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Author Topic: Cozy or amature detective?  (Read 38501 times)

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B L McAllister

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #75 on: January 10, 2007, 01:24:55 PM »

???Does this mean that you insist that "cozy"  be a sub-subgenre of "amateur detective"?  ... Byron

Hi Byron,
I think I said: "amateur sleuths" not amateur detective. An amateur sleuth could be your kid's fifth grade teacher, or your cat. And amateur detective is a person who has received a certain amount training and skills to do a job, but is a rookie.

Interesting usage, but I'm not at all sure it's a widespread one.  I think your proposed usage might be a desirable crystallization of terms, however, even though I'm not sure that previous usage insists that an "amateur detective" must have training of any kind. 
Byron
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Books by Byron and Kay McAllister can most easily be obtained as e-books or in print from the publisher at http://www.writewordsinc.com/ For "Undercover Nudist," the print version is an improved version of the ebook version. The others are the same in both formats.

JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #76 on: January 11, 2007, 01:55:19 AM »

Charles,

Re your comments below:

I think I said: "amateur sleuths" not amateur detective. An amateur sleuth could be your kid's fifth grade teacher, or your cat. And amateur detective is a person who has received a certain amount training and skills to do a job, but is a rookie.

On what basis are you drawing this distinction?  To most people, including me, "sleuth" is nothing more than a colloquial synonym for "detective."  Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, one of the original hard-boiled PI's, referred to himself as a "sleuth."  Isador Einstein, the real-life senior member of the two-man team of federal agents known as "Izzy and Moe," who cut a swath through the bootleggers of the Roaring '20's, referred to himself as a "sleuth" in his autobiography Prohibition Agent No. 1.  Both were professionals.

What makes you draw a distinction between a "sleuth" and a "detective?"

As for "amateur," that is not synonymous with "rookie."  If it was, then a rookie cop would be an amateur.  But he (and increasingly she) is drawing a check every pay period for services rendered.  Amateurs don't get paid.  Professionals, even inexperienced ones, do.

And any investigative protagonist in a mystery, who is not getting paid for it, and doesn't commonly get paid for it, is an amateur.  And, since "sleuth" and "detective" are commonly understood to be synonymous terms, all "amateur sleuths" are also "amateur detectives."

... No, it's the other way around. Cozy is an umbrella label for the genre, and an amateur detective could fall under that banner. Although, to my mind, an amateur detective is more likely to fall under the detective genre, if the MC's skill set is one learned or is traceable to law enforcement, or they offer up their skills for hire.

Now I'm really confused.  What exactly is the "detective" genre, and what makes it different from any other sub-genre of the mystery.  "Detective fiction," like crime fiction, is most commonly understood to be another way of referring to "mystery."  In other words, it's commonly understood to be a way of referring to the entire genre, not to a specific sub-genre.  It doesn't get used as often as it once did, because it seems to exclude some types of crime fiction, like those featuring a criminal protagonist, but it is certainly regarded as broader than, say "hard-boiled PI," or "cozy," or "police procedural."  Yet you seem to be using it in a very narrow context, and seem to be under the impression that everyone understands what the parameters of this narrow context are.

I confess that it's entirely unclear to me.  Most, some might argue virtually all, mysteries have some type of detective-figure as the protagonist.  Sometimes it's a tough private eye, like Mike Hammer, whose business card reads "private detective."  Sometimes it's a realistically depicted police officer like Steve Carella whose rank is Detective Second Grade.  Sometimes it's a secret agent like James Bond, who has, on occasion, called himself "a sort of detective."  And sometimes it's someone who has no professional credentials at all, but brings a natural talent to the problem and ends up solving the case, like Miss Marple, or Ellery Queen, or Lord Peter, or a host of others.  And these non-professional investigators are, in my experience, referred to in the genre as "amateur detectives" or "amateur sleuths" interchangeably.  And all these characters, professional and amateur, official and non-official, are regarded as some kind of detective.

But an amateur sleuth would always fall under the Cozy umbrella. Too, a cozy sleuth could evolve into the detective genre, given enough experience dealing with crime overtime-- that is the sleuth could actively seek clients or hang out a shingle as it were. But to my mind this isn't reversible. Once the detective skill set is learned, once they advertise their services they can no longer be cozy. Sure their stories could have a "cozy feel" to them, but the MC is a detective (or a PI. or Policeman) and that's where I would classify them-- in the (or respective) detective genre. Unless the author purposely is cross-genre writing the genre's umbrella classification should apply-- ie. Cozy-PI, Cozy-Detective-- but a pure cozy--no.

I'm really not getting you here.  Are you saying that  a"detective" is always a pro and, moreover, that a pro can never be the hero of a cozy?  That such a pro should always be classified in some other sub-genre?

Are you saying that Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are more akin to Sam Spade than to Lord Peter or Philo Vance based on nothing other than the fact that they happen to be professional private detectives?  That the fact that their style of detection is so much more closely aligned to the latter characters makes no difference at all?

Are you saying that Sergeant Chan and Inspector Alleyn are, simply by virtue of their being official policemen, automatically more akin to the hard-nosed beat cops in Joseph Wambaugh's The Choir Boys or the ruthlessly efficient SWAT team sharpshooters in Carsten Stroud's Sniper's Moon than they are to Miss Marple or Mr. Campion, no matter how much more similar their individual MO's are to those characters?  That a police procedural requires nothing more than that the author to call his or her hero a cop, and that no realistic depiction of the profession, nor even the pretense of such realism, is required?

Because if you are, than I really think that the weight of popular opinion, common usage, reader expectations, industry standards, and even original intent, is against you.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2007, 02:37:05 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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Ingrid

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #77 on: January 11, 2007, 02:05:26 PM »

Thanks, Byron.  I see that you are right.  I usually just post after the last entry.  The post ends up there anyway.

And I'm with Jim on the "sleuth-detective" terminology.  In any case, it doesn't do to split hairs too finely here.  I don't even put the same narrow interpretation on "procedural" in "poloce procedural that Jim -- as an officer -- uses.  I don't insist that the book must focus on the procedure.  Provided the book describes an official investigation that involves police in significant roles, I'm happy.

Ingrid
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #78 on: January 11, 2007, 02:54:53 PM »

Ingrid,

Thanks for the support.  Re your comments below:

I don't even put the same narrow interpretation on "procedural" in "poloce procedural that Jim -- as an officer -- uses.  I don't insist that the book must focus on the procedure.  Provided the book describes an official investigation that involves police in significant roles, I'm happy.

I don't make the distinction because I'm a cop.  I make the distinction because the person who coined the term (Anthony Boucher in the New York Times Book Review in December 1956) made the distinction, specifically citing the authentic depiction of law enforcement as the defining element, and even making a point of contrasting this, at the time, comparatively new development in crime fiction with the manner in which cop characters had been traditionally depicted to that point, characters like Alleyn and Chan, whose books did, as you put it, describe "an official investigation that involves police in significant roles . . .," but did not give an authentic depcition, nor even the appearance of an authentic depiction, of law enforcement.

Essentially,as I've said elsewhere, a police procedural isn't the story of a crime, nor even the story of the solution to a crime, so much as it is the story of how people work at a particular job (and, sometimes, how that particular job works on the people), the particular job being the enforcement of the law.

Charles King

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #79 on: January 11, 2007, 05:33:39 PM »

Well, I clearly see what you are all talking about. I just see it differently, and arguing about one writer’s definition of "cozy" is a little pointless--fun, but pointless. ... I think there is a clear distinction between stories that have trained sleuthing professionals and a story about a crime-sleuthing housewife. One is certainly cozy, the other--maybe. ... I will think more about setting as a consideration in judging if a story is a cozy, though. But, I still believe the chief consideration centers around the main character--at least for me it starts there.

Charles  8)
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Ingrid

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #80 on: January 11, 2007, 05:39:23 PM »

Yes, Jim.  I do see your point, and I prefer my police procedurals to focus on the characters who investigate the crime -- most commonly more than one in a real-life situation -- and deal with the pressures such men face. I'm less interested in the forensics aspects, and more in the interaction between cop and public, especially those around the crime, including the victim's family.  And I like that sort of thing as close to real life as possible. As I've said before: J.D.Wingfield is my example of someone who does the police procedural perfectly, but Colin Dexter is also superb, and so is Hillerman, and I even like Elizabeth George. And there are a coouple of Swedes, also.  Hmm, and GORKY PARK.

Now, if you consider Keating's Inspector Ghote, you may get something that almost approaches a "cozy".  Nevertheless, the Ghote novels are way better than his recent series about "The . . . Detective." featuring a woman.  They are all pretty weak.

Ingrid

P.S.  Boucher is dead.  Let's make up our own definitions.  :)
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Chase

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #81 on: January 14, 2007, 12:40:50 PM »

Blunt on the brink of brutal, Ingrid.  But thank the stars Boucher wrote about, death doesn’t erase greatness.  Still, William Anthony Parker White (AKA Boucher, Holmes, and Midgett), mystery and science fiction author, editor, reviewer, teacher, translator, critic, and preface writer extraordinaire would agree with your sentiment, however harsh.

Definitions of literary term, like denotations of words, are fleeting.  It matters not what one writer, published or unpublished, thinks it ought to be or what our little group here “votes” to be most correct.  For richer or poorer, the masses who daily process the English language decide.

I remember when it was laughable to hear the uneducated repeat Pope’s “To err is human, to forgive Divine,” solemnly intoning “air” for err, pronounced “ur,” as in “fur.”  Now, even Webster has caved in, granting the former mistake to be an official pronunciation.  Ha ha ha, I even see some writing “To air is human. . . .”  More changes on the horizon, I guess.

“Often” is getting the same treatment.  What once was “offen” over-pronounced to include the “t” is now becoming okay to even the educated ear.

“Scan” used to mean the electronic eye’s ability to scrutinize quickly but precisely.  It is now the sloppy reader’s excuse for being poorly informed.

On one subject in this thread, in my editing business I see “police procedural” morphing to a dismissive term.  Based on other observations, but if two veteran-officers-turned-writers’ observations are as true-to-life as their works in progress seem, the over-educated, precisely skilled, steely-eyed police officer in the pursuit of justice will become as comic a caricature as the illiterate, sloven, sleepy-eyed southern sheriff.

One of these writers of separate crime novels depicts a pair of officers as criminals more active than those on their beat.  Nothing new.  What’s chilling to me is the other retired law enforcement officer shows his hero honest to a fault, yet performing the same atrocities on the public that pays him as the crooked cops!

Both writers hint that more officers wreak havoc on the lives of those they serve and those they love and often “bite the bullet” not so much due to the criminal element they deal with, but because they finally realize that they themselves have violated the constitution they swore to defend from their first enthusiastic meeting of traffic-infraction quotas to coldly participating in railroading someone they believe to be guilty onto the lethal injection couch.

The short of it is no matter how insistent the voice, it won’t change the swell of public opinion that chooses one genre over another . . . or reads one book again and again despite its panning.

Chase
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Ingrid

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #82 on: January 14, 2007, 01:30:52 PM »

Ah, yes.  I agree.  As for Boucher:  I resent the man because when I first encountered him (Bouchercon), I had no idea who or what he was, thought him French, worried about the proper pronunciation, and in the end thought it a bit strange that the grandest mystery convention was named after him. I have balked ever since.  :)

But the increase of of books and shows that feature crooked, brutal, and murderous cops has troubled me greatly -- as has the fact that drug dealers, pimps, killers, bank robbers, or street gangs are always depicted as white males.  The whole thing is PC gone mad.  It raises the question what effect that has on the public. What happens when people begin to believe this?  It also begs the question if authors don't have a responsibility to deal with the world as it is and not as some want it to be.  And yes, I know that there have been crooked cops and white male criminals, but lets spread the dirt around more even-handedly and deal with police more fairly.

Ingrid
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #83 on: January 14, 2007, 02:06:18 PM »

Ingrid and Chase,

Although Boucher is dead, the term he coined to describe a technically accurate fictional depiction of law enforcement still means pretty much what it meant when he coined it, a technically accurate (or at least, an apparently technically accurate) fictional depiction of law enforcement.  It hasn't morphed to the point that it includes any book that features a cop as its protagonist.

To say that we should change the definition, whether or not it still accurately describes a particular kind of story would be like saying, "Captain Joseph T. Shaw is dead.  Let's redefine what 'hard-boiled' means."  Or "Ellery Queen (both of them) are dead.  Let's redefine what 'fair-play whodunit' means."  The point is "hard-boiled" still means pretty much what it meant when Shaw first edited The Hard-Boiled Omnibus and "fair-play whodunit" still means pretty much what it meant when Ellery Queen issued his (their) first "Challenge to the Reader" precisely because they both still accurately sum up what their coiners were trying to convey.  Similarly, "police procedural" still accurately sums up the meaning Boucher was trying to convey when he tried to describe a growing movement, influenced by the success of TV shows like Dragnet, movies like The Naked City, and stage plays like Detective Story, of novels that attempted to accurately depict the profession of law enforcement.  At its best, as Ingrid suggests, it depicts, not merely its jargon and organizational structure, but the toll it takes on those who practice that profession.

Chase, what you are describing (judging solely from your description, since I haven't read the MS's you cite) are simply bad novels.  They are not novels that are bad because they are police procedurals.  They are bad because their characters and situations are cliched and unbelievable, notwithstanding the fact that they were written by cops.

Ingrid, the World Mystery Convention is called Bouchercon because the first one followed his death by just a few months, and was put together, by friends of Boucher, precisely as a way of honoring his memory.  I think that's a fine tradition.  If you weren't familiar with him, I can understand you're not understanding the hoopla, but he really did a lot to make the mystery a respected form of fiction.  He did much the same, BTW, for science-fiction, but I think his contributions to our genre are particularly valuable and deserving of recognition from the mystery community.  Just as it's appropriate that the award given at the World Science Fiction Convention is called the "Hugo," after influential sci-fi editor Hugo Gernsback, notwithstanding that many, even in the science-fiction community may have no idea who the heck he is, it's appropriate for our counterpart convention to be named for William Parker White in his mystery-writing-and-editing persona, Anthony Boucher.

Finally, I know there are some who use the term "police procedural" dismissively.  Even some practitioners resist the term (Ed McBain, for example, never particularly liked it).  I am one who does.  I think it's a proud term, and I wear it proudly.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2007, 09:15:54 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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Chase

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #84 on: January 14, 2007, 02:16:27 PM »

Ingrid wrote:  "And yes, I know that there have been crooked cops and white male criminals, but lets spread the dirt around more even-handedly and deal with police more fairly."

I guess I don’t understand the comment about “white male criminals,” unless you’re talking about the hilarious police profile idea.  Most cops I know have a good chuckle over those and think the money on such fakery could be better spent on practice ammunition and targets.

Isn’t the sudden heaping of guilt on Caucasian criminals (actually, I think white women are getting equal play) really due to fear of offending anyone but the evil average American?  But that’s another interesting argument.

It’s my point exactly that police need to be depicted more even-handedly.  The honest, super sleuth with a badge is an extreme as cloying as the brutal, murderous cop on the take.  My point is in the middle is a truth, the surface of which has not been scratched.

It’s all about some cops on the scene swearing one thing happened and the ubiquitous video camera recording another.  People are seeing these videos and beginning to see a different set of truths.

It’s trite equivocations, carefully worded to be self-serving or ambiguous on some police reports being taken as truths over evidence to the contrary and statements of witnesses in court.  9-1-1 recordings are putting new light on what really takes place. 

It’s officers living by police policies rather the Constitution of the United States (or its equivalent outside the U.S.)  In other words, it’s the police who are laws unto themselves.  This isn’t isolated happenings in countries controlled by drug cartels.  It’s becoming evident in Small Town and Big City, USA.

I think these real stories are being written as we smugly discuss their relative reality.  They may surprise all of us how good they are as literature and as eye-openers.  Ah, but that's what novels do best when they don't fit into pigeon holes, despite the pride of the pigeons therein.

Chase
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Ingrid

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Re: Cozy or amateur detective?
« Reply #85 on: January 14, 2007, 05:27:57 PM »

But that is exactly my point.  If you have a novel about bad cops, show us also some decent cops. That is what reality is:  A lot of ordinary men working hard, facing danger daily, sometimes reacting badly, sometimes doing heroic things.  The brutal tormentors are very few, and my guess is that their fellow officers suffer more from them than the rest of society.  A novel that presents a completely one-sided picture of any segment of society is by my definition a flawed novel.  I used to have problems with Rankin's novels because the archvillain was always some wealthy businessman.  We may not like the wealthy because they are snobs, indifferent, money-grubbing, selfish etc., but few, very few are a real crime problem.
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Chase

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #86 on: January 14, 2007, 10:11:37 PM »

Ingrid,

No argument there.  Could be similar points all along, but slippery semantics, confusing connotations, or indistinct interpretations got in the way.  For sure any work of literature longer than short-short story lemgth needs balance for believability.

Chase
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Lirios

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Re: Cozy or amature detective?
« Reply #87 on: October 11, 2014, 03:03:15 AM »

Cottage, perhaps?
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