Police Work: Must it Always be Totally Realistic in Mystery Fiction?

No Making Stuff Up Sign


(Note: No spoilers contained within the text.)

You can bend the laws of nature in Science Fiction and in Fantasy fiction. You can’t do it in mainstream romance and mystery fiction that doesn’t involve the paranormal. I get that. If you write mystery fiction, you must take care to do your research about weapons, drugs, the functions of different police agencies, how jails and prisons work, etc. I get that too (Thank you Fiona Quinn  for your amazing site, Thrill Writing!). Can someone please explain to me why it’s not okay to fictionalize a timeline or an inter-agency operation though? It is a ‘story’ – a ‘fiction story’ – after all; right?

I’ve seen readers complain that a writer’s work lacked realism, that a scenario wasn’t plausible. These statements, in regard to mysteries, are usually based on something to do with the investigation or the uncovering of and the catching of the culprit in novels where actual police work is depicted. More recently, I’ve personally received complaints that I don’t seem to understand how law enforcement agencies work. This standard of expecting a fiction writer to be letter perfect on the intricate inner workings of law enforcement does not seem to apply to novels like cozies where the main character sleuth is typically an amateur.

My Morelville Mysteries series main characters are a country county sheriff and a special agent with Customs assigned to an investigative unit. I took great care in the books so far to depict those two agencies and others correctly including structure, capabilities, office locations and so on. What I didn’t, for the sake of the first book in the series, Relic, do, was drag out timelines to the way they would naturally be. I get that it takes an act of God in real life to get a Federal Agency and a local police agency working together to solve a crime. I completely understand that the  timeline for such an operation can be months or years long. A pulp style mystery novel has to be wrapped up in 60,000-80,000 words or so. For Relic, I took some literary license and I made it all happen in about a month.

I didn’t end my first book with an act of God or nature. It didn’t end Deux Ex Machina. Nobody got any super powers either. The investigation reaches its logical conclusion built up to over several chapters, if the reader was paying attention. That some readers don’t find certain scenes (like law enforcement agencies working together) or the overall nature of the ending completely realistic isn’t really my main concern. It’s fiction. Does it have to follow reality completely and all of the time? Why then do we write fiction?

About Anne Hagan

I'm an East Central Ohio based government employee by day and a fiction author by night. I specialize in mystery fiction featuring lesbian sleuths and cozy fiction featuring women sleuths. I also dabble in romance especially romantic lesfic. I live with my wife and our dogs in a tiny town that’s even smaller than the Morelville of my first fiction series and we wouldn't have it any other way. My wife grew up here and she has always called this little village home. Though it’s an ultra-conservative rural community, we're surrounded here by family, longtime friends and many other wonderful people with open hearts and minds. My wife and I are the co-owners of a commercial haunted house: Hagan's House of Horrors. Much as my dream has always been to write fiction, hers has been to create it through the medium of horror. We went full commercial in 2015. Watch us as we grow!
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