RARA-AVIS: Death of the PI Novel?

From: Tim Wohlforth ( tim@timwohlforth.com)
Date: 19 Feb 2006

I do not think the "traditional" PI has totally disappeared, even though technology has changed. Perhaps the most notorious at the moment is Anthony Pellicano who until recently has been making one hell of a living working for and spying upon (wire taps) celebrities. PIs also are employed frequently by defense attorneys. and, as others have pointed out, your old time PI rarely was involved in murder cases.

But there is a problem with new PI fiction. Certain established writers are doing just fine with the sub-genre: Crais, Pelecanos, Grafton come to mind. I once pointed this out to a top NYC agent. His response was that while some PI novels hit the best seller lists it was almost impossible to sell a PI novel to a major publishing house. Go figure!

I have a PI series published by a small press, Quiet Storm. Jim Winter also shares this publisher. One novel, NO TIME TO MOURN, was published in 2004 while the second in the series RUNNING OUT OF TIME is due out in a month or so. It has been tough sledding. I have had some successful book talks (including 3 just this last week or so). However, it is extremely difficult to get books into mystery bookstores and independents, not to mention the chains. Not impossible, but close to it. And reviews in major outlets, critical to sales, forgetaboutit.

Interestingly, I recently wrote a series featuring a beautiful 26 year old TV crime news reporter who has never seen a corpse she didn't like. I've got an agent and some big houses are presently reading the manuscript.

My sense is that, with the exception of Grafton, and the new Laura Lippman series, the female PIs are also not in much demand. You hear little these days about Paretsky and Muller though they both continue to write. I believe sub-genres tend to ebb and flow. To get a flow started one needs originality not replication of old formulae. I'm not sure it matters that much if your new protagonist is a cop. a lawyer, a news person, a forensic scientist, or a PI. The writing must be fresh, the angle taken different. Yet the existential vision, the loner-outsider stance, remains greatly attractive. Bosch may be a cop but he is clearly rooted in the Hammett-Chandler tradition. And Jack Reacher, now there's a loner if there ever was one! (talk about mythic characters!)

So, despite labels, Americans and much of the rest of the world continue to love tough guys and gals fighting evil against immense odds driven by a powerful personal sense of mission.

Cheers, Tim

Tim Wohlforth tim@timwohlforth.com www.timwohlforth.com

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 19 Feb 2006 EST