RARA-AVIS: The Annual P.I. Obit

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 21 Feb 2006

Dave wrote:

> Well, Fast Lane's not a PI book - it's fits really under psychotic
> noir. The only PI work I ever wrote (until recently) was a short story
> done more as a joke.

GULP! Would that be the story you wrote for us? And here we took you seriously...

> About other traditional PI writers - of course, Ken Bruen's marvelous
> Jack Taylor series. And off the top of my head there's Michael
> Kortya's Lincoln Perry, Harry Hunsicker's Lee Hnery Oswald, Michael A.
> Black's Ron Shade series, Jim Winter's Keplar, Harry Shannon's Mick
> Callahan (although not strictly a PI), and I'm sure there are dozens
> of others..

You bet. Other up-and-comers and those just bubbling under the radar include Mike Siverling, Reed Coleman, Jack Bludis, Michael Kronenwetter, that John Swan guy, Mike Harrison, John Shannon, Rick Helms, Andrew Klavan and Charlie Huston, and short story writers like Dave White, Ray Banks, Mike MacLean and Stephen D. Rogers. These guys all take the genre seriously enough to keep going, and while popularity of any genre (or sub-genre) waxes and wanes, there seem to be plenty
(but never enough) readers to take them seriously as well. So rumours of the death of the private eye are a little premature, if you ask me.

As for the notion of the "trench-coated P.I." finally reaching the end of his rope, that's just ridiculous -- there haven't been any trench-coated P.I.s for close to forty years -- or at least not any that weren't intended as parody or homage. Oh, sure, every now and then some fedora fetishist pines for the good ol' days, but part of the charm of the genre has always been its sense of time and place -- Chandler's LA or Ross Macdonald's Southern California just as much as Spenser's Boston or Pelecanos' D.C.

And anyway, the private eye mythos is surely about far more than merely what the detective's official occupation is listed as, as a quick glance at Shamus nominations over the last few years by the Private Eye Writers of America will quickly confirm -- or even my own site.

Not that my site is strictly limited to private eyes either, for that matter, but no matter what their "official" occupation, I consider folks like Travis McGee (salvage consultant), pre-license Matt Scudder
(just a guy who does favors for friends) and early Perry Mason
(criminal defense lawyer) to be private eyes in all but name. Hell, look at how many alleged cowboy heroes (frequently, secretly or not) wouldn't know a cow from a cumquat.

If many of today's eyes aren't "eyes" per se, that doesn't mean the template is falling into disuse. Whatever the occupational status, guys as diverse as Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch and Dave Robicheaux easily fall into the guidelines first set down by Chandler in "The Simple Art of Murder." And there are plenty of other occupations that can easily offer candidates to fit into that template: bounty hunters, repo men, freelance process servers, crime reporters, bodyguards, corporate troubleshooters, etc. -- and a few hundred loose cannon police officers who owe way more to Chandler -- or possibly Jim Thompson and Mickey Spillane -- than they ever did to Ed McBail or Jack Webb.

All men (and women) who go down those mean streets, blah blah blah, making trouble their business, not their hobby, driven not by the authority of law but with something a little more personal. And let's not forget that even if the P.I. mythos was originally an American invention, he's long since grown up and left to see the world, with successful, viable private eyes continuing to pop up everywhere around the globe.

Kevin Burton Smith AT LAST! The Thrilling Detective Web Site January 2006 Issue With Weinman, MacLean, The Cheap Thrill Awards and Detective Fork http://www.thrillingdetective.com

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