Behind the Labels

Pauline Kirk in the Crime Writer's Association's Members Newsletter 'Red Herrings'

Pauline Kirk, the 'P' in PJ Quinn was featured in the Crime Writer's Association's Red Herrings newsletter's 'Hot Topics' section. Pauline and her daughter Jo Summers are responsible for the 4 DI Ambrose novels available from Stairwell Books. This item, written by Pauline is reproduced below.

J.G.Harlond asked in the August Red Herrings, ‘How cosy are cosy mysteries?’  Indeed.

My daughter (Jo Summers) and I write crime fiction as PJ Quinn. We collaborate on the DI Ambrose Mysteries, which are usually labelled ‘police procedurals’ or ‘cosy crime’.  Though we accept that publishers and booksellers need to know where to put our books, we don’t want to be confined by a label.

Our novels are set in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s, when the effects of World War Two were still being felt.  Both our central characters have war-time memories. Ambrose is troubled by nightmares, reliving the bombing raid that nearly killed his wife; DS Winters retains attitudes from his service in the Military Police.  There are still bomb sites and damaged buildings in our imaginary small town (useful for atmosphere and hiding one’s villains). Dark events during the Occupation of the Channel Islands feature in Poetic Justice, the fourth in the series. None of that is ‘cosy’.

The Fifties were also an uneasy time, when many longed to return to ‘normal life’ while others wanted change (echoes of our present situation perhaps?). Our young WPC has to deal with prejudice and sexist attitudes as she seeks to make a career in the Force. Then there are the murders themselves. Though we decided not to write violent crime, sudden death is not nice, even off stage.

True, our plots do involve a group of central figures, often neighbours or friends linked to each other, for example by being in a choir (Close Disharmony) or an amateur dramatic group (Foul Play), but this enables us to develop their characters in depth, and to explore possible motives. Besides, most people in the ‘50’s did live circumscribed lives. The growth of mass travel and Higher Education didn’t take place until the 1960’s.

As for the Police Procedural label: yes, our central characters are members of the Police rather than amateur detectives, but they have lives outside the Force, which affect their decisions. They too are limited by their period, lacking modern scientific and technological tools. We find that more fun. What might nowadays be solved by checking a data base becomes an intellectual puzzle, one we hope readers enjoy solving along with our characters.

So, while we have to accept the labels our profession chooses and needs, they don’t define us!