I have wanted to write a series of detective novels for a long time, thanks to writers like Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain and others. In July, my first modern-day cop novel will appear. It is called CITY PROBLEMS, and features a rural sheriff’s detective in a fictional Ohio county.
Alas, this is a strange time in the U.S. to present a new cop novel.
The publishing industry works on a long timeline. While the first novel in my Ed Runyon series is yet to be released, the second novel, WAYWARD SON, is already in the publisher’s hands even though it won’t reach an audience until 2022. While I worked on that book, the U.S. was inundated with horrifying news of encounters between police and minority citizens that led to tragic results, often death. And because Americans are divided on everything these days, the commentary surrounding these violent incidents and the resulting trials has been bitter and divisive.
On the one hand, we have those who automatically see the police as the bad guys, even before much time has passed to assess evidence. On the other side of the social media canyon, we have the people who automatically defend everything the police do, and cast the citizens who die at police hands as thugs and criminals. They, too, seldom take time to learn things or think about it much. They just opine, on automatic pilot.
In such an atmosphere, I wondered at times whether I wanted to write about a cop-turned-private detective. Those were wee-hours thoughts, mostly, when I imagined the reader reviews of my books being filled with angry vitriol from both sides of the divide. To be honest, I still kind of expect that to happen.
But I wrote that second book, of course, and I am glad I did. And now, as the first book is set to debut, I want to share my own thoughts on this national debate.
Here is my position: Cops are human beings.
This means, of course, that the population of cops contains all the virtues and flaws of the population at large. There are some cops who do amazing, wonderful things despite the pressures of an impossible job. And there are some cops who never should have been awarded a badge in the first place.
The trick for all of us, in my opinion, is to recognize that and stop operating on automatic pilot. Take time to think. Assess the situations individually, with an open mind. Recognize the history, and admit that minority Americans do not receive the same kind of justice that white Americans do. And realize that police officers routinely walk into (or hell, even run toward) frightening situations and have to make snap judgments.
Sometimes, those judgments will be wrong. Sometimes, even the right call will result in a tragic death. None of this is easy.
As a nation, we’ll never work all this out unless we stop making quick assumptions and start thinking things through and, more importantly, listening to one another. I don’t know that we can do that, but I can hope.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing about Ed Runyon and the cops he knows and works with. I’m going to present them as human beings, neither saints nor wholly sinners. It’s the best I can do.