Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They Are the Vintage, What Kind of Life Will They Live?*

No matter what parents do for a living, it’s bound to have some effect on their children. We’ve all, for instance, heard and read the stories of children of famous parents who couldn’t cope with the fame. Or children of the clergy who react to that upbringing by either behaving scandalously or becoming members of the clergy themselves. Children of cops, both real and fictional, are no different. Being a cop’s kid can have tremendous effects on a child. Children of detectives have to live with the long hours, the priority that a case can have for a detective, and sometimes, the danger. Sometimes they have to live with broken marriages and other family problems, too. And they frequently have to deal with the “court of public opinion.” It’s somehow worse, in many people’s views, if a cop’s child gets into trouble than it is if another child does. And yet, many children of detectives grow up to become police officers themselves. They’re very proud of their detective parent, and they understand what motivates police to prevent and solve crime. We see this, too, both in real life and in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are sleuths who are also the parents of twins Deborah and Derek, and an adopted daughter Betty. Their children appear in several of the Tommy and Tuppence novels, but they don’t seem to be as dramatically affected by what their parents do as other detectives’ children sometimes are. That might be because of the timing of the Beresfords’ cases. When we meet the Beresfords in The Secret Adversary, they’re not parents yet. Later, in N or M?, they get involved in international espionage, but by then, they’re middle-aged. Deborah and Derek are grown and away from home and although they love their parents, they’re not affected by the story in the same way as they would be if they were still at home. The events of N or M?, though, introduce the Beresfords to their third child, Betty. In that sense, she is greatly affected by what they do. But after that novel, the Beresfords don’t really get involved in cases until By the Pricking of My Thumbs, some twenty years later. By that time, Betty’s an adult. So, while the Beresford children certainly know about their parents’ sleuthing, they don’t have the same reactions to it that other detectives’ children sometimes do.

Especially for detectives whose marriages have ended, relationships with their children can be difficult. That’s the case with Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. His daughter Linda tried to commit suicide when she was a teenager. Since then, she and her father have had their unpleasant times. They’re both stubborn and sometimes morose, and Wallander has always had his job as such a priority that this has also gotten in the way of their relationship. And yet, he does love his daughter, and Linda Wallander does respect and love her father. In fact, she follows in his footsteps and becomes a police officer herself, although not without second thoughts. After all, those are very big footsteps to follow.

We also see a conflicted relationship in Mark Richard Zubro’s Paul Turner and Buck Fenwick series. Turner, a Chicago police detective, is the father of two children, Brian and Jeff, whom he loves very much and with whom he’s established a bond. And yet, that doesn’t mean there are no difficulties. Turner’s long hours mean that Brian sometimes takes care of his younger brother, who’s got spina bifida. And as Brian grows into the teen years, he begins to feel the conflict between his father-as-parent/confidant and his father-as-cop. In Another Dead Teenager, for instance, Brian learns something important about a friend of his .At first, he’s afraid to discuss it with his father because he believes his father will have no choice but to use his authority as a police officer. But his father is also his trusted parent, and in the end, Brian is persuaded to tell his father what he knows. It makes for an interesting sub-plot about the reality of being a cop’s kid.

There’s also an interesting depiction of a detective’s relationship with his children in Martin Edwards’ Lake District series. Daniel and Louise Kind are the children of retired police detective Ben Kind. Ben is no longer active on the police force, but he passed his interest in crime to his son, although Daniel hasn’t become a police detective himself. In fact, that interest in crime is part of what draws Daniel Kind to his father’s former protégée, Hannah Scarlett. Despite both Daniel and Hannah’s admiration for Ben, though, no-one pretends that Ben has been perfect. He was unfaithful to Daniel and Louise’s mother, and that’s been very hard on both of them. His dedication to the job meant he wasn’t at home very often. But as the Kind siblings learn more about the detective their father was, they come to terms with his failings. This evolution makes for a fascinating sub-plot to these novels.

And then there are the Wexford daughters, Sylvia and Sheila. Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford loves his daughters very much, and they him. But that doesn’t mean there is no conflict in the family. This happens not so much because of Wexford’s hours as because of differences in outlook. In fact, Wexford and, especially, his daughter Sylvia have quite a few serious differences that make for a difficult relationship. And yet, Wexford’s family is a top priority for him. And even though he and his daughters do have disagreements and even serious philosophical differences, there is an underlying sense of commitment. We see that, for instance, in A Sleeping Life. In that novel, along with the case that Wexford is investigating, he’s also got to deal with daughter Sylvia’s decision to leave her husband and come back home to her parents. As she goes through her personal crisis, we see that despite the differences they have, there is a bond between them.

Sometimes, being a detective’s child can be dangerous. In Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons, for instance, Harry Bosch is investigating tongs – Chinese gangs – that are operating in Los Angeles. Bosch believes that the recent shooting death of a liquor store owner is the work of a local tong, and is on the trail of the person he thinks is responsible. Then he gets a frantic call with word that his daughter Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong, has been taken hostage. Bosch drops everything and flies to Hong Kong to rescue Maddie. As he searches desperately for Maddie, we can see Bosch’s commitment to her, even though she doesn’t live with him. As the novel goes on, we find out what the surprising connection is between the kidnapping and tong activity. We also find out why Maddie was really taken hostage. Among many other things, this novel is an absorbing look at the relationship of a cop to his child.

Even though Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin isn’t a police officer, his children are deeply affected by his work as a psychiatrist who also gets involved in criminal investigation. We see that especially in Shatter, in which O’Loughlin tries to find out the truth behind the suicide of Christine Wheeler. He’s called to the scene as she’s standing on a bridge, ready to jump. Tragically, he’s unable to prevent her suicide, and later, her daughter Darcy visits him and says that she believes her mother was manipulated into committing suicide. O’Loughlin doesn’t see how someone could make another person commit suicide, but he agrees to look into the case. Then, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that a serial killer is at work and is somehow able to convince victims to kill themselves. O’Loughlin works with his friend Inspector Vincent Ruiz to find the killer before there’s another death. The sense of urgency is ratcheted up when the killer prepares to strike very close to home for O’Loughlin. Throughout this novel, we see the impact of involvement in criminal investigations on the sleuth’s children.

Of course, not all fictional police detectives’ children face conflict or trauma because of what their parents do. For instance, Donna Leon’s Chiara and Raffi Brunetti have disagreements with their father, Commissario Guido Brunetti, from time to time. But they’re usually typical (if there is such a thing) parent/child arguments. The same is true of Caroline Graham’s Cully Barnaby. Her father, Inspector Tom Barnaby, dotes on her and has managed to protect her from most of the ugliness of what he sometimes has to do.

There are plenty of other novels – more than I have space to mention here – where we see the effect of a police detective’s work on his or her children. Jassy Mackenzie’s Jade de Jong is one example. She grew up in a cop’s home and largely because of that, she wanted to be a police officer herself. Her father and his best team member David Patel convinced her otherwise, and Jade became a private investigator. In Random Violence, we see Jade’s devotion to her father, the effect of his job and his life on her and how her work reflects his influence. Which novels have you enjoyed that feature cops’ children?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s 2000 Years.


  1. I am ashamed to admit that I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. However, that is going to change. I love your review of The Secret Adversary and the developing relationship between Tommy and Tupence develops. Will put it on my Kindle wishlist. Thanks!

  2. I can't believe I can actually remember a book (no make that a series) that fits this. James Patterson's character Lindsay Boxer in the Women's Murder Club series is the daughter of a cop and becomes a detective herself. Another thought provoking post.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. Chary - I'm so glad you enjoyed that mention of The Secret Adversary. Unlike Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, Agatha Christie had the Beresfords age in real time, and that gives them an appealing realism, I think. I hope you'll enjoy reading about them.

    The thing about crime fiction is, there is such much crime fiction out there, and some of it quite good, that it's impossible to read it all...

    Mason - Thank you :-). And your example certainly is exactly the kind of thing I mean. Isn't it interesting how cops' children often have very strong feelings about their parents' profession? Some follow in their parents' footsteps. Others deliberately avoid law enforcement because of their growing-up experiences.

  4. Actually, one of my favorite TV shows is a UK based crime drama called Blue Murder and it's about a single mum DCI who has three children and how she juggles work and family life. I just love it.


  5. Clarissa - Oh, that does sound interesting! I admit I haven't seen it, but the premise sounds intriguing. I'm sure it must be very hard on single cops when they have to juggle the demands of that kind of job with raising children, too.

  6. I seem to be using this book as an example a bit lately, but RJ Ellory's 'Saints of New York' has Frank Parrish, a New York Detective, have to live under the shadow of his late father, John Parrish, a legendary NYPD detective, whom everyone else seems to idolise. It play's a significant role in the plot.

    I haven't got to the point in my chronological order reading of Ngaio Marsh's books where Detective Chief Inspector Alleyn has a son, so can't comment on what effect having a great detective as a dad has on the boy, other than a suspicion there's a kidnapping involved somewhere along the line.

  7. I must check out Blue Murder, I haven't seen it (unsurprisingly as I don't watch TV but have been known to watch programmes recommended on blogs!).

    This is a great post, Margot, you covered the examples I would have chosen! I've just started a book, actually, Kind of Blue by Miles Corwin. I don't know much yet about what is going to happen, but the protag is investigating the shooting of a cop - a cop who is divorced but whose 8-year-old daughter stays with him sometimes. I wonder if this relationship is going to be a feature of the novel?

    Ian Rankin's John Rebus has a daughter; they have quite a few conflicts in earlier books, but then she's pretty much written out. (As were Rebus's earlier attempts at relationships with women, they just seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke between books.)

    I also think the child-parent relationship was extremely well handled in Val McDermid's The Darker Domain...but I shall say no more about that here! It's a good book, and I recommend it to anyone who has not tried McDermid - it is not (quite) one of her series so can easily be read as a one-off.

  8. Wasn't there an Arthur Hailey with a similar theme, or was the female cop the daughter of a politician (and not a cop).

    And I adore Tommy and Tuppence- always felt bad she didn't give them more stuff to solve.

  9. Vanda - Sometimes a fine book has a lot of themes in it, so use the Ellory book all you want :-). Your example is exactly the kind of thing I'm thinking of.

    And you are absolutely right about the Ngaio Marsh series. Alleyn and his wife do have a son and yes, there's a kidnapping involved. Once you get to Spinsters in Jepoardy, you'll know what I mean :-).

    Maxine - Thank you :-). I haven't seen Blue Murder; it's not available where I live. But Clarissa made it sounds fascinating.

    It sounds as though the book you're reading fits right into this theme, so I'll be interested to hear what you think when you've finished.

    Thanks for mentioning Rebus' daughter Samantha. They do, indeed, have a complicated relationship. And you're right; it's interesting that she, like his romantic interests, just sort of fades out and disappears. Of course, by then she's not a little girl any more, but still...

    And thanks for that McDermid recommendations. She really is a terrific author.

    Rayna - That Arthur Hailey novel does sound a bit familiar. Are you thinking of The Detective? That's the one where the city commissioner and his wife are murdered, and it seems to be the work of a serial killer, but turns out to be a "copycat." It's been a while for me with that one.

    And I agree about Tommy and Tuppence. They're delightful characters, and I sometimes wonder why Christie didn't write more stories for them. Oh, well, she was prolific enough without them...

  10. I like Connelly's Bosch and his daughter a lot. I like them because they are real--Bosch deals with real mistakes, real emotions, and real problems. We'll see where it goes from here now that his daughter is living with him.

    Louise Penny gives her main detective, Inspector Gamache, two children and two grandchildren. His relationships with them deepen his character and give insight into his personality and compassion.

    I also think this is something more common in mature writers. I have young kids and I don't want to give my them to my character! Writing is a way of freeing myself from life, and if I burdern my MC with what I myself am burdened, then there is no escape there for me. But, as I think of myself growing as a writer, I can see giving children to my characters in the future.

    Great post, Margot! One of my recent favorites of yours.


  11. Michele - Thank you :-). That means a lot coming from someone whose blog I admire the way I do yours.

    You make an interesting point, too, about the way the writer's life affects her or his choice of characters. Writing really can be an escape from one's "regular" life, so even though our lives seep into our writing (how can they not?), I can certainly see why you wouldn't want the daily things you deal with to appear in your books. If I reflect and am honest with myself, I've no doubt I do the same thing at times.

    And I agree: Connelly has a very deft touch with his characters. We really can imagine Bosch and his daughter because they are authentic. That means strong points, faults, clashes, an underlying bond, and lots more than make them believable. Connelly makes us care about those people.

  12. Another fascinating post, Margot! Surely any parent's job is going to affect their children's outlook on life or certain professions; my father was a teacher and I was aware from a rather young age how a teacher's job definitely doesn't end when the school day does!

    Then there's the question of how the parent's job affects their relationship with their child - do they only see the child rarely because their job demands so much of their time? Do they work nights? And does the parent ever talk about their job with their children? If the parents are divorced, did the job have a role in the break-up? No child (or spouse, come to that) wants to know they'll never be the number one priority.

  13. Elspeth - Thank you :-). You and my daughter would no doubt have a lot to talk about; she's grown up with an educator, too. Only promise me not to force the truth out of her. I've paid her plenty already ;-)...

    You make a well-taken point about the way the parent's job affects his or her relationship with children. I think those very good questions you ask can help writers create deeper, more well-rounded characters, too. I'm sure you're right that, for instance, parents who work nights have a different relationship with their children from that of parents who don't work outside the home, or work only during school hours, and so on. And divorce definitely adds a whole new dimension to the question of the parent's job and its effect on the child, especially if the divorce was related to the job. You've given me a lot to think about! Thanks for that :-).

  14. Mankell and Martin Edwards are great examples.

    There is also a Lord Peter Wimsey short story where his very young son plays a sleuth. Quite funny that Sayers gave us these short glimpses of Peter and Harriet´s future.

  15. Dorte - Oh, thank you for mentioning that Sayers story. It's funny you should, too, because Sayers did share those peeks at the Wimseys' future, and they are fun. But interestingly, she never wrote a complete novel about them after Busman's Honeymoon I thought, personally, that that was rather a neat way for her to gracefully end that series.

  16. Happened on Detroit 187 this week. The superintendent's daughter told her mother that she was regarded widely at high school as a snitch and it was ruining hr social life.

  17. Patti - Wow! Life imitating or being imitated by art. That's exactly the kind of thing I mean, too. I can completely understand the girl's perspective, too. Hard to know what to do in those cases.