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Posts Tagged ‘Jake Gittes’

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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Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 6, 2014

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”~ Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

Note to Readers: Several years ago, Colleen wrote a monthly column, “P.I. Confidential,” for Novelists, Inc., a community of writers who write novel-length commercial fiction. At the end of each article, she would answer questions writers had sent in — below is her response to a question about P.I.s having romantic dalliances with their clients.

fedora black and white

Writer’s Question: Are there any legal restrictions on a P.I. getting involved with a client, the subject of an investigation, a fellow P.I., or a law enforcement officer who’s involved in the same case? If not, are there generally accepted ethical guidelines or is it totally up to the P.I.’s own judgment? How about any lawsuits arising out of these kinds of relationships?

Answer: It’s certainly popular in film and books for a P.I. to get involved with a client. It’s not uncommon in real life, either. In our community, there’s a high-profile P.I. who became romantically involved with a woman who’d hired him to be her bodyguard–years later, they’re still happily together.

Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones to consider in the relationships mentioned. As to lawsuits, none appear in online sources; however, that doesn’t mean none exist. (Note: This was based on research in May 2011).

Involvement with a Client

Attorneys, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, there is no legal proscription forbidding a P.I. getting involved with a client.

That said, there are a pile of reasons why a P.I. should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients, a key one being the P.I.’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire P.I.s to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

If a P.I. is hired through an attorney, the P.I. is an agent of that law firm, and the P.I.’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. Therefore, if a P.I. were to get involved with a client, that attorney is on the hook for negligent supervision. For example, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the P.I.’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license. Horrible scenario in real-life, juicy for fiction.

Involvement with the Subject of an Investigation

Let’s look at a few examples of what might be construed as a “romantic involvement”:

  • Taking the subject out to dinner
  • Weekend trips
  • Buying presents.

In the eyes of the law, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself. In other words, if it looks like a fish, then it smells like a fish.

In a worse-case scenario, if police or opposing counsel learned that a P.I. was romantically involved with the subject of an investigation, it’s conceivable that the P.I. might be charged with tampering with a witness, improper influence or bribery. What if it was truly an innocent get-together, just an interview over dinner, nothing more? Sorry, a qualified P.I. should know appearances count. Again, this scenario offers ample fodder for fiction.

Let’s say the P.I. has become romantically linked to the subject of an investigation, and the romance goes south. A heartbroken witness might report a P.I.’s “misconduct” to authorities, maybe concoct a few heinous details (there’s no fury like a scorned lover). The P.I. could be publicly skewered by the local media and by opposing counsel in open court, and let us not forget the far-reaching impact of blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn…

Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer

If a P.I. and police officer, who are intimately involved, are on different sides of a case, and they share–or even appear to share–case information, it can undermine a legal proceeding. For example, a convicted person is sitting, and stewing, in prison…then one day he learns that the D.A.’s detective in his case, and the P.I. the convicted man’s family hired, were lovers. Convict rings up his attorney, who files a motion for a new trial, claiming the P.I. shared investigative information and strategy with the other side of the case. Guess what? The conviction could easily be overturned.

Involvement with a Fellow P.I.

Yours truly eloped with her P.I.-business partner, so she well understands this scenario. First, let’s look at it this way: It’s not uncommon for professional peers–whether they’re P.I.s, cops, lawyers, or stockbrokers–to get involved. However, an ethical dilemma could arise if the P.I.s are working opposite sides of a case (see “Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer,” above).

A by-product of a P.I.-P.I. relationship is the absolute unpredictability of each partner’s schedule. With one cell phone call, a candlelit dinner can turn into a moonlight surveillance. If they’re both working the same case, no ethical problems there…as long as both P.I.s keep their eyes on the target, not the moon…or each other.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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

Posted in PI Topics, Private Detective Romantically Involved with a Client | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

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 »

 
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