Despite having worked as a private investigator for fifteen years, I had no interest whatsoever in writing a PI novel until recently. (My most recent novel, The Mercy of the Night, published earlier this month, has a quasi-PI, legal jack-of-all-trades protagonist – more on him shortly.)
The reasons for my reluctance to plumb my own professional experience were simple enough.
First, none of the PI novels I’d read, even the best – including Chandler’s, Hammett’s, and Ross MacDonald’s – bore much resemblance to the work I’d done as an investigator, though MacDonald’s came closest.
From what I could tell, readers expected their PI protagonists to be something akin to the plains gunmen in an urban setting, and that was as far from my own experience as imaginable.
For the most part – the part that would best lend itself to a crime novel – I was a cog in the justice system, a “people’s pig” who tracked down witnesses and sifted through evidence on behalf of criminal defendants to keep the prosecution honest.
Despite the job being by far the most interesting I’ve ever had outside writing, the vast majority of what I did wasn’t the stuff of action-packed thrillers. The work resembled more that of a reporter than a gunman – finding people, talking to them, writing it up – and I was only in physical danger once. (Ironically, the guy who tried to kill me was a doctor, but let’s put that aside for the moment.)
Second, it became pretty clear in my reading through the genre (and listening to agents, editors, and readers) that when it came to crime no one much cared to hear from the defense table.
It did seem that readers would at least tolerate hearing from the criminal himself, however, and that also seemed to provide me more juice as a writer. I found myself far more excited telling the criminal’s tale than belaboring the investigative steps taken on his behalf once he was caught. [Read more…]