Wales

When you think about it, life for the police-procedural crime writer is not getting any easier.

Real-life cops might generally be more efficient these days but, for writers of crime fiction, where the rule book tends to get discarded, policing is just not as much fun.

For a start, since the development of DNA profiling, much of the detective work is done in the lab or through a computer database.

And because the police service is getting increasingly complex and bureaucratic, you have to learn all the acronyms for different areas of what used to be The Murder Squad. The day of the maverick loner playing a hunch is long gone.

The idea of having a murder investigated by a grizzled, recovering-alcoholic DCI, followed around by his trusty, if not very bright, sergeant... well, that’s been history for quite a while. The DCI - now often a graduate administrator in his late 20s/early 30s - seldom leaves his office nowadays.

And you can forget the scene where he slowly dismantles a suspect in the interview room. According to a cop I was talking to the other week, interviews tend to be handled by the lower ranks, with the boss no closer than an occasional two-way mirror.

So it’s no great surprise to find Britain’s biggest-selling crime writer, Ian Rankin, planting the roots of his latest plot in the 1980s when policing was famously less inhibited and the fictional interview-room walls had to be regularly hosed down. Was Rankin’s wayward hero John Rebus - recently re-admitted to CID after the raising of compulsory retirement age - involved in unseemly behaviour in the old days? Can’t be ruled out, can it?

You can hear Rankin discussing the age of the anti-hero as reflected in his novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible in this weekend’s Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales.

We also talk to US crime writer Walter Mosley who explains why, for African Americans (as they weren’t called then), the late 1960s looked like the dawning of a golden age of harmony and understanding.

Back in the days before Barack Obama was even born, Mosley’s series character Easy Rawlins, a black private eye, had been finding his investigative skills seriously undervalued by White America. But in the latest Mosley novel, Little Green, it’s 1967, the summer of love, Jimi Hendrix is about to become the most revered solo rock musician in the world, and old racial barriers appear to be dissolving into the purple haze. Ah, the euphoria... however temporary.

It would’ve been interesting to have a new Welsh cop-novel exploring similar now/then territory, but we couldn’t find one. What we have come up with is Charlotte Williams, the plot of whose novel, The House on the Cliff, also hangs on the past. However, Charlotte’s central character, Jessica Mayhew, is not a cop but a Cardiff-based psychotherapist.

NOTE - not a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists prescribing antidepressants, are even more boring, from the crime writer’s point of view, than cautiously efficient senior detectives. Whereas an independent, self-employed therapist can be a free-range shrink, getting out there solving non-clinical mysteries.

Being a maverick loner, in fact...

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