In Search Of A Hidden Truth
by Ernest Lilley
Gumshoe Review Editorial
Date: June 2006 / Show Official Info /
Gumshoe Review was born out of my grandfather's back pocket.
You could always find a dog-eared detective novel sticking out of his back pocket (they were smaller then) or in his vest or the leather doctor's bag he took on rounds with him. I think I'd better take some "heart medicine" he'd say to some suddenly nervous person when he had to sit and do nothing for some reason, and out would come a copy of Chandler, Christie, Gardner...or his favorite, Rex Stout.
Naturally I was drawn in by the lurid covers, but I loved the stories once inside. Men (and women) of honor, dangerous damsels, vile villains, and always a trail of blood, money, and power being used to thwart the common good. Unless, the hero, a loner with no hope of personal success or power, could get to the heart of the case. No matter what it costs them. In those stories, justice was always served, though often cold and hard with the only reward being the knowledge that someone had done the right thing. A priceless feeling, but one that you usually pay dearly to achieve.
Raymond Chandler's famous essay in The Atlantic Monthly (November 1945), "The Simple Art of Murder", defined the gumshoe genre in contrast to the high toned tales pioneered by writers in the UK. Tales whose characters often stood, though not always, above the fray, and often in a position of privilege. His character was someone both in the game and still apart from it, as he makes clear in the line, "...down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid...the detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man...he is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks -- that is, with a rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."
Since Chandler's day writers have upped the ante by mixing the attributes of good guys and bad guys, dilettantes and hard working Janes and Joes from every place on Earth, and occasionally, places even beyond that. But the core elements of a common but uncommon man with honor, courage, a desire to see justice served and the chance of redemption offered endure in stories that he would have been at home with. These are the qualities that we'll be looking for in our investigations, and I'm confident that we'll keep finding new gumshoes out there, walking those mean streets, untarnished and unafraid. Well, pretty confident. I'd be happy with a bit tarnished and occasionally scared to death, but that's what makes it interesting...isn't it?
Though my personal affection leans towards the Noir PI type, and I'm hoping to see plenty of action from that quarter, the edges of the genre blur like the SF streets on a fog swept night, like the world seen through the bottom of an empty glass of hooch, like the smudged lip print on a collar that should have stayed clean...but I digress. I was saying that we'll be looking at a wider range of mysteries than just hard boiled types, because in every sleuth there is, or should be, a certain amount of the gumshoe archetype, contemporary shaman heading for the underworld to bring back the truth and free the tribe from the results of its human follies. If they have to do it while ensconced in a comfortable chair sipping sherry rather than bourbon, ok...but my notion of an easy chair is the front seat of an unremarkable sedan, staked out on a lonely street with black coffee from a diner, maybe laced with a bit of hooch, and a torch song on the radio.
Allow me to end with Chandler's conclusion to his essay, which sums it all up the way only the seminal PI poet could:
"The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in."
-from "The Simple Art of Murder" (November 1945, The Atlantic Monthly)
I’ll drink to that.
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