Re: RARA-AVIS: Professionals and Amateurs

Date: 02 Feb 2000

Doug Bassett writes that he doesn't "consider a professional character any more
'realistic' than an amateur. In some ways it's less so: how many private detectives, for instance, regularly have novel-length adventures full of conflict, mystery, action, damsels in distress and surprise endings?"

A professional investigates crime because it's his or her job to do so in some fashion. This is an inherently more believable situation than a
"gifted amateur" who happens to stumble upon a murder at every book signing, wedding, bar mitzvah, or college graduation s/he attends (a la Jessica Fletcher); or, even more fantastically, looks into crimes as a sort of hobby (a la Lord Peter).

Some of the other "amateur" characters who've been mentioned are actually pros in the sense that this is how they make their living. Travis McGee charges a commission for his "salvage operations." Matt Scudder is a self-described "private detective," who happens to practice the trade sans license. In some states that would actually be legal. Mitch Tobin only comes out of his self-imposed exile when he's hired to do so. Both Scudder and Tobin eventually obtain licenses to practice their trade legally.

Anyway, the point isn't whether or not pros are more believable than amateurs. It's that the HB mystery tends to be the province of professional sleuths, people doing a job of work, while the cozy tends to be the province of amateur practitioners. On a strictly statistical level, I think that assertion is unassailable.

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