her final school project. For her capstone project, she’s decided to investigate the five-year-old death of beautiful, popular Andie Bell. At the time, everyone thought Andie’s boyfriend, Sal Singh, committed the murder, and he and his family were hounded. He ended up committing suicide, and a lot of people think the matter is settled. But is it? Pippa starts looking into the case, and soon finds that there are those who want her to stay away from it. She gets more than one threat, and at one point, a real scare. She and some friends go on a camping trip, and soon find that they’re being watched and followed. It’s a very creepy experience, especially outdoors, and Pippa is rattled by it. It doesn’t stop her from trying to get to the truth, though.
Camping can be a wonderful experience, especially for those who enjoy being in nature, and who don’t mind giving up luxuries. It’s a way to ‘turn the world off’ for a bit, and just live. But that doesn’t mean it’s problem-free…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kyra and Tully’s Camping Song.