The P.I. Poll
|| July/August 1998
It's summertime and the living is cheesy...
Bill Pronzini, in his classic Gun
in Cheek and Son
of Gun in Cheek, called them "Alternative Classics,"
I just call them "Cheese," but what we're both talking
about is those guilty little P.I. pleasures, those little paperback
treats we gobble up even though we know they're probably bad
or at least lacking in literary nutrition; those books so bad
In fact, July is Cheese Month around here. I put away the
"good" books, grab a few cold ones, hit the hammock
in the backyard, shove a tape in the machine, and plow through
some so-bad-they're-good no brain, no-gain Cheese Classics. Some
of my personal favourites include the Honey West series,
the Rocky Steele books, some of the later Mike Shaynes,
and a whole bunch of one-shot wonders, mostly old bargain bin
paperbacks with some babe and a gun the main features of the
In the summer of 1998, I asked readers to name their own favourites.
Here are some of the responses...
(Unfortunately, the automatic guestbook I set up to handle
your answers, 1-2-3 Webtools, crashed and burned, taking
most of the comments with it.
Sorry for the inconvenience. I'm as pissed off as anyone...this
was a fun topic. Maybe we'll do it again sometime...
Actually, I managed to salvage some
of the comments, but not, alas, the names of the folks who wrote
them. If you're here, uncredited, please let me know, and I'll
try to rectify it (which doesn't mean what you may think it does).
Stewart in Vancouver, BC
My favorite cheesy PI treat is: This summer: re-reading mid-period
Perry Mason, the finest work in this great series, in
the oldest paperbacks I can get my hands on. The Case of the
Empty Tin and The Case of the Crooked Candle still stand up after
all these years. Gardner's Terry Clane series, what little
there is of it, is also delightfully cheesy, including his Disney-esque
take on Chinese philosophy. I'm also re-re-re-re-reading the
complete Rex Stout, but that's not cheese -- it's a lesson in
how to write. On videotape -- the immortal Banacek, Polish
cheeseball extraordinaire. Disgracefully sexist beast that he
is, he still manages to solve brain-cracking puzzle stories on
slender evidence. Great plots -- horrible dialogue -- the occasional
spectacular woman in a bikini -- and George Peppard's ridiculous
haircut. I screen these for myself once every coupleof years.
So cheesy, it's wonderful.
Clay Harvey's 2nd-in-a-series, Whisper of Black,
is as cheesy as a Texas nacho. While the main character ain't
really a p.i., the writing and characterizations fullfill any
official p.i. criteria.
Bergin in Sarasota, FL
Blue Murder, by Robert Leslie Bellem. An unintentionally
(?) hilarious PI novel from the literary Titan who gave us Dan
Turner, Hollywood Detective (and several early episodes of
the Perry Mason TV series). The book was reissued by Dennis
McMillan Publications awhile back, but I saw it remaindered at
last year's Bouchercon, which means it may be difficult to find
by now. It's well worth looking for, though.
From Mystery Caller #8
Miss Marple? Hercule Poirot? Someone set the
snooze alarm! I thought this was supposed to be P.I. Cheese!
My favorite is Andrew Vachss's Burke...sure, he thinks
it's great writing, but I like the pulpy, comic book feel to
From Mystery Caller #7
I guess I consider all of the "brain candy" reads kind
of "cheesy"...(the ones you can read in a couple of
hours) but my favorite summer reads are the old characters revisited...Travis
McGee (John D. MacDonald) never lets me down, living on a
houseboat in Fort Lauderdale and "doing favors for friends"...Christie's
Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple...Lawrence Block's
Bernie Rhodenbarr is "the burglar who..."...Rex
Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin....all fun to spend
a summer afternoon with...
From Mystery Caller #6
I nominate Joe Lansdale's Hap Collins and Leonard
Pine. Although I believe cheesy is too strong a word, they're
certainly high on the sheer fun chart. Deliciously politically
From Mystery Caller #5
You want cheesy? Grab any of the half dozen or so
titles by John B. West. His private eye was Rocky Steele,
and worse tripe was never published. For sheer ludicrous plotting,
miserable dialogue and classic bad writing, they can't be topped
(or bottomed). What makes it more interesting is that the author
was an MD, successful business man, and black.
From Mystery Caller #4
I don't consider Mike Shayne or Shell Scott
"cheesy" in the Bill Pronzini "Gun In Cheek"
sense. I read them because I think they're good, within the limits
of the story they're trying to tell. They are PI-doms "entertainers"
as opposed to the "serious novelists" (ie: Hammett,
Chandler, etc.). Of course, the "serious novelists"
have to be entertaining, and the "entertainers" exhibit
some considerable novelistic skills every now and then. But my
point is that a Halliday or a Prather shouldn't be classed as
"cheesy" just because their ambitions are not as high
as a Hammett or a Chandler. To me "cheesy" is a euphemism
for "plain bad," and I don't read anybody I consider
plain bad. Well, almost nobody. There's a guy named Mike Avallone,
the self-proclaimed "fastest typewriter in the West,"
and the creator of the long-running PI named Ed Noon.
His plots are often ludicrous, his syntax has to be seen to be
believed, and his dialogue is even more unbelievable than his
syntax. And yet he has a marvelous story-telling ability, and
a driving sense of pace that makes his Ed Noon books (and almost
anything else he writes) hard to put down. If I have a "cheesy
guilty pleasure," Michael Avallone is it.
From Dick Awl in Trenton
I don't know if these are cheesy enough, but my grandmother
cleaned up her attic, and gave me a bunch of my grand-dad's old
Mike Shayne books. Some of 'em are pretty good, and some
aren't, but they're sure fun. And some of the old Dell ones have
maps on the back, which is fun. I'm bringing a bunch on my vacation.
From Mystery Caller #2
Cheesy? Oh, I would hate to think I were reading anything cheesy!
But great beach or back deck reading for me this summer includes
the Archy McNally books by Lawrence sanders. A friend
recently gifted me with these and what fun! While I am taking
my summer leisure I can read Palm Beach playboy "Arch"
taking his leisurely time to run investigations for his lawyer
dad. Oh, the fine dining and drinking and easy women! Another
recent find for me is Lupe Solano, the Miami P.I. of Carolina
Garcia-Aguilera. Hmmmm....do I detect a pattern in my summer
scheme? Florida! Love those Laurence Shames capers as well, but
alas, not private eyes and hence I suppose I oughtn't to be mentioning
Well, I recently managed to track down four of the five books
in the Hook series by Brad Latham (I'm assuming it's a
pen name since these paperback originals were a part of Warner's
Men of Action Books line). I had the first one, and read it a
few years ago-now I've read it again, and am starting on the
second. Good, dirty fun, with graphic sex, plentiful gunplay,
and more car chases than an episode of Rockford. The period setting's
nice, and Bill "The Hook" Lockwood is a refreshingly
upper-class P.I.--he wears Brooks Brothers suits, eats and drinks
well, and lives in a luxury hotel suite...but he's not afraid
to get his hands dirty, shoot a few gangsters (or get beaten
to a pulp, for that matter) in the course of his investigations.
Pure cheese....but tasty. Anyone got a spare copy of five?
Robinson in California
I, too, am reading Richard Prather--as a matter of fact the Wizardly
Webmaster of this site just sent me a couple and so did Gary
Niebuhr. As a beer commercial said, or should have,light but
satisfying. That's not all. I'm planning on reading three books
by Michael Stone this summer: The Low End of Nowhere,
A Long Reach and Token of Remorse. Wait! There's
more! I just got The Road To Perdition by Max Allan Collins,
and I should have it read by the end of the weekend. Okay, it's
a graphic novel, but so what? This is comics grown up and tailor-made
for mystery fans: great writing and great artwork. Do yourself
a favor and buy this, it's GOOD! Lastly, my summer list includes
Ross Thomas' The Backup Men and Charles Willeford's The
Shark-Infested Custard. Now all I need is the chaise lounge
and a pitcher of lemonade.
Burton Smith in Montreal
Well, I'll kick things off (again! #$%^& Freebie
Guestbook!). My favorite cheesy treat has to be Richard Prather's
Shell Scott series. Screwball Hollywood swingin' dick
running rampant through Tinseltown dodging bullets, scoring babes.
Utterly hilarious, utterly disposable. So shoot me!
Oh, and by the way,
the results of the June 1998 P.I. Poll, which asked readers to
No Business For a Lady: Female Eyes are posted
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