There’s a special relationship that develops between police detectives who work as partners. Very often, they spend at least as much time with each other as they do at home – sometimes more. And police partners come to know one another very, very well, even if they’re quite different in personality. They depend on one another, too, sometimes even having to trust one another with their lives. So it’s not surprising that the police partner bond is often a very strong one. That’s as much the case in crime fiction as it is in real life, and it’s interesting to see how those partnerships play out, especially over time in a series. Of course, there are many, many examples of fictional partnerships between pairs of sleuths who aren’t in law enforcement (e.g. Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings) and pairs where one’s in law enforcement and the other isn’t (e.g. Wimsey and Inspector Parker, Inspector Jury and Melrose Plant). But the bond between law enforcement partners is arguably unique.
We see this kind of partnership, for example, in Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series, which features her sleuth, Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, postmistress for tiny Crozet, Virginia. Law enforcement in Crozet is supervised by Sheriff Rick Shaw and Deputy Sheriff Cynthia “Coop” Cooper. They’ve known each other for several years, and work together on a number of cases. When they’re interviewing witnesses and suspects, they support each other, and “behind the scenes,” they share ideas and give each other different perspectives on their cases. For Coop, it was a challenge to win Shaw’s respect; she was the first woman on the local force, and he wasn’t exactly hoping she would succeed. She’s earned his trust and respect through her perseverance, bravery and dogged determination. She also has solid flashes of intuition. Coop respects Shaw for his commitment and his sense of ethics. He has a strong sense of fair play, as well as a lot of intelligence and shrewdness about the cases they investigate. Their partnership is interesting, too, in that it doesn’t involve anything romantic. Shaw is happily married and, although Coop is single, she doesn’t have an interest in Shaw. In fact, he encourages her to date, and find someone special.
Another interesting police partnership is the one that develops between Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis. Morse is Lewis’ superior, so in that sense, it’s not, technically, a partnership. Yet, as the series progresses, we find that in all of the ways that really matter, the two are partners as much as they are boss and subordinate. Lewis admires Morse’s brilliance and his ability to solve even the most difficult of cases. For his part, Morse depends on Lewis quite a bit, more, in fact, than he cares to admit. Lewis is the one who keeps up on departmental policy, organizes the information they get on the cases they investigate, and often gives Morse important information and ideas. He also takes a very practical view of their cases, and this is also very helpful to Morse. In fact, Morse usually specifically requests that Lewis be assigned to work with him.
In Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series, we also see a strong police partnership develop between Rebus and Siobhan Clarke, especially in the later novels, when Clarke “comes into her own,” so to speak. Clarke admires Rebus for his ability to put together seemingly disparate pieces of a puzzle to solve cases. She’s also learned a lot of the “ins and outs” of the police system from Rebus. For his part, Rebus depends quite a bit, especially later in the series, on Clarke’s computer and technical skills. He also depends on Clarke to do a lot of the “legwork” in getting information on the cases they work together. It’s especially interesting to see the way Rebus and Clarke work as partners when Rebus is suspended (e.g. in Resurrection Men and Exit Music) and Clarke serves as his “eyes and ears” within the department. In those novels in particular, we can really see the ways in which they depend on each other.
Marshall Karp’s series featuring Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs is also a clear example of the unique bond that police partners form with each other. Lomax and Biggs are L.A.P.D. detectives who first work together in The Rabbit Factory. In some ways, they’re quite different; Biggs, a transplant from New York, is a would-be comedian. He’s a loyal and devoted father and husband, and more driven than his partner. Lomax often serves as Biggs’ foil, although he has plenty of wit himself. He’s more introspective and reflective than his partner is. Throughout the series, we see how these partners support each other and help each other, both on and off the job. For instance, in The Rabbit Factory, Lomax is coping with the death of his wife, Joanie. As Lomax mentions, his partner was there for him at the time of Joanie’s death, and Biggs is one of the few people who knows that Joanie left a set of letters for Lomax, one to be read each month for the first year after her death. Lomax and Biggs’ partnership is an authentic illustration of how police partners work together and support each other.
There’s also a very interesting police partnership in Mark Richard Zubro’s Paul Turner/Buck Fenwick mysteries. Turner and Fenwick are Chicago police detectives. They’re two of their precinct’s most experienced detectives, and are often given difficult cases and cases that are bound to attract a lot of media attention. In some ways, they’re quite different. Fenwick is far less diplomatic than Turner, and sometimes gets in trouble because of his lack of tact. Turner is more reflective than Fenwick is, but this doesn’t mean that Fenwick doesn’t think clearly or is unable to put the pieces of a puzzle together. Fenwick, who’s married, is what you might call a more “macho” type, while Turner is the gay father of two teenage sons. Turner is more detail-oriented than Fenwick, while Fenwick tends to be more casual in his approach. Still, Fenwick and Turner have a real liking and respect for each other, despite their differences. They cover for each other when one or the other has a home emergency, and they get along well with each other’s families. As interesting as the mysteries in this series is the way that Turner and Fenwick’s relationship develops over time, and the way that the two of them support one another.
There are, of course, lots of other examples of the strong development of police partnerships. Space doesn’t allow me to describe them all. There are also some interesting examples of groups of police officers who work together. For example, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct team members don’t always work with the same partners. Still, they all work together. Detective Steve Carella, who’s often (although not always) featured in the 87th Precinct novels, is partnered with a variety of colleagues. He works most often with Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling and and Cotton Hawkes, but really, all of the precinct detectives work together and support each other.
That’s also true of Dell Shannon’s Luis Mendoza series. Mendoza is captain of the L.A.P.D. Central precinct, and he and his team of detectives often investigate several murders at once. The detectives don’t always pair up with the same partners. Rather, they work as a team. It’s actually one of the first series where the author looks at a whole precinct, rather than just one detective or a pair of sleuths.
The bond that forms between police partners can add a strong layer of interest to a story. It’s even more interesting in a series, as we get to see this relationship develop over time. It’s realistic, too. Over time, detectives who are partnered really do often develop a strong relationship. On the other hand, the stereotype of the “cop buddies” can be clichéd and overdone. What’s your view? Do you enjoy “detective partner” novels? Which are your favorites?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Bill Withers song.
P.S. If you're kind enough to read Confessions of a Mystery Novelist on a regular basis, you know that I mention Agatha Christie's work in every post. I didn't reference her novels today, because she didn't really focus on police partners and the bond that develops over time between police detectives. Rather, we meet several detectives in her novels, and they don't always work with the same people. It is interesting that her work didn't really focus on that aspect of police work. Still, in novels such as Dead Man's Folly, we do see examples of detectives working as a team.