Joyce Porter Essay - Critical Essays


The novels of Joyce Porter are humorous jabs at three of the most popular genres of modern fiction: the police procedural, the international thriller, and the private-investigator novel. In her work, the common thread is human behavior reduced to absurdity. Her heroes are ludicrous antitheses of what the reader has come to expect in these genres.

Porter’s most infamous character is Wilfred Dover, detective chief inspector of Scotland Yard. Dover is described in the following fashion:His six-foot-two frame was draped, none too elegantly, in seventeen and a quarter stone [241 pounds] of flabby flesh. . . . Round his thick, policeman’s neck . . . a thin, cheap tie was knotted under the lowest of his double chins. . . . Dover’s face . . . was large and flabby like the rest of him. Only the details—nose, mouth and eyes—seemed out of scale. They were so tiny as to be almost lost in the wide expanse of flesh. . . . His hair was thin and black and he had a small black moustache of the type that the late Adolf Hitler did so much to depopularize.

Dover Three

In Dover Three (1965), when it is suggested that Dover be given a case, the assistant commissioner of New Scotland Yard says, “I thought I told you to get rid of that fat, stupid swine months ago!” “I’ve tried, sir,” replies his subordinate unhappily, “but nobody’ll have him.” With a primary character such as this, the reader knows immediately that Scotland Yard’s reputation is in dire straits.

Dover’s career, as chronicled by Porter, is always set in wretched locales far from metropolitan London. New Scotland Yard wants Dover as far away as he can be sent. He is assigned missions no one else would want. Once on the scene of the crime, Dover invariably finds miserable weather and terrain. When unattractive characters and bizarre crimes are added to the plot, the reader is quite aware that little good can possibly come from such a situation. Throughout the series, Dover’s assistant, Sergeant MacGregor, provides the obligatory straight character, but MacGregor’s solid procedures are always sacrificed to Dover’s animalistic behavior. Inevitably, Dover’s bowels or personal pique interrupt reasoned efforts to solve crimes. While on a case, Dover meets characters who are driven by the same passions that drive him—greed, petty revenge, or hatred. He does usually solve his cases, though in unorthodox and malevolent fashion.

Porter frequently twists her endings...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)