Policeman, a Man in Uniform
Lena Blaudez, journalist
and author of crime fiction living in Berlin
Translation: Claire Gorrara
What is a man in a uniform? Is it someone like you, someone like me?
Or is he someone a little different?
Is he dressed quite simply in an appropriate manner as a powerful
member of a group equally dressed in a uniform fashion? Is he the authoritarian
arm of execution of a particular power base? Or is he a hero, Gary
Cooper-like, in the style of High Noon ?
At the beginning of the 1980s in Berlin,
then capital of the GDR, a man in uniform (m.i.u.) shouted: ‘Show me your papers. That's all
very well. It is half past midnight and you are walking around here
even though you don't live here. I'm going to make a note of that.
So you're one of those women who support ‘Macht Schwerter zu Pfulgscharen',
are you?' (1)
In the middle of the 1980s, on the border
between Hungary and Yugoslavia, a m.i.u. shouted: ‘You should admit
that you wanted to escape. What do you think it would feel like if
I were to stub my cigarette out on your wrist?'
At the beginning of the 1990s in Lagos,
Nigeria, a m.i.u., aiming a machine gun, demanded: ‘Give me money
or you're dead'.
In the middle of the 1990s in Cotonou,
Benin, a m.i.u. shouted: ‘Get
out of the car! You've just come the wrong way down a one-way street.
I am therefore confiscating your car…. Okay, 500 CFA and we'll forget
the whole thing. Let's go and get a drink; it's on me'.
At the end of the 1990s in Berlin, capital
of the Federal Republic of Germany, a m.i.u. shouted: ‘Get off! A bike on the pavement, you're
liable for a fine of 20 euros. No, you're right, I wouldn't risk my
life riding on the road here either – even so it's a fine of 20 euros'.
So who is the man in a uniform? Is it someone like you, someone like
me? It doesn't matter. Or is he someone who is, in a way, less distinctive?
(1) Translator's note: the refers to an
East German peace movement that literally translates as ‘From Swords
The Cops are Everywhere
The crime novel uses and abuses
Yet, the crime novel first began by favouring the private investigator,
amateur or professional, the descendent of the adventurer of 19 th
century serials who was then plunged into murder mysteries. But very
quickly, the police became part of the picture, as helper for the private
investigator and above all as the symbol of justice and punishment.
We only need refer to Edgar Poe or Conan Doyle's adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, important reference points for the Anglo-Saxon tradition.
Essentially focused on a return to order and normality, the first
crime novels sought to re-establish order and normality in a society
presented as suddenly prey to the disorder of crime. The preference
was for bloody crime, the greatest of transgressions, the inadmissible
act that the investigator as hero had to struggle with in order to
discover the solution to the mystery. In the finale, his quest and
struggle aimed to restore order, balance and decorum in an unchanging
society whose fundamental structures were rarely criticised in the
As the crime novel developed and new variations evolved, it became
clear to many authors that those who in daily contact with such inadmissible
acts were generally to be found within the institutions of law and
order, mostly those departments dealing with murder. So imperceptibly,
the second serial hero of the crime novel in the twentieth century
was created: the police investigator.
Authors returned to the sources of French crime fiction with their
policemen and official investigations, from Vidocq to Gaboriau. Of
course, these characters were brought up to date, adapted to suit their
era by their authors, and eventually culminated in the magisterial
creation of Maigret by Simenon, a police character who featured in
nearly 80 novels from the late 1920s onwards and who had an enormous
impact on the literary genre.
By a number of different pathways, the cop as leading protagonist
became one of the key elements of the crime novel, whether Francophone
Even when the American tradition created
one of the most durable archetypes of the modern crime novel: the
private detective. This private professional investigator struggled
in a more realist world than that of his predecessors. He was a character
who sometimes took it upon himself to impose justice and who did
not always succeed in his ventures. He was troubled by life and by
a social order that he could not always accept as he found it. Yet,
the American tradition of crime novels also ended up by concentrating
on the role of the cop, whether that meant thrillers mixing action
and investigations or more classic romans noirs. This slide towards
the central character of the cop happened all the more quickly as the
myth of the American PI became ‘overused' by noir writers from other
cultures and became the stuff of pastiche from the 1950s onwards.
The magisterial transposition of the PI onto the silver screen from
the 1940s must not be forgotten. Adapted directly from American hard-boiled
crime fiction, the character of the PI gave birth to the first classics
of film noir and contributed of course to the overrepresentation of
the mythic PI.
The creation of Ed McBain's 87 th precinct
and its policemen – a series
begun in 1956 and that is still going strong today – was one of the
most striking examples of the return of the character of the policeman,
after the reign of the PI.
In addition, from the 1980s onwards,
police characters forced their way into Anglo-Saxon crime novels,
especially American crime novels. But this time, the net was cast
more widely and crime fiction recruited the likes of forensic experts,
police squads who was supposed to be ‘anti'
everything imaginable (from drugs to terrorism), the police who were ‘the
police of the police' (the notorious Internal Affairs units), cops
from the C.I.D., cops who provided special protection and many more
that I must have forgotten.
Of course, there was also, from the 1990s onwards, the plethora of
characters from the many different police forensic units, a subtle
variation on the forensic expert who was also being overused in the
pages of crime fiction. From now on, scientific experts would be the
key figures in the crime intrigues and able to solve the mystery.
The evidence is incontrovertible; the police have literarily invaded
the late twentieth-century crime novel and its early twenty-first century
To all of this must be added TV police serials and series. The fan
base for such series is enormous in this mass media whose programmes
now reach the huge audiences previously enjoyed by genre literature,
such as crime fiction, during the twentieth century up until the middle
of the 1970s. Crime series, featuring cop-detectives, police stations,
street detectives and forensic experts have been steadily on the increase
since the 1980s and have now reached the point where they are everywhere
on French, English and American screens. No one can escape them.
Amongst this abundance of crime novels and TV series featuring a cop
as the main characters, some authors can still be found who edge this
official hero of modern society towards darker, even completely noir,
territory. Even so, the vast majority of the stories that we are told
serve up yet again the image of the peace maker from the first mystery
novels but this time in the guise of a cop, thereby upholding the image
of normality and order in modern society via the intermediary of a
character whose sworn duty it is to defend such notions.
Why is this so? Is it because our modern societies are so in need
of reassurance that we have to display the soothing image of a paternalistic
and repressive power in the pages of this police fiction, a reassurance
demanded by a reading public that cannot find peace itself? Is this
a means of exorcising demons, those of society?
On the other hand, mystery - and the
quest for an explanation – is
one of the key traits of the human psyche. It is a primal need that
is deeply rooted in our humanity; it is a distorted image of the existential
questions that are deep within us. It is this mystery that motivates
us and drives scientific curiosity, superstitions, religions and crime
fiction in general.
This is the mystery that can be interpreted and solved by the sorcerer.
Like the popular scientific investigators who use magic and a knowledge
that is known only to the select few, impenetrable to the man in the
street, these investigators also use magic to explain the mystery and
avert the crisis. The reader or viewer is only asked to keep faith
and is rewarded with reassurance.
Through all of this, the police that surround us want to project an
image of modernity, without the reader really being sure how to interpret
this term. Of course, as in the past, there is a certain type of policeman
who should act directly on behalf of the citizen, protecting and helping
If the location where we see this role
being the most clearly enacted is on the public highway where the
citizen directly benefits, in other areas of police activity, their
role and their aims are less clearly defined and more uncertain.
In contrast, official power - whatever form it takes – remains the driving force behind the armed units of
this police, a political power that is ready to turn its weapons on
those that it is meant to protect. This ‘modern' police has only become
modern in order to control more effectively its citizens, to contain
them better, to protect even more the super-rich and those who hold
the reins of power. As in the past… little has changed.
Except that modernity has allowed those
in power, systematically and cynically, to frighten the wits out
of those of weak convictions via a ‘mass' media, less and less independently minded. They lead them,
like sheep, to call for still more ‘modern' controls and checks of
which they are the first victims, set against a backdrop of zealous
As in all corrupt situations, without
taking much responsibility for the fundamental questions asked, the
police in Europe have kept going thanks to its great tradition of
fornicating with ‘the ‘homo politicus'.
But in our survey of main character types,
les us not forget the psychologists of all persuasions, those allies
who come to the aid of the judicial system and its technocrats. It
is the psychologists who are currently taking over the so called ‘detective' novel in great numbers… when
they are not dominating the court room in real life.
These psychologists are but other high priests of a fake science that,
in modern times, has reached the status of a religion. They are complicit
in media manipulations; they are the hidden supporters of advertising,
of the televisual age and stage how politics is presented to the voter.
They are everywhere and have become the sorcerers of contemporary crime
fiction. Just look at your thrillers and the repeated formulas of the
And it's not over. We are soon going
to calling on them in greater numbers. Haven't we just ‘discovered' that the signs of juvenile delinquency
can be detected in children as young as three? I expect that we will
soon be again measuring the circumference of heads and the length of
noses, alongside magic tests that are supposed to weigh up our mental
capacities. What good times they have to look forward to… It will be
the meeting of the sorcerers and Pinocchio, as in real life as in crime
fiction, as in our daily lives…
I hope that the traffic police can forgive
me, but I really can't see the police devoted to the average citizen
that political propaganda has so vaunted in recent years. On the
other hand, in the thriller and the modern traditional crime novel
he is omnipresent – the cops
For more than fifty years, mainstream fiction has given up confronting
the real problems in society and has been of no help. It is therefore
imperative that we fall back on the roman noir. It is often very pessimistic
but seems to be the only genre that has dealt insightfully with the
themes of corruption, police excesses and the real battle against evil
The roman noir is the
only cure for the crime virus and the cravings for authoritarian
solutions. It is the last line of defence before the law and order
pandemic that the sorcerers-apprentices are happy to propagate; those,
who, from their bastions of power, claim to be our guides and protectors
and, finally to govern us.