3 Reasons Why Fictional Sleuths Can Never Take True Vacations (an Encore)

why fictional sleuths can never take vacations

by Kathy (K.B.) Owen ~ Ahh, May is here; time to think about our summer vacations. But sadly fictional sleuths can never take true vacations. Here’s why…

Just like everyone else, our sleuth (amateur or otherwise) is more than ready to leave the hustle and bustle behind and relax, dig toes in the sand, perhaps sip a cool beverage beside the water. Not a care in the world.

Nope. Not gonna happen. The mystery writer is there to ruthlessly yank that illusion away. Bwahaha. 

Why are we mystery writers so heartless? Because vacationing is the perfect occasion for mayhem and murder. Here are three reasons:

1st Reason Why Fictional Sleuths Can Never Take True Vacations: State of Mind.

why fictional sleuths can never take vacations

No one wants to deal with unpleasantness or disruption while on vacation. And a dead body can be plenty disruptive, as Hercule Poirot found out during his aborted vacation in Christie’s Death on the Nile. 

Conflict, a key ingredient to any story, increases when our expectations are flouted and we are caught unprepared. A detective’s fellow vacationers would rather be sipping margaritas than answering uncomfortable questions.

why fictional sleuths can never take vacations -- the journey is a perfect setting for mayhem
Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March, 1891, porters at side of car. Library of Congress.

2nd Reason Why Fictional Sleuths Can Never Take True Vacations: The Journey.

Trains, planes, cruise ships…great opportunities for chaos and conflict, as strangers are forced to travel together in tight quarters. Tempers flare. Small annoyances turn into big grievances. Moreover, who are these people? What troubles have they brought along with them?

Mystery writers have long turned to such a setting. I couldn’t resist it myself in the fourth book of my Concordia Wells Mysteries, Unseemly Haste, which is set aboard a cross-country sleeper car in the summer of 1898. There may have been a dead body or two, but you’d have to read it to find out. *wink*

3rd Reason Why Fictional Sleuths Can Never Take True Vacations: The Locale.

Just a sunset; no body! (photo by KB Owen)

There are a couple of elements to consider in this category. One is the incongruity between, say, a paradise location and a grisly murder. Everywhere one looks–the swaying palms, the gentle breeze, the gorgeous sunsets–indicates peace, contentment, serenity. Except for the gory body one has just stumbled upon.

Another consideration is the “fish out of water” aspect of being in a strange place. We are completely dependent upon the local hosts who are the only ones familiar with the people, backstories, customs, and overall workings of the community. Misinformation–or outright lying–can make for some wonderful twists and turns to the mystery. Who knows what secrets lurk in paradise?

So, there you have it: our poor, overworked sleuth cannot catch a break.

Any other reasons you can think of as to why fictional sleuths can never take true vacations (i.e. why a vacation works so well for a mystery)? I’d love to hear from you.

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

K.B. has also written another series, set in the late 1800s as well, starring a lady Pinkerton detective.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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