Friday, December 18, 2009

Hollywood Cops and Other Hazards of TV

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. THE BONE CHAMBER is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Her first thriller, FACE OF A KILLER, received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. View the video trailer at her website at: Or on Facebook and Twitter.

From Shane (Friday):

"Since you were a real-life cop before becoming a writer, how realistic do you consider today’s fictional police characters? Would a real cop see him or herself in them, or are they so “Hollywooded up” as to be caricatures of the real police? Does that make a police officer’s job harder, a la “The CSI Effect” on prosecutors? And who writes the most realistic portrayals in cop fiction? (I mean, besides me, of course …)"

Everyone knows your cops are the best, Shane! But since you’re asking about other writers, I'll give you the most memorable to me. Michael Connelly is up at the top, because his book, THE POET, was one of the books that led me to try my hand at fiction. (Who doesn’t love Harry Bosch?) My all time favorite female cop is homicide detective Nancy Porter from EVERY SECRET THING by Laura Lippman. I was able to connect with her like no other fictional cop. Porter was a very three-dimensional character, very real. She could have been me, a real person with real emotions. I have no idea if male cops relate to any male fictional counterparts—the hazards of being born female.

As far as “Hollywooding up” cops, TV always glamorizes everything, not just the cops. You can’t get good shots of FBI agents doing their jobs if you have gray cubicle-walls in the way. And you can’t get good shots of their supervisors making command decisions if you have anything but glass walls. (For instance, the glamorous and very fictional offices of the FBI headquarters on Criminal Minds.) I always thought the detectives’ office on L&O, SVU was fairly realistic. It might not look like the real NYPD office—haven’t been there, don’t know—but it sure as heck looks a lot like the places I’ve worked. Bunch of detectives, sitting at desks piled with paper, in an office drab, dreary, lacking many bells and whistles, because most large departments can’t afford to outfit every precinct office with the latest gadgets.

Fantasyland? Television shows and the way they pull up those computer images that show every blue Honda Civic within a five mile radius, or a man’s photograph along with everything he’s ever done and said on one database, including the name of his fifth grade teacher and where he last used his Visa card. We need more computer geeks like the girl on Criminal Minds (I like her character, FYI) who can bring up stuff on databases that don’t quite exist yet. It would make our jobs a lot easier. And don’t even get me started with CSI, any version.

The important thing is to tell a good story, whether TV or books. The nice thing about books is that it leaves much to your own imagination. And if there is a little more fantasy there, such as an FBI agent jetting off to Italy to chase down leads on an unsanctioned black ops case involving the dead daughter of the ambassador to the Holy See (as in THE BONE CHAMBER), well, why not?


Shane Gericke said...

"Bunch of detectives, sitting at desks piled with paper, in an office drab, dreary, lacking many bells and whistles, because most large departments can’t afford to outfit every precinct office with the latest gadgets . . ."

Sounds like every newsroom I worked in, too. Especially if there's spilled coffee everywhere :-)

Thanks for a most eloquent explanation. I love Laura Lippman's work, but haven't read that particular one yet. It's now on the list.

Have a safe shift today if you're working.

sophie Littlefield said...

Wasn't surprised to see Lippman on your list - it's nice to see authors recognized when they get it right *and* it enhances rather than detracts from the story.

Incidentally, I'm always more intrigued by homely scenes than glitzy ones. I'd way rather read about the stale, dirty, outdated workspace than the Hollywood set or the Italian race track. But maybe that's just me.

Jen Forbus said...

Again, I guess I'm forced to reference my ignorance. Not having spent time in a police station, jail, morgue, etc, I have no idea what is realistic and what isn't. Of course I have some ideas, and I'm sure they vary much the same way schools vary from urban to rural to suburban districts. Money is a big factor.

I think it was Kathy Reichs I heard say, "is the science out there? Yes it is. But the vast majority of law enforcement agencies can't afford it." Then she went on to compare her office to that of Tempe Brennan's on BONES. Very funny!

And again, since I don't know the life of a real law enforcement agent, P.I., whatever, I'm looking more for a connection on a human level. That's really where it hits home with me.

For example, with Sydney it was her connection to Topper. I can relate to that human element. Also her protective nature with her sister.

So, Robin, you've done an all-around great job of pegging not only the career, but the human as well!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone! I'm very glad I hit the right notes!