There’s a Killer on the Road*

It’s the time of year when a lot of people travel. What with Covid, we’re not doing the globe-trotting we once might have done, but many of us are planning to take a drive to visit friends and relatives. Well, before you do, consider how dangerous the road can be. A quick look at crime fiction shows clearly that road trips and car travel play important roles in fictional murders.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, ten people are invited to spend time at a home on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. When they arrive, they’re surprised to find that their host isn’t there. Still, they make themselves comfortable, and enjoy a pleasant dinner. After dinner, everyone is shocked when each person is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. In the case of one of the guests, Anthony Marston, the incident was a road accident in which he hit and killed two small children with his car. Not long after the accusation, Marston suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be a poisoned drink. Later that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that someone has lured these people to the island and wants to kill them. Now, the survivors have to find out who it is if they’re to stay alive.

In one plot of Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, Eugenie Davis is killed in what looks like a tragic hit-and-run accident. Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers look into the matter, and they find things may not be as clear-cut as they seem. The more they get to know about the Davis family, the more secrets there seem to be, and the more things there are to uncover. And this death isn’t the only strange thing happening in the family. Eugenie’s son, Gideon, who is a violin virtuoso, has suddenly lost his ability to play. It’s all connected to the family’s history, and to a tragedy that happened twenty years earlier.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy is the first in his series featuring Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recently been put in charge of a newly created department, Department Q, that’s charged with investigating ‘cases of interest,’ which are cases that weren’t solved before. The department is a concession to public and media pressure for the police to solve crimes, and Mørck sees it as the political move that it is. Still, his interest is piqued when he starts looking into the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. The theory at the time was that she’d gone overboard in a tragic ferry accident. But there is evidence that she may still be alive. If so, Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, will have to work quickly to find her. As we learn the truth about what happened to Merete Lynggaard, we see that it’s all connected to a tragic road accident years earlier.

Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are is the story of Frank Allcroft, a TV presenter for a Midlands television station. He’s reached a sort of crossroads in his life, and he feels a bit at loose ends. Then, he gets interested in the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who died in a hit-and-run incident. Allcroft is drawn to the scene of the accident and is soon puzzled by what he sees there. The road is flat and clear, so it would have been easy for a driver to have seen Smedway. The weather was dry, so there’s no reason the car wouldn’t have been able to slow or swerve to avoid the accident. In fact, the more Allcroft thinks about it, the less likely it seems that this was an accident. So, who killed Phil Smedway and why? Those questions give Allcraft a badly needed focus and direction.

And then there’s Zoran Drvenkar’s You. In one plot thread of that novel, it’s winter, 1995. A terrible snowstorm has blocked the road between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach, and many cars are stranded. Even emergency vehicles can’t get through to do any rescues. In this chaos, a man called the Traveler goes from car to car, murdering their occupants. He ends up killing twenty-six people before he escapes. He’s not caught, either, mostly because of the weather conditions. As the story goes on, we find out more about the Traveler. We learn what’s happened to him since that storm, and we learn what’s behind the murders. Eventually, this plot line is woven into two others: a group of teenage girls who get concerned when one of their number stops contacting them and doesn’t answer her telephone; and, a man named Ragnar Desche, whose brother has been murdered, and who wants to find out who’s responsible.

See what I mean? As you plan your holiday schedule, if you do intend to be on the road, be careful. Keep your telephone charged, get plenty of fuel, make sure you’re not alone…. Oh, never mind. Perhaps it’s best to just stay home…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Doors’ Riders On the Storm.