Where I live, the tourist season has well and truly begun. You’d think that Southern California would get more tourism during the Northern Hemisphere winter but that’s not what happens. There are a lot of visitors here of course from colder climates, but there are also many, many people who come here to escape the heat and humidity of a Midwest or Deep South summer. Tourism is an important part of our economy, so keeping the tourists happy matters. But honestly, it’s not always fun having tourists around. If you’re a local, try getting to work on the unusually-crowded roadways, or getting a table in one of the nicer restaurants, or finding a parking space, or finding a place on the beach. That’s not to mention the way some tourists (‘though certainly not all!) treat the area and the locals. If you live in a place with tourist attractions, you know precisely what I mean.
A well-written (as ever) review at Fair Dinkum Crime (the place for everything about Australian crime fiction) is what actually got me to thinking about tourism. I’ll wait while you go check out the review. And while you’re at it, do follow Fair Dinkum Crime. There’s no better source for what’s new in Aussie crime fiction. The review was written by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, which blog you’ll also want to follow if you’re not already – simply a superb crime fiction review blog.
The review itself doesn’t focus a lot on tourism, but it did trigger my thinking. Tourists are important for a lot of different economies, but they’re not always welcome (and sometimes, for very, very good reasons). This makes for some interesting tension, and that of course means it’s a great theme for crime fiction.
In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death for instance, we meet a group of tourists including the Boynton family. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is a tyrannical mental sadist who’s had her family members cowed for years. When she suddenly dies during a sightseeing trip to Petra, her family is finally freed of her presence and can start over. At first her death is put down to heart failure, but Colonel Carbury isn’t entirely satisfied. So he asks Hercule Poirot, who’s in the area on an excursion of his own, to investigate. Poirot agrees and looks into the family dynamics as well as Mrs. Boynton’s personal history. As he does so, we get to know the rest of the people on this journey and it’s interesting to see the ‘tourist dynamics.’ For instance, there’s the demanding and particular Lady Westholme MP and her companion Miss Pierce. In Lady Westholme’s opinions and views, we see the stereotypical ‘nightmare’ tourist who expects everything to be a certain way, preferably just like home. There are also the members of the Boynton family and family friend Jefferson Cope, who are enthralled by what they see. And then there’s Mahmoud, the local who is in charge of guiding the tourists. In his opinions we see the resentment of some locals for tourists. This whole thread adds an interesting layer to this plot.
Sometimes being a tourist can put you in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what happens in Donna Leon’s Blood From a Stone. One morning an unknown Senegalese immigrant is shot, execution-style, in a Venice open-air market while he’s setting out his wares. The killers are professionals so they’ve ensured that they won’t be remembered. And yet, Commissario Guido Brunetti knows that the more people he talks to, the more likely it is that someone will have seen something. Keeping track of the numerous tourists in the area isn’t his responsibility but this case is different. American tourists Drs. Fred and Martha Crowley were present when the victim was murdered, and so were a few other members of their tour group. So Brunetti interviews them as part of his investigation. Their input doesn’t immediately solve the crime, but it does help. And in their conversations we see how the police have to strike a balance when dealing with, especially, international tourists. On the one hand, Brunetti needs to solve the crime. On the other, these tourists are foreigners from a wealthy country and there is every financial reason to encourage more tourism. So treating them well is essential. For the Americans’ part, they want to get on with their trip and their itinerary did not include a police case. Still, they do want to help and they know that any piece of information might be valuable.
The trouble that tourists can cause is a major theme in Carl Hiaasen’s Tourist Season. Skip Wiley is the leader of Las Noches de Diciembre (The Nights of December), a Florida eco-terrorist group. Wiley is upset at the loss of Florida’s natural beauty and blames the tourist industry. So he and his gang set out to do whatever is necessary to stop more tourists from coming to Florida. ‘Whatever is necessary’ will end up involving kidnapping, murder and later, dynamite. The first victim is B.D. ‘Sparky’ Harper, head of Greater Miami’s Chamber of Commerce. At first, the police think the killer is Ernesto Cabal. Cabal is a small-time burglar who was caught driving Harper’s stolen car. He says he’s not guilty, and Brian Keyes, who’s hired by the Public Defender’s office to help on the case, believes him. Keyes’ search for the people who are really behind the murder and other bizarre events in the story will mix him up with, among others, obdurate police officers, a very hungry pet crocodile named Pavlov, and an Orange Bowl beauty queen who hates the ‘beauty pageant scene.’
There’s a thoughtful and honest (‘though not really positive) view of the tourist/local relationship in Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets. Wealthy Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth, his sister Wendy and several of their equally-moneyed friends have booked a skiing holiday in Trafalgar, British Columbia. One evening, the well-appointed SUV the group has rented plunges into the Upper Kootenay River, taking Wyatt-Yarmouth and his best friend Ewan Williams with it. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and Sergeant John Winters begin to look into the deaths. Forensic results show that Wyatt-Yarmouth died as a result of the plunge into the river. But Williams had been dead for several hours before the accident. What’s more, he shows signs of blunt force trauma to the head. So the police investigate his death as a murder. As they examine the lives of the victims, they find some complicated relationships among them and their friends and family members. They also find that there was considerable friction between them and some of the locals (saying more would give some important things away). In a related sub-plot, Jason and Wendy Wyatt-Yarmouth’s parents arrive to claim their son’s body. In their reactions to the town, the police and the locals, we see why tourists are so often resented. The fact that he was a tourist is not the reason Ewan Wililams was killed. But it does play a role in the novel and so does the underlying tension between the tourists and the locals.
In Roger Smith’s Dust Devils, we meet sixteen-year-old Sonto, who usually goes by her English name Sunday. She has been promised in marriage to locally powerful Zulu leader Inja Mazibuko. Sunday has her own very personal reasons for not wanting to marry Inja, but her aunt has benefited financially from this arrangement, and forces Sunday to go through with the wedding plans. As the wedding day approaches, Inja heads back to Zululand after carrying out some ‘business’ in the Cape Town area. He is in the pocket of the minister of justice and has just committed four murders to help protect his ‘patron.’ Mazibuko has framed former journalist Robert Dell for three of the murders, but Dell has escaped from prison with help from his father Bobby Goodbread. Now the two of them are also heading to Zululand to catch Inja. When they get to Zululand, their paths cross with Inja’s and with Sunday’s as they try to find Inja and Sunday tries to avoid her fate. So how does tourism play into this novel? Sunday works at an ‘authentic Zulu village’ which has been set up for tourists. Her job is to be ‘one of the villagers’ and serve the visitors. In fact there’s one humourous scene in which she is wearing her ‘authentic’ Zulu dress – and has an MP3 player too.
And then there’s Angela Savage’s The Half Child. In that novel, Bangkok PI Jayne Keeney is hired by Jim Delbeck to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. According to police reports, she fell (or jumped, or was pushed) from he roof of the Pattaya hotel where she was living. The police believe Maryanne committed suicide but Delbeck doesn’t think so. So Keeney agrees to travel to Pattaya and find out the truth. One of the people whose help she enlists is Police Major General Wichit. As head of Bangkok’s Tourist Police, Wichit has to deal with all sorts of tourists. Although he understands all too well the importance of tourism for the economy (and his job!), he also doesn’t have much respect for tourists who do stupid things that lead to them getting scammed:
‘…his toughest challenge was not to laugh in the face of reports made by exasperated farangs [foreigners]. How they’d paid a large sum of money for a handful of Burmese rubies that turned out to be red glass…How they’d played a friendly game of cards with a fellow who said he worked as a croupier at the casino, only to be robbed of all their traveller’s cheques. How they’d exchanged money with an agent outside the currency exchange only to come away with a wad of ‘Hell Bank Notes’ – fake money the Chinese burned at funerals – sandwiched in between a few baht. It never ceased to surprise Wichit how people kept falling for the same old tricks.’
Wichit feels the same combination of resentment at some tourists and acknowledgement of their importance that all of us do who have to deal with tourists.
What about you? Do you live where there’s a lot of tourism? Is there friction between tourists and locals? Which novels have you enjoyed that deal with this?
Thanks, Bernadette, for the inspiration.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chris de Burgh’s Tourist Attraction.