Hear the Salvation Army Band*

Non-ProfitsGovernments can’t do it all. Even if people were willing to be taxed enough to offset the costs of every undertaking, there are a lot of needs that governments can’t meet. So non-profit agencies and NGOs have very important places in many societies. Governments know this, and in some cases, they offer tax breaks, financial support, or other ‘goodies’ to non-profit agencies.

That support is almost never enough, though, to do the job. So these agencies also depend on generous donations and volunteerism. Sometimes they hang by a proverbial thread. But they persevere and many of them do really fine work. They’re woven through the fabric of a lot of societies, and we see them a lot in crime fiction.

For instance, in Deborah Crombie’s In A Dark House, a fire at a Southwark warehouse brings out the local fire brigade. As they’re going through the place, they find the body of an unknown woman in the ruins. It’s possible that she may have lived nearby, so the police and fire officials start locally with their questions. One of the places they visit is Helping Hands, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and their children. They’re especially interested in the place because one of its residents reported the fire.  Funded primarily by the local council, it doesn’t have a large budget. But Kath Warren, the director, is proud of what her agency accomplishes. And the fact that one of residents may be the unknown woman is upsetting. There are other possibilities, though – three, as it turns out. So Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner Gemma James have to work through several records of missing women and find out what happened to them before they can determine who the dead woman is and how she came to be in the warehouse.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-lawyer Jack Irish gets a message from a former client, Danny McKillop. McKillop wants to see Irish as soon as possible, but Irish doesn’t take it seriously at first. He finds out too late that he should have, when he learns shortly afterwards that McKillop’s been murdered. Irish feels enough guilt about his former client, anyway. He did an unprofessional job defending McKillop in a drink driving hit-and-run case, and the case ended up with jail time. Now Irish comes to believe that McKillop’s murder may be related to the other case, the killing of local activist Anne Jeppeson. So he starts to ask questions. He soon learns that it’s very likely that McKillop was framed for the murder, and later killed to prevent any of it coming out. As Irish tries to track down possible witnesses, he finds that most people don’t want to say much to him. But he does pick up the trail, which leads to the Safe Hands Foundation, an agency dedicated to helping the homeless. The agency isn’t the reason for the murders, but his visit there gives him important information.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer introduces us to Catherine Monsigny. She is a newly-minted attorney who’s trying to get some experience and make her name. As the story begins, she works for Rights For All, an agency that helps undocumented workers. Her role there is to help defend them in court hearings. Then, she gets a chance to really start her career. Myriam Villetreix has been arrested for killing her wealthy husband Gaston, and wants Monsigny, whom she met through the agency, to defend her. The case itself is high-profile, and could get Monsigny a lot of attention. So she works hard to prepare herself. As she does so, though, she finds herself haunted by a tragedy that occurred when she was a toddler, and drawn back to the place where it happened. She begins to ask questions about that, and about the case she’s preparing, and finds out that both cases are much more complex than she’d thought.

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Judge Harish Shinde and his law clerk Anant travel from Delhi to Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. They’re hoping to enjoy a peaceful holiday at the home of Shinde’s old friend, Sikhar Pant. Pant has invited other houseguests, too, among them Ronit and Kamini Mittal. The Mittals run a rather controversial NGO which is dedicated to sexual and reproductive health education. In fact, they’ve recently gotten into trouble with a pamphlet they circulated about AIDS prevention. Some people in the rural areas they serve believe that the material is obscene. Others see it as personally offensive. The debate spills over into mealtime conversations at the Pant home. Pant’s cousin, Kailish, supports what the Mittals are doing, while other guests, especially Avinash Anand, are very much against it. When Kailish Pant is found stabbed one afternoon, Inspector Patel is assigned to the case and begins asking questions. His first theory is that someone who hated the victim’s stand on the Mittals and their NGO took that anger too far. But there are other possibilities, and the Judge and Anant begin to explore them. In the end, and after another murder, they find out who killed the victim and why.

There’s an interesting discussion of what NGOs do in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Jim Delbeck has traveled to Bangkok to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was volunteering at the New Life Children’s Centre when she fell (or jumped, or was pushed) from the roof of the building where she lived. The police report is that she committed suicide, but Delbeck is sure his daughter did not kill herself. So he hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to find out what really happened. She travels to Pattaya, where the death occurred, to investigate. Maryanne was in Pattaya with a group called Young Christian Volunteers, an Australian-based NGO. Since Maryanne had to go through the interview process with that group, and they have background information about her, Keeney makes the NGO one of her stops as she looks for answers. The information she gets doesn’t tell her how and why the victim died. But it does give her an important perspective.   

You may not think much about it unless you work for this kind of agency, or you’ve benefited from one. But NGOs and similar agencies fill important gaps in society. Wanna do some good yourself? Find an ethical non-profit agency or NGO whose goals and work you support, and help out. Donate, volunteer, spread the word. Give a little back.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter.


Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Angela Savage, Deborah Crombie, Peter Temple, Sylvie Granotier

20 responses to “Hear the Salvation Army Band*

  1. I confess that I do not understand how you remember so many details from so many books. I do well to remember at 2 p.m. what I ate for lunch at noon. That is NOT an exaggeration.

  2. Anna Jaquiery’s novel, Death in the Rainy Season, set in Cambodia, does a brilliant job of capturing the embittered altruism of international NGO work, particularly among long-term expatriates. One of my favourite reads for 2015.

    Nice topic, Margot, and thanks as always for the shout out.

    • A pleasure, Angela. You handle the NGO topic really effectively in The Half CHild. And you’re now the second person in a short time to recommend the Jaquiery novel. I really must move that from the ‘wish list’ to the ‘Read This!!’ list. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Col

    Great post – a few books and authors I’ve never heard of!

  4. Now this is a topic that will test my memory…I cant think of anything relevant at the moment. It must be interesting to be student in one of your classes Margot – you know so much about books.

  5. This is such a good topic but I’m biased as l work for an ngo. At least l believe it is. We do get govt money but it is at an arm’s length. I loved that Peter Temple book. Must find more of his. Also a couple of John le Carre novels, in particular The Constant Gardener, address this topic. Thanks dear person! I haven’t been around much due to winter doldrums.

    • Lovely to see you here, Jan. And really helpful to get your perspective, since you have experience in the field. Folks like you do critically important work. And thanks for mentioning The Constant Gardener – a great example of what I had in mind with this post. As to Peter Temple, I’m always happy to recommend reading more of his work…

  6. Very interesting, Margot. I have Angela Savage’s The Half Child to read, and A Nice Quiet Holiday sounds worth trying.

  7. Kathy D.

    Angela Savage’s book is definitely good, as are her two others, Behind the Night Bazaar and The Dying Beach.
    And I come here and find two more books for the TBR list: The Paris Lawyer and A Nice Quiet Holiday.

  8. Someone got in ahead of me with Constant Gardener! The big organizations are a big part of our world now. I’ve been reading Joan Smith’s Loretta Lawson books, set in London in the 80s/90s, and she is involved in a lot of small-scale women’s groups of different kinds. It’s very true to the era and place – I remember them well – and those small women’s organizations did a lot to get people talking, to lobby, and to look very seriously at such issues as domestic violence, sex workers’ safety, and anti-rape measures. I think it was the same in the USA, you had similar groups doing great work. (And of course they still exist now.)

    • So glad you mentioned Joan Smith’s Loretta Lawson novels, Moira! I think they give a really interesting look at life for a woman in academia at that time. They’re not to everyone’s taste, and many people think they’re dated now, but they do give a solid picture of that time. And you’re right; Lawson is involved in several women’s advocacy groups.

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