The ‘What ifs’ in my head by Barbara Nadel

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Do you ever think about what famous crime fiction characters would have done if they hadn’t gone the whole detection route? Ah, just me then. No, I’m sure I’m not alone. What sparked it for me however was that a friend recently asked me what my Cetin Ikmen character would have done if he hadn’t joined the police. And I had to think about that. So here are my top five fictional crime characters and their alternative careers. What are yours?

1) Sherlock Holmes. Of course the easy answer would be to say that he would have just disappeared into a world of dug addiction – which may indeed have been the case. However I don’t think that Sherlock’s restless mind would have been able to do that full time for very long. He would have to investigate something even if it was only food quality. Put in a modern context I could see him as an environmental health inspector, a tax inspector or as a particularly efficient member of a Department of Works and Pensions fraud team. He’d happily watch a man for signs of undeclared work – for days if necessary. But then I also see Sherlock as a therapist. Maybe an early devotee of Herr Freud, he would happily spend years with people systematically uncovering childhood traumas. Although what he would have made of Freud’s theories about toilet training I do not know. Maybe he would be rather too Victorian for such ‘messy’ talk. With his talent for disguise he could have been an actor or course although his attention to detail re the authenticity of his costumes may have been hard for his fellow thespians to bear. Then again of course, with the exception of the drug addiction (and maybe the violin playing) his obsessive compulsive personality would make him the best cleaner anyone has ever had – ever.

2) Jane Marple. Agatha Christie’s little old lady comes to the detecting party late in life but I don’t think that precludes her from, possibly, having another career. In spite of her outwardly quiet demeanour, Jane has a strong sense of justice and had she been alive now I think she would have been a very eloquent campaigner on behalf of the elderly, the disabled and the poor. She’s physically fit and so I could easily see her helping out in people’s homes and possibly even providing nursing care. But she could also have been an academic. I think that with her inquiring mind she could have obtained a lot of satisfaction from working as either an archeologist or an applied scientist. Jane is relentless and determined and, had she worked in science, I’m sure she would have discovered a cure for cancer.

3) Philip Marlowe. I’ll admit it, I love Marlowe. I’d marry my dear Cetin Ikmen because I know he’d be faithful to me and worship the ground I walk on, but I’d have a fling with Marlowe. With his wise cracks, his history of insubordination, his bourbon, his good coffee and his height (over 6 feet) he’d make a fantastic escort for an intelligent lady. He’d also make a damn fine barrista at some non chain coffee shop somewhere in Pasadena. He’d be the greatest taxi driver you’ve ever had because he’d tell brilliant stories and not blame the ills of the world on immigrants. He’d have no time for self service machines at supermarkets and would probably, were he alive today, live his life by my own adage which is ‘I am the unexpected item in the bagging area of life.’

4) Brother Cadfael. Ellis Peters’ ex-soldier monk who has a deep knowledge of herbs and healing. In another time, Brother Cadfael would probably have been a doctor or a vet. What is more he would have been the best doctor or vet you’ve ever met because not only would he really want to heal he would care too. But not in a sentimental way.  He could also be a pathologist because he does have the ability to maintain a professional distance from his patients/subjects. As an ex-soldier he is practical too and I can see part of Cadfael being happy as a gardener or carpenter. Although he would have to have some sort of purely cerebral outlet at the same time. Maybe he’d write crime fiction? His travelling background would also, I think, make him an excellent writer and explorer along the lines of William Dalrymple.

5) Cetin Ikmen. Well I had to include him, didn’t I? What would Cetin have done if he hadn’t joined the police? I don’t think he would have become an academic like his father because there wouldn’t have been enough getting out and about in that for Cetin. He is a restless man who needs almost endless variety in his life (a bit like me). He would have made an excellent and very honest tour guide who would have been an absolute mine of information about everything and everyone. He could have been a psychologist. Out and about in people’s heads is what he’s good at and he would have made a very successful and challenging therapist. Then again he may well have followed his mother into the occult. However because he doesn’t quite believe in even his own powers of inference sometimes I think he may well have gone to the dark side and been a knowing charlatan. But that would have troubled his conscience and he wouldn’t have been happy. Cetin would have been a great teacher of history or languages. He’s good at both. Maybe if he’s taught me French at school I wouldn’t been so clueless about that language now.

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