I have never been much for mysteries or private eye books, like Sue Grafton’s tedious alphabetical progression with “B is for Bung-hole.” (Sorry, made that one up but you get the gist.) If I can’t relate to the character I lose interest. It would be like me trying to watch “Magnum PI.” I have no imagination. I am not racing around in a red Lamborghini in Hawaii, with Doberman Pinschers back at my estate, so why bother try to get into it.
Lately though I have stumbled across three novels that feature private investigators. I have finished James Ellroy’s “Blood’s A Rover,” am half-way through Michael Connelly’s “Lincoln Lawyer” and want to start Oakland private eye Steve Gore’s debut novel “Final Target.”
James Ellroy will always be my lit hero. His story and willpower fascinate me. When he was a boy his mother was murdered and dumped in a scummy L.A. suburb. Young Ellroy dropped out of high school, became an addict of various substances, peeped and burglarized tony LA houses and just literally and figuratively jerked off until he was about 30 years old. He got sober and started writing best sellers “LA Confidential,” “The Black Dahlia “and lately the Underworld USA Trilogy of “American Tabloid,” “The Cold Six Thousand” and “Blood’s A Rover.”
About 10 years ago I went to an Ellroy reading in Oakland. I think I might have asked:
“Why are your books always about cops and not private investigators?”
He told us that cops are just inherently more interesting as they are first responders and private investigators don’t come along until trails are cold and the action is long over.
But Ellroy’s Blood (2009) features a young fictional private eye Don Crutchfield, a real life legendary shamus. The book has great scenes of car lots where wheel-men and private eyes used to gather before doing surveillance, kicking down doors and snapping incriminating footage of cheating spouses. This was in the day before California and most of the rest of the country went to no-fault divorce laws. Other legendary LA private dicks pop up in the novel, doing bug jobs on “fuck pads,” conducting “fruit shakes” and other scandalous stuff.
It’s a juicy slice of California private investigator history with good surveillance scenes that capture what the job is really like, boredom and terror.
My friend gave me her copy of “The Lincoln Lawyer” by Michael Connolly. I’m trying to finish it. What I like is that it’s a very accurate picture of a criminal defense attorney and his private investigator, Raul Levin.
The concept thus far is that attorney Mickey Haller lands the case and client of a lifetime but is so jaded by the justice system that he has problems working for someone who might actually be innocent. Private eye Levin though digs up some good dirt and other negative information about the client. It’s a little over-the-top but Connolly gets most of the details right. The only aspect of the novel I don’t like is the author digresses far from the plot to drop in stuff just to show how much research he did about the legal profession.
I just reached the point in the book where the PI turns up dead after failing to show at a Dodgers game where he had bought tickets for three defense attorneys clients of his.
The other book I want to read is “Final Target” by Oakland private eye turned novelist Steven Gore. It’s a thriller with a lot of aspects and details from Gore’s decades as an international private investigator.
The reviews look stellar, such as:
“To save a beset friend, a San Francisco p.i. takes on American law enforcement, international capitalism and thugs from just about anywhere in Gore’s accomplished debut….Gore has a deft way with one-liners, and in Gage, who views the world through eyes as cool as Sam Spade’s, he has a keeper.” —Kirkus Reviews