I Can Reach Out to You With My Own Two Hands*

There are lots of philanthropic organizations, some better known than others. And they can do a lot of good. But there are also smaller groups and individuals that don’t always get the ‘press’ that the larger groups do. Yet, those groups and individual people often work directly with those who need their help the most. They don’t do it for the glory; they do it because it needs to be done. They make a big difference in the lives of real people, and they show up in crime fiction, too.

For example, much of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. Lord Peter Wimsey and his butler/valet Mervyn Bunter are on a car trip when they get into an accident. Reverend Theodore Venables happens by and rescues the two men, inviting them to stay at the local vicarage until their car is repaired. Wimsey gets a chance to repay Venables’ kindness when one of the church’s bellringers falls ill just before the New Year’s Eve change ringing. Wimsey takes the man’s place and ends up getting drawn into a case of theft and unexpected death. In one of the book’s sub-plots, a terrible storm comes up, and the village is threatened with flooding. Venables takes the lead in helping his congregants find shelter and safety until the storm passes. He’s one of those people who wants to do good because it needs to be done, not to get glory or recognition.

It’s the same with Sister Mary, whom we meet in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. Chapman is a baker who lives and has her shop in a large Melbourne building. She is part of a group of people who help with the Melbourne Soup Run, which is under the direction of Sister Mary. Different people contribute food, tea, juice, medicine, clothes, blankets, and so on, and distribute them to Melbourne’s street people. Chapman takes her turn going out in the van, and she contributes bread even when she’s not making the run; that’s how she knows Sister Mary. As we learn throughout the series, Sister Mary is determined to do some real good for Melbourne’s down and out people. She doesn’t preach or even talk about religion. Rather, she rolls up her sleeves, sees what needs to be done, and gets it done. She can find beds and medical care, distribute food, and get bureaucratic paperwork done, and she has a way of getting people to do what she wants. It’s not exactly bossiness, but she is certainly a presence.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime lawyer Jack Irish gets drawn into a case of murder when a former client, Danny McKillop, asks to see him. McKillop’s recently gotten out of prison for the killing of an activist named Anne Jeppeson, but there’s a very good chance he was innocent. By the time Irish gets around to calling, though, McKillop’s been shot. Irish’s guilt drives him to want to find out who killed McKillop. Part of the trail leads to a man named Ronnie Bishop, who might have witnessed Jeppeson’s death. Bishop seems to have disappeared, though, so Irish has to try to find him. The trail leads to a charitable group Bishop worked for, called Safe Hands Foundation, which is dedicated to helping troubled young people. Not all of the characters associated with Safe Hands are exactly model people, but the group itself fills an important need.

Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House sees Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector (DI) Gemma James investigating the death of a young woman whose body is discovered in the ruins of a London warehouse fire. As the police try to identify the woman, the trail leads to Helping Hands. Run by Kath Warren, it’s a safe house for abused women and their children. In the course of the story, we see how hard Kath and the rest of the team work to help those who really need it. Kath is a hard-working person who isn’t looking for glory (although she would be glad of more funding). She simply wants to do the best she can to fill a need.

The same is true of Hank Morrison, who is introduced in Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart. The story features ex-pat American Poke Rafferty, who now lives and works in Bangkok. He’s a travel writer whose specialty is ‘rough travel.’ He’s come to consider Bangkok his home, and he’s made a life there with his partner Rose, and with Miaow, a former street child he’s hoping to adopt. And that’s where Morrison comes in. Morrison runs a refuge for children, and he has the connections (and the paperwork) that are needed to make the adoption happen. In one sub-plot of the novel, Rafferty has a few conversations and meetings with Morrison to move the process along, and we get a look at the challenges of trying to do some good for some of the most vulnerable people in a community. Morrison works hard, and cares about the children he tries to help. He doesn’t do it to get rich, and he’s not ego driven. He just wants to do what he can for the young people under his care.

And that’s the thing about some groups and individual people. They don’t do what they do for a lot of praise, for money, or for recognition. They work as hard as they do because they see a need and simply try to meet it in the best way they can. These are only a few examples. Over to you.

ps. The ‘photo is of some of the terrific hard-working volunteers who’ve been making sure that people are getting vaccinated. They don’t do it for glory or even thanks. They do it because it needs to be done. They deserve recognition.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ben Harper’s With My Own Two Hands.

 


12 thoughts on “I Can Reach Out to You With My Own Two Hands*

    1. The Nine Tailors is a fine novel, Rick; I’m not surprised you like it so well. And I’m glad you mentioned Sayers’ short stories. She’s mostly known for her novels, but I agree that her short stories are well done. In fact, I need to read more of them!

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  1. You have listed two mystery series that I have been meaning to try for a long time: Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series and Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Now I have even more reason to do that. I always like to read a book with a background that is interesting.

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    1. Both of those series are, in my opinion, really well done, Tracy. Both are distinctly Australian; and, although they’re different to each other, each gives a good look at Melbourne. I hope that, if you try them, you’ll like them.

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  2. Margot: There is a long legal tradition of lawyers providing legal representation to those unable to afford lawyers on either a pro bono basis or for a modest sum. Not surprisingly, John Grisham has fine examples. In The Chamber, a large Chicago firm provides pro bono representation to Sam Cayhill facing execution. One of the lawyers is his grandson, Adam Hall. An even better example is his best known lawyer, Jake Brigance, from Mississippi who, to his personal detriment, has honoured tradition by accepting, sometimes reluctantly, to handle difficult defences in such books as A Time to Kill and A Time for Mercy.

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    1. Thanks, Bill, for those examples of the way lawyers roll up their sleeves and work, even if there are no official billable hours in the job. I appreciate the reminder of how pro bono works. And you’re right, of course, about Grisham. He tells some great stories of lawyers who get involved in cases (I especially like the Brigance example) in cases because of the principles more than the money. Grisham’s work shows what it’s like to do that sort of legal representation.

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  3. Margot thanks for the reminder of Timothy Hallinan’s work and of course the late Peter Temple. I need to read some of the first and more of the second!

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    1. Hallinan is terrific, Col. He’s done three series: the Poke Rafferty series, the Junior Bender series, and the Simeon Grist series. If you do get the chance to try his work, I hope you’ll enjoy it. And I ought to get back to Peter Temple, too!

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  4. Funnily enough, there was a celeb all over Twitter yesterday for ostentatiously donating money he could easily afford to a charity, and I was thinking how much more I admire people who quietly roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, not for praise but because they see a need. There’s a strand in Val McDermid’s Out of Bounds about some of the Syrian refugees who have made their home in Scotland in recent years. Detective Karen Pirie comes across a group out in a park, falls into conversation with them and learns that they have no gathering place, so she uses her position to pull a few strings to get them an empty shop which they turn into a community café. I liked that because she saw a need and did what she could, and it’s very true to many of the unsung local efforts we, and so many other countries, have made to assist refugees to begin to feel at home in their new countries.

    Merry Christmas, Margot!

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    1. I know just what you mean, FictionFan, about celebrities trying to prove to the world how caring and giving they are, instead of just doing what needs to be done, with no fuss. It’s not for me to judge others’ intentions, but it just seems so much more genuine, I suppose, if that’s the word, when people fill a need and make life better for others without making a noise about it. And your example from Out of Bounds is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post. Karen sees a need, does what she can to meet it, and doesn’t go trumpeting what she’s done. Thanks for adding that in.

      Merry Christmas to you, too, and may 2022 treat you kindly!

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    1. The Nine Tailors is a great Sayers, isn’t it, KBR? I so much like the layers in that one, and Lord Peter seems more rounded out there than he does in some other novels. Happy Christmas to you and yours, too KBR! May 2022 be good to you.

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