Last week, I read a mystery written in the early nineties in which the viewpoint character (first person, a police chief) not only kills three innocent bystanders in the course of bringing a killer to justice but also trashes six of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, or would have, had the story been set in the U.S. The novel was set in Canada, which has similar protections. Since it was first person narrative, the reader was apparently supposed to empathize with the cop and even admire him, nor was there any sense that the book was porno-violence aimed at a scofflaw audience. It was an ordinary, almost traditional mystery, not even particularly noir. I threw the book at the wall. I think I may be jurisprudish.
We all know the conventions of the genre. How many times do we smile and nod as an aristocratic detective of the Golden Age permits a culprit (usually another aristocrat) to go off and commit suicide sooner than face arrest? The detective is not a cop, so that’s okay. Right? One law for the connected, another for the disconnected. The suicide gambit makes me queasy but doesn’t induce book-throwing. Still there are limits, even with amateur detectives.
Here’s another example of the felonious sleuth. I just read the latest in a best-selling, hardcover-in- Costco-and-Walmart series that features a cuddly amateur detective. This sleuth is not only cuddly, she’s pious, loyal as a Labrador retriever, and endearingly klutzy. Her cell phone battery is always dead. She runs out of gas or trips over her galoshes at crucial moments. She takes apple turnovers to shut-ins. Lovable is the word.
Now, one problem professional investigators have is getting a search warrant so they can make a case against malefactors. For a warrant they need evidence that a crime has been committed, but the evidence is locked up in the bad guy’s stronghold. Frustrating. So what does the cuddly sleuth of the previous paragraph do? She sneaks into the villain’s house, breaks into his safe and office files, and steals the relevant evidence. Fruit of the poisonous tree, you say? Nonsense. This cookie makes apple turnovers, remember? Her boyfriend just happens to be a cop, duly armed, and just happens on the scene in time to blow the villain away as he foolishly objects to being robbed.
I have no quarrel at all with writers portraying bent cops or stupid cops or even vicious cops, and amateur sleuths aren’t bound by the rules of evidence. What I have trouble with in these books is viewpoint. The authors have used the first person viewpoint and the agreeable persona of the series sleuth to bully me into applauding acts I would despise in real life. I detest being bullied. Anybody else feel that way?