Friday, March 6, 2009

Is it a police procedural or a PI or...?

Several years ago I was scheduled to teach a lit class that focused on mystery works. Unfortunately the class didn't make it, but I did do some preparation for it, before it was cancelled. I developed a scheme for categorizing the varieties of mysteries that are now found on the shelves. But, since many mysteries seem to perch on the boundary lines of two or more categories, this would make for an interesting discussion. I arbitrarily selected the detective's occupation as the most significant element in deciding which category would be appropriate.

I thought I would list them here, along with definitions and examples, if I can come up with any, to see if you think this is useful. This is definitely a "work in progress," so if you have any suggestions, changes, or disagreements, post a comment.

1. Police procedural: any member of a governmental law enforcement agency--Scotland Yard, NYPD, small town police department, sheriff's department.

PD James--Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, England, Scotland Yard
Batya Gur--Inspector Michael Ohayon, Israel, Jerusalem CID
Giles Blunt--Detective John Cardinal, Canada, Algonquin Bay police dept.
Michael Connelly--Detective Harry Bosch, US, LAPD police dept.
Karin Fossum--Inspector Konrad Sejer, Norway, police dept.
Numerous others--I think there are now police procedurals from every continent on the planet (except
, possibly, Antarctica).

2. Private professional: any investigator who conducts investigations at the request of others for pay. This is the PI, in other words, regardless of what title is used: private investigator, private detective, inquiry agent, shamus, or various others.

Arthur Conan Doyle--probably invented this category, Sherlock Holmes, England
Raymond Chandler--Philip Marlowe, US
Dashiell Hammett--Sam Spade, US
Sue Grafton--Kinsey Millhone, US
PD James--Cordelia Gray, England
Alexander McCall Smith--Precious Ramotswe, Botswana
Steven Saylor--Gordianus the Finder, 1st novel at 80 b.c. and latest at 46 b.c., Rome

Sara Paretsky-- V. I. Warshawski, US

3. The Accidental Detective: a private citizen who gets involved in a mystery, frequently a death of a friend or relative. The authorities have written it off as an accident or suicide; however, the accidental detective knows better. The character remains an "accidental detective" if there is no second book; however, as soon as the second adventure appears, the character is now a "talented amateur."

PD James--
Innocent Blood, England
Steve Berry--The Charlemagne Pursuit

4. Talented Amateur: a private citizen who stumbles over bodies and crimes around every corner, regardless of their day job, or lack thereof--any of a plethora of cooks, caterers, knitters, gardeners, dog trainers, swimming pool cleaners, elevator operators, faculty members,
mystery writers, pet sitters, members of the aristocracy....


Edgar Allan Poe--C. Auguste Dupin, independently wealthy, France
Agatha Christie--Miss Marple, senior citizen, England
Margery Allingham--Albert Campion, unknown, England
Dorothy L. Sayers--Lord Peter Wimsey, aristocracy, England
Edmund Crispin--Gervase Fen, Literature professor, Oxford, England
Ellis Peters--Brother Cadfael, Benedictine monk, England, 12th century.

5. Technical professionals or experts: CSI, crime lab, pathologists, coroners, medical examiners, consultants. . .all of whom spend more time doing police investigations than working in the laboratory as they are being paid to do or perhaps doing their day job .

Patricia Cornwell, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, US.
Bernard Knight--Sir John de Wolfe, appointee to protect the Crown's interests in various situations, including that of possible criminal activity; his position eventually became what we now call the coroner.
12th century England.

6. Judicial detectives: any of a number of members of the judicial system who spend more time acting like police and almost no time doing the job they are being paid to do: lawyers, judges, defense attorneys, bailiffs, bounty hunters, prosecutors, district attorneys.

Erle Stanley Gardner--Perry Mason (who else?), defense attorney, US.
Janet Evanovich--Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, US
Linda Fairstein--Alexandra Cooper, assistant prosecutor,, US.

The above is subject to revision, naturally. If one or more belong in another category let me know. If I'm missing a category, let me know.

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