To the Letter!, by Ben Jeapes

Image from the BBC
I thought I would talk about Line of Duty. I mean, hardly anyone else is …

Whether you’ve had so much exposure that you are now at risk of developing anaphylactic shock at one more mention, or whether you’ve never seen a single episode and are proud of it – don’t worry. I’ll use a light touch.

Line of Duty, for all its overly-convoluted self-referential plot lines, was born out of a simple desire to do a police drama that played it absolutely straight. There is far, far, far too much sloppy police drama with a maverick detective who breaks all the rules, goes it alone, and gets results at the cost of half the cast, but that’s okay because they get the bad guys so who’s counting? A variant on this is the maverick detective who breaks all the rules, gets results, but gets into severe trouble as a consequence. Though the bad guys still go down.

Both irritate me, because I expect professionals to be able to put their inner demons aside and, well, be professional. I’m not only a lawyer, so I will only guess that at least ninety percent of the fictitious cases we see on TV would be thrown out in court over procedural irregularity.

So, Line of Duty’s set pieces are the interviews, which are done ruthlessly by the book, to the letter of the law. The suspect is sat down with their brief and confronted by their inquisitors, who assemble fact after fact, catalogued and researched and numbered, into a seamless narrative that is absolutely devastating to the guilty. This, you feel, is how police work should be.

Of course, sometimes a fact is wrong – they’ve made a mistake, or been deliberately led astray – and so their whole case gets seamlessly derailed. But there has to be a story, doesn’t there?

It set me wondering. At the end of our stories, could the characters face a Line of Duty-style interrogation from Ted, Kate and Steve on the charge that their motives and actions do not make sense? Because our own storytelling should be watertight.

Sometimes I have pointed out a logical flaw in a manuscript to an author, and they immediately start telling me how it actually does work, with reference to a whole lot of stuff that the reader doesn’t know because they haven’t got round to writing it down. All well and good, fella, but the fact is, there's something there that does not make sense to an uninformed third party, i.e. a reader, so it needs to be dealt with.

We have the best sort of precedent here. Acts 17 tells us that Paul would go into the synagogue as per custom and reason from scripture about Jesus. He could stitch together a seamless narrative based on what his audience already knew. So should we. We have the examples of both the Apostle to the Gentiles and Superintendent Ted Hastings telling us so, and that’s a powerful combination.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. How right you are! But sometimes it takes someone other than ourselves to see plot holes and inconsistencies. Standing back from your work and reading as a reader is probably almost impossible.

  2. How interesting! I haven't seen any of it and probably should. I feel exactly the same way about Unforgotten. No wrestling with demons, just good, solid police work and a healthy dose of compassion. We all need that kindly, yet stern police person reading our writing. Great analogy!

    1. To be perfectly frank, Unforgotten is much better and far more believable!

  3. this is a good reminder, thank you. I don't have a TV, but a friend was so concerned by this, that last week they lent me five box-sets of 'Spooks' and a whole series of 'Line of Duty'. I've not started that yet, but watched 2 episodes of Spooks. The jury is out on that one.

  4. Well, I'm a Line of Duty fan, and I agree Ben, we do need an inquisition on our books before they venture into the arms of an agent/publisher. So difficult to believe calmly that the critic may have a point! (Several points probably.)


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