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.
In our house, it’s annual wash your cuddly toy dog day. The toy dog in question is Lankey. He’s 45. Some would say we should let it be. He’s made of fabric; his ears need changing. And despite a restuffing earlier in the year, another one is required – post haste.
This is why he needed a wash
We couldn’t “LET IT BE.”
Action was required. A brief dip in soapy water, a couple of rinses.
Then drip dry time. Up on a high shelf and – as you can see – we wait.
He may be drip-drying some time…
My mind today has been exercised by the concept of an “Avuncular”. Good word isn’t it? Very underused I feel. So I set about redressing this…
One of my characters is being an “avuncular”, and – while I’d like to think he is operating from the purest of motives – at the back of my mind lurks the possibility he’s more of a Svengali like figure; though he is certainly no incubus, and I’m sure he’s not manipulating my heroine. There are others in the story far better placed to do that. Besides, he’s too good looking to be the original manifestation of George Du Maurier’s character from Trilby.
So, for the moment, I will put aside this nagging doubt and return to my original musings.
An Avuncular is such a Victorian concept. It relates to the “uncle like” relationship between an older and younger – less experienced – person. Its first recorded use is in 1831, although it is of Latin derivation – from avunculus, meaning “maternal uncle.” Strictly speaking the term describes the relationship between an uncle and his nephew, but I first heard it used by Poirot in relation to a young lady he is with on a train. Murder and mayhem abound and he is helping her order wine and generally showing her the ropes.
Warming to my theme, I hunted around for other Avunculars. The most obvious (for me at least) were all the classic incarnations of the Doctor – especially Tom Baker and Pat Troughton. Santa Claus came readily to mind and then I stopped. I googled (well why not?) Vocabulary.com put the Dalai Lama forward as an Avuncular and there the trail stopped. It was far more concerned with telling you that Shakespeare invented Nuncle and that Materteral existed earlier and is the word for an Avuncular Aunt. In despair, I went to Facebook and posed the question to my friends.
Below are their offerings: some I agreed with; some I did not. I put them forward and leave you (dear reader) to make your mind up. Are they true Avunculars or would better adjectives describe them?
Mr Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)
Mr Brownlow (Oliver Twist)
Mr Micawber (David Copperfield)
Mr Tom (Goodnight Mr Tom)
The Professor (Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)
Mr Jarndyce ( Bleak House)
Yoda (Star Wars)
Gandalf (Lord of the Rings)
Professor Dumbledore (Harry Potter)