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The mystery of the dead policeman and the Baroness

TODAY - a complete murder mystery] Unabridged] Introducing Detective Chief Inspector Gilbert Raddle - and saying goodbye to him as well] In . . . 'The Man Who Wanted To Meet P D James'.

'Know something, sergeant?' said Inspector Raddle.

'What's that, sir?' said Sergeant Bradley.

'I don't like opera, sergeant.'

'Really, sir?'

'Do you spot the significance of that?'

'No, sir.'

'The significance is, Bradley, that if I were a chief inspector in a book or a television programme, I would have to like opera in order to be an interesting character. Or French food, or something. All fictional detectives have some monomania or other. Even Sherlock Holmes played the sodding violin. But I don't'

'No, sir.'

There was a pause. Bradley wondered if they had come to the significant bit yet.

'In my experience, chief inspectors don't have time for interesting monomanias, Bradley. They only get time to sleep and catch up on their paperwork.'

'Yes, sir.'

'I've been thinking a lot about fictional inspectors recently, Bradley, and I've had a thought that nobody else has had. These books are generally pretty well researched, especially those written by women. Police routine, protocol, techniques - all pretty good. But one thing is wrong. Know what it is?'

'No, sir.'

'Too many murders. All police thrillers are murder stories. But there aren't that many murders in real life. And most real-life murders aren't baffling. It's quite clear whodunnit, usually.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Strange, isn't it, that murder writers should do their research and get everything else right, but then get this one thing wrong. There are more murders in Agatha Christie than have happened in the Isle of Wight this century.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Well, Bradley, has it occurred to you that some murder writers might have realised that they wrote about murders but never came close to one? And done their own research into murder?'

'By going out on a murder case?'

'No, sergeant. By committing a murder.'

'You mean . . .'

'Yes, sergeant?'

'You mean, a murder writer might get first-hand experience of what she or he was talking about by actually doing one? And killing someone?'

'Yes, sergeant, I do.'

'I think it's preposterous.'

'That may be so, sergeant. But I think it's equally preposterous to say flatly that no murder writer in the history of the world has ever committed a murder. And it's equally preposterous not to consider the theory when the next baffling murder takes place.'

'You mean, next time we have a murder and all the leads have dried up and we're getting nowhere, pull in the leading crime writers and see if they've got alibis?'

'Something like that.'

'Do you know how many crime writers there are, sir? How can you pull them all in?'

'All right, not all of them. Just the top few. Ruth Rendell. Colin Dexter. P D James . . .'

'Sir, may I just say that your compulsion to meet P D James is driving everyone round the bend? It's got beyond a joke now.'

'Come in, Baroness James of Holland Park,' muttered Raddle softly to himself. 'May I just say first what a great pleasure it is? May I call you P D? I may? Now, P D, can you tell me exactly where you were on the night of . . .'

It was at this point that the sergeant snapped, pulled out a gun and shot Inspector Raddle. He had had enough. Of course, in murder stories it's never the inspector who dies, and it's never the faithful sidekick sergeant who kills him. But then, real life isn't quite like a murder story, is it? In any case, the matter was quickly hushed up, and when anyone made inquiries they were told that the inspector had retired from the force for medical reasons. Which, in a sense, was true.