RARA-AVIS: The Police Procedural in the '50s

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 30 Jan 2003

As I mentioned last month, the trend to presenting law enforcement as accurately as possible starts to pick up in the '40s with novels like Treat's V AS IN VICTIM, movies like THE NAKED CITY, stage plays like DETECTIVE STORY, and radio shows like DRAGNET.

In the '50s, with DRAGNET simultaneously the most popular drama on both radio and TV, and one of the top-grossing films of all time, the trend starts to build into a wave, and there begins to be a widespread perception that this "semi-documentary" approach represents a new "school" or sub-genre of mystery fiction.

Writers like Ed McBain and John Creasey (as J.J. Marric), frankly admitting to being influenced by DRAGNET, start long-running series about cop characters, basing the "police routine on established investigatory technique," to use McBain's phrase.

Writers who have been known for completely different kinds of mysteries, like Frederic Brown in THE LENIENT BEAST, Herbert Brean in A MATTER OF FACT, and Doris Miles Disney in BLACK MAIL, try their hand at the new form.

In his 1956 "end of the year" column for the N.Y. TIME BOOK REVIEW, mystery critic Anthony Boucher talks about this approach at length, citing DRAGNET as both the exemplar and the root source of the trend, and coins the term "police procedural" to describe it.

The police procedural has arrived.



Mom's twice-postponed surgery is, hopefully, finally taking place tomorrow, 30 Jan. Good thoughts and prayers during this day in particular would be especially appreciated.

Thanks again for all the support.


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