RARA-AVIS: The Monthly Dumping/The First P.I.

Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@colba.net)
Mon, 8 Nov 1999 10:10:52 -0400

Aw, gee, is it time to dump on Grafton/Paretsky/Muller again? Has it been a month already? Don't you guys ever get tired?

Most of the "grievous" crimes they've been charged with had already been committed years earlier by male writers, anyway. Lectures on morality? Try Chandler. PC asides on politicial and moral issues? Try John D. Macdonald. Over-the-top political rants? Try Mickey Spillane. Rambling about the environment and flowers? Try Ross Macdonald. Details of their personal lives and relationships? Try Ed McBain or Robert Martin or Thomas Dewey (the Pete Schoefiled series) or Bart Spicer. Or Robert Parker, for that matter. Too many recurring characters? Try Joe Gores' DKA Files or The Rockford Files. "Women's" issues? Max Allan Collins actually predated most of the female writers, with his abortion, children and pornography storylines in his Ms. Tree stories.

Really, the only thing really novel (although it is a biggie) about Grafton, Paretsky, Muller et al was the gender of their detectives, and a certain view from a modern female, instead of a 1930's-40's male, perspective.

(By the way, although they're all lumped together all the time, they're all very different writers, at least as different as, say, Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald. They are definitely not interchangeable.)


Oh, and I forgot an important item in my list of firsts:

The first story featuring a private investigator, or at least one who works for a detective agency
(and thereby I'm presuming some sort of professionalism):

"The Black Sleuth" by John E. Bruce
(1907-09, serialized in McGirt's Reader)

I've never read this one, and only stumbled across a reference or two recently. It's probably not too hardboiled, but it might be. Who knows? The detective, SADIPE OKUKENU, is an operative for a private detective agency, in this case the International Detective Agency, predating Hammett's CONTINENTAL OP (and Daly's THREE GUN TERRY) by at least fifteen years! And Sadipe is black, which is pretty cool.

In his one recorded case, Sadipe is on the trail of a stolen diamond, which takes him from England to America and back home to Africa, and allows him, as Gary Phillips says, in his essay "The Cool, the Square and the Tough," to ruminate "on the state of race relations on these various continents."

If anyone's actually read this, I'd love to hear their comments.

Hmmmm....ruminations on a social issue? In 1907? Maybe the alleged decline and fall of the hardboiled detective story can be traced directly to Sadipe. Maybe he didn't wear the right clothes.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/ IT'S OFFICIAL! October is Dashiell Hammett Month. Don't play the sap for anyone.

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