As any crime fiction fan can tell you, there is no such thing as being invulnerable. Wealth, power, fame, and so on, certainly can make life easier in some ways. But they’re no guarantee of protection from everything. That’s why the assumption of safety can be so dangerous. Even if a person is ‘on top of the heap,’ you never know what can happen.
To take an example from history, consider Anne Boleyn, who was King Henry VIII’s second wife. When he first showed her special preference, it must have seemed that she would be invulnerable. That was probably even more the case when the two married. History, of course, tells us otherwise. And she’s not the only one at Henry VIII’s court who made that mistake. C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series offers a portrait of how little real security there was at that time. Shardlake is an attorney in Tudor London. He’s often called in at the behest of the king or one of his top advisors. Although Shardlake has a good reputation, he’s wise enough to know that security is fleeting, and that at any moment, he could be placed on the ‘enemies’ list. As the series goes on, Sansom offers the reader an occasional look at the goings-on in court, and at the fates of those who assume their safety just because they’ve caught the king’s fancy.
One of the historical characters in Sansom’s series is the king’s top advisor, Thomas Cromwell. He is, of course, an object lesson in the danger of assuming one’s own security, even if one does the bidding of the king. We learn much more about him in Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light. In those stories, Mantel traces Cromwell’s beginnings, his rise to power, his status as the king’s chief minister, and his fall from the king’s grace. While a crime and its solution aren’t the main focus of these novels, we do get to see how fleeting security can be. When Cromwell first rose to power, few would have dared to cross him. But even his power didn’t save him in the end. Admittedly, these aren’t crime fiction novels per se, but there are plenty of crimes committed in them…
In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, we meet Linnet Ridgeway Doyle. She is a beautiful and very wealthy young woman who can have her pick of places to live, people to marry, and just about everything else. In fact, at the beginning of the novel, one character says,
‘It seems all wrong to me—her looking like that. Money and looks–it’s too much! If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker… Got everything that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’
There’s every reason for Linnet to plan for the perfect future. So she’s happy to be magnanimous when her best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort asks her to hire Jackie’s fiancé, Simon Doyle, as land agent. Then, everything changes. Linnet and Simon marry, and take a honeymoon trip to the Middle East, which includes a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. Jackie is on the same cruise, and soon becomes the prime suspect, since Simon left her for Linnet. But it’s soon proven that she could not have committed the crime. So, Hercule Poirot (who is also on the cruise) has to look elsewhere for the killer. In the end, Linnet’s sense of invulnerability was an illusion.
Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood takes place partly among the most elite members of the Bollywood film community. Nikhil Kapoor is Bollywood’s top director; his wife, Mallika, is one of Bollywood’s most sought-after stars. Together they are at the top of the industry, with all the adulation, money, and power that goes with that status. Then one night, both Kapoors die. Nikhil is killed in what looks like a freak electrical accident. Later that night, Mallika also has what looks like a fatal accident. It’s a bizarre coincidence, but most people are willing to put the deaths down to accident. Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan is expected to ‘rubber-stamp’ that explanation, but little pieces of evidence suggest that this could be murder. So, he decides to investigate further. He learns that, shortly before the deaths, the Kapoors had been at an ultra-exclusive private party during which Nikhil had said that someone at the party had committed murder and would do so again. Now the possibility arises that he was right, and that he and his wife were murdered to keep them quiet. This murder turns out to have everything to do with the past, and it shows that no-one, not even a film idol, is completely invulnerable.
And then there’s Olavo Bettancourt, whom we meet in Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy. He’s a very wealthy ad executive with a beautiful ‘trophy wife,’ an expensive home, and a healthy son, Olavinho. He’s benefited, too, from the fact that Brazil’s government is getting more open, and more political candidates are advertising. This gives Bettancourt a real sense of power. But it also involves him in some dirty deals and questionable decisions that come back to haunt him. A group of thugs decides that Bettancourt can pay a high ransom, and they plan to kidnap Olavinho. Instead, they capture the non-verbal son of the Bettancourts’ housekeeper. One of the decisions Bettancourt has to make is how much to tell the police and the media. His background will not stand up to police scrutiny, and he doesn’t want any questions being asked. On the other hand, if the boy isn’t returned, that, too, could have dire consequences. It’s a real dilemma, and it shows that not even the most supposedly invulnerable people are completely safe.
And that’s one important lesson crime fiction teaches. No matter how rich, well-loved, well-protected, or intelligent a person is, no-one is completely invulnerable. That fact can add a lot of tension and ‘seasoning’ to a story.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Everybody Loves You Now.