Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Have Gun, Will Fire


Barbara here. These days it seems to me everyone but me is on holiday down south. All my Facebook friends are posting from a lounge chair with a little umbrella drink in their hand. And a big grin on their face.

I am happy to report that I too will be going south, to Santa Fe in New Mexico. Granted, it’s to attend a conference and to spend four days competing for notice among other similarly frenetic authors. But the sun will be hot, the dessert flowers in bloom, and with any luck I will be sporting sandals and a sun hat. A welcome thought.

Mystery conferences are a mad round of panels, presentations, networking and schmoozing. At this conference, I will be teaming up with fellow Canuck writers Vicki Delany and RJ Harlick to give a talk about crime hot spots in Canada. Naturally Trafalgar in British Columbia, rural west Quebec, and Ottawa, the setting of our own mysteries, will feature high on the list. Who knew there could be so many bodies in these friendly, well-behaved places?

I will also be on a panel discussing the police procedural across space and time. One of the questions we’ll be discussing is whether there is a difference between police procedurals by British, Canadian and American writers. I think this will be lively, thought-provoking discussion. Instinctively, thinking of great writers like Michael Connolly and PD James, I’m inclined to answer a resounding yes. Peter Robinson, himself a British-born Canadian who sets his Inspector Banks series in Yorkshire, points out that one of the major distinctions influencing the tone of police procedurals is the use of the gun. British officers do not carry guns and must rely more heavily on psychology and negotiation in defusing a crisis, whereas American officers must carry their guns at all times, whether on duty or not. Canadians, as in many things, occupy the middle ground. Officers must carry their guns on duty but never off duty. Use-of-force protocols and paperwork tend to discourage their use, however. My detective, Inspector Green, hates his gun and draws it only when my real-life cop advisor tells me he has to. Like Robinson’s Inspector Banks, Green tends to use his wits. Does this make for gentler, more character-oriented novels? An interesting question.

Digging deeper into this question I wonder if there may be more differences between writers within each country than between them. Louise Penny’s gentle village mystery series and Giles Blunt’s dark, visceral Detective Cardinal series couldn’t be more different. Or could they? Is there a common thread between them? A common world view or sensibility? Is there a thread that links Val McDermid’s and Mark Billingham’s edgy series to the gentler stories of Morse and Dalgleish?

Whatever the answer, the discussion promises to be lively and informative. So stay tuned for a summary when I come back to these northern climes.

1 comment:

Shelagh Davis said...

Very interesting post, Barbara. I can't wait to read your comments from the workshop in Santa Fe.I enjoyed Peter Robinson's "take" on British, Canadian, and American police procedurals. He is one of my favorite authors, also, and kudos to him for realizing yours and Louise Penny's talent from your first books.