The Way That I Believe in You*

One of the interesting character types that we find in crime fiction is what I’ll call the loyal supporter. This is the sort of person who hires a private detective to prove that a friend or loved one didn’t commit a crime. It’s also the type who insists that the police re-open (or more carefully investigate) a case because the police have caught the wrong person. Loyal supporters may be friends or loved ones, or they may simply know the accused. In any case, they are convinced that the police have the wrong theory about a crime, and they won’t rest until the matter is settled. We see this sort of character a lot in crime fiction, and space only permits a few examples. But hopefully, this will give a sense of the loyal supporter.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sherlock Holmes investigates the murder of Charles McCarthy. All of the evidence indicates that his son James is the killer. And he had a motive, as he and his father were observed having a violent quarrel not long before the killing. But James McCarthy’s fiancée Alice Turner is convinced that he is innocent. She admits the quarrel, but she knows McCarthy well enough to know he wouldn’t have killed his father. So, she asks Inspector Lestrade to look at the case, and he asks Holmes to investigate. Holmes finds that Alice’s faith in her fiancé is justified. It turns out James McCarthy isn’t the only one with a motive for murder.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories include characters who insist on the innocence of the accused person. I’ll only give one example; fans know there are more! In Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, James Bentley is arrested, tried, and convicted in the murder of his landlady. He says that he’s innocent, but he’s convinced he won’t be believed. He’s scheduled to be executed soon, But not everyone is convinced he is guilty. Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence thinks that perhaps Bentley didn’t commit the crime, so he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. When Poirot travels to the small village where the murder was committed, he finds that Spence isn’t the only one who believes Bentley is innocent. So does one of Bentley’s former co-workers, Maude Williams. She is so convinced of Bentley’s innocence that she cooperates with Poirot to catch the real killer. I see you, fans of Five Little Pigs.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life features the release Cissy Kohler from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. With her release comes a series of allegations that Cissy was innocent, and that Wally Tallentire, the inspector responsible for her arrest, hid evidence in the case. Superintendent Andy Dalziel doesn’t believe that for a moment. He knew Tallentire well; in fact, Tallentire was his mentor. And he is convinced that Tallentire is innocent of any wrongdoing, and that Cissy was guilty all the time. Tallentire has since died, but Dalziel wants to clear his old mentor’s name. So, he looks into the case again to find out what really happened, and to prove, if he can, that Cissy Kohler was rightly convicted.

Shona (now S.G.) MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton takes place in 17th Century Banff, Scotland. The story begins as grammar school undermaster Alexander Seaton finds the body of local apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davidson in his classroom. Not long afterwards, local music master Charles Thom is arrested for the murder and imprisoned. Thom claims that he’s innocent; and, when Seaton visits him in prison, he begs Seaton to clear his name and find out the truth. It’s not the sort of thing Seaton is accustomed to, but Thom is a friend of his, and he’s convinced that his friend is innocent. So, agrees to help, and he starts asking questions. He finds that Thom is far from the only one who might have wanted to kill Davidson. 

And then there’s Donald Smith’s The Constable’s Tale. The story takes place in 1758 Craven County, North Carolina, where John Henry ‘Harry’ Woodward is serving his turn as Royal Constable. The job mostly consists of breaking up drunken quarrels, catching petty thieves, and so on. Then one day, an itinerant peddler discovers the bodies of Anne and Edward Campbell and their son. The only survivor is their infant. At first, it’s believed that Indians committed the crime, and that’s not out of the question, considering that the French and Indian/Seven Years War is going on. But there are some signs that suggest that’s not the solution. Soon enough, though, a local Indian named Comet Elijah is arrested. He says that he’s innocent, but there’s pressure on Woodward to blame him for the crime and have done with it. Woodward, however, is convinced that Comet Elijah is innocent; he’s known the man for years; in fact, he was Woodward’s mentor. So, Woodward starts asking questions and trying to find other possible explanations. The search for the truth leads to a trip north all the way to Colonial Québec and back, and Woodward finds the answers closer to home than he knew.

There are many, many more examples of fictional loyal supporters. They can add much to a novel and are sometimes very interesting characters in their own right. Which ones have stayed with you?

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are.


6 thoughts on “The Way That I Believe in You*

  1. Good examples Margot. I thought of a real life Saskatchewan case. Joyce Milgaard relentlessly advocated for her son, David, who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of a nurse. Over two decades later it was proven he was not the killer. DNA evidence identified the actual killer. Without her advocacy I doubt he would ever have been freed.

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    1. Wow, Bill, that’s quite a story. That family must have gone through so much. He is very lucky that his mother refused to give up. That’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post; thanks for sharing the story.

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  2. The loyal supporter is quite often the basis for action thrillers too, when the “ordinary man” gets involved because he or someone he knows has been accused by the authorities of a crime. Jeffery Deaver makes use of this in his Colter Shaw series (which was supposed to be a trilogy but I see a fourth book is coming out soon). Shaw is a bounty hunter, usually hired by worried families or friends to find missing people who are often on the run from false accusations.

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    1. Thanks, FictionFan, for mentioning this sort of action thriller. It’s true that the loyal supporter plays a big role in those novels, too. That’s often how the sleuth/protagonist gets involved in a case. And thanks for mentioning the Colter Shaw case. You’ve reminded me that it’s been too long since I read Deaver, and I ought to put one of his books in the spotlight.

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