As any cop (or crime fiction fan, for the matter of that) can tell you, being a police detective can be awfully dangerous. Criminals generally don’t want to be caught, and they’re often armed. So it’s no surprise that cops end up injured – sometimes badly – in the line of duty. It makes sense then that crime fiction would depict what happens when a detective is hurt. I don’t mean the gory details; that can end up gratuitous. What’s really interesting is how the detective deals with being injured and balancing the need to heal with the natural pull cops seem to have to get back on duty.
Agatha Christie’s work doesn’t really focus on the lives of cops. However, that doesn’t mean her sleuths are never injured. For instance, in Postern of Fate, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have retired to the village of Hollowquay. As they’re sorting out things in their new home, Tuppence finds a book left there by a previous resident. In it, a cryptic message has been left saying that someone named Mary Jordan did not die naturally. Tuppence is curious about it and she and Tommy begin to ask questions. They discover that Mary Jordan was a German maid who lived in the area during World War I. Her death may have had something to do with wartime espionage. Although the Beresfords are no longer in the espionage business, they take on this last case, and discover what the modern-day connections are to a long-ago murder. Tuppence gets awfully close to the truth one day – too close for the murderer’s comfort – and is shot. The injury doesn’t really keep her off the scent for long, though. She and Tommy put the pieces of the puzzle together even though the killer tries to strike again.
Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police detective Jim Chee is injured in more than one case he investigates. In The Ghostway, for instance, Chee has been assigned to find Margaret Billy Sosi, a Navajo teenager who’s left the boarding school she attends. Chee believes her disappearance is connected with the murder of Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo who’s returned to the Big Reservation, and who happens to be distantly related to Sosi. So while he’s on Sosi’s trail, he’s also trying to find out what happened to Gorman. At one point, Chee’s found out where Sosi is. When he sees her get into a van belonging to the killer, he pretends to be “just another drunken Indian” to distract the killer and free Sosi. In the process he’s badly injured. Sosi (As an aside, I really like this character!) manages to get Chee to hospital. From his hospital bed, Chee continues to work on the mystery and in the end he discovers how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Being in hospital sets Chee back physically, but doesn’t stop him from pushing forward on the case.
In James Lee Burke’s A Morning for Flamingos, New Iberia police detective Dave Robicheaux is wounded more than once. At the beginning of the novel, he and his partner Lester Benoit are transporting two prisoners to Louisiana’s Angola penitentiary. One of them, Jimmie Lee Boggs, uses a ruse to free himself. He kills Benoit and badly wounds Robicheaux, leaving him for dead. Three months later, Robicheux is slowly getting back to work. Burke doesn’t detail what happens to Robicheaux during his recuperation, but he’s definitely not eager to put himself in the line of fire again very soon. But then, an old friend who now works for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) persuades Robicheaux to take part in a “sting operation” to catch Tony Cardo, a notorious New Orleans crime boss and drug dealer. Robicheaux refuses at first; his physical wounds have only just healed and he’s still dealing with the trauma of Boggs’ attack. However, when he’s informed that his operation might help him get Boggs, Robicheaux agrees. In the course of that “sting” operation, Robicheaux is once again badly injured. He’s rescued by his friend and partner Cletus Purcell and taken to hospital. While he’s there, Robicheaux learns some important things about the “sting” operation. He also discovers that he’s faced some important fears; that gives him the strength to go back in, as it were, and do what’s needed to get Boggs.
We see a similar sort of courage in Susan Wittig Albert’s Chile Death, in which Houston police detective Mike McQuaid has been shot and badly injured in the line of duty. His injury has left him paralysed, so he’s spending time at Colonial Manor while he’s in rehabilitation. McQuaid faces serious issues such as whether he’ll be able to return to police work and if so, how. It’s really the only career he’s had, so deciding what to do is wrenching for him. So is the possibility that he’ll never be able to live independently. That’s got many implications for him personally as well as for his relationship with herbal store owner China Bayles. Before his injury, McQuaid had promised to help judge a local chili cookoff, so Bayles persuades him to let her escort him to the event. During the cookoff, local insurance executive Jerry Jeff Cody suddenly dies of what turns out to be anaphylaxis. When it becomes clear that he was murdered, Bayles gets McQuaid to help in finding the killer. As it turns out, this murder is related to some unsavoury goings-on at Colonial Manor, so McQuaid’s “on the spot” to do some sleuthing of his own. What’s interesting about this is that McQuaid slowly finds that he hasn’t lost his “cop instinct.” In the course of helping with the investigation, he starts to come to terms with his future.
And then there’s Irene Huss, whom we meet for the first time in Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss. In that novel, Huss and her team-mates on the Homicide squad are looking for the killer of wealthy business magnate Richard von Knecht. Evidence suggests that the murder might have something to do with local drugs dealing, so Jimmy Olsson from the International Narcotics Division joins Huss’ team “on loan.” One night he and Huss are pursuing a lead when they run into a very nasty group of people. Both are injured, Jimmy severely, and both end up in hospital. At first Huss protests, but she’s persuaded to stay at least overnight. Once it’s clear that her injuries are not life-threatening, Huss visits Jimmy, for whom she feels responsible. Although Jimmy’s been very seriously injured, he makes as light as he can of his injuries and wants to get back on the case. Even though both have been wounded (and Tursten doesn’t “sugarcoat” what happened to them) they don’t hesitate to get back to work.
At first, Homicide detective Carl Mørck, who’s introduced in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) doesn’t want to get back to work after he’s been injured. As that novel begins, Mørck is recovering from a line-of-fire injury in which one of his colleagues was killed and another, Hardy Henningson, was left paralysed. When Mørck does get back to work, he’s so difficult to get along with that he’s “promoted” to a newly created Department Q, which is dedicated to solving cases “of special interest.” Before long, Mørck and his assistant are working on the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggard. Meanwhile, the person who attacked Mørck and his team-mates is still at large. Out of a sense of personal responsibility, Mørck visits Henningson in the hospital and keeps him updated on that investigation. He also tells Hardy about the Lynggard investigation. At first, Hardy’s only wish is to die. In fact, he begs Mørck to help him. But Mørck refuses and gradually, Hardy begins to prepare himself to live again. Although Adler-Olsen doesn’t make it explicit, you could argue that Hardy’s “police interest” in the cases Mørck shares with him is part of what gets him to that point.
Novels that show what happens when cops are injured also show another side of a detective’s life, and give readers a fuller picture of it. They also show how strong the instinct to get back on the job can be.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Journey’s Line of Fire.