The Most Common Mistakes in Private Eye Fiction

Hey, nobody's perfekt! But too often, writers in the genre seem to do their research solely by reading other writers in the genre, thereby perpetuating mistakes and misinformation. Got any others?

  • Numbskulls?
    According to our resident medical expert, Dr. Lawrence R. (Dick) Tartow, M.D, "The most glaring, and still universal medical mistake in PI novels is the speed with which people recover from being knocked unconscious (i.e. suffering a severe concussion) and the companion fact that with all these repeated whacks on the head with blunt instruments , there has never been a single sub-dural hematoma in the history of mystery writing." Not convinced? Here, try a second and third opinion...
  • The Sounds of Silence
    Guns are loud, very loud. What bothers Rex Anderson is "when guns are fired inside a room or an automobile and the characters flinch not at all and continue talking in normal tones. Ain't no way. Guns are loud, folks, and the sound is painful. The only thing you hear for a while after a gunshot in an enclosed space is the ringing in your ears."
    And silenced guns are not silent. CPT George E. Stankow adds this to the conversation: "And for anyone who ever thinks of writing the word "silencer" -- take a hardback Collected Shakespeare and drop it on your coffee table. That's the sound of a "silenced" handgun. As the difference was once explained to me -- if you shoot a silenced gun, just about everyone in the house will hear it. If you shoot an unsilenced gun, just about everyone in the neighborhood will hear it. And you can't silence a revolver at all. As much gas escapes from the cylinder as the barrel. (both of these were nabbed from DorothyL).
  • Chloroform
    Here's the skinny on chloroform: It is the most potent of all inhalation general anesthetics, which means that it progressively paralyzes the central nervous system, proceeding from analgesia through delirium to the elimination of muscle reflexes to death from the absence of respiration and heart rate. Among its side effect problems: it stimulates salivation, drops the blood pressure, irritates the brain center that controls vomiting, and depresses the activity of the stomach and intestines. These effects cause the subject (or victim) to drool uncontrollably, experience nausea and vomiting on waking up, and then lose all interest in food. The rate at which the subject loses consciousness depends on the concentrationof liquid chloroform on the mask (or cloth, when used by the bad guys), but it vaporises very rapidly and would be likely to take effect in seconds to a minute or so. Continued inhalation of the vapor will deepen the anesthesia and is likely, in the unskilled hands of an evildoer, to cause permanent damage to the brain, heart and liver, although this outcome never seems to occur in fiction. You can see why it's no longer employed in modern medical care, although it is still used in some third world settings when other, better techniques are not possible.
    A rare example of an accurate depiction of chloroform's misuse and problems is Bill Pronzini's Shackles, where his Nameless detective fall victim to it. (Not a spoiler: it happens in the first chapter).
    -- Contributed by Richard Makover

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