The Nature of Crime
You might have noticed the banner on the right hand side of this site. The Court reporters (bless them) has named International Crime Authors Reality Check as one of the best 50 best blogs for crime & mystery book lovers. We are honored for this recognition.
Writing a weekly blog seems like no sweat until you approach the one-year mark and have exhausted your usual bag of tricks. At that point, all of us are forced to dig a little deeper and report from our vantage point the pressure points in society that lead to crime.
While crime is universal, the way crime is defined, the laws applied, the bad guys bagged, the punishment meted out, and the consensus of what is an isn’t a crime come down to cultural attitudes, social and political structures. Murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault are among the crimes that are punished in all cultures. Almost all. In many parts of the world the silent part of the equation is the relative status of the perpetrator and the victim. Another factor are customs, traditions or religious beliefs. You can’t safely assume others from a different culture will accept your definition of a crime. Honor killings are permitted in some places. In other countries, such a killing would be murder.
In some countries, women aren’t permitted to go out in public without an escort. The woman’s face must be covered, she can’t drive, vote or hold certain public offices. To violate one of these “laws” is a crime. A crime many of us have trouble with; in fact, we find the idea of criminalizing such behavior repugnant. In other places, a powerful politician, general or local warlord can ensure, despite eye-witness statements and other evidence, that his son or daughter’s conduct will not result in a conviction. Sweatshops where people work in slave like conditions or where hundreds of workers die in a fire rarely result in a conviction. Life is unfair, the sage says. You can’t fight city hall, says another. No matter where one looks, what we think of as “crime” invites us into a much larger context. To ignore that context is to live with your head buried in the sand.
The best of international crime fiction examines the social justice issues that arise in “crimes” committed in the developing world. It is a tough, unforgiving world unless you have the right connections or the right family name. If there is a growing trend, one that Thailand appears to share, is that the masses are far less tolerate of fundamental unfairness in how laws are applied. To enforce criminal law the police, prosecutors and courts require legitimacy. The exercise of political power without legitimacy leads to conflict and violence. The appearance that the way the law is applied to the elites is different causes social conflict. The elites accustomed to using the criminal law to reign in the masses are finding the old tropes aren’t working. Once the masses realize that propaganda gun is firing blanks the walls start to fall. Like the Berlin Wall.
The question for a crime writer is how far down the road can a book take a reader into the political aspect of crime. Do readers care about this line of inquiry or is it a distraction? As a reader of crime fiction, I have found that novels that are narrowly confined to a mystery or limited to the thriller element connected to a crime less interesting. Reading such a book is like taking an amusement ride. You get off, buy a ticket and get on the next one. The next day you can’t remember one ride for the other. I want more from a book. I want something that I can remember, that provokes me, one that won’t leave me alone.
I sense an appetite to read about the underlying causes that shape crime. Those causes are often (though not exclusively) cultural and political. The more we understand how values are creates and spread through a society, and how a political system fights to maintain its creditability, the closer we come to placing crime in the larger context. Without that contextual framing, the crime is another picture of a large trout with the rest of the ecosystem of the river blocked out.
On this blog, the four of us are examining the cultural ecosystem upon which our series draw upon. At the same time, we reserve the right to write about narrow things that writers love to talk about: conferences, interviews, awards, reviews, publishing, agents and other writers. That’s because we are human and loved to talk about what we do.