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.


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

30 responses to “Everybody Needs an Education*

  1. I suppose Inspector Rebus and Siobhan is also too easy… Sherlock and Watson have an interesting dynamic – I think they both learn from each other. And so do all of Adamsberg’s team – at some emotional cost.

    • Marina Sofia – I’m very glad you mentioned Adamsberg and his team. As you say, they do learn from each other…at a price. But that to me is part of what makes for such an interesting dynamic among them. And I think they see how interdependent they are. And yes, Holmes and Watson also have an interesting relationship; hard to say exactly how to classify it, but that is part of its interest. Oh, and yes, Rebus and Clarke was too easy…

  2. And then, Margot, there are those who try to teach…and get nowhere. I think in particular of Catherine Aird’s long-suffering Inspector C. D. Sloan, who is invariably paired with the hapless Detective Constable Crosby. Sloan tries – repeatedly – to teach Crosby even the basics of police work, how to question a suspect, how to interpret evidence, etc. But it appears the only thing Crosby can do well is drive very very fast. He IS known among the police of Calleshire as “the defective constable.” As I say, Sloan does try to teach…but success generally proves elusive!

    • Les – Yes, poor Sloan. He does try hard, and it’s not that Crosby is disrespectful. But, well, he just can’t seem to learn, poor guy. But as you say, Sloan’s seldom late when Crosby’s at the wheel, so there’s at least some compensation.

  3. Yet another cool topic, Margot! I’m only familiar with the Gamache example, but I love the Nichol character arc – it was very interesting! What I love about Penny is she can create disagreeable characters that aren’t either good or bad, but a little of both, and have redeeming qualities, too. And she gives you insight sometimes into how they came to be that way (as with Nichol).

    • Kathy – Thank you. And I like that about Penny too. She can create characters that are interesting even if you can’t say you like them. She has I think a lot of insight when it comes to developing characters.

  4. Again I cannot think of any really good examples. I did just start watching the first two episodes of the Dalziel and Pascoe TV series, and it was interesting to see the early relationship of those two, with their different perspectives.

    The closest thing I can think of in my reading is the the relationship between Inspector Sloan and Constable Crosby in the Catherine Aird series. Crosby is ambitious and wants to move up, but he and Sloan have a different style. Sloan tries to get Crosby to think through the situations, seemingly with little success.

    • Tracy – Right you are about both Sloan and Crosby. It’s not that Crosby doesn’t want to do a good job. But he just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to do it. And Sloan does his best, but as you say, he sure doesn’t get far. He keeps trying though.
      And I hope you’ll enjoy the Dalziel and Pascoe series as it goes on.

  5. I’m tempted to say “We don’t need no education,” because I know you’re a music fan, but I’ll stick with pointing to Inspector Barnaby and his hapless sergeant who blunders despite his coaching, or Inspector Morse and Lewis, who does learn by Morse’s example (even if he can’t match the Oxford education).

    • Karen – I almost used that line! Great minds and all that… 😉 – And thanks for mentioning Barnaby and Troy. Barnaby does try to coach Troy, and Troy does learn some things. But I sometimes think he’s too anxious about making mistakes to be willing to learn. There’s something appealing about his character though. And I like the Morse/Lewis dynamic too.

  6. Sloane and Crosby was the pairing that jumped to my mind too, like your other correspondents: I find their relationship very entertaining, and clever and original too. It makes a nice change for the young chap to be pleasant and stupid…

    • Moira – I actually like that too about the Sloan/Crosby relationship. ‘Younger’ doesn’t always mean ‘sharper.’ And I’m very glad you good people have filled in that gaping hole I left in my post.

  7. I’m very pleased to see this discussion about ‘Seedy’ Sloan – Catherine Aird’s books deserve to be more widely known. Also very glad to see mention in your excellent piece of that very entertaining writer, Sarah Caudwell.

    • Martin – Thanks for the kind words. And agreed about Catherine Aird. Her work is strong and does indeed deserve wider recognition. And Sarah Caudwell’s work is enjoyable; it’s unfortunate that there are only four Hilary Tamar novels.

  8. I love the place education has in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Mma Rambotswe constantly refers to a book called The Principles of Private Detection, by Clovis Andersen, to guide her (the book and its author are fictional, by the way). Then she employs Mma Makutsi, who also learns from the book and becomes an assistant detective. Mma Makutsi, of course, achieved 97% at the Botswana Secretarial College, so has excellent skills already. Thrillingly, Clovis Andersen becomes a character in The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, the 13th book in the series (and one which I have yet to read—I think I am up to number 11).

    • Caron – Oh, I like that series very much. I love the characters and yes, there is education woven through the series. In fact, I almost mentioned Mma. Ramotswe’s lessons about values in Blue Shoes and Happiness and of Morality For Beautiful Girls. I also like the way Clovis Anderson’s book is woven through the series So glad you mentioned those novels.

  9. Well, if Dalziel and Pascoe is too easy, I’ll have to nominate Pascoe and Constable Hector…a man who would drive the most patient of teachers to the brink of justifiable homicide! I always wondered how he managed to get into the police force in the first place…

  10. In “The Rome Express” (1907) by Arthur Griffiths, the chief of the detective service of the French police, takes a backseat during the questioning of seven people suspected of murdering a man inside the Rome-Paris express train. A lot of the interrogation is done by the instructing judge who comes across as more rational and reasonable than the eccentric police chief. The cop and the judge don’t have a mentor-pupil relationship but the latter clearly has the upperhand and the former much to learn from him. Incidentally, I couldn’t help wondering if Christie borrowed the plotline for “Murder on the Orient Express.”

    • Prashant – Oh, that’s an interesting example of what I had in mind when I wrote this post. I don’t know if Christie used that story as inspiration for Murder on the Orient Express, but there are some real similarities aren’t there? That’s really interesting!

  11. I’m certainly grateful for my blogging mentors 🙂

  12. Col

    I’ve not read into a series where the lead team has evolved and changed over time, I think I’d prefer it though. Some series have got tired for me and I stopped reading them as in my opinion the lead time was the same every time, and the author was almost writing to a formula

  13. Col

    No examples I can recall, but I’m looking forward to reading Alex and Sarah Caudwell at some point.

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