If you’ve ever been fired, you know how awful an experience that is. Even if you’re made redundant because of cutbacks (and not, say, job performance), it hurts. A lot. And a wise employer doesn’t fire someone on a whim. It’s a very serious step to take.
Being fired/terminated/separated is very hard, but it is a part of life. So, it makes sense that we’d see it in crime fiction, too. It can be the basis for tension and conflict, or it can be a plot point. It can also add a layer of character development.
For instance, in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to architect Stephen Booker. When he is made redundant, it’s a real blow for him and his wife. He likes his profession; so, at first, he tries to get another job in the field. He isn’t successful, though, and as time goes by, he begins to feel more and more desperate. Finally, he takes a job driving cab at night, thinking he can still use the days to look for a new position. One night, he meets professional thief Mike Daniels. Before long, Daniels becomes one of Booker’s regular fares and they get to know each other. When Daniels finds out that Booker is an architect, he decides to let him in on a secret. Daniels and his team have been planning a major heist: the robbery of the City Savings Deposit Bank. The bank is, of course, carefully guarded, so the team needs to find a way to work around the security. For that, they need an architect, and Daniels thinks he’s found his man. It takes some persuading, because Booker is basically a law-abiding person. But he’s also desperate for a job – any job – and falls in with the group’s plans. Everything goes along well, until a sudden rainstorm comes up and changes everything.
In the ‘Emma Lathen’ team’s Murder to Go, a big merger is in the works. Southeast Insurance is planning a merger with an up-and-coming fast food company called Chicken Tonight. The Sloan Guaranty Bank is involved in the merger, so it’s got an interest in making sure everything goes smoothly. But it doesn’t. Several people are sickened by one of Chicken Tonight’s new recipes. One of them even dies. This puts the merger in grave doubt and raises all sorts of questions about Chicken Tonight. So, the company wants to find out right away how the poisonings happened and do ‘damage control.’ At first, it looks very much as though the culprit is a man named Clyde Sweeney. He is a former delivery driver for the company, and he had access to the spices and food. What’s more, he had been fired recently and was bitter and angry about it. That certainly gives him motive to sabotage the company. It doesn’t help Sweeney’s case that he’s gone missing. But when he turns up dead, it’s clear that something more is going on. Sloan Vice President John Putnam Thatcher gets involved in the case and starts asking questions. He finds that the solution lies in behind-the-scenes greed and manipulation.
Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed begins just after bank manager Martin Carter is made redundant. With his marriage falling apart, and now no job to provide stability, Carter hasn’t got much to lose. On his last day of work, he can’t resist the lure of a million-dollar payroll and takes the money. He makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and is soon on his way. But that act of desperation is only the start of Carter’s adventures. Along the way, he meets a New Age bike gang, a librarian who’s get her own secrets and past, and plenty of other characters as well.
Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake introduces John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own Stuart Lake Lodge, a holiday fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan. They live in the small town of Crooked Lake, where everyone knows everyone else. And one of those people is Nick Taylor, head greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. One day, Taylor is fired from his job. He’s devastated and furious, especially since he sees no specific reason for being let go. He blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who has never liked him and has been looking for a reason to get rid of him. Later that day, Kristoff’s body is discovered on the green near the golf course’s seventh hole. Taylor is, of course, the most likely suspect, and he admits that he was very angry about being terminated. But he says that he’s not guilty of the murder. Taylor’s lawyer asks Bart’s help in clearing his client’s name, and Bart is happy to oblige, as he and Taylor are long-time friends. When the killer finds out that Bart’s asking questions, this spells danger for the Bartowski family. But Bart feels a strong obligation to an old friend, so he persists. And, in the end, he finds out the truth.
And then there’s Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord, which introduces his protagonists, Miami lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. As the novel begins, they’re on opposite sides of a case involving illegal smuggling of animals. Solomon’s defending; Lord’s prosecuting. They can’t stop scrapping with each other and bickering, though, which annoys the judge so much that they’re held on charges of contempt of court. When they’re finally released, they go back to the case, which is soon decided. The whole incident does nothing for Lord’s reputation, and she is summarily fired, publicly and in a humiliating way. It’s very upsetting for her, of course, and even Solomon feels compassion for her. Besides, as Solomon sees it, she may be a rookie, but Lord is a good lawyer who will develop into a truly great lawyer. So, he invites her to work with him in a new case he’s trying to get. Katrina Barksdale has been accused of killing her extremely wealthy husband, Charles. She claims she’s innocent, and Solomon knows that if he gets the case and wins it, there’s a large fee in it for him. He needs Lord’s ‘blueblood’ connections and her skills; she needs a job. So, they start working on the case together. And it turns out this case is more complicated then just a wife who kills to get her husband’s fortune.
Losing a job is hard, often painful, and always disruptive. It can have all sorts of consequences, too. So, it makes sense that this plot point would show up in crime fiction.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.