One day I tried to write ten short stories inspired by fictionalised detectives and solvers of crime. You see, crime has always been my preferred television genre –
I adored the relentless surliness of Morse, Tom Barnaby the family man, the astonishing prim Miss Marple, and Hercules Poirot with his neat squares of breakfast toast.
I sat at my computer and began to type – but, despite all my interest in the genre, I couldn’t make it work.
Perhaps I was getting hung up on technicalities and legalities: all the problems of copyright and the like. But I couldn’t help but wonder.
How would one go about creating the perfect character?
Perhaps the detective would be Bergerac-like, though less smooth.
Perhaps he would now be retired and back in Jersey, ready to meet up with an old flame – a retired ex-jewel thief?
Or perhaps my hero might be more like ex-police detective, Henry Crabbe, now running his own restaurant, who would be found cooking up something amazing when Tony Hill, criminal profiler and psychologist arrives for a meal. Crabbe and Hill might discuss whodunnits and Tommy Cooper, and over the course of the meal and a couple of after-dinner drinks, the crime would be solved. Or perhaps my detective would be more like Inspector Rebus – a rough-around-the-edges Scot, set apart from society, but who eats, drinks and sleeps crime.
But my plans didn’t turn out. I realised that all I was doing was listing and exaggerating. I was collecting the detectives.
Being an aficionado of televised crime fiction (with Columbo being a personal favourite) I accidentally began writing a short story about the rain-coated, cigar smoking wonder. It led to some experimentation and has been interesting to say the least.
My composite detective is dysfunctional, non-family oriented, and his tale began as ‘The Flag, the Arm and the Chestnut Brown Hair’. Inspector Derek Jones (or Cal Durham, or Vern Smith) scratches his fingers against his chin’s stubble.
Four days now without the flick of the razor, and people were beginning to notice, and to comment. His latest work mission, to infiltrate an unusual outwardly pagan group with links to organised person trafficking, was a total nightmare. The people he met in the group were great and he found it extremely hard to mistrust, dislike or even retain any scepticism about them. They were simply decent people. Sometimes his work was a pain.
The Flag was scruffy and dated bar, and the Inspector fitted in pretty well with the old and dated clientele.
One woman in particular he had his eye on, not for the usual reasons – though he wouldn’t have said no. Her hair was chestnut brown and as wavy as his had been as a child. It shone like the outside of a newly polished conker.
It was simply the most beautiful hair he’d ever seen. His own, once wiry and wayward, was now almost gone.
That which clung on for dear life was shaved to a millimetre’s length and usually hidden under one of a collection of flat caps.
On this particular mission he had chosen to wear a bandana. God, he felt a prat. In fact, he couldn’t believe his ‘mates’ hadn’t seen through his plain clothes policeman disguise. What a fraud he was.
The woman turned slightly to look towards the doorway, and he realised with a shock to his system that he knew her. He hadn’t nicked her, and he hadn’t slept with her… but he had sat beside her on an evening course.
You know the kind of thing. It was Predictable with a capital P.
That’s what happened on the day I tried to piece together a composite detective.
It isn’t as easy as you might think.
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