A New World Order Has Been Formed*

1990sIt’s only been twenty years or so, so perhaps we don’t have a real perspective on the era yet. But the 1990s saw some major changes on several levels. And the crime fiction of and about that era reflects them. There won’t be space in this one post for me to mention all of them, so I’ll just mention a few. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more.

One of the most iconic moments of the decade was the 1990 release of Nelson Mandela from prison on Robben Island. The ‘photos and videos of that day are unforgettable. Four years later, Mandela was elected President of South Africa. That time of the end of apartheid and the beginning of whatever might come next was both heady and uneasy. In a lot of ways, it still is. And Deon Meyer has captured the pain and promise of that time in several of his novels, such as Dead Before Dying, which was first published in Afrikaans in 1996. His characters come from a wide variety of different backgrounds, and all are trying to find places in the new South Africa. One thing that comes through in Meyer’s work is that such a major societal change has meant a lot of discomfort and uncertainty. That’s led to quite a lot of violence and other problems. Yet, Meyer’s South Africa is also a beautiful country with rich natural and human resources and much potential.

Another major event of the 1990s was the negotiation and long political process that led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. That agreement, which involved the UK, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, established the conventions under which Northern Ireland is governed today. It also established several cross-border authorities and commissions created to oversee the end of armed hostilities and to deal with logistics such as the exchange of prisoners and the return of remains to families for burial. This treaty hasn’t completely and magically ended tension in the area. However, novels such as Colin Bateman’s 1995 Divorcing Jack show what places like Belfast were like before the treaty was signed. And there are many other novels too that depict the long history of conflict in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. In the last decade (Brian McGilloway’s work shows this), life on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland has achieved a sort of balance; people go on with their lives, and most would probably tell you they’re just as well pleased not to have to bury any more combatants.

In 1993, the Soviet Union broke up, leading to major shifts in geopolitics and business. And if you read crime novels such as Margaret Truman’s Murder in the House, Robin Cook’s Vector, or Ian Rankin’s Exit Music, you see a major shift in theme that reflects the breakup. Older crime fiction, or crime fiction about the Cold War, very often features espionage, CIA v KGB agents, and so on. But more recent crime fiction has new themes; the new Russian business oligarchs, Eastern European crime leaders, and human trafficking are just a few of the topics featured in novels of the last two decades.

There’s another important development that arguably fell out from the breakup of the Soviet Union; related power shifts among its former allies. For instance, the former Yugoslavia faced its own political crises during the late 1980’s and finally broke apart after the end of the Soviet Union. The war in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo cost many thousands of lives, and had effects in lots of places. Just ask Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. He is Chief of Police in the small French town of St. Denis. He is also a veteran of that war, and still bears the psychological scars of it, although he’s certainly functional. It’s part of why he’s just as well pleased to be living in a (mostly) peaceful place.

The end of the Soviet era also led to the introduction (or, better stated, re-introduction) of capitalism in a lot of places. That’s what we see in Qiu Xiaolong’s series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau. This series takes place in the late 1990s, when China is beginning to experiment with its own version of capitalism. In several of these novels, we see the interplay between traditional Chinese culture and Maoist communism, as well as the impact of more easily available consumer goods. It makes for an interesting backdrop to the stories.

One of the most important developments of this era, from several different perspectives, actually, was the advent of the Internet. There was email (although fully available, easily accessible email took a few years), but the instant information and communication we take so much for granted didn’t exist until after the mid-1990s. That single development has led to many, many other cascading developments such as social media, online shopping, ebooks and much more. And it’s all happened very quickly. For instance, Angela Savage’s series featuring PI Jayne Keeney takes place in the late 1990s. By then, you could access email at Internet cafés and in offices, and there were several web sites available; Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel use computers in that way in The Dying Beach. But Internet-ready mobile ‘phones were still in the future.  So were blogs and sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where users post their own content. And of course, that’s led to a whole new kind of crime novel…

The 1990s brought about several other changes, too – many more than I have space to mention. And because it’s only been twenty years or a bit longer, it’s very hard to say what all of the long-term outcomes of those changes (and sometimes upheavals) will be. As time goes by, we’ll see; I don’t think this story’s end has been written yet. What do you think? What are your strong memories of the 1990s? What do you see coming from it all?

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Who needs 1990s memorabilia when your own child is the best possible result of that decade? 🙂


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Renaissance Man.


Filed under Angela Savage, Brian McGilloway, Colin Bateman, Deon Meyer, Ian Rankin, Margaret Truman, Martin Walker, Qiu Xiaolong, Robin Cook

26 responses to “A New World Order Has Been Formed*

  1. She’s so sweet, Margot! It’s really interesting to see how authors are influenced by social events and there was a lot that went on in the nineties.

    • So glad you liked the ‘photo, D.S. She’s grown into a stunning young woman, too. And you’re right; authors are so often influenced by the times in which they live. And those authors who write about the ’90s certainly had a lot of inspiration!

  2. Ah, yes, a decade I remember well (maybe because I wasn’t as young as your little cutie in the picture there). It was an exhilarating and sometimes scary decade, had some of my happiest years and some of my saddest ones – a decade of extremes. Thanks for the reminder!

    • You know, you’re absolutely right, Marina Sofia, about the decade. It really was a decade of extremes, wasn’t it? And I really do believe we haven’t yet seen all of the ‘fallout,’ both good and bad, from it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. And I’m very glad you liked the ‘photo. Can’t argue with you about the ‘cuteness’ factor 😉

  3. Heartafire

    a fine article…thank you!

  4. Yes, I would have to say in terms of its affects on crime fiction, the birth of the Internet and the technology of the era has had the biggest impact.

  5. Kathy D.

    What a great post! Every time I wonder what new topics could arise I am pleasantly surprised.
    Only problem: The TBR list just toppled over.
    Do you have a particular recommendation on Brian McGilloway? I’ve been wanting to read one of his books in honor of the other half of my family. I’m daunted by lists of authors’ works, so many.
    And this reminds me to read a book by Qiu Xiaoling which I keep reading about but have not read.
    And, yes, agreement on your daughter’s cuteness and how important she was in the 1990s.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kathy. That means a lot to me. And yes, I have to say the ’90’s produced one of the cutest, and later most stunning, examples of humanity ever. Not that I’m biased… 😉
      As to the recommendation about McGilloway, I would suggest starting with Borderlands, the first novel featuring Garda Ben Devlin. While the novels can certainly be read out of order, there are certain story arcs that simply make more sense if you read the series in order.

  6. The photo is adorable — so did your daughter take piano lessons?

    The 1990s was a very crazy time for me with work, travel, and finally, blessed retirement. I’m amazed at how much the world has changed in the last twenty years, too.

    • Thanks, Pat 🙂 No, my daughter didn’t take piano lessons. She just loved to play with my keyboard. And I think the ’90s were crazy for a lot of people. You know, I didn’t think about how much has changed since then until I was planning this post. But the world is certainly different now.

  7. flamingyawn

    Hi, I was just rather amazed and delighted that you used a Midnight Oil lyric this time around. 😀 That’s a darn good album. 😀 Love your blog.

  8. Love the photo and the post Margot! As you say this was a pivotal time for change some of which were obviously big changes, like those you’ve mentioned, brought great hope for a better life but for many it was a turning point in a longer story…

    • Thanks, Cleo. I like the way you put that: a turning point in a longer story. I think that’s quite true in a lot of cases. To me, anyway, it’s part of the real interest of the ’90s. It makes me wonder what’s coming next and how the story will turn out.

  9. Lovely pic! I’m betting she’s playing a Billy Joel song….
    Technology and end of the Cold War are the 2 biggies for me, and from a fiction point of view I miss the real old-school spies! I hope the world is a more peaceful place (??), but no modern spying books really live up to the traditional ones for me…

    • How did you know she was playing a Billy Joel song, Moira? 😉 – Both technology and the end of the Cold War were major developments for me, too. And it is interesting how fiction has changed as a result. I love some of those ‘old school’ spies, too. There’s just something about those stories. As you say, we can hope the world will get more peaceful, but those stories were great.

  10. Great post, Margot! I couldn’t think of any other major developments of the nineties — you’ve covered them all. Except for one change that affected India as much as it affected the world — terrorism. For us, it all began in 1993 with a series of bombings in downtown Bombay, just when people had stepped out for their lunch break. Personally speaking, my marriage in 1990 and the birth of my daughter (1991) and son (1997) were the most significant events in my life, ever.

    • The 1990s were very special too you, then, Prashant, I am sure. Funnily enough, my daughter was also born in 1991. As to terrorism, I’m glad you brought that up, because it was another important development of the era. We can of course point to terrorist attacks that go back much further in history. But (at least in my opinion), those events got more attention after the end of the Cold War. And certainly terrorism has changed the way we do a lot of things.

  11. What a beautiful daughter you have Margot! Great article too, as ever. For some reason I haven’t been getting your posts so I’m going to resubscribe and hope that works – goodness knows what happened when I was ill, then away in Glasgow!

  12. Great post, Margot, and a beautiful photo/daughter.

    Another writer worth reading whose work sheds light in TheTroubles is Adrian McKinty; In the Morning I’ll Be Gone has a subplot involving a real-life assassination attempt on a 1990s political leader.

    I also enjoy the way Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels documented changes in a Soviet and post-Soviet world.

    I also remember the death of Princess Diana in the 1990s. I was in Bangkok when it happened. I might put it in a future Jayne Keeney novel.

    • Oh, that would be interesting, Angela! I remember Princess Diana’s death, too; it was such a sad time. And thanks for mentioning both McKinty’s and Cruz Smith’s work. Both of them deal, I think, very well with the larger political movements, as well as focus nicely on the mysteries at had. And thanks very much for the kind words 🙂

  13. Col

    The 90’s were memorable for the birth of my 3 children mainly. I can remember working away from home and we used to have a “mobile” phone we could take with the van to the job. False memory maybe, but it seemed almost like the van was needed to carry the phone, given the size of the battery!

    • Oh, Col, that’s funny about the mobile ‘phone! The first generation of them really were that big, weren’t they? But….they could go with you. It was such a breakthrough! And you’re another who had children in the ’90s – I think it must have been a good decade for that 🙂

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