We Stand as One…Undivided*

pi-partnershipsWhen we think of fictional PIs, the ones who may quickly come to mind are ‘lone wolves,’ such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. There are plenty of other examples, too, and it makes sense that we’d think of them. A lot of PIs have their own businesses. And some, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, work with associates who aren’t business partners.

But there are benefits to having an official PI partner. For one thing, the costs and risks are shared. For another, two PIs can work on more cases than can one PI. That means more business. So plenty of PIs, both real and fictional, work with a partner rather than go it alone. It’s not always an easy relationship, of course. There are logistics, matters of finance, and decision-making that have to be worked out between people who are bound to disagree at times. But a PI partner can add a variety of strengths to a business. After all, no one person can do everything, let alone do it well.

There are plenty of PI partnerships in the genre, too. For instance, technically, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is Archie Goodwin’s employer. So in that sense, they are not partners. But any fan of the series can tell you that Goodwin makes plenty of the decisions, has plenty of autonomy, and actually runs the business to a much greater extent than Wolfe would probably care to admit. So, although you may disagree with me (and feel free to if you do), I think of Wolfe and Goodwin as PI partners more than employer and employee.

Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike offer an interesting contrast when it comes to a PI duo. Cole is more personable and outgoing than his partner. He has his quirks (do you know another fictional PI who wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and has a Disney clock in his office?). But he’s the one, in general, who interacts with clients. He can be snarky at times, but he’s the one who does the talking. Pike, on the other hand, is taciturn. He’s a former US Marine who now owns a gun shop. He is, in a way, the ultimate ‘bad boy’ who wears sunglasses all the time, always carries weapons, and so on. But at the same time, he’s got his own code. And he’s the only one who can interact with the feral cat that shares Cole’s home. In many ways, he and Cole couldn’t be more different. But they respect each other and they depend on one another’s skills.

Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, a Scottsdale, Arizona PI firm. Jones is a former police officer with her own history and personal scars. She’s able to use her police background and the grit that comes from her personal past as she investigates. Sisiwan is a member of the Pima Nation. He lives in a trailer on the Reservation, and prefers a simple, uncomplicated life. He’s the computer expert of this PI team (in fact, in Desert Run, Sisiwan is lured away from the PI world by Southwest Microsystems). Jones and Sisiwan have a number of differences, but their skills are complementary, and they make an effective team.

S.J. Rozan has chosen an interesting approach to writing her Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series. Each is an independent PI, but they do work together on some cases. And in many ways, they’re very different people. Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by the name of Lydia Chin, is an American-born Chinese PI. She lives and works in New York City’s Chinatown. She keeps some of the traditions of her Chinese family, but she’s also American. Her family strongly disapproves of her occupation, and her mother would like very much for her to find a Chinese man and settle down. But Chin has other plans. She’s as comfortable speaking English as she is speaking Cantonese, and her ability to negotiate both cultures is an asset. Bill Smith, twelve years older than Chin, lives alone over a bar. He’s seen plenty of life, and is much more cynical than Chin is, although he’s not hardened. Fans of this series will know that the books are written from alternating points of view, in first person. Some are written from Chin’s perspective; others are written from Smith’s. This allows readers to get to know both PIs, and lets readers in on how they perceive each other.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel. They’re a Bangkok-based PI team, and partners in life as well. Their partnership has taken adjustment on both sides. Keeney is Australian by birth and culture, but has adapted to living in Thailand. She speaks fluent Thai, and is very much accustomed to living independently and making her own business and personal choices. Patel is originally from India, but moved to Bangkok in part to help in his uncle’s book shop (that’s how he and Keeney met).  Learning to work as a team isn’t always easy for these two PIs. They’re both bright, strong-willed people who have very different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. But they’ve found that they have complementary skills and knowledge. And they care deeply for each other.

And that’s the thing about PI partnerships. In the most successful ones, the partners bring different strengths to the job, and learn to trust each other. They know that they do much better working together than either could do alone. They might argue from time to time; but in the end, they respect each other and work together, rather than at cross purposes. This post has only allowed space for me to mention a few PI teams. Which ones do you like best?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bon Jovi’s Undivided.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Betty Webb, Rex Stout, Robert Crais, S.J. Rozan

25 responses to “We Stand as One…Undivided*

  1. A few new ones for me there – and I keep meaning to read Angela Savage, she does sound just the kind of writer for me and you mention her quite frequently on your blog. Besides, Christos Tsiolkas dedicated Barracuda to her…

    • Well, that’s a good reason right there, Marina Sofia. And I really do sincerely recommend Angela Savage’s work. She’s very talented, and her novels evoke their Thai setting quite effectively.

  2. Hmm… I don’t read many PI novels so can’t add to your examples, but I definitely agree about Nero Wolfe and Archie. Wolfe would be lost without him! I have a vague recollection of one of the stories where, I think, Archie had fallen out with Wolfe for some reason, and Wolfe got Saul Panzer to fill in… but both Wolfe and Archie soon realised they missed their old partnership. Can’t for the life of me think which story though… or even guarantee I’ve got the gist right!

    • Hmmm….this is intriguing, FictionFan! I’m trying to think of which story you might mean. It’s ringing a bell for me, but only a very faint one. If you think of more details, do let me know. Or if someone knows for certain which story it is, please fill us in. You are right about how much Wolfe and Goodwin need each other. In that sense, their partnership is really interesting.

    • Oh, wait! I think I remember! Do you mean Method Three for Murder? That’s the one where a client discovers a body in the back seat of a taxi she’s borrowed.

  3. I have read so many but remember so few. I honestly don’t know how your filing cabinet (brain) is so full and so precise. Such a wonderful trait —- Except Magnum – We all remember him! 😉

  4. Great topic Margot. Not one I’d considered until now and some great examples. The last book I read with a PI partnership was Dead Beat from Val McDermids Kate Brannigan series. I think she works with a Bob Mortison? 🙂

  5. Col

    Cole and Pike are one of my favourite double acts in the PI genre. Time to read something more from Robert Crais I think.

  6. kathy d

    Well, yes, Angela Savage’s partnership is quite a good one. I raced through several Lydia Chin/Bill Smith books and liked several of them. The alternating points of view are well-done.
    And who could even contemplate Nero Wolfe without Archie Goodwin? The scintillating, hilarious repartee would be gone — and thus, the major appeal of the series. Wolfe without Goodwin would not work well. Who would Wolfe bark orders to? Who would do his investigating, report back, pay the bills? Nope. Not working for me.
    I read a lot of books with police teams, or lone p.i.’s, not p.i. partnerships. But I’m thinking of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone whose career changes from working with a legal collective to being a lone p.i. But then she marries Hy Ripinsky and they sometimes work in a partnership.

    • That’s true, they do, Kathy. On the one hand, it’s interesting how so many of the PI novels out there are about PIs. On the other, as you point out, there are some partnerships that just seem perfectly-made matches. Wolfe and Goodwin are two of them. And so are Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. I agree that those books (and Angela Savage’s) are quite well done.

  7. Margot, Sarah Ward’s PI Sadler and DC Childs comes to mind. They work on the same case and they are on the same page, without intruding on each other’s space. I like the way they complement each other. I have seen a lot of such partnerships in films and television. In fiction, though, I prefer my PI or sleuth to work alone and that may be because those are the detective-mysteries I have read most.

    • You’re quite right about Childs and Sadler, Prashant. They work very well as police partners, don’t they? You know I hadn’t thought about it, but perhaps when one does read a lot of mysteries featuring a certain type of character, that’s the type of character one prefers. It may be a matter of fulfilling expectations. Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

  8. kathy d

    Oops, just remembered two teams that work well, but they’re police detectives, not private p.i.’s. Those are the teams in Eva Dolan’s excellent series with a man of Serbian descent and a woman whose family is from Portugal.
    Also, Kati Hiekkapelto’s team of Anna Fegete, a Serbian/Hungarian immigrant police detective in Finland and her bigoted male partner, who can be a real pain, but helps one desperate young woman, too.
    Both series are excellent in plotting and character development.

  9. Funny thing about Jayne and Rajiv, after my first novel came out, an interviewer asked me if Jayne was every likely to acquire a partner. I immediately said no, that she was a lone wolf, etc. etc. But then Rajiv came along and both Jayne and I discovered that we liked having him around…

    • I do, too, Angela. His skills complement hers, and I like the way he supports her, but at the same time, calls her out when she’s wrong. Just goes to show that you never do know exactly what the future is going to bring when it comes to characters – or life, for the matter of that.

  10. Hmmm…I read more detective than P.I. novels. But this post did remind me of the old TV series, Moonlighting. That’s a couple who could fight like cats and dogs (pardon the cliche) but worked really well together.

    • I remember Moonlighting, Sue! That was a smartly-written show, I thought. It did show those PIs could work well together, too, even if they argued all the time.

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