IF SHE’S NOT A PRIVATE EYE, DRESS HER IN CONCRETE
Recently, in hopes of finding some interesting new gal gumshoes to add to this blog — as well as my own reading pile — I spent an hour sifting through titles on Amazon. I came away with nothing to show for my efforts except frustration.
My approach was, I thought, quite logical. I went to the PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS category. Then, using the drop-down sub-list in the column to the far left of the titles which appeared, I narrowed by search with the WOMAN SLEUTH option. I’m fairly certain this gives you titles which the author or publisher has placed in both those categories. (Most books are allowed only two categories.)
Next I set off happily clicking covers and reading product descriptions.
Happy went by-bye very quickly.
Here were the recurring disappointments I encountered:
- 1. The so-called private investigator turned out to be something else. Maybe she was in a related occupation such as lawyer or F.B.I. agent. Hey, I like and admire some such mysteries, such as those by Debbi Mack with her tough lawyer sleuth or Alex Kava’s smart FBI profiler Maggie O’Dowd. But these protagonists aren’t P.I.s. The books don’t give the same vibe. Other books listed here had protagonists in jobs that were excruciatingly far afield.
Private Eye Writers of America, the group that gives the Shamus award, defines a private investigator as “a private citizen (not a member of the military, federal agency, or civic or state police) who is paid to investigate crimes.” Honesty compels me to note that a longer definition expands to include TV or newspaper reporters (Hey! What about NPR???) as well as insurance investigators and lawyers. So I’m a little pickier than them, but not by much.
- 2. The protagonist was nominally a P.I. but the story would have fit just as well — and often better — in the ROMANCE category. In some cases I downloaded and read samples before discovering this. Romance and light mystery fans may be satisfied. Private eye afficionados will not be. Again, and even more sharply here, the vibe is wrong.
Some authors are skilled enough, and understand the genre well enough, to add a dollop of romance to their stories without spoiling the flavor. They do so with a very light hand.
Let me try to clarify this particular complaint with an analogy. You know those photos that occasionally surface, usually around Easter, of a dog wearing a costume of rabbit ears and sometimes a fluffy white tail? A dog wearing bunny ears and a bunny tail is not a bunny.
- 3. Finally, much less common, in some books that supposedly feature a woman sleuth, the private eye is actually a male. This doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as it mystifies me. I write it off as something to do with algorhythms, which means it would baffle the oracles at Delphi.
Still, it’s worth an hour of frustration now and then to find a new book or series that will bring me hours, days, even years of enjoyment. And some of you may think I bring the frustration on myself by being too picky in my definition of a private eye novel. Admittedly, folks nearest and dearest to me have at times suggested that I’m a bit, well, anal.
That’s okay. Being a little bit anal improves your posture.
M. Ruth Myers is the author of the Maggie Sullivan mysteries and other novels.