Short Fiction:
Private Eye Action As You Like It!

Results from the February-March 2000 P.I. Poll


From February-March 2000:

We took our sub-title for this poll from a collection of PI. short stories by Joe Lansdale and Lewis Shiner, but it could just as easily refer to private eye short stories in general.

Because that's where the action is often found these days. No padded 500-page navel-gazing extravaganzas, chock-full of artery-clogging literary fat and bloated backstories, no cry-baby, soul-searching moaning that goes on for thirty pages at a stretch, no annoying extraneous subplots about supposedly-significant others and repressed childhood memories, no rants about political correctness, women's rights or the red menace, just, hopefully, lean and mean "private eye action as you like it."

And let's face it, for all the hoopla and literary respect Chandler and Hammett and Macdonald and all the usual suspects get, the humble roots of the genre go back to those in-yer-face short stories and novellas of Black Mask and a zillion other pulps. Sure, most of the writing was crap, but it was alive and visceral and immediate. And even today, many of the very best private eye writers continue to work this format. It's certainly not for the money--the rates are about the same as what the pulps paid fifty or sixty years ago. It must be the challenge, and the satisfaction of doing it right. Because short fiction is, in many ways, the truest, rawest and often most vital form of story-telling there is.

Sure, I know the pulps are gone, and most of the digests have long since gone belly up. But Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine are still at it, and there's Playboy, Mary Higgins Clark's Mystery Magazine, Murderous Intent and a slew of up-and-coming mags that continue to publish occasional private eye fiction. Throw in the current boom in anthologies of both new and reprinted stories, and the burgeoning, fan-driven pulp explosion on the web, and take a good look around.

There's life in the short story format yet. That's gotta be good news for the genre, for writers (both established ones seeing if they can still cut the mustard, and young ones trying to kick in the door) and especially for readers willing to take a risk.

Because if you only read novels, you owe it to yourself to give some short stories a crack. You'll find a lot of original, dynamic and, yes, thrilling, detective fiction just waitn' for ya. Don't say we didn't warn you..


YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORIES FROM THE PULP ERA
1900-1950

  • "The Gutting of Couffignal" by Dashiell Hammett (The Continental Op)
  • "Red Wind" by Raymond Chandler
  • "The Gutting of Couffignal" by Dashiell Hammett
  • Hell, who am I to say? Although Hammett's "Dead Yellow Women" and "Fly Paper" are great stories. And anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot!
  • "Watch Me Kill You" by Norbert Davis (Max Latin)

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORIES FROM THE DIGEST ERA
1950-present

  • "Iris" by Stephen Greenleaf. (John Tanner)
  • "By the Dawn's Early Light" by Lawrence Block. I think it first appeared in Playboy, and then was expanded into a novel.
  • "By the Dawn's Early Light" by Lawrence Block
  • "File #6: Beyond the Shadow" by Joe Gores (A DKA Christmas/ghost story!)
  • "She Didn't Come Home" by Sue Grafton (domestic noir at its best)
  • "The Rat Line" by Rob Kantner
  • The Matt Scudder by Lawrence Block story called "Pieces of David" or something, where the guy chops up his lover.
  • "Midnight Blue" by Ross Macdonald. One of my favorite short stories in the field. It
    boasts one of the best final lines I've ever read. It originally popped up in Ed McBain's short-lived Mystery Magazine.

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORY SERIES EVER

  • Norbert Davis' Max Latin series
  • The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett
  • Ben Perkins by Rob Kantner
  • Michel Collin's Dan Fortune stories.
  • Nameless (Pronzini)
  • Raoul Whitfield's (or Ramon Delacourta's) Jo Gar.
  • Joe Gores' DKA files.
  • The Op rules!
  • Hammett's Continental Op, unless we're limited to series consisitng "exclusively", rather than primarily, of short stories, in which case I'd opt for Nebel's Donohue series.


THE EYES

YOUR FAVOURITE SHORT STORY EYES EVER

  • The Continental Op. Or maybe Whitfield's Jo Gar.
  • DKA by Joe Gores, if we can count agencies.
  • Dan Turner. Yeah, it's the same story over and over, but as gags go, this was a great one!

I MUSTA GOT LOST, PART 1
Short Story Eye Who Never Should Have Made the Leap

  • Race Williams. What's exciting, if far-fetched in a novella, becomes downright ludicrous when pumped up to a couple of hundred pages.
  • Raoul Whitfield's short stories about Jo Gar were all very enjoyable, but his one novel-length work, "The Rainbow Murders", in addtion to being pretty skimpy (no more than 40,000 words) is also less than the sum of its serialized parts. Maybe that's why it was never published in book form.

I MUSTA GOT LOST, PART 2
Book-Length Eye Who Never Should Have Made the Leap

  • Sam Spade, for sure. After sending Bridget over, Hammett plays the sap for a few quick bucks, probably to pay his bar tab. The three stories are disappointing, to say the least.
  • Robert B. Parker's single Spenser short story is a major disappointment even if you're a big Parker fan.

HEY! WHERE'D YA GO?
Short Story Eyes Who Should Have Kept Going...

  • After some witty, promising short stories, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone seems to have disappeared, at least in short story form.
  • Given the fact many of his books are padded-out short stories, perhaps Robert Parker should take another stab at writing Spenser short stores. After all, "Surrogate" wasn't THAT bad.
  • Nate Heller. His short stories are as good as the books, and that's very, very good.
  • A writer named Ernest Savage had a pretty good PI series running in EQMM some years ago. I forget the character's name, but one of them was nominated for an Edgar. I haven't seen one of them in some time. Did he drop the series or have I just been missing them? (This was Sam Train. Thanks for the reminder! I've got a file on him somewhere...ed. )

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THE WRITERS

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORY WRITERS PRE-1950
Feel Free To List a Few Favourites

  • Hammett, Hammett, Hammett!
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Robert Leslie Bellem
  • Hammett, Chandler, Nebel, Whitfield

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORY WRITERS POST-1950
Feel Free To List a Few Favourites

  • Richard Prathers
  • Lawrence Block
  • Brett Halliday (whoever he was)
  • Rob Kantner - A P.I. who grows up! Whoda thunk it?
  • Jeremiah Healy
  • Michael Collins/Dennis Lynds
  • Richard Deming
  • Peter Corris Many of Cliff Hardy's adventures are short stories. (see this month's cover)
  • Joe Gores, Lawrence Block, Bill Pronzini, Ross Macdonald, Max Allan Collins, Loren D. Estelman, Jeremiah Healy, Michael Collins

UP AND COMING
Most Promising New P.I. Writers

  • Chris Mills, though I'm a tad-prejudiced. He's a friend.
  • Hugh Lessig. Good reliable pulp. Always fun.
  • There's quite a few, but most of them are concentrating on novels at this point. Maybe Gary Lovisi and some of the writers he's been bringing along in Hardboiled.

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PUBLISHING

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORY
COLLECTIONS/ANTHOLOGIES
Various Authors

  • The Hardboiled Dicks by Ron Goulart. Black Lizard or someone should reprint this.
  • The PWA anthologies that Robert Randisi edited in the eighties. Sure, there were a lot of the same old usual suspects and good buddies, but who cares?
  • Come Seven, Come Death This 1965 PB collection is a perfect slice of Manhunt-era eyes including Shell Scott, Chester Drum, Johnny Liddel and Richard Deming's almost-forgotten Manville Moon.
  • The Eyes Have It edited by R.J. Randisi. I'd say Joseph T. Shaw's The Hard-Boiled Omnibus but several of the stories in that volume feature characters who are not PIs, so Bob Randisi' first PWA anthology gets the nod.

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. SHORT STORY
COLLECTIONS/ANTHOLOGIES
Single Author

  • Almost any of the Crippen/Landru collections, even those I haven't seen yet, since I've already read most of the stories: Gores, Healy, Muller, both Collins....
  • The Adventures of Max Latin by Norbert Davis (Mysterious Press, 1988)
  • Hammett's The Big Knockover (1966), notwithstanding the fact that it was edited by that unrepentant Marxist Hellman. Chandler's Trouble Is My Business (a paperback original reprinting the four Marlowe stories from Simple Art of Murder) is a close
    second. Macdonald's
    Lew Archer - Private Investigator, Al Collins' Dying in the Post-War World, Bill Pronzini's Casefile, and Nebel's Six Deadly Dames are among those to whom I'd give honorable mention.
  • Loren Estleman's General Murders. Twisted, convoluted Motor City Madness reaches pulpish heights of glory.

YOUR FAVOURITE P.I. PULP MAGAZINES EVER
For Private Eye Fiction
(Not counting Black Mask, okay?)

  • That's easy. Dime Detective.
  • Dime Detective. And story for story, it was far more consistent than Black Mask.

YOUR FAVOURITE DIGEST MAGAZINES EVER

  • Manhunt.
  • Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine.
  • It was overpriced, but The New Black Mask really rocked.
  • AHMM and EQMM for sticking to it. They can't please every one with every story, so they don't even try.
  • No contest. Manhunt.
  • Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, for reprinting all of Hammett's early work, for taking over Black Mask when that magazine went out of business, for convincing it's parent company to take over Alfred Hitchcock when that magazine was about to cease existence, and for printing the adventures of just about every important PI character who ever appeared in short fiction.

YOUR FAVOURITE ONLINE SOURCE
For Private Eye Fiction
(Please include URL)

  • Blue Murder at www.bluemurder.com.
  • Plots With Guns
  • Nefarious
  • Blue Murder (I'm assuming that Thrilling Detective is disqualified).
    (Oh, yeah. We barely even register--we only print handful of stories, so far...-ed)

SPILL THE BEANS
Further Comments, Sugestions, etc.

From Adrian Banfield in York, England

I too much prefer to read crime short stories. O.K. sometimes there isn't a lot of characterisation, but it's the plot for every story that's interesting. A lot of writers feel strongly and passionately about a subject and they always write about that subject.

The good writers are able to write a story from different viewpoints, but still incorporate their interest into the story. Other writers seem able to take an idea and weave a story around that idea.

I'm afraid I've never heard of Davis or Kantner - I'll look them up on your list.

Some More Suggested Topics From Jim Doherty in Chicago

FROM SMALL THINGS, MAMA, BIG THINGS ONE DAY COME
Best Movie Adapted From a Short Story

  • The Killers from 1946. Oddly the Hemingway story from which this great film was adapted wasn't a PI story, but the screenplay picks up where Hemingway's story ends to show the investigation of Jim Reardon (Edmund O'Brien), an Op-like insurance detective, who puts together the life story of the murder victim bit by bit to try to understand why he didn't take steps to evade his murderers. It's one of the best PI films ever made.

TO MAKE A SHORT STORY LONG . . .
Favorite Novel expanded from a Short Story (or Stories)

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler from "Killer in the Rain" and "The Curtain"
  • Runners-Up: Butcher's Dozen by Max Allan Collins from "The Strawberry
    Teardrop"
    (though, oddly, Nate Heller, the hero of the short story, doesn't appear at all in the novel).

K.I.S.S. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!
Novel Expanded From a Short Story That Should Have Been Left in Its Original Medium

  • When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block is a fine book but not nearly as satisfying as the short story from which it derives, "By the Dawn's Early Light."

WHY CAN'T WE SEE MORE OF YOU?
P.I.s from Short Stories You'd Most Like to See in a Novel

  • Well, it's too late since Frederick Nebel's been dead for some years, but probably Donohue.

AREN'T YOU FINISHED YET?
P.I.s from Novels You'd Most Like to See in a Short Story

  • Robert Crais's Elvis Cole; Bart Spicer's Carney Wilde (is Spicer still alive? Maybe there's still hope); Jonathan Latimer's Bill Crane (no hope there).

Yeah, response to this one was less than overwhelming. Maybe the thought of picking just one or two favourites was too intimidating. And server problems didn't help, I'm sure.


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