Events, reading them right, and altering plans

Posted: August 29, 2011 in England, notes, USA

Historical crime fiction is frequently based on real events. The gap between the events and the books about them can be very  lengthy such as the 35 years in the case of John Lawton’s A Little White Death published in 1998, which was based on the Profumo Affair of 1963; or much shorter as in James Lee Burke’s 2007 novel The Tin Roof Blowdown based on events surrounding the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Last year around the time of the 2010 UK Election I commented that our political leaders lacked some of the toughness of the contenders for the US Presidential Election in 2008. You would have had to go some to match the political shrewdness of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or Hilary Clinton, and the tough life experience of John McCain. Our lot seemed just a rather bland bunch of rich Oxbridge graduates in comparison. Would this come back to haunt us, when PM Cameron and Deputy PM Clegg were faced with a crisis?

Well the recent UK riots proved a point, it seems everyone in the political establishment from the Prime Minister , and Mayor of London, down to the police borough commanders in London were all on holiday. No one took charge, things drifted while the riots spread and escalated, until after a few days David Cameron decided he just had to take his mind off bombing Libya, to finally return from Tuscany to look after this country. 

Contrast that failure with the recent rapid  reaction of President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg and the East Coast state governors, who were all there directing operations and coping with the far more menacing situation of Hurricane Irene. President Obama read the situation correctly, Irene would not be another Katrina, better to be overcautious than to  be negligent. Hurricane Irene has tempted me to pull down The Tin Roof Blowdown from the bookshelf, and insert it into my reading plans for  the next few weeks. That is what events do, they alter plans. 

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – What a fine post! Not being U.K., it’s not for me to comment on what’s been happening in the U.K., other than to extend my thoughts and good wishes to those who lost property or were harmed in the riots. But I agree with you that big events alter things. They change perspectives. Sometimes they change everything. I’m glad you brought up The Tin Roof Blowdown. It’s quite a vivid picture of what happens when a group of people are put in one of those emergency situations…

  2. Maxine says:

    Good post, and point, Norman. There is too much bureacracy and too many petty rules about social inclusion these days, so nobody seems to want to acknowlege clear lines of responsibility. Here’s a quote from Dregs (Jorn Lier Horst, Norway), which I’m just reading and can highly recommend: “The role of police in society was to create a sense of security by combatting crime. The impression created by the police’s energy and determination in an investigation such as this influenced the confidence the public had in the police force. It was the kind of confidence that took a long time to build, but that could be broken down in an instant. Belief in police work was a load-bearing beam in society and perhaps the the most important requirement for people’s feeling of safety. They could not risk losing that.”
    (first written last year, ie before the riots)

  3. Norman says:

    Thanks Margot, and Maxine.

  4. Craig says:

    Good post Norman – although US politicians have been plenty indecisive in the past on some other matters, of course.

    And as if you ever need an excuse to pull a James Lee Burke book off the shelf to read 🙂 I read and enjoyed THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN earlier this year, while I was in Vietnam. What a fantastic author.

  5. Norman says:

    Craig, thanks for the comment. I hadn’t read any James Lee Burke for a long while, about 10 years, and having started The Tin Roof Blowdown I should not have been away so long. He is a superb author.

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