Often, when people think about crime fiction, they think of stories in which the hero is a detective.
When I put together Nowhere To Go, a collection of my short crime fiction that’s been published over the last few years, it occurred to me that none of my crime stories was like that. Closest it gets is one story where a character claims to be a detective, but turns out to be something rather different. It was never a conscious decision to avoid police protagonists, just the way that it turned out, story after story, so I’ve given some thought as to why this happens to be this way in the stories that I want to tell.
Some of the protagonists in the stories in Nowhere To Go are criminals themselves. Some of them are victims. Most are people caught in the middle, involved in something beyond their control – sometimes by the choices they have made, sometimes just by the random, uncaring malicious lottery of fate.
I read something once by a photographer which said the most interesting things are always at the margins: where day starts to turn to night; where land meets water; where cities meet nature. That littoral zone is what I’ve always been most interested in exploring in my stories: the edges of society and the people that live there, the blurry margin between good and bad, right and wrong, between what the law says, and what people do to survive. Sure, plenty of detectives swim those murky waters, but they are not of them.
No matter how maverick, no matter the disbelieving boss, or the rival colleague, the detectives represent the state, and the power of the state, and all of the resources of the state. Although constrained at times, they can call on that power, and those resources. The characters I enjoy writing about the most are people who have no power, have no resources, but must still find a way to survive or escape. Those drawn into crime, those who find themselves caught up in crime, the victims of crime, they’re all more fertile territory for me than those who are paid to solve it.
And sometimes, it’s the police that they are escaping.
This focus shapes the kind of stories that I write. There’s less scope for them to be whodunnits, and it’s much more likely that they turn out to be to be howthehelldoIgetoutofits. It’s not that one’s better than the other. It’s just that I enjoy writing one more than I do the other.
I like having a wide choice of protagonists, of backgrounds, struggles, conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read many excellent novels where the hero is a fictional police officer, interesting and rounded and believable. But I worry about falling into cliche were I to try, the terrible tightrope of making a character distinctive, without resorting to the cop-o-tron, where the lead is:
- long-term bachelor
has one of:
- drink problem
- psychological disorder du jour
- implacable guilt
always plays one of:
- bebop jazz
- rare northern soul singles
- scouse house
especially while drinking one of:
- espressos, homemade in a lavishly detailed description
- Wray and Nelson rum, neat
- WKD. With a straw.
comes into conflict with one of:
- ambitious, ruthless boss with executive haircut
- cynical, jaded boss with wonky tie
- Lieutenant Dobie
- like authority
- like authority
- like authority
And anyway, everything I’ve said aside, the power and the politics and all of it, I’ve been re-watching Police Squad recently, and that alone ruins my chances of ever writing a detective lead.
“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”
Iain Rowan’s short story collection, Nowhere To Go, is available in the following formats:
…amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
…amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.12)
…Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)
Iain’s Derringer Award-winning story “One Step Closer” is available as a free self-contained ebook:
….prc format (suitable for Kindle)
…other formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, available from Smashwords