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The Police Procedural

The police procedural focuses on the investigative procedures of police detectives. Its key element is its accurate depiction of law enforcement. Some conceal the criminal’s identity whereas others reveal it early in the story. The latter generate suspense not so much on the whodunit but the howdunit and how the culprit is caught.


One of the earliest  examples of a police procedural is Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868), the story of a Scotland Yard detective investigating the theft of a valuable diamond. The popularity of this subgenre bloomed in the post-WWII American films that dramatized and fictionalized actual crimes. The most popular of these “semi-documentaries” was Dragnet. Whereas Dragnet portrayed the heroism of a single pair of cops, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series (1956-2005) focused on various teams of detectives in the precinct.


Here are Carrie Smith’s (Writer’s Digest, November , 2017) six tips for writing a great police procedural:


  • Introduce the crime and key characters, killer included, in the first third of the book. 

  • Have your detective(s) solve the crime in a surprising and dramatic way.

  • Give your lead detective a compelling backstory.

  • Bring your setting to life.

  • Reveal your characters through well-crafted dialog.

  • Follow a plot outline but be willing to change it as your story develops.


Easier said than done, of course, and these tips are useful for writing any mystery. My Miriam bat Isaac mysteries are historical and feature an amateur detective but exemplify these same tips. To see the various books, click here.


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