I swear to God this isn't a post about the death of the PI novel.
But a few things--Dave's post about his old PI character, the end of fiction at the Thrilling Detective Website, and Brad Park's Shamus Award win--got me thinking about PIs. PI fiction is dear to my heart. Authors like Laura Lippman, Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Rick Riordan, SJ Rozan, Steve Hamilton, Sue Grafton, and of course Robert Parker are the ones who brought me into the mystery fold. For most of the 90s and early new millennium I didn't read many mystery books without a PI character. So even as I've branched out into other sub-genres and the PI as lead has fallen out of favor, I've followed it all with a keen eye. And one development I've been disappointed by is the rise of the newspaper reporter as hero.
Where the hell did this come from? Their industry is in the toilet, they have very little power to change things anymore, and what they do is mostly boring. Meanwhile, most of the "hot jobs" lists I see always list private investigator as a growing field. And why wouldn't now be a great time to be a PI? In this crappy economy police departments are underfunded and need all the help they can get. Marriages are on the rocks due to financial struggles and spouses are growing more paranoid. Those who still have jobs are under strict observation and new employees being brought in are subject to extensive background investigations. And a lot of people, desperate to escape the nightmare their life has become, are just disappearing without a trace. Add to that all of the repo work, eviction work, and bail enforcement work available it seems like a plum job. Yet the newspaper reporter is the rising hero.
I was happy to see, for once in many years, all of the Shamus nominees for Best Novel were true PI novels. But as you get into Best First (like Mr. Parks and his fine novel THE FACES OF THE GONE) and Paperback Original the line is hazier. Every year there seems to be at least two or three journalists nominated for PI awards. And you see them on the bestseller lists too. Jason Pinter, a great guy and a great writer, has done very well with his Henry Parker thriller series and the big monster success lately, the Steig Larsson books, are about a reporter. Even James Patterson has a character who is a former cop turned reporter.
Meanwhile, the PI field is growing an expanding nicely under the radar. We have excellent books from across the pond from the likes of Declan Hughes, Russel McLean, and some fellow named Bruen. The PWA/ St. Martins Press contest has finally started picking winners outside of the cliched standard mold with exciting books like DRINK THE TEA and Michael Ayoob's great SEARCHING FOR MERCY. There's also a new Patrick and Angie book along with the trade appearance of Tess Monaghan in THE GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT. We've also got Lawrence Block's A DROP OF THE HARDSTUFF that digs back into Scudder's past. I wish Sean Chercover would write a new Ray Dudgeon book already and I still hold out hope that Stephen King will write a PI novel, but I'm happy with the field and look hopefully on it's survival. All we've got to do is get rid of these damn reporters...