It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur. First, you have to have a good business idea – something people will want. Then, you have to market that idea to investors, unless you’re wealthy yourself (and most entrepreneurs don’t start out with a lot of money). Then, you have to have a workable business plan. And that’s only the beginning
Still, there are real potential rewards for entrepreneurs who are willing to take those risks. Ray Kroc, for instance, opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in 1955. I don’t have to tell you how successful that business idea turned out to be. And there’s Richard Branson, who parlayed his small Virgin brand into one of the most successful groups of companies in the world. There are, of course, many other examples, too.
Entrepreneurs are interesting characters in crime fiction. They take risks and they’re often bold planners. This leads to all sorts of possibilities for the crime writer. And it can add interesting layers to a crime story.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), we are introduced to Susan Banks. She and her new husband, Greg, don’t have a great deal of money. But she has a big dream. She wants to create a beauty salon, complete with skin products, hair treatments, and more. She knows exactly the sort of business she wants, and she has plans to make it happen. What she doesn’t have is capital. Then, her uncle, family patriarch Richard Abernethie, dies. His will stipulates that Susan and Greg will inherit a portion of his considerable fortune, and that’ll be more than enough for Susan to set up business. So, when suspicion is raised that Abernethie was murdered, Susan becomes one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case. So does Greg. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to find out whether Abernethie was murdered, and, if so, by whom, and Poirot agrees. As he gets to know both Susan and Greg, it’s interesting to see how Susan’s entrepreneurial spirit comes through.
One of the characters in Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit is Frank Ogden. He’s patented a special process for making specialty wood products, and has teamed up with Luke Latham, who owns a wood factory. Together, they’ve created a very successful business. And that’s part of the problem. This process relies on a particular sort of tree, and the land that the Ogden family owns won’t support the business for a lot longer. Frank’s wife, Irene, inherited a large parcel of land from her first husband, who died in a tragic accident. She and her husband, together with Latham, decide to hold a séance, and contact her first husband to get his permission to log the land she inherited. The séance is held, and is quite eerie in itself. Later that night, Irene is found murdered. Now the people gathered for the séance have to find out which of them wanted Irene dead.
In Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle, we meet Sheila Grey. She’s a very successful clothing designer, whose entrepreneurial spirit has gotten her a lot of recognition, to say nothing of money. She’s independent and wants to stay that way. Then, she develops a relationship with another successful entrepreneur, Ashton McKell. Eventually, both his wife, Lutetia, and his son, Dane, find out about the relationship. One night, Sheila is shot, and Inspector Richard Queen is assigned to the case. As he and his son, Ellery, look into the matter, they find that all three McKells had motives for murder. But, so did several other people.
Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a (now retired) academician, as well as a political scientist. She is also a mother. So, in one story arc of this series, she’s as concerned as any parent might be when her oldest child, Mieka, withdraws from university to start her own catering business. Mieka knows she’s taking a lot of risks with her idea. But, she has a solid business plan, she’s aware of the market, and she feels the need to at least try her best. As it turns out, the business is so successful that she ends up opening another location. Later in the series, she uses the same entrepreneurial skills to open a community parent resource place/playground called UpslideDown. That, too, is successful. Mieka’s character shows the combination of planning and risk-taking that’s necessary for business success.
Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty is an American ex-pat travel writer who now lives in Bangkok. Among other things, he’s good at finding people who don’t want to be found, so he’s a natural at being a PI. Rafferty is married to a former bar girl named Rose. When Rose decided to get out of that business, she knew she would have to find another way to make a living. So, she opened up her own apartment-cleaning company. She’s become successful enough that she’s now got several employees. Each one of her employees is a former bar girl who wanted to leave that business. It’s an effective way of helping others who want an alternative to the sex/bar trade.
And then there’s Harold Chavell, whom we meet in Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche. He is a successful entrepreneur, as is his partner, Tom Osborn. The two planned a wedding and honeymoon trip to France, but Osborn has gone missing. Chavell hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to trace Osborn’s movements and find him. It seems that Osborn went alone on the trip through France, so Quant traces his movements there. He’s not successful, though, and returns to Saskatchewan. Soon afterwards, Osborn’s body is discovered not far from a home that he and Chavell owned, so Chavell is now suspected in his murder. He asks Quant to stay on the case and find out who really killed Osborn, and Quant agrees. Like his fiancé, Osborn was an entrepreneur who took certain risks, as all entrepreneurs do. So, Quant finds that more than one person might have wanted him dead.
Entrepreneurs can change the face of an industry. Certainly their own businesses fill needs that many don’t even see at first. But that potential success comes with risks, and that’s part of what makes such characters interesting in fiction.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life.