Although it isn’t really true, there are some major changes that seem to come ‘out of nowhere.’ Those changes often have a strong and lasting impact, too. But, as the saying goes, a lot of people never see them coming. And coping with those changes, especially if one’s not prepared for them, can be difficult.
Authors have, of course, explored those changes in a lot of their work, and that includes crime writers. That makes sense, too, as coping with those changes can add to a plot line, a character, or the tension in a story. There are far too many examples for me to list in this one post, but here are a just a few.
One of the big changes that plenty of people didn’t see coming was what I’ll call the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. This revolution challenged the idea that sex should be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. There are certainly people who still believe that ought to be the case. Bu the sexual revolution questioned that belief, and it became much more socially acceptable, for instance, to live together without marriage, to be involved in a homosexual relationship, and so on. We see this new attitude of sexual liberation in Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle. In that novel, we are introduced to famous fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s single, and in no hurry to get married. Here’s what she says about it:
‘‘My notion of love doesn’t require marriage to consummate it, that’s all. In fact – I’m speaking only for myself – I reject the whole concept of marriage. I’m no more capable of being happy as a housewife, or a country club gal, or a young suburban matron than I am of renouncing the world and taking the veil.”
She doesn’t lack for companionship, though. Although she’s not promiscuous, she has had several relationships. One of them is with wealthy businessman Ashton McKell. When McKell’s son, Dane, discovers this, he decides to meet her himself and force an end to her relationship with his father. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with her. They begin an affair, but that ends one night when Grey is shot. Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, of course, his son Ellery gets involved. There really are only three major obvious suspects: McKell, his son, and his wife. As it turns out, the victim leaves a cryptic clue as to her killer, and when Queen interprets it correctly, he’s able to catch the murderer.
Although people had been using drugs for a long time, many people didn’t see the counterculture/drug culture of the 1960s coming. There are several crime novels that explore this (right, fans of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses?). One of them is Agatha Christie’s Third Girl. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and detective novelist Ariadne Oliver work to solve a murder that may or may not have happened. A young woman named Norma Restarick believes she may have committed a murder. But she can’t give many details, and in any case, she thinks Poirot is too old (her words) to help her. Then, she goes missing. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver think that if they can find out about the murder, that will tie into Norma’s disappearance. As they look into Norma’s life, friends, and so on, they meet several members of London’s 1960s counterculture, including one of Norma’s roommates, who’s an artist, and the young man Norma’s dating.
Developments in technology have brought about many important changes, several of which a lot of people didn’t see coming. The use of computers in everyday personal and business life seemed to mushroom, beginning in the 1980s. Peter Lovesey explores this in The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. In that novel, we are introduced to Superintendent Diamond, who has his eccentricities (he’s been known to take naps on mortuary gurneys, for instance). He believes firmly in old-fashioned detective work: ‘legwork,’ interviewing witnesses and suspects, and actually looking for physical evidence. His skills are put to the test when the body of Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is pulled from Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. Diamond uses more old-fashioned methods to get to the truth, but many in his office use computers to collect data, run fingerprints, and so on. While it’s Diamond who eventually gets to the truth, we also see the advantages of more technologically modern tools.
Even after the advent of the Internet, many people didn’t see the coming of the social networking revolution that began in the early 2000s. People had learned to access information on the Internet, but to produce it, add to it, comment on it, and so on was brand new then. And it has dramatically changed the way we use the Internet. We see that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to Robertson’s native Victoria, they bring along their nine-week-old son, Noah. Shortly after their arrival, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. At first, there’s a lot of sympathy for them as a massive search for Noah is undertaken. Social media erupts in a frenzy of web sites, speculation, and more. Then, people begin to wonder whether the parents, in particular Joanna, might have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance. Now, the same social media that supported them starts to turn against them. And it’s fascinating to see how people all over the world use social media to weigh in on the case, in ways that hadn’t been possible just a few years earlier.
And then there’s the banking and financial collapse of 2007/2008. Prior to that, many economies had been booming, not least of which was Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. While there had been some predications of trouble ahead, most people weren’t prepared for the great crash of 2008. And we see that in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. In one plot thread, Dublin Detective Sergeant (DS) Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate when banker Emmet Sweetman is murdered in his own home by two hired thugs. It turns out that he had made some dangerous deals during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, not imagining that things would unravel. When the crash came, he owed too much money to some dangerous people, and couldn’t pay it back.
And that’s the thing about some of the big changes that have come along. Sometimes we can see them coming. Other times, they catch a lot of people unawares. What do you think? What will be the next big change?
ps. The ‘photo was taken during a freak hailstorm that struck my area about a year ago. Nobody saw that one coming.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles New Year’s Flood.