commissaire inspector dottore
a bibliography of detective-inspector novels
the elizabeth harris seriesKingdom Come. New York: Berkley, 2016.
In the Land of Milk and Honey. New York: Berkley, 2016.
Kingdom Come by Jane Jensen takes a new step in working technology into the police procedural, a step that dates it to 2016, certainly, but at the same time opens up new ideological possibilities (and new plot dynamics). Detective Elizabeth Harris and her supervisor Lieutenant Mike Grady interview a lot of suspects after they get a report of a dead girl in a Pennsylvania barn. They bring an iPad and record each interview.
When reading Michael Connelly's Poet (1996) 14 years after it was published, I remarked on the use of cutting-edge technologies in Connelly's plot. Key to the investigation in The Poet is a digital camera that stores photos on a chip instead of on film – a recondite item at the time (and now recondite enough again, by 2016, when everyone's camera is their phone). The problems of storing photographs on memory chips in 1996 become central to crime and detection. Chips are expensive and limited and vulnerable.
But by 2016, recording and storing extensive videos is like jotting stuff in a notebook back in 1966: there's an unlimited supply of cheap, user-friendly storage media, and our detectives use it transparently.
Technology is foregrounded in Kingdom Come because it's set in the Amish community. It should hardly come as a surprise that there are Amish-themed Krimis, despite the peaceful connotations of the culture ("There's never been a murder among the Amish—ever," protests Harris ). Peter Weir's film Witness broke this ground as early as 1985, and Amish settings are used for other genre fiction. In particular, there is a healthy Amish-romance-fiction industry, providing much of the stock of the few bookstores that dot US 30 in central Pennsylvania.
And there is romance on offer in Kingdom Come. A woman author gives us a first-person-narrator woman detective, and before you know it she's crushing on a material witness. One is tempted to scorn this plot direction as chick-litty, but note the double standard behind the scorn. Male detectives have been gazing at the women they interview for a century now, and still are. So when Harris walks into Ezra Beiler's barn and notices that
he had on those black pants that rode his hips so effortlessly, black suspenders, and a plain blue shirt rolled up at the cuffs. I watched the healthy veins in his strong forearms as he worked the screwdriver. (67-68)well, turnabout is more than fair play.
When the detective falls for the dame, of course, the dame usually turns out to be poison. The satisfying (because conventional?) resolution to the mirror-image attraction Elizabeth feels from Ezra would be that Ezra turns out to be the killer. But Ezra does not turn out to be the killer. The killer is a relatively unsympathetic character, the wife of a decidedly unsympathetic pedophile. Her motives are mixed; I attribute the killings to "cosmic justice" (she is Amish and has a fiery code of morality), but there's a splash of jealousy and some incentive to cover up her husband's crimes also involved.
Meanwhile Ezra and Elizabeth commence living happily ever after, a union that will provide Elizabeth with a vicarious insider perspective on the Amish community as an inevitable string of murder cases break out over the course of the series to come. But one can't help thinking that Amish romance briefly overpowers Amish noir in the generic makeup of Kingdom Come.
Elizabeth Harris is a mere detective here, without much supervisory authority. The "detective-inspector" character should be Grady. Grady isn't tangential to the telling of the story – he and Harris have a strong rapport, and trade barbs throughout the book. She goes a little rogue on him; he doesn't ask for her badge and gun, but he reassigns her to less sensitive areas of the case, a reassignment she blithely ignores in order to solve the whole thing. The two senior cops are assisted by a couple of gumshoes named Smith and Hernandez, their generic surnames serving as effective character notes.
Unusually for a procedural, Kingdom Come is written in the first person. That helps it work as a convincing romance – Harris's desire for Ezra is strongly depicted – but of course makes the investigation a more subjective exercise. If not for the full confessions, one might read the novel à la Pierre Bayard and suspect that Harris has let her passion whitewash Ezra's suspect behavior, causing her to focus instead on his opponents among the Amish community. Or to ignore the theory that Grady prefers, that of a random or loosely connected outsider.
Well, murder has come to the Amish, at least fictionally, and as I noted, sequels and series loom ahead with an interest in fomenting more murder there. Paradise (Pennsylvania) Lost!
Bayard, Pierre. Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd? 1998. Paris: Minuit, 2008.