Good to see DCI John Luther back on television screens in a new (albeit brief, 2-part) series. Idris Elba is the maverick detective par excellence, a man fiercely protective of his colleagues whilst also willing to take enormous personal risks. It’s certainly a crowded market; even before Luther came along crime fiction was filled with rule-breaking policemen who still somehow got results. It’s a shame that most of them sadly lack the depth and charisma that make Luther such an enduring character.
Luther stands at one end of a continuum which has at its other those writers of a more realistic school – the ‘police proceduralists’ such as Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels; and Maj Svowall and Per Wahloo’s influential Martin Beck series (godfather to the current wave of Scandinavian crime fiction filling bookshops and television channels alike). These are writers who revel in the routine of police work, whilst leaving out enough of it to prevent their books becoming entirely unreadable. In McBain and with Beck, they show us just how ordinary the men who pursue this vocation actually are. Rather than the mavericks’ force of will, for the grafters it is the lengthy application of police work – and often sheer good luck – which leads to a case being solved.
And surely neither end of the continuum can appear in isolation. For whilst I admire the mavericks, in reading about them I can’t help but let my thoughts stray to the people who surround them – the ones who have to clear up their mess. When was the last time you saw John Luther do any paperwork? Exactly. And what about when the case gets to court? It’s no accident that so many of the murderers Luther and his ilk pursue meet such violent (and no doubt well-deserved) ends. Much neater that way, as well as less fraught legally speaking.
When (if) I find the time I’ll start on my planned anthology of stories which describe these people: the other detectives, the uniforms, the prosecution barrister, the girlfriend, the child. I’ll write them in such a way as to leave a maverick cop-shaped hole at their centre, a man detailed only through the chaos he leaves in his wake. Whilst I may love you to bits John Luther, I wouldn’t volunteer to be the one to clean up after you. Not for more than an hour a week anyway.