The one thing that many projects (new business ventures, new research studies, non-profit groups, etc.) have in common is that they need to be funded. Getting funding for a project is a tricky business. The project itself has to be appealing. And then too, people who provide finding want to be reasonably sure of their investment. So if they’re funding businesses, they want a reasonable chance that the business will be a success. If they’re helping to underwrite a charity, then that charity has to genuinely serve its intended cause, and so on. Because so much is at stake, funding can cause a lot of tension. Little wonder it’s woven into crime fiction as it is. It’s a definite motive for murder.
In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AkA Funerals Are Fatal), wealthy family patriarch and business magnate Richard Abernethie suddenly dies. His family gathers for the funeral and the reading of the will. That’s when Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up, and even Cora encourages them not to pay attention to her. But the next day she herself is murdered. Now everyone is sure that she was right, and was silenced before she could tell what she knew. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to investigate and Poirot agrees. Between them, the two men interview the various members of the family and find no shortage of motives. For instance, Abernethie’s niece Susan Banks wants to open her own cosmetics business and beauty salon. For that, she needs a financial backer and her share of Abernethie’s estate fits the bill nicely. Susan’s cousin Rosamund Shane and her husband want to take up an option in a play and perhaps even back their own production. Again, that project needs underwriting. There are other ‘underwriting’ motives too, and it’s interesting how it’s that aspect of finance rather than pure greed that drives several of the characters in the novel.
Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier also includes an important financial-backing theme. Trafalgar, British Columbia Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith’ discovers the body of wealthy developer Reginald Montgomery in an alley one night. She’s assigned to work with Sergeant John Winters on the case, and the two begin looking into motives. One that comes up early in the investigation is that Montgomery and his business partner Frank Clemmins are involved in plans for the Grizzly Resort in the area. It’s to be an upmarket spa and holiday destination that will hopefully bring tourist money to the area. But the funding could be difficult. For one thing, not everyone supports the resort; there are plenty of people who believe it’ll ruin the environment. For another, there’s an ugly civic battle going on between those who want to build a Peace Garden in Trafalgar in memory of those who opposed the Vietnam War, and those who do not want the garden. That could mean tourists won’t come, and the unsettled atmosphere is not exactly conducive to investment. For these reasons, Clemmins didn’t want the development company to be too heavily financially involved in the resort. While the main theme of this novel isn’t garnering the financial backing for the Grizzly Resort, it’s an interesting and taut sub-plot.
Funding is also a theme in Michael Stanley’s A Carrion Death. The body of an unknown man is found in a remote Botswana preserve. David ‘Kubu’ Bengu, Assistant Superintendent of the Botswana CID is called in to investigate. The first step is to try to identify the man, but that proves quite difficult, as hyenas haven’t left much for the forensics team. As a part of the investigation, Kubu and his team try to trace the owner of the vehicle that brought the body to the place where it was found. That vehicle could very well be one belonging to the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC). As the team begins to explore that connection, there’s another death. This one too has a connection to the mine. And there’s a disappearance. Now Kubu is convinced that something’s going on at the mine and he digs more deeply into its activities. It turns out that the mine is poised for some major changes that, if they go right, could mean a lot of money. And financial backing and motives play a big role in that. So, needless to say, CEO Cecil Hofmeyr wants as little bad publicity as possible. And he and his company have a close relationship with some highly-placed Botswana politicians, who see the company as extremely important to Botswana’s economic future. It’s an interesting look at the way funding can depend on a company’s reputation.
We also see the politics of funding in Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team look into two related deaths. One is the apparent suicide of Orla Payne. The other is the twenty-year-old disappearance of her brother Callum. One night, ACC Lauren Self insists that Scarlett attend a ‘command performance’ Awards Dinner. Scarlett’s not interested in attending. For one thing, she’s no fan of Lauren Self or of ‘glory-grabbing.’ For another, she would rather be out there solving cases than going to a lot of glittering events. But this one’s important. Several local business and civic leaders will be there and their funding is an important source of support for the constabulary. Scarlett may not like such events but she’s pragmatic enough to know that they matter, so she goes. While she’s there, she can’t help but see how good Self is at ‘mixing and mingling’ with everyone in order to talk up the department and hopefully get more funding. It’s a good thing Scarlett goes to the event too, as it helps her in her case.
And then there’s the New Life Children’s Centre, which we learn about in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Located in Pattaya, Thailand, It’s a child care facility and home for abandoned children who are awaiting adoption. For Frank Harding, who co-ordinates the foreign adoptions, it’s also a place he can use for the purpose of converting as many people as possible to Christianity. The facility is supported by the Thai government and some wealthy donors. So it’s in everyone’s interest that the agency have a good reputation. That’s one reason why a lot of people get jittery when Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney begins to ask questions. She’s been hired by Jim Delbeck to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. Maryanne Delbeck was an Australian volunteer at New Life when she jumped (or fell, or was pushed) off the roof of the building where she was living. It’s possible that her death might have been connected with the work she was doing, so Keeney goes undercover as a volunteer to find out more about the facility. She finds that there’s a lot more going on at New Life than most people know. If Maryanne knew about it too, that could be a powerful motive for murder, as a child care facility with a bad reputation will not get funding, even if it isn’t forcibly closed by law. On a side note, there’s also an interesting discussion here of government funding of volunteer groups.
Funding, grants, ‘seed money,’ it’s all important for business plans, charitable agencies and facilities and universities, among other places. So it’s no surprise that it’s a source of real tension and conflict. Just perfect for a crime novel…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford’s Money (That’s What I Want).