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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sean and Matt Ellis
Created by Benjamin M. Schutz
The Hardy Boys grow up to become process servers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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...
- 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.
- 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?
- Wil Hardesty
Created by Richard Barre
The surfer dude as angst-ridden PI. Personal tragedy? Catch the wave.
- 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..
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Milan Jacovich
Created by Les Roberts
Cleveland rocks in this unapologetically working class series. Say it loud, he’s Slovenian and he’s proud.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bubba Mabry
Created by Steve Brewer
Down the mean streets of Albuquerque a Bubba must go... Light, but satisfying.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Veronica Mars
Created by Rob Thomas
Nancy Drew re-imagined for the iPod generation, with hormones and Oh! What a mouth on her! Sassy!
- 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.
- "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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stephanie Plum
Created by Janet Evanovich
Screwball characters, raging hormones and more carnal naughtiness than Shell Scott could ever imagine.
- "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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vincent Rubio
Created by Eric M. Garcia
Private eye and undercover dinosaur, as hard-boiled as foam rubber gets. What has Eric been smoking?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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