Hillary Waugh Essay - Critical Essays


One of the most interesting aspects of the detective story is the vast variety of forms it has taken in its history. The police procedural, one major variation of the detective novel, got its start in the 1940’s and 1950’s with the work of writers such as Lawrence Treat and Hillary Waugh and has since become one of the most popular forms of the genre. This particular type of story follows the efforts of a police officer or a police force (not a gifted amateur or a private eye) working toward solving a case. Waugh himself explains this emphasis in an essay, “The Police Procedural,” in John Ball’s The Mystery Story (1976):The police procedural thrusts the detective into the middle of a working police force, full of rules and regulations. Instead of bypassing the police, as did its predecessors, the procedural takes the reader inside the department and shows how it operates. These are stories, not just about policemen, but about the world of the policeman. Police Inspector Charlie Chan doesn’t belong. (There’re no police.) Nor does Inspector Maigret. (There are police, but Maigret, like Chan, remains his own man.)

Thus, the police procedural presents a realistic milieu to the reader; the emphasis is on ordinary police officers who solve cases through a combination of diligence, intelligence, and luck. Waugh helped pioneer this particular form and remains one of its masters.

Waugh began to write while he was a pilot in the navy, and he began his career with three fairly standard private eye novels: Madam Will Not Dine Tonight, Hope to Die (1948), and The Odds Run Out (1949). He returned to the private eye form in the early 1980’s with his Simon Kaye novels, a series of entertaining mysteries. It was in 1950, however, that Waugh began a work that would become an influential classic, a work that would help define the emerging type of detective novel known as the police procedural. In writing that novel, Waugh found himself influenced by an unlikely source. In 1949, he had read a book by Charles M. Boswell titled They All Died Young: A Case Book of True and Unusual Murders (1949). The book, a true-crime collection of ten stories about murders of young girls, had a tremendous impact on Waugh. “I went through those stories, one by one, and was never the same thereafter.” Waugh resolved to write a detective story in the same matter-of-fact style as that of Boswell, a detective story that would show how the police of a small town would solve the case of the disappearance and murder of a college girl. That novel, which appeared in 1952 as Last Seen Wearing . . . , is still considered by many to be one of the best detective stories ever written.

Last Seen Wearing . . .

That novel, which appeared in 1952 as Last Seen Wearing . . . , is still considered by many to be one of the best detective stories ever written. The detectives in the story are Frank Ford and his sergeant, Burton Cameron, two ordinary police officers who are well-drawn and realistic characters. In fact, they were so realistic that the rough, grouchy Ford seemed to take over the work as the novel progressed. Waugh had originally intended the two to be modeled on the rather nondescript detectives of the true-crime stories—solid professionals with no outstanding features. Instead, the realistic, complex portrayal of the detectives became an important part of the story and was to become an important part of later successful police procedurals. Like the classic puzzle story or the private eye story, the successful police procedural depends on and revolves around the detectives. Ford and Cameron lack the genius of Sherlock Holmes or the guile of Sam Spade, but they make up for that by being admirably professional police officers and believable, engaging characters.

Sleep Long, My Love

Waugh had clearly hit on a successful formula. In 1959, he returned to the idea of a small-town police force in Sleep Long, My Love. That novel featured a slightly overweight, folksy gentleman named Fred Fellows, the chief of police of...

(The entire section is 1689 words.)