100 Eyes of The Mystery Scene Era (so far...)

From the moment the first issue plopped off the press way back in 1985, Mystery Scene has always had a special connection with private eyes – its two co-founders, Ed Gorman and Robert J. Randisi, are two of the shining lights of the shamus game. And some of their earliest contributors -- Max Allan Collins and Bill Crider, for example, aren't exactly slouches either. So MS editor Kate Stine and I decided the occasion of their 100th issue in the spring of 2007 would be a swell time to look back at some of the eyes who had left their mark on the shamus game since Mystery Scene first hit the streets.

This was by no means supposed to be a definitive list, but an off-the-top-of-my-head personal list. Even so, I knew -- and even announced in the introduction -- that I’d probably be kicking myself the moment I hit “SEND.” Most of these characters were from novels, but there were also eyes drawn from film, television, short fiction and comics -- and from all over the world.

Some were personal favorites and a few were guilty pleasures, some were no-brainers and there were even one or two I don’t even particularly like, but couldn’t in all honesty ignore. But one way or another, for better of worse, they had all bent, folded and mutilated the genre -- or otherwise stuck in my craw.

They’re in alphabetical order, because any other sort of order would surely lead to madness (and possibly death threats), with their creators’ names in parentheses. And no, I don’t expect everyone -- or even anyone -- to agree with all my choices, but here they are.

  1. Jinx Alameda
    Created by
    Brian Michael Bendis
    This foul-mouthed Cleveland bounty hunter is one of the fiercest gumshoes to ever hit the comic rack – or anywhere else. A night out with her and Max Collins’s Ms. Tree would be fearsome.

  2. Fitzroy Maclean Angel
    Created by Mike Ripley
    A cat named Springsteen, a taxi called Armstrong and a pub-ready sense of humour made this trumpet-playing slacker London cabbie/P.I.’s screwball capers a true joy to read.

  3. Andy Barker
    Created by
    Conan O'Brien & Jonathan Groff
    Accountant by day, private eye by accident. This recent, probably doomed sitcom had more wit – and genuine affection for the genre – than anything on the tube since Rockford.

  4. Ezell "Easy" Barnes
    Created by Richard Hilary
    Unjustly forgotten, this African-American eye from Newark bridged the gap between Mr. Shaft and Mr. Rawlins. Hard as nails, but his best buddy was a ditsy transvestite named Angel.

  5. Phil Beaumont and Jane Turner
    Created by Walter Satterthwait
    Dashing Pinkerton op and his rookie partner Tanner swapped Thin Man-style banter and conjured up echoes of Hammett. The Dirty Thirties never seemed so much fun.

  6. Tom Bethany
    Created by Jerome Doolittle

    Vietnam vet, and former Olympic-class amateur wrestler, CIA op and bush pilot turned quirky P.I. hanging out at a Harvard Square coffee shop. The missing link between Henry David Thoreau and Mike Hammer.

  7. Bogie (Francis F. Clunie)
    Created by John Wagner and Alan Grant

    A cheekily subversive U.K. comic book re-imagined Don Quixote in fedora and trench coat, with all the world as his windmill.

  8. Burke
    Created by Andrew Vachss
    The avenging saint of NYC’s abused children. As relentless, deadly (and humorless) as a shark. The Big Apple never seemed so rotten.

  9. Vincent Calvino
    Created by Christopher G. Moore
    A transplanted New York shamus is our man in Bangkok, doing the ex-pat shuffle. This is the world calling.

  10. Lydia Chin and Bill Smith
    Created by S. J. Rozan

    She’s young and Asian-American. He’s not. But, together or separately, what a team!

  11. Frank Clemons
    Created by Thomas H. Cook

    A bleak trilogy featuring an Atlanta cop turned NYC eye, captured perfectly all the crushed romanticism and world-weariness of Chandler -- and upped it. Sadly beautiful.

  12. Elvis Cole
    Created by Robert Crais
    When nobody was looking, this goofball baby boomer unexpectedly morphed into one of the finest P.I.s. of the rock’n’roll generation. No more jazz – this was the real deal, and his first name was the tell.

  13. Timothy Cone
    Created by Lawrence Sanders

    This rumpled dick worked for a Wall Street firm specializing in corporate hanky-panky. And nobody ever did hanky-panky better than Sanders.

  14. John Francis Cuddy
    Created by Jeremiah Healy

    Sure, he speaks to his dead wife, but an awful lot of readers listened in. Compelling and compassionate, tough without being a cartoon -- and the short stories may be even better than books.

  15. David Cunane
    Created by Frank Lean

    Quirky, idealistic and screwed up as hell, this haunted finder of lost children is Jack Liffey’s U.K. counterpart.

  16. Matthew Dain
    Created by Christopher Mills

    In just two short stories, Mills created an eye as memorably dark and brooding as the Maine woods he calls home.

  17. Vic Daniel
    Created by David M. Pierce

    A big goofy Hollywood dick -- the Shell Scott for a new generation -- with Sara, an adolescent punkette, playing the role of Gal Friday.

  18. David DiAngelo
    Created by Tim Broderick
    A web comic whose intentionally rough artwork belied the sophistication and compassion of its writing. A shamus takes on those "odd jobs" nobody else wants to. “Someday they’ll all be odd jobs.” Take heed.

  19. Harry Dobbs and Stella Wynkowski
    Created by Alan Rudolph
    A savvy, saucy head-spinning romantic-comedy, with two P.I.s (Tom Berenger and Elizabeth Perkins) on each others’ case.

  20. Jackson Donne
    Created by David White

    Tragedy seems to follow this brooding young P.I. from Rutgers, but his great battered heart beats on. A series to watch.

  21. Sean and Matt Ellis
    Created by Benjamin M. Schutz

    The Hardy Boys grow up to become process servers.

  22. Lionel Essrog
    Created by Jonathan Lethem
    Lethem’s National Book Award-winning Motherless Brooklyn was a bold, noirish literary tour-de-force farce fierce narrated by a detective defective selective with Tourette’s Syndrome. Skimdrome. Skin drum.

  23. Buddy Faro and Bob Jones
    Created by Mark Frost

    This TV romp boasted a Rat Pack-era dick trying wise up a modern-day LaLaLand that lost its sense of cool long ago.

  24. Wesley Farrell
    Created by Robert Skinne

    He can pass for white, which comes in handy for this slick nightclub owner and sometime-private eye in Depression-era New Orleans.

  25. Kevin Fitzpatrick
    Created by Bill Dodds

    It took contest-winner Dodds a weekend to write, but this zippy novella featuring a Seattle gumshoe with a three-year-old daughter and a thing for Rockford reruns takes a lot longer to forget.

  26. Lew Fonesca
    Created by Stuart Kaminsky
    Tired, beat-down and downbeat, this gumshoe’s peaceful Florida retirement hasn’t worked out well so far. Lucky for us.

  27. Brendan Frye
    Created by Rian Johnson

    Teenager Brendan's mean streets are a high school in the endless Southern California suburban sprawl. Not to gum it, but this 2005 cult flick managed to channel the spirit of every RKO noir ever made.

  28. Pat Gallegher
    Created by Richard Helms

    This Big Easy eye and horn player proved self-published didn’t have to suck. Evidently solid storytelling, fresh characters and a razor-sharp sense of place and time help.

  29. Chet Gecko
    Created by Bruce Hale

    And now, something for the kiddies: a lizard detective, plus some of the ripest puns to ever be left out too long in the sun too long make these books ideal for hip kids – or their parents.

  30. Dirk Gently
    Created by Douglas Adams

    The reality check stops here, and the giddy interconnectedness of all things soon becomes apparent. If a salmon answers the phone, hang up.

  31. Meg Gillis
    Created by C.J. Songer

    A refreshing change from most of the female eyes to pop up in the eighties, moody, morose, paranoid Meg was nobody’s Little Miss Sunshine.

  32. Gordianus the Finder
    Created by Steven Saylor

    Rome, 80 BC. Gordianus is a professional finder, a "consorter with assassins and a professional ferret." And the glory that was ancient Rome never seemed less glorious... or more familiar.

  33. Lew Griffin
    Created by James Sallis
    Don't let all the lofty literary ambitions scare you. This acclaimed series, featuring a New Orleans professor/poet/private eye, kicks ass. It’s just smarter than most about it.

  34. René Griffon
    Created by Didier Daeninckx
    War is hell. But profitable. A Parisian eye caught in a post-WWI France still reeling from the first “war to end all wars” takes note. Bleak, bitter, angry.

  35. Aaron Gunner
    Created by Gar Anthony Haywood
    He ain’t no Shaft – he’s just a working dick trying to make sense of an LA rocked by riots, crack and that old crowd-pleaser: racism. Defiant and unapologetic.

  36. Bernie Gunther
    Created by Philip Kerr
    Ex-cop Bernie wants to be a good German, but WWII-era Berlin isn’t the best place for it. Still, there’s good money to be made looking for missing Jews. Potent

  37. Leo Haggerty
    Created by Benjamin J. Schutz

    Imagine if Spenser was darker, more cynical... and not Superman. This Washington, D.C. eye’s feet of clay may have been his best feature.

  38. Maiku Hama
    Created by Kaizo Hayashi & Daisuke Tengan
    This Japanese take-off on B-films and crime fiction tosses in martial arts, the Yakuza and a bespectacled, bumbling loser P.I. who thinks he’s – who else? -- Mike Hammer. It's Hama Time!

  39. Max Hamm
    Created by Frank Cammuso
    Sure, he’s a pig, but this subversive spin on nursery rhymes and fairy tales is great fun for smart aleck kids of all ages. So those rumors about Snow White are true...

  40. Helena Handbasket
    Created by Donna Moore

    Crime and PUNishment, writ large. This post-post-everything goofaroo is arguably the best (or at least most unhinged) mystery parody ever.

  41. Joe Hannibal
    Created by Wayne D. Dundee
    Neo-Spillane, transferred to the Midwest, boasting a wild, rough energy and two-fisted swagger that hits the spot. Ya got a problem with that, bub?

  42. Wil Hardesty
    Created by Richard Barre
    The surfer dude as angst-ridden PI. Personal tragedy? Catch the wave.

  43. Art Hardin
    Created by Robert E. Bailey

    Presenting the family man as detective, marked by an earth-bound domesticity and the author’s quirky, distinctive voice, but the P.I. stuff is never skimped on..

  44. Harding
    Created by John Wessel

    A disgraced, former P.I. from Chicago (those convictions for manslaughter are a real turn-off for clients) tries to scrape by, working under the table. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

  45. Stanley Hastings
    Created by Parnell Hall

    ”Private investigator” Hastings works for an ambulance-chasing NYC lawyer, but he hasn’t got a clue. Fortunately, he has a smart wife.

  46. Tamara Hayle
    Created by Valerie Wilson Wesley

    A black single mom works as a P.I. and takes no guff, while raising a son. Breezy, sassy and smart.

  47. Jack Herriman
    Created by Ed Brubaker

    One-eyed Jack’s a San Francisco shamus in Scene of the Crime, an intriguing 1999 comic mini-series from DC/Vertigo that parlayed just the right Chandleresque mix of cynicism and vulnerability into a tough-minded tale of loss and redemption, revenge and forgiveness.

  48. Tom Hickey
    Created by Ken Kuhlken

    The Loud Adios, which introduced Hickey, is a modern classic, a vivid slice of border town malaise set in a WWII-era San Diego primed for Nazi invasion.

  49. Nate Hollis
    Created by Gary Phillips

    Slick as spit, big-shouldered Hollis walks the walk and talks the talk, taking on a star-studded scandal that could rip the roof off the sucka that is post-O.J. and Rodney King LA.

  50. Jeri Howard
    Created by Janet Dawson

    Rising out of the glut of post-Grafton/Paretsky private janes, this Bay Area gumshoe soon proved herself a determined, shrewd – and popular -- sleuth.

  51. Morgan Hunt
    Created by Geoffrey Norman

    A backwoods version of Travis McGee. There were many pretenders to JDM’s throne, but Norman came closer than most.

  52. Cal Innes
    Created by Ray Banks

    The P.I. as screw-up seems to be a developing trend, with the U.K. grabbing more than its share. Manchester’s Innes is self-destructive, cynical and doesn’t give much a damn anymore. Bleak, but also oddly uplifting.

  53. Matt Jacob
    Created by Zachary Klein

    Another screw-up. This former social worker/slacker’s low rent, smoke-filled escapades made for some most excellent adventures. He lost his ambitions, but not his ideals. Inhale.

  54. Milan Jacovich
    Created by Les Roberts
    Cleveland rocks in this unapologetically working class series. Say it loud, he’s Slovenian and he’s proud.

  55. Kemal Kayankaya
    Created by Jakob Arjourni
    Seedy, modern day Frankfurt, and it’s not easy for Turkish detective raised by German foster parents and forever caught between two solitudes. The perpetual outside looks in.

  56. Mike Kellerman
    "Homicide: Life on the Street"
    developed for television by Paul Attanasio
    Based on the non-fiction book by David Simon
    The best TV eye of the last twenty years was tucked away on two terse, moody, heart-breaking episodes of the cop drama Homicide. That they never spun this disgraced cop-turned-gumshoe off into his own show is a crime.

  57. Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro
    Created by Dennis Lehane

    Ambitious and angry, these books lashed out, as fierce and unapologetic in their own way as an abusive husband after a few beers. Oh, the irony.

  58. Kidd
    Created by John Camp/John Sandford
    Finally, a P.I. who knows how to turn on a computer. This hacker’s no geek, either – he’s actually kinda cool, a sort of Paladin of the cyber age. Have mouse will travel.

  59. Louis Kincaid
    Created by P. J. Parrish

    A beat-down former Detroit cop of mixed race heads home to the South, and finds trouble everywhere he goes.

  60. Dan Kruger
    Created by Michael Cormany

    Here comes a regular. Sex, drugs and a rock’n’roll eye from Chicago trying not to die before he got old. Imagine if Paul Westerberg wrote mysteries.

  61. Joe Kurtz
    Created by Dan Simmons
    This Buffalo ex-con private eye is the star of several stark, ballsy thrillers that never – ever – let up.

  62. Meg Lacey
    Created by Elisabeth Bowers

    A Vancouver P.I. raising two kids alone takes on child pornography and sexual abuse in Ladies’ Night, an unflinching feminist P.I. classic.

  63. Lauren Laurano
    Created by Sandra Scoppettone

    Supposedly the first mainstream hardcover Lesbian private eye, but it’s Laurano’s sense of her Greenwich Village neighborhood (and humor) that make this series really stand out.

  64. Truxton Lewis
    Created by Robert Randisi
    "Mature Male in Sixties Available for Housesitting, Non-Smoker, No Pets, Widower." A P.I.-by-chance makes house calls in a series of charming short stories. When’s the novel, Bob?

  65. Jack Liffey
    Created by John Shannon

    Pound for pound, Shannon’s the best current LA P.I. writer around, and Liffey the true successor to Dan Fortune. He’s looking for lost children in a City of Angels presented warts and all, neighborhood by neighborhood. Now is the time for your tears.

  66. Lomax
    Created by Paula Milne

    Die Kinder -- not a Bruce Willis flick -- was the best P.I. series PBS ever imported. An American ex-pat (Frederic Forrest) in Hamburg finds himself up against a gang of terrorists suspected of a twenty-year old department store bombing.

  67. Xavier Lombard
    Created by Eric Leclere

    The Lost Son re-imagined Vachss’ Burke as a disgraced Parisian cop living in London, on the trail of an international gang of child molesters. The film, starring Daniel Auteuil, wasn’t bad either.

  68. Ed Loy
    Created by Declan Hughes

    Ross Macdonald and Ken Bruen walk into a bar in Dublin, and Ed Loy staggers out with a box full of family secrets. Heartache spoken here.

  69. Bubba Mabry
    Created by Steve Brewer

    Down the mean streets of Albuquerque a Bubba must go... Light, but satisfying.

  70. Declan "Mac" MacManus
    Created by D. Daniel Judson
    Mac’s brooding, depressed and self-destructive, and possibly the most likeable character is this bleak series. A beautifully rendered wallow.

  71. John March
    Created by Peter Spiegelman

    This tightly wound scion of a Wall Street dynasty doesn’t have to work – but he must. Angst? He’s got more issues than a newsstand.

  72. Philip “The Singing Detective” Marlow
    Created by Dennis Potter

    An all-singing, all-dancing fever dream meditation on art and creativity, pulp fiction and Cole Porter, love and death and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Smart, savage and heart-breaking. And great television

  73. Veronica Mars
    Created by Rob Thomas
    Nancy Drew re-imagined for the iPod generation, with hormones and Oh! What a mouth on her! Sassy!

  74. Sam McCain
    Created by Ed Gorman

    Small town, Iowa. The 1950s. What could be wrong? Lawyer, private eye and decent-enough guy McCain knows the black heart that belies the rosy glow of Happy Days nostalgia.

  75. "Ford" Morgan and Roy Shepherd
    Created by Michael Collins

    Collins’ last crime novel, The Cadillac Cowboy, was a literary tour-de-force, an unflinching look at two “eyes” -- more alike than either would ever admit -- on a collision course.

  76. Adrian Monk
    Created by Andy Breckmann

    Like it or not, this cross between Columbo and the Rain Man is the current face of small screen private eyes. Now if only if wasn’t so, so... uh, Monkish?

  77. Ivan Monk
    Created by Gary Phillips

    The revolution might not be televised, but you can catch a glimpse in this politically charged series about a South Central shamus who runs a one-man agency... and a donut shop. Right on.

  78. Tess Monaghan
    Created by Laura Lippman
    A former Baltimore reporter finds a new life as a P.I. She wanted to be hardboiled but, to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, she just wasn't drawn that way.

  79. Charlie "Bird" Parker
    Created by John Connolly

    He sees dead people. Sometimes they talk to him. Imagine if Chandler and Stephen King had a lovechild.

  80. Gay Perry and Harry Lockhart
    Created by Shane Black

    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the big dumb buddy action flick for people too smart for big dumb buddy action flicks – and that definitely includes writer/director Black, who had way more fun skewering himself than anyone expected.

  81. Stephanie Plum
    Created by Janet Evanovich
    Screwball characters, raging hormones and more carnal naughtiness than Shell Scott could ever imagine.

  82. "Le poulpe"
    Created by Jean-Bernard Pouy, Patrick Raynal, and Serge Quadruppani, plus a cast of hundreds
    It shouldn’t have worked, but this collective pulp experiment about a hard-boiled French gumshoe now numbers over 200 volumes – and almost as many writers. And yes, the pun in the hero’s name is intentional.

  83. Rafferty
    Created by W. Glenn Duncan
    There were enough varmints and rascals to keep this freewheeling, Spenseresque cowboy spinning his tall tales and kicking butt for six PBOs, all of them worth tracking down.

  84. Precious Ramotswe
    Created by Alexander McCall Smith
    A fat jolly young woman from Botswana sets up The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and become her country's first female detective. Even a crank like me can find no other word for this series: charming.

  85. Easy Rawlins
    Created by Walter Mosley

    Easy, a black man, defiant but pragmatic, struggles to survive in an ever-changing Los Angeles that spans WWII to the present, and zeroes in on not just issues of race but of politics, culture, morality and honor. A sort of alternative social history. After all, it was you and me.

  86. Jack Reacher
    Created by Lee Child
    This ex-military wanderer is always willing to help a friend – or take out an enemy. Lack of confidence is not an issue.

  87. Mitch Roberts
    Created by Gaylord Dold
    Wichita, Kansas, the late fifties and all this small-time peeper (and haunted WWII vet) wants to do is watch baseball, play chess, fish, read and forget. But the simple life ain’t so simple...

  88. Dave Robicheaux
    Created by James Lee Burke
    Not a P.I., at least officially, but this Louisiana cop apparently doesn’t know it. Poetic as hell and spooky as the dawn mist hovering over the bayou. Is it the booze or does he really see dead people?

  89. Dan Roman
    Created by Edward Mathis
    Lew Archer in a cowboy hat, sure, but there’s more, much more to this brooding, philosophical eye – a sense of loss as big as all of Texas.

  90. Harry Ross
    Created by Robert Benton & Richard Russo
    Twilight (1998) was the unofficial – but logical -- sequel to Harper and The Drowning Pool, with Paul Newman playing essentially the same character, older but not necessarily wiser. Imagine if Ross Macdonald had written The Long Goodbye.

  91. Jack Ross
    Created by Bernard Schopen
    Disillusioned, brooding Reno, Nevada private eye and bail bondsman tries to lose himself in the big silence of the desert, but fails. Powerful, literate and disturbing.

  92. Vincent Rubio
    Created by Eric M. Garcia
    Private eye and undercover dinosaur, as hard-boiled as foam rubber gets. What has Eric been smoking?

  93. Hector Belascoarán Shayne
    Created by Paco Ignacio Taibo II
    A one-eyed Mexico City gumshoe in a surreal dish of politics, sociology, history and mythology. Well worth a trip south of the border.

  94. Nick Stefanos, Derek Strange and Terry Quinn
    Created by George Pelecanos
    Nick is Greek, Strange is black, and Quinn’s a Mick. Together and separately, they try to set the world (or at least Washington, D.C.) right in an ambitious series of sprawling interconnected, overlapping novels. Powerful and political. And never less than personal. He means it, man.

  95. Sally Sullivan and Bernie Fox
    Created by Chris Haddock
    A Vancouver waitress turned gung ho novice gumshoe had two kids to feed and a rascal of a boss (Stuart Margolin) to please in this witty Canadian sitcom from the creator of DaVinci’s Inquest.

  96. John Swan
    Created by John Swan
    This dark horse of a gumshoe never met an angle he didn’t try to play. Or a friend that he could trust. Canuck noir as hard and cold as it gets.

  97. Jack Taylor
    Created by Ken Bruen
    The screw-up P.I., Irish division. With his finely rendered depiction of a world of dark hurt and a soul in torment, Bruen may just be the genre’s next poet laureate. The darkness isn’t on the edge of town anymore.

  98. George Webb
    Created by Graham Swift
    Remember when Spade told Brigid he’d wait for her? A Booker Prize-winning author did, and ran with it, conjuring up this long, dark look at the works.

  99. Scott Weiss and Jim Bishop
    Created by Andrew Klavan
    This full-throttled series about mismatched San Francisco eyes is like a pulp fiction buffet, except that Klavan's also got a fierce eye for the secret hurts we all carry.

  100. Daryl Zero
    Created by Jake Kasdan
    In the 1998 flick The Zero Effect, Sherlock Holmes (Bill Pullman) gets updated and put in touch with his inner self – only to be revealed as a total whack job. Ben Stiller’s Watson watches, aghast.

Agree? Disagree? You guys know where to find me....

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Reprinted (with permission) from Mystery Scene. Happy birthday, Kate and Brian.

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