1. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,208
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA

    Mystery A detective with no ties to law enforcement -- believable?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Link the Writer, Mar 6, 2016.

    This may be me overthinking things once again, but I just realized that my fantasy-mystery, my general mystery, and my historical mystery all have one thing in common: the main character, the one solving the murders, has absolutely no ties whatsoever to any law enforcement. They're not a private detective or a consultant hired by a police department, they're not a police officer themselves, they're not part of any CSI team.

    They're basically, for all intents and purposes, ordinary civilians and at the most, they may have a friend/family member within the legal system. In my fantasy-mystery, the MC is an orphan living in a shelter. In my general mystery, the MC is your average college kid. In my historical mystery, the MC is an employee at a local tavern. None of them have any connection to any law enforcement in any way, shape, or form.

    Is this at all believable? Granted these are all targeted at YA, so perhaps there's some leeway, but I'm just wondering how you go about writing a mystery where the protagonist has no connection to any justice system. This is especially apparent in the general mystery that's set in our world in modern times. How would a random college kid even start solving murder mysteries without the law banging down his door and asking him what exactly does he think he's doing? This isn't like the fantasy or historical mystery where I can kind of get away with it: an ordinary college kid, in our world in modern times, runs around solving murder mysteries and no one in the legal chain questions this? No one pulls him aside and asks, "Kevin, what in God's name are you doing?!"

    My overall question is this: does having a mystery where the MC has absolutely no connection to the law, yet solves crime and fight criminals make any sense? How does one go about writing one?

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,837
    Likes Received:
    10,014
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    It's believable in the fictional sense because Citizen Joe detectives are everywhere in fiction. There's an appeal to the idea of someone outside the system (any system) being savvier than those inside the system. Look at the show Castle in the U.S. My mom is addicted to it.

    In the real-real world, no, there's no credibility to this. Such a person is technically a vigilante and is a serious problem for actual law enforcement because he/she taints every case in which there is involvement. Probable cause, down the drain. Due process, down the drain. Crime scene, contaminated as all fuck. Case dismissed! Next!
     
  3. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,208
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    So you wouldn't have a problem with random street orphans, tavern employees, or college football kids solving murder mysteries, then? :D :p

    But yeah, this may have just been me once again overthinking this and forgetting that it's fiction. None of it's real. I could have Kevin be a space alien if I wanted. If it makes sense in-universe and I can explain it logically, he could be the last of an alien race ala Superman and Goku. The true mystery here is why I overthink things.

    It's a mystery, I say!! :supercool:
     
    tonguetied likes this.
  4. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,837
    Likes Received:
    10,014
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Exactly. Superman is another great example. In-universe he's the hero and so are all his other superhero cohorts. In the real-real world he's the biggest threat to national security ever to exist. He's a catalyst for religious uprisings because ┬┐is he an angel, is a demon? He's not human and religion won't engage him as an alien; it will engage him as some dynamic from within the epistemology of religion. Nations will go to war with one another to curry his favor... the list is endless. In the real-real world, Superman is disastrous to our modern way of life. But in-universe..... ;)
     
  5. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,055
    Likes Received:
    5,256
    Location:
    California, US
    Scooby and the gang likely had no formal training...
     
    OnlineJF, Matt E and A.S.Ford like this.
  6. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,055
    Likes Received:
    5,256
    Location:
    California, US
    @Wreybies with respect to probable cause and other Constitutional issues, though, a private citizen isn't bound so there's some flexibility there that fiction writers like to tap into (and also freedom from police bureaucracy etc.
     
  7. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,591
    Likes Received:
    5,075
    Lots of traditional fictional detectives have no connection to law enforcement - Lord Peter Whimsey, Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Brother Cadfael, etc.

    And there are definitely YA detectives with no ties - Hardy Boys AND Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars (well, her dad, sometimes, but not her), etc.

    I'd expect there to be some comment from the police, and some sort of informal relationship (either cooperative or adversarial) but I'd accept no formal connection, in fiction.
     
    Matt E likes this.
  8. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,837
    Likes Received:
    10,014
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I agree. That's the appeal within the realms of fiction I was referring to in my first post. But still, the view from the POV of law enforcement is that such people, acting on their own, don't really act as friends of the po-po.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  9. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,055
    Likes Received:
    5,256
    Location:
    California, US
    Yes, and often the things you see citizen detectives doing in fiction could subject them to criminal charges, and the idea that someone is running around violating the law with impunity in order to solve crimes wouldn't play well in the real world.
     
  10. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,208
    Likes Received:
    4,217
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Brother Cadfael is a good one, I really ought to read those books some day. Hardy Boys was an interesting one for me, as their dad always seemed to like taking them to various crime scenes. I remember reading a passage where the boys found what looked to be a murder weapon and reported it to him, and he was all, "Very good, boys, it will be dusted for fingerprints." If I remember, they even partook in a little fingerprint dusting themselves and were able to be allies/friends with the local chief of police.

    The adversarial police reminds me of a mystery series I read a few years ago, set during the American Wild West. The protagonist was a saloon owner who constantly butted heads with the local sheriff who constantly went out of his way to make things difficult for her. No one questioned why or how she was able to both solve crimes and run a saloon, but I guess that's because there was no need to.

    Yeah, half the stuff the Hard Boys did -- if they did it in our world -- would result in them being in jail, or dead. :p I think at one point, they actually did get into huge trouble after one of them did something stupid.

    Thanks, folks. I'm feeling a bit better about this; guess it just goes to show what happens when I try to apply real-world logic into a place it doesn't belong. It's all fiction: if I wanted Kevin to break into a warehouse in the middle of the night because he thinks incriminating evidence is stored there, and he's armed with a flashlight and a pistol, then no one would have a problem, right? So long as I explain earlier via exposition or a scene how he's able to use a pistol, readers aren't going to be too terribly upset.

    Just out of curiosity, what would break your suspension of disbelief about this? Just so that I know?
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2016
  11. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,837
    Likes Received:
    10,014
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Yeah. I kinda' think of it as a pocket universe. Some genres, in order to even exist, have to suspend certain real-world dynamics. Sometimes it's a blatant, obvious suspension, like in Sci-Fi or Fantasy, but in others it's more subtle. :)
     
    Oscar Leigh and Link the Writer like this.
  12. KevinMcCormack
    Offline

    KevinMcCormack Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2014
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    29
    And that's worth considering as an author, in anticipation of what the reader is expected to think about the character's ethics. Probably less of a problem for YA as they would not have a great grasp of legalities and privacy rights yet.

    I think that's the only snag with amateur sleuth characters - if you write a character completely outside officialdom, you might end up restricting their options to sustain the reader's credibility lest they border on vigilantism.

    This is where the private detective genre has more flexibility - Pinkertons &c have a license to do things that the rest of us can't, such as follow somebody around and photograph her going about her daily routine. If a layperson does that - even with the best intentions - it's stalking, and that's creepy. If I'm trying to make the character sympathetic to the reader, I have to take these optics into consideration. Some sort of association with law enforcement can paper over this problem.

    Even an amateur everywoman sleuth like Marple (just to use an example from above) does need to orbit an official police investigation so she can learn about clues that were obtained in official legal searches, which she would take into account when weighing her different possible interpretations of events. She didn't have to ghoulishly secretly violate graves to examine remains: the nice young policeman from the village would order an exhumation and she'd learn about the results.
     
  13. yellowrose64
    Offline

    yellowrose64 Banned

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2016
    Messages:
    107
    Likes Received:
    14
    Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder first is a series by Joanne Fluke about a baker who solves mysteries. They have made one of her books into a made for TV movie. So yeah, pretty much anything goes :)
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
    Offline

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,417
    Likes Received:
    1,978
    Location:
    Australia
    Amateur detective stuff is done often as easy reading fun, but if you want to be more seriously realistic, no. Even the concept of Sherlock Holmes, who works with the police, is quite unlikely. The police know what they're doing. They don't rely on maverick figures. At least not often, and far from entirely in any instance. Even private detectives who are former police often suffer from. setbacks due to lack of resources and official pull.
     
  15. KevinMcCormack
    Offline

    KevinMcCormack Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2014
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    29
    I just leafed through a couple of my favourite Hardy Boys.

    Those two did an awful lot of criminal trespass; but as a kid reading it, it never stalled the story.

    I think that's the takeaway: what would the reader accept as plausible?
     
  16. Cave Troll
    Offline

    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    3,766
    Likes Received:
    2,396
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    I believe the profession you are looking for is P.I. (Private Investigator). That will be 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 USD, and your welcome. :superlaugh:

    (Make that in small bills please and thank you) :superlaugh:
     
  17. Justin Phillips
    Offline

    Justin Phillips Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2016
    Messages:
    239
    Likes Received:
    144
    dammit came down here to sound smart and you beat me to it. Yes, PI. completely unrelated to police work, I believe, and he can still call himself detective. (whether or not the police see him as a detective is a different story.)

    From down below:
    Yeah I guess you're right, but they aren't controlled by the police, I think (have no idea and never researched it) which is what I think he's looking for.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2016
    Cave Troll likes this.
  18. psychotick
    Offline

    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2011
    Messages:
    1,371
    Likes Received:
    307
    Location:
    Rotorua, New Zealand
    Hi,

    Odd thought but does Scooby Dooby Doo mean nothing to you guys?

    Anyway we all know there are two main categories of private detectives who have no connection to the police. Priests - Brother Cadfael as mentioned, Father Brown, Grantchester, and even Morse is a failed priest etc. In fact I wonder if the desire to solve murders was the reason they joined the priesthood in the first place!

    The other lot of course are the mystery writers from Jessica Fletcher to Richard Castle. Obviously they only write mysteries so they can solve crimes!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  19. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,591
    Likes Received:
    5,075
    I don't know the precise rules for PIs (I'm sure they vary from place to place) but my understanding is that they have to be licensed, and are then able to tap into a lot of traditional law enforcement information not available to private citizens. So maybe not quite as separate from police as they could be...
     
    tonguetied and Steerpike like this.
  20. Justin Phillips
    Offline

    Justin Phillips Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2016
    Messages:
    239
    Likes Received:
    144
    ok upon re-reading your first post, I see that he is not a PI. He sounds like more of a vigilante to me, perhaps one that doesn't kill so he is not under the radar of the police. Maybe there's a backstory of why he needs to be a vigilante to solve crime. unfortunately you can't use this in all three works haha, or you will most likely be called out on it. To answer another question, why not have the cops pull the college kid aside and try to prevent his investigations? will just add drama and accentuate the fact that he's doing it as a vigilante (if you go that route).

    In the bbc's Sherlock, yes he is somewhat loosely affiliated with the police, but it can be pretty comical seeing the interaction between the police and him- how they don't want the smartest man and possibly the only one that can solve the crime, on the crime scene.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2016
  21. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,055
    Likes Received:
    5,256
    Location:
    California, US
    Yeah, in CA they have to be licensed and there are rules they have to follow about how they represent and conduct themselves.
     
    tonguetied likes this.
  22. tonguetied
    Offline

    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 23, 2014
    Messages:
    547
    Likes Received:
    218
    Location:
    Near Atlanta
    I wonder how an investigative reporter falls into this scheme of things?
     
  23. FaythFuI
    Offline

    FaythFuI Member

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2016
    Messages:
    49
    Likes Received:
    60
    Location:
    Illinois
    Personally I like the idea of him not having any sort of ties to law enforcement because it makes his actions more personal. It's a formidable thing for someone to go solve crimes when it's not even their job. I do agree that in the large scheme of things, it's not totally realistic, but once again, it's fiction. Have fun with it.
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  24. William J.Roby
    Offline

    William J.Roby New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    sounds like you should look into the 'Hetty Wainthropp Investigates' series of private detection ( it ran as a BBC tv series in the 90's. ) In the first series we see Hetty getting up one morning and saying to her husband that as she's reached sixty she doesn't want to just fester, but to do something - that something is to be a private detective. I must admit I haven't read the Hetty Wainthropp books, but the detective sounds like just the kind of character you had in mind.
     
  25. Aeriion
    Offline

    Aeriion Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2016
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Florida
    Perhaps focus on a theme of vigilantism where these ordinary citizens break the law and do things in a way law enforcement never could in order to find the truth, and when they gather the materials and such, they set it up so those that need to execute justice in some form or fashion get an anonymous drop. As a parallel but by no means a mirror image, check out the show "Supernatural". Theyre 2 brothers that falsify credit cards and IDS to get into murder scenes and continuously live inorder to Hunt monsters in the dark no body else knows exist.
     

Share This Page