Wednesday, January 06, 2010

THINKING ABOUT POLICE PROCEDURALS



This winter weather may look beautiful but for those who are traveling it is a nightmare, and it looks as if most people round here are staying indoors. This is certainly the heaviest snowfall I have seen in Devon since 1987 and if it is this heavy down here it must be Nordic in depth up on Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Last year I suggested altering a fairly generic list of crime fiction categories into the Modified Dartmoor Dozen. These would be twelve books that you would recommend reading to someone snowed in on Dartmoor, and new to crime fiction. The concept caught on like wildfire with numerous bloggers listing their own choices, and I was lucky enough to metaphorically grab delicious Donna Moore as a guest blogger to list her choices here, and here.
Donna now has her own superb blog Big Beat from Badsville here.

It seemed appropriate on a day when it would be impossible to even get up onto Dartmoor to be 'snowed in' to consider one of the categories in more detail.

The Police Procedural is one of the most popular sub-genres in crime fiction, but what type of book do you enjoy. The Kenneth Branagh Wallander on BBC seemed to represent the police detective operating virtually on his own in a manner more like a private eye.

While most police procedural books have a team, a duo or a trio of investigators working together. Even a maverick like Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole does not work in total isolation, and has relationships with colleagues.
Are there actually police detectives who work alone in crime fiction? Possibly Freeman Wills Croft's Inspector French?

Which type of criminal investigation do you most enjoy in a police procedural, the singleton, the team, the trio or the duo? What is your cop fiction choice?
And which books in each mini category would you recommend as your favourites?

11 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - What an interesting and thought-provoking post! Hmm.... when I read police procedurals, I like to read about teams working together. I think it's because that's how police work is generally done in real life; people don't really work in isolateion. Even loners, as you say, like Harry Hole, interact with others. I'm thinking, for instance, of Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano. He's the "star," if you will, but he relies on the expertise of others and he knows it. So does Ian Rankin's John Rebus, as much of a rebel as he seems. I admit to a preference for police procedurals that focus more on the characters involved than on the forensic details (although I think they add to the story's believability).

My recommendations for cop fiction? Hmmm.. Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series, Caroline Graham's Inspector Barnaby series, Ruth Rendell's Wexford series and..hm.. definitely Elizabeth George's Lynley/Havers novels. I think Camilleri's great, too, but I'm a bit less familiar with his work - as of yet ; ).

For a cop fiction series with a twist, I like Martin Edwards' Lake District novels, where you get to see the police procedural with the added "spice" of an amateur sleuth who's also involved.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot, for your interesting and informative comment. I really must get round to reading the Martin Edward's books, which come so highly recommended by everyone. I have one on the TBR pile but keep saving it for a trip to the Lake District, but by the look of the weather outside that will be some time off.
I have read most of the Brunettis and ten Camilleris, but no Lynley/Havers despite enjoying the TV series very much.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Great idea to review the Darmoor dozen on this snowy day :D

I am going to have a very short work week indeed, but I have not opened a book yet. I have written a few pages instead.

I think police teams are more realistic than lone wolves; on the other hand I like many of the charismatic figures .... Harry Hole, Vera Stanhope, Rebus, Van Veeteren just to mention a few.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

This weather looks set in for a few days.
Rebus has his Siobhan, and Van Veeteren [who became a favourite in 2009] has Moreno, Munster, Reinhart and Rooth; Harry had Ellen and then Beate; so even the lone wolves co-operated with team members.
The sight of Branagh's TV Wallander ridiculously doing everything by himself got me thinking about this.
I must make the acquaintance of Vera Stanhope my modern British crime reading is very limited.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

I don't mind focusing on the star, doubles, triples or teams as long as it is 1) well written, 2) realistic. The second one is particularly key for police procedurals - after all they are procedurals. If that stuff is fancibly made up it undermines the credibly of the whole venture. You can tinker around the edges, I think, with a bit of artistic license, but you can't take huge liberties.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

That's something I really like about Robert Wilson's books - even though you're dealing with fairly major conspiracies and very nasty crimes, there's nearly always a team or at least a sidecick around (plus an irritating boss!), which usually lends enough of an air of credibility for me to ignore some of the more outrageious plot elements.

Nearly everything I've read lately hasn't been translated into English yet, so I won't give examples (one day I'll put all this into a list), but I haven't spotted a single loner - even the mavericks have colleagues, friends, neighbours, and in a particularly interesting recent read (Ariel: Murder before Yom Kippur by Harri Nykanen, which is not part of his series), a nagging community. Which also features my favourite Jewish detective in all the crime fiction I've read - unexpected, since it's set in Helsiniki. (I think Bublanski from Larsson's trilogy is next in line.)

---

On reflection, I can think of a couple of (female) mavericks in Swedish novels, but while they do break masses of rules, they still have help - be it from uncles, retired British agents, mysterious translators, friends or reporters. So I can almost forgive it.

There does, however, seem to be a plague of independently-minded doctors and journalists out there, who should really be dead by now, given their repeated failure to call for help at appropriate moments!

3:22 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Lauren, Jewish detectives in unexpected places might be a good title for a book.
Robert Wilson's books like Leighton Gage's set in Brazil do have teamwork, and also some semblance of realism and credibility. People get killed and there are not too many miraculous escapes.
I shall keep an eye out for the Harri Nykanen if it is ever translated into English. Thanks.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

I like the teamwork books, eg Mari Jungstedt, Ake Edwardsen, Kjell Ericksson, Sjowall Wahloo, Mankell (novels not BBC!), Nesser, etc.

I also like the "lone detective" though, eg Harry Bosch (who does often have a partner, but "does his own thing" irrespective of procedures) and Erlunder (who does have a team but is increasingly going his own way). Harry Hole is quite charming, but again, he's happy to collaborate with the team members that he does not think are stupid or corrupt! Jimmy Perez is not against teamwork but he is more in a role of mentor, he has to do the "thought work" himself. Similarly, Hannah Scarlett who has been mentioned (Martin Edwards) is more conformist than some of these examples but manages to ignore bureacracy and targets to a large extent.

I think I am less keen on the "lone superhero" kind of book where someone does everything themselves, leaving everyone else in the dark. I don't find this all that realistic, these days, given the specialisms and technologies that are part of crime investigations these days.

But for me, a good plot is all - I'll forgive anything if the read is good.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I agree Maxine plot is the main thing, although among my favourites Andrea Camilleri is not the strongest plotter and his books are all about characters.

It is getting dark outside and I am about to get back to a book set in Europe's hottest capital city featuring a bit of a lone wolf investigator, although he has a young attractive assistant in this book. I can't resist setting teasers. ;o) I am hoping to finish and post on Monday or Tuesday.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Reg said...

Hi Lauren (and Uriah),
Are the Harri Nykanen books in Swedish (if he writes in Finnish)? Would love to read them, always looking for good stuff from the frozen north.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Written in finnish but now being translated by Ice Cold Crime - see http://www.icecoldcrime.com/files/Raid_and_the_Blackest_Sheep_-_retail_sheet_-_9-22-10.pdf

12:54 PM  

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