Wall Street Wolves and American Hustlers 2
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle’ are modern spins on age-old con stories, but they get it right. Given the number of crime novels out there these days, you need to do something special to stand out from the crowd, but when you’ve found your characters and milieu, you then have to cope with the changes in crime fiction that have been brought about by changes in modern society.Here are another six things that make crime writing tougher.
1. ‘The Natives Will Go No Further!’
Cheap travel is making everything ordinary. Remember when James Bond stepped into Shirley Eaton’s Florida hotel room at the start of ‘Goldfinger’? Foreign travel seemed impossibly exotic, and lent even the most hackneyed capers a patina of glamour. Well, watch that opening scene again today and ask yourself if you’d even want to stay there on a budget holiday. Low-cost airlines and cheap hotels allowed everyone to see inside Ian Fleming’s world, and suddenly spies weren’t so interesting anymore. Fleming, ever the arch-snob, gave his readers glimpses of a life they could only fantasize about. But the truth was revealed; casinos were not filled with beautiful spies in evening dress, but fat men in track-suits. Bond was exposed as a cancer-prone alcoholic with a condescending attitude to women.
2. ‘This Is A Stick Up!’
In the last two decades bank robberies have fallen by 90% in the UK. First there were time locks, then cameras, then active combat systems to deter robbers that included steel shields, gas blasts and other counter measures. We’ve come a long way from those British monochrome films in which Sid James walks into a local branch in a little black mask with a cloth sack marked SWAG. And even if you can escape with the money, instead of having Lance Percival or Stratford Johns plotting your escape around the back of King’s Cross with the aid of a map and a bakery van, you’re being tracked by helicopters armed with laser-sight cameras.
3. ‘You Know How To Whistle, Don’t You?’
The femme fatale stood in the doorway, her shapely form backlit by the bare bulb…except now she’s in a sports bra and sweatshirt, tights and jeans. And if that private dick says or does anything inappropriate, she’ll have his hand right up behind his back and the cops at his door. Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ is a good example of a book that could not have been written a few years ago; it’s so stridently mean and aching for revenge that suddenly the most ardent feminists of the 1970s seem like bake-show presenters.
4. ‘Evening All!’
The village bobby, the kindly Sergeant, the WPC who sees a little boy home have all been replaced by pen-pushers, IT technicians and middle-management staff coming up with endless unworkable initiatives to beat unattainable performance targets. Dixon of Dock Green now seems like an absurd fantasy-figure, something from the early days of Doctor Who. When I was a child we knew the name of the PC on our street and often invited him in for a cup of tea, and â€˜Z Carsâ€™ seemed like a harsh dose off realism.
5. â€˜The Butler Did It.â€™
No, he didnâ€™t because there are no butlers anymore, and â€˜The Filipino cleaner did itâ€™ merely sounds exploitative and unpleasant. We no longer have live-in staff, â€˜a little man in the villageâ€™ or visits from the vicar, and while a new sense of egalitarianism informs our mindset weâ€™re still quick to demonize difference, as the public reaction to â€˜Benefits Streetâ€™ has shown.
6. â€˜Heâ€™s the Best Slow Bowler In The County.â€™
Thatâ€™s how Raffles the gentleman thief was described by his creator EW Hornung. Square-jawed, wavy-haired and clean-cut, he wouldnâ€™t last five minutes on the streets today. Our heroes must now have flaws and quirks. Theyâ€™re angry, autistic, alcoholic, addicted to drugs or adrenalin. First they were superhuman, then merely human, and now they’re basket cases. Perhaps the next step is to turn our heroes into villains â€“ although didnâ€™t â€˜Breaking Badâ€™ already do that?