Rounding out our group of authors and experts for discussion on private eye fiction, Watching The Detectives, Saturday January 11th at 2PM, we have some of our local talent. Laura Oles writes about Jamie Rush, a skip tracer who operates out of a Gulf Coast town. Jeff Vorzimmer is a writer, crime fiction expert, and editor who has put together The Best Of Manhunt collection as well as A Trio Of Beacon Books, that focuses on the lurid “expose” paperbacks.
From Laura Oles:
Isabel (Izzy) Spellman: Isabel Spellman has been described as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy,” which is one of the many reasons I love this character. As a licensed investigator in her family’s firm, she’s extremely capable and sharp, even as she navigates the pitfalls that come from working with her dysfunctional family. Her cleverness has an edge that keeps me turning the pages, and her sarcasm always sticks the landing.
V I Warshawski: I’m drawn to a strong and complex female protagonist, and VI absolutely fills this role. She doesn’t apologize for who she is and how she makes her way in the world. VI is skilled in a street fight, appreciates Torgiano red wine and doesn’t suffer fools. What’s not to love?
Tess Monaghan: I discovered Tess during a time when my career required a great deal of travel. I picked up Baltimore Blues and never looked back. Tess’s investigative journalism background and her balance of strength and compassion compelled me to continue with the series. Laura Lippman gives us such a layered and authentic view of Baltimore through Tess’s eyes. And Tess ventured to go where few female detectives have dared—motherhood.
Jim Rockford:. When I think about private detectives on television, my mind always goes to Jim Rockford. Maybe because he kept me company in my childhood. An ex-con who served time in San Quentin and then was later pardoned, he ran his investigative business out of a mobile home in LA and preferred fishing to most other pursuits. His father never felt being a PI was a real job, and the fact he was often getting shorted by clients didn’t help his end of the argument. Jim Rockford was fallible at times, skilled at working cold cases but not always coming out on top in a brawl. He rarely used his gun. He was human, and I find that particularly appealing. And that theme song is pretty catchy, too.
From Jeff Vorzimmer:
Chip Harrison: Okay, so, technically the first two Chip Harrison novels aren’t detective novels, or even crime novels for that matter. It isn’t until Chip goes to work for private detective Leo Haig—a Nero Wolfe wannabe—that Chip himself could be said to do any detective work. In book three Haig hires Chip to be his amanuensis, à la Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin. The books are written with the byline of Chip Harrison, as if they are autobiographical, but Chip Harrison was eventually revealed to be Lawrence Block. I had Larry Block sign my copy of No Score, the first book. After he signed it, I glanced down at the title page to make sure he didn’t sign it “Chip Harrison”.
Harry Fanin: Probably another odd choice. David Markson wrote in a variety of genres. He wrote the western, The Ballad of Dingus Magee, but unfortunately only two detective novels, both featuring private detective Harry Fanin. The books Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat were written in 1959 and 1961, respectively, and set in Greenwich Village. Think Johnny Staccato or Peter Gunn, with every bit as many beatnik characters. Stylish and cool with beautiful covers by Robert McGinnis.
Shell Scott: As politically-incorrect as you can get these days. So, I read them as an escape back to the days before anyone worried about such things. I don’t think many people read Shell Scott anymore, but hey, I think something’s lost. After all, how many of today’s private eyes swing naked on a vine onto a move set? None but Richard Prather’s Shell Scott.
Johnny Staccato: My favorite TV detective. Unfortunately Staccato only lasted one season (1959-60). Played by John Cassavetes, Staccato was not only a private eye, but a pianist in a Greenwich Village jazz club as well. He was cool and suave like Cassevetes himself. In his own private eye novel, Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s PI Doc Sportello praises Staccato as “the shamus of shamuses,” ranking him right up there with Marlowe and Spade.
You can hear more from Oles and Vorzimmer at the Watching the Detectives panel this Saturday, January 11th at 2PM on BookPeople’s Third Floor.