There’s more than one kind of crime fiction reader, and I’m the right kind.
Not just because I actually buy books, although that’s good news for the authors I read. What I mean by ‘the right kind’ of reader is that one of the critical elements in crime fiction, for me, is that I’m invested in justice. I want to see the guilty pay.
Sometimes, I think we can dance all around a topic, a philosophy, but then in one simple moment we put our finger on exactly what it is we think and we have clarity. We understand.
I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I’m a bit of a police procedural junkie. And curiously, British police procedurals have dominated my bookshelves. I never understood those who griped about the dominance of police procedurals in the UK market. To me, this just meant more great books to love. Whenever people groaned about another British police procedural, I’d feel my spine stiffen. I felt threatened, like they wanted to put an end to the books I loved. I took the griping personally.
But I never really processed why I loved police procedurals, until last week. I was reading views on a topic on The Billingham Talk Zone and it was only as I read through the various opinions that it finally clicked for me.
I want to know there’s someone else out there, somebody who sees the evils of the world and wants to stop the bad guys. That doesn’t mean I need to see every fictional criminal locked up in every book I read – it isn’t necessarily about succeeding. It’s about connecting, to a character who believes in justice, goes after it, tries to right wrongs.
Now, that doesn’t even mean the book has to be about cops. It’s just that you tend to find that aspect of the story in police procedurals. There are amateur sleuth/PI books that do the same: Cornelia Read’s debut, A Field of Darkness. Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books. John Rickards, in both Winter’s End and The Touch of Ghosts. And I’m curiously invested in Simon Kernick’s character, Dennis Milne. Flawed, yes, but not without redemption. And in some ways, a man more able to deliver justice than the average cop.
Now, you might be surprised at me, saying I’ve only realized this recently. Sandra, you’re writing police procedurals, aren’t you?
Pairing a cop and a reporter as the two protagonists wasn’t something any author I was reading was doing when I started Suspicious Circumstances. Oh, I’m sure other authors were, but it certainly wasn’t about copying or being influenced by someone’s example.
What it was about was going into territory I felt confident with. I could step into the reporter’s shoes. Dealing with police procedure, for me, would be trickier.
But it didn’t really matter for this story, because corruption within the police department is such a key element that most of the time, Lara and Farraday are working well outside of standard procedure. Hell, a cop and a reporter, forced to work together after she’s attacked and they discover a body… Rewind and stop at the cop and reporter working together – this isn’t anything remotely like standard procedure.
Which brings me to another characteristic of the common popular cop. One who ignores their superiors and puts justice and truth ahead of politics and protocol. Why are these characters – Rebus, Thorne, McRae –so popular with readers? Precisely because they’re invested in justice. They say to hell with the politics and do what needs to be done, despite the risks to their career.
I know on the surface, people can look at those behaviours and say they’re reckless and self-destructive, but I think one of the reasons these fictional cops have such a wide appeal is because they put truth above a promotion. Not some ass-kissing political schmoozer who will change position in the blink of an eye. Someone with integrity, even if it’s just to their own moral code.
To me, this is why the police procedural will never die. There are a lot of readers out there who, like me, want to believe that when we’re the victims of a crime, some cop is going to put justice for us ahead of everything else, a cop we can trust, who won’t just go through the motions. We want to believe they’ll actually care.
For me, this is the appeal of reading about cops and writing about cops. Oh, obviously I don’t believe all cops are perfect. Rewind back to what I said about Suspicious Circumstances – corruption within the police department is such a key element that most of the time, Lara and Farraday are working well outside of standard procedure. The underlying themes of justice and trust are the critical elements to the story. As Julia Buckley said after reading it, Everyone in the book suspects somebody of something, not just the cops and reporters, but family members, kids, adults, townspeople. It creates a lot of tension.
Which was the whole idea. ☺ And, I hope, makes the reader that much more invested in seeing the bad guys brought down.
Because when you can’t trust your partner on the police force, standing up for the truth could cost you your life.
Welcome to Farraday’s world.
Are you the ‘right’ kind of reader? Or writer? What is it about crime fiction that appeals to you?
Author of Suspicious Circumstances
On Life and Other Inconveniences
PS: If it’s an average day, I’ll cross the 23,000 visitor mark on my blog today. Thanks to all who read my ramblings. I promise a rant tomorrow like you haven’t seen from me in at least five days…
14 Comments so far
Leave a comment