The reason we need amateur detectives in fiction and fact

Do we need amateur detectives in fact or only in fiction?

You probably know I have chosen to make my hero an amateur detective. But that’s fiction, isn’t it? What about real life? I have also written about trusting the police. Unfortunately, there are times when the police fail and someone else comes to the rescue. Sometimes there is a far-reaching scandal, such as Hillsborough, the recent Gosport Hospital story, the Jimmy Saville case or the Rochdale abuse saga. Other times it is an individual miscarriage of justice, where innocent people have been convicted,  arrested or ‘merely’ smeared.

Who are the amateur detectives?

Most of the cases I have mentioned came to light only because someone kept on challenging an injustice. Often it was a relative of the victim of the injustice. Journalists (that much-maligned class) played a big part in many cases. Sometimes it was a determined solicitor (another undervalued profession, in all senses except financial).

What’s wrong with the police, that we need these amateurs?

In all the examples I have cited, the police either failed to act, failed to act properly, or managed to arrest the wrong person. Some people say this is evidence of widespread corruption and/or incompetence. I do not believe that our police are all corrupt or incompetent. Of course, some must be. But that’s not the real issue in most cases.

What can an amateur do?

Once the police focus on a prime suspect, they seem to abandon all other lines of enquiry and look only at evidence relating to that person. Even when there is a successful appeal, all too often the police do not look for the real culprit, because they convince themselves that the person they arrested was really guilty and just ‘got off on a legal technicality’. We need an amateur, if anyone is to look beyond the obvious suspect and solve the case properly .

What is my amateur detective, Frank Hill, doing?

I am still rewriting the second in my series, Accounting for Murder. I hope you enjoyed the first, Double Entry.

The subtitle of this second book is Old Money. Frank has to solve a murder, while looking into an apparent haunting, which may or may not be connected. He also has problems in his relationship with his wife, Sian.

Frank is going to find plenty more cases to solve in future. He seems to have a knack for discovering bodies and for disagreeing with the constabulary. It’s fiction. But only just!


Are the Quakers trying to abolish God?

What are the Quakers doing?

The Quakers, or officially the Society of Friends, have aroused some controversy by discussing rewording things to avoid using the word ‘God’. They are asking whether a belief in God is a precondition for being a Quaker.

Are Quakers changing their beliefs or merely changing words?

The Friends have always taken a very broad approach to faith. They have avoided defining God and have welcomed people with various views. They want each person to find God inside himself or herself and are concerned that the term ‘God’ itself is loaded. It may put off some people who would benefit from their meetings and bring something of value to the movement.

Can an Atheist be a Quaker?

The debate is about how far they can reach out to people of differing beliefs. Surely, an atheist could benefit from meditating in a meeting and find much in common with people who hold religious views. Some say you can be spiritual without being religious. It depends on your definitions of both those terms. Perhaps you need a chance to explore what you really believe.

Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Are Quakers following Christ’s example?

Jesus healed and helped people who were not his followers. There was the centurion and the woman from Tyre, who were not Jewish or worshippers of the God of Israel. Christians down the ages have helped people in practical ways without insisting on conversion as a precondition. Of course, an encounter with Jesus tends to change people, but initially he takes us as we are.

Do the Quakers have a message for all of us?

All Christians need to remember to take people as they are and to offer practical and spiritual help as needed. Churches need to offer space for people to meditate and meet others on non-judgemental terms. This does not mean that Christians should be shy about telling others about Jesus and his teachings, as long as we listen to them too.  If you attend an Alpha course, you will hear the case for Christianity, but you will also be listened to. Go to the Alpha website.

Before you join the Quakers, look around.

If you find your church too narrow or dogmatic, try looking around. You may find the Society of Friends is what you need. Or you might find another church of any denomination a lot more open than you think. Perhaps it is you who needs to be less judgemental, about Christians? About God?

A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.
A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.

Is #metoo trying to slay the wrong giant?

What has #metoo been doing?

#metoo has mobilised women, and quite a few men, against sexual predation and institutionalised sexism. This is in response to several well publicised cases, where powerful men have, allegedly, misused their status to commit sexual assaults and rapes. The victims either worked for them or were in some  situation where it was hard to say No. They had for a long time been afraid to report the crime. This publicity has given other victims the confidence to speak out too.

Do only rapists need to worry about #metoo?

No! The movement has made many people more aware of male domination, unequal pay and the unfair treatment of women. This is not just about  some individual men. In many workplaces, men think it is all right to treat women badly and women have to accept it. The #metoo movement wants to change this whole culture.

In what way is #metoo wrong?

I believe the culture everywhere should allow women to achieve their potential and not be oppressed or intimidated. I  want to see the Law applied effectively to criminals of all kinds. There are, however, two ways in which this movement could be going wrong. Most of us have heard a lot about one, but very little about the other.

What do people say against #metoo?

The most common criticism of the movement is that it encourages some women to overreact to minor affronts to such an extent that we can forget the serious ones. Some people, apparently, put as much effort into stopping bad jokes as into exposing sexual assault.

Whilst I think we need a sense of proportion in all things, there is often a slippery slope. If someone starts by getting away with minor insults, they can feel OK about treating women badly in other ways. Context is important. Something may be OK as a one-off, or where everyone knows that the alleged offender respects women generally, but it would be unacceptable if the person repeated the behaviour or if a stranger had said it.

What criticism has #metoo not noticed?

Bad treatment of women, as of racial and other minorities, is a symptom of a larger evil. Oppression, injustice, inequality, the concentration of power and disrespect for others. Some people ill-treat men too, because bullying takes many forms and finds many victims. All power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Whenever one person is able to determine the fate of others without checks and balances, he or she is prone to abusing that power. Where money is concerned, organisations usually have rules about governance. If such rules do not exist or don’t work, financial scandals often occur. I know, as I have worked in audit. We should not be surprised, if people abuse power in other ways, where there is a lack of accountability.

Where there is temptation, there is usually sin.

#metoo is in danger of not going far enough.

If the movement concentrates on the mistreatment of women, it might leave the real giants unslain. We all need to attack injustice and oppression, wherever they occur and whoever is the victim. All human beings are entitled to be treated fairly and with respect. Power needs to be shared more equally and be subject to constraints. Perhaps, though, the #metoo movement is a good place to start.

A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?
A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?