Category Archives: Gene Kerrigan

With a Little Bit of Luck*

If you’ve ever had a very lucky thing happen to you, then you know that sometimes, luck really does happen. And lots of people believe in luck, too. They carry ‘lucky’ charms, wear ‘lucky’ clothes, and so on. And there are many people who are just waiting for that one lucky break that will make all the difference to them.

In reality, of course, luck doesn’t really work that way. Sometimes, lucky things happen; sometimes they don’t. And it can be extremely frustrating – and limiting – for people who are just waiting for their break. The way people feel about luck can add to a story. It can provide interesting layers to a character, and it can increase the tension in a plot. We can see how this works, just from a quick look at crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lady Cecily Horbury. She’s a former chorus girl who’s married Lord Stephen Horbury, and now lives a life of luxury. The problem is, though, that she is fond of gambling – very fond of it – and has run up a great deal of debt. It doesn’t help matters that she is also a cocaine user. She’s convinced that all she needs is one lucky break, perhaps a huge win at the tables, to set things right. Still, her husband has made it clear that he will no longer be responsible for her debts, so she is desperate for money. She borrowed from a French moneylender who does business as Madame Giselle; and, at first, that worked out well. But everything went wrong when she couldn’t pay what she owed. Madame Giselle’s form of ‘collateral’ is to collect compromising information on each of her clients, and reveal it only if the client doesn’t pay. And she’s got evidence that Cecily Horbury has been unfaithful – evidence that she’s planning to send to Lord Horbury. One day, Madame Giselle happens to be on a flight from Paris to London. At the end of the flight, she suddenly dies of what looks like a heart attack, but turns out to be poison. Since she is on the same flight, Lady Horbury becomes a suspect, and a ‘person of interest’ to Chief Inspector Japp and Hercule Poirot.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage is, in part, the story of Vincent Naylor. He’s recently been released from prison, but he’s been in and out of trouble with the law for some time. Now, he’s determined that he’s not going to take a big risk any more unless the payoff is worth it. But he and his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, want to get out and start over. And for that, all Naylor needs is a bit of luck – a payoff that will set them up. So, he, his brother Noel, and a few friends, plan an armed robbery. Their target will be Protectica, a security company that transfers cash among banks. The robbery goes off as planned, but then, things start going very, very wrong, and the whole thing ends in real tragedy.

There’s a different sort of luck needed in Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands. Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb lives with his mother, his brother, and his grandmother in a small Exmoor town. But it’s not a happy family. The family hasn’t really been whole since Steven’s Uncle Billy Peters went missing nineteen years earlier. He was never found, and the family is suffering. Steven wants to help his family heal, so he decides to at least try to find Uncle Billy’s body. All he needs, he thinks, is a shovel and some luck. But, of course, it’s a large area, and he finds nothing. Then, he gets another idea. The man long suspected of killing Uncle Billy is Arnold Avery, who’s in prison on other child murder charges. Steven decides to try to get Avery to tell him where Uncle Billy’s body is. So, he writes to Avery. Avery responds. Thus starts an increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse between the two.

In Patricia Melo’s The Body Snatcher, we are introduced to the unnamed narrator, who is a former telephone salesman. He’s recently moved from São Paulo to the town of Corumbá, not far from the Bolivian border, where he’s settled down. What he and his girlfriend, Sulamita, would really like is a chance to move away, get their own land, and start their lives together. But neither has the money to do that. All that’s needed is some luck, but neither has had much of that. Then, one day, the narrator happens to witness a small plane crash. He rushes to the site, and discovers that the pilot has been killed. But, he’s left behind a backpack and a watch. The narrator takes those things, and returns home, where he discovers to his shock that the backpack contains cocaine. He decides to sell the cocaine – just this once – to get the money he and Sulamita will need to start over. And that’s where the trouble starts. Before long, everything spirals very badly out of control.

That’s also what happens to Gary Braswell in Blair Denholm’s Sold. He’s a car salesman who lives and works on the Gold Coast. He’s gotten himself into some debt to a dangerous (and illegal) bookmaker, and now needs money desperately. All he needs is some luck – some big sales – and he’ll be all right. It seems that al will be well when a Russian land developer arranges for some expensive cars for himself, his wife, and his daughters. And, in fact, Braswell gets the money he needs to pay off his debt. But then, things start to go very, very wrong. He gets drawn into an illegal drug deal, a money laundering scheme, and more. And now, he will need an awful lot more than luck if he’s going to survive and get out of the mess he’s in.

Sometimes, all you need is a little luck. And there are plenty of people, both real and fiction, who are just waiting for that lucky break. But, as crime fiction shows, it doesn’t always work out that way…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Belinda Bauer, Blair Denholm, Gene Kerrigan, Patricia Melo

If I Were a Rich Man*

There’s plenty of excitement in a lot of US states this week. The Mega Millions lottery is now up to over US$450 million, and likely to grow before Tuesday’s drawing. Even people who don’t usually play the lottery are risking money on tickets, and there are office pools and other group efforts. Everybody wants to win.

And that’s not surprising. Many of us imagine what it might be like to be rich. Some even dream of it. It can be fun to think about what you’d do with all of that money. We all know in our logical minds that the chances of getting really rich aren’t great. And we all know in our logical minds that being very rich doesn’t mean a person has no challenges, problems, sorrows, or even tragedies. But that doesn’t stop us dreaming of that kind of wealth, at least a little.

There are plenty of crime-fictional characters who dream of it, too. And sometimes, that can get them into a lot of trouble. And even when it doesn’t, it can certainly complicate their lives. Like a lot of real-life people, though, that doesn’t stop their dreaming.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, we are introduced to Simon Doyle. When we first meet him, he’s engaged to Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Neither has money, but they are in love. Then, Simon loses his job and needs another, so that he and Jackie can marry. Fortunately, Jackie’s good friend, Linnet Ridgeway, is extremely wealthy, and in need of a land agent to manage her property. Jackie convinces Linnet to give Simon a try as land agent, and Linnet agrees. Then, the unexpected happens: Linnet falls in love with Simon. He’s attracted to her, too, and especially to the life of luxury and money that she lives. In fact, he’s always wanted the ‘rich life.’ They marry and plan a honeymoon trip to the Middle East. Jackie follows them everywhere, which greatly unsettles the couple. So, they try to evade her by taking a sudden trip up the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, so he is present when Jackie unexpectedly turns up on the boat. He is also present the second night of the cruise, when Linnet is shot and killed. At first, Jackie is the most logical suspect. But she has a proven alibi, so she cannot be the murderer. Simon, too, has a corroborated alibi. This means that Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes is the story of John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s been recently released from prison, and is now on the ‘straight and narrow,’ working at a print company. One night, though, he gets the chance to visit a very posh Manhattan apartment building. When he sees the wealth and luxury there, he gets the idea of having a lot of that money for his own. So, he creates a plan to rob the entire building. He won’t be able to do the job on his own, so he makes arrangements with people he knows to get weapons, assistance, materials, and so on. The only thing is, the FBI and other authorities have been recording those people for reasons of their own. This means they have access to all of Anderson’s plans. The question becomes: will the authorities see this, and stop the heist before it happens, and people get hurt?

In Patricia Melo’s The Body Snatcher, a São Paulo salesman and former telemarketer moves to Corumbá when a tragedy ends his job. He settles in and forms a relationship with Sulamita, who is an administrative assistant to the police. One day, he happens to witness a small plane crash into a nearby river. By the time he arrives, it’s too late to save the pilot. But he sees that the pilot has left behind a backpack and a watch.  The narrator takes those things, and later discovers that the backpack is filled with cocaine. Instead of reporting it all to the police, the narrator dreams of what it would be like to have all of the money that would come from selling the cocaine. It would be just a one-time thing – just enough to set him and Sulamita up for life. His friend Moacir lives nearby, and seems to know the right people, so the two go into business. Moacir makes the connections, and the arrangements are made. But that turns out to be only the start of real trouble for both men, and for Sulamita. They get drawn into a mess involving ruthless drugs smugglers and end up in much more trouble than they imagined.

Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You is the story of Joylayne Lucks. She’s an avid environmentalist who dreams of having a lot of money so that she can use it to protect the land. She gets her chance when she buys a winning lottery ticket. The prize is US$14 million, and she plans to use it to buy a piece of land and keep it out of developers’ hands. Then, the ticket is stolen by a Nazi group that wants to use the money to fund a militia. Features writer Tom Krone has been assigned by the Register to do a piece on Lucks and her big win. Instead, he finds himself drawn into a plot to get the ticket back.

And then there’s Vincent Naylor, whom we meet in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. He’s recently been released from prison, where he learned one important lesson: don’t take any more risks unless the payoff is worth it. Naylor meets up with his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother, Noel, and a few other people, and they concoct a plan. They’re all dreaming of big money – money that will let them get out of their humdrum lives. So, they decide to pull of a heist. The target is an armored car company called Protectica, that transfers cash among local banks. The details are planned, and the heist goes off. Then, things take a tragic turn, and everything changes for the group.

Lots of us dream, however idly, of what it’d be like to be extremely wealthy. It does have appeal, doesn’t it? That’s why I have my lottery ticket. On Tuesday, I’m going to win that pot. And when I do, I’ll need a lot of support. I’ll certainly need legal counsel – from several different countries, too, since I plan international philanthropy as well as careful investments. Some of my plans also include academic bursaries and endowments, so I’d be glad of help from people in academia, too. I’ll need an IT person who can help set up safe communication and file transfer among the people who work for me. I’m going to also need people with NGO and other philanthropy backgrounds to help me set up the groups I want to set up. And of course, all of this has to be released to the public in the right way. So, I’ll need someone with a background in journalism, and in fashion and public image, to help me make the right impression. I know I’ll need other support, too. And, of course, if these people also had an interest in books and reading, well, that would be all to the good. Do you happen to know anyone??

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Gene Kerrigan, Lawrence Sanders, Patricia Melo

No, You Could Not See it Coming*

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.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gene Kerrigan, Helen Fitzgerald, Peter Lovesey, Steph Avery

Applause, Applause For Bald Face White Collar Crime*

The thing about ‘easy money’ is that it almost never is. And most people know that. But that doesn’t stop people padding their accounts – or trying to do so. And that’s often when trouble starts. For one thing, it’s illegal to embezzle or otherwise take other people’s money.  That means the police tend to take an interest in such matters. For another, those who’ve been cheated don’t tend to take kindly to it. And that can lead to consequences, too. Still, there are plenty of people who think they can get away with that sort of crime, whether it’s ‘to rob Peter to pay Paul,’ or ‘just until things get better,’ or ‘just this once.’

It certainly happens enough in real life, and it happens in crime fiction, too. And it doesn’t tend to work out well for those who take that risk. For instance, in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Whose Body?,  an architect named Alfred Thipps is shocked one day when he discovers the body of a dead man in his bathtub. The police begin to investigate; and, of course, Thipps himself is very much a ‘person of interest.’ He claims to be innocent, though, and his employer, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, believes him. She asks her son, Lord Peter Wimsey, to look into the matter. Wimsey finds that another odd event has occurred: the disappearance of financier Rueben Levy. And it’s discovered that Levy was engaged in some questionable oil shares transactions. It turns out that the body in Thipps’ bathtub is not Levy’s, but the two incidents are related, as are those shady trading deals.

In Stuart Palmer’s The Penguin Pool Murder, New York schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers takes her class on a field trip to the New York Aquarium. Just as the group is about to leave the aquarium, one of Miss Withers’ students notices the body of a dead man sliding into the penguin pool. Inspector Oscar Piper is called to the scene, and begins the investigation. The victim is soon identified as stockbroker Gerald Lester, and it’s not long before Piper and Miss Withers uncover a number of possible motives and suspects. For one thing, Lester’s wife, Gwen, has been having an affair with his attorney, Philip Seymour, and both of them were at the aquarium at the time of the murder. For another, the story takes place just after the Great Crash of 1929 that was immediately followed by the worldwide Great Depression. Many of Lester’s clients lost everything, and more than one of them could easily have wanted revenge. There are other possibilities, too. Each in a different way, Piper and Miss Withers look into the case, and find out that Lester’s ‘unconventional’ ways of doing business played a role in his murder.

Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood tells the story of the Cloade family. Wealthy Gordon Cloade, the family patriarch, had always told his siblings and their families that they wouldn’t have to worry about money. And they’ve always depended on him to help provide for their needs. Then, to everyone’s shock, Cloade married a widow named Rosaleen Underhay. Before he had time to alter his will, though, he was killed in a World War II bomb blast. Now, Rosaleen is set to inherit everything, and the rest of the Cloades will get nothing. Then, a stranger calling himself Enoch Arden comes to town. He hints that Rosaleen’s first husband, Robert Underhay, may still be alive. If so, this means that Rosaleen won’t be able to inherit anything. So, all of the Cloades have a stake in Arden’s visit, and are all involved on at least some level when he is killed one night. Hercule Poirot has already met two of the Cloades, so he takes an interest in the case. One of the people he gets to know is the victim’s brother, Jeremy. And it turns out that Jeremy Cloade has been using clients’ funds inappropriately. That misappropriation of money gives him a very high stake in the outcome of this mystery…

Emma Lathen’s John Putnam Thatcher is an executive with the Sloan Guaranty Trust bank. So, he’s seen his share of attempts to embezzle or otherwise get the use of people’s money. For instance, in Going For the Gold, the bank has gotten the exclusive contract for providing banking services for the (1980) Lake Placid Winter Olympics. So, Thatcher goes to Lake Placid to see that all of the bank’s operations are going smoothly. When Yves Bisson, a French ski jumper, is murdered, everyone thinks at first that it’s a terrorist attack. Soon enough, though, Thatcher is distracted by reports that the bank has been targeted in a counterfeiting scheme. It turns out that Bisson’s death, and other incidents that happen, are related to this scheme, and to someone’s need to cover up theft with counterfeiting and murder.

And then there’s Emmet Sweetman, whom we meet in one plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. He’s a crooked banker who’s been involved in more than one dubious transaction. During the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was enough money coming in that Sweetman could use depositors’ money and other funds, and not get caught. There was always going to be income to cover up what he did. But then, the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years ended, and Sweetman ended up owing a lot of money to some very dangerous people. And one night, two of them shoot him in his own home. Dublin DS Bob Tidey investigates the murder, together with Garda Rose Cheney.

If there’s anything this and other crime novels tell us, it’s that it’s never a good idea to use other people’s money without their approval. In some way or another, it always seems to come back to haunt. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Robben Ford’s Lateral Climb.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Emma Lathen, Gene Kerrigan, Stuart Palmer

But Lately There Ain’t Been Much Work On Account of the Economy*

One of the biggest issues that many people are concerned about is the economy. And for a lot of people, it’s not really the larger economic issues. It’s basic issues such as jobs/working conditions, education, and so on. How often, for instance, have you seen politicians and candidates go on about all of the jobs they’ll create (or have created)? And plenty of people vote based on those records (or those promises).

Basic economic issues play a role in crime fiction, too. And that makes sense. After all, most people are concerned at some level about getting (or keeping) a job, retiring with some dignity, and prospects for their (grand)children. It’s not really a matter of greed (although I’d suspect a lot of us would like to have more wealth than we do). It’s a matter of economic security. That elemental concern for safety and security can form an interesting background feeling of tension in a story or series.

Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide), for instance, takes place just after the end of World War II. The British economy is recovering from the war, and even people with money are feeling the proverbial pinch. Against this backdrop, we meet the Cloade family, who live in the village of Warmsley Vale. Wealthy Gordon Cloade has always taken good financial care of his family, and has told them that they need never worry about money. Then, unexpectedly, Cloade marries a young woman named Rosaleen Underhay. Not long after that, he is killed in a bomb blast. Now, his widow is set to inherit a great deal of money, and his relations are likely to be left with nothing. The economic uncertainly this brings, combined with the poor state of the general economy, is enough to make the family uneasy and very anxious. That adds an important layer of tension to the novel. And it adds to the mystery surrounding the death of an enigmatic visitor to Warmsley Vale – a man who calls himself Enoch Arden. It turns out he may very well be connected with the Cloades’ financial situation.

Reginald Hill’s Underworld and On Beulah Height both take place against a backdrop of economic tension. In the former, the world of miners and mining is the context for a search for the truth about the abduction and murder of a young girl. The man everyone suspected committed suicide. But when new evidence comes out that he was not guilty, everything changes. Then a miner dies of a fall (was it accidental?) into a mine shaft. Was he guilty? The latter book takes a look at an entire town that disappeared when it was cleared and flooded to create a reservoir. But the people of the town haven’t disappeared. Neither have their secrets. In these novels, the murders aren’t, per se, committed because of economic fears. But that anxiety is there, and plays a role in the stories’ backgrounds.

Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series begins in 1931 in Berlin. Vogel is a crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt. When she discovers that her brother, Ernst, has been killed, she decides to look into the matter. She can’t involve the police, because she and Ernst allowed two Jewish friends to borrow their identity cards, so they could leave the country. Without proper identification, Vogel risks a lot if she’s stopped by any authority figures. So, she will have to move very quietly. This novel is set during the Weimar Republic and the larger Great Depression. The economy is suffering badly, and it’s gotten so desperate that people can’t always buy even basics such as food. Some women turn to prostitution so they can eat. Other people sell whatever anyone will buy for the same purpose. It’s a frightening time, and that adds to the tension in the novel.

One plot thread of Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising concerns an upcoming strike that’s been planned by the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA). They are looking for better wages and working conditions, and they know that they have to present a united front if they’re to get what they want. The story takes place in 1981, before the integration of the (white) ILA with the (black) Brotherhood of Longshoremen (BoL). The BoL wants parity with the ILA, but many in the latter union fear that if that happens, they’ll lose out on jobs, wages and so on. For them, it’s a matter of economic survival. It is for the members of the BoL, too, though, so there’s an inevitable clash. In fact, some ILA thugs attack a member of the BoL named Darren Hayworth. Unless Hayworth’s attackers are found and punished, the ILA is going to have a much more difficult time in the upcoming strike. So will the BoL. So, the BoL wants the case investigated. For that, they turn to a young lawyer, Jay Porter. He’s black, so he’ll be more likely to be trusted by the BoL. And, he knows Houston’s mayor, Cynthia Maddox. It’s hoped he can use his influence to get justice for Hayworth. This plot thread shows just how much economic issues matter, and it adds tension to the larger story, which also concerns a shooting murder and its connections to corporate greed and powerful people who won’t stop at killing to preserve their privilege.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage takes place in 2008, just after the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ Irish economy. In one plot thread, Dublin DS Bob Tidey, and Garda Rose Cheney investigate the shooting murder of a dubious banker named Emmet Sweetman. During the ‘boom’ years, Sweetman took advantage of the easy money that was available, and didn’t think much about the source of his newfound wealth. But, when the economy went bad, Sweetman found he could no longer pay on his debts. He got more and more desperate, and took more and more risks. And, in the end, his risk-taking caught up with him when some very dangerous people decided they didn’t want to wait any longer for their money.

There’s an interesting look at the impact that economic issues have in Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. That novel concerns the residents of an ultra-exclusive community called Cascade Heights – or, more familiarly, ‘The Heights’ – located about 30 miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before they’re allowed to move in. It’s a community full of money and privilege, and gated from the outside world. But even that security doesn’t spare the residents from the severe economic problems of late-1990s Argentina. In fact, the economic difficulties hit home, as the saying goes, among even the most privileged characters, and, ultimately, leads to a terrible tragedy.

And that’s the thing about the economy. We might not think a lot about the stock market, the larger economic forces operating in a country, etc… But, when it comes to basic economics such as jobs, affordable housing, and so on, people do care. A lot. It’s a basic safety and security issue, and it can form an interesting backdrop to a crime story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s The River.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Attica Locke, Claudia Piñeiro, Gene Kerrigan, Rebecca Cantrell, Reginald Hill