Most people would agree with the wisdom that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. We also know that in reality, there are tradeoffs to every payoff and a price to pay for nearly everything. Life just works that way. But that doesn’t stop people trying. Many people seem to be irresistibly drawn to ‘the easy score.’ And as any crime fiction fan can tell you, that can lead to trouble.
That’s certainly what happens to Charles Arundell in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Charles’ elderly Aunt Emily is both wealthy and unmarried, so he’s very hopeful of his prospects from her will. In fact, although he’s fond enough of her, he’s hoping quite frankly that she won’t live much longer, because Charles is quite fond of the races. He’s not good at saving his money either so by the time the novel begins, he’s getting a bit desperate. Emily Arundell is neither oblivious nor stupid, so she’s quite well aware of the fact that her relatives are eager for their share of her money. But even she isn’t prepared when someone tries to kill her. She writes to Hercule Poirot, asking for his help in a ‘delicate matter,’ but she doesn’t specify what it is. By the time Poriot and Hastings get the letter and travel to Miss Arundell’s home at Market Basing, though, it’s too late. This time, the killer has been successful. Charles Arundell is one of the chief suspects because of his habit of going for the ‘easy score.’ It doesn’t help his case that he actually did try for that kind of easy money just before Aunt Emily died…
The killer in Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise counts on easy money. That person, who works for Pym’s Publicity, Ltd., agrees to use company advertising to help arrange meetings between a drugs ring and local dealers. At first it seems like a winning proposition but then, copywriter Victor Dean finds out about the deal. What’s worse, Dean decides to make his own easy money through blackmail. But instead of ending up with a lot of money, Dean is pushed down a staircase and killed. He does leave behind an unfinished letter though in which he tells part of what he knows. So Pym’s management hires Lord Peter Wimsey to go undercover as Dean’s replacement to find out who is using the company’s resources for illegal purposes and of course, who killed Dean. In the end, neither Dean nor his killer gets the big score they were both hoping to get.
Several of the characters in Michael Connelly’s novels find that going for the big score leads to sometimes devastating consequences. In The Black Ice for instance, LAPD cop Harry Bosch finds out that fellow cop Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore has apparently committed suicide. Bosch goes to the scene of Moore’s death and it’s not long before he begins to wonder whether this death was actually a suicide. But it seems that the ‘higher-ups’ don’t want Bosch to investigate. The word is that Moore had ‘turned’ – gone ‘dirty’ – and the LAPD doesn’t want the embarrassment that will be caused if that fact goes public. As Bosch fans know, though, he’s not exactly one to blindly obey his superiors, so he keeps digging. What he finds takes him back to Moore’s home town as well as to the ‘home base’ of a dangerous Mexican drugs ring. Bosch also finds that the lure of easy money plays a big role in what happens in the novel.
Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town introduces us to Karen Shipley. She is the ex-wife of famed Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson and the mother of his twelve-year-old son Toby. Nelson has decided that he wants to establish a relationship with Toby, whom he barely knows. The only problem is that Karen and Toby seem to have disappeared. So Nelson hires PI Elvis Cole to find them. Cole demurs at first; after all, Karen could have very good reasons for not wanting to have any contact with her ex-husband. But Nelson insists. Besides, a fee is a fee. So Cole agrees to look into the matter. He traces Karen and Toby to a small Connecticut town where Karen works for a local bank. Cole also finds out something else: Karen has some connection to the local Mob. It turns out that she took advantage of the tidy sum she was paid to help launder some Mob money. Before she knew it, she was so deeply involved that she can’t get herself free. So now, Cole and his PI partner Joe Pike have two difficult tasks: convince Karen to let Toby’s father see him, and help Karen get free of her ‘employers.’
Peter Temple’s Jack Irish isn’t above trying to make some extra money. He gets some of his income from occasional legal work, and a lot of it from finding people who would rather not be found. But there’s also his interest in sport, including horse racing. In one of the sub-plots of Bad Debts, for instance, Irish and some of his friends (including one of his occasional employers) work out an interesting plan related to betting arrangements and horse racing. Admittedly it’s not the main mystery; that has to do with the framing for murder of one of Irish’s former legal clients. But as Irish and his friends follow the races, make their plans and work for that score, we follow along, and it’s interesting to see how the lure of a big score draws people in.
And then there’s Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage, in which making a big score turns out to be deadly. In this novel, Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate the execution-style shooting of banker Emmet Sweetman. A look into Sweetman’s personal and professional lives soon shows that he took advantage of the easy money available during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years. He overextended himself using money he got from some very shady people, always with the plan that he would pay it back. After all, money was easy to come by and there was always more. But when those boom years ended, Sweetman owed much more than he could pay back. That’s when his ‘business associates’ decided to handle the matter once and for all. At the same time as they’re investigating this case, Tidey and Cheney are also faced with another. Vincent Naylor has recently been released from prison. Naylor has come to believe that risks aren’t worth taking unless the payoff is going to be very, very big indeed. So he connects with his girlfriend Michelle Flood, his brother Noel, and some other friends. They begin planning a major heis. The idea is to rob an armoured car belonging to Protectica, which transports cash to and from banks. Naylor wants the one big payoff that will set him up for life, and this promises to be it. That’s not how it works out though, and when things fall apart, Naylor decides to plan his revenge…
Most of know that nothing comes free, and that ‘easy money’ never really is. But that big payoff – that huge score – can be so alluring that people go for it anyway. I know I’ve only mentioned a few examples here, because there’s only so much room in this one post. Which examples have you read?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Easy Money.