Even if you’re not an antiques buff or a collector, it can be fascinating to visit an antiques shop. You never know what you’ll find, and some of the items have rich and interesting histories. In that way, antiques connect us with our past. Of course, some antiques are really valuable, too, and there are plenty of people who buy and sell them for just that reason. Antiques shops are also interesting contexts for crime fiction if you think about it. For one thing, there’s potentially quite a lot of money involved. For another, a given antique can have a really interesting story behind it. And then there’s the fact that there are all sorts of antiques shops (music, dolls, furniture, clothing, dishes, and more). So, there’s lots of possibility for the author. Antiques shop owners can make interesting characters, too.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Demetrius Papopolous. He is a very discreet Parisian antiques and valuables dealer who always seems to be connected to the local news when valuables move into and out of the market. Hercule Poirot finds M. Papopolous very helpful in solving the murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. She is on her way by train from London to Nice when she is strangled, and her body discovered in her compartment. One very likely possible motive for the murder is the fact that she had with her a valuable ruby called Heart of Fire – a gem that has since gone missing. And that’s where M. Papopoulos’ experience and knowledge come in very handy. He’s able to help Poirot connect the death and robbery to what he knows about jewels and their settings, and about what’s currently on the market.
Jonathan Gash’s long-running series (approximately 25 novels) features Lovejoy, an antiques expert/dealer with an uncanny eye for a valuable item. He spends his share of time at estate sales, auctions, markets, and other places where antiques are sold, and he knows a lot of people in the business. He has his faults as a human, but he is deeply knowledgeable in his field, and he is passionate about it. The series offers the reader some interesting information about how antiques are found, bought, sold, and so on.
In Wendy James’ The Lost Girls, we meet Jane Tait, a Sydney-area antiques dealer. She has a stable marriage and a healthy daughter – in short, a fairly normal life. But she also has a tragic past. When she was twelve, Jane’s fourteen-year-old cousin, Angela Buchanan, came to stay for the summer. One afternoon, she went missing and was later found dead, with a scarf around her head. The last people to see Angela were her cousin Mick (Jane’s brother) and his friends, so the police are very much interested in them. But a few months later, another girl was also found dead, also with a scarf around her head. So, it began to look as though a serial killer might be at work. No-one was ever arrested or convicted, though, and both cases have remained open. Jane has tried to go on with life, but documentary filmmaker Erin Fury is doing a project on the families of crime victims, and she wants to look into the Buchanan case. Somewhat reluctantly, Jane gives her consent to be interviewed. Now, the family has to face the past as Erin does the interviews, and we learn the truth about the murders.
There’s also Peter Turnbull’s A Dreadful Past. As that novel begins, Noel Middleton is passing by an antique store when he notices a particular vase in the window. It’s been damaged (although carefully repaired), so the shop owner is only too happy to have a customer take some interest in it. As it turns out, this vase has a tragic past: it was part of a robbery haul twenty years earlier. Middleton knows the vase very well, as it was stolen from his family’s home. At first, the police don’t see what they can do to apprehend people who committed robbery that long ago. But then, Middleton tells them that his parents and sister were killed the same night, quite possibly by the same people. The killers were never caught, so this puts the case in an entirely different light. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) George Hennessey and his team re-open the investigation and try to find the connection between the robbery and the murders of Noel’s family members.
Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things features Mickie Lambert, who creates digital scrapbooks for clients. In this way, special moments and memories aren’t forgotten. She gets a new client, Nadia Denham, who owns an antique/curio shop, and starts to put together her ideas for the scrapbook. Then, Nadia dies in what looks like a case of suicide. Still, Mickie chooses to go ahead with the scrapbook, since that was her client’s wish. Nadia was particularly interested in making sure that twelve of her objects are included, so Mickie starts working on them, spending quite a lot of time in the antiques store. Soon, though, she finds that someone doesn’t want her to complete her work. She gets a series of threatening notes, and she begins to believe that someone is watching her. What’s more, she’s a ‘person of interest’ in the case. So, she is driven to find out the truth about Nadia’s life and death. And it turns out to be more dangerous than she’d imagined.
Antique shops can be rich with stories, history, and more. It’s not hard to get lost in such places with all of the fascinating stories they have to tell. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Which fictional antique shops have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dina Andrews’ The Old Rolling Pin.