Sunday, June 7, 2009
To marry or not to marry? That is the question.
Handling the progress of a romantic relationship is even more difficult than finding a new way to murder someone.
In mystery fiction, I mean.
In my fourth novel, the one in progress, Sheriff Steve Martinez and Ginny Fitzgerald, my main characters, are rapidly approaching The Watershed in their romance. Ginny wants to legally adopt Tommy, the Ojibwa lad she has been fostering for three years (since A Venture into Murder), and she wants Steve, her squeeze for four years, to become her certified husband so that everything will be wrapped up nice and legal for the informal family unit the trio has become. She thinks, with reason, that Tommy's emotional grounding will be stronger.
But Ginny is a filthy rich widow, with an enormous estate and charitable foundation and a passel of lawyers to administer them. Naturally they are advising a prenuptial agreement to protect the wealth, and Ginny understands their point.
And naturally Steve is balking at that.
"I'm a Lakota," he says. "I need to be free."
"You're about as Lakota as my little finger," says Alex, his state trooper chum. "You're just afraid of commitment."
"I'll never sign a goddamned prenup," says Steve. He has his pride.
The sheriff knows that rich people are different from you and me. It's not just that they have more money, as Hemingway said. They're a culture unto themselves, even if some of them try to be just folks, as Ginny does.
Steve has in his professional life seen all too often what happens when poor marries rich: a terribly dysfunctional family (think "Dallas"). He wants no part of that. What's wrong with the informal, natural togetherness he and Ginny have settled into?
So this is what I have to figure out as the novel progresses.
Should Steve and Ginny split? Sgt. Jim Chee and Janet Pete, so long an item in Tony Hillerman's novels, did. Pete became a high-powered Washington lawyer and Jim remained content to be a tribal policeman and part-time Navajo shaman. That just wouldn't mix.
Jim eventually married Bernadette Manuelito, his fellow tribal cop, at the end of Skeleton Man (2004). But Hillerman wrote only one more novel, Shape Shifter (2006) before his death in 2008.
I think it was Raymond Chandler who said that marriage was the kiss of death for a crime novel. When a romantic couple weds, the sexual tension -- so important to the advancement of the plot -- fades.
Will they or won't they? What will happen to Steve and Ginny? I just don't know.