by Janis Patterson
I’m angry. And I’m scared.
I live in a good neighborhood. The lawns are maintained, the houses are nice and so are most of the people, but by no stretch of the imagination is it considered a rich neighborhood. I grew up in this house and, after my parents passed away and left it to me, The Husband and I moved in. It’s bigger than the house we had, and light years closer to his work.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is – partially. I love the house and the neighborhood, but over the years this area has become a target for all kinds of miscreants. We have a weekly email notification of crimes and every week there are several worthy of police reports – all in a neighborhood barely half a mile square.
Anything left outside is apparently fair game for burglars; cars are routinely broken into for what might be inside them and we are warned to keep our cars either in garages or behind locked gates. For a while one gang of crooks was brazen enough to jack up the cars and steal the wheels!
Nor are houses safe. Reports of break-ins come in waves, as one gang or another smashes their way in to take whatever they can. Most have no qualms about hurting anyone - human or animal - who gets in their way, either. During the long years The Husband was deployed overseas to war zones and I was alone in the house I tried not to let him know that our neighborhood was becoming a war zone in itself. I kept several handguns around and made no secret of the fact I would happily and without reservation blow away any intruder. Sometimes having the reputation of the Neighborhood Crazy Lady is a good thing. We also have an alarm system that is set most of the time, whether we are home or not.
When we first moved here the very idea of that seemed ridiculous. In my late mother’s day she didn’t even lock the doors half the time and had no problems at all. This was a nice neighborhood, and crime like that didn’t happen in a nice neighborhood.
No more. Besides burgling houses and yards the crooks have expanded operations, now openly attacking primarily women alone and the elderly in gas stations and grocery store parking lots – in the daytime, no less. No one has died yet, but I am so afraid eventually it will happen.
So far The Husband and I have been very fortunate – our house has been left alone and we have been unmolested as we go about our business. Hopefully it will always be so. Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors have not been so lucky. I am so alarmed by these events that I have put my wedding ring (along with my few other pieces of good jewelry) in the safe – my beautiful, beloved wedding ring that was bought both as an investment and a symbol of love. The other day I bought a cheap cubic zirconia ring to wear in its stead; it’s pretty, it looks quite real, and I would have no qualms about giving it to a robber, but it infuriates me that there is a climate in this world which makes it unsafe for me to wear and enjoy my own property without fear.
For those of us who write crime for a living it is very uncomfortable to have real life so closely mirror our fiction in so many ways except one. In our books justice is always served; in real life it seems to be a hit and miss proposition. This is in no way a criticism of the police; they are understaffed and underpaid and all too often not given the respect they deserve. They simply cannot be everywhere, and the criminals depend on that.
It makes me livid that there is a far too prevalent mindset which believes simply because this lowlife scum wants something they can just take it with impunity. This must be changed. There must be consequences, and decent people must reclaim the right to feel safe again.
I don’t mean this as a political post slanted to either side; my politics are my own, and not to be aired in this space. This is a justice post. We work; we pay our taxes; we obey the laws; we deserve to feel safe, to be able to enjoy that which we have legally purchased. Crime is fine, when it is confined to fiction, where it will be dealt with according to the law. Real crime has no place on our streets or in our homes.
And as mystery writers, we have the responsibility and duty to our fellow man to entertain - not to instruct. We should never write anything that some enterprising crook can translate to real life with criminal consequences. For that reason we must not put in complete instructions on anything. It's okay to play with 'mysterious untraceable poisons' - but not give instructions on how to make it. Want a ballistically clean bullet that cannot be matched? Fine - invent a gun with sketchy details accurate enough to convince the reader but not enough to teach a criminal. (In case you wondered, there is a way to make a ballistically clean bullet - and I have been sworn to secrecy as to how it's done, so don't ask.)
In real life thank God an increasing number of states have the Castle Act which gives people the right to protect themselves, others and their property. As for me, I will always stand my ground.