If 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.