But here’s the thing. They can’t – not entirely. Let me explain what I mean. Major social inequities and problems don’t have easy fixes. If they did, and if just one person or one group of people could solve them entirely they wouldn’t remain problems. But we can all think of horrible injustices and social problems that haven’t been fixed. They’re bigger than just one person or one group of people, so the solutions have to be bigger than just one person or one group of people. Certainly that’s true in real life, and well-written crime fiction reflects that reality.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot is staying at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. One of his fellow guests is actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, who’s gotten quite a reputation for having ‘male friends.’ In fact while she’s there with her husband and stepdaughter she engages in a not-very-well-hidden romance with another guest Patrick Redfern. When Arlena is found strangled, the first and most likely suspect is her husband Kenneth, who very likely knew all about her affair. But he can account for his time, so Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. One possibility is that Arlena was mixed up in or had discovered a drugs-smuggling ring that’s been operating in the area. As the sleuths discuss this, it’s clear that the drugs problem isn’t going to be solved by just one person. Several people are involved in this particular ring (which is of course one of many), and it takes insights from more than one person (including Poirot) to find out about just this one group. Solving the drugs problem is an even bigger undertaking.
There’s another interesting perspective on the drugs issue in T.J. Cooke’s Kiss and Tell. London lawyer Jill Shadow learns how complicated the issue is at first hand when she takes the case of Bella Kiss. Bella was arrested at the airport on charges of bringing drugs into the U.K. She admits she had drugs, but she won’t tell who paid or coerced her to bring them in. It’s soon clear that she’s protecting someone at very great risk to herself. What’s more, Bella seems to be afraid that she’s in danger of her life if she tells the truth about the drugs ring she’s helping. Shadow does a little of her own investigation and soon learns of a murder that may be related to this case. Then there’s another murder. And the more Shadow learns, the more some very ruthless people want to shut her up. Now Shadow has to find out who’s behind these deaths and the drugs ring before she becomes a victim herself. In this novel, Cooke shows us that solving the drugs issue is a lot more complicated then just, say, finding new ways to catch smugglers like Bella. Yes, that’s part of it, but there’s also the issue of users and dealers who are willing to pay a lot of money for drugs. There’s also the issue of growers and shippers for whom drugs represent a livelihood. And then there are the powerful people on both sides of the law who get rich because of the drugs trade. It’s not enough for one group of people to act and Cooke makes that clear.
I think we’d all agree that human trafficking and the child sex trade (I know – separate issues if you think about it, but please bear with me) are terrible social problems that need to be solved. But as we see in crime fiction, it’s not enough for just one group to do something. In Ruth Rendell’s Simisola for instance, Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the disappearance of twenty-two-year-old Melanie Akande. She was last seen leaving the local Employment Bureau where she had an appointment with job counselor Annette Bystock.. When Bystock is found murdered, it’s clear that this is a more complex case than just one missing woman (as if that weren’t complex enough). Then the body of a young woman is found in a nearby wood. At first Wexford thinks the body is Melanie Akande’s but he’s wrong. In the end, all three cases turn out to be parts of a series of events relating to the Employment Bureau. One thread of this case is related to human trafficking and Rendell looks at the factors that support it. Yes of course it’s important that victims be rescued if they can be and that those who ‘employ’ those victims face the consequences. But it’s not that simple. The culture that protects certain people needs to be examined. The economic inequities that lead to young people being lured or sold into being trafficked has to be examined. The network of wealth that allows some people to become extremely rich because of human trafficking also needs to be examined. No one person or group can do it all alone.
We also see that clearly in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. PI Jayne Keeney is visiting her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montasse in Chaing Mai in northern Thailand when de Montpasse’s partner Nou is murdered. Shortly after that de Montpasse himself is murdered. The official explanation is that de Montpasse killed his partner and then violently resisted arrest when the police came for him. Keeney doesn’t believe that though and looks more deeply into the case. She finds that these deaths are related to human trafficking and the Thai sex trade. What Savage shows quite starkly in this novel is that this is a complex social problem that can’t be solved by just one person or group. The police (assuming an honest set of police) can’t do the job alone by just arresting ‘clients.’ That won’t stop the problem. It’s part of the solution, but there’s more to it than that. There’s the issue of those who are so desperately poor and so lured by the offer of money that they give up their children to the trade. There’s the issue of those in power who get rich from the trade. There’s the issue of locals who look the other way because they benefit in some way or they are afraid. It’s too big a problem for just one group.
And then there’s the issue of rape. It happens all over the world and when we read about it we’re appalled. But it still goes on. As Arnaldur Indriðason shows us in Jar City, righting that societal wrong is more than just a matter of arresting rapists, as important as that is. In that novel, Inspector Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of Holberg, a seemingly inoffensive elderly man who lived alone and didn’t seem to have any enemies. He had no fortune to leave either so there aren’t greedy beneficiaries to consider. But as the team looks more closely at this case they discover that there was more to Holberg than a lot of people knew. He’d been accused years earlier of rape, although he was never arrested or convicted. And as the team follows up on that lead the members find that Holberg may have had more than one victim and that may be the key to his murder. This story makes it clear that stopping rape is more than just a matter of arresting suspected rapists and punishing those who are guilty. Rape victims need to speak up. The law enforcement culture needs to support them in every way without sacrificing the civil rights of those accused. The larger culture needs to empower survivors of rape so that they can put their lives back together. And that’s just the beginning.
It’s just as true in real life as it is in crime fiction. Like everyone else, I was sickened and heartbroken and a lot more by the terrible gang rapes that have occurred in recent months in India. I have no appropriate words to describe that horror and I cannot imagine what the victims and their families have been through. But here’s the thing. That sort of thing doesn’t just happen in India. And it’s not only those two women although even one incident is one too many. The question isn’t whether this happens. It clearly does. The question is what are we supposed to do? Yes, those responsible need to be brought to swift and appropriate justice. But there’s more. Women need to speak up. Loudly. We need to insist on equity and be satisfied with absolutely nothing less. And we need to be clear about that. But we can’t do it alone. Men need to speak out too. Loudly. And women need to welcome men’s support. We need to refuse to condone a popular culture that makes light of sexual conquest and we need to speak with our feet and our wallets. Those in political, law enforcement and military power need to use that authority and power to ensure that this kind of horrible thing is not encouraged, ‘covered up’ or left alone, no matter who perpetrates it. Parents and educators need to teach children from the beginning that nothing justifies the abuse of another human being in any way. There’s more too of course. This problem goes too deep and it’s much too big for anyone to manage alone or even for one group to manage alone. We all have a part to play in solving the problem.
ps. The ‘photo is of the frame for the daybed that I’m putting in my home office. I’ll show you the full thing when I’ve gotten linen and pillows and things for it. Guess what? I built this. That’s me with the drill driver. But I didn’t do it myself. It was too bulky and heavy for me to do that. I couldn’t have taken it on without Mr. Confessions…. . See what I mean?
*NOTE; The title of this post is the title of a song by The Eurythmics and recorded as a duet with Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and the one and only Aretha Franklin.