At first glance, a police procedural series seems like a new departure for me, but in fact it isn’t. I’ve ghostwritten a number of police procedurals that have been published in other people’s names. Some of those people exist in real life, and some don’t – that’s the way it is in publishing today. The more I wrote them for other people, the more I wanted to write some for myself. The main driver was the number of cops I’ve heard talking about police series on TV and saying, ‘I like it, but it’s nothing like real life. That’s not how the police do things.’
“That’s not how the police do things.”
When I saw an Amazon review saying exactly that for a book I’d ghost written, I knew I had to do something. I started asking, ‘Okay. Tell me what does happen. How do the police do things?’ I was amazed by the answers. I’ve watched my share of police dramas on TV and I still do. Some of my favourites have been Rebus, Taggart, Morse, and Vera. I assumed that policing in real life was much like I saw on the screen. I was wrong. Here are some things that TV told me happened when, in real life, they simply don’t:
Top cop enters the interview room and slaps down a file. “Right, sonny, start talking.”
Once upon a time, sure. But not now. Since PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act) was passed in 1984, once someone has been arrested interviewing is done by trained interviewers who may sometimes be detective sergeants but are more usually detective constables. Interviewing is usually all they do. The purpose of the interview is to get the suspect to deny something the police can prove she or he did or to say something the police can prove isn’t true. Then when they get into court, the prosecution can drive the accused’s dishonesty or unreliability home to the jury. That’s why PACE changed the wording of the caution issued when someone is arrested; it now runs: “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
Someone interrupts an interview by banging on the door and saying, “You need to hear this, boss.”
We’ve all seen this on TV; the fact is that the only time an interview will be interrupted by someone coming into the room will be if the building is on fire. Otherwise, it simply won’t happen. If they want to get a message to the interviewers, they will text it to a mobile phone.
The big cheeses watch the interview through a wall which is actually a one-way mirror
Chances are the detectives in charge of the case are watching the interview on a monitor somewhere in the building, but they are almost certainly not standing in the next room watching it through a wall. I’m told there is a wall like that at Kenilworth police station in Warwickshire; other than that they’re as rare in the UK as hen’s teeth.
Those were only three of the things I’d become used to seeing that I had to accept didn’t actually happen. There are a lot more and I’ll cover them in future posts; for now, I’ll just say that Books 1 and 2 of the Batterton Police Series will be out before Christmas. They show the workings of the Major Crimes Investigation Team in the town of Batterton. I’ve adopted the pen name JJ Sullivan to separate them from the rest of my work. In Book 1, Drawn to Murder, men are being killed by two serial killers working in tandem. The serial killers are women with a grudge against the men they’ve selected for a visit from the Grim Reaper. (You can listen to one of the murders here). I’ve had the book checked by Graham Bartlett, now a consultant but previously a very senior policeman who has commanded a Major Crimes Investigation Team, and he assures me that I’ve got the police procedure right – no cop is going to say, ‘We don’t do it like that.’
Book 2, Death to Order, was published on 1 February 2022. Jensen Bartholomew is Zooming with his brother, Cedric, when the door behind Cedric opens and a figure enters covered head to foot in a black gown and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. As Jensen watches, the figure wraps something around Cedric’s neck and pulls it tight. Cedric struggles to free himself and his feet stamp a furious tattoo on the worn lino beneath them, but the figure does not relent. Cedric sinks out of sight. The figure leans in close to the screen and points through it at Jensen. In a deep and gravelly voice, it says, ‘You’re next.’ Then the screen goes as dead as Cedric. Before Detective Inspector Susanna David and her team have unravelled this first murder, others die – and Susanna uncovers a web that entangles not only their local MP but a much wider conspiracy.
Book 3, Murder Under Surveillance, will be published in Autumn 2022. It begins like this:
Batterton Police control room put out a call to the car closest to the address they had just been given. ‘Attend a Grade 1 call to 32 London Road. A neighbour has reported suspicious activity. We are trying to get more information but please attend with caution.’ PC Jamie Pearson turned the car in that direction while his co-responder, PC Mia Rattenbury, acknowledged the call. Mia, a recent recruit but already imbued with the superstition that prevented any cop from ever using the word “quiet” for fear of what it would bring on, said, ‘Should have known it was too Q. I wonder what “suspicious activity” means?’ They were to find out soon enough, because the neighbour who had rung 999 was waiting for them outside number thirty in slippers, pyjamas, dressing gown, scarf and a dark blue woolly hat. Jamie said, ‘Good morning, sir. You called us? Can I have your name, please?’ ‘George Mweah. I live next door. I heard a shot.’ ‘A shot, sir?’ It was a long way from the first time that Jamie had been told the witness had heard a shot, only to find out later that it was a backfiring car, an electrical fault, or something equally innocent. ‘I came to this country from Nigeria, officer. I was a policeman there. I know what a shot sounds like. It came from inside that house. About two minutes later, a man left the house moving at great speed.’ ‘Sir, how did you see that?’ ‘I was looking out of the window.’ ‘At 2 o’clock on a raw February night?’ ‘I’m eighty-two, officer. When you get to my age, you’ll find out why people refer to the middle of the night as the wee hours.’ Jamie smiled. ‘Yes, sir. I see. Thank you, sir. I’ll let you get back to bed.’
Mia’s attempts to attract attention from inside number thirty-two by banging on the door had come to nothing, but when she pressed against the door, it simply opened. Three minutes later, Jamie called Control. ‘One man in the house. He’s been shot. I have confirmed life is extinct. There is no sign of any other human presence. We are securing the scene. Please inform Major Crime and send SOCOs.’