Methodology

Illustration by Sidney Paget of the Sherlock Holmes adventure

Illustration by Sidney Paget of the Sherlock Holmes adventure “The Greek Interpreter,” which appeared in The Strand Magazine in September, 1893. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“I thought you’d like to hear what we’ve found so far about Constance.”

“I take it that doesn’t include whoever killed her,” said Myrna.

“Unfortunately not,” he said as he put on his reading glasses and glanced at his notebook. “I spent much of the day researching the Quints—“

“Then you think that had something to do with her death? The fact she was a Ouellet Quintuplet?”

“I don’t really know, but it’s extraordinary, and when someone is murdered we look for the extraordinary, though, to be honest, we often find the killer hiding in the banal.”

Myrna laughed. “Sounds like being a therapist. People normally came into my office because something happened. Someone had died, or betrayed them. Their love wasn’t reciprocated. They’d lost a job. Gotten divorced. Something big. But the truth was, while that might’ve been the catalyst, the problem was almost always tiny and old and hidden.”

Gamache raised his brows in surprise. It did sound exactly like his job. The killing was the catalyst, but it almost always started as something small, invisible to the naked eye. It was often years, decades, old. A slight that rankled and grew and infected the host. Until what had been human became a walking resentment. Covered in skin. Passing as human. Passing as happy.

Until something happened.

Something had happened in Constance’s life, or the life of her killer, that provoked the murder. It might have been big, clearly visible. But more likely it was tiny. Easily dismissed.

Which is why Gamache knew he had to look closely, carefully. Where other investigators bounded ahead, dramatically covering ground, Armand Gamache took his time. Indeed, he knew that to some it might even appear as inactivity. Walking slowly, his hands behind his back. Sitting on a park bench, staring into space. Sipping coffee in the bistro or brasserie, listening.

Thinking.

And while others, in glorious commotion, raced right by the killer, Chief Inspector Gamache slowly walked up to him. Found him hiding, in plain sight. Disguised as everyone else.

“Shall I tell you what I know?” he asked.

–Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In (Minotaur Books, 2013), p. 118.

Here, in the guise of a murder mystery, we find a method for identifying a motive to kill—which, by analogy, could be a motive for war. The reason for killing is banal, not extraordinary. It is something that festers within, that is triggered by a catalyst, such as 9/11. The motive for war, the inner demon, can be found lurking in plain sight if we are patient enough to look closely, listen carefully, and think reflectively, instead of rushing off dramatically “in glorious commotion.”

RLI

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