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February 22, 2006


Stacey Cochran

I read Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range last week. It kicks butt!

Lesa Holstine

What about Richard Hawke's Speak of the Dead or Sandra Scoppetone's This Dame for Hire? These are both PI novels that came out in 2005 or 2006. Scoppetone's is the first in a series.

Steve Hockensmith

I definitely think the hook/gimmick/high concept/whatever for HOLMES ON THE RANGE -- "cowboys try to copy Sherlock Holmes" -- has made a huge difference. If my first novel had been about a tough P.I. getting in over his/her head while investigating XYZ, I don't think I would've lucked into a review in Entertainment Weekly, for instance.

Not that I don't love some "tough P.I. gets in over his/her head" novels. There are just a lot of them.

Oh, and by "his/her" I mean "his or her," of course. But it makes me wonder: Has anyone done a transgender P.I. yet? Now there's a gimmick for you. Somebody pick that up and run with it.


P.S.: Thanks for the thumbs up, Stacey!


Lesa, you're right, but this is the fifth novel for Hawke (aka Tim Cockey) and Sandra Scoppettone's been writing since the early 1960s. My point is who is brand new -- because that's what unpublished writers should be comparing themselves to, not veterans who began when the publishing climate was quite different.

Stacey Cochran

Transgender PI?

That's just wrong.

Although, now that I think about it, I could see Jennifer Colt pulling it off to hilarious affect.


Sandra Scoppettone

I'm on the best first P.I. for the Shamus. Good to see what I'll be getting.

But don't assume because I've been writing for a long time that I automatically get published. Not true. I think This Dame got published because of when it was set, etc.

There is a transgender P.I. which Carroll & Graf will publish. Probably not until 2007. Can't say more about it now. No, I didn't write it.

And what kind of money are we talking about?


I'm waiting for Russel McLean's book. No joke. Love his stories.

Hockensmith, I was going to be the first to point out how great your book is, but I got beat to the punch. Sorry.

Steve Hockensmith

No sweat, Steven. I'm very accommodating. Anyone is welcome to tell me how absolutely wonderful my book is, no matter where they happen to land in line....


Bryon Quertermous

I don't think the PI novel is dead, I just think it needs a new take. I'm still waiting for the official post-modern PI, which of course I'm also writing.

I also think a spinoff character of the PI that will find a huge market is the bounty hunter/PI character.

It's one of the fastest growing career tracks and even with all of the science and technology etc. these guys still rely on straight up leg work to find their man. It also lends itself more to the thriller element that is probably essential for high sales.

Daniel Hatadi

Thanks for the leg-work, Sarah. Very interesting.

Now, what the hell is my 'hook' going to be?

Mary R

How do you make doing online searches as narratively fulfilling as a stakeout or tailing a suspect?

PIs used to be brought in when there was a shocking secret (incest, a child given up for adoption, drug addiction) that might be uncovered. In the age of Springer and Dr. Phil, how do you make that work? Heck, women write literary memoirs about having sex with their father and put their name on it!

The best PI fiction isn't just about the PI him/herself, but family secrets. And families don't have secrets in the same way.

But it will swing back around. We'll start being horrified by personal failings again.

Clair Lamb

I have a client who's working on a transgender PI novel... that's not the book I worked with him on, but just so you know, Steve, it's out there.

Stephen D. Rogers

Swell. Not only do I have to complete this book, I have to prove the industry wrong.

Lee Goldberg

You forgot my THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE (2005, Five Star)...though the hero isn't officially a "PI," he just thinks he is.

Tara Gelsomino

A lot of romance authors crossing into mystery are testing the PI waters it seems--lots of Evanovich knockoffs out there. Tori Carrington's Sofie Metropolis series from St. Martin's (though I guess she's not an official PI, she works for her uncle's detective agency). Marian Keyes is also planning a PI book for one of the sisters of her Walsh family series, Helen, (her newest release about a different Walsh sister coming out in June, in fact, has a big subplot featuring Helen's PI work). I just read about a new TV pilot for a sitcom featuring a single mom who becomes a bounty hunter too (not based on a book).


Thanks for the list Sarah. I love PI novels and hope that many many more are published. There are several I have read and enjoyed on here (Hughes, Stone, Swierczynski and Aleas in particular) and a couple I'm really looking forward to (notably Messrs Banks and Hockensmith).

Here's another one - THE LAST LLANELLI TRAIN by Robert Lewis (2005) which is set in Bristol and is, apparently a noir black comedy (my favourite!).

How about Al Guthrie's TWO-WAY SPLIT which I suppose is not, strictly speaking, PI, but there ARE PIs in it. Besides, it's a bloody good read :o)


Adrian Magson

P.I. genre dead? Hell, I hope not, as I'm in the middle of a series - NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED(2004), NO HELP FOR THE DYING (2005) and out in August 06 - NO SLEEP FOR THE DEAD (Creme de la Crime) - all featuring Riley Gavin, a young female investigative reporter teamed up with Frank Palmer, a male P.I. From the response I've had - especially from women readers - it ain't dead yet and they do like the combo of female/male main leads.


"How do you make doing online searches as narratively fulfilling as a stakeout or tailing a suspect?"

Well, for all of us who love research (see earlier thread), that's pretty easy. Anyone who's ever googled a name knows that some of the matches are hilarious. (I once did research about El Cid, the eleventh century Spanish exile. When I typed in his name - "Rodrigo Diaz" - I got a bunch of hits for a young engineering student in Chile.) For a recent book that makes a search via telephone compelling, see Javier Cercas' "Soldiers of Salamis" (2003). Although not a PI novel, it makes the secrets/missing persons thing pretty exciting.

Richard Helms

Bryon Quertermous said:

In my third Eamon Gold title, the protag begins the book as a bounty hunter, and ends it hunting down the remains of the loot from a twenty-year-old armored car heist for 10% from the insurance company. Neither are 'traditional' PI pursuits but, as has already been noted, you need a new twist.

Now, if I can just work in that transgender thing...

Count me in the group that doesn't believe that the PI novel is dead. It does seem, however, that it is on life support and waiting for some kind of transplant.

I think there is a market out there for the old-fashioned, knuckles-and-know-how, street-savvy freebooter, but as time flies I become more and more concerned that this audience is dwindling.

Thank goodness I'm not in this just for the money...

PK the Bookeemonster

I'm just a reader but I read just about every type of crime fiction and actually manage to read quite a bit in a year. There haven't been as many PI novels out there to really choose from but they do seem to be from the same mold. The ones I liked focused more on the procedural aspects rather than the angst or hook. Show me the Law and Order version of a PI series and I'd love it.

Ingrid (I.J.Parker)

After my protagonist made a name for himself as a P.I. several years ago, he began to drift into other types of involvement with crime solving. His position in his culture makes it natural that he should also at times work as an official investigator (as in a police procedural) and as an amateur detective(or rather, pro bono). It drives those people crazy who like to fit him into a firm category but may just end up being convenient for me if the rumors are true. :)

Jennifer Colt

Terry and Kerry McAfee (The Butcher of Beverly Hills 2005, The Mangler of Malibu Canyon 2006) are traditional PI's, if by that you mean licensed investigators who solve crimes.

They are non-traditional in they are young and female, and the stories are broadly comedic (all of which makes your point, I guess), but new takes on the stock PI are inevitable as times change.

I mean, Westerns will never be the same after Brokeback Mountain, right? (Nor after Holmes on the Range, apparently, which I'm just now hearing about.) I love traditional mysteries, but I'm also in favor of letting in a little air.

Bring on the transgendered vampires and the Sherlockian cowpokes!


I don't think the genre's dead. It just needs to be shook up a little (i.e. Charlie Huston's ALREADY DEAD). I've read Tim Maleeny's STEALING THE DRAGON and he basically does for the PI novel what Quentin Tarantino did for the Kung Fu movie genre with KILL BILL. That is, he reinvents the genre as a comic fever dream.

I'm looking forward to more books that do that.

Mark Coggins

Taking the baton from Sarah, here's a little more analysis that might be interesting to read:


Christopher G. Moore

I have been following the debate on whether the private eye novel has hit a wall. Writing a private eye series overseas has its own challenges but there is no indication that readers are losing interest. Since 1992 I have authored eight private eye novels in the Vincent Calvino series. Perhaps more private eyes should move abroad if they are looking for a new audience.

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