You Don’t Choose ’em, You Can’t Lose ’em*

Today’s economic situation means that lots of young adults live with their parents. There are plenty of not-so-young adults, too, who live with elderly parents. It can be an awkward situation. After all, adults want their independence, and may have lifestyles that are quite different to their parents’ ways of doing things. At the same time, there’s still the parent/child relationship, and all that that can mean psychologically. Still, living with parents can succeed if everyone’s willing to do the work. And it can make for an interesting dynamic in a crime novel.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide…), we are introduced to Lynn Marchmont. She’s recently returned from WW II service and is taking up her life again in the village of Warmsley Vale. She lives with her mother Adela and is sometimes caught between wanting to take care of her mother, who’s no longer young, and wanting to be cared for herself. They’re having to renegotiate their relationship anyway, since Lynn isn’t the same person she was before the war. The Marchmonts get drawn into a case of murder when Adela’s brother Gordon is killed by a wartime bomb blast. He married shortly before his death, but never wrote a will to protect his siblings. So now, his brothers and sister are left with nothing, while his widow inherits everything. And that leads to a lot of ill will, as you can imagine. It also all leads to murder. Hercule Poirot is approached by two members of the Cloade family, and he investigates the murder.

Fans of Ellery Queen will know that Queen lives with his father, Inspector Richard Queen. They have a positive relationship, and share an interest in crime, and Queen works with his father on several investigations. He does travel at times, but there’s a sense that he and his father have worked out how to have a parent/child relationship when both are adults.

Michael Redfield (AKA Inger Ash Wolfe’s) Hazel Micallef is a police inspector in rural Ontario. As the series begins, she’s in her early sixties, divorced, and living with her elderly mother Emily. As it happens, Emily Micallef is the former mayor of Port Dundas, where they live, so she knows a lot of people and a lot about what happens in town. The two have a loving relationship, and truly care about each other. At the same time, though, they do argue and sometimes get thoroughly annoyed with each other. Both are strong-willed, outspoken people, and in many ways, they’re more alike than they’d like to admit. It makes for an interesting dynamic.

In Paddy Richardson’s Swilling in the Dark, we meet Gerda Klein and her daughter Ilse. Gerda and her husband brought Ilse to New Zealand in the 1980s, to escape the Stasi, the dreaded East German police. They’ve lived there ever since and have made a decent life for themselves. Ilse has become a secondary school teacher, and she likes her job. She cares about her students, too, and that’s how she notices that one of them, Serena Freeman, seems to be slipping. She misses school, and even when she is there, she doesn’t participate. Then, she disappears. Ilse and her mother end up getting more deeply involved in the case than either had imagined. Throughout the novel, we see that Gerda and Ilse have a strong relationship. But they are different people with different perspectives, especially on leaving Germany Ilse was too young when they left to really understand why. She mises Germany and her German friends. Gerda is grateful for their new life in New Zealand. It’s interesting to see how their age difference impacts their views.

In Rachel Howzell Hall’s These Toxic Things, we are introduced to Mickie Lambert, a former communications company worker who’s recently taken a job creating ‘digital scrapbooks’ for clients, so that their special memories won’t be forgotten. She lives with her loving parents in the Los Angeles area and has a close relationship with them. When her new client, Nadia Denham, dies from what looks like suicide, Mickie decides to continue putting the scrapbook together out of a sense of obligation. She’s started adding mementos when she begins getting threatening warnings to leave Nadia Denham’s past alone. She’s not sure what might be in that past, but she wants to solve the mystery. More than that, she wants to find out (and stop) the person who’s threatening her. As she gets closer to the truth, Mickie finds herself in more and more danger. And she finds herself uncovering truths about herself. Throughout the novel, we see how much Mickie depends on her parents’ love and support, even though she’s an adult with her own life. In turn, her parents rely on her, too.

There are plenty of other crime novels and series where adult characters live with their parents. And there can be any number of reasons why. It’s not always an easy living arrangement to negotiate, and sometimes, there’s conflict. But it can also be a rewarding lifestyle, and it can make for interesting dynamics in a novel. Space only permits a few examples here; which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors’ Family.