You’ve Been Getting Quite a Name All Around the Place*

Most police detectives don’t do what they do for the glory and fame. And, yet, sometimes, it happens. For instance, Eliot Ness gained quite a lot of fame in the wake of the Al Capone case. There are other examples, too, in real life. It sometimes happens in crime fiction as well, and it can add to a story. There can bebresentment among colleagues, unrealistic expectations, and more.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings work with Chief Inspector Japp and other police to find a killer who’s struck several times. The only things the victims have in common are that a cryptic warning note is sent to Poirot before each murder, and an ABC railway guide is found near each body. One of the detectives who works on the case is Inspector Crome, who’s recently gotten a lot of notice for his part in solving a series of child murders. On the one hand, he’s a smart detective, and the police can use his expertise. On the other, he’s a bit full of himself. When others on the team mention something that might be useful, Crome’s response is a condescending, ‘Oh, yes?’ and a change of subject. Hastings, who doesn’t like Crome’s manner, gets annoyed more than once. It turns out that these cases are not the work of a psychopath, as Crome thinks, but are part of a deliberate plan.


Tony Hillerman’s Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is a member of the Navajo Tribal (now Navajo Nation) Police. He’s a skilled detective, although he’s not vain or ego driven. He does have a reputation, though, for being excellent.  In fact, he’s known as ‘the Legendary Lieutenant.’ Leaphorn himself doesn’t believe the hype, but the word has still gotten around. In fact, when Hillerman’s other protagonist, Sergeant Jim Chee, finds out he’ll be working with Leaphorn, he has his moments of insecurity. As it happens, the two work fairly well together, although they take different perspectives on some things. And Chee learns that Leaphorn is a capable leader from whom he can learn. In this case, the fact that Leaphorn is a sort of ‘star’ hasn’t really impacted the way he does his job or interacts with others.

It’s not always that easy to have a ‘star’ reputation, though. In some cases, it can breed resentment. For instance, Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker takes place in 1960’s Glasgow, where there’ve been three murders. All three victims were women who had visited the same dance hall, although they didn’t know each other, and nothing else connects them. The local police haven’t made the headway they should, and the press and public are fed up. Duncan McCormick is an up-and-coming ‘star’ from the Highlands who’s sent to Glasgow to help with the cases. Needless to say, the local police do not appreciate him. He’s not fond of them, either, as it doesn’t at first seem that they’ve really been doing the job. As time goes by, McCormick learns more about the cases and the men working them. He comes to have a bit of respect for what they do, and for their part, they see that he’s working hard, just as they are, and that he has solid ideas. Being a ‘golden child’ never endears McCormick to his Glasgow colleagues, but they do learn to respect each other.

It’s a bit easier for Claire McGowan’s Paula Mcguire, whom we first meet in The Lost. She’s a London-based forensic psychologist who works with police on different cases, mostly related to missing persons. She’s begun to make a name for herself and is asked to return to her hometown of Ballyterrin, in Northern Ireland, to help set up a cold case review team. The plan has been spurred on by the disappearance of two teens, Magella Ward and Cathy Carr. The squad starts looking into the matter, and it’s not long before Cathy, tragically, is found dead. Now the squad turns its attention to looking for Magella, and to finding out who’s behind these abductions. McGuire doesn’t really get the ’star treatment;’ she’s from Ballyterrin and people there still think of her as ‘wee Paula.’ In a way, that makes it easier for her to be accepted and lead the team. And in the end, she finds out the truth about the disappearances.

Sometimes, having a ‘star’ reputation means that the word gets passed around, and that can lead to people seeking someone out. That’s the case with Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee. She’s a forensic accountant who is very, very good at finding money that people are trying to hide. She works with a Hong Kong based company that’s in the business of recovering money for victims of swindlers. These are people who are desperate to get their money back and have no other recourse. The company isn’t big, but word has gotten around that Ava can find stolen money when most other people can’t. Clients refer others to the business, and Ava is rarely short of work…

It’s always good to be good at what you do, but a ‘star’ reputation can have its drawbacks, too. The same skill that brings kudos, promotions, and the like, can also breed resentment and more. And that can add a layer to a story.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s King Herod’s Song.



10 thoughts on “You’ve Been Getting Quite a Name All Around the Place*

  1. I found interesting your perspective on Ava Lee as a “star”. She and Uncle were discreet. They achieved their fame through word of mouth. In the age of electronic communication they were an anomaly. Neither Facebookers nor Instagrammers nor Tweeters they never sought attention yet they thrived. Word of mouth is so important as we all trust recommendations from people we know and trust.


    1. You are absolutely right, Bill, about Ava Lee (and Uncle) and the need for discretion. Word of mouth is exactly how they get their clientele. I thought of her as a sort of star, not because there are big announcements, etc., about her, but for exactly the reason you bring up. Word about how good she and Uncle are has spread around through word of mouth. It’s admittedly a different sort of way to become a ‘star,’ but for Ava and Uncle, it’s worked.


  2. Interesting post, Margot. Not sure I’ve come across the superstar investigator much. Maybe a few PIs with a high opinion of themselves. I must try and read The Quaker. I enjoyed the book which followed it – The Heretic. The McIlvanney’s were/are a talented bunch.


    1. Ha! Yes, there are definitely fictional PIs who have very good opinions of themselves, no doubt of that! I really do hope you get to read The Quaker. I think you’d like it very much.


  3. I was reminded of the Great Fred, the renowned police officer who locks horns with amateur, Joseph Rouletabille, in the classic Mystery of the Yellow Room. Now that was some police officer:)


  4. I love Ava Lee as a character, Margot, and the books are very interesting. There was one that got a little violent for me, The Disciple of Las Vegas, but I always like the relationships she has (Uncle, her mother).


    1. I like Ava Lee a lot, too, Tracy. She’s a very interesting character, and she has a strong presence on the page. I agree that some of the stories have gotten very violent (more violent than I prefer), but in the main, they are well-written, and, yes, Ava has well-drawn relationships with Uncle and with her mother.


  5. I can think of quite a lot of ‘stars’ in vintage crime, but not in contemporary crime to the same degree – maybe because contemporary ‘tecs are often police officers, where stardom isn’t a criterion for the job? Private ‘tecs need a degree of stardom in order to get work, I suppose.


    1. Oh, that’s an interesting point, FictionFan! You don’t often see the ‘star detective’ in contemporary crime fiction, and you’re right; you don’t need to be a star to be a good detective. I can certainly see your point. I wonder, too, whether it makes a difference if the sleuth is an ‘everyday person’ (as opposed to a PI or a police officer)? Hmmm… good ‘food for thought,’ for which thanks!

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