Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends*

One of the things that helps us get through stressful times is the camaraderie we have with others. It may be a difficult project at work, the challenges of raising children or just the ups and downs of the new exercise regimen we've started at the local gym. Knowing we're not alone and that others face the same difficulties is an important part of coping with the challenges that life hands us. In fact, getting along with others - camaraderie - is so essential that, in a study of top managers, it was found that the most common reason for being fired, not being promoted, or not being hired in the first place is….not working well with others. Camaraderie is especially important in an extremely stressful job like law enforcement, where the work takes a serious toll. It may be for partly that reason that there are so many examples of camaraderie (or lack thereof) in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie's
The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a frantic letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to Franace. In the letter, Renauld says that he believes his life is in danger, and he begs Poirot to come to his aid. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the Renauld home in Merlinville-sur-mer, only to find when they arrive that they're too late. Renauld's been stabbed in the back and his body discovered on a golf course near the house. Poirot and Hastings work with Commissaire Lucien Bex and Juge d'Instruction M. Hautet to find out who killed Renauld and why. The four soon develop a camaraderie that allows them to share evidence and move the case along. The same isn't true, though, of M. Giraud of the Sûreté, who's also assigned to the crime. Giraud is arrogant, over-certain of the conclusions he's drawing and contemptuous of his colleagues. In fact, he and Poirot come to intensely dislike each other, to the point where they agree to a wager of 500 francs to see which one will solve the case first. Although Poirot finds out who the murderer is, the lack of camaraderie between Giraud and the other investigators proves more than once to be a stumbling block to the case.

We see another example of police camaraderie in Mark Richard Zubro's
Another Dead Teenager. As that novel begins, Chicago homicide detectives Paul Turner and Buck Fenwick have just finished up a case and head out for lunch at Aunt Millie's Bar and Grill, a popular haunt of the local cops. There, they join fellow officers Dwayne Smythe and his partner Ashley Devonshire, younger officers who've recently joined the district and are rather proud of their own "track record:"

"Ashley….asked, 'Did you guys really wrap up that Lake Shore Drive shooting last night?'

Both detectives nodded….

'Damn you guys are good,' Dwayne said. He reached over and twiddled Fenwick's tie. The older cop growled. 'You guys are good, but Ashley and I are good and lucky. That's the combination you've got to have.'

Ashley patted Fenwick's hand, 'You're cute when you're angry.'"

That kind of teasing often cements the bonds that hold a group of people together, especially during something as stressful as a criminal investigation. Only moments after this conversation, Turner and Fenwick are called to the scene of a brutal murder: Jake Goldstein, a well-liked and successful student athlete, has been killed. Then, the body of his friend Frank Douglas is found. Now, Turner and Fenwick are involved in a high-profile murder case, since both victims were the sons of prominent Chicago families. After another brutal attack, Turner and Fenwick are finally able to solve this case, and throughout this story, we see how their rapport with their colleagues helps them put the pieces together.

Camaraderie is also critical in Kel Robertson's
Smoke and Mirrors, in which Australian Federal Police officer Brad Chen works with his team to find out who killed former politician Alec Dennet and Lorraine Starke, who was editing Dennet's memoirs. Chen and the other team members depend on each other as the investigation goes on, and it's through a team effort that they find out who the murderer really was and what the motive was. Throughout the novel, there are several examples of the way the team gets along and works together, and of the kind of good-natured teasing that goes along with that camaraderie. For instance, at one point, Chen's had a run-in with an unpleasant gang that's after Dennet's memoirs, and he and his team-mate Filipowski have also just been through a long night of drinking. On the morning after, they go to Dennet's house to continue their investigation. When they arrive, another team-mate, nicknamed Talkative, is already there waiting:

"Talkative was sitting on the front steps. He folded up his newspaper as we approached. 'I thought I was going to have to read the finance section,' he said, getting to his feet.

'Your face is looking pretty ordinary.'
'You ought to experience it from my side. What happened to Turner?'

'He called in sick. Reckons he had a restless night.'

'That's not good,' I mused. 'He's a bloke who needs all the beauty sleep he can get.'…

'The two of you aren't in any position to throw stones,' he said.

As helpful and important as camaraderie is, it can also be problematic. That's what Rose Kearny finds in Deborah Crombie's
In A Dark House. Kearny is a firefighter, the first woman on her firefighting team. It's taken her a while to be accepted among her colleagues in what's still very much a "man's world" and to share in the camaraderie. She doesn't want to do anything to "upset the apple cart," so when she begins to put the pieces together about a mysterious set of warehouse fires, she doesn't want to go directly to the police and behind the backs of her fellow firefighters. Instead, Rose Kearny approaches Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, who's heading up the investigation of death that occurred at one of the fire scenes. Privately, she gives him the information she's put together. That set of clues helps Kincaid find out what's behind the arson. The sub-plot of Rose Kearny's dilemma adds an interesting layer to this novel and addresses the important question of how critical camaraderie is.

We also see the negative side of camaraderie in more than one of Michael Connelly's novels. In stories such as
The Black Ice and Angels Flight, camaraderie within the L.A.P.D. is used to cover up important facts and "hide" guilty people. Instead of depending on being able to get along with his fellow officers, Homicide detective Harry Bosch sometimes has to go against them, and it can get very lonely.

That's also true of Rhys Bowen's Constable Evan Evans, who's become quite attached to the people he works with in Llanfair. So in
Evanly Bodies, when he's assigned to a new Major Incident response team, Evans is worried about losing the camaraderie he's come to rely on. He soon develops a rapport, though, with DS Jeremy Wingate and fellow DC Pritchard, who are also assigned to Evans' team. Mostly that rapport is built on their mutual dislike of their team boss, DI Bragg; however, the team members soon learn to respect and depend on each other. The team is called into action quickly when a series of three murders occur, linked only by the weapon used to commit them. Evans is still concerned about the ties he has with his own constabulary and it's partly for that reason that he gets involved when a young teen-ager disappears from the village. In the end, that decision not only "mends fences" with Evans' "home" constabulary, but it also helps in discovering who's behind the three murders Evans' new team is investigating.

But what do you think? Which novels have you enjoyed that feature the important role of camaraderie?

The title of this post is a line from the Beatles' With a Little Help From My Friends.


  1. I must admit that I always find the novels that feature some sort of camaraderie between the law enforcement people more credible than the lone or rogue cop plots though I do read those too of course but I just can't imagine something as complex as a murder being solved by someone working on their own (unless you're M Poirot but he's a special case). That's probably why I like series where there is a handful of cops all working together - like Hakan Nesser's or Caro Ramsay's books.

  2. oh and I have to ask...is that a photo from your private collection? a group of you and your college friends perhaps?

  3. Bernadette - Oh, I agree completely. I can't fathom solving a murder, either, without relying on camaraderie. I think that's the reason why detectives often stick up for each other as they do, both in real life and in crime fiction. They know they need each other. And I think it adds a realistic touch, too, when a cop who seems to be threatening the group is made a pariah. It makes sense that cops would stick together like that. I agree, too that that's part of what makes Nesser's work, Ramsay's work, Mankell's work and before them, Ed McBain's work credible. As big a Christie fan as I am (and I am :-) ), you don't see that in the books featuring some of her sleuths as you do in police procedurals.

    Oh....and about the 'photo? Yes, it's from my own collection, but I'm not in it *perish the thought - trust me!* That's a group of some friends of my then-college-sweetheart.... to whom I've now been married for nearly twenty-seven years. Talk about getting by with help from friends ;-).

  4. Thanks for the info about the photo, Margot! 27 years has a familiar ring to me!

    It is interesting how crime fiction authors have to juggle the "lone cop/detective" with the necessity for that person to have friends in order to either solve cases, or survive their tough lifestyles, or both. Harry Bosch for example is a quintessential loner but he never solves a case without help from very good friends, either journalists, other policemen, FBI agents or latterly, lawyers.

    There is also the other cliche of the detective/sidekick's camaraderie. In Water Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar (which I highly recommend), this is given an amusing twist as the sidekick is tactless and always says or does the wrong thing, either to his boss or to anyone they encounter (eg the gay bar sequence).

  5. I'm sure that camaraderie in police departments really helps officers work through their stress, so in that way I like to see it in police procedurals--seems more realistic to me.

    Love the picture! :)

  6. Maxine - It hardly seems 27 years; they go by so very quickly!! And you make a well-taken point about that balance. Even the "lone wolf" type of sleuth has to have some friends and get along with some people, and I think Connelly does that very well with Harry Bosch's character. As you say, Bosch is a loner, but does depend on the relationships he's developed with all sorts of people in and out of law enforcement.

    I hadn't particularly thought about the detective/sidekick camaraderie when I wrote this, but you're quite right of course. That's another staple in crime fiction, and when the author takes a different sort of approach to it, as Villar does, that really does add quite a lot to the story.

    Elizabeth - Thanks :-). And you're right; camaraderie (or the consequences of the lack of it) really do make police procedurals more realistic. And even in other kinds of crime fiction, it adds to the plot.

  7. We definitely need friends in life! Another interesting post, Margot.

  8. Glynis - Thank you :-). And I agree: camaraderie is so important in life that it makes sense that it's important in fiction, too.

  9. This goes back to Nancy Drew and her relationships with George and Ned (I think it was Ned). The detective needs someone to float his idea by even if they serve little other purpose.

  10. Patti - Oh, you're so right (and yes, it was Ned Nickerson). Nobody has all of the good ideas, so it's not realistic that fictional detectives would, either.

  11. I can see I have a headstart ladies. Married for thirty years to the guy I fell for when I was seventeen. Camaraderie for you :D

    And like Bernadette, I like realistic stories with some team work. I must admit that when I write police procedurals, I tend to limit myself to two officers in focus, assisted by some minor characters, though. It takes a lot to create a handful of credible policemen + victims, suspects etc.

  12. Much as I admire a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot working in a vaccume, the people I like are the ones that work well together with others. If you can laugh together with your colleagues, you are so much more likely to solve a crime, simply because you can share information and insights more easily.
    The thing I liked most about Rebus (and I've read only one of his books) is the fact that he is able to have a drink with the people he works with.

  13. I was going to ask about the photo too but I'm glad you already answered the question. I love the issue of camaraderie. Sometimes we often read where the team will support each other even when they're trying to hide the bad but for the most part, I think the cops and detectives have to stick together against the bad forces.

  14. Dorte - You certainly do have a headstart on us :-). I think that's wonderful. I told I want to be like you if I ever grow up ;-).

    And you're quite right about the fact that teamwork is much more realistic than the "lone wolf" who does it all. It is hard to write, though, isn't it? In fact, I'm facing that as I work on my work-in-progress. It's not easy to create a team, although when it works well, I do like it.

    Rayna - Oh, I like that about Rebus, too. He does like his own way and he's not always good at being a part of a team. But yes, he can go have a drink with the team and be "one of the guys."

    And I agree completely; being able to work with and laugh with colleagues gives you insights and helps you tap others' skills. That's got to be helpful in solving crimes.

    Clarissa - I like the whole question of camaraderie, too. As you say, there are always instances where it leads to coverups and that's not good in real life or in crime fiction. But in general, I think you're right; cops and other detectives have to work together. Otherwise, they are extremely vulnerable, really.

    ...and I'm glad you liked the 'photo :-).

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  16. I was thinking of some of the female P.I. protagonists, wondering at first if they were mostly loners. But don't most of them have a sidekick of sorts, like a best friend, or an aunt or mother, or as in the case of Lupe Solano, her oddball cousin?

  17. Interesting Place - Thanks for stopping over and for the kind remarks :-). I'll definitely stop by your blog.

    Pat - You're right; a lot of the female PI protagonists have friends, relatives or other sidekicks. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum's got Ranger, Lula and a few other friends. Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski has several friends, too, including former lovers and husbands. Most of them aren't completely alone.

  18. I just finished listening to the latest Sisterhood book by Fern Michaels. The ladies of Pine Ridge are prime examples of camaraderie. They stick together through everything. Great post and love the photo.

    Thoughts in Progress

  19. Mason - Thanks :-). I'm fond of that 'photo, too. And yes, those Pine Ridge ladies are a very clear example of camaraderie. They do stick up for one another, don't they?