The violent detective as a type

I do like reading detective novels and police procedurals.  A couple of recent ones are interesting because of what they have in common: main characters, professional policemen both, who brutally assault someone when they are not personally under threat. And they are not portrayed as anomic thugs, but as sympathetic protagonists.

Snow Angels is set in Finland, but is written by an American, James Thompson. So it's a bit of a Nordic thriller with training wheels. Kari Vaara, Thompson's Finnish cop, explains things to us, or to his American wife, like an expression about the passing of time that's based on the fact that you have to let a reindeer urinate every so often to avoid kidney problems, that are revealing and interesting. The book overall, however, is both unpleasant and incomprehensible.  It has a high level of sexual violence and degradation, and murderers pop up out of nowhere. One main suspect kills himself without, as far as I know, ever having been on stage at all. Vaara never, at any point, figures anything out. He sucks as a detective, and deserves to suffer the consequences of this, since he deliberately misleads others in order to stay on the case. Occasionally, he calls someone, who quickly provides the necessary answer--not that these answers get Vaara too far. Writing a real detective story is hard--believe me, I've tried it. Thompson doesn't have the knack yet.

But, the violent detective part. At one point Vaara beats and threatens to kill a suspect, his ex-wife's current husband, because the man insults Vaara's American wife. Real smooth police work there, Vaara. I suspect that this type of behavior is frowned on, even in Finland.  I'd say Snow Angels is mildly interesting (I did finish it), and decently written, but there are a huge number of better Nordic detective stories out there.

In the rural Wyoming Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson, the sheriff, Walt Longmire, beats someone up because of something bad he did, and breaks his nose. The victim is not a suspect or even anyone involved in the investigation, and this would, in the real world, endanger or even end Longmire's career.  I'm not quite done with Cold Dish, and so can't say what consequences this has in the book. And Cold Dish has significant virtues which I will discuss in another post.

In both cases, these are not even remotely fair fights. In one case the victim is a suspect in custody, in the other he's just walking down the street. Both detectives are portrayed as sympathetic (Longmire more so than Vaara). These acts make them look like volatile morons. What gives?

I'm starting to suspect this is just a cliche, a sign that the detective, despite some sensitvity, is not to be messed with. It's like alcoholism, a liking for jazz, a history of divorce, a troubled relationship with an adolescent child--a signifier of late-stage hardboiled fiction, which tries to be sensitive, then gets nervous about it. I may have to just live with it.

I prefer my detectives opaque and focused on the job. I'm not much interested in their inner conflicts. So unprofessional behavior based on their deep inner flaws just irritates me. If they actually suffered the consequences of their actions, I might get more interested.