RARA-AVIS: British Cop-Novelists (long post)

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 31 Jul 2002

Before UK month ended I thought I'd comment on a few of the professional British police officers who've written police procedurals as sort of a follo-wup to similar posts during the LA and San Francisco months.

BASIL THOMSON: Thomson was a professional upper-calss civil servant who'd been everything from prime minister of a small island colony to a prison warden when he was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard in charge of the CID and Special Branch. He's appeared as a character in John Gardner's historical epsionage/family saga books (THE SECRET GENERATIONS, etc.). Though he was nominally a police officer, Thomson never patrolled a beat or personally investigated a case, as far as I know, but he did write some of the first genuine police procedurals, and he was one of the firt law enforcement professionals to do so. His most popular series followed the career of a Scotland Yard officer named Richardson as he advanced from uniformed constable to detective superintendant. The first book was called P.C. RICHARDSON'S FIRST CASE. His books are hard to find, so I can't provide any personal comments. However, given Thomson's background, and the era, these books, despite the presumably authentic police work depicted, probably wouldn't quite pass muster as HB. That's and educated guess, however, not an informed opinion.

MAURICE PROCTER: Procter was the real thing, a beat bobby for the Halifax Borough Police in North England for twenty years who turned his experiences into highly readable fiction, and one of the first real cops anywhere in the world to do so. His first two books, years before Wambaugh and roughly parallel to MacKinlay Kantor's SIGNAL 32, were "straight" novels that happened to be about cops, EACH MAN'S DESTINY and NO PROUD CHIVALRY. He then wrote towo books about a Scotland Yard inspector named Hunter investigating nasty murders in the hinterlands, THE PENNYCROSS MURDERS (in the UK THE CHIEF INSPECTOR'S STATEMENT) and THE RIPPER (in the UK I WILL SPEAK DAGGERS), both excellent. One of his most highly regarded books was a one-shot entitled THE PUB CRAWLER about a rooki cop on an undercover assignment. His most popular series character, Harry Martineau, was a middle-management detective in the police force of "Granchester" (i.e. Manchester), who was introduced in SOMEWHERE IN THIS CITY (in the UK HELL IS A CITY). McBain is often credited with introducing the "series villain" to the police procedural with his "Deaf Man" character, but Procter beat him to that concept with his character Dixie Costello, Granchester's most powerful Organized Crime figure who always manages to slip out of Martineau's grasp. Procter, whose working clas characters were genuinely hard-boiled, was a solid writer, a seminal figure in the history of the police procedural, and is unfortunately not well-rememebered today.

JONATHAN ROSS/JOHN ROSSITER Another North England cop. As "Ross," a pseudonym he adopted because he was still a serving Detective Chief Superintendant when he started writing, he's published a long series of novels about George Rogers, another middle-level detective in an unnamed North England force. Under his own name he's written a series of spy novel about an ex-cop turned secret agent, and three excellent one-shot cop novels, THE MANIPULATORS, THE VILLAINS, and THE VICTIMS, in which he criticizes various aspects of Britain's criminal justice system.

JOHN WAINWRIGHT Yet another North Engand cop, Wainwright, spent twenty years as a constable in the County Constabulary of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is the setting for most of his police novels, though he changes the names of the locales. Hence, Leeds becomes "Lessford," Bradford becomes "Bordfield," and the surrounding county area is, I suppose, "Lessfordshire." Wainwright's sense of place is especially strong, and his styule is incredibly tough and fast-moving. Wainwright has actually achieved the ideal of a "group series hero" that McBain approached with his 87th Precinct series. The protagonist in one Wainwright novel, might be only a supporting character in a second, and might not appear at all in a third. The most prominent cop in the series is probably Charles Riply, who, despite dying fairly early in the series, casts such a long shadow that characters still refer to him as a legendary figure years later. An incredibly prolific writer, Wainwright steps up to the plate too many times to always hit a home run, but when he's on his game, he's the best cop-writer there is. I'd nominate ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY as one of the best police novels ever written.

HAMILTON JOBSON Another North England copper! What is it about those Yorkshire cops? Jobson character, Matt Anders, often plays only a supporting role, as the books focus on victims and, occasionally, criminals.

PETER HILL The dust jacket bio say only that he was once in the CID. Presumably that was in the London Metropolitan Police, since his books always feature Scotland Yarders. He's written one series about a team of homicide specialists from the Yard, a working class Detective Chief Superintendant and his assistant, an upper-class detective inspector. A second series features a terrorist expert from the Yard named Dice.

PETER WALKER Another North England cop!?! Doesn't anyone from the south of England write? Walker's written two series under his own name, one about a Scotland Yard undercover specialist named Carnaby introduced in Walker's first book CARNABY AND THE HIJACKERS, and one about a team of cops in a provincial force intorudced in PANDA ONE INVESTIGATES. As "Andres Arncliffe" Walker won a CWA award for "Most Authentic Police Novel" for MURDER AFTER THE HOLIDAY. Some of his books are hard-boiled, but he's best-known as
"Nicholas Rhea," under which name he's written an extraordinarily popular series of books about a gentle, friendly rural bobby introduced in CONSTABLE ON THE HILL. These books, based closely on Hill's own experiences (the lead character is also named Nicholas Rhea, and the stories are told in the first person) might be described as being to law enforcement what the James Herriot's books are to veterinary medicine. They've become the basis of a TV series called HEARTBEAT (Get it? Constable Nick patrols his beat with a compassionate heart.) which I understand is very popular in the UK.

ROGER BUSBY I'm not really sure this guy's an actual cop, but he's listed as a former reporter who now serves (or has served) as the press officer for yet another northern force. Whether this makes him an actual policeman or a civilian employee isn't clear. In any case, he's written quite a few cop novels, most of which aren't available in the US. One which is, SNOW MAN, is about a Scotland Yarder, a West German cop, and an American DEA agent teamed up against an international drug ring. He got one of the CAW "most authentic police novel" awards for this book.

GRAHAM ISON Ison was a Detective Chief Superintendant in Soctland Yard's Special Branch, which is the Met detail assigned to domestic ounter-espionage novels. Ison's books feature, not surprisingly, a Special Branch DCS, and are interesting blends of the spy novel and the police procedural. The only two which have appeared in the US are CONFIRM OR DENY and THE HOME SECRETARY WILL SEE YOU NOW.

UK cop novels tend to be a bit softer-edged than their American counterparts, but those written by real cops have a distinctively British, stiff-upper-lip toughness about them, and those written by Yorkshiremen have a particularly no-nonsene clarity in their writing style. Wainwright in particular is as tough as anyone writing on this side of the pond, and a lot tougher than most.

What strikes me most about these writers is, differences in procedures, laws, and language aside, how mcuh their attitudes and world views coincide with their US colleagues.


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