Re: RARA-AVIS: Professionals and Amateurs

Date: 04 Feb 2000

I'm not familiar with all the characters Jim Blue named, but Easy Rawlins describes himself as a private detective (albeit an unlicensed one). He takes pay for his investigations. He doesn't just stumble over them, or decide to look into them as a hobby. The possession or lack of possession of a license isn't really what makes one a pro. It's whether or not you make your living that way. I understand that PI licenses are not required in the state of Colorado, for example. (Colorado residents on the list can confirm or deny this). Assuming that's true, does it follow that the PI characters of Rex Burns or Michael Allegretto, who ply their trade in Denver, are amateurs? Of course not! They're PIs because that's how they make their living, not because a state bureacracy says so.

A PI like Matt Scudder, who practiced his profession "off the books" for many years before finally succumbing and applying for a license, would seem to meet Jim Blue's prescription for a "character who lives on the edge of the law." But he's also a professional investigator with professional skills who gets paid for his professional services.

I went beyond the "Big Three" of PIs, cops, and spies, because it struck me that there were professions whos proactitioners would become involved in crimes because of those professions on a regular basis. Journalists and lawyers among them. The criteria is this: First, does the protagonist's job one that can convincingly involve him/her in criminal investigation on a regular basis? Second, does the job require investigative skills? Lawyers and journalists fit the criteria. Sports agents don't. English lords don't. Mystery writers (unless they're also cops, PIs, or spies) don't. This isn't to say that enjoyable novels can't be written about anyone who happens to fall into those categories. It's just to say they aren't pros.

I stand by my assertion. The hardboiled world is, by and large, a professional's world. The cozy world isn't. In fact, it could be argued that professionalism is at the root of the HB ethic. Certainly the Op, Hammett's most frequently used character seems to be motivated by professional pride than by anything else.


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