This week I zipped through an entertaining Nelson de Mille yarn called “The Lion.” At the end of the novel, I noticed a note from the author which alerted me to the fact that a half dozen people had paid (with generous donations to charity) for their names to be used for characters in the novel.
It’s a great idea, though I was disappointed that all of the donors were “good” characters in the book. Given that “The Lion” is about a nutjob Islamic terrorist, de Mille was probably lucky that all his donors had names like Miller and Gompich. What would he have done if someone named Muhammad al-Fawwar had lobbed a couple of grand to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund? (I know, he’d have given that name to the “good Arab” character, a policeman who – and this is no spoiler because it’s obvious long before it happens – is one of the people sliced up by the nutjob Islamist.)
Still this got me thinking. If De Mille did a little charitable placement, perhaps there are more lucrative opportunities for crime fiction product placement. After all, unless de Mille could somehow write off the charitable donations, what was in it for him? Oh, yes, I forgot about fellow-feeling and good will. Forgive me, but I live in the Middle East and there’s not a lot of it about…
Wouldn’t Mitt Romney’s campaign pay me more than a pittance to have a bad guy in my novel named Barack Aboma, a Muslim from Kenya? Or perhaps Obama would like to sponsor my forthcoming (funding allowing) novel about a Mormon president bent on destroying the world because of its evil addiction to caffeinated beverages?
Crime fiction product placement could extend beyond the mere naming of characters. Writers have frankly been easy lays for big corporations. Whereas a Coke never appears on-screen without a major contribution to the production, Andy McNab’s SAS hero Nick Stone is always stopping to pick up some crisps and a coke when on mission without, I believe, compensation.
So how about a shakedown? Not only should a writer now approach a corporation with a suggestion that, let’s say, if Philip Morris wants a detective smoking Marlboros they’d better pay up, there should be a threat implicit: Don’t pay up, and the detective will smoke Camels…with great pleasure (after a sufficient payment by RJ Reynolds). Or even better, the bad guy will smoke Marlboros and die of cancer. His lady henchwoman will smoke Virginia Slims and die of emphycema. The bad guy will torture the hero with cigarette butts, which will be particularly painful because they’ll be Chesterfields. And the hero will be offered a Benson and Hedges by the incompetent small-town cop and refuse it with a snort of disgust. (All Philip Morris products, in case you didn’t get it.)
I have my own shakedown planned for my next novel. There’s going to be a “bad” American bank in the story. I plan on contacting Citibank and JP Morgan Chase, etc., to see which one is prepared to pay the most to have their rival slandered as a Mafiosi drug-laundering den of iniquity.
Alternatively, given recent drug money-laundering news, I could approach Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank with an offer to have the novel’s hero working for them to clean up the world’s black economy. If they have any money left after paying their money-laundering fines…