A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a mystery series I was reading and what I considered to be a smug attitude on the part of the author. I must have hit a sore spot with readers because the topic garnered a wealth of comments both here on Cicero’s Children and to me privately via email. Seems like nobody likes a snob.
Today I’m tackling the “bums and liars” part of that blog.
The term “liar” is self-explanatory. The word “bum”, on the other hand, has several meanings. It can be used to describe tramps, beggars, derelicts, winos, or simply homeless, out-of-work street people. The meaning I chose to use here is “good-for-nothing”, as in, “That dirty rotten bum cheated me out of my life savings.”
Bums and liars are part and parcel of the mystery genre; without them mysteries simply couldn’t exist. But where do writers find examples of bums and liars on whom to pattern their characters?
The same place where many authors say they get ideas for plots: from news reports. Read any print or on-line newspaper and you'll easily find dozens of examples of bums and liars.
For instance, there’s Tony Hayward, the CEO of British Petroleum who's been in the news a lot lately. (Think Gulf oil spill and you’ll know who he is.) Good old Tony heads a company that’s paid our government more than $155 million in fines between 2000 and 2009 for 1000+ safety violations on U.S. soil. $155 million! Wouldn’t you think you’d clean up your act after the first $1 million fine? Not Tony. Obviously the man believes in taking risks, the biggest risk being that BP will save more money taking shortcuts with safety than it ever has to pay in fines.
Yeah, I’d label Tony Hayward a bum. Actually, I’d label him a "Bum" with a capital "B" because of the following statement he made on May 30th. While discussing the Gulf oil spill disaster with the media, Hayward said that "there’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
Right, Tony. So would the eleven men who died when your oil rig went up in flames.
As for a bum and a liar, a newsworthy example would be Rod “Blago” Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois currently on trial for mail fraud, wire fraud, and attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Rod’s playing innocent, but he got caught on tape blabbing about his sweet deals. Good old Blago even threatened to withhold $8 million in state funds from Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital unless the hospital’s CEO donated some really big money to Rod’s campaign war chest. Cutting off funds for sick kids?? That kind of behavior definitely earns Blago the title of "Bum".
So you see, it's not all that difficult to find examples of characters you'd love to knock off in a mystery novel. The newspapers are full of them!