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Archive for the ‘Private Investigators and Murder Cases’ Category

Realistically Portrayed Private Eye Characters in Books and Film

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2015

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

(image licensed by Colleen Collins)

We love a lot of PI genre fiction, both in books and other media, although too often books, TV shows and films add flash and drama to make the PI protagonist seem bigger and badder than how he/she might really be in the real world. For example, searching public records is a cornerstone of a private investigator’s skill set, but it’s pretty tedious work, hardly worthy of a TV show.

Real-Life PIs Don’t Do Flash

Steve McQueen, international drivers license photo (image is in public domain)

Steve McQueen (image is in public domain)

Here’s an example of flash and drama that’s unrealistic: Rolling surveillances in a movie that resemble Steve McQueen’s legendary San Francisco car chase in Bullitt (if you don’t know this film, do yourself a favor and rent it — this 1968 film holds up well in the 21st century, worth watching for McQueen’s car chase scene alone).

However, real-life PIs don’t drive with tires burning and brakes squealing the way McQueen does. Or they shouldn’t — that’s for police units handling emergencies. Conducting a rolling surveillance is typically fairly tame and doesn’t last long. Not to say rolling surveillances aren’t nerve-wracking, because it can be intense following someone without losing them or their catching on that you’re following.

A Few PI Picks

But saying all that, below are several (not trying to be all-inclusive here) realistically portrayed fictional PIs. We’ve written other articles that mention even more right-on PIs in stories, but if we were to lump all of them into an article, it would turn into a novella.

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, 1974 (promo photo is in public domain)

Jake Gittes. We probably find Jake realistic because we know a current-day PI who makes Jake look second-string: This PI is handsome, an impeccable dresser, can outdo a marriage counselor when it comes to listening to wives & husbands in turmoil, runs an office with several minion PIs who gladly do his bidding, and has personally solved his share of government corruption cases. Previously we said too often fiction creates PIs who are bigger and badder than the real deal, but our real-life guy is just the other way around. Nobody is as big and bad and well-dressed as he is, although Jake comes close.

Jesse Stone.  This isn’t a PI, but both of us love the Jesse Stone character in the made-for-TV movies (starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone). He’s a police chief in a small town, and his crafty, persistent, insightful approach to investigations feels very “PI right-on” to us.

James Garner as PI Rockford (R) in photo still from THE ROCKFORD FILES (image is in public domain)

James Garner as PI Jim Rockford (R)  (image is in public domain)

Jim Rockford.  We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights and squealing brakes, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs. Btw, it’s no coincidence that both McQueen and Garner do brake-squealing scenes — both were avid race car drivers, which is probably why they were also good friends in real life.

Ray Dudgeon.  We’re big fans of author Sean Chercover’s PI Ray Dudgeon. Happy for Chercover that he’s moved on to writing mainstream thrillers, but we’re sorry to see his PI Ray Dudgeon fade away. We found Dudgeon to be a three-dimensional, compelling and realistic PI. Not such a surprise as Chercover is a former PI.

Milt Davis.  One of our favorite PI short stories (“Death Flight” by Ed McBain, 1954) stars a tough PI (Milt Davis) who’s filled with doubt about handling a particular case because he thinks he’s unqualified. And, in truth, he is (which also happens in real-life private investigative work). Milt Davis’s grit, native intelligence, determination, and self-doubt to see a job through make him a realistic PI.

Note:  Interestingly enough, Ed McBain didn’t create many private eye characters, claiming that he found it “difficult to justify a private citizen investigating murders.” He may have found it difficult to justify, but that didn’t stop him from developing a compelling, real-to-life PI character.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned or licensed by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any photos noted as being in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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Private Investigators and Murder Cases

Posted by Writing PIs on February 27, 2012

At Elizabeth A. White’s blog, Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s PI Colleen Collins posted a guest article that responds to novelist Ed McBain‘s comment “The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” An excerpt from the post “Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?” is below; to read the full article, click here.

Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?

The last time a private eye solved a murder was never.” -Ed McBain *

Like many of you, I love a gritty, fast-paced private eye story where the shamus solves a grisly murder or two. Investigating death makes for compelling storytelling rift with bodies, suspects and clues. In my current novel The Zen Man, the private-eye protagonist must solve a murder in thirty days or face a life sentence behind bars.

But how true is it in real life that private investigators solve murders? Is Ed McBain right that the answer is never? I compiled a few popular theories on this topic — some from the Internet, others my PI-partner-husband and I have heard over the years – with analysis for each.

Theory #1: In stories, private eyes are often effective because they are less constrained by government rules than law enforcement. But in reality, law enforcement must be wary about endorsing a PI’s evidence because 1) it’s unknown what methods the PI used in obtaining that evidence (if the PI obtained the evidence through illegal means, it would be thrown out at trial), and 2) by accepting a PI’s evidence, the police could be seen as using the PI as a state agent (“acting under color of law”) and any improper behavior by the PI could be imputed to the police department.

Analysis: It’s true that PIs, who are civilians, are less constrained by government rules — for example, PIs are not bound to the same evidentiary laws as law enforcement. It’s an assumption, however, that an experienced PI, especially one who specializes in legal investigations, would use “unknown” methods for obtaining evidence. In our investigations agency, we’ve gathered evidence using established rules and procedures to establish chain of custody (documented procedures demonstrating how we got evidence from where it was to our evidence locker). These procedures guarantee reliability and have resulted in courtroom admissibility and victory for the lawyers who employed us.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Examples of Private Investigators Investigating Murder Cases

Below are links to several articles written by and/or about private investigators and murder, attempted murder, and cold case investigations.

Private Investigator’s Investigation Re-Opens Murder Case (Private Investigators in Virginia)

Attempted Murder, 4 Bullet Slugs, and a Dog Named Gus (The Zen Man)

Private Investigator Takes On 2013 Controversial Cold Case Murder (WHNT News)

Have a good day, Writing PIs

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Please do not copy/distribute any images as they are either copyrighted or licensed by the author, who does not have the legal authority to share with others.

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