Created by Benjamin M. Schutz
One of the better post-Spenser PI's, LEO HAGGERTY is a Washington, D.C.-based private investigator with a mustache, a receding hairline à la Jack Nicholson, and enough little quirks to make him worth remembering. Like Spenser,
he's a bit of a renaissance man, obsessed with the moral dilemmas
of his profession, a literate jock-type with a sometime sidekick
who's more ruthless and has less scruples than he has (Arnie
Kendall, a Vietnam vet/martial arts expert/bounty hunter)
and a smart, sexy girlfriend who helps our hero understand himself
(Samantha Clayton, a successful novelist). Even better,
though, is that Leo tends to be a little less smug and flippant,
and a little bit harder and more cynical than his Beantown rival.
Unfortunately, while Spenser keeps rolling on, Leo seems to have
Schutz has won a couple of Shamuses for Leo. A Tax
in Blood won for Best Novel in 1987 and "Mary,
Mary, Shut the Door" won in 1993 for Best Short Story.
He's also been nominated a few times. And, in my exceedingly humble
opinion, A Fistful of Empty is possibly one of the best
PI novels of all time. So, the question is, "What ever happened
to this guy?"
The answer, it seems, is that Ben Schutz is still around, but
not writing novels anymore. He does occasionally pop up with a
short story, though, including the excellent "Whatever It
Takes," which appeared in the October 2000 issue of EQMM,
and introduced private eyes/process servers Sean
and Matt Ellis. And I came this close to meeting him at
the 2001 Bouchercon
STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR'S
- Acting as guest author during Rara-Avis' DC month, author Schutz was peppered with a multitude of questions about his Leo Haggerty series. Here's his response.
"The last two novels in the series, A Fistful
of Empty and Mexico is Forever were written with one
eye on the trajectory of my commercial viability. By the time
I arrived at book no. 5, I had serious doubts about how long
I would have the opportunity to be published. Sales had never
been good and hadn't grown at all. Early publisher enthusiasm
(paperback sales, foreign rights) had dried up. I had always
wanted to write a version of The Maltese Falcon, my favorite
hardboiled tale. I figured that it was as good a time as any.I
wanted to return to the story of what you do when someone kills
your partner and explore it from the perspective of a man more
connected than Sam Spade. His pursuit puts people he cares about
in harm's way. Samantha decides that she won't play the sap for
him. Anyway it's a tale of loss. After that was released, my
publisher decided to pay me off to get out of our contract rather
than publish the next book. I now had five different publishers
for the six books. I couldn't see the wall for all the writing.
I wrote Mexico as a swan song.
Five years later, I was invited to write a short story for an
anthology called Death Cruise edited by Larry Block in
1999. It had a long enough word count that I could contemplate
wrapping up the loose ends of the Haggerty series, and explained
where Leo had been for the previous five years and what he had
been doing. It also allowed me to return to one of the Haggerty
short stories I had written with a loose end ("Mary,
Mary, Shut the Door"). It's a story of redemption after
loss and was the way I wanted to end the series.
Leo started out with the kind of infirmities you accumulate if
you really do practice the violent arts. I had wanted him to
be of the "regular guy" school of protagonists, not
a superhero. And Arnie was always intended to be a counterweight
to Leo. A man of great moral clarity . The courage of his
convictions made him capable of great violence. Leo struggles
to achieve that kind of clarity throughout the series. Bergson
wrote: "Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought."
That was Leo's quest at all times. Arnie and Leo pursued a dialogue
about the morality of violence throughout the books. Imagine
Lew Archer with Mike
Hammer for a partner.
After writing the Haggerty books, I switched to writing short
stories. I have no plans to return to Leo Haggerty. Short stories
have provided me with a way to explore narrative options and
genre types that I hadn't tried before. Both of my sons worked
as private eyes for a couple of years during college. I saw ways
to explore old issues from a new perspective and entirely new
issues as I watched two middle class suburban youths encounter
the meaner streets. I started with a short story based on their
experiences and hope to do a novel using Sean
and Matt Ellis.
Being a psychologist and writing detective fiction are two sides
of the same coin. Only the mysteries change. In the therapy hour,
it's "Why do I do these self-destructive things?" In
the forensic arena it's "Do we accept the pedophile's claim
that there are no other victims?" Being a therapist teaches
a great respect for the power of language. The right words at
the right time can heal people. It's not a big jump to the power
of the written word and it's ability to enthrall.
As a forensic investigator you learn that the devil and everyone
else is in the details. Building a case is often described as
the process of piling up a big wall of small facts and then pushing
them over on someone. That approach helps immeasurably with plotting.
Being a therapist and a forensic investigator gives you first-hand
experience with the lies and evasions people use to avoid confronting
the truth about themselves. That's enormously useful in understanding
how to peel back the layers
of motivation as you develop character. Finally, being a therapist
reminds you that living people always escape the trap of our
theories, are always surprising us and that our fictional characters
should do the same if they are truly alive.
Anyway, it's very gratifying to find that people remember the
books and think well of them.I hope that I have answered your
(Benjamin M. Schutz)
- Embrace the Wolf (1985)
- All the Old Bargains (1985)
- A Tax in Blood (1987)
- The Things We Do For Love (1989)
- A Fistful of Empty (1991)
- Mexico Is Forever (1994)
- Mary, Mary, Shut the Door (2005)., Buy this book
Includes all three Haggerty stories, a new Sean and Matt Ellis story, plus his Marlowe pastiche, "The Black-Eyed Blonde"
Respectfully submitted by Kevin
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