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

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 14 Sep 2009

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    Re your comments below:

    "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?"

    Dave's comment about Lance White remnded me that Tom Selleck's character Tom Magnum was quite, to use your suggested term, affable. Indeed, he was the sould of affability.

    Notwithstanding his soul-deep affability, however, he does have, to use your term again, "holes in his character." His background as a combat soldier has left him emotionally scarred. His whole leaving behind his military career (recall that he was not a conscript or an activated reservist, but athird-generation Academy man who intended to make the Service his vocation) comes across as a basic rejection of adult responsibilities in order to live out some kind of adolescent fantasy. In the wake of his wife's death (though this turns out to have been a hoax), he's unable to connect with any woman in a lasting way. And, when driven to it, he can go as vigilante as Mike Hammer (recall his blasting an unarmed KGB agent into hell when it seems to be the only way to keep him from getting away with the murder of a war buddy).

    But, despite all of those holes, he's quite affable.

    You could probably argue that Prather's Shell Scott is a mere parody, but, while the humor is certainly present, the actual PI elements are given a fairly straightforward treatment. Scott, too, is the soul of affability. Indeed, he doesn't even seem to have to dark spots that Magnum has. He has the sunniest disposition of any hard-boiled PI in fiction.

    All of this has nothing to do with whether or not Dave's Johnny Lane should have been more likeable. Obviously, if he had been, FAST LANE


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