Monday 2 October 2017

Getting to Grips With the Heart of a Detective

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Many readers like their detectives tough; emotionally unavailable, unshockable, an eye unseared by any of the harrowing things they have to see. Detectives are allowed to be alcoholics (indeed it is almost encouraged), divorced, yes. Smokers, of course. Scruffy, yes, within reason. They can have all sorts of human weaknesses, except, it seems, displaying emotion in front of the reader.

That must be why I’ve already had some criticism from bloggers for DCI Craig Gillard’s shocked and emotional reaction to what happens when his ex-girlfriend of thirty years ago, Liz Knight disappears. Without revealing too much of the plot, Gillard was absolutely smitten with the super-smart Liz when he met her when they were both eighteen. She shaped his idea of attractiveness, of femininity, of womanhood so profoundly in the brief six weeks they were dating, that he’s searched in vain for her like ever since. Adele’s 'Someone like You' could have been written for him.

His ongoing connection to Liz, past and present, becomes an absolutely crucial dynamic in the plot, leading us into dark corridors and investigative blind alleys that someone who cared a little less for the disappeared woman would not go.

I don’t accept the contention that policemen (or firemen, spies, commandos or other toughies) have to be different from ordinary people. Sure they’ll be harder to shock with crime scenes that would terrify the rest of us. But when someone they love is affected, they’re quite simply as human as the rest of us. The only surprise is that there are apparently so few of these real people to be found among the protagonists of other crime thrillers.

Nick Louth is a best-selling thriller writer, award-winning financial journalist and an investment commentator. A 1979 graduate of the London School of Economics, he went on to become a Reuters foreign correspondent in 1987. For more about Nick and his work, you can visit his website. The Body in the Marsh is available to buy now.

What do you think a detective should be like? Let me know in the comments below!

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