by Dave White
The Private Investigator is dead.
About 3 years ago, I got into one of those online arguments where no one is ever right, about whether or not the private eye is dead. WHEN ONE MAN DIES was about to be released and I had a stake in the subject. Of course, I argued the PI wasn't dead.
I may have been wrong.
What was the last best breakout traditional PI series? Dennis Lehane? Laura Lippman? Robert Crais?
It seems the traditional PI is fading and being replaced with another kind of PI. The slacker PI. Don Winslow's THE DAWN PATROL, Huston's MYSTIC ARTS, and TERRIERS are all slacker PIs. Guys who really don't want to be PIs but need a way to pay the bills. They'd rather be hanging on the beach or drinking a beer or cleaning up dead guy parts than solving cases.
But the case falls in their lap and they're drawn into it. Finally, they're in so deep they have no choice but to follow through.
I love the idea. It's the same, but different. No longer is the PI there was wants to be the shining white knight, instead it's morally ambiguous character who has no choice, but to do well. I feel it adds to the suspense. Will the PI do what's right and solve the case? Or will things get so bad he'll just walk away.
It also adds a comic flare beyond the typical wisecracking. The PIs have friends who are just as bizarre as the PI themselves. Gone are the psycho sidekick, and hello are friends who are willing to joke their way through the case.
The PI is fun again.
There are some very good traditional PI series still out there. Chercover, Michael Harvey, our own Mr. MacLean... well worth checking out.
But it seems the PI is changing again. And that's okay. It started out with a man doing a job. Chandler made him a white knight. MacDonald pushed their further, a man with a social conscience. Parker made him a family man. In the late 90s, PI novels became thrillers.
And now we're slacking.
The PI series is dead.
Nahhhh, he's just resting. Maybe he'll come out. If he feels like it. When the tide rolls out.
Long live the PI series.