Staying at an inn can be a really pleasant alternative to staying at a large, ‘corporate’ hotel. Inns are often smaller, more intimate, and more ‘homey’ than larger places. They have a long history, too – longer than that of the large hotel chains. And they’re quite varied.
One important difference between the larger hotels and inns is that, instead of being owned by corporations, and managed onsite, many inns are privately owned. This means that innkeepers and owners have a lot of say and personal stake in their inns. They can be interesting people in their own right, and they certainly figure in crime fiction. After all, innkeepers have a way of knowing what goes on in their places.
In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, for instance, we are introduced to Mrs. Castle, who owns the Jolly Roger Hotel, a holiday destination on Leathercombe Bay. She prides herself on running a respectable establishment; she is painfully respectable herself, too. So, it’s a source of great distress when one of her guests is murdered. Famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall is strangled during a visit to the Jolly Roger. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, is a natural suspect. But he has a provable alibi. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the real killer is. Through it all, Mrs. Castle is determined to preserve the good name of her hotel.
Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates is the story of the murder of Miki Ken’ichi, whose body is found early one morning under a Tokyo train. Inspector Imanishi Eitaro and his team take the case. The victim wasn’t from Tokyo, so there are no nearby family members of close friends. So, one important task for the police is to find out where the man was from and try to trace his movements. It takes time, but eventually, it’s established that Miki was from Okayama. He was taking what was, for him, a very unusual trip, so Imanishi starts with Okayama, and traces the man’s journey. This leads him to the Futami Inn, where Miki stayed briefly. The innkeeper isn’t exactly thrilled to have the police asking questions, since he’s concerned about the inn’s reputation. But he co-operates with the police, and so does the maid who waited on Miki. Between them, they provide Imanishi with interesting and important information.
Ross Macdonald’s short story The Singing Pigeon features his PI sleuth, Lew Archer. In it, Archer is heading north from Mexico into Southern California. He stops for the night at a motel called the Siesta. At first, the innkeeper doesn’t seem eager to rent out rooms, but finally, he gives Archer a room for the night. The next morning, Archer is awakened by a woman’s scream, and rushes to the room next door to see what’s going on. There’s blood on the bedsheets, and the young woman who was screaming starts to say something about it, but she’s quickly hushed up. The innkeeper, who is her father, says that one of the guests had a nosebleed, but Archer doesn’t believe it. Still, there’s not much he can do. He checks out of the Siesta and prepares to be on his way. Not far from the motel, though, he finds the body of a man. Making the obvious inference, he goes back to the Siesta, where it’s soon clear that nobody is telling him the truth about what really happened there. In the end, though, Archer finds out who the dead man was, and what his connection is to the Siesta and the family that owns it.
In Sujata Massey’s The Salaryman’s Wife, Tokyo-based art expert Rei Shimura decides to treat herself to a New Year’s trip to a traditional inn/B&B near Shiroyama, in the Japanese Alps. The inn is owned by Mayumi Yogetsu, who takes pride in her establishment, and wants to maintain its reputation. She keeps up traditional standards, and that makes for a bit of awkwardness with Shimura, who is more modern in her outlook. Still, the visit starts out well enough. Then, early one morning, Shimura discovers the body of another guest, Setsuko Nakamura. The police are called in, in the form of f Captain Jiro Okuhara, and the investigation gets underway. It’s all very difficult for Mayumi Yogetsu, who now has to cope with police everywhere, uncomfortable questions about the guests, and more. It’s not a lot easier for Rei Shimura, who is, at the very least, a ‘person of interest’ since she found the body. In the end, we learn who and what is behind the murder, but not before there’s great danger to Shimura, as well as another murder.
There’s also Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder (AKA The Murder Stone). In that novel, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, and his wife, Reine-Marie, take their annual anniversary trip to the Manoir Bellechoise. It’s a lovely, rural place that they both enjoy. There, they are greeted by the proprietor, Clementine Dubois, who knows them and makes them welcome. She makes it her business to know all of her guests, and to make everyone as comfortable as possible. And she is a consummate professional. But even her skills are put to the test by the members of the Finney family, who are also staying there. It’s a very dysfunctional group, and that makes things awkward for everyone. Then, there’s a murder. All sorts of old secrets come to the surface; so does a connection to another series character.
And I don’t think I could do a post about innkeepers without mentioning Joss Merlyn, who owns the eponymous inn in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Merlyn’s twenty-three-year-old niece, Mary Yellan, comes to stay with him and his wife, Patience; and, right away, there’s trouble. Merlyn is abusive and rude, and it’s clear he doesn’t want Mary there. Patience is terrified of her husband and does her best to placate him when she can. It’s a cold, eerie atmosphere, and Mary dislikes it immediately. Even the inn itself is chilling. No-one ever seems to stay there, and it’s not hard to see why. Then, Mary discovers that something eerie is going on at the inn. Neither her aunt nor her uncle will tell her anything, so she goes looking for answers on her own. And she soon finds herself in very real danger. Then, there’s a murder. And it’s very likely that Mary could be the next target.
Inns and other such small places can be warm, friendly, positive experiences. They can be unique, too, and often have a much more ‘personal touch.’ And the people who own and run them can be as interesting as the inns themselves.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Master of the House.