I Went Down to the Demonstration*

Lots of us want to see change in the world, or at least in our part of it. Many of us vote for what we want. Others get involved in some sort of activism, whether it’s protesting, a letter campaign, or something else. Still other people are even more deeply involved in activism.

Activists can make quite a difference in the real world, and they can be very interesting fictional characters. They’re often passionate, and the author can use such characters as protagonists or antagonists, depending on where the story is going. And there’s often suspense when there’s a conflict between activists and those against whom they protest.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we are introduced to Harold Raikes. He wants major societal changes, and protests people and institutions he feels hold back progress. One of his targets, if you will, is powerful banker Alistair Blunt. Blunt has conservative views about government and finance, and believes in careful, prudent steps and slow decision-making. To Raikes, he represents all that is wrong with the current British system of things. One day, Blunt finally gives in to the pain of a toothache and goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley. When Morley is shot in his surgery, the police and the Home Office believe that this was really an attempt on Blunt (after all, he’s certainly made plenty of enemies). And Raikes comes in for his share of suspicion, since he was in the building at the time of Morley’s murder. Hercule Poior was also a patient of the victim’s, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed Morley.

In Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope, we are introduced to Riel Delorme, a Regina-based Métis activist. Delorme has his own issues to deal with, but he is committed to bettering the lives of the people who live in Regina’s North Central district. When a development company proposes a project in North Central, Riel is one of the leaders of the opposition to it. He believes the project will disenfranchise the people who live in that area, and will force them out of their homes. So, when one of the development company’s employees is murdered, Delorme is a very likely suspect. Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in the case for two reasons. First, her husband is the attorney who represents the development company. Second, her daughter, Mieka, is romantically involved with Delorme. In this case, the investigation strikes quite close to home.

Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage features activists from several groups who converge on the town of Kingsmarkham when a new road is announced. The road will run through Framhurst Great Wood, and plenty of people are strongly opposed to it. That includes Inspector Reg Wexford’s wife, Dora. Wexford is hoping that the protests and activism won’t get out of control, but that’s not to be. First, a group of hostages – including Dora – is taken. Then, there’s a murder. The stakes get very high as Wexford and his team have to solve the murder and try to get the hostages free without a bloodbath.

Eco-activist Samuel Spender finds out just how dangerous activism can be in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move.  A development company has put up new suburban housing in a community called Valley Forest Estates. Spender and his group are very much against the development, and have been proverbial thorns in the company’s side. One day, Spender goes to the company’s sales office, and has a loud argument with one of the executives. Witnessing that argument is science-fiction writer Zack Walker, who moved his family to the community for greater safety and security. When Walker finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek later that day, he learns just how unsafe and unsecure a suburb can be…

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts introduces his sleuth, PI Jack Irish. Irish is also a sometime-lawyer. One day, one of his former clients, Danny McKillop calls, asking to meet him as soon as possible. Irish doesn’t get around to it right away, and by the time he does, McKillop is dead. As it is, Irish felt guilty about McKillop’s case; he didn’t do a good job of defending his client against a hit-and-run murder charge. Now he feels even more guilty. So he starts to look into the case. McKillop had originally been convicted of killing Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson. But, the more deeply Irish looks into the case, the more he suspects that his former client was framed, and that Jeppeson was killed by someone who wanted to shut her up.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass Darkly, we meet Venice activist Marco Ribetti. He and his group are convinced that the local glass-blowing factories are major polluters, and very dangerous for the environment. So, one day, Ribetti and his group stage a protest in front of a factory owned by his own father-in-law, Giovanni de Cal. Ribetti is arrested and jailed. Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is a friend of Ribetti’s, so Ribetti asks him for help. Vianello agrees and asks his boss, Commissario Guido Brunetti, for support. Together, the two arrange for Ribetti’s release. Not long afterwards, Giorgio Tassini, who works as night watchman at de Cal’s factory, dies in what looks like a terrible accident. But, when Brunetti learns that Tassini, too, was convinced the factories pollute the environment, he begins to wonder whether it was an accident.

And then there’s legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan, whom we meet in Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. He’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been monitoring a company called Vestco, which claims to have created a seed coating that will increase world food production by a substantial factor. Millbrook doubts both the company’s claims and the safety of the seed coating, but hasn’t been able to prevent its release. Now, with nine days to go, the foundation has decided not to fight the release any longer. Duggan decides to leave the foundation and return to his native New Zealand, and invites two colleagues to join him for a visit before they return to work. All three leave on their flight, with no idea that a Vestco employee has just been murdered. When they land in Auckland, they learn about the death. They also learn that they’ve been framed for it, and have become international fugitives. Now, they have to find out who the killer really is, and avoid the police if they can. There’s also the matter of stopping the release of the seed coating, which is imminent.

Activism is an important part of what makes our society look at itself and, hopefully, reflect and improve. And activists are involved in a number of different causes. They are important in real life, and they make interesting fictional characters.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey Robert, Linwood Barclay, Peter Temple, Ruth Rendell

14 responses to “I Went Down to the Demonstration*

  1. What a timely post with the political upheaval going on at the moment – almost as much as Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage when the news in the UK was full of activists in trees – I do like it when a book captures the current trends and demonstrations of course spring out of a collective will to do something. Fiona Veitch Smith’s book The Jazz Files has some of the suffragettes carrying out militant action whilst others would prefer a quieter kind of demonstration.

    • Thanks for the kind words, and I’m so glad you reminded me of The Jazz Files, Cleo. I’ve had that on my radar since I read your fine review of the book. It’s a great example of what I had in mind with this post (so thanks), and it reminds me a bit of Felicity Young’s The Anatomy of Death, which also features activist suffragettes.

      I agree with you, too, about books dealing with timely topics. I like that as well, especially when the author writes so as not to ‘date’ the book.

  2. That is a lot of examples, Margot. I have read a few of Gail Bowen’s books, but I am not that far along in the series. Kaleidoscope will have to wait for a while. I do need to read Temple’s Bad Debts also.

    • I know what you mean about making time to catch up with series, Tracy. I’m so far behind on so many series it’s embarrassing. When you do get the chance, I recommend Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. It’s really quite well-written, I think.

  3. Col

    Ditto Tracy and Bad Debts and Peter Temple’s books in general!

  4. I’m immediately reminded of The Following. Although not a book series, in one season it did strike at the heart of an “activist” group, I guess you could say. More of a cult, really. A murderous, twist cult. Which also reminds me of the documentary on Manson. Did you watch it? Before we moved north, we were very close with Linda Kasabian’s cousin. Because of my new project, I’ve got true crime on my mind. 😉

    • I didn’t know you knew Linda Kasabian’s cousin, Sue! That’s interesting! I find the Manson story fascinating on a sociological level as much as do anything else. And true crime certainly offers an awful lot to think about…

  5. The problem these days is deciding what to protest about first! 😉

    I’ll add Cap Marvel to the list, the animal rights activist who became Andy Dalziel’s love interest in the later Dalziel and Pascoe books. I loved her character, and that Hill gave Dalziel an equal partner in her…

    • Yes, he did, FictionFan, and I’m glad you mentioned her. I think that was one of Hill’s real talents; developing characters over time, and having them evolve, even if they weren’t main characters.

      And you’re right: there’s no shortage of things wrong with the world that we can protest… 😉

  6. kathy d

    I guess I have to read some of Hill’s books. I also thought that Pascoe’s spouse was an activist, too.
    I must add Paddy Richardson’s excellent Cross Fingers to this list. It goes back in time to the 1981 anti-apartheid demonstrations in New Zealand during the South African rugby team’s tour, the Springboks. A very balanced view of those protests with the writer showing that she supported the issues and also exposed police brutality. I thought that was quite fair of her.
    There must be so many books dealing with demonstrations — but with so many protests going on in the States now and also globally, there will be a lot of themes for crime fiction. I think of the pro-immigrant protests, the Women’s March on Jan. 21, International Women’s Day,, anti-war activities, etc.
    I just read an article about the Greenham Women’s Peace Encampment against nuclear weapons during the 1980s in England, which was really something. Article at the Guardian’s website, linked by writer Eva Dolan, who’s basing a character in a new book on a woman at Greenham. I wonder if it will be a mystery.

    • It’ll be very interesting to see what Dolan’s next book is like, Kathy; thanks for mentioning it. And thanks, also, for mentioning Paddy Richardson’s work. She’s extremely talented, folks; highly recommended. As to Ellie Soper (Pascoe’s wife in Reginald Hill’s series), yes, indeed, she’s an activist. She has strong feelings, and supports several causes.

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