I’m a self-avowed mystery junkie and have no problem admitting it to anyone. Since taking a Detective Fiction English elective in high school, I’ve enjoyed reading all types of mystery and thriller fiction along with true crime.
The spate of crime-related television shows in the last decade has done a great deal to increase interest in the mystery genre, but it has also done a great deal to misrepresent how crimes are solved. This I learned very clearly when I attended a mystery writer’s conference in 2007 called “Forensic University.” Writer Jan Burke was passionate about telling us the facts and statistics about real crime labs throughout the US and the fact they are understaffed and lack decent equipment.
What really solves crimes is the patented method of questioning and interviewing witnesses. That involves face-to-face interaction and hours of phone calls and tracking people down. This concept is one I pass along to my students when they take my Detective Fiction class.
Somewhere along the line I missed my true calling as an investigator. I’m tremendously observant and have studied human behaviors. In my teenage years I wanted to be an attorney and prosecute cases. Reality dictated that I was not tough enough of an individual to survive the anti-female sentiments in the 1970s and 80s in regard to women doing “men’s” jobs. It is why I am supportive of those women who were brave enough to do those things.
One television show that has caught my eye this year is the TNT-based “Cold Justice.” One of my students suggested I watch it and I’m glad he did. The premise of the show is a former prosecutor, Kelly Siegler, and a former CSI, Yolanda McClary, travel within the United States to help law enforcement agencies solve cold cases. Many of the cases have remained unsolved for more than a decade.
The viewers meet law enforcement personnel who have worked the cases, families of victims and countless others. The two women, along with seasoned investigators who work with them, attempt to find enough evidence to bring the case to the local district attorney for an indictment.
What strikes me during these shows is the raw emotion involved. Families are still grieving, both women are emotionally impacted and we even get to see that the law enforcement personnel are not the robotic individuals who stereotypically perform their jobs in a detached manner. This was especially evident in the recent episode when Lt. Roger Schoolcraft, of the Alamagordo Police Department, was moved to tears a number of times during the episode.
Another twist to this show is that there isn’t always a happy ending. I sit on the edge of my seat as the team gathers good information and takes it to the DA’s office only to be told the evidence isn’t strong enough. The team then has to report back to the family. In some cases, there have been indictments and successful prosecutions.
Now I just have to figure out how a humble high school teacher will be able to video conference with these ladies. My students would benefit greatly from such an interaction. Any ideas?