Back when I was a beat cop working 999 Response (911 calls) in Liverpool, England, I had a partner named Jimmy. Jimmy was one of those old school cops who had joined the job as a cadet aged 16, and was coming up to having over thirty years in the uniform. We hit it off from the first moment we met. Maybe because I was a little older than most new recruits, and didn’t have that “fresh out the box” smell about me, or maybe because I could tell a joke, and had the ability to talk all night if required.
Either way, we became friends, and still are friends.
Despite what you’ve heard, Police work tends to be one of two things: Incredibly boring or incredibly exciting (or terrifying, depending on where you are sitting at the time).
It isn’t the guys with the knives, the screaming domestics, the running burglars, the fighting drunks and the smelling corpses that make the job hard.
It’s the boredom.
Boredom can make a 12 hour shift feel like it is a week, and it is why no TV drama or book has ever managed to truthfully show just what it is like to be a cop.
It can be boring.
And that is why you need a partner like Jimmy.
Jimmy could talk.
Oh how Jimmy could talk.
He could tell jokes, remember trivia, make up stories and cling to opinions all night long. But most of all, he could argue with me, and one of our favorites was about who was the best film or book detective.
One night we compiled a list in the back of my notebook while we sat looking after a dead guy.
Here it is (the list not the dead guy):
- Sherlock Holmes. Come on, who else was going to be number one? He can fight, he can detect, he can charm, he can offend, he can reason and he can talk, and he’s the blueprint for all the others. Although I’ve got to be honest, if he sat in a squad car getting stoned and playing the violin all night I’m guessing he wouldn’t last for long as a real cop.
- Agent Clarice Starling. Not only is she is a great detective (I know it’s the FBI, but we all know she is really a cop in disguise) when we first meet her she isn’t even fully qualified for the job. Above all else though, she has that one thing that every great cop needs: the ability to keep going when you are terrified of what is around the corner. Fear can crush a cop before they’ve even put their hand on the door knob, it’s the great ones who can feel that fear, and still turn the handle.
- Harry Bosch. Michael Connelly’s Bosch has felt that fear in the tunnels of Vietnam, and on the streets of LA. He just made the list ahead of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Mostly I wouldn’t want to work a night shift with Harry Callaghan. He’d be jumping out the car and roughing up suspects, getting you into trouble and then shouting at the boss. Bosch would probably do all of that, but then help you with the paperwork.
Never underestimate the power of a cop who is good with paperwork.
- Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe. Yeah that’s right, we couldn’t decide. Spade was edging out Marlowe, and then I started talking about those Mitchum movies and it all fell apart for Bogey. Sitting here now, all these years later, I’d probably give it to Sam, but if you ask me tomorrow…
- Inspector Endeavour Morse. Another Brit, he’s got the lot, cool car, great nose for crime, relentless (just look at his first name!) he’s got the slightly slow side kick, eccentric habits bordering on OCD, and a certain aloofness and hint of mystery that makes him always a little out of place. The other great thing about Morse is you’ve a feeling he could knock someone out with one punch. He just never has to.
I’m sitting in my office looking at the dusty notebook I wrote the list in all those years ago. It goes on for another five names that I may share with you another time. At the bottom of the page there are honorable mentions for (among others): Inspector Clouseau, Magnum PI (he should have made the top ten for his moustache alone), Hercule Poirot (another moustache nominee?), Miss Marple (Jessica Fletcher made the top ten, (who we could ignore a woman who cleared up a small town with a higher crime rate than the Bronx in the seventies while managing to find the time to write books)), Columbo, and Mick Belker (every detective I knew would, if pushed, name check Mick as inspiration.)
I wonder where my own detective, John Henry Rossett would come on the list? He could fight Dirty Harry, and out drink Phil Marlowe, he’s as lonely as Morse, as damaged as Harry Bosch, and as scared as Clarice Starling.
The only thing he doesn’t have is the ability to wear a hat as well as Jessica Fletcher.