Article by: Janette Dalgliesh
You don’t need to be a cop to catch the baddies any more. Well, to be honest, in crime fiction you never did—from Nero Wolfe to our own Tara Sharp, private investigators have been outsmarting both cops and crims for decades.
But I’ve never fancied the life of a PI, so I’ve been checking out other options. Here are my top picks.
It seems that would let me interview suspects, wield a gun (even better if it’s comical), collect clues and get my hands on any amount of sexy high-tech gadgetry. Best of all, I’m likely to be surrounded by cops who just aren’t quite as smart as me, so I’ll get to explain the science to them in condescending tones, and that has to be fun.
We know that the real world of forensic science is far more exacting and less glamorous than fiction would suggest. But in the real world, forensics simply refers to any discipline being exercised in a legal setting, so there are any number of forensic possibilities as yet unexplored in fiction.
Although the cops and other agencies have their own profilers, the real fun happens when you let the civilians loose on the scene.
There’s the expert who can tell when you’re lying, like Tim Roth’s wonderfully eccentric Cal Lightman in Lie to Me. With a dodgy past and a distinctly personal set of morals, he loves nothing better than to outwit the cops.
Or how about The Mentalist, reformed carnie and scam artist, played by Australia’s own Simon Baker. He can manipulate and second-guess his way through any case. But his recent success in catching—and killing—the man who murdered his wife and kids will land him in jail.
And all that walking around in a murderer’s mind can’t be fun. Poor old Cracker was a train wreck of a man, and I’m sure his job had something to do with it. No, that’s not for me either.
I’m using the old meaning of the word amateur, from the same Latin expression that gives us the word amorous, is “someone who does something for the love of it”. Amateur sleuths do it for the love of it, not in order to get paid or because they have another agenda (such as doing research).
Amelia Peabody fits here, too, along with her archaeologist husband Radcliffe Emerson. During expeditions to Egyptian digs, she and her family tumble in and out of murder, espionage and intrigue in a most satisfying way.
But the true amateur sleuth either has a job which supports and allows for their ratiocination (as Amelia would say); or has independent means. Which leaves me out of the picture.
Now that’s more like it! These are some of my favourite crime fighters—the WRITERS.
Jessica Fletcher kept the social order in Cabot Cove for many years, catching murderers left right and centre. And in Moose County, reporter and crime-writer Jim Qwilleran relies on the sixth sense of his Siamese cat Koko to help solve mysteries.
These days, bestselling crime writer Richard Castle (the gorgeous Nathan Fillion—pause for moment of fangirl distraction) has teamed up with cop Kate Beckett to keep murder to a minimum in New York City. In a dizzying display of circular promotions, a real novel entitled Heat Wave was released in 2009. The novel features a fictionalised version of the already fictional Castle (are you still with me?)—who enters into a partnership with Nikki Heat, the character inspired by (the fictitious) Castle’s own (fictitious) relationship with (fictitious) Kate Beckett. Now the (fictitious) Castle even has his own (real) website.
No, that’s all too complicated for me.
I’ve got it! I’m simply going to let the sleuths and PIs and consultants and cops and writers do their jobs, while I kick back and enjoy from the comfort of my couch. I can even yell the solution at the TV screen when I figure it out before they do. Perfect.
That’s the job for me.