Up for discussion this week is one of my favorite categories of mystery stories – the Police Procedural. You know I am an avid fan of this genre when you peek into my purse and see that I carry a much-folded alphabetical listing with the names of procedural authors I enjoy reading, and each of their old/recent/upcoming book titles in date order. This makes it simple to check off ones that I have read, and provides a never-ending stream of potential future purchases (and a super “wish list” goldmine for my family and friends when they wonder what to get me for birthday and holiday gifts).
What is a police procedural? I like to describe it as a specific format of mystery where the process of how the crime is solved is as equally important as the characters, the setting, and the crime itself.
Often, the following occurs throughout a police procedural:
- True to life or accurate representation of police investigative techniques
- Medical examiner and detective protocols are described (fingerprinting, evidence collection, autopsies) and crime scene investigation (CSI) techniques are equally critical to the action
- Victim and suspect hair/skin/DNA analysis described/completed
- Multiple character viewpoints (detective, lab personnel, medical examiner etc.) but typically seen through the eyes of one or two primary detectives or police officers
The identity of the murderer/killer may or may not be known prior to the end of the book.
Aside from this initial definition, I like to divide police procedurals into two geographies – those with a setting “across the pond” (or taking place in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland) and those based in the USA.
My own preference, with one or two outliers, is for those set in England.
For non-British series, I do enjoy the Patricia Cornwell books featuring Kay Scarpetta, a fictional chief medical examiner. Often gritty and unsettling, Cornwell’s stories are gripping page-turners. I have stuck by Scarpetta through her moves from Virginia, to Florida, and also Maryland, South Carolina, and New York. This is unusual in police procedurals, which typically are set in one specific locale where the crime-solver lives or works. By the way, Red Mist, the newest Scarpetta novel, is due out December 6th if you want to give Cornwell a try.
On the inspirational side, I can recommend DiAnn Mills’ “Call of Duty” series, each book featuring a special agent with the FBI, the CIA, or a border patrol agent. Also on my “to be read pile” is the first in Jerry B. Jenkins’ Precinct 11 trilogy, The Brotherhood. Have you read it? I am looking forward to reading his other titles, The Betrayal (Sept. 2011) and the Breakthrough (2012) -- all Christian police procedurals.
I confess, I have saved the best for last. For some reason – perhaps because they are a kin to cozy mysteries – I am an avid devotee of British police procedurals. I love reading about the English countryside, and the quirky village personalities found as the chief inspectors and detectives follow on the trail of murderers. I don’t have the time or space to list all my favorite books featuring Scotland Yard’s finest or the Metropolitan police forces in England and Wales. Of note are the Martha Grimes “Inspector Jury” books, the Dorothy Simpson series with Inspector Luke Thanet, and Clare Curzon’s Superintendent Mike Yeadings mysteries. Recently, procedural author Elizabeth George horrified fans by killing off a major recurring character in her series featuring Inspector Thomas Lynley. Even I was discomfited by this development – but I am still looking forward to the sixteenth in the series, Believing the Lie, due out in January 2012. There are dozens of other authors – all with rich back lists to delve into!
If you would like to see the wealth and breadth of police procedural authors – check out this link.
Next time, we’ll look into the difference between mystery, and suspense, and top authors in each genre.
Jenna Victoria is an East-Coast based aspiring novelist whose articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers. She is currently writing an inspirational romantic suspense series, and serves as President of Faith, Hope and Love, the inspirational romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She is also a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and My Book Therapy.