In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot is drawn into the investigation of the murder of his dentist, Henry Morley. Another of Morley’s patients, Alastair Blunt, is a powerful banker with conservative politics and lots of important connections in government. Since Blunt is very much in the public eye, it’s thought that Morley’s death may be politically motivated – a plot, really, to go after Blunt. As that angle of the case is explored, the trail leads to a political activist named Howard Raikes, who makes no secret of the fact that he wants Blunt and his kind out of the way. Raikes and his girlfriend (who happens to be Blunt’s niece), Jane Olivera, are hoping for the creation of a new society, and it’s possible that getting rid of Blunt is part of the plan. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death on the Nile.
Raikes isn’t alone. A lot of people would like to create a whole new society. And I would guess that most of us can think of changes we’d like to see. But, like many things, the dream of a new society can be taken too far or can have all sorts of consequences. And that, of course, can make it a very effective factor in a crime novel.
Sulari Gentill’s first Rowland Sinclair novel, A Few Right Thinking Men, takes place in New South Wales during the Great Depression. The world as everyone knew it doesn’t seem to be working anymore, and many people are desperate. The Sinclair family is well enough off that they haven’t been greatly affected by the depression, but plenty of other people are. Rowland Sinclair isn’t overly political, although he has leftist friends, and even friends who are Communists. He gets drawn into politics, though, when his uncle is murdered. At first, it seems that the family housekeeper may be responsible, but Sinclair doesn’t believe that. So, he starts to ask some questions. He soon finds that the murder may be connected to a far-right group that has its own agenda, and its own view of what a better society would be like. He decides to penetrate the group to see what he can learn, taking great risks in the process. If his new associates find out about his liberal sympathies, he’s taking his life in his hands. If his leftist friends find out he’s joined a rightist group, he’s in no less trouble. In this novel, we get a look at these two very different perspectives on what a better world should be.
Glen Peters’ Mrs. D’Silva’s Detective Instinct and the Saitan of Calcutta takes place in 1960s Kolkata/Calcutta. Joan D’Silva teaches at a local Catholic school. One day, her son discovers the body of a former student, Agnes Lal. After the inquest, two other former students visit Mrs. D’Silva, trying to enlist her help. They claim that Agnes was murdered, and they want her to look into the matter. Then, one of those students is arrested for stabbing a factory manager, something he says he didn’t do. As Mrs. D’Silva investigates, she finds that all three former students were members of the Workers’ Revolutionary Movement of Bengal. This group is dedicated to creating a new society in India by overthrowing the government and stripping Anglo-Indians of their power and status. As the novel goes on, we see how these young people’s desire for a new and more just society can be manipulated for others’ agendas.
Katherine Dewar’s Ruby and the Blue Sky introduce a popular band, the Carnival Owls, and their lead singer, Ruby. When the group wins a Grammy award, Ruby uses this international platform to make an acceptance speech that encourages sustainability, and not shopping for new things. She soon becomes the voice of the eco movement, which wants her to use her popularity to work for the eco agenda. At the same time, her bandmates want to focus on the music and the band’s upcoming tour. And there are some dangerous people who target Ruby because of her anti-shopping views. It turns out that her desire to be part of creating a new, better world is a lot more complicated and riskier than it seems.
There are several thrillers, too, that have the plot element of changing the world. In Daniel Silva’s The Order, for instance, Israeli Intelligence officer and art restorer Gabriel Allon is summoned to Rome when Pope Paul VII suddenly dies. Everyone’s been told the cause of death was a heart attack, but the pope’s private secretary has reason to believe that this is a case of murder. As Allon looks into the case, he finds that it’s likely connected to a long-hidden gospel and to a shadowy group called the Order of St. Helena, which has ties to European far right groups. And the Order, which has its own plans for the future, is determined that Allon will not get the gospel. It’s a dangerous case, and it has serious implications for the world order.
There are a lot of things that could be better about the world. And a lot of people have dreamed of a new and better society. But sometimes, that society may come at a very high price…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Revolution I.
4 thoughts on “We All Want to Change the World*”
Margot, I’ve just finished David Downing’s Zoo Station. It’s set in Berlin on the cusp of WW2. There’s been a lot of change in Germany in the past few years under the Nazis. It would be an understatement to say the upheaval wasn’t especially a positive thing.
Oh, that’s a good example of what I had in mind with this post, Col. The coming of the Nazis really did make major changes, and as you say, not positive ones. I do like historical fiction, so I’ll be interested in what you have to say about Zoo Station.
In a sense I suppose you could look at the Shardlake books in this light. The Reformers often provide the main plot, and they certainly believed they were about to create a better world, though the jury’s still out on whether they did – I expect we’ll know in another millennium or so… 😉
Ha! It’ll be very interesting, FictionFan, to see how people from the distant future view the Reformation. You’re right that many of the Reformers really did think they were creating a better society, That certainly comes through in the Shardlake books, and I rather like the way Shardlake takes a more balanced – even jaundiced, at time – view of the Reformers. I think that approach makes him more realistic as a character, and gives the reader a braoder perspective.
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