I’ve been reading a series of spy/crime/adventure thrillers. Many of the novels revolve around a race for finding treasure, and all of them incorporate plot devices such as torture, murder, and theft on a grand scale.

While reading this latest book that involves discovery and theft of Incan artifacts going back to Francis Drake days, it suddenly dawned on me that I can’t relate to these folks at all. It might make me seem incredibly naïve, but I simply don’t understand them and their need — their greed — to take things for themselves that belong to others. To steal from a museum so that only they can see the priceless artifact. To kill people if necessary, in order to possess something no one can ever know they own.

I realize there are such people in the so-called real world. In fact, most of the great fortunes were founded by those who became known as “robber barons,” emphasis on “robber.” Even today, no one can make a huge fortune without some sort of skullduggery that skirts legality. Lesser fortunes also often come from some sort of crime before the owners of the fortune go legitimate. It must take an incredibly narcissistic person, as well a sociopathic personality to see nothing, to feel nothing but one’s own desires.

I truly cannot relate to such self-absorption and criminal tendencies, though without ever condoning the crimes, I can sort of understand those who steal on a very small scale.

Supposedly there have been several break-ins and some theft a few blocks from here. The discussion of these break-ins revolves around the myriad pot shops in town (some people say the shops contribute to crime, others say they don’t, though I have a hunch what side of the issue a person is on depends on whether or not the person partakes of the product.) Other people blame the nearby coalition for the homeless where people from all over the state (and even other parts of the country) come to get off whatever substance they are on and find a way back to the homed population. This facility has a distinct effect on the town because people who can’t or don’t want to stick with the program wander away and instead of going back where they come from, they hang around here and add to the problems of this already beleaguered town. Not only do they contribute to the crime rate, but they are also a drag on the city’s limited resources.

These people are desperate for food or a fix, and they are looking for something to sell to sate their elemental needs. Although I’ve never been in that situation, I can understand. Sort of.

I don’t understand, can’t understand, using force to take what one wants, on any sort of scale, especially when it comes to being held up at gunpoint, as happened to me once.

People always say that our differences are what make life interesting, but I don’t agree when those differences revolve around criminal behavior. I think life would be plenty interesting without greed and murder and theft and even unkindness, though I suppose, for most readers, thrillers would be a lot less interesting without skullduggery.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

8 Responses to “Skullduggery”

  1. Joe Says:

    I don’t watch much TV nor do I watch many movies–particularly the dystopian futuristic ones– for exactly these reasons. It isn’t anything that I want to think about or have in my imagination. I feel horror movies and such viscerally (and I use that word deliberately, seeing as how much gets spilled in such movies) to the point where it is painful to all my senses.

    I suppose there has to be an antagonist, or a counter-current, or a foil somewhere in any good story, because without it, the story doesn’t happen or the protagonist doesn’t develop as a character. But does there have to be sheer excess for a story to unfold? I don’t know.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      There does not have to be such sheer excess. Writers create evil folks to battle their good folks, because the more evil someone is, the better the one who vanquishes them is. But the best books are not good vs. evil or right vs. wrong, but two equal but opposite forces that are both right. Such dilemmas create more complex stories, where good vs. evil so often devolves into a comic-book-like status.

  2. Estragon Says:

    I find sci-fi to be good at getting to the more complex dilemmas, because they take the question out of our daily context. For example, taking one’s needs by force is nearly universal in nature. It’s only in our context, a thin veneer of “civilization”, in which we have the luxury of considering this to be “evil”. Change the context to an eagle taking a fish for its lunch, Is it still evil? Does the fact you may not kill the cow (pig, stalk of wheat, radish, whatever) by your own hand change the fact you need something killed for your lunch?

    Your town takes resources (by force, if need be) from the local population in support of the homeless people. Some of the local population may object to the “theft” of their resources for this purpose, but they don’t get to opt out. Is that evil? Is it somehow less evil to take your property via tax lien than at the point of a gun? If homeless numbers get big enough for them to elect a pro-homeless local government, is that evil? If incumbents take measures to prevent the homeless from voting to that end, is that evil?

    Pot is legal here too. Although I don’t partake (scotch or wine being my intoxicants of choice), I’ve read enough to know the evidence supports decriminalization and regulation. I’d much rather form my opinions on evidence, rather that what anyone else considers “evil”.

    That said, I hold no truck with people being mean, for any reason. Even the eagle killing the fish for lunch seems to do it without malice towards the fish. We seem to be good at being mean, just for the sake of being mean.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think that’s what I object to, people being mean just for the sake of being mean. Killing for food, for survival, for protection is one thing (and can become a complex dilemma, especially in a novel context). Killing for no other reason than someone has something you want and you want it so that no one else can have it seems especially wrong.

      But whether right or wrong, good or evil, being mean for the sake of being mean, taking something for the sake of taking that thing, and killing for those same reasons are beyond the scope of my imagination. I simply cannot imagine that mindset.

      I know many people enjoy stories about master criminals, master thieves, even assassins from the criminal’s point of view, but I don’t. I can’t get beyond the thought that they are breaking the law. (Unless they are doing it for altruistic motives rather than greed — that I can see.)

      And I like that you add vegetables to your list of things we kill to eat. But then that brings up a whole other situation I have trouble with — that life is based on death. I suppose if I could stand far enough away from my local human point of view, I could see the whole cycle, but since I can’t stand far enough away to get that big picture, the whole cycle seems bizarre.

  3. Sam Sattler Says:

    I like your comment about “best books,” Pat, and the way they feature characters in opposition that are both at least partially right. That kind of conflict has a lot more to say than the simple “good vs. evil” stuff.

    For instance, I’m almost 90% through Stephanie Scott’s “What’s Left of Me Is Yours” right now, and I’m still wondering how I want it to turn out in the end even though one of the most innocent characters in the novel has been strangled to death. Now, I know who did it, but it appears to be building to a climax in which every surviving character is hurt two decades later. Maybe “no winners,” is the most realistic approach, but now I find myself rooting for what turns out to be a truly good man who did one terrible thing in his life (not the killer). Makes you think.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The irony of the book business is that non-reader are the ones who fuel the bestseller lists. There is a set number of people who generally buy books, but those people don’t create the blockbusters. The blockbusters come when a book busts out of the normal cycle of readers into the world of non-readers, which means, that most of the big books are rather comicbookish because that’s what the non-reading public tends to get excited over. Lucky for us, there are a few books that slip past that threshold and give us something fresh to read.

      • Sam Sattler Says:

        Lowest common denominator theory, I suppose. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but I think you’re right. Same with movies and television, sadly enough.

  4. Constance Says:

    I am with you.

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