One of my characters in Widowhood of Spiders (book 2 of Symington’s adventures) is angry. So angry in fact he is in danger of breaking the unwritten code of the criminal world: twice. Not only is he in the process of killing a policeman; he is doing it in front of witnesses – not bound to him with oaths of loyalty and the likes.
His actions, and the reactions of those around him, got me thinking about the murder of coppers: reality and fiction. I found myself wondering, is the fiction accurate in its depiction? or is it … fictional?
Before we go any further, these are musings and ponderings. There is no meticulous research. I posed the question, had the luxury of an hour, and pursued it. And having the joy of yet another sleepless night, I present the results of my ponderjngs.
In the fictional world the detective tends to be in danger towards the end of the book/ programme. They have cornered the villain; an arrest is nigh. They don’t usually die. Sometimes there is a lurking, menacing dsnger -murder is attempted: but not often.
Retired coppers fare worse, if memory serves. They can die with ease. Their murderer turning out to be a long forgotten criminal with a grudge. They tend – in other words – to be a plot device.
Only two instances of murdered serving detectives initially sprang to mind, during my hour or so musings: Sherlock Holmes dying at the hands of Moriarty was the first. Chief Inspector Poole of Death in Paradise the other. Which reminded me of the third. His predecessor met a similarly gruesome end at the series launch. And lurking in the recesses of my mind, I have the distant memory of one of the Taggart team being murdered and that murder being made to look like suicide.
Anecdotal I admit. But this was a flight of whimsy: not scientific. Let me know if you can think of any others.
My very unscientific study of fiction complete, I turned to the consideration of the reality.
My research into police deaths – only for the City of London Police, I admit – makes interesting reading. There seems to be a similar pattern – though retired policemen fare better than their fictional counterparts.
According to the Police Roll of Honour, deaths prior to the murders of Bentley, Tucker and Choat (at Sidney Street in 1910) tended to be as a result of routine duties, not malice. The notable exception is Detective Sergeant Charles Thain who died on the 4 December 1857, aged 45. He was fatally shot by the prisoner he was escorting (by ship) from Hamburg.
Of the 23 deaths in the years following Sidney Street, air raids took 18 of these. Not one policeman was recorded as “murdered”.
This gave me pause. Perhaps I’m being too narrow. I have in my head – due to the scene I am writing – a premeditated act. Some officers did die in the pursuit of suspects. Is that not murder in the broader sense? Is it manslaughter? One poor chap was runover whilst directing traffic. Deliberate? Another killed while running beside a car while he talked to the driver. Murder? Accident? The roll of honour does not say.
Certainly these men died of injuries gained in the line of duty. But are they murder. For me. No.
Thus I conclude, only 4 city of London Police were murdered in 150 years. A mercifully tiny number.
Musings over, and awake in the witching hour, I return to my very angry man. I need, I realise, to work more on the reactions of those around him. I need to decide how to play out a scene where my reader – whilst horrified – understands what drives someone to such an extreme where he will do the unthinkable. In other words: this scene, and the policeman who provokes it, need work.