I Want to be Elected*

VotingWhen many people think of elections and politics, they think of national-level elections. And that makes sense, since presidents and prime ministers have a great deal of power, and those elections get a lot of press. But it’s often the local and state/province/department – level elections that have the most impact on our day-to-day lives. For example, when you apply for a permit to build a house or develop some land, you generally don’t do so at the national level. So smaller elections can be very important.

They can stir up real passion, too, and the buildup of tension and excitement can be an interesting backdrop for a crime story. An election can also serve as an interesting sub-plot, even if it’s not the most important plot thread of a story.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, up-and-coming Saskatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is preparing to make a very important speech at a local picnic/barbecue. He’s widely seen as his party’s next leader, so everyone wants to hear what he has to say. As he’s beginning his speech, though, he takes a sip of water and then suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. One of his campaign workers and speechwriters is political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn. She’s also a personal friend. When Boychuk dies, she decides to deal with her grief by writing a biography of him. The more she learns about Andy Boychuk’s life, the more she sees that there are sides to him that no-one knew. That search for the truth also leads Kilbourn to the truth about who killed Boychuk and why – and into real danger for herself.

We see the power of local politics too in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts. Danny McKillop spent eight years in prison for the drink driving murder of Melbourne citizens’ rights activist Anne Jeppeson. Now he’s been released, and he is desperate to contact the attorney who represented him Jack Irish. But before Irish can meet up with his former client, McKillop is murdered. Irish feels guilty already because he didn’t do a good job of defending McKillop in the first place. So he decides to look into the murder. He soon discovers that the victim was most likely framed for the killing of Anne Jeppeson. If that’s the case, then not only is the killer still free, but that person also probably murdered McKillop. As Irish and journalist Linda Hillier get closer to the truth, they discover that it’s all related to dirty politics, greed and intrigue.

Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign features a U.S. Congressional campaign. Edward Wong has just won the Democratic primary election, and will soon be preparing to face his Republican opponent in the larger general election. One night there’s a celebration event at the Northern Virginia restaurant owned by Wong’s uncle Thomas Lee. During the evening, a group of thugs bursts in and breaks up the party, using baseball bats to cause damage to the restaurant. Wong’s family does not want the police involved, but his uncle sees things differently. Lee asks his friend Channing Hayes, who co-owns a nearby comedy club, to ask around and see if he can find out who’s responsible for the attack, before anyone gets hurt or worse. Hayes reluctantly agrees. It’s not long though before the Wong family finds out that Lee and Hayes have been looking into what happened. The family leaders make it very clear to both that their involvement is not necessary; the matter is settled and there is no need to ask any more questions. They also make some not-very-veiled threats about the consequences if either man continues to investigate. Lee though is determined to find out the truth and Hayes feels no choice but to continue. Besides, he’s not exactly enamoured of the Wong family. And what the two find is that the attack is related to politics, greed and power-grabbing. And so are some murders that also occur in the novel…

We see an example of more local politics in Shelly Reuben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street. Artemus Ackerman is mayor of the small city of Calendar. A former magician, he wants to convert an old local theatre building into a museum of magic. To do that, he’ll need funding and the support of city leaders. He thinks he may be getting everything arranged when there’s a fire on the same street as the building. Then there’s another. And another. It’s soon obvious that there’s an arsonist at work. If the arsonist isn’t caught, there won’t be public support for this new museum. What’s more, people will likely lose their confidence in their mayor. Ackerman’s smart enough to know this, so he asks his publicist/assistant Maggie Wakeling to find out what she can. She works with Fire Marshal George Copeland to get to the bottom of this nightmare before anyone is killed.

In Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover discovers the body of malicious real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church. Myrtle’s son Red, who’s the local police chief, doesn’t want his mother involved. In fact, he’d much rather her do things other retired people do – play Bingo, go to church meetings, and so on. But Myrtle is by no means ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ To show that she’s not going to be pushed aside, she decides to investigate. The victim made more than her share of enemies in her relatively short time in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina, so there are plenty of suspects. One of them is City Councilman Benton Chambers, whom the victim was blackmailing. As Myrtle discovers, Chambers is not the ‘family man’ and ‘man of the people’ that he would have his constituents believe he is. So one very good possible motive for murder here is political.

One of the funniest commentaries on local politics (at least I find it funny) is in Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, the first in his series featuring Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. In this novel, Longmire and his team investigate the murders of two young men who are connected with a vicious gang-rape two years earlier. Longmire isn’t what you’d call a political animal, although he does know the value of showing up at community events and so on. He’d rather just do his job. Still, he understands that he has his job because of people’s votes. At one point in the murder investigation, one of the crime scene investigators says this to Longmire:
 

‘You blow one homicide, it looks like a mistake. You blow two, it starts looking like negligence. Or worse yet, stupidity.’

 

Here’s how Longmire answers.
 

‘I thought I’d use that on the bumper stickers in the next election, VOTE LONGMIRE, HE’S STUPID.’

 

I wonder if that slogan would be successful… 😉

It’s not just national-level politics that can get downright dirty. Local and state/provincial/department politics can be dangerous too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice Cooper’s Elected.

28 Comments

Filed under Alan Orloff, Craig Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Peter Temple, Shelly Reuben

28 responses to “I Want to be Elected*

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Margot! I have to say, for the past week or so, I’ve had a taste of what it’s like trying to get people to vote for you (my Kindle Scout campaign for RUNNING FROM THE PAST: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2QOKLYZIY0P1M)! It’s awkward and somewhat out of my comfort zone. I’d make a terrible politician!

    • Alan – It’s a pleasure to mention you and your terrific work. And I know what you mean about getting out the vote. It does feel awkward to be ‘on the stump.’ I guess authors have to ‘sell themselves’ just like politicians do…

  2. A very timely post, Margot. Even school board members can find themselves in a lot of hot water over seemingly benign issues. I find the thought of running for any public office terrifying. 😀

    • Pat – Oh, so do I! And you’re right about school board officials. They can get in a great deal of trouble, and at least in the US, they also have a lot of local clout. So yes, there’s a lot of scrutiny there…

  3. The book that comes to my mind involving politics is Edmund Crispin’s “Buried for Pleasure.” In a major subplot, Crispin’s protagonist, Gervase Fen, is running for a seat in Parliament as the local independent candidate – a role he comes to detest as we go through the book. His final campaign speech is a true masterpiece, as he insults his audience, all politicians, and the nation in general, come to think of it. It’s a marvelously funny parody – goes along the lines of the Longmire you mentioned, but takes it a few steps further, I think!

    • Les – Trust you to think of the perfect GA/classic example of what I had in mind with this post. Fen has such a great sense of wit, and Crispin did such a fine job with words, that there’d be no way for that speech not to be terrific.

  4. For some reason that I don’t quite understand, the BBC is running an election special tonight to cover the results of the US votes. Sometimes I think we’ve become the 51st State without me noticing! However, as a fully paid-up political junkie, I shall of course be watching… hope none of the candidates read your post till tomorrow… 😉

    • FictionFan – I agree that the US political process gets far more than its share of media attention elsewhere in the world. I often wish our media outlets would pay as much attention to what’s happening in other countries… It’ll be interesting to know how these elections turn out. In the meantime, I’ve done my civic duty 😉

  5. I can easily see how local politics can lead to crime. Often it has to do with money. But no examples come to mind. We will ignore most of the coverage tonight. Don’t want to get too depressed.

    • Tracy – I think sometimes the election coverage really can get depressing… I think you’re right too that local politics are ripe for crime and graft. Lots of money is involved even at that level.

  6. I already miss LONGMIRE,

  7. Margot: Paul Giannis, in Identical by Scott Turow, lawyer and state senator is running for mayor of the city when the wealthy Hal Kronon spends large sums to investigate Giannis and run attack ads against him. It seemed all too real.

    • Bill – That is a good example of the kind of thing I had in mind with this post. Those attack ads and the huge amounts of money candidates spend certainly are a big (and unpleasant) part of many campaigns, even for local office. Well, at least that’s too often true in the US. And so is the behind-the-scenes ‘digging for dirt.’

  8. Great post. There are very many cozy mysteries, where petty local politicians interfere in things that don’t necessarily concern them. Haven’t read any which have an election backdrop, but professionals who double up as local politicians have a habit of interfering!
    I must admit I haven’t been following the state elections in the US, but my mailbox has been full of reports!

    • Natasha – You’re quite right about cosy mysteries. In small towns (and a lot of cosies are set in such places), you do see people who have more than one job, one of which is some sort of elected position. And yes, that often means they get involved in mysteries. I hadn’t thought about that before; thanks for bringing it up. And as for the US elections, we’ve been so inundated with coverage that I’m quite thankful the process is over now for just a bit…

  9. Not really a crime novel, but I loved Tom Perrotta’s Election – about a High School vote, but a clear satire on national events. It was also made into a very good film with Reese Witherspoon. Very clever and funny and compelling, but also making you think…

    • Moira – Thanks for reminding me of that film. As you say, it was very good – both clever and witty. As you say, though, also thought-provoking. I must admit I’ve not read the novel. Sounds as though I should…

  10. Col

    From the list, i’m only familiar with Peter Temple. I’ll have to stick to him I think, insufficient time for any of the others 😦

  11. Very interesting post Margot. Mary J. Latis and Martha Hennisart, who wrote as Emma Lathen, also wrote as R. B. Dominic and produced a very enjoyable series feauring Ohio Congressman, Ben Safford, with titles like Epitaph for a Lobbyist and Death in High Places. Not exactly election-based, but certainly dealing with political machinations.

    • Chrissie – Thank you! How stupid that I didn’t know that Dominic and Lathen are, well, the same authors. And of course, that’s a great tie-in with this theme. Politics and certainly get dirty! In fact, now you’ve got me thinking I must do a spotlight on these ladies – very talented!

  12. Gail Bowen has agreed to be featured on my blog series How I Got Published and I just sent her a link to your post. 🙂

  13. We have elections in the UK next year. Not looking forward to this at all. The only good thing is that the election build up is fairly short compared to the US. But even so…

  14. Blackmail is such good fodder for a political story. Alas, I can’t think of a lot of specific examples … However – and it’s not really crime & mystery, but Robert Penn Warren’s novel (and later the movie) All The King’s Men has a significant blackmail subplot.

    • Bryan – It does indeed. Doesn’t matter that it’s not, strictly speaking, crime fiction. It’s a great example of the way political blackmail works. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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