Showing posts with label PI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PI. Show all posts

12 May 2018

INTERVIEW: Alex Segura on BLACKOUT, Outlines and Writing the PI

by Libby Cudmore

I don’t remember how I met Alex, but when we did meet, over Twitter, we clicked immediately. We both wrote PI novels and shared a love of the Talking Heads and the Replacements. So when he invited me to read at Noir at the Bar (a series I have desperately wanted to be part of for years) I felt like I had finally made it as a mystery writer.

As you do at readings, I bought everyone’s books, and read his Silent City first. I was instantly sucked into Pete Fernandez’s world, right alongside him as he worked to solve the case of a missing journalist and the shadowy figure who haunted his detective father’s own caseload.

Blackout, Segura’s latest book, finds Fernandez, a Miami native, now living an isolated life in New York, pulled back to Miami after a politician hires him to find his wayward son in a case that connects to one Fernandez botched years ago. “He sees it as this opportunity to fix his mistake,” said Segura. “There are a lot of parallels to his recovery and embracing life.”

Though Segura started out in comics, rising through the ranks at DC to become the Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing and the editor of Archie imprint Dark Circle Comics, (to which he contributed Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets the Ramones) he soon turned to crime fiction. “When your hobby becomes your day job, you need a new hobby,” he said. “I started reading the classics – Chandler, McDonald – but what I really liked were the more contemporary ones, like George Pelecanos, Lawrence Block and Dennis Lehane.”

He was drawn to the “textured, messed up,” protagonist over the Golden Age detectives. “I didn’t want to write the detective with the fedora and then the dame walks in,” he said. “I love the enterprising hero who doesn’t have the resources of the police or the FBI. He’s chosen to do things on his own.”

19 August 2014

Don Quixote, PI

by Jim Winter

When people talk about the PI, they always trace the character back to three writers: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. Most people think the modern PI is based on Hammett's Continental Op. But you have to go farther back than that. Sherlock Holmes?

Well, yes, Holmes's fingerprints are all over the modern PI. He even has an erudite, if seemingly less intelligent, sidekick, the brainier forerunner of the psycho sidekick popularized in the Spenser and Dennis Lehane novels. But you have to go farther back. And I mean farther back than Poe's August Dupin, considered the first modern detective character.

No, the PI is a knight-errant, righting wrongs, defending the weak, and dispensing justice. The knight-errant was around for centuries, springing from stories of Siegfried the dragon-slayer, of Roland and Charlemagne, of the various knights of Camelot. But the archetype wasn't truly solidified until Miguel de Cervantes's comic novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (which I plan to review this Friday.)

[Cue needle across vinyl.] "Duh... What? Don Quixote was nuts! And his sidekick was equal parts wise and ignorant."

Yes, well...

The comic aspect of that dynamic did not really repeat on a grand scale until the classic 1980's sitcom, Blackadder. In the beginning, Prince Edmund, the Black Adder, is more bungling than mad, and sidekick Baldric is much smarter than he appears, frequently saving the hapless prince from himself. Later, the roles were flipped, and Blackadder became an evil version of Holmes - arrogant, clever, and just as sarcastic - while Baldric became the embarrassingly dimwitted sidekick who always had "a cunning plan" (that always ended in disaster.)

So what's this have to do with the PI?

Think about Holmes, particularly as portrayed at present by Messrs. Downey, Cummerbatch, and Miller. The modern depictions of Holmes have more in common with Blackadder than in prior decades, while Watson is portrayed as long-suffering and sometimes the source of Holmes' brilliance. This was Doyle's original vision of the pair, and you can draw a direct line back to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. But whereas the don was off his rocker and Sancho had a simple view of the world, the impulses were the same: Quixote, like Holmes and like every PI character who followed him, loathes injustice and wants to see things set right. Panza, like Watson and the later stock psycho sidekicks, sees Quixote's (or Holmes's or Spenser's or Patrick and Angie's) mission as noble, though often has to show great patience standing in his brilliant partner's shadow.

The motivations and the levels of intelligence change. Even the personal missions change. Spenser, never mind Holmes, could not have thrived in the time of King Arthur or Charlemagne. And the whole thrust of Don Quixote's story is that the knight-errant was already part of a fictional past.

The PI is not the only evolution of Don Quixote, but it's the most obvious. Fans of Doctor Who can pick up on Quixote's madness in the Doctor, but it's darker and more bizarre. And more intentional.

So Don Quixote is still alive. When the PI is done right, the character taps into that zeitgeist. When it's not, he or she is simply parroting the Op and Marlowe.

28 July 2013

The Detroit PI

by Louis Willis

“A. Walker Investigations” is the opening sentence in the short story “Bodyguards Shoot Second” in Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection. Amos is Estleman’s Detroit PI. 

I sometimes choose books from catalogs based on the title or the name of the author. In this case, the name of the sleuth was what attracted me to Estleman’s collection. Rather irrationally, I expected a PI named Amos to be easy going with a deceptive personality plying his trade in a small southern city, or in the open spaces of Texas. Then I opened the book. Surprise, Amos is a hardboiled gumshoe with a wry sense of humor whose turf is the menacing streets of Detroit.

Loren Estleman
Loren Estleman
Estleman, a prolific writer of detective and western fiction, has been nominated for and won a load of awards. In addition to Amos Walker, he created two other detective series featuring professional detectives Ralph Poteet and Valentino. Amos first appeared in his 1980 novel Motor City Blue. The 33 stories in the collection were written in various magazines between 1982 and 2010. As I read 15 of the stories for this post, I felt Estleman was channeling Raymond Chandler (no pun intended), one of his favorite writers, because the wisecracking Amos reminded me so much of Philip Marlowe.  Reading the stories and finding fault with some but enjoying them made me think about my tendency to over analyze, which interferes with my suspension of disbelief. 

One aspect of detective stories that always puzzles me is the need for the shamus to work free. In “Fast Burn,” an ex-Ford auto plant employee dies of natural causes sitting in the chair in Amos’s office before he can tell Amos his problem. Amos, though he will collect no fee, investigates anyway because the dead man “came looking for help with something. I’d like to know what it was.” Okay, but working for free doesn’t pay his bills.

“I’m In The Book,” shows Amos is as tough as his hardboiled predecessors. Since his “main specialty is tracing missing persons,” a rich man hires him to find his wife. The ending didn’t surprise me since I expected it. What surprised me was Amos slaps the smart-mouthed former maid when she gives him some lip and refuses to answers his questions. Up until this story, I pictured him as a hardboiled gentleman and not likely to hit a woman. Of course, some of those predecessors not only hit women but killed them too. 

Although it was appropriate, I didn’t like the ending of “The Anniversary Waltz.” Geraldine Tolliver, daughter of a woman who escaped prison 8 years ago and is presumed dead, believes her mother, Adelaide, is alive and hires Amos to tell her to give herself up when she appears at Geraldine’s father’s grave on their silver anniversary. The problem is a sheriff who doesn’t believe Adelaide is dead has been watching Geraldine. He takes Adelaide into custody when she shows up. Amos later finds the Sheriff’s car with him in the trunk, dead. Adelaide  has an IQ of 160, and apparently had no problem  outwitting the sheriff. I know Amos, the narrator, couldn’t know how she got loose from the sheriff, so, I was forced to use my imagination and, of course, over analyzed the story. Sorry about the spoiler.

Amos even taught me some new words. In “Deadly Force,” homicide Lieutenant Alderdyce asks Amos did he “Get a hinge at the sapper?” Translation: did he see who hit him over the head? A bad guy in “People Who Kill” plunged “kiyoodling” down an elevator shaft. Does it mean he fell head over heels or was screaming as he fell?

Estleman’s defines short stories as “miniatures, where flaws of any sort are immediately obvious.” His miniatures, flaws and all, are worth the effort of reading. Unfortunately for me, he has written so much that I’ll never be able to read all of his novels and stories, though I wish I could because I feel I’m on a first name basis with Amos. Who wouldn’t be with a name like that? 

I wonder what Amos would think about Detroit today? 
Detroit

28 October 2012

A Non-iconic Writer

by Louis Willis
She came into my office like a gal out in the woods in one of those sexy movies, smiled at me, flowed across the room with fluidity of hot molasses, sank into the big leather chair opposite my desk, and crossed her legs slowly, gracefully, gently, as though taking care not to bruise any smooth, tender flesh.
… is how Hollywood PI Shell Scott, the sole owner of Shelton Scott Investigations, describes the lady who enters his office in “The Guilty Pleasure,” the first story in Richard S. Prather’s The Shell Scott Sampler. The lady turns out not to be a bimbo or floozy or dame or babe or gal, but a very rich, respectful lady asking for help.  

Richard S. Prather (1921-2007) introduced readers to his hardboiled detective, Shell Scott, in the 1950s. I don’t remember when I began reading his stories, but it was about the time I also discovered Hammett and Chandler. I liked his novels and stories best  because “he also saw the banana peel on the sidewalk. And then he dispatched his Hollywood private eye...to take a little walk” (thrillingdetective.com). It is the banana peel on the sidewalk that separates Shell Scott from the other hardboiled PIs. He doesn’t take life too seriously. Like all hardboiled detectives, He uses his fist, gun, and intuition to solve crimes and catch criminals. Though he’s always thinking about sleeping with which ever woman comes his way, he is no sexist.

“Eye Witness: Richard S. Prather: 1921-2007” an article by Kevin Burton Smith in Mystery Scene Magazine (No. 99, 2007) reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Prather stories. After reading the article, I exhumed from one of the boxes of books where they were buried the four books of Prather’s that hadn’t been lost in my move from California back home to Tennessee and put them in my to-be-reread box. I didn’t think of him again until I started reading Stephen King. They have nothing in common, except both are writers, and I can’t explain why reading King reminded me of Prather.

To revive my interest in this non-iconic writer, I reread the five stories in The Shell Scott Sampler. The best story is “The Guilty Pleasure” in which Lydia wants Shell to find out what the little thing she found under her bed is. No spoiler here, so I’m not saying what it was. Okay, I know some of you will guess.

The worst story is “The Cautious Killers” in which Shell has to find out who shot at him and why as he and his date and another couple exited a restaurant. Too much descriptive baggage surrounds an acceptable plot. More telling than showing, especially the descriptions of the women, which slows the action. I thought maybe Prather was writing to increase the payment for the story, you know, a penny or two per word. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the story.

Shell seems more familiar to me than Hammett's Continental Op or Chandler’s Marlowe, so much so that I feel comfortable referring to him by his first name. Of all the hardboiled PIs, Shell is the one I would rather have drink with in a bar in Hollywood as I listened to his stories about his cases, provided I could keep his attention from straying every time a beautiful woman walked into the bar.

Dean Davis' excellent Prather web site appears off-line at the moment, but for more on Prather, try Eddie Stevenson's Gold Medal pages on Prather.

Warning to all writers of murder mysteries: do not plan any murders on Halloween. I have it on good authority that the victim will come back to haunt you. This authority also warned me not to use my computer on Halloween because the gremlins that cause so much frustration– frozen hard drives, lost files, missing fonts, etc.– become zombies and vampires and werewolves and attack the user– namely me.

You have been warned!

Have a