Tuesday, October 13, 2020

New take on police?

Given the publishing industry's sensitivity to social issues like diversity and the #metoo movement, how will the current reaction against police services affect popular genres like crime and mystery? Or do you think it will?

Publishing doesn't change unless readers change.
And even then, publishing is glacial. Glacial.

The good news though is that we're always on the lookout for twists in the category and genre.
So, if a city did de-fund their police services, what would that look like?

Who would I call when my next door neighbor is beating her wife?
Or when my landlord arrives to collect the rent sporting an AK-47?
Or when I'm buying ice, and a 12 year old kid points a gun at the counter man?

Write THAT book, and let's see what happens!

Or we could just watch The Wire again.

But will readers start to reject "old-style" police procedurals?

I don't think so, not yet anyway.

This is still a relatively new cultural shift, if it is a shift at all.

Those take a while to work their way in to popular culture.

How long was it before the Mickey Spillane style woman was considered unpublishable?

I know I still get queries that have that flavor.

And when you read some of the old Agatha Christie novels, yeesh. Overt racism and classism front and center.

I had a spirited discussion with a writer about Westerns some years back. I'm of the opinion you can no longer write the same kind of Westerns that were so popular for years. For starters, the whole concept of uncivilized natives is so offensive I hesitate to even write it.


So, I don't know, and I don't think so to answer your question.

But I'd be really interested to see a novel with no police in a town of any size.


nightsmusic said...

But I'd be really interested to see a novel with no police in a town of any size.

Not me. I would absolutely not be the target audience for a book like that. There are more than 800,000 sworn police officers in the US alone and I have to believe that 99.99999 to infinity % are good guys. I want the good guy to win. I don't want to read about how the bad guys are winning. We're living it. I realize I'm a small relatively conservative fish in the big pond of more liberal leaning publishing, but no police? No law enforcement? It's becoming not as fictitious as it once was and that's too close to home for me.

Mister Furkles said...

NightMusic, .999 to infinity is 1.0. I've known many police and all I've known are honorable men and women committed to the service to protect others. But police departments do have a problem with those who want to use the power on others and that may be a very small portion of the whole.

Westerns: The classic western is of a drifter who comes to town, perceives an injustice and corrects it. The basic plot of most Jack Reacher novels and also knight errant novels. This plot line won't go away. Westerns went away because modern readers cannot relate to riding horses and ranchers fighting farmers over land rights. So, Jack Reacher comes in on a bus (not a horse) and discovers an evil businessman (not a rancher) who threatens small home owners (not farmers).

As far those westerns which depict Indians (Native Americans) badly, consider a novel where the hero is enforcing the Trail of Tears on the Cherokees. That would be as popular as a NAZI death camp commander as hero. So, even the ones that simply depict Indians unfairly have vanished as stories depicting Jews in a bad light have also.

Westerns did not go away because they were insensitive, as most didn't involve Native Americans, but because readers simply cannot relate to life in the wild west.

Steve Forti said...

Not to be that guy, but defunding the police does not mean getting rid of police. It's adjusting the role to better serve society by having the right people support the right things. This comic most perfectly captures it.

That said, a story with no police (a different concept) would be intriguing.

Kitty said...

Dittos, nightsmusic

For a modern small town western, read Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series. It was made into a tv series, too. I have it on dvds and have watched it numerous times. It was so popular with its fans that they hold an annual Longmire Days in Buffalo, WY every year. Except this year due to The Virus. This year Longmire Days was virtual.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, regardless of current events, I don't see police procedurals losing audience. I still love them. Love all the true crime stuff - My Favorite Murder, The Murder Squad podcasts which lead me to all sorts of crime fiction. Binge watching Endeavor which is set in 1960s and is interesting in the way it treats the social issues of the day in Britain. We have come a long way...

I feel like stories of places without police might look an awful lot like the Wild West that are no longer palpable. And as others have said, right now, I want to see the good guys win. I want to be able to recognize the good guys again. Too many wolves in sheep's clothing these days. And sheep forced into looking like wolves.

texasblogger@gmail.com said...

So this is the day Janet Reid's blogger comments blow up the internet.

Town with no police? A plot headed for disaster--fiction portending reality? Civil war in our future? Dark ages coming?

Only Somebody--God--can redeem such a plot.

nightsmusic said...

Mr Forti you and I will have to agree to disagree. The push is for a decimated police force, replaced with social workers and other...professions. When I call the cops, I want a cop. Depleting the force so there is 1/4 of that same force left means I either shoot the person breaking into my house or waiting four times as long for a response. I want to live. This is a very sore spot with me. Better training, not eliminating the force, is what needs to be looked at. Comic strips aside. Sending a social worker to a domestic dispute is simply stupid. It's the most dangerous call a Police Officer goes on. Defunding rather than retraining is simply stupid. This is socialism at work.

The Noise In Space said...

Steve Forti --thank you. You are exactly right--abolition of the police and defunding the police are two totally different things.

Alex said...

@Steve Forti: Be that guy, because it's disappointing to see Janet repeat the myth that defunding the police means fewer police.
It means training police to serve and protect instead of to shoot first and ask questions later. It means reforming the vast and self-serving political entities that police departments have become, spending less money on paramilitary equipment that has to be justified by more aggressive policing tactics, and funding proven crime reduction strategies like better mental health care and poverty reduction.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

When you call a cop you want a cop...but when you call an ambulance, you want EMTs. Not a cop who comes because the police always come to 911 calls, and who's going to shoot your person in distress.

When you call for a wellness check, again, you don't want somebody who is going to shoot the person you're checking on. Which isn't to say this ALWAYS happens, and isn't to say I am patently anti-police. I've definitely done my share of calling them, both at home and at work (I work at a public library and that can be...eventful.)

Thinking about it, I've never written a novel with the conceit in my head that there were no police. I have written short stories that way, but they're very specific situations. My most recent story, in The Future Fire, is a not-entirely-successful space colony, and there are very certainly no police there. And I'd say the same about my other not-entirely-successful space colony that was in Lamplight earlier this year.

So now I do want to write a novel, intentionally, with no police. I'll let you know how it turns out!

french sojourn said...

Wasn't that the basis for "Children of the Corn"? ...but seriously, aren't there quite a few sci-fi without police forces, and also with only police forces?

Mr. Forti, Agreed. I think tanks and military armament are for wars, not one's own civilians.

Mister Furkles said...

As a note, the wild west was never as violent and Brooklyn or Chicago.

Social worker only help people who desire the help offered. Social workers will not help MS-13 members become honest responsible people.

Love this debate.

America to the early 19th century is a better example of life without police. Boston established the first police force in the USA in 1838. So there's plenty of history of what it's like without a police force.

NLiu said...

*looks left* *looks right*

[whispers] I think it might be good to write a novel where they ban all guns! Imagine!

*runs away... and hides*

PAH said...


That book has been written. Every YA dystopian novel ever. ;)

Alex said...

@NLiu No guns? You could set it in the UK, or Australia, or most of Europe. In the present day.

On second thoughts, many Americans will probably think that's fiction. Peaceful, law-abiding democracies, without guns? Impossible.

Julie Weathers said...

Steve Forti

Please take a look at Minneapolis and see what the push to defund the police movement has done. $1 million shifted from police to a social program instead. Police are quitting in record numbers. Crime is skyrocketing. City council members who were so righteous in this movement have hired private security to protect themselves at taxpayer expense, but citizens are suffering and demanding better protection and now the city council has called the police chief on the carpet to demand to know why he isn't controlling surging crime.

Yeah, great plan.

Portland slashed their police department radically by $15 million and cut 84 positions. Hasn't that been a fun summer of love there this year? I know the burned out businesses and homes are loving it. Even the idiot mayor who went out to protest with the protestors had to move.

"Or when my landlord arrives to collect the rent sporting an AK-47?"

I would be pretty amazed if your landlord had an AK-47 in NY considering the gun laws there.

"Or when I'm buying ice, and a 12 year old kid points a gun at the counter man?"

I have a vet friend who works in a liquor store in a bad part of the town he lives in. All the clerks who work there are vets and all are licensed to concealed carry with the permission of the owner. One day a kid came in while he was working. It happened to be payday, so several of the other clerks were in waiting to pick up checks. The kid moseys around, picks up some chips and goes to the counter and pulls a gun on my friend who pulls his own gun. The rest of the guys pull theirs. Would be robber literally pees his pants.

Friend jerks the gun away from him and demands to know his mother's phone number. Calls her and tells her to come get the kid. Mom comes to get the kid. Meanwhile the guys tell him how lucky he is he didn't get his head blown off. He's crying by the time his mom gets there.

I'm relatively sure his life of crime ended that day.

I chased some thieves out of a convenience store once and got the license number off their getaway car. Went back to the store and gave it to the clerk and had to demand they call the police. They said it happens so often they don't even call it in anymore. Since I had gone to the trouble to chase them down, I said this time they were going to take the trouble or I was going to stand right there and raise hell with them until they did and wish the robbers were back.

They did.

Yes, I know it was stupid, but I can't abide a thief.

I don't know the answer. James Lee Burke and C. J. Box are still popular. C.J. is having his series made into into a tv series this fall I understand.

Craig F said...

The real question is if you want to fix the root of the systemic racism problem.

Cops, at the street level, are capable of no more than situational racism. The protocols for no knock warrants and inadequate training belong to people way above street level.

Other systemic problems are in finance and nimby stuff, but this is about cops.

The military type response of cops needs better management and a stricter threshold for use, it might need to be defunded, I know, I got to lay face down and spread eagled on hot asphalt for a couple of hours from a phone call of someone unqualified to make the decision.

The problem is the same as with schools, affordable housing, and many other things; where is the money going to come from to fix it?

Jeanne said...

Thanks for your clear and thoughtful explanation. And thanks to Steve Forti for the link.

Mister Furkles said...

Alex "Peaceful, law-abiding democracies, without guns" ???
Are you unaware of how it is in Europe now? Sweden is the rape capital of the world. Germany rivals Sweden in gang rapes. Khan's London has knifings and muggings all day everyday. When British citizens were allowed guns the Bobbies didn't need guns. Their authority kept the peace without side arms. Today, there is no peace in London.

nightsmusic said...

Mister Furkles is correct. Social workers aren't going to make a difference to a gang member in the middle of a fight. More often than not, those same gang members are better equipped than the police, but let's take away what the police actually have that they can use and then shove them into the same situations and see what the bloodbath leaves behind. However, we have to defund the police because that's what's demanded by a handful of anarchists. So it's started with Portland and Minneapolis. The idiot rioters who think that the police should be abolished, call them when something happens they don't like.

Hah. The irony.

As to this fantasy of no guns in Europe, there are guns in the UK. Just no legal handgun sales. Rifles (they kill) and shotguns (they kill) are rife though they must be licensed. No one knows how many handguns are still out there. Also, in a 2016 research article, Australians owned more guns in 2016 than they did in the 1996 crackdown. So don't think there are no guns. In both countries, there has never been a constitutional right for either to bear arms and there's the rub for the US fantasists. And if any of you think that the only thing killing people is guns, you need to think again. One of the worst ever UK mass murders was done by a man with multiple bombs on a school. People use knives, pipes, baseball bats, explosives...one hears all day long about guns and mass murder but no one says a thing about fertilizer. Or cars. Or planes. Those who want to kill will find a way.

While wondering about writing a book with no guns, how about trying to write one with no law. No leader. No rules. No structure, no one to answer to...I won't read it. I imagine someone will want to. But I don't think it can be done either.

But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Alex said...

@Mister Furkles. You are sadly misinformed.
I live in Khan's London. It's like Boris's London with less bullshit. I've lived here for 20+ years and only once I have I been close to any kind of street crime. It's a fairly peaceful place.
Knifings and muggings are very rare compared to any US city, and in most areas few people fear muggings, and I used to live in Peckham, a very mixed inner city area. Violent crime is generally restricted to disputes between youth gangs and other violent criminals.
British people have not been able to freely own firearms in my lifetime, and firearm ownership was never extensive. Even today, British police are not routinely armed and firearms officers are trained specialists. Most British police do not wish to be routinely armed.
I can't speak for Sweden and Germany, but I've never met a person from either country who beomaned their sex crime statistics.

Emma said...

Hmmm... If anybody here actually IS police, please pipe up.

Regurgitating rhetoric heard on the television or read in our doomscrolls is not a realistic approach. When we say "defund the police" or even "restructure where the money goes" what does that look like? Exactly? And will it be different depending on the municipality? How will that affect the population?

As for novels, I've been having this discussion with writer friends for months. I agree that readers still want a good story, and if the protagonist happens to be a cop, I can't imagine fans of the genre turning away just because of the current political climate. If the protagonist is a real human being (flawed) and the story is interesting and relatable, then even people who are not fans of the genre will read it. Case in point: Tana French, who is probably the best example of a crossover author in the sense that her fans span many genres.

So... just write a good book and try your best to avoid cliches and you'll have readers. Which means someone will publish you.

I'm just going to stick to that mantra...

Mister Furkles said...

Alex I was not comparing London with most large American cities. We were there a few years ago and even went to a supposedly dangerous neighborhood by mistake. The shops were closed at 5pm with steel shutters. But there were three of us and somewhat athletic back then and it was before sunset. My friends who have been back since will never go again. It's not what it was.

London use to be a great city to vacation. Not so much any more.

Of course, Chicago, Baltimore, Brooklyn (many parts), and many other American cities would seem like a vacation in Hell. So London is better but it's not what it was.

There are some American cities where downtown is safe, clean, and fun. For example Spokane, Lincoln Nebraska, and a few others. Manhattan is great at night but do not stray too far.

John Davis Frain said...

I think my GPS has got itself confused again. It steered me to Twitter Avenue when I asked to visit the reef. I suppose I'm losing my opportunity to procrastinate and now I'll have to hoist my pen and write.

So be it. Over with you, sand timer!

Fearless Reider said...

A Minneapolitan chiming in (OK, I work in the heart of Minneapolis, but I live on the other end of the bridge, in the heart of St. Paul). What you see splashed around the 24/7 news cycle bears little resemblance to reality. While most of Minneapolis is thriving as well as can be in the midst of a pandemic, It's true that parts of the Northside are experiencing heightened levels of the same heartbreaking violence they have suffered for decades. One of our key ministry partners is a founder of the Black-led Northside Achievement Zone and they are pleading (and suing) for greater police presence right now. The high concentration of generational poverty there stems from decades of redlining and other discriminatory housing and lending practices, standard white flight, and the exodus of middle class Black families to the suburbs. Add to that mix: a police force where 92 percent of officers live outside Minneapolis, and an iron-fisted union leader who thwarts every attempt at police accountability and reform, and you wind up with a heavily militarized occupying force with little incentive to form positive police-community relationships that could help bring neighborhood transformation. That’s why it’s not about a few “bad apples” and it’s not about the individual beliefs of individual officers. It’s the very definition of a systemic problem, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight.

I fall somewhere between middle-left and middle-middle on the political spectrum, and when my more leftward friends started talking about abolishing the police a couple of years ago, I first thought they were nuts. It’s a vocabulary problem, to a large extent. Abolition & defunding are poor words for the changes that are being proposed. The St. Paul Police Department, while not perfect, started a new unit two years ago to deal with calls involving mental health, addiction, and homelessness. They’re trained to act a lot like social workers, de-escalating tensions and connecting people with the resources that can actually help them get their lives on track. It’s the kind of police work that already happens in many small towns and suburbs, where officers live alongside the neighbors they protect and serve. It’s not pie-in-the-sky utopian nonsense; it works, and it saves lives. It’s not just that urban police need better training; they need a better model. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Evil is afoot in the world, though, and we will always need officers who are trained to deal with it. Sometimes it really is a nail, and I think there will always be readers who are eager to read about the collision.

TS Rosenberg said...

> Khan's London has knifings and muggings all day everyday. [...] Today, there is no peace in London.

This is a terrifyingly untrue statement. Please, everyone, listen to the people who live there and those of us who visit regularly (I've just made my third trip to London in nine months), rather than scaremongering.

NLiu said...

Yikes, feel like I need to apologise since my light-hearted comment about speculative fiction idea has produced an international slanging match.

I apologise.

(Also, I have lived in London and have lots of friends who still do. It is not that bad. In fact, it's mostly a nice place to live. Stabbings make the news because, like everything else on the news, they are unusual.)

It feels like everyone is a bit stressed right now??