A really interesting conversation with crime writer and fellow blogger Angela Savage has got me thinking about what’s sometimes called sexually transmitted debt. By that, I mean becoming responsible for a spouse or partner’s debt after being convinced (sometimes misled) into taking on new debt or financial risks without necessarily being aware of it at first. Some sexually transmitted debt involves a partner agreeing to share (or assume) the responsibility for a debt. It can work in other ways, too.
Whichever way it works, it can leave a person in a great deal of financial trouble. And, in crime fiction, it can add to plot lines, character development, tension, and more. Here are just a few examples; I’ll bet you’ll be able to think of more.
In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lord Stephen Horbury. He fell in love with a chorus girl named Cicely Bland, and married her without really getting to know her. The fact is, though, that Cicely has a fondness for gambling. She’s not averse to using cocaine, either. All of this has meant that she owes a lot of money. At first, her husband paid her debts, mostly for the sake of the family name. But Cicely’s debts keep mounting. So, she borrows money from a French moneylender named Madame Giselle. Then, when she’s not able to pay what she owes, Madame Giselle threatens to reveal certain information that she has. Cicely is frantic, but this time, her husband is no longer willing to assume her debt. He even makes a public announcement that he will no longer be responsible for anything she owes. It all puts Cicely in a very difficult position, especially when Madame Giselle is murdered during an airline flight. Cicely is also on the flight, and becomes one of the suspects. Hercule Poirot, who was also a passenger, works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who actually killed the victim.
In Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters, we are introduced to Miami PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano. Jose Antonio and Lucia Moreno hire Solano to find the birth mother of their adopted daughter, Michelle, who is very ill. Doctors say that she needs a bone marrow transplant, and that only her biological mother can serve as her donor. Solano takes the case and finds out everything she can about the circumstances of Michelle’s birth and adoption. Along this way, she meets Barbara Perez, whose partner, Alberto Cruz, is mixed up in illegal businesses. Barbara knows what he’s doing, but there really isn’t much of a way out for her, mostly because she’s got children. Later in the novel, she gets herself (and Solano) into real danger because of the work her partner was doing, and the money from it that he was supposed to have hidden away. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a case of debt that’s transmitted. But it is an interesting case of being mixed up in a partner’s criminal activity, and risking a heavy price for that.
Peg Brantley’s Red Tide introduces readers to Jackie ‘Jax’ Sussman, medical examiner for Aspen Falls, Colorado. Her husband, Phil, is a philanderer with a gambling problem and other ‘expenses.’ Jax pays his debts and, so far, has stayed with him. But the cost of assuming that financial responsibility has wiped her out financially. Her sister, Jamie, is a loan officer for a local bank, so she’s all too well aware of Jax’s financial situation. But there’s very little she can do. In one plot thread of this story, both sisters get mixed up in a case of multiple murders when FBI agent Nicholas Grant is assigned to find 13 bodies in the Aspen Falls area. Convicted killer Leonard Bonzer has confessed to the murders, but won’t tell police where the bodies are. And, when other, more recent corpses are discovered, it looks as though there might be a ‘copycat’ at work. Admittedly, Jax’s financial situation isn’t the main plot thread, nor the reason for the murders. But it does show how sexually transmitted debt can work.
There’s also Natuso Kirino’s Out. This novel is the story of a group of women who work nights at a Tokyo factory that makes boxed lunches. One of them, Yayoi, is married to an abusive husband, Kenji, who has gambled away their savings. Now, she’s left with a heavily mortgaged home, little money, and no real way to pay off the debt – not on her salary. In a rage, she strangles Kenji with his own belt. Now, of course, she’s left with a body, and the very real likelihood that she’ll be arrested for the murder. So, she turns to her co-workers for help. Their choices draw the women into a very dark web of Tokyo’s underside.
And then there’s Chelsea Field’s series featuring Isobel ‘Izzy’ Avery. In Eat, Pray, Die, we learn that Izzy has recently moved from her home town of Adelaide to Los Angeles. Mostly, she made the move to escape her ex-husband, Steve. More specifically, she wants to escape Platypus Lending, a loan shark operation that she owes money to, thanks to Steve. Early in their marriage, Steve convinced her to
‘…get a two-hundred-grand-loan to invest in some “sure thing” stocks…’
Even she admits that was stupid. The plan backfired, the stock market crashed, and Steve hadn’t told her he’d borrowed money from a shady operation. Now, Izzy works as a professional taster for Los Angeles’ rich and famous. This series is among other things, an interesting look at how much trouble sexually transmitted debt can cause.
I’m really glad Angela brought the topic up, as it’s really interesting. And it’s a good reminder to be sure of the person you choose as a partner…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lionel Bart‘s As Long As He Needs Me.