We Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy*

Hangers on to WealthOne of the famous quotes usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin goes like this:

‘Now I’ve a sheep and a cow, every body bids me good morrow.’

Whether or not Franklin actually originated this saying, there’s a lot of wisdom to it. People who find themselves in possession of a large fortune often discover that they have a whole new group of ‘best friends,’ relatives they never knew about, and ‘loyal business associates.’ It’s something I’ve been thinking about as the US Powerball lottery jackpot reaches a record high (as I write this, it’s at US$1.4 billion. Yes, billion).

A lot of us dream of what it’d be like to be that rich. But it’s not without pitfalls. One of them is the number of people who want their share of all that money. It’s certainly true in real life, and it’s all over crime fiction, too. Space only permits me a few examples; I know you’ll think of lots more.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery, James McCarthy is arrested for the murder of his father Charles. There’s evidence against him, too; he was known to have had a serious quarrel with his father just before the killing. But he says he’s innocent, and his fiancée Alice Turner believes him. She goes to the police to plead for his release. Inspector Lestrade thinks the police have the right man, but he asks Sherlock Holmes to look into the case. Holmes agrees, and he and Dr. Watson investigate. They discover that McCarthy was originally from Australia, and made quite a bit of money there. That money ended up attracting the wrong kind of attention…

In Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Katherine Grey. She’s worked as a paid companion for ten years, in the employ of wealthy Mrs. Harfield. When Mrs. Harfield dies, Katherine is startled to discover that she has inherited her employer’s entire fortune. Right away, those who find out about this are more than eager to get their share. For example, one of Mrs. Harfield’s distant relatives writes, insisting that she and her husband should inherit, and that they’ll raise legal issues if Katherine objects. Then Katherine gets another letter, this time from a cousin of her own, Rosalie Tamplin. Lady Tamplin has learned of Katherine’s newfound wealth, and of course, wants whatever part of it she can get. So she invites Katherine to visit her in Nice, so she can ‘introduce her to the right people.’ Not being a fool, Katherine knows exactly why her cousin has suddenly become so interested in her. Still, she’s always wanted to travel, so she decides to go. That trip gets Katherine involved in the strangling murder of another wealthy woman, Ruth Van Aldin Kettering.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Unnatural Death, Dr. Edwin Carr overhears a conversation between Lord Peter Wimsey and his friend Inspector Parker. This leads Carr to tell them about a case of his own that’s been troubling him. He was treating elderly Miss Agatha Dawson for cancer. When she died, no-one was surprised about it, and her death was put down to her disease. But Carr has never been satisfied that her death was natural. Although his view has more or less cost him his patients, Carr still thinks he’s right. So he asks Wimsey and Parker to look into the matter, and they start to ask questions. They find that more than one person has claimed or taken advantage of kinship to try to get some of Miss Dawson’s fortune.

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Mma. Precious Ramotswe uses some of her inheritance from her father to open her own private detective agency. One of her first clients is Happy Bapetse. As is the custom in her culture, Happy has been taught that caring for elderly parents and other relatives is one of her responsibilities. So, when a man shows up at her door, claiming to be her long-lost father, Happy is pleased to take him in. She earns a good living as an accountant at a bank, and has been doing well for herself, so caring for him is not a problem. But Happy has come to suspect that the person claiming to be her father isn’t really her father. Instead, so she tells Mma. Ramotswe, she thinks he may be an imposter who perhaps knew her father and knew that she had done well in life. Mma. Ramotswe agrees to look into the matter, and finds a very clever way to discover whether the man claiming to be Happy’s father really is who he claims to be.

And then there’s Charity Wiser, whom we meet in Anthony Bidulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas. She is a very wealthy executive and heiress, who has come to suspect that one of her relatives may be trying to kill her. At her behest, her granddaughter Flora hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out which relative it is. To do that, she invites Quant to join the family on a cruise aboard her private boat. The plan is to have him meet everyone, and ‘vet’ the various family members. As it turns out, Charity is not popular in the family. Each member dislikes her for one reason or another, some more than others. But because of her money, they do her bidding, which includes all sorts of ‘family trips’ designed to make them all uncomfortable. It’s surprising (or perhaps not!) what people will do if they think they’ll get a lot of money in the bargain.

And that’s the thing about coming into a lot of money. One of the consequences is that you suddenly find yourself getting acquainted with good friends, close relatives and helpful business partners you never knew existed. But that won’t stop me dreaming of that big Powerball win. Fortunately, I have very good friends all over the world who will help me make wise decisions about how to spend it all… 😉



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Shel Silverstein’s The Cover of the Rolling Stone, made famous by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers

32 responses to “We Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy*

  1. On a local news program, people in the street were asked what the first thing they’d do if they won the lottery. One man said, “Move somewhere else and tell no one where I am.”

    Smart man.

    • Oh, I agree, Marilynn! The one thing I wouldn’t do if I won would be to announce it publicly! That’d be one sure way to ensure you’d never have another peaceful moment.

  2. Col

    Not familiar with your examples, but when my winning ticket comes in I’ll have some more time to read and a few bob to get some books!

  3. Oh Margot – you’ve made me feel much better about not being stinking rich! Great examples as always although I think I need to find a copy of The Mystery of the Blue Train, if I’ve read it, I’ve forgotten.

    • The Mystery of the Blue Train isn’t always thought of as one of Christie’s best, Cleo. Still, I really do like the character of Katherine Grey. And yes, as fabulous as being decadently wealthy might be, it definitely has its down sides…

  4. Dear Winner of $1.4 billion

    I realise you may be inundated with requests but I do hope you’ll consider my plight. For years I have been taking in homeless books and giving them a roof over their heads. However, due to lack of adequate funding these books are living in inadequate – nay, squalid – conditions, huddling together in piles wherever they can make a little space for themselves. This leads to all kinds of Health and Safety issues, as I’m sure you can imagine. Why, only the other day my cat was nearly flattened by a sudden avalanche of books ‘accidentally’ tipped over by her brother. For the last few years, I have had to severely restrict the number of books I can help, taking only their virtual cousins for housing in my Kindle.

    If you could see your way clear to providing, say, a measly $5 million, I would be able to build an entire new library extension complete with luxury shelving – enough space for all the existing books and room to help many more.

    Please make the cheque out to FictionFan’s Find-a-Book-a-Home Fund.

    Thank you.

    • Brilliant suggestion, FF: the Margot Kinberg Foundation for the Rehabilitation and Support of Homeless Books & their Carers 😉

    • Dear FictionFan,
      Thank you for bringing my attention to the good work you do. It’s heartening to know that there are good people like yourself giving homes to books. It’s crucial work that needs to be done if we are to ensure healthy and supportive living conditions for all books. You represent a worthy cause, indeed. I can certainly take this up with the Board next time we meet and present it as a highly appropriate and valuable use of funds. There are a few provisos I’m sure the Board will insist on, so let me outline them for you. One: the Board reserves the right to review all TBR lists to be sure that only truly needy books are housed; two: the Board will want to send someone out to the new library for inspection to ensure that the conditions provided are healthy and beneficial to books; three: in any case involving feline overlords, the Board will need to ensure that a special extra ‘entertainment room’ be provided for your feline masters. This is something that is non-negotiable, as I’m sure that you can understand, as you are owned by cats. So you’ll want to insist that your builder include such a room in any plans. With those provisos understood, I shall certainly take your case up with our Foundation Board. Thank you for your interest, and for the good work you do.


      Margot Kinberg

      • Dear Ms Kinberg

        Thank you for your kind consideration of our request. In light of condition 2, that the Board will want to send someone to inspect the new building, we think we should ensure the comfort of such visitor by providing a special inspection zone, complete with leather sofas, footstools, reading lamps, coffee making facilities and dedicated chocolate cupboard. In the interests of economy, we suggest the staff should be able to use the zone when not required by inspectors.

        Best regards,

        • Dear FictionFan,

          Thank you for your communication regarding your funding requests. Such an inspection zone might arguably be considered an administrative expense, rather than an expense needed to actually meet the needs of the books your charity serves. This being the case, you should know that the Board frowns upon excess use of funds for administration, as it is felt that all funds possible should be available for the books themselves. Still, the Board would likely understand the need for an inspection zone that is appropriately equipped for its needs. I might suggest that if you include in your plans a bottle or two of good wine and perhaps one or two of Auchentoshan as well, we might arrange to include such a zone. Thank you for your attention to the needs of our inspectors.

          Best wishes,
          Margot Kinberg

        • Haha! I think we have a deal! 😀

  5. I love that element of Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, that the heroine knows that she will get more attention now that she has more money and has no problem with it. And it is a pleasant story of a person having some good luck visit them. There is so much variety in Christie’s books, at least the ones I have read recently.

    • Oh, I agree with you, Tracy. Christie really did write a variety of different kinds of books, didn’t she? And that’s one of her strengths as a writer, in my opinion. You’re right, too, about The Mystery of the Blue Train. Katherine Grey is a terrific protagonist, and I like the way she deals with the people who are so eager for her money.

  6. Margot: Many years ago I was involved in the Canadian court case that changed the rules on lotteries to require tickets and disallow pseudonyms by winners. It is too long a story for a post. There are good reasons for winners to be announced of lotteries.

    • I can imagine it was a complex and interesting story, Bill. Perhaps you’ll post about it on your own blog at some point. I’d bet there are good reasons to identify winners, even if they want to be anonymous.

  7. Honestly, I wouldn’t want all that money. The first thing I’d do would be to give the majority of it away to charity. A couple million is more than enough. Who NEEDS 1.4 billion dollars? It’s crazy!

    • It’s a huge amount of money, isn’t it, Sue? If I won, I’d probably do exactly the same thing as you: make plans and give the majority to those who need it far, far more than I do.

  8. Kathy D.

    What I’m amazed at is that you remember that character from The First Ladies’ Detective Agency.
    Oh, gosh, no one needs $1.4 billion. Someone just broke it down on TV and said that after taxes a winner would get $600,000 a month for the rest of his/her life. Who needs money like that?
    If I were the arbitrator in this lottery, I’d say to divide it up among 1,000 people so everyone gets a sum of money.
    But, wow, if I even got a fraction of this amount, I’d buy a slew of books, and send a lot of money to Book Aid International, a favorite charity of Maxine Clarke’s; it sends books to children in poor countries who don’t have books.
    I remembered to send a donation over the holidays. And then I’d send money to feed, house and help others.
    Who needs all that money? True. As long as we have books and chocolate and good wine, what else do we need?

    • I like your ideas for what you’d do with the money, Kathy. There are people all over the world who need money far, far more than I do. And I like BAI, too. It’d be a wonderful charity to support. There are so many others, too. There isn’t anything I’d want for myself that costs all that much.

  9. Hey, there are a couple of very intriguing stories there (well, actually, they are ALL intriguing, btu a couple of them I’d really like to read).

    I’ve been mening to read Mma. Precious Ramotswe’s stories for quite sometimes, but haven’t come around doing it yet…

    Good luck with the superball 😉

    • Thanks, Jazzfeathers 🙂 – I hope you do get the chance to read the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories. I think they’re very well-written and Mma. Ramotswe is a great character.

  10. I have never bought a lottery ticket. They say the odds of winning this one are akin to seeing a spaceship land in your backyard. But someone will have that spaceship.

  11. Margot, I read about the record Powerball lottery jackpot. I don’t even know how many zeroes make a billion! I’d hate to suddenly win that kind of money, but I’d be lying. If I’d all that money I’d buy a few books and comics, some rare ones maybe. See, the spoils of the lottery are not going to go to my head!

    • You’re wise not to let your head get turned by all that money, Prashant. It is a huge amount of money, isn’t it? I think it’s hard for most everyday people to conceive of what life would be like with that much.

  12. There’s a Ruth Rendell book, I think it is Lake of Darkness, one of her standalones, where a young man wins a lot of money on the football pools, a British institution preceding the lottery. And he lives happily ever after and is able to help needy people around him and finds true frie – OK I’m lying, this is an RR book after all. Nothing goes right for him, and some people make very bad decisions. There, THAT sounds a lot more like Rendell doesn’t it?

    • Ha! It certainly does, Moira. And that’s a great example of what happens when you suddenly find yourself with a lot of money. A solid reminder that maybe a regular life with a regular income isn’t such a bad thing…

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