Neil Placky’s excellent guest blog on The Kill Zone recently got me thinking about the nature of mystery series, police procedurals in particular. The series seem to fall into three camps: protagonists who are always linked to the criminal case being solved, cops who are sometimes linked to the case at hand, and detectives who rarely have an emotional connection to the case they’re working on. I’m not as widely read as I’d like to be, so my examples here are broad.
In the first category, the TV show Murder She Wrote comes to mind (as well as most cozies). In the third category, there’s John Sanford’s long-running series about Detective Lucas Davenport and Ridley Pearson’s series about Detective Lou Boldt. Neither detective hardly ever has a personal stake in their cases’ outcomes, yet they are favorites of mine—and millions of other readers.
My own series (and many others) falls into the middle. But even when Detective Jackson has a link to the case he’s solving, it’s not an intimate first-person connection.
I know many readers like emotional connections, but the question this raises for me is credibility. If your protagonist (whether a cop, an FBI agent, reporter, or private detective) is surrounded by people who can’t stay out of trouble, does he or she start to seem suspect? If every crime he/she solves is somehow personal, does your series start to lose credibility?
I’m thinking about this now because I’m plotting my fourth Jackson story and wondering how important the personal connection is to readers.
Writers: Do you connect your protagonist personally to his/her cases? Is it working for you?
Readers: How important is the personal connection? Can a series lose your respect if the protagonist has too many personal connections to criminal cases?