Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V4 #459

Date: 13 Aug 2002


Re your comments below:
> Jim, I have read them. And I've been struck before
> now by the
> unprocedural nature of Rebus' actions. I'm
> unrepentant: as I read
> them, these books have a protagonist who is almost a
> type of private
> eye, a man who fights more against procedures than
> with them, and
> whose moral hang-ups are personal. He does not hide
> behind his rank
> or status, and the depiction of law enforcement is
> only marginally
> accurate. Indeed its detailed accuracy would
> be almost
> irrelevant to the books.
> I have no sense that Ian is, or has ever been,
> especially interested
> in this kind of thing.

Is it your contention that no real police officer ever acts the way Rebus does? That there are none who do not "hide behind their rank or status" who ignore procedure in order to get the job done? I can assure you that there are many. As for the "marginal accuracy" of his law enforcement depiction, you're probably in a better position to judge that then I am, but he's talked about researching police work at panels I've attended, and he credits police technical advisors at the beginnings of the books, so the APPEARANCE of technical accuracy is apparently important to him. Plenty of writerS of purported police prcedurals have been infamously inaccurate in their depiction of law enforcement (Elizabeth Linnington under her own name and many pseudonyms is perhaps the best example of this). It doesn't make the books "not" procedurals, any more than failing to play fair and give all the clues to the reader makes a
"classic-style" traditional mystery any less
"classic-style." It just means that the writers are cheating their readers out of what they have led their readers to expect. Rankin writes cop stories that are deliberately designed to give the impression of verisimilitude (and I'm willing to take him at his word that they actually are accurate). Therefore, whatever else they are, they're police procedurals.
> There are real problems with PIs in a British
> context, you see, and
> various ways of solving the problem have been
> attempted by a number
> of writers. Some authors have solved these
> problems by developing
> police protagonists whose actions are ultimately
> maverick. By your
> own nothing-more-nothing-less-main-interest
> definition, the books
> just don't really qualify.

Sure they do. Even if, as you suggest, the books aren't really technically accurate, they are deliberately written, and presented, to give the APPEARANCE of technical accuracy and realism.

Now I'll grant you that purporting to be technically accurate and then not delivering isn't really cricket, but a writer who hums a few bars and then fakes it is clearly trying coat-tail writers who actually study the music. Their books may be "procedural" only in appearance and not in fact, but they ARE procedurals.

I think the reluctance of at least some readers to regard a particular book or writer as being in this sub-genre stems from an antipathy to the sub-genre to begin with, which, in turn, leads to faulty syllogistic reasoning:

1) I don't like the works of Jack Webb (Ed McBain, J.J. Marric, or some other writer who's regarded as a quintessential procedural writer).

2) Their books are considered "quintessential" examples of the police procedural.

3) Therefore, I must not like police procedurals.

Which leads to further faulty syllogisms when they bump up against a cop-writer they DO like:

1) I don't like police procedurals

2) I like Ian Rankin (Sjowall & Wahloo, William McIlvanney, Tony Hillerman, or some other more inconoclastic cop-writer).

3) Therefore, the books these writers write must not be police procedurals.

I repeat, if the novel is about a police investigation, and the police work is realistically depicted (or at least appears realistic), then it's a police procedural. And that, your objections notwithstanding, really IS all there is to it.



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