The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

What did Agatha Christie know? Expats make great criminals

I’m going to kill myself for saying this — I’m an Agatha Christie fan — but I think the Queen of Crime got it wrong.

Either that or she purposely misled us into thinking that the most cunning criminal minds were hiding behind lace curtains in oldy-worldy English villages.

I don’t know about you, but for a while, I found it convincing. Don’t most scions of wealthy families want to murder the patriarch? And what better place to do it than in the library of his stately home…

But then I became what the tagline of this blog refers to as a “global voyager.” As I navigated worlds far beyond the one in which I was born, I wasn’t so clueless any more. I began to notice that the perpetrators of the some of the worst crimes are people who no longer live in their villages, who are displaced in some way.

And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

No Gardens of Eden out there

Psychological studies have shown that we are less likely to cheat when we’re aware of someone else observing our behavior — even if it’s a poster with eyes on it.

Thus, having a village busybody like Miss Marple should help to deter crime, never mind solving it.

Now many international travelers — especially those with plum expat packages — feel they live in a self-anointed paradise. And perhaps they have to convince themselves of this, or else they wouldn’t travel.

But the sad fact is, no one is immune. To rephrase an old saying, some of us are born bad, others achieve badness, and still others have badness thrust upon us.

If anything, badness is more likely to be a feature of the international life. Those of us who become adept at navigating the globe sometimes lose our moral compass along the way.

As for the Miss Marples, chances are, they’ve gone home. Many of an expat’s associates are transients.

So many bad apples

As you’re probably aware by now, not every expat you meet is a good egg. Some are in fact bad apples (not sure why an egg is good and an apple bad — call it a mystery of English slang).

The actress Anne Hathaway had to learn this lesson the hard way. She fell for Raffaello Follieri, who headed the Follieri Group, a real estate development company based in New York City.

With his mop of brown hair and cherubic features, Follieri came across as the embodiment of old world charm and manners. He cut what the Italians call a bella figura.

He was also, it turned out, a crook. He wined and dined Hathaway with the money he’d conned it out of people by posing as the Vatican’s real-estate man. He’s now in prison.

Murder most foul

Just as we don’t like to think of rats being part of the animal kingdom, we don’t like to think of conmen, pirates, gangsters, and terrorists being part of the group we have loosely defined as “global voyagers” — such a noble concept, and one to which The Displaced Nation has dedicated itself.

But trust me, they are a part of it — as are murderers.

Take, for instance, Nancy Kissel. One day she was living in an exclusive high-rise apartment complex in Hong Kong, the city that scores a perfect 10 as an expat destination, with a banker husband worth many millions.

The next day she was known as the Milkshake Murderess — accused (and then convicted, conviction now upheld) of bludgeoning her husband to death after drugging him with a sedative-laced strawberry milkshake and then wrapping his body in an Oriental carpet destined for basement storage.

It’s a story more than worthy of Agatha Christie.

Or ask the parents of Meredith Kercher, a young British woman who went to Italy as part of the Erasmus student exchange programme, to study and immerse herself in the language and culture.

She chose the ancient city of Perugia in Umbria. Surely nothing could go wrong in such a serene setting?

Wrong again. Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you’ve heard that Meredith was brutally murdered, allegedly by two men and her American roommate, Amanda Knox, in what prosecutors called a violent sex game. Only one of the alleged perpetrators was a native-born Italian.

Public fascination with the case has continued unabated — and not just because of the media circus surrounding Knox, who maintains her innocence and is appealing her conviction.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it in an article last September:

…the highly contested circumstances of the crime make it a genuine murder mystery.

(Where is Hercule Poirot when you need him — surely his marrows would thrive in the Umbrian soils?)

And now for a bit of a twist!

I’d like to retract my statement on the Queen of Crime. Je me suis trompé! I’ve done her an injustice.

True, Agatha Christie did produce lots of drawing-room mysteries, but she also also told us everything we need to know about expat criminality in her classic work Murder on the Orient Express.

When the shifty-looking Samuel Edward Rachett is found stabbed to death, the redoubtable Hercule Poirot assembles the 12 suspects in the restaurant car. It’s an odd assortment — call it an expat enclave in microcosm — consisting of an American translator, a British valet, a French conductor, a British governess, a retired British army officer, an elderly Russian noblewoman, a German maid, a Hungarian diplomat and his wife, a Swedish missionary, an elderly American woman who has just been to see her daughter in Baghdad, and an Italian-American businessman from Chicago.

So, whodunit? Can you remember? The answer is: all 12! Each of these characters had thrust the knife into Ratchett, making it impossible for Poirot to determine who delivered the fatal blow.

But as it turned out, it didn’t matter. Ratchett deserved his fate for his own dastardly deeds. He was, of course, the most displaced of all the passengers on that exotic train: a fugitive from justice, whose real name was Cassetti.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which transnational group of gangsters he was affiliated with. No surprises there!

Question: Do you agree that citizens of The Displaced Nation have criminal potential, and have you ever come face to face with any criminal elements in your travels? I’d love to hear your stories, however unsavory…

img: “There’s been a murder!” by Richard Bogle.

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3 responses to “What did Agatha Christie know? Expats make great criminals

  1. amblerangel May 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Honey- of course being a member of the ExPat crew will lead to at least the consideration of a heinous crime. The stress of being out of one’s own country brings out the best or worse in people. In fact, I’ve met a few of whom I consider capable of attempting such a feat. However, I have no proof as to their criminal intentions, therefore, I choose to distance myself from this sordid group otherwise I might discover my head neatly separated by a samurai sword on one side of the street- my body on the other.

    • ML Awanohara May 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm

      That’s fine, as long as you can can get to the other side of the road in time. In my experience, you don’t always see — or hear — them coming, especially if they have sent a ninja in their place.

      Also, who’s to say that the person you decide to trust — because he’s such a dashing gentleman — isn’t necessarily the homicidal maniac. Just my two yen!

      Generally speaking, though, you are right: best to give the shiftier-looking expats, along with the international drifters/grifters, a wide berth in a dark alley.

  2. Kym Hamer May 22, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I would also like to draw your attention to that other Christie-Poirot tale, Death on The Nile…with much greater subtlety and skill than most modern day crime writers, she was (and still is) one of the masters of the genre!

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