Look for the Money

This blog originally appeared as a guest post for Mythical Books

Look for the Money

In the great political scandal that was Watergate, reporters Woodward and Bernstein were advised to pursue their investigation based upon one cardinal principle: Follow the Money. Although the abuse of power lay at the heart of Richard Nixon's downfall, money was the lifeblood that linked cover-ups and lies in a network of deceit.

Money might not be the motive of every crime, but, more often than not, money plays a major role and can be the easiest entry point for an investigation to gain traction. "Look for the Money" because, like the adage "where there's smoke there's fire," where there's money, there's crime -- or at least the fertile possibility.

Mystery writers, like law enforcement, know well that looking for the money will be a top priority for any detective. So, in constructing a story, money needs to be consciously factored in or out. However, in my newest Buryin' Barry novel,
Risky Undertaking, I didn't have to look for the money. It found me.

The series is set in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina and over the course of the stories, I've tried to work in details and plots that give the reader a feel for the area in which I grew up. I realized I hadn't written a story that incorporates a significant component of the region -- the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Without any particular idea, I checked the tribe's web site for background on what might be of current importance on the reservation. The headline that greeted me stated a tribal council meeting the night before had postponed a vote on building a second casino because the vote promised to be too contentious. Here were money and conflict staring me right in the face. At stake were millions of dollars on the one hand and the perceived threat to tribal culture and ancient traditions on the other. The money wasn't linked solely to casino operators or lucrative construction contracts; it was tied to all 14,000-plus enrolled members of the tribe, every man, woman, and child who share 50% of the net profits each year. Look for the money? I couldn't overlook it.

The conflict within the tribe became the conflict within the novel. What I found particularly fascinating was creating my fictional story while the casino expansion played out in real life. The issue became even more complicated when a South Carolina tribe, the Catawba, sought to purchase land in North Carolina where the gaming laws are less restrictive. Suddenly an internal tribal debate mushroomed into conflict between two tribes because the Cherokee wanted no competition to their gaming monopoly.

Unlike real life, my story had a publishing deadline while the "battle" between the Cherokee and Catawba continues. And with the multiple paths the money could flow, I looked for a way that I hope surprises the reader.

Will I ever again encounter such a plot where I don't have to look for the money? In the language of the casino, don't bet on it.