Should we have more “normal” cops in crime fiction?

An article in The Guardian this week quotes the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Mr Nick Gargan, saying the portrayal of police officers in crime fiction is inaccurate. We are used to our main characters being “damaged goods” – drinking too much, paying little attention to the orders of superiors, having no life beyond each case (which will then go on to take over said life), leaving a trail of disastrous relationships in their wake (with partners, children, parents, siblings…) Could we imagine John Rebus going home to a nice semi, with a nice wife, eating a healthy meal, watching Location x3, then going to bed in his tastefully decorated bedroom? It wouldn’t make for very exciting books, and I certainly prefer the Rebus who falls asleep in his living room after a night in the Oxford Bar, a glass of good malt by his side, and Alex Harvey or Exile on Main Street on the turntable – no iPod or even CDs for Rebus.

Of COURSE we all know crimes are solved by teams of detectives, not “lone wolves” who disappear on a “hunch”, but, again, that wouldn’t make for a dramatic read. The clue, Chief Constable Gargan, is in the name – it’s called crime “fiction” for a reason. And I can’t see it becoming more realistic any time soon.

13 thoughts on “Should we have more “normal” cops in crime fiction?

    • Very true! I’ve only read a few in the series, but Alex Gray’s protagonist, whose name currently escapes me (perhaps it’s Latimer?) seemed to have a remarkably solid home life and a very understanding teacher wife. Although maybe in the later books it all goes tits up! There’s definitely a presumption that murder detectives have some kind of “demon”. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I guess wrestling with said demons helps keep the word count up when you’ve got a deadline looming!


    • By the way, I’d just like to say I follow your blog/reviews and I really enjoy them. I’m not that great with technology so I’m kind of feeling my way through WordPress, but I’ve met some really nice helpful fellow bloggers, and their support has been wonderful.


      • Thanks! I really enjoy blogging although I can only really work on my blog in bursts due to having a young son. It gets easier the more you do (as you’ve probably discovered by now!).
        I originally thought that doing reading challenges and memes would be a bit too much hard work but I love them. I picked three quite niche reading challenges that interest me (I studied both literature – including post colonial – and Japanese at uni) and the one meme I’m involved in (6 Degrees of Separation) is a monthly one which suits my posting schedule!


      • I do need to update my ‘About’ page… Thanks for the idea!

        It doesn’t really mean anything. I was looking for a name that wasn’t too cutesy. In Australia I used to drink Orange Pekoe flavoured tea which is similar to the UK’s Lady Grey but richer. I thought the name sounded exactly like what I was looking for.


  1. You could make a case for Kerry Wilkinson’s Jessica Daniel being normal, although she might be heading for a nervous breakdown or something – only on book three so far…Kate Ellis’s Wesley Peterson is perfectly normal, as is (I think) Steve Carella (and some of his colleagues) of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct. Peter Diamond, certainly in the more recent Peter Lovesey novels.

    Yes, they’re in a minority, but I think it’s considered necessary for a book to sell to have a personal element to the plot, which is easier for the wirter if the character has some personal scars. I’ve read too many books where the mystery is sacrificed, or is far too obvious, because the writer is too fascinated by the lead characters drinking problems and/or love life. It’s certainly not what I want the focus of the book to be,

    Certain authors (e.g. Mark Billingham) know how to balance the two things, but too many get the balance wrong (for me at least). But these are the books that tend to sell, so what do I know?


  2. Inspector Morse was fairly normal, with just his pint of bitter and love of opera, although I seem to remember none of his liaisons with his well-preserved ladies seemed to last beyond each case. Kate Ellis has been on my radar for a while, as has Jessica Wilkinson, though not so much so – would you recommend them? I’m on a “book diet” at present, as we’re moving house…it also means my other half has seen just how many books I have. And that’s omitting the contents of the Kindle….

    I agree with you, re Tom Thorne. Mark Billingham gets it just about right.


  3. Hey, I posted about this on the weekend, too.

    There’s nothing wrong with depicting such characters but like others have said they would be in the minority. For entertainment, I like flawed characters. Perfect people are boring to me. But if such cops are written in such a way, the author would have to be creative in keeping his readers attention but like Ian Rankin said in the article, to write a realistic depiction of the police department would be the most boring book in the world and yes, this is fiction after all.


    • Totally agree with you Keishon; after all, as well as the “crime” part of the story, you’ve got to have some personal stuff about your detectives (or whoever your crime-solving character is) and relationships between them and co-workers, family, partners, children, etc. It fleshes out the character, making them stronger, and (generally) more likeable. A mega-dull pen-pusher wouldn’t have me excited about a novel…nor anyone else, I suspect. @PuzzleDoctor just noticed today I’ve a Kerry Wilkinson in the Kindle so I’ll add that to the virtual stack!


  4. I have to admit I like my detectives to have a back story but I think the ‘damaged lone-wolf’ cop is becoming rarer than it was. I think Tom Thorne is fairly normal and Aector MacAvoy who features in David Mark’s books is the nicest cop in Hull.


    • I’m hearing so much good stuff about David Mark’s books and Aector MacAvoy; MORE to add to the stacks! Any other fans out there? Would you recommend him, crime fans? Or any others for me? (I’m my own worst enemy, asking a question like this with my TBR pile!)


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