Yes, the Pinkertons are well known as strikebreakers, although local and
state police were also strikebreakers in those days. They were not
sympathetic figures to the common man, with the reputation of Blackwater
in current terms.
These days, we have a local private detective who sometimes makes the
newspapers testifying in criminal cases, but he seems to make his money
on security guard contracts (sometimes with accusations of sweetheart
deals with government entities). Most recently, he's made the newspapers
as a john in a Craigslist prostitution sting.
And speaking of Craigslist (where zillions of writer's block cures
await), I have seen a help-wanted ad from another local private
detective, one whose large, street-level, downtown office I've seen but
whose name doesn't make the news. I wanted to apply, even though I
lacked all the qualifications except "no criminal record." Every once in
a while, there's a sort of freelance PI job offer, too, like sit in a
certain bar and watch for a certain person to show up.
Better yet, we have a local investigative reporter, Pete Shellam, with a
specialty in overturning decades-old murder convictions. There's someone
who should get a book deal.
> Even in Hammett's time did private detectives work on many cases that had high public profiles and that earned the empathy of the average citizen as later romanticized fictional detectives? The Pinks themselves were known, I think, more for strikebreaking than as alternatives to corrupt police departments. Most of the Continental Op's employers are the extremely wealthy, who hire the agency to find their errant and spoiled children. He seems to work as much with the cops, as an extension of their services, than in contrast to them. Red Harvest may be an exception to that, but I took that to be an example of the corruption of the detective by the environment in which he works. Sam Spade, of course, works on his own case and for his own purposes but don't forget that classic line about not being as corrupt as everybody thought he was. That's fiction of course, but to be effective it suggests that few would think of private detectives as alternatives to corrupt police departments.
> Of course, the very idea of private detection is that much of what they do does not become public knowledge. I'm not an expert, but my guess would be that most work is still for corporations, investigating their employees or watching for shoplifters in chain stores. Divorces that don't involve a lot of money don't much need private detectives to track down filandering spouses, do they? Some researchers may be called investigators, I suppose, and on last night's news I heard of some couples who hired private investigators to look into the origins of children they've adopted from Ethiopia. My guess is that the average schmo like me is more likely to find himself investigated than hiring an investigator, and if he's lucky, never find out about it.
> As for the nature of celebrity and power, it's certainly worthy of noir and/or hardboiled investigation. Has there been a narrative that focuses on this subject?
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