Thrilling Detective Web Site Autumn 2001

Calling Out
Around the World
The Private Eye Goes Global


Nestor Burma. Cliff Hardy. Le poulpe. Anna Lee. Shanker Lal.

These are all private eyes. Very famous, very popular private eyes. And yet, you probably never heard of most of them. Hell, I hadn't either, until someone or another took the time to clue me in.

And now it's my turn to return the favour.

Let's face it,there's a whole world of private eyes out there most of us have never heard of. And maybe it's high time for us to get our heads out of our asses. Isolationism sucks.

Yeah, the Hard-Boiled Private Eye is undeniably an American literary invention, ranking right up there with the cowboy and the comic book superhero. After all, the private eye, at least as we've come to understand the term, was born and bred in the pages of Black Mask and other American pulps way back in the 1920s and 30s, by such masters as Dashiell Hammett, Carroll John Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, Raoul Whitfield and Raymond Chandler. Their heroes were hard-talking men with attitude to burn -- rougher, tougher versions of Holmes et al -- who were ready to speak the truth and willing to let the chips fall where they may.

But if attitude is really what separates the Sherlocks from the shamuses, then what it says on one's passport shouldn't count for squat.

And it doesn't. Just because most early hard-boiled private detective fiction was set in the U.S. (Whitfield's Jo Gar being a wonderful exception) that doesn't mean one has to have been American to write it, or even to read it. If names like, oh, Peter Corris, Didier Daeninckx, Sarah Dunant, Mark Timlin, Leo Malet, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Liza Cody, Jakob Arjourni, John Milne or Manuel Vázquez Montalbán don't ring any bells, maybe it's because you haven't been listening very hard.

Just as the P.I. has his roots in the literature of other cultures, so has the P.I. in turn been accepted into almost every culture in the world.

You name a country, and they've adapted the American gumshoe to tell their own stories. France, Australia, Spain, India, Canada, Norway, Germany, Mexico... you name it, and they've got a P.I. on hand who makes trouble their business.

Even better, plenty of these eyes are well-worth reading. I've read my share of them, and I'm telling you straight out, the U.S. does not have a monopoly on quality P.I.s. Those days are long gone.

In fact, some of the most interesting P.I. and hard-boiled crime fiction I've read lately are "foreign." The use of what is basically genre fiction adapted to fit a certain culture is one of the very best ways for a reader to get into that culture. And since the private eye genre has always a great tool for casting an unflinching eye on society, what better way to lift the lid on a culture, and get a real look at the works, than to tag along with a guy or gal who does it for a living?

So, in our P.I. Poll this time around, cobbled together with the much-appreciated help of our two-fisted fiction editor Gerald So, we're asking you all sorts of fun things about your favourite non-American eye. And for you "foreigners" out there (hey, I'm one), let's help get the show on the road by letting the Americans know what they're missing. We'll be discussing our faves, our raves and the close-shaves. Also the jerkies and the turkeys. I'm hoping this issue, we'll expand, and even blow a few minds.

This is the world calling, baby. Pick up the phone.

And if you want to vote for our Annual Cheap Thrill Awards,
well, don't be shy...

NOTE: Not to be a chauvinist or anything, but when I say FOREIGN, I mean NON-AMERICAN.
And when I say NON-AMERICAN, I mean NOT FROM THE U.S.A.


YOUR FAVOURITE FOREIGN EYE OF ALL TIME?
(And where they're from)

  • Sid Halley by Dick Francis (England)
  • Jo Gar by Ramn Decolta (The Phillipines)
  • Sam Turner by John Baker (England)
  • Benny Cooperman (Canada)
  • Aurelio Zen (Italy) by Michael Dibdin
  • Nick Sharman (London)
  • Pepe Carvahlo (Spain)
  • Mike Garfin (Canada) by Martin Brett
  • Louise Morvan - Paris, France. More on her later.
  • Cordelia Gray - I've just started reading An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I tend to avoid books written by by old British ladies, but I'm hooked...
    (Laurent Lehmann from France)
  • Sam Turner, York, England
  • Peter Corris's Cliff Hardy, Australia.
  • Wait a minute! This poll has been up for almost a month now, and nobody has mentioned Australia's Hairbutt the Hippo yet? Sheesh, what's wrong with everybody?
  • Pete Sawyer, France
  • Sid Halley (UK).

YOUR FAVOURITE FOREIGN EYE SERIES OF ALL TIME?

  • The Cliff Hardy series by Peter Corris (Sydney, Australia)
  • The Sam Turner series by John Baker
  • Aurelio Zen
  • The Nick Sharman series by Mark Timlin
  • Nestor Burma - more than the character, what I really like is his exploration of a changing Paris in the '50s and the '60s...
  • The Sam Turner series.
  • Cliff Hardy.
  • Dick Francis's Sid Halley.
  • The Stone Angel Series
  • Sid Halley (UK)
  • Napoleon Bonaparte (Australia) by Arthur Upfield. Now you've been put wise.
    Sorry, mate, but Bony's a police inspector, and definitely not a P.I.

YOUR FAVOURITE FOREIGN PRIVATE EYE WRITER OF ALL TIME?

  • Peter Corris.
  • Paco Taibo II
  • John Baker
  • Michael Dibdin
  • Manuel Vazquez Montalban
  • Manuel Vazquez Montalban, possibly. Tough question, actually. There are so many...
  • Dolegan, a British PI published in France in smal paperbacks during the '50s - don't know whether it was originally a French or British series, though. It was fun, in a very kitsch kind of way, but very poorly plotted and written...
  • John Baker - he's a compassionate and exciting writer with the knack of keeping the language vibrant and alive.
  • Lee Child. He's a Brit, but he sets his Jack reacher books in the States (at least so far...)
  • Marvin H. Albert
    Okay, he's actually a transplanted American, but that's cool....
  • Dick Francis, because he created Side Halley (as well as a few other one-offs)
  •  

THE WORST FOREIGN P.I. YOU'VE EVER READ?

  • Mark Timlin
  • Peter Cheyney
  • "Worst" is perhaps a little too harsh, but Joe Barley (Eric Wright's The Kidnapping of rosie Dawn) was certainly the most disappointing. I enjoy Wright's Lucy Trimble series, and I've heard good things about his police procedural series, so I had high hopes for this one, but the book was a real letdown.

THE BEST FOREIGN EYE THAT NOBODY ELSE SEEMS TO HAVE EVEN HEARD OF

  • Le poulpe. There's something like a hundred books in this series. There must be something worth reading in 'em.
  • Harry Sommers

FOREIGN P.I. NOVEL OR SERIES THAT SHOULD BE TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH

  • Le poulpe. There's something like a hundred books in this series. There must be something worth reading in 'em.
  • I'd like to be able to read Jaume Fuster's LluÌs Arquer series. So far, the only thing I've been able to find is a translation into Spanish (he writes in Catalan) of his first juvenile mystery - which does feature Arquer - but I'd like to read the ones written for adults.

BEST P.I. TRANSLATIONS TO OR FROM ENGLISH

  • The ones I don't know are translated are the best. They're aren't many.

WORST P.I. TRANSLATIONS TO OR FROM ENGLISH

  • I don't know about which are the worst, but most things translated end up still using words I never heard.
  • To English - Maria-Antònia Oliver's Lònia Guiu series. Talk about uneven! Although modern-day slang expressions are used from time to time, far too much of the translation sounds like it was done by someone who is not fluent in English, and is doing a literal translation with the help of a dictionary.
  • I'd have to be able to read foreign languages to answer this one.

BEST FISH OUT OF WATER P.I.

  • I came up with this category, and by "Fish out of Water," I meant any novel where a PI leaves his normal turf. (e.g. Spenser in A Savage Place or The Judas Goat). A Savage Place is, in fact, my pick for Best Fish.
    (Gerald So from New York)
  • The Continental Op in "This King Business." There've certainly been stories of American PIs in foreign climes, but the idea of a tough dick in one of those mythical, Ruritanian countries right out of The Prisoner of Zenda is inspired.
    (Jim Doherty from Chicago, IL)
  • S.J. Rozan's Reflecting The Sky had Lydia Chin in China. Just a great book.

KING/QUEEN OF THE ROAD: BEST P.I. CONSTANTLY ON THE MOVE

  • Chester Drum by Stephen Marlowe
  • Louise Morvan
  • Stephen Marlowe's Chet Drum.

YOU'RE GETTING WARM P.I.s IN TROPICAL LOCALES

  • Pronzini's Dan Connell in The Jade Figurine. It was set in Singapore, I think.
  • It's in the United States, but it's certainly tropical. Charles Knief's Hawaiian eye, John Caine.

YOU'RE GETTING COLD (OPPOSITE OF THE ABOVE)

  • Mike Garfin (Montreal, Canada). But does Montreal really count as a cold place?
    Gee, I dunno. Come on over and let's discuss it on the corner of Ste. Catherine and Peel this February...
  • Eric Wright's two eyes, Lucy Trimble and Joe Barley, are both in Toronto.
  • Well, Cecil Younger's in Alaska, but he's not "foreign." Are there any Russian or Soviet private eyes?
    Well, I haven't heard of any, but there are quite a few Scandinavian eyes.

WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT FOREIGN EYES

  • The new skin for the old ceremony. In other words, everything old is new again.
  • The cultural setting. Best when they don't try to pretend to be American.
  • Well, first of all, some of 'em aren't foreign to me... but the reason why I like reading PI stories from all countries is that I like discovering foreign cultures... And anyway, most of the time, in westernized civilisations, once you scratch the cultural surface, the motivations and reactions of the characters are pretty much the same... and PIs are relevant everywhere.
    You could as well ask me why I like PIs...
    That's a whopper of a question I'm saving for a rainy day...
  • I don't like them just because they're foreign. I just like a man or a woman who seems real to me, someone who has something to say and can engage me in their thoughts and preoccupations and their lifestyle. Someone like that I want to spend time with.
    (Samuel Major from the UK)
  • I like their unique styles of investigation and learning about different cultures as their cases unfold."
    (Gerald)
  • The settings. And, in the case of Sid Halley, the expertly depicted horse racing milieu.

WHAT YOU DISLIKE ABOUT FOREIGN EYES

  • When they paste a thin local veneer on an essentially stereotypical American eye, and try to pass it off as something new.
  • Some of them are written in languages I can't read, and poorly translated in languages I can read...
  • Ok, I had to check : Dominique Sylvain's Louise Morvan isn't in your listings! So... where to begin ? Louise is a young, independant woman who inherited her agency from her uncle. Although she's based in Paris and has a relationship with Steve McQueenish commissaire Clementi, her cases - most of the time involving cultural affairs - take here all over the world :
    Japan, Germany, USA, Spain.
  • Lousy translations that only go limp halfway throgh. Okay, fine, some publisher translates it from French or German or something into English, but what the hell's a lorrie? If their going to translate something for Americans, they better do it into regular English.
    Um, a "lorrie" is a truck. It's British. I think they possibly have a claim to speaking "regular" English.
  • To me, the fictional hard-boiled PI, like jazz or rock-n-roll is essentially American, so, for me, a foreign eye who, in all respects except his nationality, fits the hard-boiled PI paradigm, strikes a dissonant note. Of course, there've certainly been great, even legendary non-American jazz and rock musicians, so what do I know?
    (Jim Doherty from Chicago, IL)
    Well, I was going to make that point, and drop in names like The Band, Neil Young, Pete Townshend, The Stones, Oscar Petersen, etc... thanks for beating me to it.

STUMP THE EDITOR!
FOREIGN PRIVATE EYES NOT IN MY ALPHABETICAL LISTINGS,

  • Kazuo Mori This Tokyo eye plays like Chandler turned up to eleven.
  • Aurelio Zen by Michael Dibdin. He's an investigator/detective for the Italian government and is frustrated by the corruption within the "system" and throughout the Italian society. A well-written series by Dibdin who I believe is British.
    (Paul Tarantino from Naperville,Ill, west of Chicago)
    Unfortunately, by your own description, it's clear Zen isn't a private eye -- he's a government employee. But it is a smart and satisfying and even occasionally kick-ass series.
  • Anita B. is a private eye in Bombay, India created by Ashok Banker. The only story I've seen is "The Anita B. Casefiles. Case #1: The Secret Life of Angels," in Futures, June 2001. The title suggests that more are on the way. Anita is 30-something, drinks too much, never married, pumps iron and is color-challenged. She says she looks like Toni Braxton "or maybe Wesley Snipes without a dick." I think she's a good hardboiled addition to the genre.
    (Mark Troy from Texas)
    Now we're talking! I'll have to check this one out. Thanks, Mark!
  • Can't remember his name, but he was played by Louis Jourdan in two episodes of VEGA$. He was a famous French police detective whom Dan Tanna idolized and wanted to emulate in his youth. In a later episode, he's retired from the Surete and opened his own PI agency in France.
    (Jim Doherty)
    Okay, I'm stumped...
  • The Misses Hyacinth and Primrose Tramwell, two elderly sisters from Flaxby Meade, England. Yes, the stories are cozies, but they ARE private detectives.
    (Nathalie)
  • I'd've gotten back to you sooner on this but I just noticed that you don't have these characters in your listings. In addition to his only series PI, Sid Halley, Dick Francis also created three stand-alone PIs:.
    David Cleveland, the hero of Slayride, is the chief investigator for the British Jockey Club. I'm not absolutely sure, but I think a series of TV-movies based on Francis's books, used the Cleveland character as their continuing hero, substituting Cleveland for whoever actually starred in the Francis book being adapted. If that memory is accurate, Cleveland is, in a sense, not merely a one-off protagonist..
    Andrew Douglas, the lead character in The Danger, is a top operative of (and a partner in) Liberty Market Ltd., a detective agency specializing in kidnap cases..
    Tor Kelsey, who carries the ball in The Edge, is an investigator for the Jockey Club (presumably one of Cleveland's subordinates, since Francis doesn't use the title "chief investigator").
    (Jim Doherty)
    Damn, Jim, you got me again!!! And I've even read two of those books. In fact, The Danger was way better than the similarly-themed, recent Russell Crowe flick, Proof of Life, (a phrase I believe I first came across in Francis' novel).

FURTHER COMMENTS?

  • "There should be a category for foreign (Non-American) authors who write about American P.I.s and settings. (e.g. Lee Child's Jack Reacher--though he's not technically a P.I."
    (Gerald)
    .
  • Pete Sawyer, though he operates in France, is an American citizen. He may also be a French citizen through his mother, but that doesn't make him any less of an American. In fact, he's worked as both a local Chicago cop and a federal narcotics agent, and you can't get into either of those jobs if you're a non-citizen. And during the time that Ramon (Raoul Whitfield) Dacolta was writing the Jo Gar series, the Phillipines was US territory. Though it later got its independence from the states, at the time he was making his in-print appearances, Gar was also a US citizen.
    (Jim Doherty)
    Gee, Jim, if you're going to get into citizenship and stuff, I regret to inform you that, during the time Raymond Chandler wrote the Philip Marlowe series, he was in fact a British citizen. He had renounced his American citizenship as a teenager, and only restored it in 1956. But still, I hear the books are pretty good.... Have a good one, Jim. Happy new year.


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