Five Cop Shows That Influenced Me
Five Cop Shows That Influenced Me
When is set out to write my PROSPERO’S WAR speculative crime fictions series, my goal was to combine all the things I loved about great cop shows with the world building I am used to using in contemporary fantasy novels. In fact, the idea for the series came while watching a popular crime fiction show, and I thought it would be fun to recap some of the excellent TV writing that influenced these books.
1. THE WIRE. Everyone says The Wire, right? But I really mean it. It was while watching an episode of this series that my idea for the Prospero’s War series came to me. I think it was a scene where Omar was doing Omar things when I thought to myself, “he’s sort of like a wizard.” Boom! Suddenly, I wanted to write The Wire with wizards. That idea became the first book in the series, DIRTY MAGIC, which released last year.
David Simon, creator of the series, has said that The Wire was a sort of visual novel about life in urban America. Each season explores a different segment of society that adds to the problems. But the appeal also extends to the treatment of the characters. We see their interpersonal dramas play out as they effect and are affected by the violence and politics of the broken system. Watching the show helped me realize that I come to story looking not for a series of plot points, but for a complex tangle of human interaction without clear good or bad guys.
2. THE KILLING. I actually watched the killing after I’d started the Prospero’s War series. However, I can definitely see it influencing future books I’ll write. Like Kate Prospero, Detective Sarah Linden is a single mom struggling to balance the rigors of the job with raising a kid. I don’t mean to gush, but I was obsessed with this show. Linden is an incredibly flawed character, and I appreciated seeing a female protagonist who was so complex and written in such a real way. But part of the reason we love Linden is because we love Stephen Holder, her affable former-junky partner, and the relationship between these two is complex, heartbreaking, and so, so compelling. This is a series I can see myself rewatching over and over—it’s that good.
3. JUSTIFIED. Based on a short story (“Fire in the Hole”) by Elmore Leonard, this show is different from the others on the list. Raylan Givens, the show’s main character, is a deputy federal marshal, not a police officer, and he lived in Harlan County, not a densely populated urban environment. This show influenced Prospero’s War because, like Raylan, Kate Prospero is going after old family members, lovers, and friends that she thought she left behind. Raylan is betraying his kin by being on the side of the law, which creates all sorts of interesting moral situations. But it’s also interesting because it explores the thin line that can exist between criminals and lawmen. Raylan is a good cop because he grew up around criminals—just like Kate Prospero. Again, the characters really shine in this show (not to mention that amazing Leonard-esque dialogue). Who can forget Mags with her apple pie moonshine? Or Dewey Crow and his doomed above-ground pool?
4. DEXTER. While Dexter was not a cop, this show had plenty of cops and crimes (most often committed by Dexter himself). The thing I learned from Dexter is that your bad guy has got to be as smart or smarter than your protagonist. My favorite Dexter villain was Arthur Mitchel, aka The Trinity Killer, brilliantly and chillingly portrayed by John Lithgow. The writers pulled no punches that season, and Dexter met a killer who was more ruthless and more driven, and the results were devastating. Ruthless foes will not make things easy for the hero or the hero’s family and friends. It’s not a new idea, but it’s one that played out to great effect throughout most of Dexter.
5. THE SHIELD. Oh, Vic Mackey. I watched The Shield years before I had the idea for Dirty Magic, but it blew me away. I have a major soft spot for the anti-hero and Vic and the members of his team (except poor, crispy Lem) fit the bill to a T. I loved this show because it, again, focused on characters and their relationships. Every character was developed. Every character had conflict. There were never easy outs and the ending, oh that ending! So poetic but not at all what I expected.
It might seem odd for an author to give TV shows so much credit. While I read tons of books and they definitely influence me all the time, with the Prospero’s War series I wanted to see what would happen if I took the elements I loved from TV crime dramas and put them in a series of books. We live in an age of so much easy access to story that it would be a shame not to learn things from other media and bring it into our work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rewatch The Killing.
Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. Her next Prospero’s War novel, DEADLY SPELLS, comes out on February 10.