Wednesday, September 5, 2012


What's a crime?

As a mystery short story writer, I need to know what constitutes a crime and what doesn't. There's no point in writing a whodunit about something that used to be illegal but now is seen as a mere peccadillo.

As far as I know, killing someone is still frowned upon. And that's a relief because I like to concoct a good, solid murder. But occasionally I'd like to wander into other realms.

I used to enjoy reading mystery writers Emma Lathen and Sara Paretsky, safe in the knowledge that if their fictional financial institutions screwed their customers they would get a suitable legal comeuppance by the end of the book.

But 2008 changed all that. When the thugs on Wall Street caused a global economic recession did they suffer legal repercussions? Did they heck! Many of them went off to the Cayman Islands with huge compensation packages in their back pockets. Many more are still working in high finance and still using their considerable resources and clout to keep any form of banking regulations off the government books.

Compare that, as Graydon Carter in the latest issue of Vanity Fair does, with athletes who are suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. Society has come down like a ton of bricks on the heads of seven-time Tour de France cycling champ Lance Armstrong and former Major League pitcher Roger Clemens who have both been drummed out of their respective sports.

These two men should have gone into banking where they could have walked away with millions. Or alternatively, they should have gone into politics. Carter says, "One could argue that the lawmakers responsible for overseeing the runaway lending that led to the financial crisis are every bit as responsible as the banks. But not a single elected official has served time in jail or even suffered much of a setback, professionally." So financial and political mysteries are pretty much off the books, I guess.

How about lying? It used to be that being caught out in a lie could ruin a person and would almost certainly topple a political career. Think of Presidents Nixon and Clinton. Today though we have websites devoted to the number of lies candidates in the next American election can tell in a day. My particular favourite is Paul Ryan's whopper about the time he ran a marathon in under three hours. A little digging by Runners World Magazine discovered his time as four hours and a bit. Unfortunately, the discovery of this lie and all his others seems not to have affected Ryan's popularity one whit.

So I guess I'll just have to stick to murder - at least until that is no longer a crime.

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.

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