RARA-AVIS: Re:Police Procedurals

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 Jul 2007


Re your question below:

"I am really big fan of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, so I sought out other police procedurals. I went to

http://www.answers. com/topic/ police-procedural

and it had a British and an American top 10 list. . . Any other ideas?"

Back in September 2002, the monthly topic was police procedurals. At that time I offered a list of my top ten police procedural authors and wrote the following about them:

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.

I also listed the following ten books as my top ten police procedural novels, listig them in chronological 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

As for Wambaugh, you asked how THE CHOIR BOYS compares to THE ONION FIELD. The first is a novel, the second is non-fiction, so it's not really fair to compare them.

THE CHOIR BOYS is kind of to the police procedural what M*A*S*H is to military fiction, a black, and even tragic comedy, much as that might seem an oxymoron.

Hope that helps.


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