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Policing and detection in Inspector Ryga's world in 1950 set mystery DEATH IN THE COVE

Death in the Cove mystery by Pauline RowsonDEATH IN THE COVE is my twentieth crime novel and my first historical mystery. My other nineteen crime novels are all contemporary with fourteen featuring my rugged and flawed detective, DI Andy Horton; three starring former Royal Marine Commando but damaged Art Marvik, an undercover investigator for the UK’s National Intelligence Marine Squad, and two standalone thrillers.

DEATH IN THE COVE is set in 1950 England, a country still reeling from the aftermath of war with austerity and rationing biting hard. Newly promoted to detective inspector, Ryga from Scotland Yard, is on his first solo investigation outside of London, to solve the mystery of why a man in a pin-striped suit is found murdered in an isolated cove on the Island of Portland in Dorset.

The 1950s is a fascinating period where memories of the war are very strong, and the fear of more world conflicts haunt people. Society and policing in the 1950s was vastly different to today, no mobile phones, no dashing about in high speed cars and no computers so it was extremely interesting to research and write. 

This article looks at Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, crime scenes, analysts and the Murder Bag/Case.

Scotland Yard and the Murder Squad

Scotland Yard were frequently called in to investigate murder cases around the UK so rather than have the novel (and series) rooted in London this meant I could move my detective around the country to help solve crimes. It was common practice for Scotland Yard detectives to be called in to help investigate and indeed take charge of crimes around the country. At a moment’s notice detectives could be on a train heading towards a town, city or village where a crime had been committed that the local forces needed assistance with. This elite unit from Scotland Yard was created in 1907 by Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone, and became known as the Murder Squad.

In my novels Inspector Ryga is part of the Murder Squad but I have played around with this fact sending Ryga out alone rather than with an assistant on his first criminal investigation to the Island of Portland in Dorset (and indeed in the second in the Ryga series). Instead I have teamed Ryga up with local police officers and with war photographer, Eva Paisley, who he meets in DEATH IN THE COVE. Eva will work with Ryga in subsequent novels taking on the role of photographer with pictures of the crime scene and victims, utilising the camera lens as her third eye in helping Ryga to solve the crimes.

I also wanted to feature the sea in my crime novels - my trademark or brand if you like - so I created a character with an intimate knowledge of the sea, a former Merchant Seaman, who can specialize in solving coastal crimes.

Crime Scenes, photographers, analysts and laboratories

In 1950 it was common practice for the police themselves to take photographs of the victim. Civilian photographers weren’t introduced until 1955 and then not in all places. So Ryga and Eva are trail blazers!

There were no specialist crime scene officers. CSI Specialists were introduced in 1968, although some forces had them before that time.

The Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory was set up in 1934 and there were small police laboratories in Cardiff, Bristol and Nottingham while in other places scientific support for police prosecutions was little used and consultants were called in on an ad hoc basis. These were usually public analysts. A Birmingham laboratory was established in 1938. The Metropolitan Police Laboratory was moved from Hendon to New Scotland Yard by 1949. And in 1950 Home Office Analysts were still being used until their role died out in 1954 when their work was taken over by the laboratories.

The Murder Bag/Case

In 1950, Inspector Ryga would take with him his Murder Bag. This was developed by Pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury (later Sir Bernard Spilsbury), who, after the 1924 high profile Mahon/Kaye case when he found detectives handling the dismembered remains of Emily Kaye (murdered by Mahon) with their bare hands expressed the view that police officers should wear gloves to save them being exposed to infection.. His concern inspired the introduction of the Murder Bag/Case.

In the Murder Case, Ryga has rubber gloves, a magnifying glass, a tape measure, a ruler, swabs, sample bags, forceps, scissors, a scalpel, and other instruments. The Murder Bag remained in use until Crime Scene Investigators were introduced in 1968.

Following articles will look at communicating with the police and reporting in; women in the police force, the British Transport Commission Police and police vehicles.

The 1950s was a very different time and way of policing from today and a joy to research and write about.

DEATH IN THE COVE is published in paperback, ebook, Amazon Kindle, Kobo and as an audio book

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FEBRUARY 10TH, 2020 @ 6:07:45 GMT

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