Some fictional detectives work alone. Others work with a police or PI partner. Still others work with family members. I’m not talking here about detectives like Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who work with spouses (there are plenty of those). Rather, I mean detectives who work with other family members. Here are just a few examples: I’m sure you’ll think of others.
Ellery Queen’s Inspector Richard Queen is a New York homicide detective. He and Sergeant Velie are quite capable of finding out the truth about crimes. But Queen’s writer son Ellery has a real interest in crime and a knack for making sense of clues. So in several of the Ellery Queen stories, the Queens work together to find out the truth when there’s a murder. For instance, The Roman Hat Mystery, which introduces the Queens, has them co-operating to find the murderer of a lawyer named Monte Field, who’s killed at the theatre. In The Fourth Side of the Triangle, they find out who murdered influential fashion designer Sheila Grey. There are other examples, too, of course.
Fans of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series will know that Wallander and his daughter Linda have a sometimes very difficult relationship. Despite that, though, Linda decides to become a police officer like her father. In Before the Frost, Linda has just finished her police academy training, and takes up her duties. She’s soon involved in the mystery of the disappearance of her friend Anna. At the same time, Kurt Wallander is investigating a murder of his own. As the story goes on, we see how the two stories become integrated, and the Wallanders work together. This was to have been the first of three novels featuring Linda Wallander, but Mankell chose not to continue the series when the actress who took Linda’s role in the Swedish TV series committed suicide.
Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies introduces Albany, New York police detective Hannah McCabe. She and her police partner Mike Baxter are investigating the murders of two women who were killed by injections of phenol. They’re working on the case when a third woman, Broadway star Vivian Jessup, is killed. Now the case gets more complicated as the two try to work out what links the three victims. Although McCabe and Baxter work together, McCabe also works with her father Angus, a retired journalist and newspaper editor. With the combination of her police training and his background, they come up with useful ideas about who committed these crimes and why. And their relationship, now that McCabe is an adult, is interesting to see.
In Doug Johnstone’s A Dark Matter, we meet the Skelf family, owners of an Edinburgh funeral home and private investigation business. When the family patriarch Jim Skelf dies, his wife Dorothy takes over the business, but she doesn’t do it alone. Her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah are both a part of both businesses. What’s interesting is that the three of them are familiar with running a funeral home, working with grieving families, and so on. But it was always Jim who did the private investigation. Now that he’s gone, they decide to pick up the pieces of that work, too, and they find it’s a lot different from what they imagined. But they slowly learn what they’re doing, and continue that legacy.
Ilsa Evans’ Nefarious Doings is the story of Nell Forrest, a newspaper columnist who lives in the small town of Majik, Victoria with the two youngest of her five daughters. Her life is quite full enough with her family and her work. But everything changes when she is informed that there’s been a fire in her mother Lillian’s garage. While the house itself is fine (and so is Lillian), a body is discovered in the remains of the garage. The dead man is soon identified as Dustin Craig, who lived next door to Lillian. In fact, he and Lillian had some arguments; there is no love lost there. So naturally, the police are interested in Lillian’s movements. At first to clear her mother’s name, Nell starts asking questions about the murder, and tries to find out the truth. She, all five of her daughters, and her sister Petra all participate in coming up with ideas, discussing suspects, and so on. And they’ve got a lot of suspects to choose from, too, as Craig was abusive to his family, and had had run-ins with several people who live nearby. In the end, the Forrest clan slowly gets to the truth about the murder, and a lot of that comes from working together.
And then there’s Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover, a retired English teacher who lives in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. She’s the main character in this series, but her son Red, the local chief of police, figures strongly, too. He’d be just as well pleased if his mother left the detecting to the police, but he also appreciates her detecting ability.
There are other characters, like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, who discuss cases with family members (his daughter Maddie is quite the sounding board). Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Hazel Micaleff, who’s a police detective, discusses cases with her mother Emily, former mayor of their town. These characters don’t really partner with family in the same way, but the relationship is still important.
Family members can offer unique perspectives on cases, so it’s little wonder that fictional detectives sometimes rely on them. Which ones have stayed with you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sly and the Family Stone’s Family Affair.
12 thoughts on “You See, It’s In The Blood*”
Very interesting, Margot. A recent reprint from the BL, “Death on the Down Beat” had an interesting trope of the detective sending home his thoughts in letters and messages to his wife. Although I don’t think we heard her responses, it was a clever way to tell a story, and the implication was that she advised him on matters to do with the case, particularly musical. Most entertaining!
Oh, it sounds that way, KBR! And what’s really interesting about that approach is that the reader learns about a character, just based on the way that character writes. It reminds me just a bit of Ngaio Marsh’s Clutch of Constables, where her Roderick Alleyn and his wife, Agatha Troy, keep in touch via letter while he’s teaching a course and she’s on a river cruise. They don’t officially work together, but they do share their thoughts!
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In Tess Gerritson’s Rizzoli and Isles books, Jane Rizzoli’s brother, Frankie, joins the force and they end up working together to solve murders. At a ‘push’ you might consider Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft but that’s pushing it a little I think. I can’t think of any others at the moment but will continue to think about it.
I’m really glad you mentioned Frankie, Cath. It’s a good example, which I didn’t include and should have, of how family members work together sometimes in crime fiction. And even if Mycroft Holmes is pushing it a bit, he’s a great character!
In John Gaspard’s Eli Marks series, Eli is a stage magician who has a way of getting involved in murders, sometimes via his ex-wife’s new spouse who is a police detective, and often solves them with the help of his Uncle Harry, who is an elderly magician now retired but still with many contacts in the world of stage magic, and who knows how all the illusions are done! There was also another recent BL book, The Mysterious Mr Badman by WF Harvey, where the sleuthing is done by an uncle and nephew, with the elderly uncle supplying the brains while the young nephew does the action stuff.
Those are both great examples of what I had in mind, FictionFan – thank you! Your mention of the Eli Marks series reminds me of Blacke’s Magic, a US TV show that was on years ago – about a magician and his con-man father who solved murders. And I like that division of labour in the Harvey. It doesn’t makes sense for an elderly uncle to do the physical stuff!
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Margot: Your post set me thinking. For some moments no sleuths came to mind and then my thoughts drifted back over a century to Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft does not have a large role in the Canon but he does appear from time to time.
He does, indeed, Bill, and I’m glad you mentioned him. He’s an interesting character, and I sometimes wonder why Conan Doyle didn’t explore him further.
I’m not familiar with all of these, but in the cases where I am, the family dynamics make for an interesting subplot or at least add some flavor to the drama and characters. A fun post, Margot. Have a wonderful week.
Thanks, DWP! I hope you have a great week, too. And you’re so right about family dynamics. They really add some interesting layers to a story, don’t they?
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Thanks for the lovely mention! Family members can be helpful as well as obstructive when it comes to investigating. 🙂
It’s my pleasure to mention your work, Elizabeth! And you’re right; family members are sometimes really helpful, and sometimes… not 🙂