My contemporary crime fiction is set in the world of high politics ( and low sleaze ), of ministers, conferences, lobbyists and business interests. Activists of various kind also feature, particularly in Oracle. In that book a contemporary political issue also impacts upon the plot; the politicisation of the police. This is specifically regarding the Greek criminal organisation Golden Dawn, which formerly styled itself a political party and to which many police belonged in the real world. There are other examples of politics intruding on police work, most notably in the U.S., where former President Trump deployed ‘private’ police forces funded with federal money in cities where demonstrations were taking place ( see pic left ). A ‘defund the police’ movement began as a result of this and of the repeated deaths in custody of black people. So far, so scary.
I’ve been speculating on whether or not this is going to appear more widely in crime fiction. It would be material to any fictional investigation. Can the investigator, police or otherwise, trust the policemen and women with whom they work? Could those individuals owe allegiance to a different, political, organisation altogether?
To an extent this brings to mind the conspiracy novels of the 1970s, published just as the gloss of 60s idealism was tarnished. In the US the Vietnam War, in the UK the three-day week and ‘the sick man of Europe’ made for a more sceptical and hard boiled sensibility. The Day of the Jackal, The Andromeda Strain, Six Days of the Condor are three crime/conspiracy novels, turned into major films, which spring to mind. Then there was police corruption, found in crime fiction like Lawrence Block’s NYPD stories, Leonardo Sciascia in Sicily ( long before Montalbano ) or countless Hollywood films, the Dirty Harry movies, Serpico, The French Connection. Is the politicisation of the police going to be something similar?
Then it occurred to me that maybe there were books already out there, it was just that I hadn’t come across them. So I asked, on the Facebook page of one of the UK’s biggest Crime Fiction clubs, for suggestions of crime fiction which involved politics. Now this isn’t quite the same as ‘the politicisation of the police’ I grant you, but I was interested to see what suggestions arose.
First Quinin Jardine’s Bob Skinner series, following Edinburgh’s fictional Chief Superintendent, was recommended as having the politics of policing threaded though it (as it happens these also arose during a discussion I had on Sunday ). Then a series I had never heard of but will definitely try – Ausma Zehanat Khan’s duo detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. Khan is a British born Canadian and now lives in the U.S. and her pair are Community Police Officers in Toronto, but the books range across the world. One series I remembered as soon as it was suggested was the Law & Order TV series based on four plays by G F Newman, which were also published as books A Detective’s Tale, A Villain’s Tale and A Prisoner’s Tale. HarperCollins reprinted them in an omnibus edition in 1984. These were controversial at the time, as they depicted a corrupt UK policing and legal system and shouldn’t be confused with the US TV series of that name. The UK series was altogether harder and grittier and caused ructions. As did Newman’s later Crime and Punishment, which involved a criminal bankrolling the Conservative party ( where have I heard that before )?
This is as far as the discussions went – although there were suggestions for other TV series, like the current favourite Line of Duty. If readers of this piece can think of more crime fiction in which politics features, please don’t hesitate to tell me.