Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Murderous International Crime Spree

There are quite a few of us who love reading crime, detective and thriller novels. In recent years we have been able to indulge ourselves worldwide with this genre of fiction. It is very interesting what you can learn about these cultures based upon what their policemen, spies, soldiers or politicians develop as personal habits.

My biggest discovery was that most of these law enforcement people eat the same fast food we do. There is nothing more jarring than to be following a murder mystery in Sweden, for example, and having the police person stop off for pizza, Chinese or a burger. It is the same kind of fast Chinese we get in America too, fried rice for example, not something more haute cuisine. They do stop for curries in the UK which is something we don't see here. We have Indian food and restaurants but not take out curry joints on just about every corner.
There is only one food exception in law enforcement I've found thus far. In Sicily, the police eat like kings. They all cook as does everyone they know. They all use fresh seafood, homemade cheese, found snails, etc.,. They dine seaside in the open air over wonderful Italian food and wine. This is how they often interview suspects! These are The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries by Andrea Camilleri, shown above. Montalbano actually cancelled going on a weekend to Paris with his gorgeous girlfriend because his cleaning lady was throwing a party featuring one of his favorite meals. Not only did he go to the meal, he also let her son out of jail so he could go too! No other fictional detective in any other country acts like this.

Guns are used by most police people in these books. Generally, no one is armed more heavily than the Americans. Our police like having multiple guns on themselves. Guns are still not used much in UK policing, except for Ireland. It is positively baffling when reading UK police based fiction to see inspector after inspector going into ultra dangerous situations with no gun at all. Even people who have never touched a gun, like me, are appalled. I would no more take on a serial killer or fundamentalist terrorist without a gun than I would confront a rattlesnake without one. SWAT teams are called in when they feel a gun is needed (when even a single gun is needed!).

Women police people, detectives and spies are still much fewer in number in these stories regardless of country. This is changing slowly, with America and the UK in the lead. The other European countries are not far behind in this genre fiction. I was surprised to discover in a New Zealand police series how hostile the police were to a woman detective among them. So rate of acceptance varies from country to country. It is far more common to see women doctors-pathologists straight across the board in these international law enforcement series, which is more lucrative and prestigious, but lacking the image luster of chasing murderers. Left to right above, Elisabeth Moss in the New Zealand series Top of the Lake, Gillian Anderson in Belfast, Ireland's The Fall and Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect in London. Moss and Anderson carry guns at all times. Mirren does not.
In the Danish The Killing police tv series, one character dies because he did not take his gun into the field with him. They view carrying their guns as optional. When the series was remade in America, this character lived instead because he was armed to the teeth 24/7. No one in our country would have believed that a Seattle police detective would be hunting for a murderer without at least one gun on him. In the above image, the Danes are the ones in the sweaters and other nice clothes. All the other images are of the Seattle police, both in the series and real life, all armed all the time.
You tour just about every kind of alcoholic drinking hole there is in the world with these stories. Virtually all of these detectives drink. Although they do show up at bars and pubs, most of them also drink at home alone. It is typically some form of whiskey, taken straight and without ice, except for Americans. No one loves ice like we do in our drinks. In Europe, one often starts with a pint of beer or ale if drinking in public. In Sicily, of course, it is fine wine paired with some wonderful food. In Russia it is vodka. Inspector Morse in Oxford, England, was a world class imbiber, shown above.


Coffee has entrenched itself among almost all of these people. They do without a good deal of sleep so they need the punch of strong coffee. In the UK there is a lot of tea drinking but as the detectives close in on a case and are sleeping less and less, they too swill coffee with the rest of us. If the police go to someone's house in the UK, they drink tea there. But back on the job they revert to high octane coffee, just like other police do.

In all of these countries, when having to work with police in other countries, I discovered there was a universal language they all use in that situation: English! They sound like Americans instead of sounding like they are from other English speaking countries. They revert to their own language as soon as they are dealing with their own people again.
America has sealed off its borders and made getting in and out of the country harder and harder. By contrast, in other countries, they have been overrun by opening their borders or poor control of them. This is especially true when it comes to potential Middle Eastern terrorists moving about. So a European country is overwhelmed by this stress on their law enforcement whereas in America there is an avalanche of federal law enforcement people to first get past if you are such a terrorist. Thus, a police person in Europe has a much bigger problem than an American police person does with this crime threat on a daily basis. This is reflected in the detective fiction. French detective fiction is as mired in this reality as is Danish or Swedish.
One of the strangest places to set these stories is in the Middle East. I was reading one recently set in Dubai and most of the things present in these novels are missing when you set them there. First off, is the lack of alcohol. If you do drink as a police person in such a place, you can't do it openly. Secondly, is the lack of women as we are used to seeing them in this kind of fiction. It is impossible to carve a femme fatal of noir crime fiction into a place where local women don't even drive. Third, the political and religious unrest and threats are much more a part of daily life than murders done by the civilian population on one another for the reasons usually given in these books. Most curious, everyone speeds in their cars everywhere, upwards of 100 MPH on the freeways. The police force uses luxury cars like Ferraris. No one walks on the streets for fear of being run over. Maybe I need to try this again at a later time but in general I would much rather read a spy story set in the Middle East than a murder story with Middle Eastern police people. Above are two of Dubai's luxury Ferrari police cars.
Medical thrillers are now accepted within the genre with doctors becoming detectives as people are killed in their hospitals. Michael Crichton and Robin Cook were the two American doctors and authors who were responsible for launching this subgenre in the 1960s and 1970s. The medical thriller is now written internationally. Medical care has grown more problematic worldwide. Keeping in line with worldwide recessions, the influx of immigrants, the falling of the Berlin Wall, and so forth, even the most famed Socialist medical systems are straining. Germany, for example, used to be known for its universal medical care but in a series of medical thrillers by cardiologist Christoph Spielberg, getting quality socialized, universal medical care is a very strained situation both there and in much of the rest of Europe. Above are covers from his books. 
I have found a rich resource for finding these books are the many international crime writing awards. In America we are used to the Edgar award and a few others (named after Edgar Allen Poe). However, there are crime writing awards which exist on a world wide basis. All one has to do is go to the Google search engine and enter international crime writing awards. I got pages of hits including the above one for the annual convention. Go here for more information.

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