I’m Sure I Heard His Echo in My Baby’s Newborn Tears*

People who don’t live in extended family units might not think about it very much, but each generation of a family impacts the others. Each generation sees things a little differently, but the generations are linked in important ways. It’s interesting to see how those links are explored in crime fiction, and it makes sense that they would be. There are all sorts of possibilities for plots and character development, as well as motives for crime. And stories that link the generations can be interesting psychologically, too.

Agatha Christie wrote more than one story that explored generations and their links. One of them is Crooked House, which features the Leonides family. Patriarch Aristide Leonides lives with two other generations of his family in a house called Three Gables. Charles Hayward gets involved with the family when he falls in love with Leonides’ granddaughter Sophia. Then, Aristide Leonides suddenly dies of poison. Sophia doesn’t feel comfortable getting married before her grandfather’s murder is solved, so Charles is motivated to find out the truth about it. As he gets to know the various members of the family, we see how the generations are linked, as well as how they differ. It’s an interesting, if not flattering, portrayal of a family.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police (now, the Navajo Nation Police) gets a new case. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi has gone missing from the residential school she attends. Chee is also investigating the murder of Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo who recently moved to the Big Reservation. As it turns out, Gorman’s body was discovered on the property of Margaret’s grandfather, Ashie Begay, who is missing. The trail for all of this leads to Los Angeles, where Chee finds Margaret – until she disappears again. As he searches for her (and for the truth about Albert Gorman), Chee encounters an old woman, Bentwoman, and her daughter, Bentwoman’s Daughter, who are kin to both Begay and Gorman. It’s a complicated network of generational links, and Chee finds that he needs to untangle that network if he’s to find Margaret and solve the murder.

Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands introduces twelve-year-old Steven Lamb. He lives with his younger brother, Davey, his mother, Lettie, and his grandmother, Gloria in a small house in the Exmoor town of Shipcott. It’s a working-class family that, on the surface, looks a lot like other working-class families. But it’s not. Years ago, Steven’s Uncle Billy (Gloria’s son and Lettie’s brother) went missing and never returned. Not even a body was discovered. The incident has haunted all three generations of this family in different ways. Steven knows the whole thing has cast a dark shadow over his family, and he wants to lay the ghosts to rest. It’s always been believed that Billy was abducted and killed by a man named Arnold Avery, who’s currently in prison for another child murder. Steven believes that if he can get Avery to tell him where Billy is (or at least, where he is buried), he can help heal his family. So, he writes to Avery. Avery responds, and the two are soon engaged in a dangerous game of ‘cat and mouse.’ Among other things, this novel shows how things from one generation can be reflected in (or reflections of) another.

We also see that in Cathy Ace’s The Wrong Boy. That’s the story of three generations of the Jones family, owners of the Dragon’s Head pub in the Welsh town of Rhosddraig. There’s Nan, her daughter Helen (who now does most of the work at the pub) and Helen’s teenage daughter Sadie, who helps out in the pub. The lives of these women are upended when a set of human remains is discovered under a pile of rocks. Detective Inspector (DI) Evan Glover is about to retire, but he’s curious about the discovery, and stays on to investigate. He finds that this is one of those towns with a long history and a long memory. And the story of the Jones family is woven into the town’s history. Interestingly, Ace tells this story through alternating viewpoints, so that we get to see Sadie’s, Helen’s, and Nan’s perspectives.

There are also different generational perspectives shared in Doug Johnstone’s A Dark Matter. The Skelf family has owned a funeral home for years. With the owner, Jim Skelf, recently dead, his widow, Dorothy, takes over owning the business. Working with her is her recently-divorced daughter, Jenny, and Jenny’s daughter, Hannah. The Skelfs also own a private investigation business. The funeral business and the investigation business soon prove to be challenging when Dorothy discovers mysterious monthly payments that Jim made for years. At the same time, Jenny is hired to find evidence that her client’s husband was unfaithful, and Hannah is distressed because her friend Mel has gone missing. All three generations of Skelfs put their skills to work as they try to solve these cases at the same time as they’re trying to keep their lives (and the funeral business) going. In some ways, they’re three very different women, and they have different ways of going about their lives. But in other ways, they have much in common. Among other things, the book discuses the links among generations.

Those links impact each generation differently, but they’re there. They can make for really interesting character studies as well as solid plot lines, when they’re done well. Which generational stories have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from B.A. Robertson and Mike Rutherford’s The Living Years.