RARA-AVIS: Another Missive from the Fedora Lobby!

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 01 Feb 2000

HB detectives don't use cellphones? What crap!

One of the most unrealistic and annoying trends of the entire P.I. genre in the last few decades was the pathetic and totally unrealistic way many writers still try to pretend it was 1942, or maybe 1953. Finally, it's starting to change.

Sure, Marlowe didn't use a cell phone. The Op didn't pull a mug shot off a fax machine. Hammer didn't prowl the on-line databases tracing down leads. But they all would have, if they could. They used the technology of their times. For a private investigator to not use a cellphone during, say, a lengthy stakeout, or computers and the internet to manage their business and do research in this day and age, is about as believable as a talking cat narrating a murder, or a plucky caterer regularly taking on the mob or crazed serial killers.

It's only literary luddites who expect their private eyes and other HB types to be wandering down the mean streets of this Brave New World wearing fedoras, dressed in grampa's clothes, looking for a pay phone that costs a nickel. At least Amos Walker is tough enough, and sharp enough to acknowledge he's an anachronism.

Hey, I'm no big fan of cellphones myself. They're usually just an irritating toy for the pretentious and the rude, and yet another distraction for idiot drivers. But they do have legit purposes for business, particularly for those men and women who are on the go, like sales people, and truckers and yes, even detectives.

It's one reason I enjoyed Jerry Keneally's Nick Polo series so much. Polo used the equipment a real P.I. uses. If you want P.I.s who live in the past, good for you. Read Chandler again. It won't hurt you.

But part of the genre's on-going appeal has always been its ability to evoke its times, to dig in and peel back the cover and let us look at the works. But you can't learn much about the present if the author's denying that it exists.

Like Dylan says, "he not busy being born is busy dying." It probably applies to literary genres, too. Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/ This month: New fiction by Don McGregor and Mark Coggins, plus the Thrillies!

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