Because There’s Consequences For What We Do*

The ‘photo is of some of the cloth totes I use to do my grocery shopping. Last year, the voters of California, where I live, elected to ban single-use plastic bags, such as the ones that are often provided by grocery stores. On the one hand, using cloth totes, or using a personal trolley, certainly cuts down on the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills. This is, overall, good for the environment. And it’s no more difficult to fill a cloth tote or trolley than it is to put one’s groceries in single-use plastic bags. There are other benefits, too, to choosing cloth over plastic. What’s more, companies spend less when consumers provide their own bags. It’s a way, if you think about it, for them to save money without cutting down on the quality of what they sell.

But there have been some unintended consequences of this law. To take just one example, I recently attended a conference. Another delegate needed to do a bit of shopping; and, since I had my car at this conference, I offered to do the transportation. But a problem arose. Where was this delegate supposed to put the purchase? It couldn’t be left in my car. And taking everything through the conference venue wasn’t practicable. We managed by using my conference tote, which I’d brought with me by chance. But it would have been so much easier with plastic bags.

There’ve been other consequences, too. People who used those bags for lining trash cans, picking up after pets, wrapping things for the freezer, or other kinds of storage can’t do that now. Does this mean the law is wrong? No, not necessarily. It does mean there are a lot of unplanned consequences.

We certainly see that happen in a great deal of crime fiction. Something may be done for a laudable reason, but have all sorts of unintended consequences. For instance, in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, Dr. Duca Lamberti is hired by wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri. He wants Lamberti to help his son, Davide, who’s developed severe depression and a serious drinking problem in the last year. Nothing seems to have been helpful, and Lamberti isn’t sure that he can do much good. But he agrees to try. And before long, he learns Davide’s story. It seems that, a year earlier, Davide had met a young woman, Alberta Radelli He gave her a lift, and they had spent a pleasant day together. Then, when the day ended, she begged him to let her stay with him. When he refused, she threatened to commit suicide. Not long afterwards, her body was found in a field, and it looked as though she made good on her threat. Now, Davide feels responsible for her death. Lamberti knows that the only way to help Davide is to find out what really happened to Alberta, so he decides to do just that. In this story, the unintended consequence of giving a young woman a lift turned out to be much more serious than it seemed at the time.

Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn is all about unintended consequences. Crime writer Martin Canning is waiting for a ticket to an afternoon radio comedy show in Edinburgh. As he waits, he sees a blue Honda hit the back of a silver Peugeot. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. Then, the Honda driver brandishes a bat and begins to attack the Peugeot driver, a man named Paul Bradley. Almost by instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. On the one hand, that has very positive consequences. On the other, though, it draws Canning into a web of deception and murder that he hadn’t imagined.

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move begins as science fiction writer Zack Walker moves his family from the city to a new suburban development, Valley Forest Estates. The new home is bigger and has more amenities than the city home that Walker and his family currently have. What’s more, it’s in a safer area, and the family will have more property. So, on the one hand, it’s a wise move. But it has unintended consequences. For one thing, Walker gets drawn into a couple of murders that take place in the new development, and the danger reaches to his family.  For another, his two children are miserable, and don’t fit in at all in their new school. It’s a clear case of something that seems positive on the surface, but causes all sorts of unexpected trouble.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of a fifteen-year-old sex worker named Michelle Lucas. Morriss wants to find out as much as she can about the victim, and for that, she turns to Michelle’s friends. Michelle’s best friend was Vicki Flinn, also in the business. She starts off by being willing to help, but then goes missing. Then, another friend, Cassandra Swain, is badly beaten. Morriss does find out who killed Michelle and why. But as it turns out, taking what seems like the right step – connecting with the victim’s circle – has some very unpleasant unintended consequences.

And then there’s Eleanor Kuhns’ Cradle to Grave. It’s 1797 Maine, and itinerant weaver Will Rees has recently married Lydia Farrell, a former member of the Shaker community. One day, Lydia gets a letter from an old friend, Hannah ‘Mouse’ Moore, who’s still living with the Shaker community in upstate New York. Mouse is concerned about a group of children who live with their mother, Maggie Whitney. It seems that the children may be neglected, even abused. So, for their own safety, Mouse has taken them to the Shaker community. On the one hand, that means they’re safe. On the other, it gets Mouse into serious trouble for kidnapping, and casts a bad light on the Shakers. The Reeses go to New York to see what they can do to help, and with their intercession, the children are returned to their mother. Mouse will be disciplined, but allowed to remain in the community. And, at least she won’t be prosecuted and imprisoned. Then, Maggie Whitney is murdered. Mouse is, as you can imagine, the most likely suspect, but she claims to be innocent. The Reeses return to New York to try to clear their friend’s name if they can. In this case, all of Mouse’s attempts to help the children have had all sorts of negative consequences.

And that’s the thing about even very positive things. Everything has consequences, and sometimes, those consequences are both unexpected and negative. These are just a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Robert Cray’s Consequences.


Filed under Eleanor Kuhns, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Kate Atkinson, Linwood Barclay, Maureen Carter

22 responses to “Because There’s Consequences For What We Do*

  1. lemon123

    It makes a person scared to move. What will I suffer if I take this step? Life is full of risks.

  2. A great example of unexpected consequences – we have had to pay for single use bags for quite a while now but we are at least still able to buy them because I have to admit I don’t always have the tote with me when I need it!
    You’ve come up with some great fictional examples too – I’m especially interested in Cradle to Grave.

    • I think you’d like Eleanor Kuhns’ series, Cleo. It’s nicely researched, in my opinion, and Will and Lydia Rees are nicely fleshed out characters.

      I’m glad you brought up paying for bags. We can get them, too, for a price, and I should’ve mentioned that. But they’re different to the ones they used to have. To me, it’s just so interesting how something put in place for what most people agree is a good reason, can have a lot of unexpected fallout.

  3. I have no examples of unintended consequences, I just want to say that I love the song that you quote for the title and the album it comes from, “Midnight Stroll”. Somehow I’d forgotten all about that album until today. I’m going to go to my basement after I write this and find that CD. Which I suppose is an unintended consequence of reading your blog. Ha!
    Robert Smith

    • That is a great release, isn’t it, Robert? And I think that’s funny that your urge to go through your music and find that CD is an unintended consequence. I love it! Enjoy your re-acquaintance with Cray. 🙂

  4. Not a crime example tonight, but the post made me think of an issue that is undoubtedly having unintended consequences – the neutering of domestic cats. When I set out to get kittens a few years back, I discovered there’s a serious shortage of them now, except for pedigree breeders. Then I read a book about domestic cats which said that the unintended consequences of that are firstly, lots of feral kittens are being turned into domestic pets via rescue centres and, the book claimed, they’re not suited by temperament for domestic living; and secondly, that unscrupulous people are cashing in via “kitten farms” where females are used purely as breeding stock and conditions are appalling so that the cats can end up with real health problems. Worrying, and yet people (including me) neuter their cats for the best of reasons…

    • That’s exactly the sort of unintended consequence I had in mind with this post, FictionFan, even if it isn’t crime-fictional. As you say, having a cat neutered or spayed has a lot of advantages. Our dogs are ‘fixed,’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, as you point out, that choice on a larger scale has consequences. It’s so troubling to think of those ‘kitten farms,’ and feral animals really are not suited for a home. That can spell trouble all around. That’s a real dilemma…

  5. tracybham

    I was reading about Maureen Carter recently, and I do think I want to check out some of her work. We are blessed with so many good crime fiction authors nowadays.

  6. kathy d

    A kitten scarcity? The people who do the animal rescue TV promotions have been saying the shelters have tons of kittens in the spring and summer and are pleading with people to adopt them. (I would have an apartment full if I did not have allergies to cats.)
    But, unintended consequences! Every time I read this blog and some others the unintended consequence is that my TBR list grows and grows.

    • I’m glad you enjoy the blog, Kathy, even if it does add to your TBR. I feel the same way about several of the blogs I visit, so I know what you mean. That’s definitely an unintended consequence of enjoying book blogs!

  7. Col

    I’ll have to dig the Carter book out of the attic at some point, I’ve been intending to read her for a while, which is the opposite of your point!

  8. I’m one of those who used plastic bags as bin liners or to clear kitty;s litter tray, and now I end up having to buy rolls of new plastic binliner bags, instead of ‘recycling’…
    You’ve picked almost all new to me crime authors for this post, so I shall have to investigate them a little further.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Marina Sofia. I used to use plastic bags to pick up after the dogs, line the bins, etc.. Now, I have to do the same as you. I really do support the idea of sustainability and concern for the environment, but there are definitely unforeseen consequences of going about it this way…

      If you try some of the authors I’ve mentioned, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  9. Margot, in India, plastic bags of certain micron, are banned. But small grocers and shopkeepers still issue them because it’s cost effective. Big shops and retailers charge us for plastic bags, which serves as a deterrent. We carry our own cloth bags now. Personally, I hate plastic in all forms, including water bottles. It’s either steel or glass.

    • Thanks, Prashant, for telling us how this all plays out in India. I do like the idea of cloth bags for shopping, and I can certainly see the advantage of moving away from too much plastic. It’ll be interesting to see how society goes along as we find other ways to do some of the things (like lining bins) that we’ve used plastic to do.

  10. Patti Abbott

    Having just spent five minutes trying to think of a good example, I will just comment on how inventive you are in your topics.

  11. Keishon

    Unintended consequences are the devil.

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