Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

  • Writing a Sleuth?

    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

  • Copyright Notices

    All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content on this site (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

    It has come to our attention that people are illegally copying and using the black and white private eye at a keyboard image that is used on our site. NOTE: This image is protected by copyright, property of Colleen Collins.

  • Writing PIs on Twitter

  • Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes

Posts Tagged ‘law firms using PIs’

Answering Writer’s Questions about Surveillance Video

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2014

surveillance

Updated Nov 22 2014

We originally wrote this post in 2010, then updated it in 2012. A note we want to add today is that by 2011-2012, we were exclusively using equipment that recorded digitally, from digital recorders to digital video cameras. A funny story: After we had “gone digital,”  a P.I. contacted us and asked what tape recording equipment we had used for an insurance company client several years prior because they had just hired him, and they insisted he only record with tape! He was frustrated, but had no choice if he wanted to conduct insurance investigations for them.

We figure that the insurance company has gone digital by now. If you’re writing a story set around 2012, that could be a funny predicament to put a PI character in (forced to use near-obsolete equipment).

And now, the post from 2012…

We’re answering a writer’s questions about surveillance video vs. tape, the inclusion of sound, and terms referring to viewing and monitoring video.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do PIs/police/etc still refer to surveillance video as surveillance TAPES (even though info could be on disks,sticks, etc)?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: In our work, we say “surveillance video.” We thought about this, asking ourselves if we still hear other PIs loosely refer to surveillance video as tapes, but we can’t recall hearing that in a long time (several years at least).

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do surveillance videos normally include sound?

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  With our equipment, yes, and we expect that’s pretty standard for other PIs. We often don’t like it for our surveillance work, and invariably we’ll be using the camera and realize it’s recording our comments to each other, etc., and we need to shut down the sound. We have an entire surveillance video with the sound of our dog panting in the backseat (which strikes a soft spot with us as we’ve since lost that beloved dog). More than you wanted to know, but possibly fodder for stories.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Are there special (industry specific) terms associated with reviewing and monitoring surveillance video?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  Not that we’re aware of. In speaking with our clients, be they attorneys or civilians, we’ll use pretty generic verbs (reviewing video, downloading video [from video hard-drive to main computer, for example], “photoshopping” video [in our office, photoshop’s become a verb much like Google–let’s Google that address, for example], editing video, burning video to a CD [we’ll burn video segment/s to a CD, which we’ll drop off at attorney’s/other’s offices], shooting video).

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

When a PI Might Be Involved with a Homicide Investigation

Posted by Writing PIs on July 13, 2010

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

Posted in Homicide investigations, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Answering Writers’ Questions: Overseas Assets and Finding People

Posted by Writing PIs on March 21, 2010

Today we’re posting questions from writers about assets and finding people, and our answers.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Regarding PIs searching for assets.  What if these assets are set up in countries outside the US?  What if your client lives in the US, but the account is in Switzerland or the Isle of Man?  Actually, I thought tax-free accounts were supposed to be cracked down on by the IRS.  How could a wife find out if her husband was hiding money during a nasty divorce?  Can it be undetected without a bank number?  I don’t think those types of banks use regular name and account numbers like here, but I’m not sure.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: This question applies to finding overseas assets.  A lot of countries now participate in reporting offshore bank accounts.  To the best of our knowledge, Guernsey, England is still very private (i.e., not reporting offshore accounts), but in this case a U.S. citizen could hire a local U.K. attorney to open an account in Guernsey and act as an agent in that country.   Bahamas, once a popular place in reality and many fiction stories as a place to hide assets, is no longer such a financial haven–after the U.S. threatened them with trade restraints, they agreed to disclose information about bank accounts.  There are probably other countries/regions that are also private, but one would need to research that.

Oh, one more country that is private.  It’s a small country named Nevis (an island nation in the West Indies) that has extremely tight privacy laws.  Check out e-gold.com, which is located there.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Regarding Skips.  What if a person skips while out on bail and somehow manages to leave the country?  Could a family hire you to find them before the FBI does?  Of course, if you were hunting for a criminal, you would have to turn them in if you found them, wouldn’t you?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: We’ve been hired by families and attorneys to find people in other countries.  However, we’ve never tracked someone who had skipped out on bail (this is what bounty hunters, like Dog, are hired to do).  So if a bounty hunter is tracking someone who’s skipped bail and there’s indications this person is in another country, the bounty hunter would have to work closely with that country’s local and national enforcement, the U.S. Embassey, and any private individuals who also specialize in bail/skip recapture.  This is an extremely technical area, bound up in a mess of treaties concerning extradition, as well as that country’s local law and international law (including the Hague Convention).  Remember all the trouble Dog got into a few years ago (for those who might not know, Google Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mexico)?  In that scenario, one man’s bounty hunter was another man’s kidnapper.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Under a similar scenario:  Suppose a woman hired you to find a long lost love and you were able to locate him, but unbeknown to her, he had a criminal record and was wanted.  Are you obligated to tell her this information?  Are you obligated to turn him in?  I think this could make for a great book.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: We would tell her, and we would tell law enforcement.

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writer’s Question: Why Do Lawyers/Others Ask PIs to Surveil People?

Posted by Writing PIs on February 14, 2010

Today we’re answering a writer’s question about why attorneys and others might hire private investigators to surveil people.

WRITER’S QUESTION: What are some reasons lawyers or others have asked you to surveil people? In my story, I have a cop asking a PI who’s a retired cop to surveil a girl he believes is in danger, but she doesn’t know she’s being surveilled. Is that realistic?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: We think your scenario is realistic, especially with the PI being a retired cop (sounds as though he and the cop are/were friends?). Although neither of us at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes are retired law enforcement, we have had a patrol supervisor (a friend) contact us with a request to follow up with a civilian who wanted surveillance.

As to reasons lawyers/others have asked us to surveil people, here are a few: cheating spouse, child custody issues (for example, a parent suspected of using drugs), skiptrace, process service, employment locate (in a judgement recovery or child support context), to confirm opposing parties’s whereabouts and activites when they’ve made claims that can be contradicted through continuing survillance, insurance fraud surveillance.

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Day in the Life of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on February 10, 2010

Because some people have asked, “What’s a legal investigator?” and because in our PI agency that’s what we primarily do (legal investigations), I thought I’d break down a day in the life of a couple of legal investigators.  We have an extra dimension to our work lately because my business partner is once again studying for the bar exam (in 2 weeks). 

First, here’s the National Association of Legal Investigators’ (NALI) definition of a legal investigator: 

Legal investigators are licensed private investigators or law firm staff investigators who specialize in preparing cases for trial for attorneys. Their job is to gather information and evidence which advance legal theories to benefit the client’s case. The legal investigator must possess knowledge of statutory and case law, local rules of court, civil procedure, forensic sciences, techniques of evidence collection, and its preservation and admissibility.

Legal investigators assist attorneys by reviewing police reports and discovery materials, analyzing and photographing crime or accident scenes, interviewing parties and witnesses, performing background investigations, preparing documentary and demonstrative evidence, recommending experts, and testifying in court. Legal investigators must exhibit the highest standards or professional and ethical conduct.

Now we’ll look at yesterday in “a day in the life of a couple of legal investigators.”

4:30 a.m.: Partner is up, studying (getting the hours in before the work day starts).  Gotta hand it to him, he’s been studying at all hours while juggling other work coming into the office. Sometimes he’s up at 3:30 a.m., other times he “sleeps in” until 6 a.m.

8 a.m – 9 a.m.: Phone calls start. Reminder from a law firm that we have legal papers to serve a bank in the afternoon. New client is driving into Denver, wants to meet for coffee in the a.m.  Paralegal calls, wants to know if an elusive subject has been served yet.  Woman calls, says someone stole her truck from in front of her house. Yes, she’d left the keys in the truck, but only her best friends, a few neighbors, a business acquaintance and her family knew she always left her keys in the truck.  We suggest she discuss this with all those people first, then call us back if the truck is still missing.

11 a.m.: I’m finishing writing several reports. Partner is heading out the door to meet with the new client who’s just arrived in Denver.  It’s going to be a complex, difficult case that will require a lot of travel. We’re already scheduling the travel, where we’ll stay, the interviews, and so on.

noon: Partner’s back, had a good meeting with the new client.  Feels good about client’s character, how he comes across (important elements as we’re expecting this case to go to trial). The coffee shop they met at is one of local haunts–one of the kids who works there knows my partner is studying for the bar and drinking a lot of coffee, so he gifts us a bag of our favorite coffee beans.

Afternoon: Spent driving all over the city. Picking up discovery at one law firm, picking up legal papers at another, serving same papers to the bank, picking up a new case while visiting another law firm, checking addresses for a person we’re trying to locate.  Every time there’s a break, I sit in the car and read through police & EMT reports for another case.

4 p.m.: Home to catch up on phone calls, emails, life stuff.  Partner tells me that after we go out again (for a difficult serve), he plans to spend the rest of the evening studying for the bar exam. I do a “locate” (finding someone) for a law firm. Not easy as the person is using all kinds of addresses–trying to figure out which one is the most relevant.

5:30 p.m.: We head out for the difficult serve. It’s in a bad part of town, serving legal papers to a person who has a history of violence (we’re working on behalf of the law firm who’s representing one of the people who was beaten up by this person). Partner brings his big, black metal flashlight. And good thing he did as it came in handy.

6 p.m.: We find the person’s house. Metal fence around yard that has two overly excited dogs. Partner gets out, tries to talk to them. One turns friendly, the other has an issue with partner trying to get to the front door. Partner turns on flashlight (by now, it’s dark outside), and holds it in front of him. I’m holding my breath inside the car, watching the dog butt its head against the flashlight, growling and barking. Partner keeps walking toward the front door, which suddenly opens. There’s our guy, who has trouble controlling the more aggressive dog. This works in our favor, however, as he readily accepts the papers to get us to leave so he can corral the dog back into the house.

6:45 p.m.: Back at office. We write down our time for the day on the different cases. Partner calls attorney about mid-day interview with new client, gives verbal report. Partner begins studying again for the bar exam.

 

7-8 p.m.: Watching The Tudors, season two. King Henry VIII is battling with those fighting the Reformation, Anne Boleyn is realizing her days are numbered, Cromwell is driving the suppression, characters are sneaking around, spying on each other.  All that bad faith, legal wrangling, and high drama reminds me of law firms, nasty litigation, and the work of legal investigators.

 

8:30 p.m.: Woman calls. Found her truck. Seems a neighbor borrowed it without telling her.  We thank her for calling, wish her a good night.

Posted in Legal Investigations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Part 2: Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on January 14, 2010

Steven Kerry Brown

Today is part 2 of our interview with former FBI agent, private investigator and author Steven Kerry Brown where we discuss the world of real-life private eyes and their fictional counterparts.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: Some people view private investigations as a “recession-proof” business.  Do you agree?  If not, how has the economy affected private investigation businesses, and in what areas of investigative work?

STEVEN: All of the private investigators I know are suffering from loss of business. I would guess there are some that might be prospering, those doing process service with mortgage related clients perhaps. But while we too, do serve process, I don’t consider process serving as “real PI work.” It doesn’t require a PI license to serve process.

My criminal defense workload is up, so maybe there’s an upside to the downtown in the economy. More crime, more criminal defense cases. A lot of those are “indigent for expenses” so I get paid, but less than my normal rate. Generally my family law clients have less money to spend. I’ve had several that wanted to continue with their cases but were forced to stop because their own businesses were losing money and they couldn’t afford us. The pre-employment background screening business is way down as you can imagine. Fewer people being hired so there’s less need for background screening. So if there are some PIs whose business profits are up, I’d like to know their secrets.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: You’re also a “writing PI.” How long have you been writing fiction? And please tell us about your PI fiction novel that’s currently being shopped to publishers.

STEVEN: Just because I enjoy listening to classical music doesn’t mean I can write a concerto. Likewise, because I can read and write English, it doesn’t mean I can craft a novel. There is a craft to writing fiction that must be learned before your writing is going to be publishable. I’m a slow learner. I’ve been writing fiction for 15 years and haven’t made the grade yet. I have a mentor that says you have to write at least a million words before you can produce a well-worked novel.

People ask me how long it took me to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. With tongue in cheek I tell them 20 years. Non-fiction I find much easier to write. I wrote the CIG to PI in about 3 months. The Second Edition (which you said you don’t have and you need to buy it) took me less time. It has about 40 percent new and different material than the first edition.

My first novel was about an ex-FBI agent working a one-sailboat charter business in the Bahamas. It was pretty damn good if I say so myself and it was good enough to land me a fine literary agent. We’re both surprised that book didn’t sell. It took me eight years to write it.

The second novel, a Mormon PI murder mystery set in St. Augustine, Florida is being shopped now by my agent. It took me about three years to write it so I guess I’m getting faster. In this novel, the PI, Winchester Young, risks jail time, fights though a midnight tropical storm, and explores ancient Timucuan ruins to expose the genesis behind multiple murders. We’ll just have to wait and see if it sells. Winchester, by the way was one of the few “gun” names I could come up with that hadn’t been used already. Magnum, Beretta, Cannon, Remington.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES:  In your fiction writing, do you feel it’s necessary to portray, down to the “last scrap” so to speak, the work of private investigators?

STEVEN: I had a fellow PI call me yesterday and wanted to know if it was difficult to find a publisher. I asked him if he was writing fiction or non-fiction. The book he had in mind was really a novel but with “actual details” of how he went about working his cases. But he said it was both fiction and non-fiction. I told him he had to choose unless it was a memoir which is really a bit of both. Bottom line was he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing.

In the PI novel that is being shopped now, I tried to include as many “real life” PI details as possible. I think one of the joys of reading is entering and learning about a world that the reader knows nothing about. So I tried to let my readers enter the PI world. One of the great things about writing is you can condense time, so it doesn’t take four hours to read about a four hour surveillance. But other than that, I think it pretty well immerses the reader in the world of this PI who has to solve a present day murder in order to solve one from twenty-five years ago.

I also tried to stay away from the stereotypic PIs, ex-cops, ex-military etc. My guy is ex-nothing and inherited the agency from his uncle. He is smart and resourceful but he’s not ex-CIA. I also tried to stay away from a lot of gunplay in the book. This PI doesn’t shoot anyone. There is a lot of action and the body count is pretty high but he is not directly responsible for any deaths. Really, how many real life PIs do you know that have shot someone? I’ve been in the PI business for 25 years and I don’t know any. I do have some real life clients that have committed multiple murders though. I’m a frequent visitor to death row at the Florida State Prison so I think I have a pretty good idea of how to portray crime and those who commit it. I guess we’ll see if any publishers agree.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: We look forward to reading about Winchester Young in your to-be-published novel because some smart publisher will snap it up. Thanks for being part of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.

Amazon link to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating: http://tinyurl.com/guide2privateinvestigating

 

Posted in Interviews, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Do a Free Reverse Phone Number Look-Up

Posted by Writing PIs on November 4, 2009

Telephone Booth

There’s lots and lots of ads out there for free phone look-ups–what they give you is free information that’s available from numerous other sites, then they ask you to “click here” and, for a mere $34.95 (or some price), you can get the full background report on this person.

buyer bewareBuyer beware.

There’s no magical 100% correct database out there that’ll spit out the latest and greatest information associated with a phone number.   We’re not saying you can’t get correct information.  You might.  But you, the buyer, should know you’re paying for information that could be old, outdated, or input incorrectly into a database (after all, human hands originally typed in the data).  Or the phone number might have been correct at one time, but has since been ported to a new carrier. 

So, saying all that, we’ll provide some free tips on doing a reverse check on a phone number, with some caveats thrown in for good measure.   Last note: Type phone numbers in different formats (123-456-7890, 1234567890, 4567890).

Step 1:  Run the phone number in Google.  We love Google.  It’s comprehensive search engine gives you a great starting point.  It might give you more information than you were even looking for (for example, the number may display on someone’s online resume, ad, or social networking site).  We once found a missing person by running her computer researchcell phone number in Google–although she’d hidden her whereabouts well (hopping from city to city, staying in different people’s homes, had no identifiable vehicle, had discontinued service on her cell phone although the number was still listed on her site), she was taking the time to log into her MySpace account to chat with her friends!  She hadn’t made her account private, so it was easy to see what her activities were , who she was staying with, etc.  on a daily basis!

 Step 2:  Run the number in various databases.   Although it’s hard to compete with Google’s search engine, doesn’t hurt to follow up and check the number in other databases.  For example, run the number in boardtracker.com, a forum search engine, or spokeo.com, a social networking search engine.

Step 3: Double-check if the number is a landline or cell.   Helps to know if it’s a landline or cell phone number. landline phone If the latter, the person could be living anywhere (for example, their number might start with a Colorado area code, but they’re living in Delaware).  There are dozens of sites that offer free checks for type of phone line, name of carrier, and geographical region of the phone number.  One of our favorites is Phone Validator: http://www.phonevalidator.com/.  (Again, keep in mind that the information returned may be outdated, or the number has ported to a new carrier).

Step 4:  Still no leads?  Rather than pay an unknown online database service that promises background information such as a person’s name, address, and more, we recommend contacting a qualified private investigator to research the phone number for you.  Why?  Online database background/reverse check services are automated, and as we’ve already stated, you might be paying for old, outdated, or incorrect data.   Also, there’s no “live” person to field your questions, or read the results with an eye on accuracy or legality.

At our investigations agency, we’ve run many reverse phone number checks nationwide.  Drop by our website, give us a call or send us an email: Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc:  www.highlandsinvestigations.com

Posted in PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Links to articles on catching cheaters, ordering background reports & safeguarding your Internet ID

Posted by Writing PIs on November 1, 2009

Today we’re posting links to articles we’ve recently written on catching cheaters, ordering tailored background reports, and protecting your identity on the Internet.   The techniques are good for real-world application as well as fictional stories.   Have a great week!

couple

 

How to Outwit Your Cheating Spouse and Catch Him/Her in the Act:
http://tinyurl.com/y9f2daz

 

couple dating

How to Check if Your Date Is Telling the Truth:
http://tinyurl.com/ylp4twk

 

reportHow to Select a Tailored Background Report:
http://tinyurl.com/ydyluzg

 

 

woman at computerHow to Safeguard Your Identity on the Internet:
http://tinyurl.com/yd9qsf8

 

 

holmes

Online Class: Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths and Villains

November 16-23, 2009: Surfing the Web & Digging for Dirt
Ways a sleuth uncovers data, from Internet/database searches to getting down and dirty in someone’s trash. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.

To register, go to www.writingprivateinvestigators.com

Posted in PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Marketing the Private Investigations Business

Posted by Writing PIs on October 30, 2009

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh.  This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”
-Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

A private eye is a business person.  Has to be.  It’s not all about running after felons and solving cases, it’s also about paying the bills.  Even Sam Spade carefully extracted money from his clients, and Phillip Marlowe spent a lot of time worrying about money. Although writers shouldn’t write pages and pages about their fictional sleuth filling out a business credit card application, checking in with his/her CPA, revising contracts, ordering business cards (all that humdrum stuff!), managing a business is still part of the sleuth’s world.  Understanding this means a writer can add a touch of reality/plausibility here and there.  If the PI is wrangling with a testy bill collector, a critical CPA, or a disgruntled subcontractor, it could even be a humorous sub-plot.

Let’s take a brief look at how a private investigator (PI) markets a business.

Marketing the PI Business

As writers, think about all the ways you market your stories: ads in hardcopy and online publications, websites, blogs, electronic newsletters, giveaways to readers, etc.  Pretty similar to what a PI does to market his/her business.

When we decided we wanted to start an investigations company, the first thing we did was sit down and brainstorm two plans: a business plan and a marketing plan.  We worked both of these plans concurrently because we knew as soon as we were ready to open our doors (after following the business plan) we wanted to have customers knocking on those doors (hopefully, thanks to our marketing plan).

In our marketing plan were tasks such as:

  • Designing and printing brochures, letterhead, and business cards
  • Writing/mailing introductory letters about our business and services to attorneys
  • Analyzing what information and focus we wanted on our website
  • Hiring a webmaster we believed could fulfill our vision
  • Advertising with numerous Internet PI sites
  • Joining reputable PI organizations, some of which offered free advertising for its members
  • Making cold calls to different courthouses and attorneys’ offices (with brochures and business cards in hand)
  • Writing articles (with bios that advertised our business)

business cardWe’re living in a digital world, but interestingly enough, our first few clients came to us after receiving one of our letters or our brochure/business cards from a cold call.   The latter is still one of our favorite marketing approaches whenever work gets slow–we’ll visit attorneys’ offices and/or hit the courthouses and pass out our business cards (think about your fictional PI–maybe he/she picks up a case while shmoozing in the halls of justice, or maybe he/she sees a criminal they once investigated–both have happened to us).  

Marketing Never Ends

Advertising never stops, even after the PI business is up and running.  Frank Ritter, a well-known California PI who specializes in personal injury investigations, regularly sent out newsletters to attorneys (he swears his cartoons are what pulled in new clients).  One local financial investigator gives workshops on how to detect financial fraud, after which he personally hands out his business card to every single person in the room.  Another local PI, who’s built an extremely lucrative business over the years, courts the newspapers with articles about his successful investigations (free PR!).

Branding the PI Business

What about brands?  Does your fictional PI have a brand for his/her business?  There’s power in a brand—the first American private detective agency, Pinkerton National Detective Agency, had the “all-seeing eye” as their logo (with the motto “We Never Sleep”).  The term “private eye” came about because of their brand:

Pinkerton Logo

Marketing to an Audience

Just as writers should know their audience, so should PIs.  Because our firm specializes in legal investigations, we primarily market to law firms and attorneys.  A loss prevention investigator might market heavily to department stores.  Or maybe an investigator uses his physical location as a launching pad for marketing—for example, an investigator who lives near a large, recreational lake or other large waterfront area might market to insurance companies who specialize in marine insurance (boats and watercraft).

Maybe Jake Gittes should’ve said, “This business requires a certain amount of finesse…and a lot of marketing.”

holmes

Posted in Marketing the PI Business, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bored to Death: Tips from a Couple of PIs Who’re Also Writers

Posted by Writing PIs on October 16, 2009

private eyeWe’re hooked on Bored to Death, the new HBO series about a writer moonlighting as an unlicensed private eye in a state that requires licensing (ahem).  The latter point is a stickler with us because no way a person in any state that requires PIs to be licensed can simply place a craigslist ad that says “Hey, I’m unlicensed, hire me” as though that makes it all okay.  Sooner or later (more like sooner) a real PI, or someone associated with the regulatory agency, will see that ad or hear about the unlicensed PI’s activities, and the moonlighting will come to a cold-hearted, screeching halt.

But that aside, we love the show.  Love the goofy premises, love the pot-smoking magazine-editor boss George Christopher (played by Ted Danson, who steals the show), dig the PI’s sidekick pal Ray (played by Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover).  Being a couple of PIs who also write, we emphathize with the PI-protagonist who steals time from his writing to sleuth.  But being real-life PIs, we have to offer him these tips on being more professional:

Stop drinking with clients.   Most of your clients need PIs because they got themselves into a mess if not completely because of alcohol/drugs, at least partly.  Maybe Sam Spade drank with his clients, but why get fuzzy-brained when you need your brains the most?  And, oh by the way, don’t carry weed on your investigations.  The smell attracts more trouble than it’s worth.  Of course, this is part of the charm and funk of your fictional world–and where would that Ted Danson character be without that skunk?

Stop viewing clients as potential girlfriends.  Entanglements with troubled women will only drag you down.  Cases are tough enough to work, you don’t need the extra baggage of your heart on your sleeve.  Saying that, your fooling around with fair-haired damsel clients harkens back to the fictional greats (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe), although it’d be nice if your writers let you occasionally score like the fictional greats, too.

Lose the trench coat.  It worked for Columbo back in the 70s, but this is the digital age.  Pitch it to the Salvation Army.  Try camel hair or a nice Gor-Tex.  But then, this is an offbeat comedy, and a trench coat is so cliche, it’s funny.

Try getting a retainer that reflects the difficulty of the work.  You’re going for desperate retainers–a hundred bucks on a whim, or a freebie because you got a crush on the client.  Thought you were moonlighting to make money, bud.  Fix an hourly rate, figure the hours and expenses to be worked, and get that upfront in cash, not kisses. 

Buy a camera.  So far, we’ve only seen you documenting cases with your eyes–that’s not convincing proof.  A visit to a pawn shop for a digital camera can go a long way toward convincing a judge or anyone else that your claims are truthful.

Speaking of a judge, back to your licensure situation.  You got a problem proving any case because you’re openly breaking New York state law.  If you work a case that goes to court, you’d be in a pickle.  The court may report you to the police or even disregard the evidence you’re presenting.  After all, New York state has a very active lobby for licensed private investigators and they don’t like interlopers, even cute ones with surfer boy haircuts.  On the other hand, you’re building some great conflict for future stories–can’t wait to see how you handle explaining to the judge that being unlicensed is just part of your charm as a character.

But fiction is fiction, not reality, so we’ll be back next week, watching our favorite new fictional unlicensed PI cavorting with babes, haggling for retainers, and dressing like a surfer-boy Columbo.  Here’s watching you, kid.

Holmes

Posted in Bored to Death: Tips from a Couple of PIs, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: