I Feel Like Letting My Freak Flag Fly*

Living Other LivesIf you pay attention in Las Vegas casinos, restaurants, shops and so on, you see an interesting phenomenon: lots of people dress and act in ways that they probably wouldn’t at home. I’ve seen Elvis impersonators, people walking around wearing balloon hats, people dressed in costumes, and people wearing scanty, spangled clothes that I doubt very much they’d wear to work. Nobody seems to mind very much; after all, as I’ve been told more than once, ‘It’s Vegas.’

For many people, visiting places such as Los Vegas gives them an opportunity to live out fantasies in ways they can’t do in their regular lives. I don’t mean just sexual fantasies although of course, that happens too. Rather, I mean adopting a persona that one can’t ‘wear’ at home. Not being a psychologist, I don’t know exactly why people sometimes feel the need to do that, but it seems to be a human need, for at least some people. You sure see it in Los Vegas, and you see it in crime fiction.

For instance, In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Beddingfeld. She’s recently lost her professor father and now finds herself as the saying goes alone in the world. She decides that, since there’s nothing much holding her in London, she’ll have some adventure in her life:


‘I wound a black garment tightly round me, leaving my arms and shoulders bare. Then I brushed back my hair and pulled it well down over my ears again. I put a lot of powder on my face, so that the skin seemed even whiter than usual. I fished about until I found some lip salve, and I put oceans of it on my lips. Finally I draped a red ribbon over my bare shoulder, stuck a scarlet feather in my hair, and placed a cigarette in one corner of my mouth. The effect pleased me very much.’


Anne finds that ‘wearing a new self’ is more dangerous than she thought. One day she witnesses a terrible Tube accident in which a man is killed. She ends up with a piece of paper he had, which turns out to mention the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse she books passage, deciding to live out what it’s like to be an adventuress. That choice gets her mixed up in murder, international intrigue and jewel theft.

Peter Robinson’s Bad Boys also touches on this theme. DI Alan Banks is away on holiday. So when Juliet Doyle comes to the police station to make a report, it’s Annie Cabot who takes the information. Juliet has found out that her daughter Erin has a gun. The gun belongs to Erin’s boyfriend Jaff, who is most definitely not the kind of person people want their children to date. As it turns out, Banks’ daughter Tracy is Erin’s best friend, and she knows exactly the kind of person Jaff is. When Jaff invites Tracy to run off with him, she’s excited at first. This will give her the chance to be someone she simply can’t be at home. But the excitement soon fades off when things start to spin completely out of control. Banks comes home from his holiday to find that a colleague’s been shot, there’s been a fatal accident, and his daughter has been taken hostage. Not the sort of homecoming one would wish for…

Jodie Garrow’s daughter Hannah wants to break free and be someone new in Wendy James’ The Mistake. She’s recently recovered from an accident that left her injured (that’s a story of wanting to break free in itself). But all is not well with Hannah’s family. She learns to her shock that her mother Jodie had a child several years before she, Hannah, was born – a child Jodie’s never mentioned to anyone. What’s more, there are rumours that Jodie herself may be responsible for the baby’s disappearance. Hannah’s never really felt completely comfortable with the quiet, middle-class life her family leads, and when her mother becomes a social outcast things are even worse. Then, Hannah learns something else that upsets her even more. She decides to ‘put on’ the life she fantasises about: a life moving around with her boyfriend, with no other ties. She imagines herself as a free spirit, and that’s the life she tries to ‘wear.’ So she runs off with her boyfriend only to find that an unsettled life with no boundaries isn’t exactly what she thought it would be. This sub-plot of wanting to be someone else is an interesting thread through the novel.

In Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman helps to solve a few mysteries. One has to do with the deaths of several local junkies. Another is the question of who’s been sending threatening notes to several residents of the building where Chapman lives and has her bakery. There’s been vandalism to the building, too and Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen look into the matter. The key to the deaths of the junkies seems to be a Goth club called Blood Lines. Getting into the club isn’t easy though, so if they’re going to see what’s going on there and figure out what connects it with the deaths, Chapman and Cohen will have to play roles. Chapman’s friend Pat, who goes by the name of Mistress Dread, owns a leather shop and creates the perfect Goth dominatrix outfit for her. That night, Chapman and Cohen go to Blood Lines and Chapman gets the chance to experiment in ways she doesn’t get to do in her regular life.

Jill Edmondson’s The Lies Have It has as a backdrop Toronto’s fetish club scene. In that novel, PI Sasha Jackson agrees to help her friend Jessica tend bar at Bound For Glory, a fetish club that’s planning a big event. When one of the club members Ian Dooley is murdered, Jackson gets involved in investigating the death. To do that, she gets to know some of the members and some of the things that go on ‘behind the scenes’ at Bound For Glory. In the meantime, she’s also working on another case: the disappearance of runaway teen Marcy Edquist. In this novel, it’s interesting to see how lawyers, accountants, doctors, and others who live what most people would consider ‘ordinary’ lives use the opportunity to live out some of their fantasies through the club.

Experimenting with another ‘self’ gives people the chance to do things they couldn’t normally do. Even wear a feathered costume. As you can see though, it doesn’t always go as planned…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Almost Cut My Hair.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Jill Edmondson, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Robinson, Wendy James

31 responses to “I Feel Like Letting My Freak Flag Fly*

  1. I do have a question about Kerry Greenwood. She has two series she writes. I am interested in reading her books. Forget who the heroine is in the other series – Phryne Fisher!- have you read many in that series? My big question is can they be read as stand alone novels?

    Re post: There’s a persona you don’t want to share with work colleagues *g* if you like dressing sexy or whatever. My issue isn’t clothes or living out fantasies. I always tell people that I’m well behaved at work. At home well, I am completely different in temperament. I’m sure a little of it slips through on occasion but I’ll leave it there. It’s similar to online personas as well. Online someone may come off as an extrovert but when you meet in real life they are quiet and shy. I’m told this happens all the time. Online you are able to be whatever you want. Now, I find that an interesting phenomenon. Sorry to slide off topic once again *sigh*

    • Keishon – Oh, that’s not off-topic at all. In fact, that’s post-worthy in and of itself. With the Internet and online social networking, it’s easier than ever to be someone completely different if one wants to do so. It’s quite closely related I think to this whole notion of ‘putting on a different sort of self.’ Interesting and I’m very glad that you brought it up.
      About Kerry Greenwood… I’m actually a fan of both her Corinna Chapman series and her Phryne Fisher series. Both are, I think, well worth reading. In my opinion, you don’t have to read the Phryne Fisher series in order. That said though, there are story arcs that make more sense if you do. Still, I think it’s more than possible to richly enjoy each story for what it is – separately from the others.

      • I’m a big fan of the Phryne Fisher books. I’m currently reading No. 13, in which Phryne’s love interest, Lin, disguises himself as a reverend gentleman. I’m reading them in order, because that’s just the way I am. But I agree that you could read them out of order. I love the way Phryne adapts so many disguises and personas. She’s joined the circus, become a stripper and a magazine journalist, for example.

        • Caron – I couldn’t agree more. Phryne is a terrific character, and part of the reason is that she is so easily able to adjust to any situation. She sometimes has to use a disguise, or a made-up story or something else, but she always finds a way. She’s mentally very agile. I also like her free spirit. Not that she has no sense of responsibility; rather, she lives life on her own terms.

        • Yes I agree. I’ve been also following the TV adaptation, the second series of which is even better than the first. It’s interesting to see the differences they made for TV: the sexual tension between Phryne and the detective; the story of her sister’s death as a background motive for many of her actions. Interestingly, too, in the books Phryne is aged about 28, whereas in the TV series, she’s about 10 years older.

        • Caron – I found those differences interesting too. And yet, they very well for television. And in my opinion Essie Davis does a terrific job as Phryne. I really do believe her in the role.

        • Yes, she is perfect. In fact, I’ve always been surprised in the books that Phryne is so young. I think the character being a bit older suits it well.

        • Interesting point, Caron. Certainly I think her being not quite so young matches the character’s wisdom and her cynicism.

  2. I suppose you might include people living out their transgender personalities – there’s a Ruth Rendell and a Josephine Tey which both revolve round that plot point….

    • Moira – Oh, that’s quite true! And now we’re on the topic, there are a lot of novels in which characters work in/go to drag clubs along the same lines. There’s a Rebecca Cantrell that includes that plot point. Thanks for expanding my post.

  3. Margot: In Jill Edmondston’s first book, Blood and Groom, Sasha is the “slut mines” as a phone sex operator. The job certainly requires her to take on a different personality.

    Neil Bergen, in Murder in the Gutenthal by Armin Wiebe, is a farm labourer in a Manitoba Menonite German community. His alter ego is Schneppa Kjnals (Flat German for Corny the Snoop) as he looks to solve local mysteries.

    • Bill – Right you are about Sasha Jackson’s on-the-’phone alter ego. And now you’re reminding me of a funny scene in that novel in which she’s talking to one of her ‘phone clients with the one personality while mentally thinking of other things (and of her opinion of the client) with her other personality. Really well done in my opinion.
      And thanks for the recommendation of Wiebe’s work. I must try it as it sounds really interesting. I love that moniker, too!

  4. Reblogged this on The Crayon Files and commented:
    What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, doesn’t it? Mystery novelist and academic Margot Kinberg reflects on how we change when we are away from home.

  5. i loved this post! And I completely understand the satisfaction it gives one to ‘wear’ another self.

    • Malvika – Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I can certainly see too how one would enjoy the idea of ‘putting on another self,’ just for a while. It can be liberating, if I can put it that way.

  6. Yes, being different and stepping out of one’s shell in crime fiction is frequently not rewarded! :) Great round-up of examples here.

  7. As always you deliver a spot-on segue followed up with impeccable research. I think you nailed it with the extension of the sense of self into costumes, situations and personae that are a departure from their day to day lives.

    • Howard – Thank you – that means a lot to me. I like the way you express the way we can put our ‘regular’ selves aside sometimes and become someone else. It’s such an interesting phenomenon I think.

  8. I wonder if it’s a matter of putting on another persona when so far away from home or if it’s an issue of letting the mask we wear for others expectations of us, slip. This kind of thing fascinates me!

    • Rebecca – It does me too. And both of your ideas make sense. Perhaps it’s different things for different people. I think in some cases it could even be some sort of combination of factors (e.g. We’re away from home, so we let the mask slip because it’s safer in places where nobody is likely to know us.) I really love speculating about this kind of thing…

      • Psychology fascinates me. If I had the time (and finances) I would try and study it part time – as well as everything else. We as a species are just endlessly – fascinating. I suppose that’s where the love of crime fiction comes from.

        • Rebecca – I couldn’t agree more. Psychology and the way people think are fascinating to me too. Perhaps that’s part of why I write crime fiction. We humans are such an interesting species, and watching the way people interact in a place like Las Vegas really showed that.

  9. Interesting comment by Keishon about people whose online personas are different from their real life ones. I have found this although if I like them online I usually like them in real life too!

    • Sarah – It is indeed very interesting isn’t it? In fact, I must think about that whole question of online personalities vs real-life one. I’ve also found that people I like as online friends are great in person too, but it isn’t always that way, and I know it’s a theme in some crime fiction. I must do a post on that topic I think.

  10. I love the photo that you used for this post. I don’t really like traveling that much, but what I do like is that people seem to be more relaxed and willing to let go more when they travel and are with people they don’t know so well. And Vegas is the perfect spot for that.

    In Cynthia Harrod-Eagles book Fell Purpose, a teenager who is the perfect student and the apple of her father’s eye lets loose in her dress and her behavior when she can get away from home and school. Unfortunately in this case it leads to an unhappy ending for her. I am sure that happens a lot with teenagers, but usually with less drastic and tragic results.

    • Tracy – I’m pretty sure it happens too. As you say, usually not with awful results, although that happens too. I think you’ve got a point too about the fact that when we travel, we do feel more willing to ‘let loose.’ The people we know aren’t watching, if I can put it that way, and that means we don’t have to worry the way we do at home. Perhaps that’s part of it.
      Thanks too for the kind words about the ‘photo. I was rather proud of that one if I may say so.

  11. The added honesty that comes from writing what may be uncomfortable is often the very element that makes for a fascinating read. I refer to it as the tipping halo syndrome. Everyone has it but the ability to tap into it is elusive for many as it does expose a side that may be less than acceptable to the masses.

    • Lesley – Oh, that’s a very well-taken point. When the author can reach a little and tap that syndrome (I love your name for it too!), this makes characters compelling. We can identify with them. And I think there are ways to do that without getting lurid. I know it was absolutely fascinating to see that ‘tipping halo’ syndrome while I was at the conference.

  12. Col

    Is it possible to be the same person at work, at home, on-line? I don’t know, maybe for some, but for others myself included you have to be different things to different people at different times.

    • Col – Oh, that’s an interesting question. Certainly we speak one way to, say, colleagues at work, and another to close friends. We speak and act one way with a boss and another with subordinates, too. And we play different roles too with different people. That’s a well-taken point!

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