Get On Back to School*

Professional DevelopmentNo matter what profession one’s in, it doesn’t usually stay static. Because of that, professionals often have to update their skills and knowledge. Sometimes it’s called ‘training,’ sometimes it’s called, ‘seminar’ and sometimes ‘professional development.’ Whatever it’s called, it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.

Sometimes those sessions are very useful, and they can give one the chance to get together with colleagues and other people in the field. Other times…it’s exactly the opposite. If you’you’ve ever been to a really dreadful one, you know exactly what I mean.

Police (and private detectives too) are no different when it comes to professional development. They’re expected to go to training classes, update their skills and so on. But at least in crime fiction, a lot of them aren’t that happy about it. Sometimes it’s because they think those sessions are a waste of time. Other times it’s because they’d rather do things their way, if I can put it like that. Those sessions may not always be productive, but they’re woven into a lot of crime fiction.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo for instance, Harry Bosch investigates the suspicious death of a former Vietnam War comrade Billy Meadows, whose body is found stuffed into a large municipal drainpipe. At first the death looks like a case of a junkie who overdosed, but Bosch doesn’t believe it. So he investigates more deeply. It turns out that Meadows’ death is connected with plans for a major bank robbery. At one point, he and FBI agent Eleanor Wish are interrogating someone who may know more than he’s saying. Bosch wants to use some police training he got in, of all things, hypnosis. By this time the LAPD isn’t using that tactic any more, and Bosch mentions that he was in the last class of cops who took it. You never know what skills you can learn at a professional development seminar.

Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is not much of a one for departmental-level training sessions or professional development. He’s a rather independent thinker (to say the least) and doesn’t like to conform to what the top brass says. But that doesn’t mean he can escape professional development. In Resurrection Men, for instance, Rebus is required to attend a ‘last chance’ course at Tulliallan Police College along with a group of other cops who have trouble working with others, especially authority figures. The team is assigned to investigate a ‘cold case,’ the murder of gangster Rico Lomax. The idea of this training is that the men will learn to work together and solve the case. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t’t happy about this, especially since he and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke were in the middle of investigating the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. But he goes along with the decision. His time in this special program proves useful once he and Clarke find that the two cases are related.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter decides to update his skills and see if he still ‘has it in him’ in Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead. Hunter is healing both physically and emotionally from the events in Written in Bone, and wants some time away from London anyway, So he goes to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, otherwise known as ‘The Body Farm,’ to get away for a bit and to hone his skills. He did his training there and is looking forward to re-connecting with his mentor Tom Liebermann. Shortly after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed body is discovered at a deserted cabin not far from the lab. Then another body is discovered. Hunter is soon drawn into a difficult and dangerous investigation that’s quite different to his plan for skill development.

Not all professional are that eager for professional development. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhangen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a traumatic line-of-duty shooting and is just getting back to work. But going back to work doesn’t mean he’s back to his old self. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly-formed department devoted to investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad look into is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thought she’d drowned in a tragic ferry accident, but Mørck and Assad soon suspect she may still be alive. If she is, they may have very little time in which to find her. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss informs him that his promotion will mean he has to take a qualification course. Mørck refuses to do so, and there’s an interesting thread running through this story of their running battle about it.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, in which we are introduced to Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Chen and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the rape and murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in Baili Canal. It turns out that the woman was Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and a Party member, so the authorities want this case handled very delicately. Chen, on the other hand, wants to find out who killed the victim and why. He and Yu begin work on the investigation but at first no leads turn up. Then there’s an added complication. Chen is invited to attend and present at the Central Party Institute’s annual seminar. It’s an important honour and it indicates that Chen is well regarded. To refuse the invitation is out of the question, but it means that Chen has to prepare his presentation at the same time as he’s working on this difficult case.

And that’s the way it is with most professional development. It’s not that it’s always bad. Some professional development is actually very useful. But it always seems to come when the sleuth least wants to take the time…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Domino College.


Filed under Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong, Simon Beckett

22 responses to “Get On Back to School*

  1. Margot, your post reminded me of a case which is quite probably the exact opposite of the ones you cite. In Catherine Aird’s mysteries, Inspector Sloan and his fellow officers suffer from the Adult Education classes attended by their overbearing boss, Superintendent Leeyes. To put it politely, Leeyes’ understanding of what he has half-learned is usually wildly wrong and the source of much grief to his subordinates.

    • Les – Oh, that is interesting, and it is as you say the exact opposite of what I had in mind with this post. It’s a terrific piece of evidence that sometimes, it’s not the professional development that’s the problem; it’s the attendees…

  2. Ha, ha, ha, hollow laughter there, as I am often the person who has to deliver some of that development that people are less than eager to attend… I seem to remember Frost and Dalziel being rather scathing about diversity courses at some point or another…

    • Marina Sofia – I don’t envy you putting together development seminars. I’m sure you do an outstanding job though, and that your sessions are useful. You’re right too that Frost and Dalziel get a bit tired of ‘diversity awareness.’ So does Morse…

  3. Margot: Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active, in Frozen Sun by Stan Jones, flies from Chukchi to Anchorage to attend a computer course. While there he uses the time away to do some investigating.

    What resonated for me in the book was the time required by Active just to get to and from the course. Those of us who live outside major urban areas face continuing frustration in obtaining professional development courses. In addition to the time spent in the courses, so often griped about, we must travel hours to a day to attend courses. I have often wondered how many hours of CPD would be required if everyone in the big city had to travel out to the small city to get their time in on course.

    Thanks for the opporunity to rant. I feel better.

    • Bill – Feel free to rant. It really is frustrating to attend professional development courses or seminars when you don’t live in an urban area. To some extent that can be addressed with online ‘webinars’ and other development, but not everything can be presented in that format. And what’s more, many people like the opportunity to interact with other people. That’s a bit trickier online. And it would be an interesting case of turnabout if a required professional development event took place away from a bigger city; I’m sure more people would get a sense of what it’s like for those who have to travel far for CPD events.
      Adn thanks for the mention of Nathan Active. Attending professional development seminars really is a major investment of time and effort for him…

  4. Great stuff Margot and I for one could probably do with lots of professional development training 🙂 In fiction what you’ve reallt got me wanting now is a story with a murder to take place during one of the training events – is there such an example? I can;t think fo one, but if anybody knows, it’s you!

    • Sergio – Oh, that’s a brilliant idea! A murder that takes place a professional development seminar. I don’t think there’s a story like that out there but then, there’s a lot of crime fiction I’ve not read. I think you’ve just given me the plot for my next novel. 🙂

  5. I think with training courses they probably just want to be out dealing with the crime, but as shown, sometimes the training sticks and proves helpful 🙂

    • Rebecca – That’s just exactly it. I think most cops and other professional sleuths just want to be out there working on the case. They don’t want to be sent away to take a class when they’re in the middle of an investigation. But as you say, sometimes professional development proves useful. 🙂

  6. It can provide a nice bit of tension for the sleuth if they aren’t excited to attend! I haven’t read a lot of these…thanks for the new-to-me books to read.

    • Elizabeth – I like that thread of tension too. And it can add a solid hurdle to a story that the sleuth has to get over in some way. And of course…it’s realistic.

  7. The only one I could think of was Mercy, and of course you were there before me! It is a good trope though – all our favourite cops are, in their nature, going to be anti-training course, I’d have thought. Perhaps Ellie Griffiths could send Harry Nelson (my absolute favourite) on a course…. (btw, I thought your snippet of song lyric was going to be Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, and that is going to be going round in my head for the next few hours.)

    • Moira – Oh, that’s funny! I actually thought of the Rod Stewart song, but in the end I went with the Jimmy Buffett song. Now I’ll have both in my mind. 🙂 – You make a well-taken point too that part of the appeal of those famous fictional sleuths is that they’re out there solving cases. And for them, that does not include sitting in a professional development session. Could you imagine directing a session if one of the participants was Andy Dalziel or Inspector Morse? And I love your idea of Nelson having to go on a course. It’d be a terrific premise.

  8. Timely post as I’m thinking of doing an additional teaching diploma. As you say it reflects society and it can often lead people to unfamiliar situations.

    • Sarah – It can indeed. And it’s interesting you’re thinking of doing an additional diploma. That’s what I do for my ‘day job:’ prepare people to take their teaching diplomas. I wish you well if you decide to do it.

  9. Interesting post Margot. Policemen are one group that really need to keep up with new technology and techniques, yet it is hard to break away to take training. Often in mysteries set (or written) in the earliest days of computer use for police departments, some members of the force are resistant to technologies benefits.

    • Tracy – Thank you. You’re absolutely right that there’s a conflict if you want to put it like that between knowing one needs new skills (especially with new technology) and not wanting to be pulled away from the job. It’s definitely not easy to resolve. You’re right too that in police procedurals especially during the first decades of computer use, there are a lot of cases where the cops are resistant to integrating them. You’re making me think of Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Damond.. That takes place shortly after the first years of computer use, but you still see that duality.

      • That’s funny, Margot. That was one of the books I was thinking of (the only one I have read in that series, unfortunately). You also see that in Jill McGown’s police procedural series that ran from 1983 to 2004.

        • Tracy – Ah, great minds think alike! 😉 – And thank you for reminding me of Jill McGown. I must get to know her work, as not familiar with it. Unfortunately there is only so much time in any given day to read…

  10. Col

    I think there can be a natural resistance to training. Ego sometimes dictates that, you are already believe you are doing something to the best of your ability and there’s a resentment towards a suggestion that things can be done better or in a different fashion.
    I’m not adverse to feeling this way myself. I’ve been on courses where the instructor acts like they’re the smartest person in the room, dropping little nuggets of wisdom to the great unwashed. I’m pretty sure a couple of the Gandhi-Dalai Lama-esque types I’ve met have reason to be thankful they weren’t made from chocolate, otherwise they would surely have consumed themselves.
    (Conversely, I may have just woken up especially irritable today!)

    • Col – LOL! I don’t think it’s just your irritability. Part of whether a courses goes well depends on the instructors’ attitude and bearing. If the instructor is arrogant and egotistical then people taking a course are going to resent it. Why wouldn’t they? So yes, personality and view of the students plays a major role in how well professional development goes. I think you’re right though that even with the best instructor, a lot of people do resent training courses because of their egos. ‘Training’ implies that there’s something one hasn’t yet learned to do, and that can rub people up the wrong way.

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