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Best Police Procedurals

recommended by Louisa Scarr

Seen to Be Believed by Louisa Scarr


Seen to Be Believed
by Louisa Scarr


Crime fiction told from the point of view of the police investigating a crime is hugely popular, with dozens of books published each year. Here British writer Louisa Scarr, author of a series set in Southampton and featuring DS Robin Butler and DC Freya West, talks us through some of her favourite police procedurals and explains why they're so fun to read and write.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

Seen to Be Believed by Louisa Scarr


Seen to Be Believed
by Louisa Scarr

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Before we get to your book choices, it’d be great if you could introduce police procedurals. It’s a genre you write in and clearly also read and they’re everywhere. Why do people like them?

I never set out to write in this genre. But I wrote a book for my old publisher and she said, ‘Basically, this is a police procedural.’ I was intrigued – I hadn’t even heard of the term! As a reader, I always thought there was crime – and that was it. She instructed me to go away and do some reading: Eva Dolan, Susie Steiner, all the best ones out there. So I did.

Personally, I love writing them because police get access to everywhere. And that makes the investigation much more interesting. There are all the databases, the intel. But also the lovely professions that interact with the case. So you have the pathologist, the SOCOs (the scene of crime officers), maybe a blood spatter expert. There are all these people who come in, and that can give wonderful – sometimes nasty – detail that I like to throw into the book.

I think readers like police procedurals for the relationships. That’s certainly why I enjoy them. These people work closely with each other in terrible circumstances. There’s also a puzzle – and human beings love puzzles. You can go on the ride with the cops and solve it at the same time as they do. With a skillful writer, the reader can pick up those clues and, at the end, see how it all comes together. Usually, the crime is solved and there’s a resolution – everybody likes a happy ending.

Do you think these kinds of books are an accurate representation of how police work, or are police horrified when they read them?

I aim to be as accurate as possible. For example, I tried to be as close to reality as I could in Seen to Be Believed, when one of the characters is arrested and he goes through custody. I have police friends who advise me and answer my endless questions. I watch 24 Hours in Police Custody and as many fly-on-the-wall documentaries as I can – they’re all useful. But for everything I am able to get right, there are some things where I’m deliberately stretching the truth. You can’t write a fast-moving novel and have fingerprints take weeks to come back or wait six months for DNA results. Police will almost always be working on more than one case at a time, but you can’t do that in a novel – it will just get confusing.

So I have to take a few liberties. I do recognize that how police procedurals are written isn’t what the police is like. In a police procedural, you expect people to work in partnerships…

Yes, there’s normally a duo working together. If they’re attracted to each other, they never quite get together, but their love life elsewhere is dysfunctional.

Well, that part is true for normal detectives…

Okay, let’s go through the police procedurals you’re recommending. First up is Remain Silent by Susie Steiner. This is set in Cambridgeshire and features a DI called Manon Bradshaw. This is book number three in the series, and it’s about migrant workers. Tell me why you like it.  

I love Susie Steiner’s writing. One of the things that I think distinguishes her books from some of the other police procedurals is it focuses as much on Manon and her home and personal life as it does on the case and the police side. Especially in Remain Silent – there’s a hell of a lot about her and the mess of her life. In this one, her world is actually starting to take shape, she’s got a bloke called Mark and you really get to know her; picking up the book was like coming back to an old friend and remembering everything that I loved about Manon. I like books where you can really get to know the characters and where they feel real. Susie Steiner wrote that character so perfectly. It’s such a wonderful book.

So if somebody hasn’t heard of Susie Steiner before, should they start with the first book?

That’s always the question with series – and all the books I’ve chosen are series. It’s tricky isn’t it? I would always recommend starting from the beginning because you get to know the characters over the course of the books. But equally, people don’t have all the time in the world and there are always too many brilliant books to read! Generally I think just read what takes your fancy: all these books are written in a way that you can just pick one up and you’re in it. All the cases are unique.

And Remain Silent is your favorite of hers?

Yes, it is. She died quite soon after, so this is the last one she wrote which made it poignant for me. I think knowing that when I was reading it made it unique, in a way.

Let’s go on to Firewatching by Russ Thomas. This is part of a series set in Sheffield.

Yes, it’s the first in the series. I’ve read all three. The main character is a detective called Adam Tyler. Full disclosure here! I have a thing for dark, slightly disturbed main detectives. I know it’s a cliche, 100% a trope, but I love it. Adam is one of those in this book. I think Russ Thomas’s point of difference with Adam is he’s gay and I don’t know many other detective stories where the main character is gay. Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels series is another one, but there aren’t many.

I just really enjoy the way that Russ writes him and the way that the story takes shape because of Adam and his relationships with the team – and how he invariably screws up. It’s a brilliant book and Adam Tyler is a fantastic, layered character.

Is he part of a police duo? He has a DC called Amina Rabbani.

There are there a number of people in the team. There’s an inspector called Jim Doggett as well. It’s more about the dynamic. They’re not particularly close, they tend rub up against each other, and not necessarily in the best way. They banter and don’t like each other and fall out and then get back together again. It’s good fun.

Let’s go to Norway now and a book called Unhinged by Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst. Tell me about this one.

This is a Scandi noir so it’s all the cold and ice and darkness that we like so much. I tried to look for police procedurals that have something different about them. Something original. What I find interesting about this one is that it’s written by two people. As a writer, you spend so much time alone it baffles me how any two authors would write a detective story together, but they do. The chapters are very, very short. Thomas Enger’s background is in journalism, Jørn Lier Horst was a cop, and whatever experiences they bring to the table it obviously works because the books are great.

Unhinged is the third in the series. Again, I’ve read all of them in order but Unhinged…I don’t want to say much about the plot and spoil it, but it’s certainly the most heartrending of all the books. The ending is particularly good. When you’ve got to that point with the characters, and then that happens…

And the pair here is Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm?

Yes, Emma Ramm is a journalist and Blix is the cop, so it reflects the two authors’ backgrounds. Blix and Ramm aren’t a couple. It’s more an adopted father and daughter relationship.

Let’s go on to your fourth book which is The Treatment by Mo Hayder. This is set in London.

You have to take a very deep breath before you read The Treatment. Mo Hayder’s books are generally violent, but The Treatment takes it to another level. If you can get through it without feeling disturbed or physically sick at some point, then credit to you.

Mo Hayder wrote police procedure astonishingly well. Her research was amazing. How on Earth did she know all this stuff? But at the same time, the story is just astonishing. It’s got another dark, disturbed lead detective, Jack Caffery. He’s morally a bit off. My editor wouldn’t allow me to write some of the things he does. The book is such a mindfuck. You’ll come away going, ‘What the hell was that??’ It’s the most brilliantly done, disturbed book you’ll ever read.

Wow, OK.

I’ve read another one of hers recently which is a follow on. It’s still quite dark because it’s Mo Hayder, but not as disturbing as The Treatment.

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Okay, let’s go on to the last police procedural you’ve chosen, which is Sirens by Joseph Knox. This is set in Manchester and it’s the first in a series.

Yes, again I picked the first one because I’ve read all three. This is less police procedural because it features a detective called Aidan Waits who tends to go off piste. It’s very dark, very gritty. The book starts with a girl going missing and he’s brought on to the case to try and find her. It brings him into a shady world of prostitution and organized crime.

I absolutely love Aidan Waits. There’s definitely a theme here: another dark, disturbed man who you’d never want to go out with but you’d probably want to sleep with. I love that. And I love the way that Joseph Knox writes him in these stories. It’s a fantastic series.

Lastly, tell me a bit about the book you’ve just published, Seen to be Believed, which is part of a police procedural series. Should a reader start at the beginning, or it is OK to start with the latest?

I deliberately made them all standalone, but there are some events that happen in the first book that are referenced throughout. So Seen to be Believed is the fourth book in the Butler and West series, which follows DS Robin Butler and DC Freya West. When they meet in the first book, neither of them are in a great place. Robin had a sister, basically his only family, who died in a car accident. We quickly learn that the man Freya was having an affair with is the victim in the murder they’re investigating.

So that’s the set up for the first book and it forges a bond which continues in the others. Seen to be Believed begins as a woman is attacked in her home. It’s a mystery because the attack is brutal but they’re not sure of the motive. The guy who did it hasn’t made any attempt to conceal his identity. He hasn’t taken anything of great value. Robin starts to think it might be related to the company that the husband—who wasn’t home at the time—owns called Hamilton Grace. It’s a virtual reality software company based in the middle of nowhere, where there are lots of secrets. So they start to investigate it further…


Nobody dies in the book. That’s quite unusual, isn’t it? Normally there is a murder.

Yes, it’s very unusual for me as well. I tend to kill quite a lot of people! It’s very strange. I thought about it, but I came to the conclusion it would make it nastier than it needed to be. It was just killing someone for the hell of it. It makes a better story in this case if nobody dies.

Are you writing number five in the series?

It’s written! It’s with my editor at the moment. It’s the last book in the series and it was deliberately designed as a five-book run in terms of the character arc between Freya and Robin. I always knew where I wanted to go with the two of them, so you’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

November 28, 2022

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Louisa Scarr

Louisa Scarr

Louisa Scarr is the author of the Butler and West police procedural series. She studied psychology at the University of Southampton and has lived in and around the city ever since. She also writes about serial killers as Sam Holland.

Louisa Scarr

Louisa Scarr

Louisa Scarr is the author of the Butler and West police procedural series. She studied psychology at the University of Southampton and has lived in and around the city ever since. She also writes about serial killers as Sam Holland.