Today, I want to talk about money. And, no, this is not another advice column on how indie authors can make loads of it. I’ll let business experts take care of that. Today I’m talking about money, crime, and human nature. It’s also where fiction and nonfiction tend to meet.
That’s where my first guest in this new Inspirational Indie Authors blog and podcast series comes in. Author Susan Grossey successfully uses financial intrigue when she crosses over from the real world into the world of fiction. In real life, Susan helps prevent financial crimes. Her day job is in anti-money laundering, advising institutions such as banks and casinos. In her books, Susan goes back in time to the Regency period to explore money as the root of evil. She does it through here Constable Plank books. If you have nine minutes and fourteen seconds to spare, click on the audio link below and listen to my interview with Susan.
A few highlights …
On a gray area between criminality and financial desperation
I think everyone can sympathize with someone who finds themselves a little bit on their uppers and perhaps sees what they think is a quick and easy way out of it and it spirals beyond their control. So yes, I think we can certainly all feel sympathy for someone who has financial difficulties in a way that perhaps someone who has murderous feelings is a bit beyond our experience.
On the victims and perpetrators of financial crimes
We have a system of magistrates who sit in court in panels of three and listened to cases and a lot of what we hear coming through the courts is people who make very poor decisions over and over again. They’re not wicked to start out with, but they make one poor decision and that leads them into another one and they’re not very good at thinking through consequences and this, I think, is a lot of what you see with both criminals and victims, a lack of ability to see consequences.
Listen to the Interview
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly and Longreads. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard: I’m Howard Lovy. And this is a new feature in our Ask ALLi podcast. We’re going to take a close look at some inspirational indie authors. This isn’t about their business model, their marketing, or even how many books they’ve sold. It’s about their writing and what indie authors have to say. Today the theme is money, money and crime and human nature. I’ll let my guest introduce herself and tell us what that means.
Sue: Right, Well, my name is Sue Grossey and for about the last quarter of a century I’ve been working my day job in anti-money laundering, which is advising institutions such as banks and casinos and so on, on how to avoid criminal money. And something of a side issue that has developed is I’ve become absolutely obsessed with financial crime. Now I read English at university, so it’s a bit of a sidestep anyway, but I’ve always wanted, like all English graduates, to write a fiction book. And when I decided to finally take the leap, it must’ve been about eight years ago now, I found that all I was really interested in writing about was financial crime.
Howard: But Sue did not simply want to fictionalize the financial crime she handled at her work, she needed something a bit more removed from her real life, yet similar enough so that all the elements of human nature when it comes to money are still there, so she chose the early 1800s, also known as the regency period. And of course, though the times may be different, all the greed, desperation, vanity and naiveté of financial life are still identifiable.
Sue: And so I started researching a story from the 1820s as it happened about a banker who had stolen all of the money from his own bank and when they caught up with him, he admitted it straight away and that was rather peculiar because if you admitted fraud in those days you went straight to the scaffold. So I was curious as to why he would do that and that was really the start of it.
Howard: Now, money is a complex motivation when it comes to crime because it does not always involve greed. Sometimes the motive is desperation, which is something many readers could relate to. When murder involves jealousy or revenge we tend not be sympathetic at all, but when it comes out of financial desperation, then we could see the criminal’s point of view. I asked Sue if she writes about these gray areas where the bad guys aren’t necessarily all bad.
Sue: Indeed. Yeah, I do try and include that and you’re right. People will put them in a slightly different category. Indeed, I have heard in my day job people saying, “Oh, he only evaded taxes. It wasn’t really a crime,” so they see it as quite laudable, really, if you’ve been a bit clever with your money, so you’re absolutely right. That goes into a different category, but I do certainly, in one of the books, for instance, we find out about why the narrator, who in my books is a constable, a magistrate’s constable, why he moved into that area and it turns out that his childhood was not untainted by financial crimes.
So I think everyone can sympathize with someone who finds themselves a little bit on their uppers and perhaps sees what they think is a quick and easy way out of it and it spirals beyond their control. So yes, I think we can certainly all feel sympathy for someone who has financial difficulties in a way that perhaps someone who has murderous feelings is a bit beyond our experience.
Howard: And that’s why her lead character, the cop named Sam Plank seemed to be just a bit ahead of his time in that he sees some of these gray areas.
Sue: Absolutely, yes. And I’m quite careful with him because he sits in that rather neat area between the Bow Street runners that people have all heard of and the Metropolitan Police, who were the first police force in the whole world. They started in 1829 and in between there was this system of magistrate’s constables and they were given not very much latitude.
There job was to go out and arrest people who were suspected of crimes. They weren’t doing any investigation. They weren’t doing any detection work. That didn’t come until the Victorian Times, but I thought you could still have someone who was more interested in the why of crime rather than the what of crime and that’s what Sam is, I think
Howard: So whether we’re talking about the regency period or modern times, there’s a lot of snake oil out there right now and it’s not just about the criminals who take advantage of the gullible, but some people really want to be taken advantage of, to be offered simple solutions and in her latest book, Faith, Hope and Trickery, she expands into the religious realm too, but I asked Sue if this was beyond the scope of her books and her life.
Sue: No, not at all. Not at all. And that in fact ties into a third strand of my life. Here in the UK I do voluntary work as what is called a magistrate. We have a system of magistrates who sit in court in panels of three and listened to cases and a lot of what we hear coming through the courts is people who make very poor decisions over and over again.
They’re not wicked to start out with, but they make one poor decision and that leads them into another one and they’re not very good at thinking through consequences and this, I think, is a lot of what you see with both criminals and victims, a lack of ability to see consequences or as you say, sometimes a lack of wanting to see those consequences, so in latest one, the Faith, Hope and Trickery one with Sam Plank’s wife is caught up in this religious fraud because she so desperately wants to believe what she is being told and and I think we can all sympathize with that.
Howard: And now an excerpt from Faith, Hope and Trickery by Susan Grossey. The book, by the way, has been shortlisted for a new award for self published books in the UK called The Selfies.
Sue: Right? Well, this is from quite near the beginning of Faith, Hope and Trickery, and we’ve got someone has come into Sam’s police office as they were called in those days to report a murder and he’s been summoned to go and see the scene of the murder. “I saw Wilson coming along the street towards us.” Wilson is his assistant constable. “Although the boot maker had been adamant that his leather cutter was not a violent man, I took the view that someone who claimed to have murdered his wife should be treated with caution and it seemed wise to have someone of Wilson’s deterrent dimensions on hand.
As we walked a short distance to Conduit Street I explained the bare bones of the matter to my junior constable. He raised an eyebrow but said nothing and I was glad to see that he’s learning to keep his counsel, at least in front of others. The boot maker’s premises, whereas I remembered them, a narrow shopfront consisting of a door and a window right alongside it with the shop itself crowded with shelves to the ceiling, filled with boxes and losts.
As we pushed open the door, a bell rang in the back of the shop, the workroom, I guessed. ‘Is Mr. Wilford alone?’ I asked Humphreys and he shook his head. ‘When I decided to come and see you we thought it best not to leave him unattended. We have plenty of knives, scissors, and the like you see,’ he looked at me and I nodded. Gem is in there too. He’s a carpenter, a friend of mine, and he’s pretending to measure for new cupboards. Be glad, I thought, just in case. We walked through a door at the back of the shop into, as I had surmised, the work room where the boots and shoes were made and repaired. The man I took to be Gem was standing in the middle of the room, a notebook in his hand while another much older, much slighter man was sitting at a bench.
They both looked over at us. Humphries indicated the man at the bench who stood. ‘This is Mr Wilford,’ he said. Wilford was about 60, I guessed and almost as leathery as the man’s boot he held in one hand, while tidying its edges with the sole knife held in his other hand. His graying hair was neat and his posture surprisingly good for a man who’d spent, I imagined, four decades or more crouched over benches.
He nodded his head in acknowledgement. “These are two constables, Josiah’ continued Humphrey’s, ‘Come to talk to you about your wife, about what you told me about your wife.’ I walked over towards Wilford, lifting a stool that I passed and setting it alongside his bench. I sat and indicated that he should too. I tapped the bench with my hand and he put down both the boot and the knife. “Mr Wilford,” I said quietly, ‘Mr Humphries tells me that you’ve killed your wife.’
The leather cutter looked up at me, but I did not think he really saw me. He nodded but said nothing. ‘Is that right? Mr Wilford, have you murdered your wife?’ He showed no reaction and simply nodded again. ‘Did she anger you, Mr. Wilford, did she shame you with her behavior? Perhaps another man?” I asked. This time there was something, a slight tear in the eye, I thought, but still no reply. ‘Was she a bad wife, Mr Wilford?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘Oh no, sir. She was a good wife to me for nigh on 40 years, a good wife, but,’ and he glanced over his shoulder and turned before leaning towards me and lowering his voice even further. ‘The message told me to do it.’
Howard: Susan’s books are available as ebooks or paperbacks on Amazon, and the first two in the series are available as audiobooks. You can find out more on her website, SusanGrossey.