The worst of the danger from the Covid pandemic seems to have passed, although it’s by no means over. And in many ways, that’s a wonderful thing. People can meet with friends and family, get their hair cut, travel, shop, and a thousand other things. Many children are back at school, and life seems to be moving on. But it’s not an easy transition. There are still a lot of issues. If you’ve been on a flight recently, you know that security lines are excessively long, lots of flights are either delayed or altogether cancelled, and everyone’s temper is short. People don’t know whether or not to wear masks for certain things. More importantly, the nature of the way we work, spend our leisure time, interact socially, and worship has changed. We know that going back to the way things were is probably not going to happen. But what’s going to happen now? It’s a very unsettling time in that way.
The fact is, we’ve been through a lot of unsettling times. Whenever there’s a major change either in our personal lives or in society, there’s anxiety as we try to work out the new reality. There are many examples of this uneasiness, and it’s interesting to see how crime fiction explores it.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken At the Flood (AKA There is a Tide), World War II has recently ended, and Lynn Marchmont has been demobbed from the Wrens. At first, she’s delighted to be home, and glad her mother Adela is safe and well. But it’s soon clear that things are not the same, perhaps permanently. There’s still rationing, and sometimes real privation. More than that, Lynn’s no longer sure of what she wants out of life. As if that wasn’t unsettling enough, Lynn and her mother had always depended on her wealthy Uncle Gordon Cloade. In fact, he even told his siblings and their families that they wouldn’t need to worry about money. Then, to everyone’s shock, he married a widow, Rosaleen Underhay. Before he could write a new will, he was killed by a wartime bomb. Now, the family can no longer depend on that money, as Rosaleen is set to inherit everything. So, if there won’t be money, what will there be? What will everyone do? Against this backdrop, a stranger calling himself Enoch Arden comes to town. He claims that Robert Underhay, Rosaleen’s first husband, is not dead. If that’s true, she cannot inherit. When Arden is murdered, it upends everything again. Hercule Poirot investigates, and finds that little is as it really seems.
Jacqueline Winspear’s private investigator Maisie Dobbs started life in domestic service. At that time, there were clear lines between social classes, lines people simply did not cross. But the war changed everything. People of all classes fought and died. People of all classes endured hardships on the home front, too, and gave up a lot for the war effort. When the war ended and everyone came home (including Maisie), things had changed. There suddenly seemed to be more questions than answers. How would people who fought together, but were of different classes, interact in a post-war world? What about the role of women? During the war, they had jobs, served on the war front, and more. In a post-war world, what lives would they live? And what of the veterans, especially those who were wounded? It was all very well to praise their courage and give them medals, but where would they fit in? How would they earn a living? All of these questions are explored in the Maisie Dobbs series, and Winspear offers some interesting insights.
Apartheid was the law in South Africa from 1948 to 1990. During those years, it dictated just about every aspect of life, from where one lived and worked, to whether and where one’s children were educated, to whom one could marry, and much more. Many people never knew any other system. When apartheid ended, people celebrated and were eager to have a better life. But there was also a lot of unease. If there wasn’t going to be apartheid, what was there going to be? What would society look like? Roger Smith’s Dust Devils explores this anxiety, as we follow Cape Town journalist Robert Dell as he searches for the man responsible for killing his wife, Rosie, and their children. Dell gets help from his estranged father, Bobby Goodbread, and as they journey to Zululand, where the killer lives, we see how ordinary citizens’ lives have been upended by the end of apartheid. South African society is rebuilding itself, but no-one’s exactly sure what it’s going to look like.
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1993, people were excited to see the end of the regime. There was hope for a new, more democratic society. But whatever else the Soviet government had been, it was familiar. So, when it ended, people didn’t know what was coming next. What would the government be like? How would people find housing, get jobs, and go to school, for instance? There are a number of novels that explore post-Soviet anxiety. One of them is Margaret Truman’s Murder in the House, in which Congressman Paul Latham is shot. At first, it looks like suicide. But there’s more to it than that. Georgetown Law School professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith gets involved in the case when a former student, who’s now with the CIA, tells him the death is suspicious. Among other possible motives, Latham had been in contact with a businessman who was trying to make inroads into the new post-Soviet economy. As it turns out, there’s a real power vacuum now that many of the former government leaders are gone. And there are some dangerous businessmen and members of the Russian Maifa who are only too happy to fill it. Throughout the story, we see the unease of many citizens through the eyes of Yvgeny Fodorov, whose life has been completely turned around by the end of the Soviet government.
Whenever there is a major change, it’s hard (some would say impossible) to go back to ‘normal.’ Very often, that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t mean there’s no unease or anxiety about what’s to come.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers’ I Have Confidence.