I Know I’ll Never be Forgiven*

Everyone makes mistakes, and plenty of people do things they shouldn’t do. That’s part of being human, really. And often, those mistakes – those ‘sins’ if you want to call it that – are forgiven. You pay that speeding ticket, and watch your driving, and you’re forgiven. You pay the overdraft fee on your bank account, and don’t let it happen too often, and you’re all right.

But every profession has certain ‘sins’ that aren’t forgiven. For instance, responsible news journalists report the truth and only the truth. That profession doesn’t easily forgive a person who makes up news stories, or who reports something that isn’t true.

Those ‘unforgiveable sins’ can make interesting contexts or plots for crime fiction. They can create a motive for murder, add character development, move a plot along, and build suspense. They also do happen in real life, and this can add to a story as well.

For instance, in the world of banking and finance, embezzlement is unforgiveable. People caught doing so are often ‘blacklisted’ and not able to work again within the field. It’s a serious enough sort of crime that those committing it will sometimes do whatever it takes to avoid getting caught – at least in fiction. In John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink, for instance, Travis McGee is drawn into a dangerous case involving embezzlement when an old military friend, Mike Gibson, asks for his help. Gibson’s younger sister, Nina, has just lost her fiancé, Howard Plummer. On the surface of it, Plummer’s murder looks like a mugging gone wrong. But she suspects otherwise. Plummer worked for an investment company called Armister-Hawes, and had begun to suspect that there were irregularities in some things happening at the company, including embezzlement. And, as McGee finds out, there are some well-connected people at the company who do not want him to find out the truth.

In the field of academia, one of the ‘unforgiveable sins’ is plagiarism. Presenting someone else’s work as one’s one can constitute grounds for failing a course, and later, for losing (or not getting) a job. And once word gets around that it’s happened, it usually means that the guilty party is unlikely to get another job, a speaking invitation, or a publishing contract. Plagiarism is part of the plot of Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret. In the novel, sessional lecturer Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig makes ends meet by teaching courses as needed for Grant McEwan University, in Edmonton. Her friend, Denise Wolff, asks her to work on an alumni event to coincide with the University of Alberta’s Homecoming (Craig got her M.A. at that institution). Craig agrees, and the planning begins. Then, Wolff tells her a disturbing piece of news. A new novel by Margaret Ahlers is about to be published. What’s unsettling about this is that Craig did her M.A. thesis on Ahlers, and knows for a fact that the author has been gone for years. And it’s very, very unlikely that an unpublished manuscript would have turned up after all this time. If it’s not a genuine Ahlers novel, then someone is a plagiarist. All of this brings up a mystery that Craig was involved when she was working on her thesis; that mystery ties into the present-day mystery, and puts Craig in a great deal of danger.

In the world of sport, one of those ‘unpardonable sins’ is fixing games or matches. It can be very tempting, though, especially if a lot of money is involved. Just ask rugby player Mark Stevens, whom we meet in John Daniell’s The Fixer. He’s a former star of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks team, who’s heading towards the end of his career. Now, he plays for a French professional team, and doing well enough. Everything changes when he meets Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, and wants to interview Stevens. He’s happy to do the interview, and before long, the two are working together on the article. Soon, da Silva tells Stevens about a friend of hers named Philip, who’s made a lot of money betting on rugby. And it’s not long before Philip’s very generous gifts, and da Silva’s very personal attention, draw Stevens into a web of providing ‘inside information,’ so that Philip can make even more money. That’s one thing, but then Stevens discovers that what Philip really wants is for him to fix matches. Now, Stevens faces a serious dilemma. He’s as opposed to fixing matches as any real athlete, or fan of sport, is. On the other hand, he’s in deep, as the saying goes. And there will be real danger for him if he doesn’t do as he’s asked.

The police are entrusted with a great deal of power and authority. Abuse of that power is grounds for, at the very least, disciplinary action. It can be grounds for much more, including termination or even imprisonment. There are many novels that feature corrupt police and those who try to bring them to justice. One of those is David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which introduces Perth Superintendent Frank Swann. He’s been away from Perth for a few years, but returns when he hears about the murder of an old friend, Ruby Devine. He starts asking questions about the death, but soon runs into a proverbial wall of silence. One reason is that he called a Royal Commission hearing on corruption in the police department. That alone makes him a ‘dead man walking.’ What’s more, the police who are the target of this investigation – a group called ‘the purple circle’ – are powerful. No-one wants to run afoul of them. So, Swann gets very little help. Even so, he finds out the truth about his friend’s murder, and about its connection to the ‘purple circle.’

Nurses work with sometimes very vulnerable people. So, they’re held to what you might call a higher standard when it comes to caring for their charges. For a nurse, causing harm to a patient is a very serious matter. Even if it’s unintentional, it can get the nurse fired. Neglect or intentional harm is an even more serious ‘sin.’ We see how that plays out in Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy.  This novel tells the story of Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. As the story begins, she’s in prison (for reasons which are revealed in the novel). In one plot thread, she begins to write letters to New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett. Her purpose is to set the record straight about some things he’s written. Through those letters, we learn a great deal about Snow’s childhood, her training as a nurse, and the experiences she’s had in that profession. We also learn about the events that led to her imprisonment. As the story unfolds, we get an ‘inside look’ at a system that’s supposed to protect the most vulnerable, and about what happens when it doesn’t.

Each profession has its standards, and when members violate those standards, the consequences can be especially severe. Among other things, there’s a sense of, ‘you’re supposed to know better, so it’s doubly wrong when you break this rule.’ These are only a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Echo and the Bunnymen’s Forgiven.


Filed under Caroline Overington, David Whish-Wilson, Janice MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, John Daniell

17 responses to “I Know I’ll Never be Forgiven*

  1. I have an example of a book featuring plagiarism, but it is not in the academic world, if I am remembering right. Several authors are accused of plagiarism in the Nero Wolfe novel, Plot it Yourself. I haven’t read that in a while, though.

    • Oh, good memory, Tracy! That’s exactly what happens in Plot it Yourself. Thanks very much for reminding me of that one. It’s a great example of how plagiarism is a huge problem not just in academia, but in the larger world of writing and publishing, too.

  2. Thank you, this is a fine article.

  3. Col

    I loved Line of Sight. I think I read Nightmare in Pink, but can remember little. Yet again, I’m envious of your incredible memory!

    • Thanks, Col. I thought Line of Slight was excellent, too, as is Zero at the Bone. Glad you enjoyed Whish-Wilson’s wwork. And MacDonald is always worth reading, in my opinion.

  4. So many books, so little time. But it seems sometimes like you have read them all. And even more amazingly, remember them. You are a wonder.

  5. An interesting subject for a plot, showing that people don’t always have to commit an actual crime in order to ruin their own reputation. No examples to add, though I feel I should be able to come up with lots! I wonder if it’s a professional sin for a book blogger to instantly forget the plots of books she reads… 😉

    • 😆 No, I don’t think it is, FictionFan. You make an interesting point about how a reputation can be ruined even if someone doesn’t commit what the law calls a crime. In a sense, I suppose, each profession has its own culture. And each of those cultures has a different set of things that are expected, and things that are taboo…

  6. And what is the unforgivable crime for criminals? Snitching, of course.

  7. There’s book by Winston Graham, can’t remember the name, where a doctor walks on by past a road accident, not stopping to help. He is late for a job interview and makes a conscious decision to ignore the injured. But then he fears that one person knows he did this, and he worries that she could cause trouble. So (and you won’t be expecting this) – he marries her! But of course that’s not the end of it… it’s a very clever tense thriller. I wish I could remember the name.

    • Oh, Moira, that sounds like a compelling story. Hmm…I’m mostly familiar with Graham’s Poldark novels, so I’m sorry to say that one’s not ringing a loud bell. If you think of it, please stop back and tell me!

  8. kathyd

    I would think for politicians corruption and bribery are unforgivable crimes. People have lost their positions for this, and even been jailed.
    It’s kind of astounding as a state legislator in my city was kicked out of his position for sexual harassment of women in his office. But lo and behold, he just ran for City Council. Thankfully, he lost.
    But sadly, Anthony Weiner, former politician, committed criminal acts with a minor through the Internet. He’s going to jail. His career is over. He’ll never be able to be a political figure again. Maybe not get a decent job again.

    • Perhaps, not, Kathy. And you’re right; politicians are supposed to be above things such as bribery and corruption. Sometimes they are all too susceptible, but that can certainly get them ousted and even imprisoned.

  9. Pingback: Writing Links…10/2/17 – Where Genres Collide

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s