Have I Said Too Much?*
It’s said that one of the most common phobias is public speaking. For many people, having to give a talk is enough to bring on all sorts of anxiety, and there are those who simply won’t do it. It’s not surprising that a lot of people don’t like public speaking, actually. Things really could go wrong, and you never know when the technology won’t work, or you forget your notes, or…. But most of us do, at some point or another, have to bite the bullet, stand up on a dais (or at least, in front of a crowd), and speak. It can be dangerous, though. A quick look at crime fiction should show you what I mean. Oh, and before I go further, I won’t include any of the many examples from legal novels where lawyers speak publicly; there are too many of them. But they’re out there.
Authors sometimes give talks, either alone or as a part of a panel. A lot of authors have to gear themselves up to do that, as it can be draining. And some simply don’t like it. In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for example, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver asks Hercule Poirot to look into a strange matter. She’s been commissioned to put together a Murder Hunt as a part of an upcoming fête at the home of Sir George Stubbs. Mrs. Oliver gets the feeling, though, that there’s more going on, and she asks Poirot to investigate. She is proved tragically right on the day of the event, when fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is killed. Poirot and Inspector Bland work to find out who killed the girl and why. At one point, Poirot makes a call to Mrs. Oliver. Here’s part of the conversation:
‘‘It’s a splendid thing you’ve rung me up,’ she said. ‘I was just going out to give a talk on How I Write My Books. Now I can get my secretary to ring up and say I am unavoidably delayed.’
‘But, Madame, you must not let me prevent – ’
‘It’s not a case of preventing,’ said Mrs. Oliver joyfully. ‘I’d have made the most awful fool of myself.’’
I think a lot of authors can relate…
Politicians, of course, make plenty of speeches, and those can be no less dangerous. For instance, Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder features Sir Derek O’Callaghan, MP. He’s made his share of political and personal enemies, but he is influential. One day, he is making a speech in Parliament to introduce a controversial bill to prevent anarchy. Some support it; many others believe it’s a draconian bill that will suppress freedom of expression. During the speech, Sir Derek collapses from a case of appendicitis, and is rushed to a private nursing home/hospital run by his old friend, Sir John Phillips. He is given emergency surgery, which he survives; but later, in the recovery room, he dies of what turns out to be hyoscine poisoning. Inspector Roderick Alleyn investigates, and finds out that there are several possible suspects. He’s going to have to uncover some people’s well-kept secrets to find out who the murderer is and how the crime was committed.
David Hingley’s Birthright takes place four years after Charles II’s ascensiona to power in England. As it opens, Mercia Blakewood prepares to attend the execution of her father, who has been convicted of treason as a Parliamentarian traitor. He is allowed one speech before he dies, and she wants to hear what he has to say, as well as show what moral support she can. In the speech, Mercia’s father gives her a cryptic clue to a mystery that the new king wants solved. And Mercia has every reason to take this lifeline. Her land has been taken by her treacherous uncle, and her son will be taken away from her, too. So, she uses the clue to try to get to the truth of the mystery, and save her own life and that of her son.
Gail Bown’s Deadly Appearances introduces her protagonist, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. She attends an important speech given by her friend and political ally Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. He’s a rising leader in the party, and this speech will have ramifications. He’s just begun his speech when he collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Heartbroken at the loss of her friend, Joanne decides to cope with her grief by writing Andy’s biography. As she does, she learns more about him and slowly puts the pieces of the mystery together. And that gets her into a great deal of danger as she finds out more than it’s safe for her know.
And then there’s Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign. Channing Hayes is part owner of The Last Laff, a northern Virginia comedy club. He’s also been known to do a little amateur detective work (check out Orloff’s Killer Routine for that story). One day, Hayes and his business partner Artie Worsham attend a campaign speech given by Edward Wong. He is the nephew of Artie’s good friend Thomas Lee, who owns the restaurant next door to the comedy club. Wong has a good chance of being elected a Congressional Representative for the area, and his family wants to support him as much as possible. During Wong’s speech, a group of thugs bursts in wielding baseball bats. They do plenty of damage to the restaurant, although no-one is killed. Lee doesn’t want the police involved, in part because he doesn’t want to make trouble for the campaign, and in part because the people who sent the thugs are potentially very dangerous. So, he asks Hayes to do a little investigating. Hayes soon finds out that there’s a great deal at stake here, and a lot of corruption behind the scenes.
See what I mean? Most of us have to give talks at some point or another, whether we want to or don’t. Some people don’t mind that at all. If you think about it, though, with everything that can happen during a speech, it’s no wonder people don’t want to give them…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.