Re: RARA-AVIS: PI etnicity

Date: 12 Oct 2004


Re your comments below:

> I was just re-reading some Hammett and I noticed
> that in addiiton to
> having no life outside his work, (besides the fact
> that he
> occasinally plays cards) the Continental OP seems to
> have no ethnic
> backgound. This struck me as funny because many of
> the other
> characters in the books have very ethnic names, some
> of which are, of
> course, not very PC by today's standards. I haven't
> read any Chandler
> in while, but I don't seem to remember Marlowe
> having ethnicity
> either.
> This is in contrast to the more modern PI's who have
> complete lives
> and come from a vast assortment of ethnic groups.
> I'm not as well
> read in modern PI's as I should be (I've been
> reading more crime
> ficiton stuff recently) The only one I can think of
> off hand is Reed
> Farrell Coleman's Moe Prager who is Jewish, . . .

If you define ethnic as non-WASP, and WASP as inherently non-ethnic, then you might have a case that the Op and Marlowe are not ethnic.

Marlowe is an English name, and Chandler himself was Anglo-Irish and raised, for the most part, in London.

The Op was modeled on Hammett's old supervisor in the Pinkerton Agency, James Wright. Another English name
(although it should be noted that many ethnic names were changed to WASP-ier ones once the immigrant generation arrived. I've an old college buddy named Taylor who was a Russian Jew. His great-grandfather made clothes for a living, so the immigration official gave him the name "Taylor").

However, since the Op seems to get on so well with Irish cops like Sgt. O'Gar, Lt. Duff, and Detective Pat Reddy, we could assume, since his name is never given that the Op is Irish. Age-old conflicts aside, English and Irish is a fairly common ethnic mix in the British Isles, so the Op could be both.

In fact, Irish PI's (and I'll stick to PI's exclusively for this post) go back to the sub-genre's beginnings. Frederic Nebel's "Tough-Dick" Donahue was a regular feature of BLACK MASK, and his very similar Jack Cardigan held essentially the same position at DIME DETECTIVE. Mike Shayne, proudly Irish, was intorduced in DIVIDEND ON DEATH in 1939, the same year Marlowe made his debut (at least his book-length debut) in THE BIG SLEEP. The first hard-boiled PI of them all, Daly's Terry Mack is clearly either Irish or Scottish.

In a recent issue of the PWA newsletter, REFLECTIONS IN A PRIVATE EYE, Gary Phillips reported on a private eye character who predated Hammett, Chandler, Daly, et. al., in a novel called, IIRC, THE BLACK SLEUTH.

THE BLACK SLEUTH notwithstanding, it's generally agreed that the first black PI in the Hammett-Chandler-Macdonald tradition was Ed Lacy's Toussaint Moore who first appeared in the Edgar-winning ROOM TO SWING in 1957 and made it into one sequel, MOMENT OF UNTRUTH a 1964 PBO.

There are also comparatively early examples of Italian eyes (William Campbell Gault's Joe Puma), Hispanic eyes (Cleve F. Adams Nevada Alvarado, who is also one of the first female eyes), and Asian, or at least Pacific Rim, eyes (Raoul Whitfield's Filipino PI Jo Gar).

It may seem a little more prevalent now, but ethnic PI's are not anything new by any means.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 12 Oct 2004 EDT