In many places, the rules about gathering in groups are starting to relax, and people are getting together for weddings, graduations, and other celebrations. For many people, it’s wonderful to have the chance to see friends and relatives and enjoy the food, music, and so on. But that doesn’t mean these get-togethers are all joyful. At least, not in crime fiction.
If you think about it, celebrations can be very effective contexts for a crime novel. With so many disparate people attending, there’s always the possibility of tension. And you never know what can happen.
For instance, Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party begins with the preparations for a Hallowe’en party for ‘11 Plus’ students who are moving on past primary school. During the preparations, one of the students, Joyce Reynolds, claims that she saw a murder. At first, everyone hushes her, and no-one believes her, anyway. Joyce has a habit of embellishing things and sometimes outright lying if it’ll make her seem more interesting. Then, during the party that evening, Joyce is murdered. Detective story author Ariadne Oliver was at the party and the lead-up to it, and she feels terrible about Joyce’s death. She asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he agrees. He finds that this killing has everything to do with past events and a past murder.
In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn is preparing for her daughter Mieka’s engagement party. The festive weekend is being hosted by Lorraine Harris, the mother of Mieka’s fiancé Greg. The weekend begins on an awkward note when Christy Sinclair, the ex-girlfriend of Joanne’s son Peter, shows up unexpectedly and invites herself to go with the Kilbourns to the party. Despite the tension, Joanne and her children are determined to have a good time at the party. And it does start on a festive note. But that night, Christy drowns in what looks like a tragic accident. Joanne isn’t so sure it was an accident, though, and she starts to ask questions. She finds that this death may be related to the death of a young woman who used to work for Mieka, and that both deaths cover up some very ugly secrets.
In Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh Investigates: A Curious Indian Cadaver, Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police Force is taking some sick leave. He’s well enough to get around, but not certified to return to duty. So, his wife suggests they go to Mumbai to celebrate the wedding of her cousin’s daughter, Ashu. It’s to be a major family event – a society wedding with all the trimmings – and Singh is hoping he’ll get the chance to relax and enjoy the food and the celebration. Ashu, however, has no intention of going through with this arranged marriage, as she is in love with someone else. Just before the wedding, she disappears, and her family presses Singh into service to find her. Then, she is found dead. Her wealthy grandfather, who arranged and paid for the wedding events, wants to know who how and why Ashu died, and he insists that Singh find out the truth. It’s not going to be easy, though, as there are several secrets to uncover…
In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, Dr. Hilla Driver decides to host a weekend house party to celebrate her niece Ramona’s eighteenth birthday. In part, this is also to be a housewarming party, as she’s recently inherited a very upmarket house (and plenty of money) from an uncle. Hilla is very well-connected, socially, so her party guests are nearly all celebrities. There’s a famous author, a dancer, a model, a well-known activist, and a socialite, among others. There’s also Hilla’s old friend Lalli, a former Mumbai police detective, and Lalli’s niece. The crowning event of the weekend is to be a special seven-course meal prepared by Hilla’s chef, Tarok Ghosh. There’s tension among the guests as the weekend begins, but Hilla wants everything to be perfect, so she does her best to help keep the peace. On the night of the banquet, Tarok gives each guest a custom-made individual hors d’oeuvre. And each hors d’oeuvre is a hint to a secret Tarok knows. Later that night, Tarok is murdered. At Hilla’s request, Lalli starts asking questions, with help from her niece. It turns out that just about everyone at this gathering has a secret that it wasn’t safe for Tarok to know.
And then there’s Marla Cooper’s Terror in Taffeta, which features professional wedding planner Kelsey McKenna. She’s been hired to make all the arrangements for Nicole Abernethy and her fiancé, Vince Moreno. It’s a destination wedding in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, and on the surface, everything looks perfect. Nicole’s mother is rude and overbearing; but so far, Kelsey’s been able to manage her. Just as the ceremony is ending, one of the bridesmaids, Dana Poole, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. The local police suspect the bride’s sister, Zoe, since she and the victim were involved in an argument just before the wedding. But Zoe insists that she’s innocent. Kelsey wants no part of investigating, but Nicole’s mother insists that she solve this problem and get Zoe out of police custody, since she’s been paid to arrange everything. Before she really knows it, Kelsey is drawn into the case, and she finds that more than one person might have had a reason to want Dana dead.
And that’s the thing about gatherings like weddings, graduations, and so on. They can be joyful times, and most of them don’t end up in murder – honest. But in crime fiction, anything can happen…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Three Dog Night.