1 December 2010 0 Comments

Wikileaks: The Butler Did It

If I wrote a crime novel filled with the kind of twaddle that passes for breathtaking revelation in this week’s blanket Wikileaks coverage, it’d be panned.

Surprise, surprise. The Saudis want America to do a number on Iran, without taking responsibility for it themselves (and meanwhile Saudis are the big funders of al-Qaeda). Sarkozy shouts at his staff. Ghaddafi probably has sex with his blonde “nurse.” Diplomats sometimes say nice things in public about an international leader when they really think he’s a corrupt psychopath.

It isn’t the stuff of crime fiction and thrillers. It’s more like the predictable, domestic, gossipy rubbish frequently called literary fiction. Just substitute the “world” for a Midwest university campus, the Saudis for the International Affairs Department, America for the Dean’s Office, and Iran for the Business School, and you’ll see what I mean.

The Wikileaks story is really only a revelation to those who believe that when a leader tells the press that “Talks have been fruitful and productive” he’s saying something good. Anyone with any sense knows that what he really means is “I’m only saying this at all because you journalists are stupid enough to print it. Ask my press secretary to tell you his spin on background and you can pretend that’s true, too. Remember, I told you you’re stupid.”

Crime fiction readers will already be way beyond Wikileaks. What crime fans like is literature that pares society down to its essential corruption. Not because we want to believe that the world is entirely bad. Rather it’s because we are neither shocked nor pretend to be shocked by the news that there may be things in the world we don’t know about.

Wikileaks is clearly a kind of anarchist organization which believes that conspiracy is at the heart of everything. Crime fiction readers will see that same thing in most thrillers and mysteries – if there was no conspiracy and nothing secret then there’d be no mystery, right? The difference between the raving loon at the heart of Wikileaks, Australian Julian Assange, and most crime fiction readers is that Assange believes exposing the conspiracies might end them. Crime fiction readers are more hard-bitten. Their sleuths know that the bad guys won’t all fold. They also know that the good guys rely on some elements of the conspiracy, too, in the form of police, order, law.

That double element is what makes so many modern crime novels open-ended. It’s the unresolved denouement of a world in which our civic illusions have been swiped away, without being replaced by any new vision.

There’s another difference between Assange and crime fiction readers. Most crime fiction readers will live long healthy lives. Assange will probably be found dead in a hotel room within a year or so. It will look like an accident, or some kind of sex game gone wrong. But remember, The Conspiracy is a powerful thing.

Leave a Reply