Murder, She Blogged: Surfing Mystery Writers and the Cop-Criminal Buddy Relationship

Agatha Christie, doyenne of detective fiction and creator of Miss Marple (and Poirot), was apparently one of the first Britons to learn to surf, the Guardian reported at the end of last week.

I love that Christie was pushing the boat out (or err the surfboard out…) on her travels, like she was in fiction, for women. 

Christie noted her observations of the sport – and reactions to the odd wipeout – at the time, writing: “The surf boards in South Africa were made of light, thin wood, easy to carry, and one soon got the knack of coming in on the waves.

“It was occasionally painful as you took a nosedive down into the sand, but on the whole it was an easy sport and great fun.”

They continued their tour through Australia and New Zealand before hitting Honolulu in August. It was at Waikiki that the Christies learned how to surf standing up – and how to deal with sunburn and sharp coral. To protect their feet, they bought soft leather boots and Agatha swapped her silky bathing outfit for something a little more practical but equally stylish: “A wonderful, skimpy emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well!”

There is a decidedly sour end-note to the story, however. Christie was able to learn to surf because she was on a tour promoting the benefits of trade in the British Empire. (I’m going to come back to look at the legacy of colonialism and some of the representation of “foreign places” in detective fiction in a future post, so will leave it at that for now.)

I was trying and failing to think if there are any detective surfing connections, but I could only think of 1991’s Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Christie and Point Break are probably at the two extremes of the detective genre—I’m not sure you could think of two more different approaches to crime solving. I just recently rewatched Point Break with a friend on a train, in the same carriage as a stag do, and we couldn’t work out if there was more macho posturing onscreen or offscreen. 

The actual “detective” parts of the movie are probably some of the silliest, as parodied so well in Hot Fuzz:

The underlying story involves Johnny Utah’s (Keanu Reeves) buddy-buddy (quite homoerotic) friendship with Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), and his struggle between doing his job as a cop and that relationship. This cop-criminal subgenre is pretty interesting in terms of how it represents men’s friendship, of course, but it does tend structurally towards marginalizing female characters, because the main relationship in these films is between the two male leads.

In Point Break, that wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the otherwise sexist representation of women largely as objects. Lori Petty plays love interest Tyler, who is the only substantial female character on screen, and apparently a lone female presence in the surf community. She gets some good lines that play off this dynamic, but nonetheless it’s an issue.

Meanwhile, other female characters and extras feature in some ludicrously objectifying scenes—for example, the police get into a shootout at a house trying to arrest some surfer dudes, which includes probably one of the most irrelevant shower scenes on film. (Although to be fair Point Break is almost equal opportunity when it comes to objectification.) 

Alice Morgan and Luther, standing on a bridge in London

Although the buddy cop relationship is not as men-only as it once was, the cop-criminal relationship has seen less changes over time.

Two examples that spring to mind: in the Idris Elba vehicle Luther, Elba is developing a similarish sort of relationship with sociopath Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). But the relationship comes across as seedy and uncomfortable for the viewer, because Morgan is a sociopath. She’s a far cry from Bodhi in Point Break, whom the audience can most of the time understand why Utah finds appealing.

The other case is… bear with me on this… Warehouse 13, HG Wells and Myka. It’s a closer match to the male-bonding between cop and criminal, and also there’s the lesbian subtext. Are there other examples I’ve missed out? Or, indeed, other surfing detectives, or detective writers?

by Jess Mccabe
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1 Comment Has Been Posted

There was Detective Goren and

There was Detective Goren and Nicole Wallace on Law and Order: Criminal Intent. She was a psychopath too, an extremely intelligent serial killer. There was a sexual undertone to that relationship as well; Goren was the only one who came close to understanding her - and catching her. When she died she said that he was the only man she ever loved, I believe.

They loved to play out that story line with Goren, though - his mentor and his mentor's daughter were both serial killers, too. And his biological father.

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