Struggling to Do Everything Right*

Police RelationshipsYou’d think that no-one would understand what a police officer’s life is like quite like another officer. And police teams spend a lot of time together, especially when they’re working a case. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that coppers have their share of relationships with other officers.

There are a lot of challenges to that kind of relationship. For one thing, there are often strict rules (and for very good reasons) about romantic relationships in the precinct. And, even when the two people involved are of the same rank, so that neither supervises the other, there’s always plenty of gossip. That can become at the very least annoying, and at worst, intolerable. So it’s usually easier on police officers to keep their love lives separate from work.

Still, every once in a while, police detectives do have relationships – sometimes even enduring marriages – with other police officers. It happens in real life, and it happens in crime fiction, too, with varying degrees of success. When it’s handled well, so that the relationship doesn’t overtake a story’s plot, a relationship between police officers can add to a series. Even if it ends, it can add a story arc and character depth.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee ultimately finds happiness with a fellow police officer. He is a member of the Navajo Nation and a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Fans of this series will know that he a few relationships as the series goes on. But they aren’t successful. Then, in The Fallen Man, he meets Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito. In that novel, she’s a rookie trainee, and he’s her supervisor. So they keep their relationship professional. Over time, though, and after he’s no longer in a position of authority over her, Chee becomes interested in Manuelito, and the feeling is mutual. Hillerman handles this relationship as a story arc rather than placing a major focus on it, and in the end (after the end of Skeleton Man) they marry. I don’t know how the stories would have progressed if Hillerman had lived, but I’d like to think these two have a stable marriage.

Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are also police detectives who are married to each other. When they first start working together in A Share in Death, Kincaid has just been promoted to the rank of Detective Superintendent at the Met. James is his sergeant. Over time, they begin a relationship that finally ends in their getting married. As the series goes on, James gets promoted and professionally, moves out on her own as the saying goes. So she and Kincaid don’t always work on the same cases together. But they do help one another. Fans of this series will know that this relationship has its up and down times. But it’s one of the more enduring crime-fictional romantic partnerships.

Jane Casey’s sleuth is Met DC Maeve Kerrigan. Her partner, also a police officer, is DC Rob Langton. When they first begin their relationship, they’re in the same unit. But as time goes on and they see that this is going to be a long-term relationship, it’s clear they can’t both stay in the same unit. So Langton transfers to a crack robbery team called The Flying Squad. This doesn’t mean that their relationship is all smooth sailing after that, though. They have to get used to living together as a couple, and to managing to stay together despite the long and strange hours. They have personal issues, too, as we all do. But they do care about each other very much.

All this isn’t to say, though, that a police/police romance always works out. Just ask Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. For a short time (in Knots and Crosses), Rebus has a relationship with a colleague, Gill Templer. But…Rebus being who he is, and Templer being who she is, it’s not, in the end, successful. As Rebus puts it in Hide and Seek,

‘Another notch in his bow of failed relationships.’

It’s awkward, too, since they see each other from time and time, and Templer ends up getting promoted more than once. Still, even after they’re finished as a couple, they can work together if they have to do that.

In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, we are introduced to Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges, chief of police in the small French town of St. Denis. The usually quiet town is shocked when Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr is found brutally murdered. He was a transplanted North African who had supported the French during the Algerian War, and in fact, got a medal for that effort. There is evidence that the far-right Front National (FN) is responsible for the killing. If so, this may be a very complicated crime with national implications. So the Police Nationale (PN) are called in, in the form of Isabelle Perrault. At first, her relationship with Bruno is completely professional. But they’re both soon aware that there’s a mutual attraction, and they begin a romance. It’s difficult, though, because they want different things professionally. Their parting is really more sad than acrimonious, and much more based on logistics and goals than it is on any lack of caring.

Not so with Peter May’s Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec and his ex-wife Marie-Ange, who feature in Entry Island. Mackenzie is called in to assist when James Cowell is murdered on Entry Island, one of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine/Magdalen Islands. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been seconded away from Montréal. But Entry Island is one of the few places in the province where most of the residents are native speakers of English, and it’s thought Mackenzie will be helpful in working with the locals to find out what happened. To his chagrin, Marie-Ange (who works with forensics) is also sent on the case, and the two have more than one unpleasant moment. We learn that their marriage suffered from a lot of strain for more than one reason. Neither is perfect, and it’s interesting to see how they interact.

A relationship between two police detectives faces its share of challenges. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s handled deftly, though, that sort of relationship can add a level of interest to a story or series.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise.


Filed under Deborah Crombie, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Martin Walker, Peter May, Tony Hillerman

20 responses to “Struggling to Do Everything Right*

  1. So true. Karin Slaughter does a fine job of adding this layer in her Grant County series. The medical examiner and the lead homicide detective are ex-spouses, who on a occasion get together. Later in the series they give the marriage another go, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one waiting for this to happen. Hopefully they’ll stay together, but anything can happen in crime fiction. 🙂

    • You’re right about that, Sue! You never do know with crime fiction, do you? And I’m glad you reminded me of the Karin Slaughter series. It’s a solid example of the way those relationships can be woven into a series and add layers to it.

  2. Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint is also semi-involved with a colleague – the delicious Mark Joesbury. I guess their relationship would best be described as on/off – the baggage Lacey is carrying making it difficult for her to commit herself to properly letting someone else share her life. But one feels Mark won’t be giving up on her…

    • Well, that’s true, FictionFan. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jonsbury; but, as long as it’s not dragged on too long and and in a contrived way, it adds interest to the series, that’s for sure.

  3. Kay

    Yes, I’ve enjoyed Karin Slaughter’s series and her characters. And I hoped you’d bring up Duncan and Gemma – they are great favorites of mine. Also Jim and Bernie. I like Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series and her husband, Dwight Bryant. That series is at an end, I think, but the last book was wonderful. I’ve also discovered Jane Casey’s books this last year and love them too. Another good series is the Kate Burkholder series – Kate a Chief of Police and her significatn other, Tomasetti, with the state police. None of the relationships mentioned are completely smooth sailing – some more than others (no spoilers here), but I like character growth so much in a series that I often welcome those bumps and growth spurts. Nice topic, Margot.

    • I agree, Kay; both Duncan and Gemma and Jim and Bernie make great couples, don’t they? I like the way their relationships have developed, too. They’ve evolved naturally, so that it doesn’t feel contrived, if that makes sense. Thanks, too, for mentioning Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. As you say, a terrific couple, and I think that the series has a very effective sense of place and context, too. I must spotlight one of Castillo’s books sometimes…

  4. I’ve been really enjoying rediscovering the books of Jill McGown in the past year – the relationship between her police officers Lloyd and Judy is extremely well done I think. It has elements that might seem clichéd, but McGown does it very well, and they are a likeable couple.

  5. Margot: While members of different police forces Harry Bosch and Rachel Wish in Michael Connelly’s books have a relationship that I hoped would succeed but I doubt the author will write Harry into a long term relationship.

    • I doubt he will, too, Bill. But Bosch and Wish have a really interesting relationship. And I always thought they both wished it had worked out, if I can put it that way. And I’m very glad you mentioned them, because I really left a gap in this post by not doing so.

  6. Col

    Bill beat me to the punch, I was reminded of Bosch and the FBI agent, whose name escaped me!

  7. I was going to mention Jill McGown’s books but I got beaten to it by Moira.

  8. Kathy D.

    Interesting topic to ponder. I think of the problems between the exes in Entry Island. I imagine it would be very difficult for two police officers in the same unit, same headquarters, to be romantically involved. Work tensions can be brought home.

    • That’s just exactly it, Kathy. And then there would be the fact of being together all the time. For some couples, that 24-a-day togetherness is fine, but for many, it simply doesn’t work.

  9. Margot, Ed McBain’s novels, at least the few I have read, and “Public Murders” by Bill Granger are certainly fine examples of police officers working seamlessly on investigations. Police procedurals do throw up such relationships and it gives readers a good insight in human behaviour as a whole.

    • That’s quite true, Prashant. In fact, I think McBain’s 87th Precinct series is one of the best ones out there in terms of looking at the police as human beings.

  10. Moira mentioned my favorite couple in mystery fiction: Lloyd and Judy in Jill McGown’s books.

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