RARA-AVIS: Re: More Likable P.I.s?

From: davezeltserman (Dave.Zeltserman@gmail.com)
Date: 13 Sep 2009

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    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, Kevin Burton Smith <kvnsmith@...> wrote:
    > This is sorta thinking out loud, waiting for the coffee to kick in, but:
    > Dave wrote:
    > > 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?

    Well, to be fair to this reviewer he wrote me a fairly lengthy email to explain all the things that Lane was doing that made him increasingly uncomfortable and made Lane increasingly unlikeable to him, and this was done to be helpful. For whatever reason he got through half the book without ever realizing that Fast Lane was something other than a PI novel, and he was judging the book purely as if it were a PI novel. It was very frustrating since he reviews for several newspapers, and the book was affecting him as it was meant to, but damn it, I just did too good a job with it!

    Very early on in Fast Lane, I have Johnny Lane behave in what I consider an aberrant way to show the cracks in his mental state, but what he does is the type of violent vigilante behavior that is typically accepted in PI crime novels (among other things Fast Lane was intended to be a deconstruction of the genre), and talking with some readers, they were cheering Lane during this scene, so I think that was part of what fooled this reviewer--we've come to accept (and expect) certain bad vigilante behavior from our PIs.

    Back to your question--more than likable, readers expect PIs, at least for series, to be decent people (which Lane, as much as he'd like to think otherwise, is not). It's hard to think of series PIs where the author doesn't attempt to make the PI at least someone very decent (and sometimes bending over backwards to do so). Nero Wolfe is probably as much a curmudgeon as any, but even with all his idiosyncrasies, is still someone the reader develops a fondness to, and of course Archie Goodwin is likable to a fault to more than balance things out. I'm having a hard time thinking of a single main character PI who isn't at least decent (other than Lane...). Even with the Continental Op's willing to blow up a town because he's pissed off, his doggedness and general professionalism makes him likable (even if he is willing to steal a crutch from a cripple).


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