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.
This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking rather than a lot of writing. Being stuck in traffic is like that. And I’ve been thinking about my victim. Well one of them. A chap by the name of Sir Martin Hamblebee. In my head he’s a nasty piece of work. A bully. A pompous boar of a man who deserves to die.
But he’s not coming across like that on the written page . Yes he’s short tempered. His family don’t like him. But so far there’s no evidence of brutality. No evidence of ruthlessness. No reason to fist pump the air on discovering him face down in his Times.
My gut tells me he needs to threaten some of the house guests but not about their private lives. He doesn’t have enough interest in them as human beings to do that. So, if I may, let me work through my thoughts, dear reader…
Both Sir Martin Hamblebee and his brother are bankers. They are new money and the baronetcy was earned by their father for services rendered. Probably murky. Definitely underhand. So I can see Hambleebee senior threatening to call in a loan, or the like. It’s also true that threatening someone with financial ruin is a good motive for murder. But doing it in a way that doesn’t seem contrived is the difficult bit. Miss Marple always overhead such threats because people thought she was asleep in a chair, or didn’t see her in a chair. Byrd can’t do that. His legs are too long. They’d be seen. And everyone knows he hears in his sleep. Poirot would just walk down a corridor, or step out from behind a curtain after a threat had been issued. He’s small enough to get away with such things. The rest of Byrd is like his legs. Tall and lanky. Besides if Byrd’s the only one to witness such outrages, his reactions are going to be private. And that’s not going to help the plot at all. No. Any threats of financial ruin must be seen and heard – by a lot of people including Byrd. Which means one of the business meetings must be the venue for such a thing. That could then lead to long simmering hatred. Though plotting long term revenge is surely more a woman’s weapon than a man. And Hamblebee doesn’t believe women have a business brain. So there won’t be any of them involved in his financial dealings. Good God no!
Which leads to the second area I need to elaborate on. Hamblebee isn’t just a banker. He’s a bully. So how to bring that out? Physical and emotional abuse are his weapons of choice. His youngest sister in law – Leticia – is the victim of his emotional outrages. Something Hamblebee can get away with because Fortinbras Hamblebee doesn’t have the cajones to stand up to his older brother. There’s a tale there, and one – you’ll forgive me if I keep close to my chest.
But while Fortinbras will say nothing to the verbal abuse. Surely, if Hamblebee , his brother will do something? Especially if it’s a public thing. Purse strings or no purse strings. There’s male pride at stake… No. I think I need to rule out Hamblebee hitting Leticia. But he needs to hit someone. Byrd would just laugh. CC might deck him back. And if he hit a servant, Sampson would have something to say about it. So I need to look closer to Hambleebee’s home.
The wife – Georgette – is an obvious route for long term physical abuse. But given Hamblebee is a social climber, he can’t risk public condemnation for such things. This is Symington Byrd’s world not Eastenders. He needs the approbation of the King and his set. But a bruise, a broken wrist – that’s a possibility. A hint of violence. It could be easily explained away as an accident. But would it really be a a motive for murder?
I suppose Georgette herself might kill him, driven beyond reason like Ruth Ellis. But it’s 1901. A wife has some rights in a marriage. And through her sister in law, she has access to a king who would help her achieve a divorce in return for a kiss or two and a bit of how’s your father… And there are no children to tie her to the brute…so she does have an alternative to murder. Though I’m not sure sleeping with the King of England to achieve it would be every woman’s idea of a way forward. So unless she had a lover waiting in the wings… or a knight in shining armour determined to avenge her… or there’s someone who overhears such things and adds it to the list of crimes Hamblebee’s committed, we’re no futher forward. How do I contrive a beating behind closed doors that can be witnessed/overheard by all the suspects? And how do I make it believeable?
I think I need another traffic jam…