Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Honour Killing in Tumblin' Dice

My novels are often critisized for having too many characters, too many sub-plots and being too messy. Fair enough, life is messy.

Usually my books have a murder investigation that isn’t directly related to the main plot and isn’t really a mystery, but is the kind of murder that happens all too often. Sometimes these murders come rather late in the book and wrap up fairly quickly. These murders are usually based on real incidents that have happened in Toronto and, I hope, they serve to develop the characters a little more and to develop the theme of the book a little more.

These murders interest me precisely because they aren’t mysteries, they don’t require brilliant detective work or even much forensics but, sadly, they happen all the time. Often these crimes are committed by one family member against another.

In Tumblin’ Dice the murder is the kind the media is now calling an honour killing.

This murder is seperate from the main plot but is investigated by the same police officers (McKeon and Price) involved in the central plot and I think helps to develop the theme of the book, the question of peoples’ ability or inability to adjust to change.

What really struck me about honour killings and the reason I felt one fit in this book was how much the motives and language looked and sounded like a mob hit; someone is causing trouble, bringing dishonour to the family, questioning the absolute authority and they must be stopped and a message must be sent to anyone else who may cause trouble, bring dishonour and question the absolute authority.

An honour killing murder trial just finished here in Ontario in which three members of the Shafia family (husband, wife, son) were convicted of first degree murder of four women (first wife and three daughters). This is not the case I fictionalized in Tumblin’ Dice, but the motives are very similar. In this case an expert on honour killings, Dr. Shahrzad Mojab, has testified (something that hasn’t happened much up till now as plea bargains are often struck, something some people involved feel happens precisely so that there will be no public testimony about honour killings) that, “the way to deal with the dishonouring is through the shedding of blood... It’s a way of purifying the honour of the family.”

Or maybe it was Vito Corleone who said that. It’s a little flowery for Tony Soprano but he would certainly agree with the sentiment.

The one-time leader of the Hells Angels in Montreal was once heard on a wire tap advising a guy who felt he’d been dishonoured to, “get a baseball bat and go get your honour back.”

Dr. Mojab co-edited a book called, “Violence in the name of Honour,” which wouldn’t be out of place as a title for a book about organized crime families.

“Cleaning one’s honour of shame,” Dr. Mojab said, “is typically handled by the killing of a loved one,” and with the murderer often ending up being, “respected as a true man.” I think in the mob you need to kill someone to become a ‘made man,’ and the bikers are said to require a murder before someone can receive a full patch and be, “respected as a true man.”

Dr. Mojab also said there may even be family meetings held to discuss whether a killing is necessary. I’m not entirely sure, but I think in the mob they call this a “sit down.” Dr. Mojab also said that sometimes the girl in question is brought in, “to hear the decision” and be told that “it is best for her and for the restoration of family honour.”

Often afterwards, Dr. Mojab said, such fathers will claim they loved their children, that the killing was “part of the continuum of love and care.” The fathers may even claim that the suffering of the rest of the family, having to live as dishonoured, is greater than death.

So, I think the similarities are there.

Last week the National Post newspaper published an ebook called Killed Because They Were Girls, made up of the articles by Christie Blatchord (who did an excellent job) that covered the Shafia murder trial in Kingston that’s available for Kindle, iBook, Kobo, Nook and probably more formats. The quotes here from Dr. Mojab are from articles written by Christie Blatchford.


seana graham said...

Good post. Makes me despair a bit about human priorities, though.

I look forward to reading how it all plays out in Tumbling Dice.

Dana King said...

I finished TUMBLIN DICE last night, so I felt safe reading this post. You got the honor elements noted here across very well, but I thought I caught one more that I won't mention here because it's a bit of a spoiler.

One thing I can ask here is, was the ANIMAL HOUSE reference on Page 205 deliberate? Broke me up when I read it.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, Seana, despair is the word all right.

Dana, yes, it will cost millions of lives. It was either that or bringing up when Germany bombed Pearl Harbor...

Peter Rozovsky said...

And I will say, without spoilers, that the killing in question is chilling and that our man John ties it back nicely to the main action.

P.S. "Honour" is what Americans refer to as "honor," for those unfamiliar with Canadian vocabulary.

Peter Rozovsky said...

P.P.S. I loved the book.

seana graham said...

Honour means honor? Oh man, I am going to need a dictionary for this one.

Well, hopefully there are extensive footnotes.

John McFetridge said...

Here in Canada we often get the UK and US versions of books. Until Quebec seperatism became an issue that's what we thought bilingual meant.

seana graham said...

Good one.

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