Category Archives: Ian Rankin

You Can Always Depend on Me*

Enabled DetectivesNot long ago, I had an interesting comment exchange with FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews and Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. Both blogs, by the way, are excellent resources for honest, interesting and thoughtful book reviews. If you love reading, you’ll want those blogs on your blog roll.

Our conversation was about what I’ll call fictional police enablers: supervisors who enable maverick cops. In real life of course, there are limits to what a police officer is allowed to do in the course of an investigation, and there are rules that govern how police are supposed to get evidence, deal with suspects and the like. And while those policies aren’t always followed, there are real consequences for cops who don’t.

In fiction though, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are plenty of fictional maverick cops, and although their supervisors don’t always like what they do, they usually keep those police officers from getting in real trouble.

We see this for instance in more than one of Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte mysteries. Bony works for the Queensland Police, and is often sent out to crime scenes in remote towns and rural areas. He knows very well that official police policy doesn’t always work in those places, and he knows even better that they don’t work among the Aboriginal people who are sometimes concerned in his cases. And Bony would rather solve cases than stick strictly to the letter of the law. So in that sense he’s a maverick. His unorthodox ways do get him into trouble with the ‘higher ups’ at times, but they don’t cost him his job. One reason for that is that he’s a brilliant detective. He gets the job done. Another is that despite the fact that his supervisor gets exasperated with his refusal to go along with policy, he knows that Bony’s the best at what he does. So he protects him.

Carol O’Connell’s NYPD homicide detective Kathy Mallory is another example of a maverick detective. She’s had a very dark, troubled background and matters were made worse when her surrogate father, police detective Louis Markowitz, was killed in the line of duty. Mallory is arguably a sociopath and has little regard for departmental policy. In many ways, you might call her a supervisor’s nightmare. But she is good at catching ‘bad guys’ and she is unafraid to go up against some very nasty people. What’s more, she’s protected by her mentor (and Markowitz’ former partner) Detective Riker. Riker knows about her past, and he has his own share of issues, so he has some sympathy for her. And that’s part of why he enables her, if you want to put it that way.

Fans of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole will know that he’s broken just about every policy there is. He’s gotten too close to cases, done patently illegal things, and more. And that’s not to mention his struggles with alcohol and drugs. Despite all of that, he’s a brilliant detective. In fact, he’s about the best there is when it comes to serial killers and other ‘unusual’ sorts of murders. That’s part of why his boss Bjarne Møller protects him as much as he does. Møller knows that Hole will get the job done if he can just stay on a somewhat even keel (and sometimes, even if he can’t). What’s more, he knows that Hole’s colleagues respect his ability.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest seldom follows policy. As it is, she’s independent and sometimes rash. Add to that her knowledge of the part of Australia’s Outback where she lives, and it’s easy to see why she’s not much of a one to do what she’s told to do if it makes no sense to her. When we first meet Tempest in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs), she’s just returned to the Moonlight Downs Aboriginal encampment after some time away. She gets involved in a murder case when the group’s leader Lincoln Flinders is murdered. In the process of finding out who killed the victim and why, she meets Superintendent Tom MacGillivray. He sees that Tempest has a lot of practical knowledge and that she’s smart and gutsy. That’s part of the reason he protects her, even enables her, when he can. There’s also the fact that she has a fairly strong instinct for tracking down leads. But MacGillivray can’t do much to enable Tempest in Gunshot Road. He’s been sidelined by injury, so Tempest comes temporarily under the command of Bruce Cockburn. She quickly finds out that Cockburn won’t enable her at all when the team is called to the scene of a murder at Green Swamp Well. Cocburn is satisfied that the death was the tragic result of a drunken quarrel. Tempest isn’t sure that’s true. And in this novel, she learns among other things that being a maverick can be costly.

And I don’t think it would be possible to discuss maverick police detectives without mentioning Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. Rebus fans will know that he is much more interested in finding out the truth about the cases he works than he is about following policy. There are plenty of instances in which he takes his own approach to dealing with ‘bad guys,’ tracking down leads and so on. Sometimes he’s enabled, mostly because the people he works with know he’s a very good detective, and that he won’t give up on a case. But even the legendary Rebus isn’t enabled all of the time. When he lets his temper get the best of him in Resurrection Men, he’s sent off to Tulliallan Police College as a last-ditch effort to ‘reform’ him. And he’s certainly not enabled in Black and Blue when he turns up some unpleasant truths about a ‘bent’ senior officer. He’s sent off to investigate the murder of an oilman instead of being assigned the more prestigious case of a killer who seems to be copying a serial killer from years earlier. That doesn’t stop Rebus though…

I know I haven’t mentioned all of the fictional police mavericks there are (I know, I know, fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch). But just from these few examples, we can see that some are more enabled by their superiors than others. Some push the limits of what they’re allowed to do more than others. And of course some stretch credibility more than others. But they arguably have in common that someone in authority sees that their detective skills and their integrity outweigh their unwillingness/inability to play by the book, so to speak. And as challenging as it can be, that’s reason enough for some people to protect a cop who doesn’t always ‘mind the manners.’

What do you think of the premise of the maverick cop who’s protected by someone in charge? Does it make sense?

Thanks, FictionFan and Cleo, for the inspiration!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland’s Reach Out (I’ll be There), made popular by The Four Tops.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Carol O'Connell, Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbø, Michael Connelly

Sketch the Trees and the Daffodils*

ArtMany people love art just for its own sake. They visit museums and if they have enough money, they have their own art collections. But art can also be very valuable. People who see art as a financial investment may even collect it for that reason. And of course, something that’s worth a lot of money is also a very attractive target for theft and (in the case of art) forgery. Little wonder the art business is such a popular context for crime fiction. Anything worth that much money is bound to attract crime. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), the family of patriarch Richard Abernethie gathers for his funeral and the reading of his will. When his youngest sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered, everyone hushes her up at first, and even she takes back what she said. But the next day, Cora herself is killed. Now the family attorney Mr. Entwhistle begins to believe that perhaps she was right, and in any case he wants to know who killed her.  So he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. There are several suspects too, since everyone in the family benefited from both Abernethie’s death and that of his sister. As Poirot traces Cora’s last days and weeks, he learns that she was an enthusiastic (if not particularly skilled) painter who kept hoping to find a masterpiece when she picked up various paintings at estate and bargain sales. That’s how she made the acquaintance of art expert Alexander Guthrie, who, as it turns out, plays a role in the outcome of this story.

Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn is married to artist Agatha Troy, so the art world is a frequent context in her novels. And sometimes the art world can be dangerous. In A Clutch of Constables, for instance, Troy decides to take a much-needed getaway cruise on the Zodiac. But it doesn’t turn out to be the restful trip she wants. First, one of the passengers is left behind when the boat leaves the dock, and is later found murdered. Then, during the trip, another passenger is drowned, and quite probably not by accident. Meanwhile, Troy learns that an international art forger known only as Jampot may be along for the cruise, and may have had something to do with the deaths. She tells the story to her husband in the form of a series of letters that he later uses in a class he’s teaching.

It’s well-known that just before and during World War II, the Nazis ‘safeguarded’ large fortunes of art. Some of it has been returned to the families that rightfully own it; much hasn’t. That valuable art figures into the plot of several novels. One of them is Bartholomew Gill’s McGarr and the PM of Belgrave Square. Garda Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr and his assistant O’Shaugnessy investigate the shooting death of Dublin art and antiques dealer William Craig. In the process, they look into Craig’s business dealings as well as his personal life, and they find more than one suspect. Then it’s discovered that one of the paintings in Craig’s inventory is missing. This opens up other possibilities for the murder, one of which leads back to Nazi art theft during World War II. In the end, and with help from his wife Noreen, who works in her family’s art gallery, McGarr finds out the truth about Craig’s murder.

That theme of looted art from the Nazi era is also at the core of Aaron Elkins’ Loot. Boston art historian/expert Ben Revere gets a call one day from pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky, a casual friend. Pawlovsky’s just gotten a painting he thinks may be valuable and he wants Revere’s opinion on it. Revere agrees and visits the shop. There he is shocked to find that the painting is likely an extremely valuable Velázquez. He wants to check out some facts though, and promises to return to the shop once he’s done so. When he does return after a few hours, he finds that Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Revere feels some responsibility for the killing; he believes he should have insisted that Pawlovsky not keep such a valuable piece of art in his shop. So he decides to try to trace the painting, hoping it will lead him to the killer. It turns out that the painting is one of a truckload of ‘safeguarded’ pieces of art that disappeared during World War II.  Revere travels to Europe and slowly finds out how the painting got from the back of the truck to a pawn shop. In that end, that trail also leads to the killer.

Art theft is also at the heart of Ian Rankin’s Doors Open. Wealthy Mike Mackenzie is a little bored with his life and wants to put some excitement back into it. One of his friends is banker Allan Cruikshank, with whom he shares a love of art. Together with art professor Robert Gissing, and with help from local gangster Chib Calloway, the group concocts a very daring scheme. They want to rob the National Gallery of Scotland and replace some of its extremely valuable holdings with forgeries that will be created by one of Gissing’s art students, who’s usually known as ‘Westie.’ The group chooses the gallery’s Doors Open day for the robbery. On that day, the gallery will open its warehouse and some other private areas to the public, and it seems like the perfect opportunity for the robbery. Everything goes off well enough, but the group soon learns that just stealing valuable art isn’t all there is to benefiting from it…

Because art is valuable, there are also plenty of crime stories that involve art auctions, whether for gain or charity. For instance, Gail Bowen’s The Gifted has as one of its plot threads a charity art auction that’s intended to benefit the Racette-Hunter Centre, a community development project. Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her husband Zack are both excited and concerned when two pieces of their daughter Taylor’s work are chosen to be auctioned. Taylor is an unusually gifted artist, but she is also only fourteen, and her parents are concerned about the major changes that this kind of notice will bring to her life. Taylor shares one piece of her work with her parents, but no-one has seen the other. On the night of the auction, she reveals that other painting and that work has drastic consequences for more than one person.

A charity art auction is the setting for a murder in Riley Adams’ (AKA  Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide. Socialite and beauty pageant coach Tristan Pembroke puts together a charity art auction and dinner. Underneath that beneficent exterior though, she’s actually a malicious and spiteful person. So when she’s murdered at the auction, there are several suspects. Lulu Taylor, who owns and runs Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, gets involved in the investigation because her daughter-in-law Sara is high on the list of candidates. Lulu wants to clear Sara’s name, so she starts to ask questions. The art itself isn’t the reason for this murder, but I can say without spoiling the story that a particular painting plays a role in the mystery.

All of this just shows that art is more than something people love for its own sake. It’s a very valuable commodity. Little wonder there are so many crime novels that involve art theft and forgery. Which ones have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Don McLean’s Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Bartholomew Gill, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Ngaio Marsh, Riley Adams

They’re Talkin’ About You and It’s Bringin’ Me Down*

PoliceInvestigationWhen the police investigate or re-investigate a case, they don’t always confine themselves to just looking at whether the right person was arrested. They also look at the way the case was pursued, and that means looking at their own. I’m not talking here of police corruption. Crime fiction fans know that there are plenty of stories where the protagonist goes up against corrupt cops. Rather, I mean stories in which the police have to look at the way a case has been handled. It’s always uncomfortable to do that, as the cops may be investigating someone they’ve known and liked for a long time. But sometimes it’s indicated, and it can make for a very effective layer of suspense in a story.

For instance, in Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Cissy Kohler has been released from prison after serving time for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrop. Soon, allegations are made that Kohler was innocent and that Wallly Tallentire, who investigated the case, knew that and hid relevant evidence. Superintendent Andy Dalziel resents that claim bitterly; Tallentire was his mentor, and he is convinced that Tallentire’s conduct was entirely appropriate. He also believes that Kohler was guilty all along. Still, the case is re-opened and a new investigation is made. Dalziel and Peter Pascoe go about it from different angles, but each pursues the real truth about what happened to Pamela Westrop. Throughout the novel, there’s a thread of tension brought on by the reality of investigating a cop whom Dalziel knew and respected for years.

There’s a similar kind of tension in Colin Dexter’s The Remorseful Day. Harry Repp has been released from prison after serving time for burglary. An anonymous tip now alleges that he is also guilty of the two-year-old murder of a nurse Yvonne Harrison. So Superintendent Strange asks Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis to re-open the case. Morse seems unusually apathetic about the investigation, so Lewis does a lot of the work. As he looks into the matter, he makes a truly upsetting discovery that seems to show the reason for Morse’s apparent lack of interest in this murder. Dexter makes it clear how difficult it is for Lewis to continue the investigation after his find. But of course, this is Colin Dexter, so things are not what they seem.

Louise Penny gives readers a look at what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those sorts of questions in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Beginning with Still Life, the first in the series, we get hints, and later facts, about an earlier case involving Gamache. We later learn that questions about it have been raised.  I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers. But I can say that this particular story arc lends a solid layer of tension to the novels. Although each of the novels contains a separate murder investigation, the story arc shows that these kinds of questions can go on in the background and can have a profound effect on the life of the subject of them.

Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has a similar sort of sub-plot. The body of famous TV actor Geraldine ‘Gerry’’ Jackman has been found in Chew Valley Lake not far from Bristol. Superintendent Peter Diamond and his assistant DI John Wigfull investigate the death and they soon find that this is going to be a difficult case. For one thing, it turns out that the victim didn’t die by drowning, and was probably killed elsewhere and brought to the lake. For another, the deeper they dig into her background, the more complications they find. As if that weren’t enough, there’s already somewhat of a cloud over Diamond, resulting from his conduct during an earlier case. He’s very much ‘on probation’ in this investigation and in fact, it’s even arranged for a ‘company spy’ to keep tabs on him.

The murder of Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police brings on a deep look into his life in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. White has the reputation of being very much ‘a cop’s cop.’ Never accused of ‘going dirty,’ always supportive of his colleagues, he is much respected and admired by his peers. One morning he and probationer Lucy Howard respond to reports of a break-in. While they’re at the scene, White is stabbed. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in trouble with the law before. But the police can’t move too quickly here. Rowley is part Aboriginal and from what people call a ‘disadvantaged background.’ The police know that the media is watching everything they do to be certain they ‘play by the rules.’ Besides, there are some hints that something more was going on with this case. As we learn what really happened in the days leading up to the murder, and on the day itself, we also see how the police react when one of their own – someone they really respected – comes under the proverbial microscope.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s  In Her Blood. In that novel, London investigator Catherine Berlin has been building up a case against loan shark Archie Doyle. She’s been working with an informant who goes by the name of Juliet Bravo. One day ‘Juliet’ is found dead in Limehouse Basin. Berlin feels responsible for putting her informant at risk, so she takes a special interest in finding out who killed her. Soon, though, she finds herself suspended for not following protocol with regard to her interactions with her informant. But she wants to know the truth about ‘Juliet’s’ death. Then, Berlin faces a personal crisis. She’s a registered heroin addict who’s been getting her supply from Dr. George Lazenby under the registered addicts program. One afternoon she goes to his office to keep her regular appointment only to find him dead and herself a suspect in his murder. With only seven days’ supply of the drug left, she’ll have to clear her name as quickly as she can, before withdrawal sets in. In the end, she finds out the truth behind Lazenby’s murder and how it ties in with ‘Juliet’s’ murder. She also discovers some things best left unknown about some of her colleagues.

There are also novels such as Ian Rankin’s The Complaints that deal with internal investigations of police. It’s difficult to have the responsibility of ‘policing the police,’ and those who do so don’t necessarily have a lot of friends in the rest of the department. But it’s a fact of police life.

It’s always difficult when questions are raised about a colleague, especially if that colleague is someone you’ve liked and respected. It’s even worse when it’s a member of the police force, who are supposed to be worthy of public trust. When it happens in real life it’s distressing for everyone. When it happens in crime fiction, it can add suspense to a story. Which gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s Take it on the Run.

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Filed under Annie Hauxwell, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Louise Penny, Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, Y.A. Erskine

Watcha Gonna Do When They Come For You*

PoliceProceduralsFor many people, there’s something fascinating about what police do, and how they go about their jobs. Perhaps it’s the huge number of cop shows on TV, or perhaps it’s the image of the cop making things safe and putting the ‘bad guys’ away, so to speak. Or it could be the chance to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ of a unique setting. Perhaps it’s something else. Whatever it is, police procedurals have become a popular staple in crime fiction.

Interestingly enough, the police procedural as we think about it now is newer than some of the other sub-genres in crime fiction. For example, the private detective novel has been around since the days of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But that makes sense. Modern police forces weren’t really put together until the 19th Century and it took even longer for them to become the kinds of police forces we think of today. If you want to know more about 19th Century police forces, check out K.B. Owen’s terrific blog/website. She’s an expert on the era.

Certainly there’ve been police officers mentioned in many classic/Golden Age novels. There Agatha Christie’s Chief Inspector Japp, there’s Stuart Palmer’s Oscar Piper and there’s Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, to name just three. There’s also of course Ellery Queen’s Inspector Richard Queen, and Rex Stout’s Inspector Cramer. But the police procedural novel as we think of it now really started a bit later.

There isn’t universal agreement about which book counts as the first police procedural, but Lawrence Treat’s 1945 novel V as in Victim is often brought up. This is just my opinion, so feel free to differ if you do, but for my money, the series that that really established the police procedural as a sub-genre was Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Beginning with 1956’s Cop Hater, the series went on for decades, almost until Hunter’s death. In that series, we see quite a lot more of life at a police station/precinct than we’d seen in previous kinds of crime novels. What’s more, this series doesn’t just follow one cop going after one criminal or criminal gang. There’s an ensemble cast in this series, and we follow not just the individual cases they investigate, but also their personal lives. The 87th Precinct series has had a profound influence on the genre in general and of course on the police procedural.

Another set of groundbreaking police procedurals is Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series. Those novels follow Stockholm-based Martin Beck and his police colleagues as they investigate murders, robberies, and more. They also highlight a variety of social issues such as unequal distribution of wealth, corruption and other issues. Like the 87th Precinct series, this one also addresses the personal lives of the characters. For many people, the Martin Beck series is the quintessential police procedural series.

In the last few decades, the police procedural as a sub-genre has gotten very diverse as it’s been taken in new directions. For instance, some police procedurals still feature an ensemble cast of characters. Fans of Fred Vargas’ Inspector Adamsberg series and Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur series, for instance, will know that those novels follow the lives of several of the characters, both in and outside working hours. So does Frédérique Molay’s Nico Sirksy series (I hope more of them will be translated into English soon).

Other series focus more on one or a few cops. For instance, in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, the spotlight is mostly on Bosch. We certainly learn about other characters, and there are several story arcs involving them. But the primary emphasis is on Bosch. You could say the same thing about Karin Fossum’s Konrad Sejer series. We do learn about other characters, but the focus in that series is on Sejer’s professional and personal life. Another example of this is Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. While there are story arcs and scenes involving other characters, it’s Rebus who’s the ‘star of the show.’

One major development in the police procedural series is that it’s gone worldwide. And that means that the different series have taken on the distinctive atmosphere of their settings. I’m thinking for instance of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip’s David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, which takes place in Botswana and which they write as Michael Stanley. There’s also Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Cao series, and Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. And that’s just to name three of the many police procedural series that are seasoned by their cultures.

Another development is the diversity in the kinds of people who feature in police procedural series. Women, for instance, are quite frequently police protagonists now. That’s what we see in Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series, Martin Edwards’ Lake District series and Anya Lipska’s Natalie Kershaw/Janusz Kiszka series. Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series is another example. That increasing diversity shows up in other ways too. There are gay cops, disabled cops and cops with all sorts of eccentricities.

Despite all of this variety, though, you could argue that there are still some basic things that define a police procedural series. One is that it focuses on police stations, bases or precincts and the people who work there. There are often sub-plots and story arcs that show us the cop’s off-duty life, but there is an emphasis on the investigation and on life as a police officer. Another, at least to me, is that the police procedural features a certain kind of investigation style that involves interpreting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects and so on. In that sense it’s quite different to the amateur sleuth, who doesn’t have the power of the law, or the PI sleuth, who goes about investigations in yet another way. Police culture, policies and the like have a strong impact on the way cops go about their jobs, and that makes their investigations distinctive.

What do you think? If you read police procedurals, what is their appeal to you? Which ones do you like the best (I know I’ve only mentioned a few of them) What, to you, makes a police procedural series a good one? If they put you off, why? If you write police procedurals, what made you choose that sub-genre?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Inner Circle’s Bad Boys.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Edgar Allan Poe, Ellery Queen, Evan Hunter, Frédérique Molay, Fred Vargas, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Josephine Tey, K.B. Owen, Karin Fossum, Katherine Howell, Lawrence Treat, Louise Penny, Maj Sjöwall, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Per Wahlöö, Qiu Xiaolong, Stanley Trollip, Stuart Palmer

Today I Do What Must be Done*

DisciplineIf you think about the qualities that detectives need to have, you might not list ‘self-discipline’ as one of them. And yet it’s an awfully important quality. Even the most brilliant detective isn’t going to have a lot of success without a certain amount of self-discipline. For instance, a police detective may know exactly who committed a crime, but that doesn’t guarantee a conviction. The detective needs to ‘go by the book’ and interview people appropriately, handle the evidence carefully and so on. Otherwise there is no case. There are all kinds of examples of the way fictional detectives have to exercise self-discipline. Here are just a few.

In one sense, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes doesn’t appear to be what you’d call self-disciplined. After all, he’s a drug user, he doesn’t keep regular habits, and so on. But when it comes to solving his cases, he is quite self-disciplined. His focus is entirely on the case, and he starts early and works late if I may put it that way. More than that, he has a real intellectual self-discipline. He reads and writes extensively on topics that help him do a better job of detection, and continuously adds to his store of knowledge anything that he thinks he’ll find useful. He isn’t the type either to take a holiday and just relax.

Another kind of self-discipline that sleuths need has to do with the way they work with witnesses and suspects. It can be overwhelmingly tempting to lash out at a suspect or threaten a witness. But it’s often not successful. Instead, it takes patience (sometimes a lot of that) and self-restraint to get people to open up. We see a bit of that in Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle. Inspector Konrad Sejer of the Oslo police is working on a missing person’s case. Andreas Winther hasn’t been seen for several days, and his mother Runi is worried about him. At first Sejer isn’t overly concerned, but as more time goes by, he begins to pursue the case more actively. The one person who may be able to help him most is Andreas’ best friend Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, so Sejer works hard to try to establish a relationship with the young man. But Zipp’s not willing to talk. It’s soon clear that Zipp knows more than he’s saying, and it takes all of Sejer’s patience and self-discipline to find out the truth.

Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh is not a particularly patient person. He’s not what you’d call reckless, but he likes his cases to move along in a certain way. That’s not what happens in A Calamitous Chinese Killing though. In that novel, he’s seconded to Beijing to help find out the truth about the killing of Justin Tan. Justin was the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing, so his murder is not going to be investigated in the usual way. The police are inclined to think that he was killed in a mugging gone wrong, but Susan Tan doesn’t think so. And as Singh begins to talk with some people and get a feel for the case, he starts to think she’s right. Singh works with former police detective Li Jun to find out what really happened and that process takes self-discipline. Li Jun is not difficult to work with, but Singh is unaccustomed to the Chinese way of doing things. So it requires a great deal of self-discipline on his part to work with witnesses, to let his counterpart take the lead in certain interviews, and to have a sense of the politics involved in what he’s doing.

It’s not just witnesses and suspects either. It takes a lot of self-discipline to work with certain colleagues, too. For instance, Catherine Aird’s Inspector Sloan is a smart, intuitive detective. However, those skills don’t seem to rub off too easily on his assistant Constable William Crosby. Constable Crosby isn’t a bad person, and he does try. But he doesn’t seem to learn very quickly and he isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier as the saying goes. It takes every bit of Sloan’s patience and self-discipline to work with Crosby and that dynamic plays an interesting role in the series.

Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus finds out how important that kind of self-discipline is in Resurrection Men. He and his team are all frustrated by the lack of progress in the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. During one particularly tense team meeting, Rebus lets go of his self-discipline and throws a mug of cold tea towards his supervisor Gill Templar. Needless to say, the incident isn’t let go. Rebus is remanded to Tulliallan Police College for an opportunity to learn to work better with a team of people. He and other police detectives who have difficulty working in groups are assigned to investigate the ‘cold case’ murder of gangster Rico Lomax. As it turns out, that murder is tied in with Marber’s murder, so in the end, Rebus finds out the truth about both cases.

We can all think of examples (Roderic Jeffries’ Inspector Alvarez comes to my mind) of fictional detectives who don’t seem particularly disciplined. But the reality is that it takes a lot of self-control and discipline to be a good sleuth. And characters who can do that (or who learn to do it) are more believable because of that. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Until the Night.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Aird, Ian Rankin, Karin Fossum, Roderic Jeffries, Shamini Flint