Not 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.