RARA-AVIS: When Cell Didn't Mean a Phone (was Another Missive from the Fedora Lobby!)

From: pabergin ( pabergin@gte.net)
Date: 01 Feb 2000

Doug Bassett writes
>I sort of agree that the PI novel
>should keep up with the times, it's also true that I
>could care less how "real" private investigators do
>their work. I'm interested in the story and the
>hardboiled mood.

I think that a lot of fans/practitioners of HB recognize this, and agree, and I think that it's the reason that amateur sleuths and/or hapless types who are simply drawn into a weird/dangerous/HB situation may now be viewed as more representative of the genre than the totemic PI, who must either surrender his defining solitary stance (via Internet, Cellphone, and other tech advances necessary to the work of the modern PI) or risk becoming an anachronism, historical artifact or pale shadow of his literary ancestors.

The amateur has always been with us, of course, but has generally been considered negligible at best (with some exceptions -- a number of John D's characters, for example), at worst a buffoon, good for light entertainment only. I think this is changing. As the modern lawman or PI is increasingly defined by the technology available to him, the author still interested in working within the constraints of the HB crime story as a measure of the man -- not the tools available to him -- are turning more toward the gifted amateur and/or resourceful guy/gal in a jam.

Some of them are very, very good at it, among them Les Standiford (the Deal novels), Jim Hall (Thorn), Ace Atkins (Nick Travers), Bill Pronzini (Blue Lonesome, Wasteland of Strangers & others) and Peter Bowen (Gabriel du Pre). I think that the PI, like the cowboy, will always be with us. Whether it is possible for him to retain any of the authority that made him for so long the most recognizable emblem of HB is another story. I doubt it, myself. The future may belong to the ordinary person (read: amateur) rising to the challenge. PB

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