There I Am, Up on the Stage*

There’s something about live bands and live shows. There’s an energy and a sense of urgency that are a little harder to come by if you just listen to a recording. Of course, it’s not easy to be on the road and put on a live show. But when the show works, it can be fantastic.

Live shows and the ‘band life’ can also be very effective backdrops for a crime novel. There can be conflicts among the band members, and there’s the pressure to keep making music and making more money. And concerts bring together a lot of disparate people in what can be a chaotic atmosphere. There’s also a sort of mystique (whether or not it’s actually earned) about being in a band and being on the road. There are lots of crime stories that use this context; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife, Dolly are shocked when the body of a woman is discovered in their library. Neither knows the woman, but Dolly doesn’t want her husband to be suspected of the crime. So, she asks her friend, Miss Marple, to try to get some answers. The body is identified as that of eighteen-year-old Ruby Keene, a professional dancer at the Majestic Hotel. It seems that she went missing between one of her evening performances and the other, and a last-minute switch of dancers was needed. Now Ruby’s disappearance becomes a murder investigation. Then, the burned-out shell of the car belonging to Ruby’s dance partner George Bartlett is discovered. In it is the body of another young woman. As Miss Marple investigates further, we find out how the two deaths are related, and what the motive is behind them.

Peter May’s Runaway begins in 1965, when Jack Mackay and some of his friends decide to leave Glasgow and head to London to make their names as musicians. All starts off well enough. The band doesn’t become an overnight sensation, but they get gigs and dream of real success. This part of the novel shows a bit of what the life was like at that time. Then, a series of events cascade into a tragedy that changes everything. Fifty years later, one of the band members claims that the police got the wrong person in the original case, and he wants to fix things. So, he asks the remaining band members to get together again and return to London to set things right. The trip becomes a journey of self-discovery as much as it is a chance to right an old wrong.

Matthew FitzSimmons’ Constance is the story of Constance ‘Con’ D’Arcy, who is a member of an up-and-coming rock band. In the society in which she lives, cloning has become a reality for those who are rich enough to be able to afford it. Con’s aunt, who founded one of the major cloning clinics, gifted her a clone, so Con travels to the clinic every six months for an upload of her consciousness, in case her clone is needed. One day, she wakes from her upload to find that eighteen months have gone by, and she is, in fact, the clone. As you can imagine, she wants to find out who killed the ‘real’ Con, and why. So, she tries to retrace her steps, including the time she spent with the band. She finds out that a lot happened during the eighteen months she was at the clinic. She’s going to have to piece together her past if she’s to find out who her killer is, and it won’t be easy.

In Katherine Dewar’s Ruby and the Blue Sky, we are introduced to the Carnival Owls, a band that’s finally having some success. In fact, they win a Grammy award, and their lead singer, Ruby, steps up to the podium to accept the trophy. Her speech is a plea for environmentally conscious action, which includes not shopping (i.e., reusing and repurposing instead). The Carnival Owls’ many fans respond enthusiastically, and that creates some real problems. For one thing, there are many big corporations and powerful people who don’t want Ruby’s message to get out. For another, there’s an eco-watchdog group that wants Ruby’s help and the use of her ‘star power.’ Then there’s the fact that she’s supposed to go on tour with her band, as well as write new songs. Things become difficult, even dangerous, for Ruby, and it all leads up to tragedy.

There’s also Jane Risdon’s short story Dreamer. In it, we meet the members of the band Dreamer. They’ve got potential, and Gypsy Records is interested in signing them. The only proviso is that Dreamer will have to let its founder Jake go. He’s perceived as ‘not sexy enough’ or charismatic enough to connect with the fans. As you can imagine, Jake’s gutted and angry. Since he’s written most of the songs, he tells the band that they can’t have his music; they’ll have to write their own. But Jake and the rest of Dreamer don’t know that there are other forces at work, and other people who have a stake in what happens to the band and its members. And the end result is disastrous for all. It’s worth noting, too, that Jane Risdon is an expert on the rock scene, with a deep knowledge of the bands, music producers, and others who made the genre what it is today. Her work’s very informative.

It can be a wonderful experience to go to a live show, especially one that’s put together well and runs smoothly, with lots of energy. But you never know what may happen… What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Turn the Page.