Category Archives: Reginald Hill

Everybody Needs an Education*

Cop as TeacherA lot of learning to be a good detective comes from on-the-job experience. Even police detectives, who presumably go through police academy, don’t really learn how to be detectives until they actually do the work. So among many tasks that fall to more senior detectives is teaching new arrivals. Sometimes the teaching is very informal. The new detective simply starts working with the more senior sleuth and observes and gradually learns. Sometimes the process is more formal. Either way it’s interesting to see how more senior detectives fit into their roles as teachers. It’s certainly part of the job in real life and it is in crime fiction too.

For instance, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a veteran investigator. He’s therefore expected to help coach new arrivals and he has a good reputation as a teacher. So when Yvette Nichol is named to the Sûreté du Québec in Still Life, she is determined to make a good impression. Gamache and his team are looking into the murder of former schoolteacher Jane Neal, and being assigned to the group is Nichol’s chance to make her mark. Gamache tries to coach her in his own way, and makes several attempts to teach her how to think and act like a detective. But unfortunately, Nichol isn’t an apt pupil. She’s intelligent and observant, but she is also smug, arrogant and defensive. She refuses to pay attention when Gamache gives her advice and hints. He tries to be patient with her but that doesn’t work. Even his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who respects his boss, says that Gamache is putting forth too much effort. Gamache tries to use the opportunity to coach Beauvoir too in how to supervise in difficult situations. But it doesn’t work very well because Beauvoir turns out to be all too accurate in his estimation of Nichol. And as fans of this series know, Nichol plays an important role in a story arc. It’s an interesting look at Gamache-as-teacher.

As Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure begins, paramedics Carly Martens and Aidan Simpson are dispatched to the scene of what seems like a case of domestic violence between Connor Crawford and his wife Suzanne. Carly much prefers working with her usual partner Mick Schultz. However, she’s a training officer and Simpson’s been paired with her to complete his training. Both Crawfords claim that all’s well, and with no other option, the paramedics leave. The next day Suzanne is murdered and Connor disappears. New South Wales police detective Ella Marconi and her partner Dennis Orchard are assigned to the case. When they try to trace Connor Crawford, they find no records at all on him. So as well as solving the murder, they’ll have to find out who Connor Crawford really is or was. In the meantime, Carly and Mick have problems of their own. Aidan Simpson is overconfident and arrogant. He’s got a lot to learn and refuses to take any advice or pitch in when he’s needed. He’s defensive too and can be sneaky. He’s certainly not ready to be a full-fledged paramedic and both of his training officers are fed up with him. It adds a layer of interest in this story to see the two veteran paramedics cast as coaches.

As we learn in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police takes seriously his role as coach and teacher. That’s one of the reasons that the members of his team have a lot of respect and liking for him. It’s also why probationer Lucy Howard is eager to make a good impression when she and White are called to the scene of a home invasion one afternoon. It ends in tragedy when White is killed. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who has a police record and a bad reputation. But it may not be as clear-cut a case as it first seems, and matters are not made any better by the team’s grief at the loss of their sergeant. One of the people who are deeply affected by White’s murder is Constable Cameron ‘Cam’ Walsh, whom White mentored. In fact, that’s part of what Cam remembers best about his boss – the skilled way he had of teaching new arrivals how to do their jobs.

In Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Treachery in Bordeaux, well-respected winemaker and oenologist Benjamin Cooker takes on a new role – that of teacher. He’s been joined by a new assistant Virgile Lanssien. Lanssien is eager to make a good impression on his new boss/teacher, and it’s clear that he’s open to learning. For his part, Cooker soon finds that Lanssien is quick, interested, and quite knowledgeable himself. The two soon get involved in a mystery when fellow vintner Denis Maissepain discovers that four barrels of his wine have been contaminated. Massepain is a careful and scrupulous winemaker so it’s unlikely he would have been careless enough to allow his own wine to be spoiled. The most likely other possibility is that someone else sabotaged the wine. So Cooker and Lanssien investigate to find out who would have wanted to ruin Massepain. Throughout the novel, we see several moments where Cooker takes some time to do some coaching. To his credit, Lanssien is fully aware of the opportunity he has and takes advantage of it.

Sarah Caudwell’s Hiary Tamar has an interesting opportunity for teaching. Tamar is a law professor who still keeps in touch with former student Timothy Shepherd, who now works in London with a group of other young attorneys. Shepherd and his co-workers have also become friends. In this four-book series, the group of lawyers gets involved in a series of murder cases and Tamar helps them to find out the truth behind the killings. The young people all have solid professional skills and they’re competent. But it’s interesting to see how, in their own ways, they have a teacher/pupil view of their relationship with Tamar even though none of them is in law school.

And then there’s Jean Pierre ‘J.P.’ Taine, whom we meet in Anthony Bidulka’s Dos Equis. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is taking what you might call a leave of absence from life (Read Date With a Sheesha to find out why – I don’t want to spoil anything). He’s spending time at a friend’s home in Mexico when he gets a call from another PI Jane Cross, who works in Regina. She says that she needs his help, presumably on a case, so he goes to her office. By the time Quant gets there though, it’s too late. Jane’s been murdered. And that’s how he meets Taine, who’s had his brushes with the law, but who wants to be a detective. Quant doesn’t trust Taine at all at first, but they work together on this murder and on the case that Jane was working when she was killed. Throughout the novel, we see how Quant has to develop some teaching skills (he’s not very patient with Taine’s inexperience at first). Among other things it’s an interesting development to Quant’s character.

Many professional detectives don’t think of themselves as teachers too, but as crime fiction clearly shows, they are. Oh, and you’ll notice that I’ve not included a lot of partnerships such as Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe (It would probably be quite an experience to have Dalziel as a teacher!), or Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis. Too easy. ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Education.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Colin Dexter, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Katherine Howell, Louise Penny, Nöel Balen, Reginald Hill, Sarah Caudwell, Y.A. Erskine

Are You Sorry We Drifted Apart?*

Letting Series Get AwayThere are all kinds of things that can draw us in to a crime fiction series. We may identify with the protagonist, or we may find the setting irresistible. Sometimes it’s the cast of ‘regular’ characters. There are other things too that draw us in. You’d think that with all of these appeals, people wouldn’t stop reading the work of their favourite authors. And yet, they do. I’m not talking here of series we stop reading because the quality of it goes down. That’s happened to all of us I’d imagine. Rather, I’m talking of series we truly enjoy but nonetheless stop reading.  If you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘I haven’t read those books for years. Wonder why I stopped..,’ you know exactly what I mean. Why do we stop reading series we really enjoy?

Part of it may simply be sheer volume. For example, Evan Hunter AKA Ed McBain wrote more than 50 of his 87th Precinct novels.  And although they vary in quality, they’re all of high calibre. So a reader might be very hard-put to follow the entire series, no matter how engaging the books are. Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley series is like that too. Mitchell was a prolific writer. A lot of people think this series is more uneven than the 87th Precinct series but even if one would choose only the best among them, there would still be dozens of novels. It wouldn’t be easy to keep up and manage all of them. And the thought of trying to do so can be daunting, especially for those who prefer to read all of the books in a series and not skip any of them.

In the opposite sort of phenomenon, there are also series, even beloved series, that people stop reading because there hasn’t been a new entry in a long time. For example, Lilian Jackson Braun began her Jim Qwilleran series in the late 1960s. But after the first three novels, Braun took a break from writing the series until the mid-1980s. By that time of course, a lot of readers had moved on to other authors. Philip Kerr did a similar thing with his Bernie Gunther series. He took a fifteen-year break between the first novels in the series and 2006’s The One From the Other. In both of those cases, readers found other series to love and for a time it was a matter of, ‘Oh, I used to read ____’s books and loved them. There just aren’t any new ones.’

People’s tastes change over time, too. For instance, you may have started your crime fiction reading with a real interest in PI novels such as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. But as time has gone by, perhaps you’ve gotten away from those novels, as high-quality as they are. Maybe you’ve become more interested in police procedurals such as Stephen Booth’s Fry and Cooper series, or Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels. Or perhaps you’ve developed an interest in more noir kinds of novels such as Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money. In cases like that, it’s got nothing to do with the quality of a series. Rather, it’s changes in taste and reading priorities.

Sometimes people drift away from series because those series don’t get a lot of press, and don’t stay on one’s proverbial radar. For instance, Margaret Coel has been writing her Wind River Reservation series featuring attorney Vicky Holden and Franciscan priest Fr. John O’Malley since 1996. It’s certainly gotten some attention, and (at least in my opinion) it’s a well-written series with well-developed characters. But it hasn’t gotten nearly the international attention that, say, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn novels have gotten. And with the constant media hype of certain books and authors, it takes concentration to focus on those whose work isn’t always being hyped. So it’s easy to let series like that slip away without even being aware of it.

Perhaps the biggest reason people don’t keep up with series they truly enjoy is that there is so much other well-written crime fiction to read. And with today’s technology, we have instant access to reviews, news about new releases and so on. On the positive side, that means that we can read more kinds of well-written crime fiction by more different kinds of authors than ever before. We have more choices than we’ve ever had. And that’s a good thing for the crime fiction fan. On the other hand, it does make it harder to keep up with one’s favourite series.

What about you? Which series have you really enjoyed, but let get away from you? How do you keep up with series you love without ignoring new releases and new-to-you authors? If you’re a writer, what do you do to keep your fans loyal (beyond, of course, telling good stories as well as you can)?

 

 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lou Handman and Roy Turk’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?

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Filed under Andrew Nette, Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, Gladys Mitchell, John D. MacDonald, Lilian Jackson Braun, Margaret Coel, Philip Kerr, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth, Tony Hillerman

She’s Here to Look After You*

NanniesWith so many households made up of adults who work full-time, many people make use of child care providers. Sometimes the solution is to have someone live in or come in on a daily basis. Other families leave their children in the care of a person who cares for children in (usually) her own home. Child care issues can add tension to family dynamics. For one thing, there’s always the fact of leaving a child in someone else’s care; that can bring feelings of guilt and second-guessing. There is also of course the issue of trust in one’s caregiver, especially when it comes to children, since they are so vulnerable. But millions of people do use child care, so it makes sense that we would also see it in crime fiction.

Of course, child care is not a new phenomenon. People with the means to do so have had nannies and governesses for a very long time. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Violet Hunter asks Sherlock Holmes’ help in deciding whether or not she should take a position as governess to Jephro Rucastle’s six-year-old son. On the one hand, the pay is more than generous. On the other, she’s a little unsettled about some of the odd requests Rucastle makes of her. They don’t seem like much at first; it’s just a matter of what Rucastle calls ‘whims,’ such as wearing a dress of a certain colour. But when he asks Violet to cut her hair, she gets concerned. So does Holmes, but when Rucastle increases his salary offer, Violet feels she has no choice but to take the position. Holmes assures her that if she is in need of his help, all she has to do is send word and he’ll be there. It turns out that Holmes’ instincts are right; Violet is only there for a short time before odd things begin to happen. It turns out that the Rucastle family is hiding some secrets that could prove very dangerous for their governess.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), ten people receive an invitation to Indian Island off the Devon coast. Each accepts and they duly arrive on the island. Just after dinner on the first night, everyone is shocked when each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long after that, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, another person dies. It’s soon clear that someone has lured everyone to the island and is killing them one at a time. The survivors now have to find out who the killer is and try to stay alive themselves. One of the guests is Vera Claythorne, games mistress at a girls’ school. Before that though, she was governess to Cyril Hammond, a young boy who drowned when he swam out too far into the sea. As we learn about what happened to Cyril, we see that the event isn’t quite as clear-cut as it first seems…

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski takes place, for the most part, at the Bella Vista hotel in Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy have gone to Santa Chiara for a skiing holiday, but they soon get mixed up in a murder. One of the hotel guests Fritz Hauser is shot one afternoon and his body found in a downward-running ski lift chair. The local police in the form of Captain Spezzi begin to investigate, and Spezzi soon settles on a suspect. She is Gerda Braun, governess to Baron and Baroness von Wurtburg’s two children. She’s accompanied her charges and their mother to the hotel for an annual visit to Italy, but Spezzi is sure that there’s more to it than that. She has her own past history and secrets, and a good motive to have murdered Hauser. Although Tibbett doesn’t immediately discount her at first, he’s not nearly as sure as his colleague is that she is the killer. So he investigates further and finds that just about everyone at the hotel had a good reason to want Fritz Hauser dead.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life also features a nanny. Cissy Kohler has spent years in prison for her involvement in the 1963 murder of Pamela Westropp, her employer’s wife. At the time, she was nanny to their twin children. She’s released after her sentence and goes straight to the U.S. before really talking to anyone. In the meantime, there are hints that the wrong person was convicted of the crime. There are also hints that the investigator Wally Tallantire might have tampered with evidence. Tallantire is no longer alive to defend himself, but Superintendent Andy Dalziel, whose mentor Tallantire was, is very much alive. He is eager to defend Tallantire’s memory, so from two different perspectives, he and Peter Pascoe re-open the case. They find out that much more was going on in the Westropp family and their ‘circle’ than it seemed on the surface.

The Davies family is the focus of Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory. Twenty years before the main events of the novel, two-year-old Sonia Davies drowned. Her nanny Katja Wolff was arrested in connection with the incident and imprisoned. She’s recently been released from prison and her release roughly coincides with some other tragic events. First, twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies, a world class violinist, finds one night that he cannot remember how to play. Terrified, he consults a psychologist to find out what is blocking him. In the process, he delves into the family past. In the meantime, Davies’ mother Eugenie has been fatally struck by a car in a hit-and-run incident. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers investigate the death and they find that what has happened in that family has everything to do with the events of decades earlier.

Of course, not all child minders get mixed up in murder. For example, there’s Sandra, who acts as child minder to Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway. Galloway is the single mother of Kate, and has decided to raise her alone. But she is also Head of Forensic Archaeology at North Norfolk University. That means she has a full-time position and a lot of obligations. And there’s the fact that the police consult her when there are cases involving deaths that aren’t recent. So Galloway needs someone she can depend on to help look after Kate. That’s where Sandra comes in. She is a dependable, caring friend and a careful child minder.

Governesses, nannies, child minders, whatever you call them, the people who watch over children play crucial roles in our lives. Little wonder they do in crime fiction too.

Oh, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention any of the many crime fiction novels that feature day care facilities. That’s the stuff of another post…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Au Pairs’ Set-Up.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth George, Elly Griffiths, Patricia Moyes, Reginald Hill

And Nothing’s as Precious as a Hole in the Ground*

MineAs any crime fiction fan can tell you, a murder can happen just about anywhere. That said though, some settings just lend themselves to crime fiction in ways that others might not.  Take mines as an example. You probably don’t think about mines very often unless you come from a mining town or family. But they really are terrific settings for a crime novel. For one thing, there’s the mine shaft itself. That’s a very effective place to commit a crime or at least hide a body. And there’s mining in many, many different countries, so there’s a lot of flexibility in terms where the story can take place. Mining communities can be close-knit and insular too, and that can lead to all sorts of motives for murder.

Mining turns out to be a deadly industry for Wu Ling, whose murder Hercule Poirot investigates in Agatha Christie’s short story The Lost Mine. He is the head of a Chinese family that owns valuable documents relating to some Burmese mines. He’s willing to sell them (and the mining rights) to a British syndicate, but only if he can meet with the principals. So it’s arranged that he’ll travel to London and attend a board meeting of the company that’s going to buy the documents. He makes the journey without incident, but when his body is later found in a seedy district of East London, Inspector Miller is assigned to the case. Not long afterwards, Charles Lester is arrested for the crime. He was known to be in debt, and the papers were worth a lot of money. What’s more, he’d made the acquaintance of the victim on the trip to England, and was the last person to have been seen with the victim. Hercule Poirot’s been hired by the company to find the papers so he gets involved in the investigation. And as you can imagine, he’s not satisfied with the case against Lester…

Much of the action in Reginald Hill’s Under World takes place in the coal mining town of Burrthorpe. Several years earlier, a young girl Tracey Pedley disappeared. The police thought that she was a victim of Donald Pickford, who had already admitted to being a child molester and has since committed suicide. But others thought Tracey was killed by Billy Farr, a Burrthorpe miner who disappeared. When Farr’s skeleton is found in the mine, it looks as though he either had a tragic accident or committed suicide, and Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and their team investigate. Billy’s son Colin has come back to the UK to take over his father’s mining job. He’s angry and bitter and has never really believed the stories about his father, but he settles back into life in Burrthorpe. Tragedy strikes again when Harold Satterthwaite is killed in the mine. And Colin Farr is the main suspect, since he and Satterthwaite were both romantic rivals and enemies. As Dalziel and Pascoe and the team look into this new murder, we see how it relates to the disappearance of Tracey Pedley and the death of Billy Farr. We also get a look at life in a mining town, and at the network of relationships that develop there.

Several of the novels in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series take place in the small town of Pickax, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ As you can guess from the name of the town, it was originally a mining town, and in fact there are still stories told of mining explosions, ghosts of miners and so on. And in The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, those abandoned mines are used for a modern-day murder. There’s been a series of suspicious fires in some of the abandoned mines and columnist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is looking into them. Then, one of the volunteer firefighters Ralph ‘Ruff’ Abbey is shot at the Big B Mine. It turns out that he witnessed one of the fires being set and was killed because of what he’d seen. Qwill and Police Chief Andrew Brodie look into the case and find out that these events are connected with the murder of a local book dealer and the destruction of his business.

Martin Edwards’ The Arsenic Labyrinth shows us just how useful mines can be for hiding bodies. In that novel, journalist Tony di Venuto plans to do a ten-years-on retrospective on the disappearance of Emma Bestwick, who went off on her bicycle one day and never returned. When di Venuto gets a tip that Emma is dead, and a clue as to where her body can be found, her case is re-opened. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team find Emma’s body in The Arsenic Labyrinth, a series of underground tunnels that were used to mine arsenic and remove it from ore. What’s even more shocking is the team also finds a skeleton that’s been buried for fifty years. Now they’ve got two murders to investigate and as it turns out, the two are related. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, Scarlett and her team trace the deaths to local family histories and long-held secrets.

An abandoned mine shaft figures strongly in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow, too. Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) police department is called in when the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine is discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. At first, everyone had believed that Katie had run away from home, but Cardinal never believed that. So now that the body’s been discovered, he and Detective Lise Delorme re-open the investigation. They find that Katie’s death is connected to two other deaths. Then, they get word of another disappearance and now they know that if they don’t catch the killer, there’ll be yet another murder…

Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders takes place in mostly Laughlin and Oatman, Nevada. When retired judge Sylvia Thorn accompanies her mother’s travel group on a sightseeing tour to that part of Nevada, she’s hoping all will go smoothly. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes. First, the body of an unknown man is found in the hotel bathroom shared by two of the group members. Then another tour group member disappears and her body is later found in an old mine. Thorn gets drawn into the murder investigations mostly because she wants to keep her mother and the remaining members of the tour group as safe as she can and in the end, she finds that the deaths are related to greed and to secrets that someone’s been keeping.

There’s also a climactic scene at an old mine in Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin. In that novel, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper investigate the discovery of two sets of remains at Pity Wood Farm, near Rakesdale in the Peak District. The deaths turn out to be related to Pity Wood Farm’s background and to a later, related murder. At one point in the novel, Cooper and Fry connect what’s been happening at the farm with the old Magpie Mine, a former lead mine. Saying much more about what happens at the mine would come closer to spoiling the novel than I want, but the mine itself is a suitably eerie place and does figure in this novel.

Mines are unique. They foster a special kind of community and the settings themselves are fascinating – and dangerous. I don’t wonder at all that there are so many of them in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mine.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Giles Blunt, Lilian Jackson Braun, Martin Edwards, Patricia Stoltey, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth

Being a Leader is Really Where it’s at*

LeaderOne of the many things that police detectives have to do is lead teams of people through sometimes very dangerous situations. And even when cases aren’t imminently dangerous, they can be depressing, enervating and difficult. It takes a lot of skill to lead a team of people who have to do dangerous, ugly, depressing work, but if you look at some fictional cop sleuth, you see that it can be done.

Agatha Christie doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time talking about police work since her novels really aren’t what you’d call police procedurals. But she makes it clear that her Scotland Yard detective Chief Inspector Japp is good at what he does. And that’s a very important leadership skill to have. People are more willing to respect the leadership of a really skilled detective than the leadership of one who is incompetent. And in novels such as Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), it’s Japp who gets vital background information that solves cases. In that novel, French moneylender Marie Morisot (AKA Madame Giselle) is poisoned during a flight between Paris and London. The only possible suspects are her fellow passengers, of whom Hercule Poirot is one. So he also gets involved in this case. What’s interesting is that while Poirot uncovers the sort of motive the killer had, and the killer’s identity, Japp finds out exactly how the killer got some necessary information to commit the murder, and he finds out an important part of the why of the case too. And even Poirot, who is not normally one to minimise his own skills, gives Japp the credit for his ability.

Håkan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren has also won his team’s respect by simply being very good at what he does. He has solid intuitions and strong detective skills, so his team members trust him. In fact, in The Unlucky Lottery (AKA Münster’s Case), we find that the team looks to him for guidance even when he’s no longer officially on the police force. When Waldemar Leverkuhn is found murdered the morning after celebrating a lottery win, Intendant Münster takes the lead. But he feels the absence of his former boss, and consults with him a few times on the case. At one point, Van Veeteren leaves Münster a note that leads him to re-evaluate the investigation. And it’s not because Münster doubts his team’s competence. Rather, it’s because he has that much trust in Van Veeteren’s.

Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel is brusque (sometimes outright rude), even with his own people. So how does he manage to keep their loyalty and motivate them to work hard? He’s a brilliant detective. Everyone knows that he’s legendary for being able to solve even very difficult cases. But it’s more than that. Dalziel is also very protective of his people in his way. For example, in Child’s Play, Dalziel, Pascoe and the team investigate the strange case of the Lomas family. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas’ son disappeared during World War II, but she never gave up hope that he would someday return. So her will stipulates that her entire fortune is to be left to him unless he doesn’t come back by the year 2015. When she dies, a man claiming to be her son shows up at her funeral and now it looks as though he will inherit everything. But it’s not so simple when that same man is later found dead in a car at the police station. At the same time as the team is untangling this case, DS Edgar Wield is wrestling with a very personal decision of his own. After he gets involved with a young drifter on a mission of his own, Wield faces the choice of what to do about ‘coming out’ as gay. Dalziel’s way of protecting Wield in this novel shows that although he’s sometimes quite hard on his team members, he also does everything he can to protect them.

We see that same protectiveness in Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano is faced with an awful task when one of his people Guiseppe Fazio goes missing. After a little digging, Montalbano discovers that Fazio was working on a very dangerous case involving smuggling, the Mob and some extremely ruthless people. The only way to really find out what’s happened to Fazio is to pick up the trail Fazio left and follow it, so that’s what Montalbano does. To say much more would come closer than I like to ‘spoiler land,’ so I won’t. But I can say that the plot ends up involving murder, kidnapping, and a really close look at how much Montalbano cares about and wants to protect his team members and their families.

Another part of leading a team successfully is showing faith in the team members and listening to what they say, rather than dictating. That’s not easy to do because ultimately, the leader is responsible for an investigation. But you don’t inspire loyalty and motivation if you don’t listen to the team. That’s what Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett does, and it serves her well. When she first takes over the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team in The Coffin Trail, she’s trying to find her way in her new leadership role but as time goes by, she learns to combine taking the lead with paying attention to the team. In The Hanging Wood for instance, the team investigates the twenty-year-old disappearance of Callum Payne and sudden death of his sister Orla. The case involves family history in the Keswick area of the Lake District, and Scarlett knows that DC Maggie Eyre knows the area’s history. Eyre is a ‘farm girl,’ born and raised in the area and is familiar with all of the local families. So one morning on the way to the police station, Scarlett taps Eyre’s knowledge even though she’s ‘only a constable,’ and learns some important information.

Effective team leaders also support and nurture their team members’ talents. That’s what we see in Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders. In that novel, which takes place in 1943, Melbourne DI Titus Lambert and Sgt. Joe Sable are called to the scene of the vicious double murders of John Quinn and his son Xavier. They’re just beginning the investigation process when there’s another equally brutal murder. In the meantime, there’s a suspected resurgence of a Nazi-sympathiser group, and some evidence suggests that the murders may be connected with that group. But there are other possibilities too, so the team has its work cut out for it as the saying goes. The Homicide team is understaffed and underfunded due to the war, so Lambert has to get as much as he can from the people available to him. He sees in Sable an inexperienced but skilled cop and gives him several opportunities to show what he can do. What’s more, he does the same for Constable Helen Lord when he requests that she join the team. He notices very quickly that she’s an excellent detective and in fact, tells Sable he can learn a lot from her. And this is at a time when the few female constables that there were, were little more than stenographers in uniform. Lambert expects a lot from his team members but he treats them both with respect and supports them. Little wonder they’re willing to take the risks they need to take for this case.

And that’s the thing about real leaders. They motivate their team members to be their best, to work hard, and to deal with the dirty, gritty, ugly and sometimes very dangerous job that police work is. I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. How do your favourite fictional cops lead?

ps  The ‘photo is of a very talented team of Aboriginal dancers whose work I was privileged to see when I was in Darwin. It takes real skill to lead a dance troupe this good, and their leader showed that skill.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Animals’ Year of the Guru.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Håkan Nesser, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill, Robert Gott