This is sorta thinking out loud, waiting for the coffee to kick in, but:
> It (FAST LANE/IN HIS SHADOW) starts that way, doesn't it? I had a
> reviewer write me that I needed to learn how to make my PIs more
> likable, that he had to quit halfway through because Johnny Lane was
> making him too uncomfortable. Too bad he didn't make it through the
> second half...
Sheesh. He wanted your P.I. to be more likable? Boy, did he pick the
wrong book (that's not a dis, by the way). In fact, he may have picked
the wrong genre. And he wrote you personally halfway through reading
the book to lodge his complaint?
Granted, he may have meant something else entirely by "likable," but
I'm assuming he means "affable." As in, "Gee, what a nice guy."
In which case, what the fuck?
Everyone knows I'm a sucker for P.I.s, but even I can't think right
now of any P.I.s that are really, really affable. Or guaranteed
comfort-enducing. Most of my favourites have holes in their characters
you could driver a truck through. And that's definitely what makes
their adventures so engaging to me. It's their flaws, as well as their
strengths, that draw the reader in.
The perfect, 100 per cent likable P.I. doesn't exist, as far as I can
tell, except maybe in parody or those watered down semi-boiled
housewife fantasy romantic suspense/semi-cozy mystery novels. And if
he does exist, would any of us read about him?
There are quite a few gumshoes I wouldn't mind having a few beers
with, but most of them in real life would probably need very high
maintenance to be actual friends with -- and you'd need to turn a
really blind eye to their flaws. Even that most affable of gumshoes,
Rockford, would probably be quite wearying in real life. A nice guy,
to be sure, but how long would it take for him to pick up the tab?
Which may be why so many of them are loners, for the most part, or
surrounded, at best, by a very small circle of devoted friends.
What say you guys?
And is it a guy thing? Or more precisely, a straight pale male thing?
Several female, gay, lesbian and minority private eye novels over the
last twenty or so years have attempted to present their gumshoes as
part of a larger, outsider community; a social network of like-minded
family and friends, but it hasn't always been successful. Or convincing.
Have they lost some of their outsider cred by being part of a larger
community, even if it is dissident one?
In fact, most of the detectives, at least in the harder side of the
genre, tend to view that network, except when it suits their purposes,
as intrusive. Laura Lippman's last blast, which was serialized in The
New York Times, could be seen as one individual's struggle for self
against the forces of family, friends and -- in her detective's case
-- imminent childbirth.
The major precedent is, of course, Chandler's first few chapters of
POODLE SPRINGS, and the jury's still out on that one, although modern
authors like Robert Parker, Bill Pronzini and Lippmann are apparently
still presenting their cases, with varying but usually worthwhile
degrees of success.
So, at heart, must the private eye remain a loner?
And do we really want really "nice guy" P.I.s?
Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
"Wasting your time on the web since 1998."
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