Meet the New Boss*

BossesUnless you’re self-employed, chances are you’ve got a boss. If you’re fortunate, you have a supportive boss who looks out for you and helps you to develop and use your skills. That makes sense when you think about it. After all, if you look good, your boss looks good. Of course, you may be unlucky enough to have a boss who’s not supportive at all, and that can make your work life horrible. Either way, bosses play an important role in the way we feel about our work.

Bosses also play important roles in crime fiction. Some crime fictional sleuths are independent PIs; except for laws and policies that govern what they’re allowed to do, they don’t have bosses in the usual sense of the word. But a lot of fictional detectives have bosses (some are also bosses themselves). Here are just a few examples.

Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is sometimes unorthodox in his approach to solving cases. Just as one example, the alternate title of The Bushman Who Came Back is Bony Buys a Woman. No, it’s not exactly the way it sounds; it’s more complicated than that. And no, Bony isn’t a human trafficker. But he does have different ways of going about things. In that particular novel, he has a rather unusual way of helping one of the other characters as he solves the mysterious shooting of a housekeeper. Sometimes his approach gets him into trouble with the ‘higher ups’ in the Queensland Police. But Bony is fortunate enough to have a boss who understands both his value to the police and his not-always-by-the-book ways. So although they do ‘butt heads’ from time to time, Bony knows that his supervisor supports him and wants him to use his skills.

On the surface of it, you might not think that Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel would make a particularly good boss. After all, as fans will know, he’s demanding, sometimes quite rude, and certainly not one to care much about the finer sensibilities of his staff. And as the saying goes, he does not suffer fools gladly. But he is in many ways a very supportive boss. He’s not at all one to gush, but he is well aware that he’s got a good team of people working for him. And he looks after them, too. For example, in Child’s Play, the team is investigating the case of a man who’s found murdered not long after claiming to be the son (and only heir) of a wealthy woman who’s recently died. In the meantime, Sgt. Wield faces a difficult personal matter. He’s gotten involved in a relationship with a young drifter who has his own agenda. Now Wieldy has to decide what to do about coming out as gay. When internal police politics threaten Wieldy’s career, Dalziel finds a very clever way to protect his sergeant. He takes care of the rest of his team too, even when it doesn’t seem so.

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg supervises a very unusual team of detectives. At first glance, it seems as though they’d be any boss’ nightmare. One’s a narcoleptic, one has an uncomfortably close relationship with the bottle, and one works better with animals than with people. But Adamsberg is a supportive boss. For one thing, he knows he’s not perfect either. For another, he knows that he has a team of skilled detectives who are good at their jobs. So he looks out for them and listens to them. They may be misfits in a lot of people’s estimation, but Adamsberg gets the best out of them.

The same is true of the team at Andrea Camilleri’s fictional Vigàta constabulary. Inspector Salvo Montalbano can be short-tempered and brusque with people, including those he supervises. And anyone who works for him knows better than to interrupt him when he’s eating. But they also know they can count on him. For one thing, he’s a fine detective. For another, he’s loyal to them and cares about them. As an example, in one plot thread of Dance of the Seagull, one of Montalbano’s team members, Giuseppe Fazio, goes missing. Montalbano immediately puts together a plan to find him. At the time of his disappearance, Fazio was following up some leads on a dangerous smuggling ring, and pursuing that case seems to be the best chance to find him. So Montalbano and the team do exactly that. They find Fazio too, wounded but alive. Throughout the novel, we see how Montalbano’s leadership and his loyalty to his team play roles in what happens.

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has to learn leadership skills as she takes over and heads up the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. At first it’s seen as a demotion – a punishment for a case that went wrong. But Scarlett is determined to do the best job she can. And she loves her work. So she buckles down and develops the skills she needs to get the best from her team members. Along the way, she has to deal with some very complicated relationships and with the inevitable performance evaluations and other paperwork involved in being a boss. In this series, we get a look at what it’s like to learn how to be a supervisor and lead a team.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman may not head up a large team, but she cares about the people who work for her. Chapman is a Melbourne baker with two shop assistants, Kylie Manners and Gossamer ‘Goss’ Judge. She also has an apprentice baker, Jason Wallace. All three employees are young, and sometimes need some adult guidance. For example, Kylie and Goss have a potentially very dangerous encounter with some weight-loss tea in Devil’s Food. When Chapman learns what’s happened, she does what’s needed to help take care of them and ensure that they’ll be all right. For his part, Jason is learning to live on his own, without the use of drugs. He makes his share of mistakes, but Chapman supports him as he starts to grow up. In turn, all three of the young people are just as loyal to their boss. They step in when needed, they work to make sure that customers are happy, and they are trustworthy.

Those relationships are possibly the best thing about being (or having) a good boss. If you are a good boss, you get your subordinates’ loyalty and best work. If you have a good boss, you get the chance to develop your skills, and you grow professionally. You also forge really positive relationships. Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have a good boss; that’s the stuff of another post…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill

31 responses to “Meet the New Boss*

  1. Great examples of bosses, including some that at first glance sound less than ideal. Two great Scandinavian bosses that come to mind are Wallander and Martin Beck. They aren’t always entirely conflict -free, but they are loyal to their team and know how to get the best out of them on the whole.
    My favourite two bosses come from the world of crime fiction TV series: Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect and Laure Berthaud from the French series Engrenages (Spiral). They are tough as nails, having to succeed in a man’s world, yet they always have room for compassion towards the victims, their families and their team.

    • You’ve put your finger on something important, Marina Sofia. Some good bosses don’t at first give the appearance of being skilled. And yet, they are. What I like about that (among many other things) is that it allows the author to create a less-than-perfect character as the boss. And it allows for character evolution. Thanks also for mentioning Jane Tennison, who I just adore as a character (kudos to Dame Helen Mirren, too!). I’ll admit I’m less familiar with Spiral, but I love your mention of the mix between being tough (these women have to be) and having compassion.

  2. In Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ police procedural series, Bill Slider is the head of a team of detectives, and he is a great boss. His group works under DCI Fred `The Syrup’ Porson, who is full of malapropisms, doesn’t like politics and is very supportive to them (at least in the later books). I have talked myself into finding another one of those to read soon.

    • Oh, that’s a series I’ve been wanting to try, Tracy! Thank you for reminding me of it! And you’ve given a great example, too, of the kind of boss who really supports his team.

  3. Well, someone is bound to mention Archie and his boss Nero, so I thought it might as well be me 🙂

    • Glad you did, Sergio! 🙂 I sometimes wonder who’s the real boss in that relationship ;-), but technically of course, it’s Wolfe. Not sure I’d want to work for him (and quite sure he wouldn’t want to work with me!), but he is brilliant, and I think he does care about the people who work for him…in his own way.

  4. In Sharon Bolton’s series, Lacey Flint’s boss Dana Tulloch finds Lacey both difficult and annoying at points, but she still stays supportive, and it’s because of her influence that Lacey has managed to shed her worst maverick, loner tendencies and be a bit more of a team player. I think this series is particularly strong on showing team dynamics and it’s always nice when there’s a competent female boss who can actually cope with the job.

    • Absolutely, FictionFan! And I like the fact that we see Flint grow as a character as the series goes on for just that reason. Good point too about team dynamics. Real-life criminal investigation is not a ‘lone wolf’ kind of business. In fact, law enforcement people are strongly discouraged from ‘playing hero.’ It’s always nice when a fictional series is realistic in that way.

  5. Loving the examples especially as you included one of my favourite bosses Daziel who is incredibly supportive of Pascoe throughout the series. I think perhaps Morse although being a great detective doesn’t display quite the same interpersonal skills with his partner Lewis?

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cleo. And you make a really interesting point about Morse. I don’t really think he has the same interpersonal skills either, although he certainly likes and respects Lewis (‘though he’d never admit it!).D Dalziel really is supportive of Pascoe and the rest of the team, even at the same time as he makes caustic remarks to them. He knows their worth I think.

  6. I suppose Albert Campion is Lugg’s boss in the Margery Allingham books – but somehow I can’t see Lugg describing their relationship that way….

  7. Kathy D.

    This is another interesting topic, causing some head scratching to think about crime fiction bosses.
    Certainly, Adamsberg is an eccentric boss, sometimes consumed with his own problems, but always figuring out the solutions to crimes, but with his team’s help. Another one of his team is a police officer who speaks in 12-syllable Alexandrine verse at times. The team’s individual traits make the books more interesting.
    And Montalbano, what a boss! He yells at everyone, gets annoyed at Fazio’s attention to detail and at Catarella’s mispronunciations and errors.
    But in the long run, the team contributes to the crime solving and Catarella is loyal and provides comic relief.

    • That’s exactly it, Kathy. Both Adamsberg and Montalbano have their own flaws and problems; there’s no doubt about that. But they care about their teams, and they support their teams. Even if they sometimes get irritated at team members.

  8. Kathy D.

    Then there are the “bad” bosses and I’m sure the column here will list several. I’m thinking of one in particular. And then there are the private detectives who are sick of taking orders and dealing with bureaucracies
    and red tape. So they go off on their own. But are they really?
    Sometimes they get in trouble with the police anyway, and this
    is a good topic to ponder, too.

    • You’re right, Kathy. There are plenty of fictional bad bosses.Some of them are simply ‘comic-bad,’ and others are absolute menaces. You make a well-taken point, too, that sometimes, a bad boss is the reason that a fictional sleuth goes it alone, often as a PI.

  9. Col

    Reginald Hill is someone I hope to read soon.
    I’ve read a few books where the boss is kind of keen to take the credit for a successful case closure, but astute enough to keep a distance from the investigation, so he can allow the lead detective to take the blame when it goes wrong….. I’m sure there a managerial term for the practice! Uncollective responsibility maybe?

    • I’m sure there’s a managerial term for it too, Col. I don’t know what it is, but I like your ‘uncollective responsibility.’ That’s both creative and descriptive. And I do hope you’ll get the chance to read some Reginald Hill. I think that’s a fine police procedural series.

  10. In Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series Jeffrey Tolliver, the ME’s ex-husband, is a great but strict boss, and the energy between him and his ex-wife is explosive.

  11. Fascinating topic as usual, Margot. I’m thinking of Lincoln Rhyme. He ought to be a terrible boss, rude, caustic, demanding, but somehow he isn’t – he does care about the people working for him and cares about getting the job done.

    • Thanks, Christine. And thanks too for mentioning Lincoln Rhyme. He is indeed one of those people whom people ought to dread as a boos. And yet, he does look after ‘his’ people, doesn’t he?

  12. I recall two TV examples, one drawn from fiction: Inspectors Tennison and Morse, from London and Oxford respectively (I see Marina beat me to the punch with the former, and oops! Cleo also, with Morse). Morse and Tennison always seem to be in trouble with their bosses, sometimes for good reason. It occurs to me that they are bosses themselves, and not always the most understanding.
    Then there’s always Poirot and Miss Lemon, though I don’t recall a lot about their interactions; it seems a purely functional kind of dynamic.

    • I think it’s a functional dynamic, too. We don’t really see anything more in the novels, ‘though I’ve never gotten the impression that they had any friction. You make an interesting point, too, about the fact that both Tennison and Morse are bosses, as well as being bossed. And I think it’s interesting to see how they conceive of their jobs, given the way they feel about being ‘managed’…

  13. Pingback: Same as the Old Boss* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

  14. I thought of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe as the boss and the wonderful secretary Grace Makutsi who later gets promoted. That was lots more fun to read about than those criminal bosses and/or their criminal employees. 😀

  15. I love Fred Vargas’s quirky characters- they are so refreshing to read.

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