I was thinking about this today when I read a semi-recent article in The Guardian (hat tip to the amazing Graham Beattie) about a British police Chief Constable saying crime writing needed more clean-living cops. "I'd quite like to see some cheery, well-balanced, well-adjusted, equally successful investigators," said Nick Gargan of the Avon & Somerset Police. Gargan, who was speaking at a literary festival, noted that there were "pretty damaged individuals in too many of these books", and that the way they worked (including the amount of work they did - Gargan said some fictional detectives did the work of 40 people in stories - doing things solo, bending the rules, etc) was also completely unrealistic.
We can't really argue that the hard-living damaged detective fills the pages of crime fiction - it's become a cliche in many ways, and perhaps is a 'go-to' archetype for the less imaginative, although the best crime writers manage to keep their (anti)heroes fresh and interesting within that form.
But is the high-ranking Garland, who has received a Queen Service Medal, right? Should there be more clean-living detectives in crime fiction? Or would that sort of 'reality' be too boring for readers, who, let's be honest, want thrills and drama as part of turning the page and following interesting characters? As an analogy, I remember when I worked in a large commercial law firm as a young solicitor, we joked that if anyone made a TV series about what our document-filled lives were like - nothing like Ally McBeal or Boston Legal - that no-one would ever watch it.
But isn't the essence of drama in general - stories are in a way a hyper-reality, a compressed/more exciting version of even the most realistic parts of life? Screenwriters and authors tighten dialogue (internal or external), setting, and action to heighten drama or comedy, so that we are engaged, our emotions and minds are pricked into greater life, as an escape, an entertainment, an education, or a mixed platter combo ... I guess it's just a question of where we draw the line - the sheen of realism that means the story can flow along and not pull us out of it, while still being dramatic enough to hold our attention and make us turn the page or keep watching?
What do you think about Garland's call for more clean-living cops?