Re: RARA-AVIS: Women PI Heroines

Date: 20 Aug 2001

Re Brian's comments on female protagonists in HB crime fiction:

> . . .when I read about women PIs,
> cops, what have you, in
> fiction, something about it doesn't ring true and I
> tune out. I'm just
> curious if anyone else finds this true as well.

I have not trouble buying female cops in a police procedural, because there have been women in police work since the 19th century, and the police procedural is (or should be) an accurate portrayal of the law enforcement profession, not a male fantasy version of what law enforcement is like. The tradition of depicting female cops in police fiction goes all the way back to the very first radio episode of *Dragnet* in which Sgt. Friday is temporarily teamed up with an undercover policemwoman. Years later he'd do the same thing in the 1954 feature-length *Dragnet* movie.

However, with some exceptions, I have a similar reaction to women PIs in private eye novels. Most PI stories, in contrast to police procedurals which are defined by their technical accuracy, are not trying to show what it's like to be a PI in real life
(exceptions like Joe Gores notwithstanding). They're presenting a fantasy picture of what we (some of us, anyway) would like the PI figure to be. In Chandler's words "the hero . . . everything."

Moreover, the fantasy is, it seems to me, a specifically male one. Consequently, characters like Kinsey Milhone or Delilah West tend to strike dissonant notes with me. They strike me, to some degree, as "poachers" in male territory. I like the Milhone and West series quite a bit, so I don't really have any trouble getting past this initial reaction, but the initial reaction is certainly there.

With VI Warshawski I can't get past this prejudice, however. She strikes me as little more than Mike Hammer with tits and a shrill, offensive left-wing agenda.

Giselle Marc, the female operative of Joe Gores's DKA series, is one character for whom I don't have this initial "female invader" reaction. But Gores has never been serving up the PI fantasy. He's been applying the police procedural's technical verity to stories about private detectives rather than police detectives. Indeed, Gores himself refers to the DKA series as "procedurals" rather than as "private eye novels." And since, in real life, there are female private detectives, it seems entirely appropriate for Gores to include one in the type of story he's writing.


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