Right now, the US has a case of ‘Lotto fever.’ The jackpot for one of the regular lottery games here is now USD$1.5 billion. Even after taxes and other fees, that’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Now, I don’t normally play the lottery; I know what the odds are against winning anything, and I usually think I’ve better uses for the money I’d spend on tickets. But right now, things are different. The prize is very, very big, so I’ve
shelled out invested some money for tickets. We’ll see how that goes!
I don’t think I’m alone, either. A lot of people who wouldn’t normally play the lottery do so when the prize is that much worth having. And that’s the thing about human nature. People do things they wouldn’t usually do if the payoff is a big one. It’s certainly the case in real life, and we see it in crime fiction, too.
For instance, in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank, we meet professional thief Mike Daniels. He and his fellow thieves have decided to ‘go big’ and rob London’s City Savings and Trust Bank. It’s not going to be easy. The bank has safety and security procedures, and Daniels knows that the team is going to have to find a creative way to get in and take the money. They want to make a tunnel, but for that, they need expertise. That’s where out-of-work architect Stephen Booker comes in. He’s always been a law-abiding citizen, has a stable marriage, and was content enough with his life. But then, he was made redundant. At first, he looked hard for a new job as an architect, but there simply haven’t been any decent jobs out there. Now, Booker works as a cab driver at night so he can put food on the table. One night, Daniels is his passenger. Once they’ve met, they find they like each other and Daniels thinks he’s found just the person he needs to do the tunneling job he wants. Booker wouldn’t ordinarily have anything to do with a plan like this, but the thought of all that money (and the fact he’s out of work) change his whole perspective, and he joins the team. They plan carefully, and on the appointed day, everything goes off as intended at first. Then, a sudden storm that no-one could have anticipated comes up, and that changes everything.
Tess Makovesky’s Gravy Train tells the story of what happens when people learn of a prize that could make all the difference for them. Sandra Price has a dead-end job in a Birmingham pub, and a husband who’s unable to work. She doesn’t see an end to it until one day, she overhears some pubgoers talking about a betting scam they’re planning. Sandra listens to every word, and she and her husband, Mike, decide to get in on it. To their happy surprise, they win, and go to the betting shop to collect their money. A local mugger named Lenny finds out about the money and steals it. He thinks he’s in the clear – until the money and the van it’s in are stolen. And so it goes. Several people who ordinarily wouldn’t take big risks, or wouldn’t want to break the law, do so. To them, the money is much more than a large amount of cash. It means a chance to break out of their lives and start again.
It’s not always money that has that impact on people, either. Samantha Downing’s For Your Own Good takes place mostly at a very exclusive preparatory school, Belmont Academy. On the surface, it’s one of the finest schools in the US, with dedicated teachers and a very high rate of acceptance at the best universities. Underneath, though, there is a great deal of pressure on the students to do outstanding work. It’s mostly (but not entirely) parents who apply this pressure, and it impacts the students and members of the faculty. Teachers who ordinarily wouldn’t consider changing grades or offering makeup work are persuaded to do so by wealthy, powerful parents. Students who wouldn’t cheat or commit plagiarism do so because the prize – a top-rated university and a stellar career/life – is too great to be missed. Or so it seems at least to the parents. Then, Ingrid Ross, one of the parents of a Belmont student, is murdered. As the police investigate, the school community begins to come to terms with what the school is really like, and readers see what happens when grades and university acceptance take priority over anything else.
In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, the prize worth having is a peaceful suburban life, complete with white picket fence. You might not think that’s such a glorious prize, but that’s what Eva Wirenström-Berg has always wanted. She thinks she finally has it, too, at first. Her husband, Henrik, is a steady husband, and her six-year-old son, Axel, is healthy and enjoying life. Then, disaster happens. Eva discovers that Henrik is having an affair. She is determined to find out who the other woman is, and to do everything she can to keep her marriage. When she discovers who Henrik’s lover is, Eva sets in motion a plan that ends up in tragedy.
And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Read. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington TV journalist with a successful show. But more than anything else, she wants the story that will cement her place at the top of New Zealand journalism. She knows very well that there are younger, hungry people coming up behind her, and she wants to get to the top before they do. So, she’s all too willing to listen when she hears about the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in prison for years for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan, and their son Sam. Only their daughter Katy survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, though, there are hints that Bligh might be innocent. If he is, then this is exactly the story Thorne needs, so she pursues it in ways she might not normally have done, and she gets closer to the story than even she would have advised.
And that’s the thing. When the prize is very much worth having, people will do a lot to win it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some more lottery tickets…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Easy Money.