Archive for April 24, 2009

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I always like reading other people’s lists of their favourite writers and detectives. Michael O’Byrne, former Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, adds a postscript chapter in The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure in which he lists his choices. 

He states “I am probably more comfortable reading police procedural crime which is based abroad, like the books of James Lee Burke and Michael Dibdin, as I know very little about police procedures in either USA or Italy and thus the story never jars if the author gets it wrong.”

James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux, Michael Dibdin and Aurelio Zen, and the third foreign writer that he chooses is Henning Mankell and Kurt Wallander, of whom he writes “……Wallander’s plots keep you involved until the end [except The Dogs of Riga in which his raid of the Latvian police archives is frankly ludicrous].”

This last quote is from the 82 word last sentence of the book, and seemed to me to be a strange way of ending a useful guide. The Dogs of Riga is one of two of Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels that I have not read.
Previously Michael O’Byrne had named his four favourite writers with British based investigators, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, P.D. James and Peter Robinson. 

Do you mind if the author gets it wrong?
Not seriously wrong [e.g light as a feather 3 kg firearms] but wrong enough for a police officer or a crime aficionado looking up a guide to notice that it is wrong. Aren’t plot and character more important than that sort of detail? Of course meticulous research adds to a story but can you still enjoy a book even if you know details of police procedure are far fetched and you have to take some things with a pinch of salt. Would a police officer actually keep his job if he was described thus:

“He is a violent and recovering alcoholic, spends significant parts of books being suspended or under threat of arrest and has as his best friend a homicidal maniac.”

That description could indeed cover more than one detective in crime fiction, and perhaps a few politicians,  as well as Dave Robicheaux. 
Michael O’Byrne is not the only one more comfortable reading crime fiction based abroad as is obvious from today’s Amazon UK crime fiction best seller lists with Lee Child at number one and the Lisbeth Salander series of Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland, sitting at numbers three and five. 

The photo is not of some prison camp in the Third World but of the entrance to our allotments.