RARA-AVIS: Joe Gores as Professional

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 16 Jan 2008

Of course, Joe Gores is a professional writer. In fact, whether one admires his work or not (and I admire it quite a lot, as I sense most of you do), one has to be impressed by the sheer work ethic he brings to the craft of fiction.

But here I'm talking about his past experiences as a professional private detective that so informs his fiction.

When his first DKA story, "The Mayfield Case"
(retitled "Find the Girl" in his STAKEOUT ON PAGE STREET collection), was first reprinted in a BEST DETECTIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR anthology, the editor of that series, Anthony Boucher, noted that Gores was one of the few actual private investigators to enter the mystery writing field since Hammett (the parallels between Gores and Hammett have already been mentioned).

It must have been a proud moment for Boucher when this story first appeared in the 12/67 issue of EQMM. Though he'd sold an average of two stories per year since 1957, while working as a PI, he had never, AFAIK, written a PI story. A member of the Bay Area chapter of MWA, Gores was asked by Boucher to give a talk on what it was like to work as a real-life PI, and specifically as a repo man, to a regular monthly meeting. Boucher was so impressed with the talk that he suggested Gores write a series based on his real-life experiences. The DKA stories and novels were the result of that suggestion.

Regretfully, Boucher died soon after the first DKA story was published, so he never got to see how the series developed.

But I'm going far afield here. The point is, Boucher was quite right about few PI's actually turning their real-life experiences into fiction between Hammett and Gores. Cleve F. Adams, the creator of Rex McBride and other hard-boiled PI's of the '30's and '40's, claimed on his dust-jacket bio that he'd once been a private detective (along with an insurance exec, a copper miner, and an art director for the movies), but that always had the smell of puffery. I never really believed it.

The only two private eye writers I can find between Hammett and Gores, who were also for-sure private eyes in real life, were a pair of agency ops in Kansas City, MO, named John Roscoe and Mike Russo who, as
"Mike Roscoe," collborated on a rather enjoyable series of Spillane-like novels featuring a KC shamus Johnny April, all of which appeared in the '50's. No one actually followed in the wake of Mike Roscoe, however. Indeed, as noted, the Roscoe team was following in Spillane's wake.

But, just as Joseph Wambaugh's success, for all that there had been cop-writers before him, seemed to start a tsumani of cop-writers (including yours truly), Joe Gores's seems to have been the source for a similar wave, if perhaps not quite a tsunami, of professional PI's writing about their work.

Following in Gores's footsteps, we've seen his fellow San Franciscans, Jerry Kenneally, Elizabeth Pincus, Lise. S. Baker all break into print, as well as Parnell Hall, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Michael Stone, Art Hardin, and Don Winslow from the rest of the country. And all of them, to at least a degree, and in contrast to the "Mike Roscoe" team, following Gores's lead in presenting some of the reality, instead of the Chandleresque fantasy, of private eye-ing.

Gores has declared his stories and novels about DKA to be "the first private eye procedural series." He qualifies this by stating that Hammett's Op series was written before the term "procedural" had been coined, which I regard as not entirely logical. One might as well say that DRAGNET wasn't a police procedural because it debuted on radio seven years before Boucher coined the term "police procedural," or, for that matter, that Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" wasn't a mystery because the term hadn't yet been coined to described fiction dealing with the solution of crimes.

Still, there's no denying that Gores was doing something that hadn't really been done before. Even Hammett, for all his experience, was presenting a fantasy about what it was like to to be a PI, a fantasy with a heavy dusting of informed realism to be sure, but a fantasy nonetheless. Hammett presented PI's routinely solving murders. Gores presented PI's doing skip traces, looking for debtors who'd defaulted on their obligations, repossessing cars, etc.

Aside from Gores, the only real PI procedural I can think of, and it was a stand-alone not a series, was Stanley Ellin's heavily-researched Edgar-winner THE EIGHTH CIRCLE.

So, to perhaps a greater degree than any other PI writer since Hammett, Gores was a trend-setter.


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