Give it All to Charity*

CharitiesThis is the time of year when all sorts of charitable groups and causes make major appeals for donations. And that makes an awful lot of sense, as giving to others is (supposed to be, anyway) a part of the seasonal ethos. And we all have our particular favourite causes and charities that we support. Charitable groups are so much a part of our lives that it makes sense that we’d see them in crime fiction. After all, people in fictional worlds need a helping hand too sometimes…

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we meet Mabelle Sainsbury Seale. She’s recently returned to England from India, and one day, visits a local dentist Henry Morley. That’s where she encounters Hercule Poirot, who’s having his teeth cleaned. Poirot doesn’t think too much more about their encounter until Chief Inspector Japp informs him that Morley’s been shot. As a matter of course, all of the patients who came to the office that day need to be interviewed and Miss Sainsbury Seale is no exception. In talking with her and looking into her background, Japp and Poirot find that she’s an actress who works with Zenana Mission in India. Everything about her seems above board as the saying goes, until she disappears.  At almost the same time, they find that another patient has died of an overdose of anaesthetic. Now they’ve got two suspicious deaths and a disappearance to solve. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that the Zenana Mission isn’t the reason for Morley’s death. But it adds an interesting layer to Miss Sainsbury Seale’s character.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-attorney Jack Irish investigates when a former client Danny McKillop is murdered. The trail leads to a man named Ronnie Bishop, who may know more about this case than he says. But the only problem is that Ronnie disappears. So Irish tries to find him. It turns out that Ronny once worked for the Safe Hands Foundation, a charity group that supports homeless children. In fact, he called the foundation’s head Father Gorman. So Irish goes to Safe Hands to try to track Ronnie down. Safe Hands isn’t the reason Danny McKillop was killed, but it turns out to play a role in the novel, and Irish finds out some useful information about Ronnie there. It’s a good example too of the way a charity group operates.

Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy features Mareen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell, who lives and works in Glasgow. In Exile, the second novel in the trilogy, Mauri works at Place of Safety, a shelter for battered women. While she’s there, she meets Ann Harris, one of the shelter’s residents. Soon enough, Ann disappears. That in itself isn’t that strange, as residents are not obliged to tell anyone where they go. But it does make the staff uncomfortable as it often means women are returning to abusive situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Ann though. But when she turns up dead in London two weeks later, it’s clear that something went horribly wrong. Everyone thinks that Ann’s husband Jimmy murdered her, but his cousin Louise, who runs the shelter, thinks he’s innocent. So she and Mauri start to ask questions. This novel is interesting in that many of the scenes take place at the shelter, so we get to go behind the scenes of a charitable organisation.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a volunteer for a Melbourne charity called the Soup Run. Its purpose is to deliver food, non-alcoholic drinks, medicine and clothes/blankets to Melbourne’s street people. Chapman is a baker, so she contributes to the Soup Run in two ways. She donates extra loaves of bread, rolls and other baked goods to the Soup Run’s collection. She also takes her turn riding with the Soup Run and helping to distribute the donations. The Soup Run may not be quite as formally organised as some other charities are, but it does a lot of good. There are other Melbourne charities too that we learn about in this series. In Devil’s Food, for instance, Chapman gets an unexpected visit from her mother, a back-to-nature hippie who goes by the name of Starshine. Starshine is worried because Chapman’s father, who goes by the name of Sunlight, has disappeared. Chapman agrees to see what she can do to find her father. She knows her father isn’t familiar with the city and doesn’t have money to get a hotel room. That leaves Melbourne’s various charities and missions including the Sunshine Sisterhood, Mission to the Miserable – the Sunnies. When Chapman goes there looking for her father, we see how a charity group works. Chapman encounters other charity groups too in the course of this novel, and it’s interesting to see how each operates.

In Andrea Camilleri’s The Wings of the Sphinx, Vigatà Inspector Salvo Montalbano is called to a local landfill, where the body of an unknown young woman has just been discovered. She has no identification other than a tattoo on one of her shoulders, so Montalbano has to start there. With help from his friend television journalist Nicolò Zito, Montalbano discovers that the victim was one of a group of Eastern European girls who came to Sicily hoping to find jobs. All of them had been helped by a charity called Benevolence, founded and now run by Monsignor Pisicchio. On the surface of it, the charity does a lot of good, and it’s supported by some important people. But Montalbano comes to suspect that it’s not as benevolent as the name would suggest…

And then there’s the New Life Children’s Centre, which we encounter in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney gets an inside look at this charity when Jim Delbeck hires her to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. Maryanne was a volunteer at New Life when she jumped (or fell, or was pushed) from the roof of the apartment building where she lived. Keeney travels to Pattaya, where the charity is based, to do some investigating and goes undercover as a volunteer there. She learns that this charity, run by Frank Harding, prepares Thai babies for international adoption. It’s a charity, so it’s partly supported by donations. But it’s also supported by the Thai government. So any hint of irregularity in the organisation could be most embarrassing and politically very difficult. Keeney will have to be very careful as she investigates, especially since it’s possible that Maryanne might have found out something about New Life that could create problems for the organisation.  Among other things, this story shows the sometimes very complex relationship between charity groups and governments.

Charity groups do an awful lot of good. I’ll bet you have your own particular favourites that you support. That’s a good thing; there’s too much need out there for any one of us to fill it alone.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sublime’s (Love is) What I Got.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Denise Mina, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple

24 responses to “Give it All to Charity*

  1. These all sound interesting. I haven’t read this series but Nancy Pickard wrote a series about Jenny Cain, the director of a charitable foundation. Have you read any of those?

  2. I’ve just been reading Gladys Mitchell’s splendid Watson’s Choice, and that has that stalwart of mid-20th century novels – the hostel where indigent ladies can go to live out their old age. In this one there is a splendid ex-chorus girl who is obviously always on the point of breaking enough rules to be expelled, spending any money she gets on drink and cigarettes. The lady residents all have to have references and be respectable. It’s a great set-up…

    • Moira – Oh, what a wonderful setup for a novel! And Mitchell was so good at crafting offbeat characters like that. I hope you’ll do a post on that one. It certainly is a great example of what I had in mind with this post.

  3. kathy d.

    Good topic, especially this time of year. And in this economy, with millions unemployed, lots of people are in need even of basics like food. Food banks need donations and food. In my city, over 1 million don’t have enough to eat and the food pantries don’t have enough to feed them, so I’m trying to figure out how to donate and will give to it/them.
    Another idea is that the late, but eminent Maxine Clarke promoted Book Aid, an England-based group that donates books to children around the world who don’t have books or school supplies. Because of her prompting and this blogger’s support, I donated to Bood Aid last year and will do it this year. It can be done online. What more appropriate charity for avid readers could we find!

    • Kathy – You’re absolutely right that there are many, many people in need, whose only source is charity. It’s worth it to find a cuase one supports and donate money, time or both to it. And thanks for mentioning Book Aid International. It’s a very worthy charity that does an awful lot of good at getting books to people who cannot otherwise get them. You’re right; Maxine was a friend to that charity and in fact introduced me to it. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. It’s sad just how many charities are needed and how much good work they do.

    This makes a change for me Margot, but I can actually contribute today! 🙂 The crime book club as you know, is reading The Dead of Winter by Peter Kirby and the homeless shelter features heavily in it (well, as far as I’m up to anyway).

    • Rebecca – You right that it is sad how much need there is. I’m glad there are charities out there that do their best to make a difference.
      And thanks for mentioning the Kirby book. I’m very disappointed I won’t be able to join you folks for the book club meeting this time, but you’re right that Dead of Winter is a good example of a theme of a charity group.

  5. Is pro bono considered as charity? I presume it is for pro bono is defined as work done for the public good without compensation. Yet, it is difficult to reconcile charity with crime, especially since pro bono service is accessible even to convicted murderers and death row inmates, as we see in “The Chamber” by John Grisham.

    • Prashant – Oh, that’s a fascinating question! I can see why someone might consider pro bono work a form of charity as the attorney doesn’t get paid for it. But it is hard to look at it from that perspective when we know that even convicted killers have access to it. And The Chamber is a strong example of that. On the other hand, I do like the idea that money should not be the reason for which someone is denied fair legal representation. It’s challenging. I may revisit this in another blog post.

  6. The perfect topic for this season! And great examples, as always, Margot.

  7. We have lots of people/institutions collecting books for kids but few for adults. I guess they figure most adults can get the books they want at the library if no where else.

    • Patti – You know, you have a well-taken point there. But not everyone can get to a library and not everyone can afford to buy books. You’ve given me something to think very hard about, so thanks…

  8. Margot, how do you come up with such off-beat topics? Very interesting post and I intend to re-read One, Two, Buckle… as I don’t remember the Zenana reference at all.

    • Neeru – Thanks very much for the kind words. Admittedly, the Zenana Missions isn’t a major part of the novel, but I really do think the charity angle adds to Miss Sainsbury Seale’s character.

  9. Margot – I can’t help thinking of characters in mysteries who are otherwise villains who donate to charity. One of my favorite examples is the sinister Mr. Popescu in the film version of The Third Man.

    • Bryan – That’s quite true. There are plenty of villains who have that generous side to their characters. When it’s done well it’s not jarring either. It adds to the character’s depth. And The Third Man is a good example of that.

  10. Col

    I’m hoping to read Temple’s Irish book next year, and possibly a Mina title. At this rate I think my “hopes” add up to more than the number of days in the actual year!

    • Col – I know precisely what you mean by ‘hoping to read’ vs actually reading. I’ve got a lot of books planned for 2014, but I’m just as certain that I won’t get to nearly all of them.

  11. I don’t really have a favourite charity but my mum used to love the Salvation Army and would always give to them. She loved music so I think that was part of it to be honest but I don’t have a problem with that – as St Augustine said ‘Those who sing pray twice’.

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