The Civilian Done it…

Posted on January 23, 2012 by

One of the tricky elements of writing mysteries set in the here and now which feature amateur detectives–cozies, in other words, as opposed to procedurals–is writing in the police in a way that doesn’t make them improbably dumb, corrupt, or negligent.

I’m really against the police looking ineffective. While it’s true that not all law enforcement officers are created equal, they have a big advantage over Jo Civilian in solving any given crime. They are more of them, for one thing. They have specialized evidence-gatherers and the legal right to ask impertinent questions of the suspects. Plus, solving crimes is their job, which means they get to do it for eight, ten, twelve hours a day. I realize that the heroes and heroines of cozy novels are usually underemployed, but still.

Anyway, I had some fun Friday making a short list of reasons why a civilian without a forensics lab might beat the police to the crimesolving punch.

It’s not murder: In the absence of forensic evidence to the contrary, police rule the death accidental.
False confession: They have a guilty party who’s confessed in custody
They know who done it: They have a solid suspect, one they’re ‘sure’ of but can’t arrest.
Bored now: The case is cold.
He needed killin’: The murder victim is a pariah and nobody cares if the case is solved.
“You can’t prosecute the Queen!”: The subject of their investigation is politically protected.
“You can’t prosecute my mom!”: It’s a smalltown cop shop and the head of the department loves the most likely suspect.
I’m taking my toys and going home: There are multiple cases, in multiple jurisdictions, and the cops aren’t playing well together.
Code of Silence: Everyone in the community where the crime took place is entirely resistant to talking to the Man, man.
“You expect us to care about one little murder, Amateur-San, when Godzilla is attacking Tokyo?”: They’re busy, okay? Jeez.

I know I’ve missed some goodies. What are some of your favorites?

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