Fictional Detectives: Part One – The Hard Boiled Private Detective

The Hard Boiled Detective

Detectives such 跟蹤 as Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Shell Scott and Vincent August, do what they do to make money, to survive. They are loners by nature and are reconciled to that lifestyle but there is longing in them for something more. The problem is the perfection they demand from themselves in terms of their work they also demand of anyone who tries to get to get close to them.

They don’t hate crime and criminals, only the ones they have to deal with. They have a deep distrust of the law, its mind numbing bureaucracy, and the ways in which it tends to corrupt those who are supposed to be its servants. They see guilt as a matter of degree. No one, in their world view, is innocent or without blame. For the hard-boiled detective, for any detective, even real life ones, nothing is ever what it seems to be at first sight. Although a client will have a reasonable explanation for his purpose in hiring a private detective, his explanation is usually wrong for one of two reasons. One of the reasons is, they are complicit in the crime and are looking for a way to set someone else up to take the punishment or at least to minimize their exposure. Or number two, which is also the most common reason in real life, the client is too closely involved to see the situation for what it really is. People have a need for understanding, to not be in the dark. This leads a client to create a scenario they can live with, one they find palatable. They are the one being lied to, deceived or cheated. They are the person least likely to know the truth. Naïve detectives get themselves into trouble by believing what their clients tell them. After all, why are they hiring a private detective if they already know the answer?

After the murder of Sam Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, in The Maltese Falcon, Spade questions his client, Brigit O’Shaughnessy. She answers, “Didn’t you believe me, Sam?” Sam replies, “We didn’t believe you as much as we believed your money.”

This may sound cynical until you consider the two reasons given above. The client is either involved or isn’t a reliable reporter of the facts. The detective needs the truth or the investigation will go nowhere.

At some point something, a personal attack or an attack on something valued beyond money, elevates the crime from being merely a case to being a passion. The level of evil becomes personal and intolerable and they are compelled to act. Now they act with single-mindedness.

Future articles will cover:

The Accidental Detective
The Dilettante as Detective
The Busybody and The Writer as Detective
The Idle Rich Detective
The Police Detective and The Proceduralist

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