When reading mysteries, amateur detectives grab my attention—Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Miss Silver—rather than PI series like V. I. Warshawski or Kinsey Millhone. But recently I read two nonfiction books about real-life private investigators. A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes by Val McDermid and Becoming a Private Investigator by Howie Kahn aim to set the record straight. Private Investigators search for justice, truth and the end of corruption.
These books demonstrate that investigators’ lives don’t run to fast cars or blazing guns. Boring hours-long, sometimes fruitless, stakeouts. Frustration from waiting for a call that doesn’t come. These irritants are more the order of the day.
As the title indicates, McDermid’s book focuses on female private eyes. They worked from the mid to late twentieth century, at a time when women were just entering the private investigation field. Much is made of the difference of approach between some male and female investigators. Machismo, sexism and sleaze cropped up more than once. A bit too much, possibly. Also revealed was that male PIs tended to carry a gun while the female PIs did not. McDermid’s book was published in 1995. I wonder what, if anything has changed in the intervening 25 years.
Kahn’s offering shares part of the work life of a female and male investigator. Both PIs persist over the course of several years to find answers for their clients. Each kept circling around the facts in a case when the facts offered by the authorities didn’t seem to fit. In addition, both worked diligently to change the attitude of the authorities involved.
MURDER MOST FOUL
The featured PIs’ cases entailed murder and abuse, including rape and child molestation. But cases also run the gamut of financial malfeasance and stock shortages to industrial espionage. On a more upbeat note, long-lost relatives have been reunited through a PI’s efforts. How much more is available for PI surveillance in the current age of online databases for tracking almost anyone? To say nothing of cornering computer hackers.
A search for justice and truth by all the investigators was a theme throughout both books. Despite working with the sordid ills of humanity, these folks took a deep breath and forged on.
Both books were an interesting read. In McDermid’s book, some of the female PIs read and enjoyed a few of the fictional PI series extant at the time. The only fault found with the fictional PIs? They (or their authors on their creations’ behalf) needed to get a personal life. So, I may begin reading up on Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, or even McDermid’s Kate Brannigan.