Thursday, January 2, 2014

"What the Police Read"

You'd think the average cop would appreciate all the help he could get, even if it comes from fiction writers, but according to this article from a hundred years ago (reproduced in full) you'd be wrong:
WHATEVER THE WORLD at large may think of detective stories, they do not win the esteem of those whose business it is to follow up crime. The police care least of all for this lie of literature—a fact discovered by reports of the books most favored among those consigned by the New York Public Library for use at the police stations. The New York Times, in commenting on this discovery, finds not much to wonder at:
"Possibly their selection of standard and classic books has been somewhat influenced by the opinion of the library authorities as to what they ought to read, that being an inclination of librarians everywhere. But the policemen, one is glad to see, have not been deprived of fiction, and they have waded through the old standbys, presumably with as much pleasure as any of us have felt—which is saying a good deal if only one gets at the orthodox masterpieces betimes.
"According to report, these particular readers find little of interest and nothing of profit in the 'detective stories' which have such a wide sale with the ununiformed public. The policemen say that 'real' detective work is not done after the fashion of the sagacious heroes of Conan Doyle and his predecessors, and therefore they scorn romantic crime-hunting. This condemnation involves the assumption that the methods of 'practical' men can not be bettered—an assumption wildly fallacious, but entirely natural. The police antagonism to detective novels may be due in some part to the fact that in almost every such book it is the scientific amateur who works all the miracles, while the 'headquarters man' is usually a comic character who laboriously follows a false clue while the other fellow gets the results.
"In reading a detective story, too, the policeman would be apt to forget that the object of fiction is to be plausible, rather than to be accurate as to petty details, and that a 'mistake' may be intentionally made by an author for the sake of attaining some higher end of emphasis or excitement. As a matter of fact, all the great advances in the task of crime-detection have been made, not by policemen, but by scientists. This is true, however, of so many professions and trades that 'the force' need not be humiliated by it, and if the policemen would show a little more of the romancer's willingness to understand and utilize the suggestions coming from the psychological laboratories, considerably less of their work would probably be unsuccessful." — Unsigned, "What the Police Read," THE LITERARY DIGEST (June 13, 1914)
The article is accompanied by a photograph captioned: "MR. AND MRS. CONAN DOYLE, WITH DETECTIVE BURNS. Is he telling Mr. Doyle what the police think of detective stories?"

- A previous ONTOS article concerning real-life detective William J. Burns is HERE.
Detective Burns, right, and family with Conan Doyle.

Category: Detective fiction

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