Can I Walk Along Beside You*
Some people enjoy solo travel. They like to experience things in their own way, take their own time, and so on. But sometimes, a travel companion can be very helpful. There’s someone to share an experience with, look out for luggage, and share costs. And in more remote places, a travel companion can be an important source of safety. That dynamic can make for an interesting plot line in a crime novel, too. I’m not talking here of people who choose from the beginning to travel together; rather, I mean people who meet on the way and choose to continue their journey together. Here are just a few examples; there are so many others…
In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, Anne Bedingfield’s beloved father dies, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t want to stay in London, and she has no interest in a job ‘suitable for a lady,’ like being a typist. One day at a tube station, Anne witnesses a man fall (or get pushed) to his death on the train tracks. In his pocket is a cryptic message. Anne manages to get hold of the message and works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the HMS Kilmorden Castle. On a whim, she books passage on the ship and ends up drawn into a web of international intrigue, stolen jewels, and murder. Another passenger on the ship, Suzanne Blair, takes a liking to Anne and the two become friends. They share the rest of the journey and Suzanne ends up being very helpful when Anne runs into serious danger.
As Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Metz created a historical series featuring Amelia Peabody. In the first, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Miss Peabody and her companion start out on a trip to Egypt. They haven’t gotten far, though, when the companion becomes ill and has to return to England. By chance, Miss Peabody meets Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has her own sad past. She’s been abandoned by the man to whom she was engaged, and for whom she gave up her family, and she has nowhere else, really, to go. Miss Peabody invites Evelyn to travel along with her to Egypt, and Evelyn gratefully agrees. The two embark on what turns out to be a frightening adventure that includes a supposedly cursed archaeological dig, a mummy that walks the streets at night, and more. Underneath it all is crime, and it’s interesting to see how the two women cope with the situations they face.
Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty, & F****d is the story of bank manager Martin Carter. His marriage has failed, and he’s just been made redundant at the bank where he works. With little to lose, he can’t resist getting his hands on a million-dollar payroll. He makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and starts off on an adventure. Not long afterwards, he meets a librarian who has her own secrets and sad past. After he rescues her from a motorcycle gang, she joins him on his journey and the two become travel companions. They share some strange adventures and meet up with some very unusual people along the way, and it’s interesting to see how they get to know one another as the novel goes along.
SJI Holliday’s Violet isn’t nearly as light. In that novel, a young woman named Violet was planning a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad with her boyfriend. All that changed when he left her in Bangkok. She’s made it to Beijing and wants to continue the trip, but she’s unable to get a ticket. At the Beijing railway station, she meets Carrie, who’d been scheduled to take the trip with a friend of hers. But that friend has injured herself and couldn’t come along. Now Carrie has an extra ticket and she and Violet decide they like each other well enough to travel together. At first, it seems to be an exciting adventure for two young women to share. But before long, there are undertones of suspense, and before the trip is over, there is real tragedy.
There’s also Kirsten McDougall’s Tess. Lewis Rose is driving through the rain on his way to Masterton, in the Wellington region of New Zealand’s North Island. He sees a young woman by the side of the road and offers her a ride into town. She accepts and they go on their way. She tells her rescuer that her name is Tess, but not much else about herself. Still, she seems pleasant, and Rose doesn’t regret giving her a lift. The next day, he sees Tess again. This time, she’s being harassed by a group of thugs. Rose steps in and gets her out of that situation. Seeing that she’s not doing well, he takes her to his home. It’s soon clear that she has an infection and is in need of medical attention. Rose looks after her and gets her a doctor’s help, and before long, Tess begins to heal. In the meantime, she and Rose have gotten to know each other a bit, and readers learn about them, too. Tess is on the run from a very dangerous situation, and she doesn’t want to involve anyone else. But she can’t escape forever, and she’s going to have to work out what to do.
It’s a risk to meet someone new and then end up taking a trip together. But it does happen, and those interactions can make for fascinating crime fiction. Which ones come to your mind?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock (Compare it with the well-known Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young cover and see what you think).