Tag Archives: detectives

Four on the Floor #4: Best P.I.s to Call When You’re in a Jam

The Situation: So, you have a problem and the cops aren’t really being much of a help.  Hey, it’s understandable.  They have an entire city to look out for and you’re just one person with one problem.  Thankfully, you open the phone book, flip to the “Private Investigators” section, and try a few numbers. 

The Criteria: This is a tough one.  Most of my favorite fictional characters are detectives of one kind or another, and they’re all pretty damned good at their jobs.  But, since I could only pick four, I had to find a way to narrow the field.  First, they had to be civilians–which rules out Law & Order: Criminal Intent‘s Bobby Goren and C.S.I.‘s Gil Grissom (I know, not technically a detective, but can you tell me he wouldn’t get to the bottom of things?); it also sort of rules out Adrian Monk, since about 98% of his income comes from the SFPD.  The next criteria was style.  Some people prefer the genius detective over the two-fisted, hard-boiled type.  I think both methods have their pros and cons.  Finally, and this wasn’t a conscious decision, each of these four detectives began in print and then spread out to other media.

1. Sherlock Holmes

C’mon!  He’s the grand-daddy of all private detectives–well, if you want to nit-pick, technically ol’ Holmes was a “consulting detective.”  Holmes could look at you from three blocks away and–based on the way you were walking, the state of your clothes, and the mud on your shoes–tell you where you were five days ago.  Holmes might not be a people person (that’s Dr. Watson’s job, after all), but his tenacity, keen observation skills, and analytical mind make him an amazing detective.

2. Philip Marlowe

When I think hard-boiled, I think Philip Marlowe.  Sure, he might not be as tough as the Continental Op or Mike Hammer, but Marlowe has something that other tough guys don’t: heart.  Marlowe was the closest thing the 20th Century had to a knight: morally upright, philosophical, and able to handle himself in a tight spot. 

3. Nero Wolfe

There are times that Nero Wolfe makes Holmes look downright personable.  Weighing in at a seventh of a ton and refusing to leave his Manhattan brownstone under all but the most dire of circumstances, Wolfe can be a pain in the ass to criminals, cops, and clients alike.  But, like Holmes, Wolfe’s gruff demeanor hides an amazing analytical mind and, once he’s on the trail, Wolfe’s too stubborn to give up until the guilty party is revealed.  Of course, when you hire Wolfe, you also get his assistant and legman, the wisecracking Archie Goodwin, and Wolfe’s trio of operatives: Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, and Fred Durkin.

4. Harry Dresden

Similar in many ways to Philip Marlowe, Harry Dresden often lets his heart and morals get him in deeper than his brain, fists, or endless stream of pop cultural references can get him out.  But, like Marlowe, Dresden will run himself to exhaustion if he’s trying to help the helpless, and he’s not afraid of going up against thieves, murderers, gangsters, vampires, werewolves, or ghouls.  Oh, didn’t I mention that Harry Dresden is also the only professional wizard to advertise in the Chicago Yellow Pages? 

A wizard named Harry

No…not that one. 

For the last year or so, I’ve been slowly and steadily making my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books.  I just finished the eighth book in paperback (Proven Guilty) and, despite a few ups and downs along the way, I’ve enjoyed every page. 

This Harry is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.  Like the other Harry, Harry Dresden is a wizard.  Unlike the other Harry, this Harry is also a detective.  He’s also the only certified wizard to advertise in the Chicago yellow pages.  The series begins with Storm Front, which is presented as a pretty straight forward detective story of the wise-cracking, P.I. variety.  Yes, it involves magic, but Butcher treats magic the same way Robert Parker or Elmore Leonard would treat a knife or a handgun.  It’s a tool.  In fact, Harry goes about two-thirds of the way through this first book without doing an ounce of hocus-pocus.

As the series progresses, things get more complicated.  A ton of secondary and tertiary characters move in and out (including Harry’s old mentor Ebenezar McCoy, Michael Carpenter–one of God’s holy hitmen–and a horny talking skull named Bob).  A war erupts between the wizards and the vampires.  But, for the most part, Harry remains Harry.  He’s the same wise-cracking, pop-culture-reference-spouting, bad-luck-having, chivalrous schmuck in the eighth book as he was in the first.

Personally, I’ve probably enjoyed the fourth book, Summer Knight–which involves Harry getting caught up in a civil war between the Summer and Winter Courts of Faerie (don’t ask)–the most.  However, the second book, Fool Moon, also gets high marks for using every possible explanation for lycanthropy under the sun.