Re: RARA-AVIS: procedurals?

Date: 20 Aug 2002


Re your comment below:

> For my own purposes, I always class this kind of
> book as a "Detective
> Inspector Novel". I feel that police procedurals,
> strictly, are ensemble
> stories, and that they should have a kind of
> detached flatness or objectivity
> to them - the actual activities of the cops, in a
> largely unglamourised
> manner, should be central to every scene, and
> pre-eminent in the book as a
> whole.

A police procedural is nothing more or less than a crime story in which the accurate depiction of police work is the central element. Here's what it is NOT:

It's not necessarily an ensemble. What if the department being depicted is a one-man department. There are over three hundred one-officer departments in the US. An officer working in a department for which s/he is the full complement of manpower CAN'T be part of an ensemble because he's all there is. Further, defining a procedural as an ensemble automatically rules out any book featuring a first-person protagonist. If the raison d'etre of a police procedural is accuracy in the depiction of law enforcement, and that's how Boucher defined it when he coined the term, than to say it MUST have an ensemble cast means that any book accurately depicting rural law enforcement, which is often performed alone, and, as I said, in the case of more than 300 US police agencies is ALWAYS performed alone, isn't actually a procedural, that the procedural is always urban, which is silly.

While such a protagonist may be part of a team, the other members of the team are necessarily supporting actors in the plot rather than co-equal ensemble members. If you rule out first-person narrators (as you must if procedurals are defined as only being ensembles) then you rule out the definitive procedural, DRAGNET; you rule out Jonathan Craig; you rule out Collin Wilcox; and, it just so happens, you rule out me.

As for law enforcement being pre-eminent to every scene in the book, what about Steve Carella's home life in the 87th Precinct books, or George Gideon's in the Gideon books? What about Joe Friday's various girl friends in DRAGNET? What about scenes in which the criminal takes center stage so we can get a reminder of what the heroes are fighting against. Are the 87th Precinct novels involving The Deaf Man non-procedurals because a good protion of those books are spent wathcing the villain plan his caper? Are the scenes depicting OC figure Dixie Costello in Maurice Procter's Harry Martineau books non-procedurals for taking the focus away from Martineau and his squad for parts of the book? Surely not.

If the police work is a central element of the book, and it's presented accurately (or at least purports to be depicted accurately) it's a procedural, pure, plain, and simple.


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