Re: RARA-AVIS: Professionals and Amateurs

From: Mark Sullivan ( AnonymeInc@WEBTV.NET)
Date: 02 Feb 2000

PB wrote:

"The only possibility for the qualities that made the 30s -- 70s PI believable lies now in your average Joe who's had his life interrupted, and reacts with alacrity. Only the average Joe can be accepted as not having access to all the investigatory trinkets while retaining the ooomph to kick ass."

Okay, I understand what you're saying. I even take your point about the appeal of the sort of "average Joe" amateur you are championing, as opposed to the cozy amateur.

However (you knew there had to be a however), I don't think it has to be an either or situation. Now, I'm not interested in, nor do I read techno-thrillers. However, technology doesn't need to get in the way, as long as the story is not just about the technology. And frankly, I find a fetishistic refusal of technology far more annoying than its embrace.

No matter what the technology used to commit or investigate crime, the human factor behind those crimes is what is of interest and for me helps define hardboiled. For instance, Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation is set in a future of genetic fingerprinting, but the story is never just about speculative technology. It is about the cat and mouse game between the killer and the police investigator trying to catch him, just like any good police procedural, even if these procedures are from the day-after-tomorrow. The rest, no matter how fascinating (and I found it very interesting) is ultimately just window dressing if it is not about people.

As Jim noted, amateurs are really only good for one-shots, otherwise you lose the verisimilitude which you praise. And I like a number of these. Goodis is one of my favorites. However, for a series, you need a pro and series are my default literature (as Sharon so rightly pointed out, you really get to know someone's taste when you know the form they will read right or wrong). Not only that, I like series with PIs.

Now PI lit has always been a somewhat artificial construct. I never read it, so I don't know which McBain it's in, but someone once quoted to me a bit of dialog that went something like this: One cop: When's the last time you remember a PI solving a case? Other cop: Well, that would be never. I think we all know that real PIs are seldom even involved with murder investigations and when they are it is probably on behalf of a defense attorney looking for dirt to impeach a prosecution witness.

There has always been a major ritual aspect to PI fiction, which is what I like about it. However, that does not mean the PI must be a '30s guy in the '90s or '00s world. I would be far more disturbed if Elvis Cole wore a '30s suit than some people seem to be because he wears jeans. And one of the things that gets me to return to the waning Scudder series is the interplay between Scudder and TJ (with his beeper and cell phone -- Hell, any PI that relied on public phones in NY would soon be out of business) as the techno-phobic older detective is forced to rely more and more on his young partner as the old maxim "Get Off Your Ass, Knock On Doors" gets flipped with so much of the"footwork" like background checks being done while sitting on your ass in front of a computer screen.

Finally, I'd much rather a PI calling and/or being called on a cell phone, than Robicheaux's wife receiving a warning call from a ghost in a pay phone simply because Burke wrote himself into a Big Sleep corner -- at least Chandler used sheer momentum to carry the reader past the insolvable death of the chauffeur.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Feb 2000 EST