Now Give Me Money (That’s What I Want)*

FundingThe 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).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Martin Edwards, Michael Stanley, Vicki Delany

24 responses to “Now Give Me Money (That’s What I Want)*

  1. Hiding behind charities and bogus business plans are businesses in themselves and of course money does make a great part of the story even as a sub plot because so many people can relate to the greed aspect of it. University department heads are no exception – too true!

    • Lesley – Oh, university funding is a blog post-worthy topic in and of itself, isn’t it? And you know, you’re right about ‘dummy’ corporations and fake businesses and charities. That’s a big business and it’s lucrative. It’s such a shame too, especially for the real charities and more ‘upfront’ businesses.

  2. Clever description of A Murder is Announced – I’ll say no more than that!

  3. Margot: In The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton there is a $50,000,000 fraud in which there are fictitious land transactions in central British Columbia. Philip Chew, the Canadian resident of a family of wealthy Chinese Filipinos has manipulated credit limits on his authority by making a series of smaller purchasers that total the $50,000,000. It is a fast paced international investigation.

    • Bill – It sounds as though it is. That ‘wheeling and dealing’ and manipulating one’s credit is a great example of the kind of things people do when they’re trying to get financial backing, and they don’t much care how legal their methods are.

  4. It’s love or money, most often, isn’t it, which causes a crime to be committed. (At least in crime fiction). So I can only mention that I read relatively recently and which therefore sticks to my mind. An example of corporate greed on an international scale, which really shows the great powers fighting over mineral resources in Africa (and yet still manages to be an enthralling thriller) is Bloodland by Alan Glynn.

    • Marina Sofia – It’s true. Gain of some sort is a major motivator in a lot of crime fiction. And I’m very glad you’ve mentioned Bloodland, as it shows starkly how financial backing and the desperation for it can lead to that kind of corporate greed.

  5. Great topic Margot – I spend my life worrying about such things (working as I do for a charity) – loved some for these examples as I would never have thought of them though goodness knows, that kind of frustration over project funding will always be a good motive – thanks, as always.

    • Sergio – Thank you. And it sounds as though you know all too well what it’s like to look for stable sources of funding, whether they’re private or government sources. Charities have to make that an important part of what they do. But as you say, it’s not just charities. Anyone with a business venture, research proposal or other project can tell you that funding matters. A lot. So it is a great motive.

  6. And of course there’s that lottery win in Hakan Nesser’s ‘The Unlucky Lottery’!

  7. Ms. Kinberg, this is another excellent theme in crime-fiction. Thanks for highlighting the charity angle in these novels. As mentioned, wills often play an important role in fiction. In THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton, the heroine Lily Bart is acutely disappointed when her deceased aunt leaves her with only $10,000 when she’d hoped for much more that’d have enabled her to pay off her debts. It forces her to think of marrying a wealthy man she was not inclined to marry in the first place, having set her eyes on another. Here, a will, as a source of money and greed, comes in the way of her happiness.

    • Prashant – Thanks for the kind words. You are quite right about the ways in which wills can affect people’s plans for money. In this case, it’s a matter of happiness. In others it’s a matter of ‘seed money,’ funding for projects and other things. Either way, I think that’s one reason for which wills can cause so much contention.

  8. I can tell you some stories about university funding! Although now there are such safeguards that there won’t be many more stories. You have to document any expenditure to the time at our school. Certainly money is the primary motive in most crimes. Or family issues. A real foot race.

    • Patti – Oh, I’m sure that you and I could swap a lot of university funding stories! As you say, there are safeguards now, although I’m still sure people will try to figure a way around them! And yes, money is up there as one of hte prime motives for crimes…

  9. kathy d.

    Money is the root of all evil — or the lack thereof. In which song did the words about money being the root of all evil appear? Also, the rich get richer, etc. I know it but can’t find it. I love this song and remember it, and also the O’Jays’ For the Love of Money.
    Lots of songs about money or needing it.
    It certainly is the motive for so many murders in crime fiction in inheritances, swindles, scams, like that in the movie, “The Sting,” robberies, tax and insurance fraud, etc.
    I’d certainly rather see that than serial killers. At least it’s more reality based.

    • Kathy – Hmm… now you’ve got me thinking about that. There are actually several songs where that phrase pops up; I’ll have to put my proverbial thinking cap on. There are, as you say, a lot of good songs with that theme. And wanting money for different projects and purposes is a big motivator too. People sometimes get desperate for funding, and desperate people do desperate things…
      Thanks for reminding me of The Sting. What a great film, and every time I see it I notice something different.

  10. kathy d.

    And, as I think I’ve mentioned before, my great Uncle George was a bit on the other side of the law. He was in the actual “sting” that was featured in the movie, and he had the role of the person who writes the racing results on a chalk board. Yes, he really did it, as he also ran liquor from Canada in a hearse with my Dad, a child at the time, and his spouse, returning from a “funeral” during Prohibition. A nice guy, always with a twinkle in his eye.

    • Kathy – Oh, yes, you did mention that about your uncle. He sounds like such an interesting character, and clever too. And what a good example of ways to get money…

  11. Great topic. Money certainly can be a motivator for bad and good. All of the books you mentioned are ones I have not read but want to get to someday.

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