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The Police Procedural Genre

What is a Police Procedural?

The police procedural, as its name implies, is a novel where the main focus is on the ensemble of policemen who are assigned to a particular case. These men go through the activities involved in solving a particular crime, including interrogating of witnesses, establishing alibis, questioning the neighbors and more.

Since the team is shown in action, the station house or precinct actually becomes the protagonist in the story. The captain may be the nominal lead character since most of the decisions are his or her choices, but all the people involved are highlighted. This is a fairly new subgenre, being brought to the public's attention by Ed McBain in his 87th Precinct series in the 1950s.

Police Procedural Characteristics

  • Level of Characterization

    Characterization is key to a police procedural novel. The individuals who make up the precinct have to be delineated from one another and must be shown to have their own beliefs and motivations. So the characters are types that will stick in the reader's head after the story is finished.

  • Level of Plot

    While the mystery made be solved earlier in the book, the plot is important to the police procedural. The story revolves around looking into a crime, so the story has to show the various steps in order and the conclusions drawn from each part of the investigation.

  • Level of Mystery

    The level of mystery is high. If the police could easily solve the mystery at the start of the investigation, then there would be no need for the novel. The mystery must be sufficient to keep the investigation moving until the last pages of the book.

  • Level of Suspense

    The suspense can be heightened depending on the crime and the stakes involved. If the police only have a certain number of hours to defuse a bomb or find a kidnapped child before the victim is murdered, then the suspense can made this seem like a very short read.

  • Level of Thriller

    There are many police procedurals that are thrillers. Bring in the Secret Service or the FBI, and the stakes are increasing. The crime may have something to do with assassination of a head of state or a threat to the security of the country.

  • Level of Strangeness

    This can vary wildly. Any police officer will gladly tell you how weird their days can be, and the novels can reflect the surreal nature of police work at times.

  • Level of Violence

    There's violence in the streets and violence in the novels as well. While much of the job is paperwork and phone calls, there are shootouts and corpses and wounds that will add to the level of violence.

  • Level of Action

    Count on some action in the book as well. While many officers never see action in the line of duty, almost every man and woman in the police station will have a shootout or hand-to-hand combat with a perp at some point in a police procedural.

  • Degree of Thriller, Suspense, Crime, or Mystery in this the Police Procedural Subgenre

    While the book has a mystery at its heart, the books really fall into the crime genre. The mysteries to be solved don't have to be murder, though they often are. They can be any number of crimes. The books have suspense if there's a time limit on finding the perps, and they can be thrillers if the stakes are high enough.

Related MYSTERY Subgenres



  • True Crime. Since the police procedurals' methodologies stem from real life, the police procedurals can be fairly close to what the police do in a true crime book.

  • Hard-boiled. The police procedural is typically more violent and dark with heroes who are paid to fight crime, so it's not a long step to hard-boiled fiction.

Police Procedural isn't for you IF...

like amateur detectives or cozy mysteries.

Popular Police Procedural Books