Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: The popularity of the Private Investigator

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 18 Feb 2006

--- wrote:

>> While we like to think hardboiled is more realistic
> than more cozy
> genres (highly debatable), I for one want myth as
> much as reality in my
> PI novels. I do require a certain verisimilitude,
> but that has as much,
> if not more, to do with internal consistency than it
> has to do with
> external validity.
> Mark

I think this is exactly right. I was sideswiping something like this when I briefly touched on Stanley Ellin's THE EIGHTH CIRCLE here and mentioned that Ellin's "realism" now seems pretty dated.

I don't think people are really looking for "realism", anyway. While it's true that the busy little forensic details of "CSI" and similar shows seem to be part of their appeal, and while there's always been a small diehard group of fans obsessed with authenticity in their police procedurals and the like, in general I think people look to fiction to escape their reality.

So if the PI's run is really up, I don't think it has anything to do with him/her not being "realistic" anymore. Never mind what "real" PIs do: at heart the fictional PI is an incarnation of the traditional American hero -- individualistic to the point of isolation, deeply moralistic, violent, stoic, a Romantic, etc. That figure will probably stick around as long as there's an America.

Now, whether it'll be incarnated ever again as the traditional "I get a hundred bucks plus expenses" and a bottle in the bottom desk drawer is hard to say. My guess is that he/she will probably be back again in a big way, but not for awhile. My guess is that we're living through an unsettled age and a PI needs to be in a settled time, since his/her whole raison d etre is to confront the corruption that undergirds the seeming stability. (This is the same reason why spy fiction, my other major interest, has somewhat receded as of late. It too is predicated on stability.)

Actually, as I type this, it strikes me that this is an age for horror (and we do see a lot of horror efforts in pop culture nowadays) and, strangely, the Western. If somebody could reconceive the Western to speak to these times, they'd probably make a killing.


Doug Bassett

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