I’ll Be There For You*

Police detectives can easily find themselves in a life-or-death situation. That’s one reason why, most of the time, they work with partners. Police have to trust each other, especially when there’s real danger. If your partner’s not trustworthy, you might not come out alive. It’s also, arguably, one reason why the fictional ‘maverick’ police detective isn’t realistic. In real life, that kind of detective wouldn’t easily be trusted, and could easily be killed.

There are plenty of crime novels where we see how police partners back each other up, take care of each other, and feel a sense of responsibility for each other. For example, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series features a group of detectives who work together. They’re far from perfect, and they have their disagreements – even quarrels – with each other. But when they’re on a case, they take care of each other and help each other. Fans of these series will know that some of the cops (‘Fat Ollie’ Weeks and Roger Havilland, for instance) are not nice people. Their colleagues don’t want to work with them and avoid them whenever possible. But in the main, it’s a group of flawed individuals trying to be good cops. They know that they have to depend on each other, too, and they do their best to be there for each other.

Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys is the story of a group of LAPD police officers who gather sometimes at Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park. They vent, they drink, they share confidences with each other, and sometimes keep company with a couple of cocktail waitresses who join the group now and then. They call these informal get-togethers ‘choir practice’ (hence the name ‘the Choirboys). When a young man is murdered in the park, these cops come under investigation. As they do, we learn more about each of them. We also see how the members of this group stick together, support each other, and take care of each other. They know that if they go into a dangerous situation, they need to know that their partners will look out for them, so the members of the group are very loyal to one another, even in the midst of an internal investigation.

As Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series begins, Kerrigan is new to the murder task force. She very much wants to make good on this assignment; and for that, she’s going to need the support of her fellow coppers. It doesn’t come easily, though. For one thing, several of the men feel uncomfortable working with a woman, and don’t think she’ll succeed. And their lives depend on all of the members being able to do the job. As the series goes on, Kerrigan’s colleagues see that she is capable and trustworthy. She makes mistakes, as we all do, but she can be depended on when it’s needed. And in turn, Kerrigan begins to trust her colleagues, too. It’s delicate at times, but as the series progresses, we see how important it is for police to work with people they can trust absolutely.

As Cat Connor’s Ellie Iverson series begins, Ellie is an FBI special agent. She and her teammates depend on each other, and they know they have to trust each other with their lives. They’re also supportive of each other outside the office. As time goes on, Ellie becomes a supervisory special agent (SSA), leading her own small team. She learns how to help the team members function as a unit, and she does her part to support each team member. For their part, the people she supervises work together and take care of each other. Later in the series, Ellie becomes a special agent in charge (SAC). This means that she supervises several team leaders. When there are major operations, the different teams have to coordinate their efforts, work together, and quite literally have each other’s backs. There’s no room for ‘mavericks’ or for ‘glory-grabbers;’ everyone has to work as a team. And as the novels go on, we see how these team members do genuinely care about each other and risk their lives for each other.

That sense of trust in one’s teammates is so important that, when it’s missing, a police officer can be in real danger. Certainly it’s a very isolating experience. Just ask Garry Disher’s Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen, whom we first meet in Bitter Wash Road. As the novel begins, he’s just been stationed in Tiverton, a rural town in South Australia. He’s been exiled from his post in Adelaide because he got a reputation as a ‘whistleblower’ during an internal investigation. Needless to say, he is not treated kindly by his new colleagues; ‘maggot’ is the nicest name they call him. They sabotage his work and do whatever they can to make life miserable for him. Against this backdrop, he investigates when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is found by the side of Bitter Wash Road. It’s a difficult investigation that leads to some high places, and it’s made even harder by the fact that Hirsch has no support from his fellow officers.

And that’s the thing about police work. It can be dirty, ugly, incredibly stressful, and draining. It can also be extremely dangerous. So, police officers have to depend on each other.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rembrandts’ I’ll Be There For You.


10 thoughts on “I’ll Be There For You*

  1. Police procedural mysteries are among my favorite subgenre. Bangkok 8 was the mystery that I read most recently that fits that definition, sort of. And it is definitely about two policemen who were partners, but in that case one of them has just died and the other is seeking revenge for his death. I loved that book.

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    1. I really enjoyed Bangkok 8, too, Tracy. It’s a well-told story, and you’re absolutely right about the relationship between Sonchai and Pichai. They take care of each other and are friends, and you can see how that death has a real impact because of that friendship. I’m very glad you brought that one up; it really is a clear example of what I had in mind with this post.

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  2. You remind us all of the importance of having people around you in whom you can trust. Harry Bosch has had as many or more partners than anyone I can think of in crime fiction. They include Jerry Edgar, Kiz Rider, Rachel Walling, Lucia Soto, Bella Lourdes and Renée Ballard, Possibly most striking is the number of women with whom he has been partners. Harry is fiercely loyal to all of them. If trouble arises he will be shoulder to shoulder.

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    1. You’re quite right, Bill. Bosch has had a lot of police partners, and yes, he is fiercely loyal to them. Even when they have personal disagreements, he stands by them. It’s part of his personal ethic, and part of what makes him appealing as a character, at least in my opinion.

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  3. Great post, Margot – I absolutely love an ensemble cast police procedural series, so of course the McBains have been long-time favourites. Such a great team! I also think the Martin Beck books were good for this. And of course the wonderful Hill Street Blues transferred this brilliantly to the small screen.

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    1. Thanks, KBR. I’m so glad you mentioned the Martin Beck series; I think it’s a classic in ensemble police procedurals, and of course, the stories themselves are very well written. I agree completely about Hill Street Blues. It was an excellent show with brilliant casting and writing. And, yes, it really did show how police work together and support each other.

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  4. I always find books more believable when the police work as a functional team rather than having a maverick cop as the brilliant detective. PIs can be maverick, but I doubt any maverick would be kept on the police force for long. You’ve reminded me I meant to read more of the 87th Precinct novels… *sighs* 😉

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    1. I agree with you 100% FictionFan. It’s much more authentic when the police work as a functional team. My guess is that you’re right about mavericks not being kept on the force long. The police can’t risk someone like that who can’t be a useful part of a team. It’s one reason I’m fairly particular about the police procedurals that I read. If it isn’t a police team, that pulls me out of the story. And as for the 87th Precinct series, I’d love to read all of those novels, too, but with so many, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon…

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  5. Thanks for the reminder of the Disher series, Margot. It’s not one I’ve tried yet. I do like the team element of police procedurals, even when some of the dynamics are less than positive. I’m reminded of Leif Persson’s Evert Bsckstrom. At least his dickishness allows his colleagues to bind closer together.

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    1. Oh, I hope you do try the Disher series, Col. Hirsch is a good character, and I think there’s a lot to like about the books. I feel they have a solid sense of place and an effective atmosphere. Thanks, too, for reminding me of Evert Bäckström. He may not win the popularity contest, but, yes, his attitude does bring his team closer.

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