Clinging to Your Stocks and Bonds*

investmentThe ‘Roaring 20s’ came to a screeching halt in late October, 1929 with the crash of major stock markets. That crash was one of the main factors that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and, at least in the U.S., to fundamental changes in banking and stock market laws.

Of course, there’s a risk any time you speculate with your money. The company you think will do well may go under. Or, a company you decided not to invest in takes off and does well. Or, the person you thought you could trust turns out to be untrustworthy. Still, people do dream of making money from the market, and some people do well. So, it’s not surprising that so many invest.

And we certainly see investments and tension about them in crime fiction. That makes sense, too, when you consider what’s at stake. Someone who invests money (especially if it’s a considerable sum) expects a return. If things don’t go well, the consequences can be serious…

There’s a mention of investing in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. One day, completely unexpectedly, Holmes says:

‘‘So, Watson,’ said he, suddenly, ‘you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”

That’s exactly what’s happened, but Watson doesn’t have any idea how Holmes knew – until he hears the explanation. It seems that Watson’s friend, Thurston, wanted him to invest in some South African property, but Watson decided not to do that. It’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if he had invested.

In Stuart Palmer’s The Penguin Pool Murder, we are introduced to New York homicide detective Oscar Piper. One day, he’s called to the New York Aquarium to investigate the murder of stockbroker Gerald Lester. Oddly enough, his body was discovered in the penguin pool by a group of schoolchildren who were there on a field trip. That’s how Piper meets their teacher, Hildegarde Withers. She takes an interest in the case, and she and Piper soon discover that more than one person could have had a motive for murder. This story takes place not long after the Great Crash, and many of Lester’s clients lost all their money. And then there’s Lester’s personal life to consider. He wasn’t exactly a faithful husband, and his wife wasn’t above reproach, either. It’s quite a complicated puzzle; in the end, though, Piper and Miss Withers find out the truth.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories mention investing and its consequences. For instance, in the short story, The Lost Mine, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are having a conversation about money. Hastings suggests that Poirot might want to invest some of his money in the Porcupine Oil Fields, which seems to have a promising prospectus. Poirot refuses, reminding Hastings of how important safe investment is. Then he goes on to say that the only risky investment he has is shares in Burma Mines, Ltd. And that’s only because those shares were a ‘thank you’ for solving a complicated case. It turns out that one of that company’s principals disappeared, and Poirot was able to find out exactly what happened to the man, and who was behind it all. So far, Poirot’s shares seem to have done well. I know, I know, fans of Dead Man’s Mirror and of Taken at the Flood.

At the beginning of Donna Leon’s About Face, Count Orazio Falier is thinking of investing his money in a business owned by Maurizio Cataldo. Before he does, he wants to be sure his investment will be safe, so he decides to have Cataldo ‘vetted.’ And there’s no-one better for that than Falier’s son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is accustomed to doing things in this informal way, and agrees to find out what he can about the man. With help from his boss’ assistant, Signorina Elettra Zorzi, Brunetti gets some information. But then, he’s pulled away to investigate another case – the murder of a trucking company owner who might have been involved in illegal dumping. In the end, Brunetti discovers that there’s a link between the two cases. Among other things, this novel shows how people sometimes go outside ‘official channels’ and don’t exactly use a prospectus to get background on companies they’re considering for investment.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Black Tide, the second in his series featuring sometime-lawyer Jack Irish. In this novel, Irish gets a visit from Des Connors, an old friend of his father’s. He wants Irish’s help with two things. For one thing, he wants a will done that excludes his son, Gary. For another, he wants Irish to find Gary and get back sixty thousand dollars that Des says he’s owed. It seems that Gary had gotten his father to lend him the money for investing in shares of a ‘sure thing’ that was ‘going through the roof.’ Then, Gary disappeared, and so did Des’ money. Irish agrees to see what he can do. The will isn’t difficult, but finding Gary proves to be much more dangerous than Irish would have thought. And in the end, he learns that this disappearance is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to corruption and fraud.

And that’s the thing about buying shares of stock, or otherwise investing in a company. You never really know what’s going to happen. Even safe investments vouched for by people you trust may not work out as planned. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of lots more.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Peter Temple, Stuart Palmer

16 responses to “Clinging to Your Stocks and Bonds*

  1. When I think of money and crime, I always think of Emma Lathen.

  2. The first one that came to mind was the Blackbird mine in A Pocket Full of Rye, though that investment was in property rather than stocks and shares, I think. The Murdered Banker by Augusto de Angelis is one of Pushkin’s re-released classics. It starts when a banker is found dead in the apartment of a man who has been dabbling heavily and unsuccessfully in the market and is on the verge of bankruptcy. He therefore becomes the chief suspect, but his friend, who happens to be the police officer in charge of the case, can’t believe he did it…

    • Ooh, that Pushkin is a great example, FictionFan! Thank you. That’s precisely the sort of thing I had in mind with this post, so thank you. And of course, you’re right aboutA Pocket Full of Rye, too. It may just be in property, but it certainly shows the way investments and money can impact a family.

  3. Again, Larry Brooks’ thrillers spring to mind. One of my favorites, Bait & Switch involves an investment firm called Wright & Wong (<– clever, right?)

  4. I’m taken by The Penguin Pool Murder, certainly an original setting and at a time in history when everything changed. It sounds like Lester had a penchant for risk-taking in his personal life too.

  5. Col

    I’ve not read that particular Peter Temple novel yet. I’ll have to dust it off soon!

  6. kathy d

    There ,must be a plethora of books about crime on Wall Street, especially since the subprime mortgage crisis and economic collapse starting in 2007. An excellent movie that deals with this as a thriller is “The Big Short.” It shows how bad mortgages were given high ratings and were bundled and sold. It also showed how that crisis hit regular people with job and home losses in the millions.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I admit that’s not a film I’ve seen. But I have heard good things about it. And you’re right…there’s plenty of fictional wall Street crime.

  7. In Dorothy L Sayers books there are several mentions of the Great Megatherium scandal, which one gathers is an investment disaster in the past. And Lord Peter always consults Freddy Arbuthnot when he needs the lowdown on the City and finance.

    • That’s true, he does, Moira. Thanks for filling in that gap. And you’re right about that Megatherium scandal, too. I’d forgotten about that until you reminded me, so thanks.

  8. tracybham

    I just read The Penguin Pool Murder (for the 2nd time) in October. Looking forward to watching the film adaptation. It does have a lot of twists and turns.

    • The book certainly does have its twists and turns, doesn’t it, Tracy? The film is a little different, so I’ll be interested in what you think of that if you do see it.

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