Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Story Foibles in Private Eye Fiction

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2012

Here at Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, we’re not only private investigators (and one of us also a trial attorney), but we also love reading the private eye genre.  Lots of great authors and books out there…and then sometimes we read something so implausible, so silly, we relate to Dorothy Parker who once said, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Without naming names or titles (in fact, we’ve disguised some story attributes so authors/books aren’t identifiable), we’ll discuss a few instances lately where we wanted to throw a book with great force.

Clueless, Really?

We just read a novel, actually one that is part of a series, where the private eye team met with an individual.  As readers, we had

PIs Don’t Leave Their Partners Clueless

no idea who this individual was, but considering the fictional PI team was hot on the trail of a case, obviously this person was someone who might have pertinent information about a suspect or the crime itself, or maybe was an eye witness, or…well, we were ready to find out.

Imagine our surprise when one of the PIs had no idea why the meeting was taking place! The individual with whom the PI team was meeting asked the clueless PI (very loosely paraphrasing the dialogue here), “You don’t know who am I?”  The clueless PI answered, “No.”  The individual turns to the other PI and asked, “Your partner doesn’t know why the two of you are here?”  to which the first PI quipped something like, “Yeah, I don’t like to tell my partner everything — it’s good for [the clueless PI] to be surprised.”

What?  A PI team goes to a meeting with a possibly important resource/witness/contact, and one of the PIs is purposefully left uninformed and clueless?  This was one of several clueless episodes in this story, and the one that made us finally shut the book for good.  There is no way one of us would drive the other to such a meeting and not brief our partner on the ride. It’s to the benefit of any case we’re working that we’re both as informed as possible.  We both have our strengths, our styles of interviewing/investigating, and if we’re both well informed, we’ve just doubled our chances to unearth that telling detail, maybe even solve the case.

This isn’t PI rocket science.  Even in the business world, who wants to purposefully take a clueless person to a meeting?  Or how about leaving your car for repair at a shop and not tell anyone what you want fixed or looked at in your car?

Enough said.  Onto the next PI peeve.

Cell Phone, Really?

It’s fairly safe to say that the majority of current-day PIs have basic-to-advanced technological skills. For example many of us rely on our smartphones to do a handful of investigative tasks that used to require a bucket load of equipment.  For example, at our agency, we use our smartphones to record and transmit witness interviews, take photos, even scan and transmit documents.  Cool stuff.

Here’s our techno-peeve: We recently started to read a story set in 1990 where the PI didn’t answer her phone because she’d forgotten to charge it.  Uh, hello?  Were there cell phones in common use in 1990?  To be fair, we researched cell phones on the Internet.  According to “The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983 and 2009,” the first truly portable phone was the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X made in 1989 — a monster affair with a ruler-size antennae.  According to Wikipedia, the 9800X’s price tag was between $2,495 and $3,495.  This wasn’t a rich PI by any means — in fact, this gumshoe had to scrimp on food and other essentials to make the monthly rent.  Seriously doubt this fictional PI could afford a cell phone that cost several thousand dollars. Heck, even today, my business partner and I wouldn’t blow that kind of money on a cell phone!

By the way, the next cell phone was the digital hand-size mobile telephone called the Motorola International 3200 made in 1992, two years after this story took place.

It’s a small point, maybe, but cell phones are such a part of our world today that this inaccurate factoid stood out like Philip Marlowe at a nunnery.  Wouldn’t have taken much research for the writer to realize the PI probably used a landline in 1990. Still can’t figure out how this slipped past the editor…maybe he/she was too busy on their cell phone to notice.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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