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.