What is Police Procedural: Definition and Examples

Police procedural is a sub-genre of the detective story. Until its advent, the police were often on the sidelines and were not infrequently depicted as cumbersome, inept, and dull-witted (very nearly joke coppers in some instances) in contrast to the sagacious and quasi-omniscient amateur sleuth or private detective whose greatest exemplar is Sherlock Holmes.

Police procedurals deal realistically with crime from the point of view of the police and how they solve crimes and catch criminals. The central figure is a professional police officer (such as Commander Gideon).

A move away from what was regarded as the classic type of detective story towards the police procedural took place in the late 19205 with the development of the private eye, an investigator of the ‘hard-boiled school’ (of which there have been countless descendants, not least on television).

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) and Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) were the pioneers. Later came the stories of professional policemen using traditional police methods and resources. But they were a long time coming. Laurence Treat’s V as in Victim (1945) is generally regarded as the first American police procedural. The next was Hillary Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing (1952). The development of the genre in the USA was much influenced by a very popular radio show called ‘Dragnet’. Notable practitioners have been Thomas Chastain with such books as High Voltage (1980) and The Diamond Exchange (1981), Elizabeth Linnington (1921- ) with her Glendale and Los Angeles Police novels, and, most famous of all, Ed McBain (1926– ) with his 87th Precinct (New York City) police procedural series introduced in 1956 with Cop Hater and The Mugger.

One of the first British police procedurals was The Lonely Magdalen (1940) by Henry Wade (1887-1969), pseudonym of Sir Aubrey Fletcher, who as chairman of the Buckinghamshire CC committee that oversaw the police learnt much about their procedures. Later he was Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire (1954-61). Major British practitioners in the genre have been Maurice Procter (1906–73); John Creasey (1908–73), who, under the pseudonym J. J. Marric created the Commander Gideon series of twenty-one books; Michael Gilbert (1912– ), author of the Petrella police. procedural series; Jonathan Ross (1916– ), who wrote a series about crime in a provincial city; John Wainwright (1921- ); Jack Scott (1922–); Laurence Henderson (1928–); Bill Knox (1928–); Roger Busby (1941-), who writes extremely well-informed procedurals; and Freny Olbrich, one of the few woman exponents of the genre, whose series features Chief Inspector Desouza of the Bombay CID.

The procedural is predominantly a British and American genre but mention should be made of the two Swedish writers – Per Wahloo (1926–75) and Maj Sjowall (1935- ), a husband-and-wife team – who wrote ten novels about the work of the Stockholm police and who created quite a well-known anti-hero type policeman named Martin Beck.

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