Monday, 19 June 2017


In a recent post, I examined the police procedural sub-genre in terms of its characters and approach to characterization. As a noted authority on the subject explained, "To be a police procedural, a novel must have a set of police characters and--preferably detailed--descriptions of their work as they investigate one or more crimes."

When police characters are added to family members, witnesses and/or suspects, non-police characters involved in the investigation (coroner, forensic pathologist, etc.), and others, the list of characters appearing in a police procedural will be somewhat longer than, say, a private eye novel or a cozy mystery featuring an amateur sleuth in a small town.

Are there too many characters in BURN COUNTRY? To answer this question, it's important to compare its character list to other procedurals, so that apples are being firmly compared to other apples.

To do so, I chose one of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks novels, AFTERMATH (2002), pulling it off the shelf more or less at random. I charted the characters in this novel using the following criterion: I only counted characters who are named by the narrator and have a speaking part in the story. I excluded unnamed characters who speak, including several SOCOs who interact with Banks or Annie for at least a page, and I excluded characters who are named but do not actually appear in the story. Fair enough? I then charted BURN COUNTRY and compiled a comparable list.

The results? There are 53 characters in AFTERMATH, 18 of which are police characters. On the other hand, there are 48 characters in BURN COUNTRY, 16 of which are police characters.

Are there too many characters in AFTERMATH? This novel has 7442 ratings in Goodreads, 40 of which are 1-star ratings. None of the 1-star reviews mention the number of characters. (Interestingly, fellow crime fiction author Val McDermid gave it 1 star!) Additionally, there are 113 2-star ratings, and none of these reviews mention too many characters. In fact, several have solid praise for Robinson's characterization. There are 837 3-star ratings, and I could only spot one review that complained about the number of characters. Et cetera, et cetera.

The point? Readers who enjoy police procedurals understand that novels in the sub-genre contain more characters than novels in other mystery sub-genres, but they appreciate them for the richness they bring to the story!

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