RARA-AVIS: Peter Abrahams and the future of the private eye novel

From: Gary ( piesbook@execpc.com)
Date: 19 Feb 2006

> Subject: Re: The Popularity of the Private Investigator
> Doesn't Peter Abrahams Oblivion have a PI in it? Is it any good?
> Mark

Here's my take on this novel:

P. I. Nick Petrov was born in Russia but his family left when he was two. His mother died when he was three. Nick's father was in the KGB in the Soviet Union but came to the United States after being a CIA contact. When the wall came down and Reagan made his White House farewell address, Nick's father shot himself. Nick was a member of the sheriff's department's vice squad and partnered with cop Elaine Kostelnik, he solves the Gerald Reasoner serial killer case. Ten years prior to this book, "The Reasoner Case," a made for TV movie, starred Armand Assante as Nick. With the success, Nick became a P. I.

But success did not necessarily follow. Nick has closed his downtown office and let his secretary go. He has moved his office into the bedroom of his Venice home. It also cost him his marriage when his wife caught him in bed with his former cop partner, Elaine. As this book opens, Nick is testifying in the trial of Ty Canning, a man Nick brought back from Mexico to face a murder accusation. Nick is acting a little confused, and that behavior continues when he is hired by escort service worker Liza Rummel who wants Nick to find her missing daughter, Amanda. As Nick begins his search, he finds the clues and his personal life are blending into a red haze of confusion until he finally collapses, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage due to brain cancer. After surgery he has limited memories, and a notebook full of clues that are coded in a KGB technique that Nick no longer remembers. Up to this point in the novel, Nick has not been a very sympathetic character, and the reader is not sure if they should be rooting for this man or not. Sympathy does get extended when he lies in his sick bed. Rather than give up, Nick decides the best recovery strategy will be to stay on the case, decipher the clues, and try to solve this puzzle before he dies. Because the reader has seen the same clues, the reader knows more than the detective. It is a startlingly brilliant plot device to have the detective interview witnesses as much to get information as to interpret it. For me, the technique developed by Abrahams for this book makes this a challenging read worthy of being ranked as one of the classics in the private eye field.

This novel is an example of what the P. I. can do when it is in the hands of a major writer. Most writers will only produce genre-level fair (which I can enjoy a lot if I am in the right mood) but it takes a major talent to extend the P. I. character into literature. That is why when I read Ken Bruen, I feel like I am reading something special. As long as we have ten or twelve special books featuring the P. I each year, I am going to be a happy man.

Best, GWN Gary Warren Niebuhr P. O. Box 341218 Milwaukee, WI 53234 piesbook@execpc.com http://my.execpc.com/~piesbook/piescatalog.html Author of MAKE MINE A MYSTERY and A READERS GUIDE TO THE PRIVATE EYE NOVEL

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