by Sharon Tucker
Valentine’s Day week seemed the perfect time to talk about mystery solving couples–whether they be romantic, or just bffs! Use the links here to purchase these books & a portion goes to help support KRL.
We can thank the bawdy Geoffrey Chaucer and the not-so-bawdy tradition of courtly love for our modern celebration of Valentine’s Day–when couples become the focus of attention. As for St. Valentine himself, church historians have martyrs named Valens, Valentin, or Valentinin but the favorite attribution is that of a Christian priest, Valentine. In the third century AD, he performed marriages for soldiers, all of whom were forbidden to marry by Rome. Valentine also ministered to Christians–forbidden then and for some time to come afterwards. Yet another popular notion about the holiday is that Valentine’s Day was instituted by the church to supersede Lupercalia, a notorious three day Roman fertility celebration. However we have come to see February 14 as a day to celebrate love as a holiday. Perhaps we might consider a variety of couples who complete one another, romantically or otherwise.
Entertainment is rife with examples of couples we love to watch: romantic comedies educate us in the dos and don’ts of relationships; we appreciate our own friendships thanks to buddy adventures; master/apprentice stories illustrate the importance of teachers as well as the importance of students’ openness to being taught. Even the American icon—the lone hero–becomes known to us more easily, not by inner dialogue or first person narrative, but instead by his communication with the people he or she meets and interacts with significantly. However, our duos–romantic and otherwise–get together. Couples who solve mysteries continue to fascinate mystery readers book after book. The doings of a couple of investigators, bouncing ideas off each other, encountering sticky problems, and using a personal shorthand to communicate engages us.
Margery Allingham’s Thomas Campion, didn’t find his Amanda Fitton until the seventh Campion novel, Sweet Danger. As is often the lovers’ path, their relationship was further complicated by his prior infatuation with a married woman. That Fitton was only 17 at the time of their first meeting did not augur well either. They did eventually marry, inherit, and breed offspring to carry on the mysterious noble name his readers’ still ponder.
Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, celebrated in four novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, certainly got off to a rocky start in their relationship–Wimsey, the aristocratic amateur sleuth, fell hard for Vane as she stood in the dock, accused of murder, then proceeded to exonerate her completely by detecting the real murderer just in time. It comes as no surprise that she needed time and her own life back before she could even consider his offer of marriage seriously–albeit this was a trying time for Wimsey. His patience was rewarded in due course; they married, had children, and are still living happily together thanks to Jill Paton Walsh.
Dashiell Hammett couldn’t have foreseen in 1934 the delight his Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, of course) have given readers since he published The Thin Man. Nick and Nora, the witty and often inebriated couple, splashed their way through New York between the world wars, but Hammett’s characters on the page are not quite those of the six movies made in the 1930s and 40s. Read The Thin Man and see the difference. The couple has been popularly re-interpreted for radio, television and for the stage as recently as 2009 and will no doubt be the source of many future interpretations.
University English professors seem to be less likely detectives than do police or private eyes, but between them Nick Hoffman and Stefan Borowski are instrumental in solving any murders that come their way in their small university town in Michigan, and quite a few do. Nick is the extrovert–a bit rash perhaps but solid, subtle, and of a generous nature. Stefan quietly broods his way through his own and others’ difficulties, but is the perfect foil to Nick’s impulsiveness. They are good for each other and their lives are full of good friends, good food, good wine, and good sense. Satire is author Lev Raphael’s forte, so be prepared to see academe through the eyes of an insider.
No so proper a couple are Elvis Cole and Joseph Pike, the detective/mercenary duo who are Robert Crais’s creation. The novels are centered in Los Angeles and focus on a broad spectrum of character types, not the least of whom are Cole and Pike themselves. As alike as chalk and cheese, Cole is a relaxed Hawaiian shirt-wearing, emeritus of the “University of Southeast Asia,” determined to find and keep some of the youth he lost in Viet Nam. Joe Pike will never find his youth again and is the perfect dark balance to the light Cole is determined to hold onto. How they solve so much that is insoluble for their clients, needs to be read to be appreciated, and their combined skills make the perfect detective.
Many mystery duos from the page happily migrate to the stage and screen, morphing for good or ill along the way. With luck and good scriptwriting, what won our attention and affection as we read will delight the uninitiated when they are seen and prompt them to read to find out more about these fascinating characters, and what better time than this season to celebrate all these couples–likely and unlikely.