It’s Called Plagiarism*

An interesting post from Bill at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan has got me thinking about integrity. Of course, integrity has all sorts of different meanings, and one post couldn’t possibly do them all justice. But it’s a fascinating topic.

In the world of writing, higher education and science (among other settings), one of the greatest breaches of integrity is plagiarism – passing off someone else’s work as one’s own. It’s grounds for termination on a lot of campuses; and, in the case of students, it’s grounds for failing a course/exam, dismissal, and other consequences. No matter what disciplinary action is taken, the end result for an academician/scientist who commits plagiarism is a ruined reputation and disgrace.

Because it’s such a grave matter, accusations of plagiarism are taken as seriously as criminal investigations. So, it’s no wonder that we see plagiarism come up in crime fiction. It can make for an interesting layer of tension in a novel, and it can add to a plot, too.

In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night, for instance, Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College, Oxford, to attend the school’s annual Gaudy Festival and Gala Dinner. She is warmly welcomed, and enjoys her stay. A few months later, she’s asked back, this time for a much more unpleasant reason. There’s been a rash of vicious anonymous notes and vandalism at the college, and the dean would rather not involve the police. So, she asks Vane to investigate, under the guise of doing research. With some help from Lord Peter Wimsey, and after getting attacked herself, Vane discovers who is responsible for what’s happened at the college. It turns out that academic dishonesty – plagiarism – has an important role to play in the story.

It does in Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, too. Justice Harish Shinde (called the Judge throughout most of the novel) and his law clerk Anant travel to the town of Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. They’ve been invited for a two-week holiday at the home of an old friend of the Judge’s, Sinkhar Pant. Other guests have also been invited, including NGO managers Ronit and Kamini Mitta; Pant’s cousin, Kailish Pant; and Pravin Anand and Anand’s son Avinash, as well as Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. There’s a certain amount of tension right from the start, since the Mittas’ NGO is controversial. They’re focused on HIV/AIDS education, and plenty of people think that what they’re doing is obscene, even subversive. Still, the guests settle in and all starts well enough. Then, Kailish Pant is found murdered. Inspector Patel is assigned to investigate, and he works to find out who was responsible. The Judge isn’t sure Patel is on the right trail, though, and he and Anant also start to ask some questions. And they find that plagiarism played a role in what happened.

Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret, features Edmonton-based sessional lecturer Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig. As the novel begins, she’s teaching mostly for Grant McEwan University. Then, her friend, Denise Wolff, asks for her help with a major alumni event at the University of Alberta (that’s where Craig got her M.A. in English). Craig’s reluctant at first, but allows herself to be persuaded. She’s busy helping to make preparations when Wolff tells her a disturbing piece of news. A new novel, Seven Bird Saga, has been published. The author is Margaret Ahlers, the subject of Craig’s master’s thesis. That’s how Craig knows that this book is a problem. Ahlers died twenty years earlier, so whose book is this, actually? As the story goes on, we learn about Craig’s master’s research, her work under Dr. Hilary Quinn, and the truth about what happened to Ahlers. Then, the story returns to the present day, and to Craig’s concern that someone attending the reunion knows more about this new book than he or she is saying. And that could be very dangerous for Craig. In the end, we find that academic dishonesty – including plagiarism – is involved in what happens.

Christine Poulson’s Cold, Cold Heart has two main plot lines. In one, research scientist Kate Flanagan steps in to assist at an Antarctic research station when one of the station’s team members has to be evacuated. She and the rest of the team will be together, cut off from the rest of the world, for the next nine months. In that atmosphere, one of their number goes missing, and there’s more trouble to come. In the other plot thread, UK patent attorney Daniel Marchmont is overseeing due diligence for Lyle Linstrom in the matter of an important medical breakthrough. But something isn’t quite right about the case. And it turns out to be very closely connected to what’s going on at the research station. There’s an important question in the novel as to some of the scientific work that’s discussed in the novel, and Poulson presents some interesting questions of ethics.

Of course, there are other means of passing off someone else’s work as one’s own. For instance, in Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike, Molly Murphy is trying to carry on the private investigation business that she inherited from her former business partner, who’s now dead. It’s 1901, and the idea of a female private investigator is, to say the least, unusual. Still, Murphy gets a new case. Max Mostel, who owns a clothing factory, suspects that one of his employees is stealing his designs and giving or selling them to Lowenstein’s, Mostel’s top competitor. Mostel isn’t exactly comfortable hiring a woman, but he sees the advantage of it, since most of his garment workers are female. So, she goes undercover at his factory to find out who might be helping Loweinstein. This case turns out to be more dangerous than it seems, and it’s tied in to another case Murphy is working, involving the disappearance of a young woman named Katherine Faversham.

Anyone in academia, science, writing, and several other fields, can tell you that plagiarism is a serious matter. It’s investigated thoroughly, and not forgiven when it’s found. It’s little wonder, then, that it also figures into crime fiction.

Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan? Fine reviews and discussion await you.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Primus’ Year of the Parrot.


Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Christine Poulson, Dorothy L. Sayers, Janice MacDonald, Rhys Bowen

19 responses to “It’s Called Plagiarism*

  1. Great post and of course I thought of Christine Poulson’s latest book where this featured but of course you had already used the example 😉

    • Thank you, Cleo. And I couldn’t agree more about Cold, Cold Heart. I think Poulson handles that aspect of the novel very well. Folks, if you haven’t tried her work, I recommend it.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the kind words and links to my blog. I do admire how you take inspiration from posts on another blogs to create posts I would not have anticipated.

    Your post immediately reminded me of a real life story of literary piracy recounted in The Spinster and the Prophet by A.B. McKillop. Summarizing a fascinating book a Toronto woman, who was single wrote a history of the world, that was stolen by H.G. Wells. One of the means of confirming the theft was that Wells repeated some of her mistakes.

    There are a lot of movements in the world. I think it is time for integrity in life to be a cause.

    • It’s my pleasure to mention your blog, Bill, and I appreciate the inspiration. I agree with you that integrity is a vital quality. Cultivating it, supporting it, voting for it, and so on, are worth the effort.

      Thanks also for mentioning The Spinster and the Prophet. It’s an interesting example of plagiarism that a lot of people might not even know. I think it’s especially surprising that no-one caught those mistakes!

  3. One of Rex Stout’s best Nero Wolfe books is Plot it Yourself, in which someone comes up with a really nasty scheme that involves plagiarism on a grand scale. It seems that, over the space of a few years, there have been five major claims of plagiarism made against very successful authors and their publishers. The claims have been paid. And, although there seems to be no link among the plaintiffs, the method of claiming – and allegedly proving – the plagiarism has been the same in all the cases. Now, a sixth claim has been made, and the publishers and authors turn for help to Nero Wolfe: can he get to the bottom of these charges – baseless charges, the committee members insist – and make them stop? It’s one of my favorites, and – title notwithstanding – one of Stout’s better plots.

    • Thanks, Les. I knew you’d be able to suggest a great example, and that’s a good ‘un. I think Stout was especially good at plots like that that, where there’s a group of people with complicated relationships and hidden links. Thanks for mentioning it.

    • I’m not familiar with that one, Les! Thanks for the suggestion…will definitely check it out.

  4. Great topic, Margot! Gaudy Night is one of my all-time favorite mysteries, and was a major influence on my Professor Concordia Wells Mysteries.

    • I definitely see the connection, Kathy, between your Concordia Well series and Gaudy Night. Folks, if you haven’t tried the Concordia Wells novels, I recommend them. You won’t be sorry!

  5. Flattered to have been mentioned, Margot!
    During my days as an art historian I once had a student plagiarise my own book in a essay that she had written for me. When I taxed her with it, she produced my book and asked if I would sign it . . .

    • Oh, my, Christine! That takes a special sort of nerve, doesn’t it? I have to admit, none of my students has ever taken plagiarism that far. What a story to tell, though…

      Talking of stories, it’s my pleasure to mention Cold, Cold Heart. I wish you all success with it.

  6. Col

    Not familiar with any of the examples, Margot – but Gaudy Night sits on the pile somewhere.

  7. Fascinating topic – and one that I think will feature more and more in crime fiction, as it features more and more in life. And agree totally about Chrissie’s Cold Cold Heart, which uses the plotline to great effect.

    • I think it does, too, Moira. And I’m glad you enjoyed the post/topic. With today’s electronic access, there are more and more opportunities and issues when it comes to plagiarism in its different forms. And that means that it will keep being an important topic. I’ll be interested to see how the whole issue evolves as time goes by.

  8. I enjoyed the Nero Wolfe book featuring plagiarism that Les Blatt discusses. I will soon be reading Christine Poulson’s book, which just arrived in the mail a couple of days ago.

  9. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 01-18-2018 | The Author Chronicles

  10. I have never read Dorothy L. Sayers, but I’m becoming very intrigued by her fiction. She was a fellow of Agatha Christie, wasn’t she?

    • She was, indeed, a contemporary of Christie, Jazzfeathers. Her style’s different, and so are her characters. If you do read her work, I hope you’ll like it.

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