Re: RARA-AVIS: Jim Doherty's Favorites

Date: 30 Sep 2002


Re your request below:

> Could you give us all an evaluative list,
> say your top 10 favorite
> procedural writers (and, no, I'm not suggesting we
> do another list-a-thon)?
> I'll also vaguely define "favorite" as the authors
> you most enjoy reading. I
> think I have John Wainwright at the top of your
> list, but who comes next?

Since it's the last day of "Procedural Month," it seemed like a good time to respons to your question.

Here are my Top Ten cop writers, in alphabetical order:

DALLAS BARNES: Who I mentioned some time ago in a post called
"Angeleno Cop-Writers." Not as ambitious as Joseph Wambaugh (on whose coat-tails he was sailing), but, on that account, more successfulfor me. His novels about LAPD's Southwest Divisional Station, where he served as a detective for several years, could have become the West Coast version of the 87th Precinct had ne not been seduced by television.

JOHN CREASEY (J.J. MARRIC): Creator of two classic Scotland Yard-based series cops, Roger West under his own name, and George Gideon as Marric. His own favorite among his hundreds of books was a later West entry, LOOK THREE WAYS AT MURDER.

TONY HILLERMAN: Wonderful writing, wonderful settings, wonderful characters, wonderful research, wonderful plotting, wonderful story-telling ability. 'Nuff said.

ED McBAIN: Creator of the 87th Precinct, except for DRAGNET, the most famous example of the police procedural sub-genre. Unlike many long-running series, McBain's kept an amazingly high, amazingly even quality over the years, though I confess I like the early entries best.

GERALD PETIEVITCH: My favorite Fed. His lean, mean, stripped-down prose style, and ultra-profesional cop characters make him the Hammett of procedural writers.

MAURICE PROCTER: Unjustly forgotten, this North Englan copper was the real deal, an honest-to-God career bobby (as opposed to a senior civil servant put in charge of a police force at some point in his career) whose characters were realistic working-class law enforcement professionals.

MAJ SJOWALL and PER WAHLOO: Unrepentant Marxists they may have been, but they sure could write, and the Beck novels are among the finest cop novels ever published.

DOROTHY UHNAK: Tough but compassionate, much like her characters. As I said earlier this month, not nearly enough credit goes to her for starting the trend of cops writing novels AND the trend of women authors creating tough, professional, female detectives.

JOHN WAINWRIGHT: Another North England cop who put his experience into his novels. He doesn't belt it out of the park every time he steps up to bat, but when he's on his game, there's no one better.

THOMAS WALSH: The last of "Cap" Shaw's original "Black Mask Boys" to still be actively writing (his "Best Man" is the only genuine procedural in Shaw's HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS, and his "Chance After Chance" won him his second Edgar in the '80s), former police reporter Walsh managed better than just about any other writer to capture the Irish-American culture of Depression-era and post-war New York cops. Out of nearly a dozen novels only four were about cops, but 80 to 90 per cent of his hundreds of short stories, in pulps, slicks, and digests were procedurals.

Authors may make a list like this on the basis of consistent work over time, as opposed to a single great novel. ANd, on the other hand, a novel may make a top ten list without its author being on the corresponding author's list, because they don't specialize in procedurals or don't have a large enough body of work. Here're my top ten cop novels, in publication order.

NIGHTMARE IN MANHATTAN by Thomas Walsh SIGNAL 32 by McKinlay Kantor LAST SEEN WEARING . . . by Hillary Waugh GIDEON'S WEEK by J.J. Marric THE HECKLER by Ed McBain THE BAIT by Dorothy Uhnak THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo LISTENING WOMAN by Tony Hillerman ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY by John Wainwright THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris

Thank for having a Procedural Month, Bill. I really enjoyed it.


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