When someone steals your reputation

Ever lost something important to you?

How about your good name, your reputation?

There’s a poignant chapter to do with this in one of the Travis McGee novels by American crime writer John D. MacDonald.

Set in wealth-bloated Florida in the 1960s, beach bum and “knight errant” McGee lives on a boat called the Busted Flush, which he won in a poker game.

He’s a private eye of sorts, shining an excoriate light on the underbelly of a corrupt America, helping the underdog, rescuing damsels in distress, slaying establishment dragons.

In short, a modest, genuine and unassuming hero you want on your side in trouble or, if you’re one of McGee’s invariably beautiful girlfriends, holding you tight.

One day he gets a surprise visit from a charterboat skipper, the humble, God-fearing Van Harder.

He’d been stitched up big time by a debt-laden land developer who faked his own death and fled to Mexico with umpteen $100 dollar notes courtesy of some cash loans by a duped bank.

Van Harder, down on his luck, desperate, stricken, says to McGee: “What I heard…was that if somebody lost something important to them, you’d try to get it back, and if you did, you’d keep half what it’s worth?”

McGee nods: “That’s close enough. So?”

Then the reply from a proud man: “They is stolen from me my good name, McGee.”

In real life, a hardworking businesswoman in the South of England, with a hitherto unblemished record, found herself at the wrong end of serious allegations by a builder in a regional newspaper two years ago.

Her professional and personal reputation was, from that moment, scattered to the four winds; her distress, the sense of helplessness, of shame, of having her kind character called into question, was palpable.

He was irate that she had, understandably, withheld payment for below-standard work on fitting out her new business premises; he took his grievance public.

Now it has back-fired on him; the boot is firmly on the other foot after she took legal action.

This month a judge awarded her substantial damages; she left the county court blameless, her reputation restored, without a blemish, vindicated.

With admirable decency and integrity, the newspaper published a front page article giving her side of the story in full and reporting how the judge found in her favour because the standard of work by the builder was, to put it mildly, not up to scratch. There was also a campaign of intimidation by her accuser, said the judge.

The article set the record straight to tens of thousands of people in a way that simple, heartfelt pleas of innocence to friends and customers could not.

For nearly two years this honest woman had lived under a cloud, and it preyed on her mind terribly. After all, her good name had been stolen.

Now, thankfully, her good name is back – http://tinyurl.com/6njgrfoas was Van Harder’s when McGee backed his case in the thriller The Empty Copper Sea.

We were able to advise the lady in a small way.

While we are no McGees, we share the same sense of justice.

As do the journalists and, no doubt, as do you.