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!

Posted by Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski is the author of the noir thrillers “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” "Slaughterhouse Blues," and “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps.” His crime fiction has appeared in Crime Syndicate Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and various anthologies. He lives and writes in New York City.

5 Comments

  1. I had a real-life experience along the same lines as Nick reports on. I talked about it in a recent interview with Mark Ramsden. Here’s an excerpt.

    MR I heard someone’s asking crime writers for stories which don’t involve guns. Maybe we could stack that anthology alongside non-alcoholic beer and tofu burgers. Surely we have to look at uncomfortable truths?
    LE Yeah! When I saw that, my jaw hit the floor. Looks like the loons have gone full-scale nuts. Let’s see, what could be wrong with that? “Crime writers wanted to submit stories in which there are no guns.” I’ll leave this to an amateur—this is too easy for a pro.
    I saw this coming a couple of years ago.

    I was in Idaho as a presenter for their annual Extravaganza, guest of publisher Aaron Patterson, and while there attended a talk by the keynote speaker, C.J. Box. First, some background. I really liked Idaho and talked to Aaron about moving there and he advised against it. He said it used to be a great place but that in the last few years they’d been inundated by people moving there from California. He said most were people fleeing the high taxes and repressive laws, but that unfortunately they brought their attitudes with them and were voting like they had back in California and the state was rapidly becoming a welfare state. He said they’d already ruined Oregon and Washington and now Idaho and Wyoming and Montana were on their radar and he was thinking about getting out himself.
    Okay, that’s the backstory. After C.J. wrapped up his talk, he gave a Q&A and this little tweedy guy stepped up. I say “tweedy” as this guy personified the term. He was a little balding guy, with fruitcake designer glasses, and a cashmere sweater wrapped around his shoulders and tied in front by the sleeves. Mr. Rogers stand-in… When he opened his mouth, it became obvious Aaron knew what he was talking about. “Mr. Box,” he said. “Do your characters have guns and if so, do they use them?” It was kind of obvious he’d never read a Box novel and had probably accidentally wandered in when he saw a sign proclaiming a literary event, probably expecting Robert Waller or Nicholas Sparks.
    C.J. looked at him, took off his Stetson, scratched his head, and said, “Well, sir, my protagonist is a game warden and so he’s armed and he’s always after a murderer who usually used a gun, so… yeah, there are guns and they use them. You don’t suppose they’d engage in pillow fights, do you?” The whole place exploded and this little twinkie slunk away, probably to a safe place where there were other snowflakes who wouldn’t laugh at his punk ass.
    That’s a true story and I’d be surprised if C.J. was sent a request to submit a story sans guns.
    If this is the coming thing, I just want to get a law passed quickly allowing open carry for pillows…

    1. I lived in a small mountain valley above 8,000 feet on Colorado’s Western Slope for more than a decade. One of the things that constantly irked me during that time was the people who bought second homes there (for the world-class ski resort, Crested Butte), or claimed to be moving there to escape aspects of their lives in the cities–crowding, overregulation, etc.– but then who immediately upon arrival set about turning that valley into the same place they’d just fled.

      That valley, the Gunnison Valley, had always struck a balance between progressive college students who helped fuel the economy and fourth-generation ranchers whose entire bloodlines had lived in that place precisely to escape the kind of regulation and gauche materialism that people brought with them in droves when they moved in.

      But money talks, and ranching doesn’t pay what it once did. Now they find themselves powerless to resist the well-funded newcomers with their own vision of what that place should be.

      Most recently, that ski resort has been bought by Vail Mountain Resorts, and the one thing everyone agrees on is it will become the next Aspen, bringing with that all the things that a guy like Hunter Thompson railed against for years there. Whatever “quaint” feel the town once had will be mimicked for profit, and the sentiment seems to be that the working man has had his time, and his wants and desires are not only old fashioned, they’re ridiculous. The people who work there can no longer afford to live there, much like many of our most cultured cities. But progress is good no matter what, right?

  2. Nick Kolakowski August 18, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    Yeah, I don’t know anyone in Idaho who owns less than five guns (and I don’t know any Californians there). If someone comes there hoping they’re going to be in a gun-free environment, well, they’re going to be sorely disappointed…

    Noir with pillow fighting would be hilarious.

    1. Amen… Can’t wait to read your latest novel, Nick.

  3. Nick Kolakowski August 19, 2018 at 4:03 am

    Can’t wait for you to read it, either! 🙂

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