If you live in certain parts of the West, you’re aware of how the influx of wealthier folks from California is changing the makeup of certain towns. In Idaho’s Treasure Valley, where my latest novel, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, is set, the effects of that transformation are visible wherever you go.
Housing prices have rocketed up. Houses are being bought and bulldozed, with far larger ones built in their place. Longtime residents gripe about the sudden proliferation of California license plates.
And if you ask those newly transplanted Californians, they’ll tell you that they needed to move someplace where their dollar would stretch a little further. If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in traffic on the 101, you can understand where they’re coming from. Too many years of that, and you’re likely ready to set yourself on fire rather than face another epic, multi-hour traffic jam.
This gentrification and tension between the “haves” and “have-nots” extends far beyond Idaho and the West. On the East Coast, where I live, I see its effects every day. Manhattan is in danger of becoming solely a playground for the rich.
In Washington, DC, where I grew up, the funky stores and interesting corners of my youth have disappeared in a crush of glass-fronted “luxury” condos. It’s a problem that everyone acknowledges, but nobody seems to want to address.
It’s also the kind of tension that makes for great crime fiction.
Wealth and blood in crime fiction
When I sat down to write Boise Longpig Hunting Club, I didn’t intend to comment on Idaho’s “Californication,” or the impact of wealth discrepancy. But as I crafted a portrait of the state and moved my characters through it, I found those themes unavoidable. At least as subtext.
Because money, and the feelings it breeds, can lead people to do bad things. Very bad things, sometimes. The kinds of things that end with bodies buried in the woods.
With any kind of fiction—crime or otherwise—you risk dating your fiction if you incorporate too many real-world elements. That’s not wholly a negative. Sometimes it’s fun to read a novel from seventy years ago and see how events that had world-shattering importance at the time have assumed an alien, distant quality.
But some aspects—the division between rich and poor, the tensions of migration and gentrification—stay pretty constant throughout the eras. As a writer, such things are excellent fuel for your narrative.
Want to know more about Boise Longpig Hunting Club? Check out our interview with Nick Kolakowski on Episode Seven of the Crime Syndicate Podcast!