When You’re Twins, the Magic Just Never Ends*

One of Ronald Knox’s rules for detective fiction holds that,
 

‘Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.’
 
The idea here was that it’s not fair to the reader to raise that question of identification. And, of course, crime fiction fans do want the author to ‘play fair.’

And yet, there are lots of twins in crime fiction. Some of them are identical, and some are fraternal. All of them, though, seem to have a unique sort of relationship – one that we don’t always see among other siblings. And it’s interesting to see how twins are treated in crime fiction.

For instance, in Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, we are introduced to the various members of the Ashby family, a once-‘better’ family that’s fallen upon very hard times. But that’s about to change for Simon Ashby. When he turns twenty-one, he’s set to inherit a vast fortune. Out-of-work actor Alec Loding knows this, as he knows the Farrar family very well. He also knows that Simon had a twin brother, Patrick, who was believed to have committed suicide years earlier. One day, Loding meets an ex-pat American, Brat Farrar, who looks a lot like the Ashby twins. That gives him the idea that Farrar should impersonate Patrick. Since Patrick was the older twin, if Farrar can pull off the deception, he’s set to inherit a lot of money. All Loding wants is a part of that fortune. Farrar agrees and plans are laid. But it’s not going to be as easy as it seems. As it turns out, Patrick did not commit suicide. Instead, he was murdered. Now, the same person intends to try again, this time more successfully.

Matthew Gant’s short story The Uses of Intelligence introduces readers to eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins. They’re both exceptionally intelligent, with genius-level IQs, and a strong bond. One day, they discover that an acquaintance of theirs, banana seller Aristos Depopoulos, has been killed. At first, it looks as though he was killed by one of the workers at a nearby construction site. But the Perkins twins aren’t so sure of that and decide to find out the truth for themselves. When they discover who killed Depopoulos, they engage in a little blackmail, hoping to profit from what they know. What they haven’t counted on is that they’re not the only ones who are geniuses…

In Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, Sydney PI Cliff Hardy gets a call from wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, who wants to consult him on a ‘private’ matter. Hardy agrees to at least talk to the man and goes to his home. It seems that Bryn’s twin sister, Susan, is being harassed and threatened. Bryn wants it to stop, so he wants to hire Hardy to find out who’s responsible. On the surface, Susan Gutteridge doesn’t seem to have any enemies. She works with several social causes and hasn’t attracted negative attention. What’s more, she’s not in good health, spending her share of time at a private clinic. There doesn’t seem to be much motive there, either. The twins’ father, Mark Gutteridge, made quite a lot of money, but was, according to his widow, a swindler. So, it’s possible one of his enemies has decided to target Susan. Bit by bit, Hardy learns some of the family history and some family secrets that play their roles in what’s been happening. He also discovers how that all ties in with Mark Gutteridge’s business practices. In the end, he finds out who’s behind the harassment.

Scott Turow’s Identical is the story of twins Cass and Paul Gianis. Paul is leading in the race to become mayor of Kindle County, and his prospects look good. But then, everything changes. Cass is released from prison after serving 25 years for the beating death of his girlfriend, Aphrodite (Dita) Kronon. Her brother Hal believes that Paul was also involved in some way, and wants the case investigated. For his part, Paul doesn’t want this matter raked up, and sues for defamation. But, for his own reasons, Hal is very much opposed to Paul becoming mayor and will do what he needs to do to prevent that. That conflict between the families means that some very dark secrets are going to be raked up.

Of course, not all twins have a lot in common. For example, Teresa Solana’s Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez are twins, but they’re very different. They don’t look much alike, they have different politics, and they have different temperaments. Borja is more extroverted, more willing to take risks, and better able to ‘sell’ clients on the brothers’ services. Eduard is a little more stable, a planner, and, perhaps, more realistic. They are complementary, but their differences can sometimes lead to friction.

Detective Inspector Kim Stone, whom we first meet in Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream, had a difficult, sometimes quite traumatic childhood. She spent quite a lot of time in the care system, and that’s given her, in a way, a hard edge. She’s not what you’d call dysfunctional, but she does have her issues. One of the things that haunts her is that she had a twin brother, Mikey, who died when they were children. She slowly comes to terms with that tragedy as time goes by, but it’s still hard for her. And, as we learn what happened in their childhoods, we see why.

Priscilla Masters’ Martha Gunn is the coroner for Shrewsbury, which means she gets involved in all cases of unnatural death. As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is the mother of twins Sukey and Sam, who are twelve when the series begins. They have different interests and friends, so Gunn does the best that she can to treat them as unique individuals. In some ways, they are quite different, too. But they also have their own special connection.

There are a lot of other stories in which twins figure (I know, Agatha Christie fans. It’s just hard to mention those examples without spoilers…). It’s a fascinating relationship and can make for character layers and plot points in a crime novel. And that gives an author all sorts of possibilities.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Philip Bailey and Little Richard’s Twins.

11 Comments

Filed under Angela Marsons, Josephine Tey, Matthew Gant, Peter Corris, Priscilla Masters, Ronald Knox, Scott Turow, Teresa Solana

11 responses to “When You’re Twins, the Magic Just Never Ends*

  1. As the mother of 8 year old twins, I’ve taken lots of notes here!!

  2. You missed out on surely the most famous twin crime-busters – the Bobbsey twins! I loved those stories when I was a kid, and really wanted a twin. Nan and Bert, as teenagers, seemed so cool, and Freddie and Flossie were fun – especially Freddie and his toy fire engine… Ha! Maybe not quite as literary and deep as Scott Turow’s Identical, but I enjoyed them just as much… l)

    • Oh, I loved the Bobbsey twins, FictionFan! You know, I meant to put them in this post, and didn’t in the end; so, I’m very glad you did. I always enjoyed their adventures, and I liked it that it wasn’t always Bert and Freddie with the good ideas… Those were fun stories, weren’t they? Thanks for bringing them up here.

  3. Col

    I read one from Marti Green maybe a year ago – The Good Twin about sisters separated at birth. From memory trawling it’s my only encounter with the phenomenon in my reading.

  4. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post on the role of twins in crime fiction from the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist Blog.

  5. Well it’s hard to avoid spoilers in this case, but I should point out that Ellery Queen wrote (and stars in) The Siamese Twin Mystery , which is, I think, one of the most powerful of the early Queen books. It’s one of my favorite EQ novels, when Ellery and his father are trapped with a number of people in the midst of a raging forest fire. And someone in the group is a murderer…

    • I’m very glad you mentioned that one, Les. As you say, it’s very difficult to talk about this one without giving away spoilers; that’s one of the reasons I didn’t include it here. So thanks for filling in that gap. Folks, if you haven’t read this one, it’s well worth a read.

  6. Some good ones there – Fr Knox might not like them, but I love them! In Ngaio Marsh’s Surfeit of Lampreys, a pair of twins are under suspicion. But then – both try to confess to the same murder, and the police really don’t know what to do with that…. Someone has been sighted in the vicinity of the crime, but how can they possibly know which one it is….?

    • Ah, yes, of course, Moira! A Surfeit of Lampreys! I’m so glad you brought that one up. I should have and didn’t. Thanks for completing this post. And thanks for the kind words. I think twins in the genre is a fascinating topic; and, if it’s not contrived, twinship can be effective in a lot of ways.

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