Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Archive for the ‘Private Eye Genre’ Category

Female Private Eyes Walked Those Fiction Mean Streets, Too

Posted by Writing PIs on November 11, 2017

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When a friend recently commented about the lack of female private eyes in hardboiled fiction, I pointed him to a post I’d written a few years ago in response to an article in the NYT. Female private eyes in literature go back further in time than those in the hard-boiled genre, however. Many view Mrs. Paschal as the first female private detective in literature. In 1864, Mrs. Paschal appeared in The Revelations of a Lady Detective, written by W. S. Hayward, a British male writer. Although Mrs. Paschal occasionally worked with the police force, she also conducted private investigations for payment.

But back to hard-boiled detective fiction—below is my 2014 post about lady dicks who also roamed those mean streets…

The Death of the Private Eye?

It was surprising to read the November 14, 2014 article “The Death of the Private Eye” by John Semley in the New York Times and see references to only men being shamuses in hardboiled fiction.

There Were Lady Dicks, Too

The hardboiled private dicks in pulp fiction’s hard-hitting, heart-pumping stories included numerous female characters as the main protagonists, although you’d never know it from Semley’s text:

“The hard-boiled gumshoes were men…”

“If the private dick has all but disappeared, something of his DNA is woven into the biology of the authority-bucking hackers…”

“This is the real essence of the P.I….despite his venality…”

Miss Marple: An Amateur Sleuth

Semley does, however, give a passing nod to Miss Marple (“the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before”) except that Miss Marple was an amateur sleuth, not a professional private investigator (definition from Private Eye Writers of America: A private investigator is a private citizen [not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police force] who is paid to investigate crimes).

Tip of the Fedora to Hard-Boiled Female PIsSecret Agent

Let’s look at a few female private eye characters who made their appearances during the hard-boiled era:

Grace “Redsie” Culver, an operative for the Noonan Detective Agency, starred in 20 stories in The Shadow Magazine from 1934-1937.

Carrie Cashin, owner of the Cash and Carry Detective Agency in Manhattan, first hit the fiction scene in 1937 and went on to star in 38 stories.

Dol Bonner started walking the mean streets in The Hand in the Glove (1937) by Rex Stout, who later included Bonner as a supporting character in several novels featuring Nero Wolfe.

The Death of the Private Eye Genre?

This is the real point of Semley’s article, and it’s a valid one. Yes, technological tools, available to just about anyone, have cast a cold shadow on many of the private investigator’s tricks of the trade. My husband and I have an entire room filled with cameras and other equipment that are hopelessly outdated. A lot of the smartphone apps I use for investigations any kid can buy.

Walking the Mean Streets: Still in Vogue

But not all investigations are about being technically hip. When a law firm hired us to find the names of people who had worked on a building nearly 50 years ago, there were no databases, even proprietary ones, that contained a shred of evidence to these people’s identities, so we sleuthed the old-fashioned way: On foot. Talked to people, reviewed old reverse phone directories, ended up digging through dusty boxes in a storage facility (where we finally found the people’s names).

We know a homicide detective who resorts to some old-fashioned tricks when he wants to get people to answer the door: He finds their electrical box and turns off the power. Within seconds, they’ve opened their door and he’s there with a few questions he’d like them to answer.

An Anonymous Witness

When a defense lawyer hired us to find three gang members who had tried to kill his client (a member of another gang), we headed to the defendant’s neighborhood and knocked on doors. Nobody wanted to talk to us, mostly because they were frightened of gang retaliation. Later we returned to the neighborhood with signs that we posted on trees, bus benches, a fence at a park. A few days later, we received a phone call from a public coffeehouse by a woman who didn’t want to give her name or email address as she didn’t want her identity to be traced electronically. She was willing to meet us at the park where the crime had occurred at a certain date to talk with us, for fifteen minutes only. She purposefully chose the time when the crime had occurred (late in the evening).

We showed up at the park at the designated time. A woman in her late fifties emerged from the shadows of a group of trees and walked toward us. She spoke quietly, pointing out the crime scene, and where she’d witnessed the defendant fighting for his life against three young men, all of which matched exactly what the defendant had described. She refused to give us her name, and to be on the safe side she hadn’t driven to the park in her car (she’d walked). Her information cracked the case.

Semley claims that “All P.I. stories are now period pieces.” Hmm…maybe that’s even more of a cliche than thinking only tough, wisecracking guys were gumshoes.

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. 

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Nov 18 Book Launch! WINK OF AN EYE, Winner Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Posted by Writing PIs on November 18, 2014

Today’s the book launch day for WINK OF AN EYE, by Lynn Chandler Willis, which wonWink of an Eye book cover the 2013 Private Eye Writers of America-St. Martin’s Best First P.I. Novel. Chandler was the first woman to win this award in over ten years. Here’s her story about learning her book won this coveted award:

As summer 2013 was winding down, I watched the days click off the calendar with disappointment. In my mind, each day closer to Bouchercon 2013 meant my chances of winning or even making the long list in the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America’s Best 1st Private Eye Novel competition were growing slimmer. Stupid me.

I’d never entered a contest, especially a big one, so I didn’t know how these things played out. For some silly reason I thought finalists would be notified a few weeks after the submission deadline, not a few weeks before the conference. So I’d given up hope on my favorite P.I., Gypsy Moran, coming to life through this particular contest.

Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis

Then one day in late August, I was talking with my sister on the phone and, um, multi-tasking, by checking email. We’re all guilty of it so don’t judge. She was talking about something when an email from St. Martin’s popped up. I don’t even remember what she was saying as everything faded out of focus except that email.

“…I am pleased to inform you…”

I started screaming. And crying. And hyperventilating. And my poor sister on the other end of the phone had no idea what was going on. She was screaming too, except she was screaming at me to hang up—she was calling 911. I finally calmed down enough to tell her there was no need for any kind of emergency services and to tell her the reason for the excitement. Then she started crying.

It wasn’t until much later when Wink of an Eye was added to Macmillan’s website that I discovered I was the first woman in ten years to win the award. In the male dominated genre and world of Private Eyes, this was a pretty remarkable feat. Not only did I chip away at that testosterone-driven barrier, I did it as a woman writing from a man’s point of view—and according to reviews and male beta readers—did it convincingly. 

Book Blurb

Twelve-year old Tatum McCallen hires reluctant PI Gypsy Moran to prove his father didn’t kill himself. Gypsy, on the run from his own set of problems, soon finds himself in the middle of a case involving eight missing girls, a cowardly sheriff, and undocumented workers. And it all comes back to Claire Kinely—the only woman he truly ever loved.

Praise for Wink of an Eye

“Gypsy and Tatum’s relationship is a well-drawn emotional hook, and the solid investigation, combined with well-timed humor, should create a following for this PWA First Private Eye Novel Competition winner.”—Booklist

“Readers won’t be able to put this novel down. P.I. Gypsy Moran is the perfect bend of streetwise smartass and big-hearted nice guy. That Chandler Willis manages to pack so much into one story, with well-rounded characters, is amazing in itself.”—RT Book Reviews

“This engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked.”—Library Journal

Amazon Buy Link: Wink of an Eye

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