You Don’t Choose ’em, You Can’t Lose ’em*

Today’s economic situation means that lots of young adults live with their parents. There are plenty of not-so-young adults, too, who live with elderly parents. It can be an awkward situation. After all, adults want their independence, and may have lifestyles that are quite different to their parents’ ways of doing things. At the same time, there’s still the parent/child relationship, and all that that can mean psychologically. Still, living with parents can succeed if everyone’s willing to do the work. And it can make for an interesting dynamic in a crime novel.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide…), we are introduced to Lynn Marchmont. She’s recently returned from WW II service and is taking up her life again in the village of Warmsley Vale. She lives with her mother Adela and is sometimes caught between wanting to take care of her mother, who’s no longer young, and wanting to be cared for herself. They’re having to renegotiate their relationship anyway, since Lynn isn’t the same person she was before the war. The Marchmonts get drawn into a case of murder when Adela’s brother Gordon is killed by a wartime bomb blast. He married shortly before his death, but never wrote a will to protect his siblings. So now, his brothers and sister are left with nothing, while his widow inherits everything. And that leads to a lot of ill will, as you can imagine. It also all leads to murder. Hercule Poirot is approached by two members of the Cloade family, and he investigates the murder.

Fans of Ellery Queen will know that Queen lives with his father, Inspector Richard Queen. They have a positive relationship, and share an interest in crime, and Queen works with his father on several investigations. He does travel at times, but there’s a sense that he and his father have worked out how to have a parent/child relationship when both are adults.

Michael Redfield (AKA Inger Ash Wolfe’s) Hazel Micallef is a police inspector in rural Ontario. As the series begins, she’s in her early sixties, divorced, and living with her elderly mother Emily. As it happens, Emily Micallef is the former mayor of Port Dundas, where they live, so she knows a lot of people and a lot about what happens in town. The two have a loving relationship, and truly care about each other. At the same time, though, they do argue and sometimes get thoroughly annoyed with each other. Both are strong-willed, outspoken people, and in many ways, they’re more alike than they’d like to admit. It makes for an interesting dynamic.

In Paddy Richardson’s Swilling in the Dark, we meet Gerda Klein and her daughter Ilse. Gerda and her husband brought Ilse to New Zealand in the 1980s, to escape the Stasi, the dreaded East German police. They’ve lived there ever since and have made a decent life for themselves. Ilse has become a secondary school teacher, and she likes her job. She cares about her students, too, and that’s how she notices that one of them, Serena Freeman, seems to be slipping. She misses school, and even when she is there, she doesn’t participate. Then, she disappears. Ilse and her mother end up getting more deeply involved in the case than either had imagined. Throughout the novel, we see that Gerda and Ilse have a strong relationship. But they are different people with different perspectives, especially on leaving Germany Ilse was too young when they left to really understand why. She mises Germany and her German friends. Gerda is grateful for their new life in New Zealand. It’s interesting to see how their age difference impacts their views.

In Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things, we are introduced to Mickie Lambert, a former communications company worker who’s recently taken a job creating ‘digital scrapbooks’ for clients, so that their special memories won’t be forgotten. She lives with her loving parents in the Los Angeles area and has a close relationship with them. When her new client, Nadia Denham, dies from what looks like suicide, Mickie decides to continue putting the scrapbook together out of a sense of obligation. She’s started adding mementos when she begins getting threatening warnings to leave Nadia Denham’s past alone. She’s not sure what might be in that past, but she wants to solve the mystery. More than that, she wants to find out (and stop) the person who’s threatening her. As she gets closer to the truth, Mickie finds herself in more and more danger. And she finds herself uncovering truths about herself. Throughout the novel, we see how much Mickie depends on her parents’ love and support, even though she’s an adult with her own life. In turn, her parents rely on her, too.

There are plenty of other crime novels and series where adult characters live with their parents. And there can be any number of reasons why. It’s not always an easy living arrangement to negotiate, and sometimes, there’s conflict. But it can also be a rewarding lifestyle, and it can make for interesting dynamics in a novel. Space only permits a few examples here; which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors’ Family.

18 thoughts on “You Don’t Choose ’em, You Can’t Lose ’em*

  1. You are right, Margot, Hazel Micallef and her mother have an interesting relationship in the first book in Inger Ash Wolfe’s series. That was one of the reasons I enjoyed that book. Now I just have to move on to book two in the series.


    1. I think both of the Micallef women are interesting, Tracy. And that makes their relationship all the more layered and rich, in my opinion. I hope you enjoy the second novel if you read it.


  2. Margot: I thought of Flavia de Luce of the series by Alan Bradley. While 11 years old she is a chemist and sleuth. She has a good relationship with her father who is bemused or possibly uncomprehending of his precocious child. Bradley is amazing in making her a credible child.


    1. Flavia is one of the most interesting sleuths out there, Bill. You’re right, of course, that she has a loving relationship with her father. He doesn’t always understand the way she thinks, but they do have a strong bond. And, yes, she is very credible.


  3. I’ve seen that Poirot book onscreen but not read it, I must do so as it can be a different experience. The Miss Marple book, The 4.50 From Paddington also has a middle-aged woman living with her – very awkward – father. I tend to think of that kind of thing (also adult siblings living together) as belonging more in the past, say up to around the 1960s or 70s, and it ‘was’ more common back then. But it’s still not that uncommon. Another Youtube channel I follow is run by a woman living with her mother for instance and they seem to have a very warm relationship, including a huge love of books. As with all things, I think it depends on the personalities involved. Fiction coming out of the first half of the 20th. century is absolutely awash with adult relations living together. I can think of such authors as Angela Thirkell, Molly Clavering, Stella Gibbons, Edith Nesbit, D.E. Stevenson, but there’re are hundreds and I think vintage crime books reflect that too. Very interesting topic.


    1. I hope you enjoy Taken at the Flood if you read it, Cath. I agree that film and book versions of a story can be very different experiences. And thank you so much for mentioning 4:50 to Paddington. That’s an excellent example of exactly what I had in mind with this post. The other authors you’ve mentioned show that it’s definitely not just crime fiction where we see adult characters living with their parents! Glad you thought the post was interesting.


  4. Living with parents as an adult and vice versa can be a fraught experience for everyone! I’ve enjoyed the first couple of books in a new series by Lucie Whitehouse. Her main character, Robin Lyons, has returned to her home town of Birmingham after years in London and moves back in to her parents’ home for a while. Whitehouse is doing a good job of showing Robin and her mother re-adjusting to dealing with each other as equal adults. The two women annoy each other, but there’s never any doubt that they love each other too.


    1. You’re right, FictionFan. There’s no easy way for adults to live with their parents. As you say, it’s fraught, and it can be maddening. But it can work if there’s that bond of love. The Whitehouse series sounds interesting! Trust you to make me question my ‘no additions to the TBR’ rule! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting post. There is also Marion (I think) and her elderly mother in Tey’s The Franchise Affair. They get on very well.



      1. The unmarried daughter living with her mother (or father) used to be quite common, I think, in real life as well as in GA fiction, didn’t it?



      2. Now you mention it, Christine, that’s quite true. You’re making me think, too, of some historical novels that also have that theme, like Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. Interesting social trend, I think…


    1. I think that, the way the economy is, Col, there are a lot of people who’ve moved back home. If you do come acress that setup in your reading, I’ll be interested in how well you think it works in fiction.


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