Re: RARA-AVIS: The Continental Detective Agency

Date: 22 Oct 2002


Re your question below:

> What post-Continental Op characters worked for a
> large agency? I can't
> think of any. Spade had a partner (for a while),
> Marlowe worked alone.
> They're the two classic characters. In the '20s,
> was BLACK MASK running
> other stories about agencies? Did that background
> just die out, or was
> the Op rare even then?

Prior to THE BIG SLEEP, which became the paradigm for PI novels forever after, agency ops were not nearly as unusual as they are now.

Post-Continental Op, just a few pulp-era big agency ops include Frederic Nebel's Donahue of the Interstate Agency in BLACK MASK and the near-clone of Donahue Nebel created for DIME DETECTIVE, Jack Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency. Hugh B. Cave's Peter Kane worked for a big agency in Boston, but I can't recall the name off-hand.

Post-Marlowe, on the other hand, agency ops get a lot more rare. Bart Spicer's Carney Wilde starts out as a faithful follower of the Marlowe one-man agency paradigm, but, bitten by the post-war get-ahead bug, works hard to make his business successful, and by the time his series ends in EXIT RUNNING, his agency has grown to employ more than a hundred operatives and has security contracts all over Philly. Al Collins's Nate Heller follows a similar pattern, starting out as a one-man show during the Depression, and growing to a a big, national agency in later years. But they are owners, not mere employees.

Kin Platt's Max Roper works for a big, world-wide agency denoted only by some mysterious initials. A TV show called either SEARCH or PROBE showed the adventures of three operatives (played, IIRC, by Hugh O'Brian, Tony Franciosa, and Doug McClure) of a super-high-tech detective agency called the World Security Organization. And there were two PBOs, the names of which escape me, but maybe Kevin Smith or Bill Crider will remember, about a guy, whose name also escapes me, who the world thought was a famous non-fiction writer, but who was actually an undercover agent for the largest detective agency in the world. I recall 101 KNIGHTS describing this character as the only fictional PI who operates undercover at all times.

I don't usually plug my own stuff here, but my western PI character, Mike Segretto, is a Pinkerton operative
(and come to think of it, there've been several historical PI novels featuring Pinkerton agents), and my contemporary PI character, Errol Pucinski, who'll make his debut in Michael Bracken's HARDBROILED, is a
"Senior Investigator" for Wilson/Farragut Security, a fictional agency loosely modeled on Wells Fargo Security.


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