Category Archives: William Hjortsberg

Those Exotic Sounding Places I Would Dearly Love to Know*

For a lot of people, there’s something very appealing about the exotic – the different.  That’s arguably part of the reason why readers so often enjoy books that take place in very different parts of the world. And it’s why we sometimes choose to eat in restaurants that serve what we think of as exotic food. Our regular food ‘haunts’ are fine, even terrific, but sometimes, a touch of the different is irresistible.

And we see that appeal all throughout crime fiction. That shouldn’t be surprising, as crime fiction so often shows us ourselves. The exotic can have a way of drawing people in, and that plays its role in a number of novels.

In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, for instance, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. When her professor father dies, she learns (and it’s no surprise) that he had nearly nothing to leave her in terms of inheritance. So, she’s going to have to make some choices. There’s no particular young man in the picture, and Anne’s not dying to get married, anyway. That means she’ll have to find some sort of employment. But being a secretary (which is one of the few professions open to women at the time) has absolutely no appeal. So, Anne’s a little betwixt-and-between. Then, by chance, she witnesses a terrible accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under a train. She gets her hands on a piece of paper that fell out of the man’s pocket, and soon learns that it makes reference to an upcoming sailing of the HMS Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. The exotic location, the mystery, and the change from her ordinary life are too much for Anne to resist, so she books passage on the ship. That trip draws her into a web of murder, stolen jewels, and international intrigue.

William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel introduces readers to low-rent PI Harry Angel. As the story opens, he gets a new client, Louis Cyphre. Through his attorneys, Cyphre hires Angel to find a former jazz artist nicknamed Johnny Favorite. According to Cyphre, he supported Favorite and helped him along in his career in exchange for certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Favorite was drafted for service in WWII (the novel takes place in the 1950s). The war took its toll on Favorite, and he ended up in a psychiatric facility, from which he’s now gone missing. It’ll be Angel’s job to find the missing man. Angel takes the case and starts his search. Along the way, he meets a young woman named Epiphany Proudfoot, whose mother knew Favorite. Epiphany owns an herbal pharmacy that sells incense, lucky powders, candles, and so on. To Angel, she’s both exotic and beautiful, and he’s drawn to her. Epiphany isn’t the reason for Favorite’s disappearance. But she is a sort of piece of the puzzle. Before he knows it, Angel’s search for Favorite leads him into a web of the occult and other dangerous elements. And, as the novel goes on, he finds himself in increasing danger, with less and less chance of escaping it.

Walter Mosley’s A Red Death introduces Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. He’s an informal PI who’s good at finding people who don’t want to be found. In this novel, he gets a letter from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent Reginald Lawrence, claiming that he owes thousands of dollars in back taxes, and that he’ll go to prison if he doesn’t pay it immediately. Rawlins doesn’t have that kind of money and resigns himself to some prison time. Then, FBI agent Darryl Craxton offers him a way out. The FBI is investigating a man named Chaim Wenzler as a possible communist (the novel takes place in the early 1950s, the McCarthy Era of anti-communist hysteria). Craxton wants Rawlins to help bring Wenzler down, in exchange for which he’ll make Rawlins’ tax problems go away. Seeing no other option, Rawlins agrees. He ends up regretting his choice as he gets to know Wenzler, and the two become friends. Still, he doesn’t see how he can extricate himself. In the end, his decision ends up getting him involved in a case of three murders. Along the way, Rawlins is injured, and Wenzler’s daughter, Shirley, nurses him. To her, he’s exotic, since he’s black and she’s white, and it makes for a layer of character development and interest, although it’s not key to the murders. It also draws her to him.

Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride) is the story of Gundar Jormann, who’s lived all of his life in the Norwegian town of Elvestad. He’s no longer a young man, but he’s a steady worker, he’s smart enough, and he presents a decent enough appearance. He sees no reason why he shouldn’t be able to find a wife, and that’s what he sets out to do. He sees a picture of a beautiful woman from India in a book that belongs to his sister and decides that he’ll go to Mumbai to find his bride. When Jormann arrives in Mumbai, he finds it just as exotic as you’d imagine he would. The climate, the food, the languages, are all different, and that’s part of their appeal. Then, he meets Poona Bai. He’s soon drawn to her, and she to him. By the end of his trip, he’s proposed marriage, and she’s accepted. Their agreement is that he’ll return to Norway, and she’ll stay behind for a short while, to finish her life in India. Then, she’ll join him in Elvestad. On the day of Poona’s arrival, Gormann’s sister is involved in a terrible car accident, and he can’t leave her side. So, he delegates a friend to meet Poona at the airport. They miss each other, though, and Poona sets out to get to the Gormann home on her own. She never makes it, and her body is found in a nearby field the next day. Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the murder. The fact that Poona is exotic isn’t really the reason she was killed. But it adds an interesting layer to the novel.

And then there’s Megan Abbott’s Die a Little. Lora King is a schoolteacher in 1950s Pasadena, California. When her brother, Bill, meets a former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant named Alice Steele, Lora tries to be happy for him. But she immediately dislikes Alice. That doesn’t stop Bill and Alice marrying, and Lora tells herself that her feelings are mostly because she’s protective of her brother and (perhaps) a little jealous that he has someone new in his life. She does start to have questions about her new sister-in-law, though, and the more she learns about Alice’s life, the more repulsed she is. At the same time, though, Lora finds Alice exotic and different, and that draws her into Alice’s world. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Telling herself it’s for Bill’s sake, Lora starts to ask questions about the murder, and finds herself getting more than she bargained for, as the saying goes.

And that’s the thing about the exotic. We’re sometimes drawn to it just because exotic people, things, and places, are so different. And that can add a lot to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Pentangle’s Ever Yes, Ever No.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Karin Fossum, Megan Abbott, Walter Mosley, William Hjortsberg

Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle*

As this is posted, it would have been Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum’s 208th birthday. As you’ll know, he was a master showman and entrepreneur. His circus was one of the most famous in the world, and he was highly skilled at ‘smoke and mirrors.’

Barnum hasn’t been the only one who was skilled at separating people from their money and dazzling them with illusions. There’ve been plenty of people who were masters of those skills.  And it’s interesting to see them in crime fiction. It’s just as interesting to see how other characters are willing to believe what they see.

For instance, in Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine, we meet self-styled medium Ava Garrett. She’s very good at creating the illusion that she can actually communicate with those who’ve passed away. So, when financial advisor Dennis Brinkley is killed in what looks like a terrible accident, his friend, Benny Frayle, attends one of Garrett’s séance events. Oddly enough, she says things about Brinkley’s death that she couldn’t have known. Frayle is convinced of Garrett’s authenticity, and tries to get the police to investigate Brinkley’s death as a murder. At first, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby is reluctant to do much. He does go back through the various reports about the event, but it seems to him that the police on the scene did their jobs professionally. And they found no evidence of murder. Then, Garrett dies of what turns out to be poison. Now it looks as though there is more to this than an accident. So, Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy look at both deaths more closely and find the connection between them.

One of the characters in William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel is an enigmatic showman/magician named Louis Cyphre. Using his law firm as the ‘middle man,’ Cyphre contacts New York PI Harry Angel to offer him a missing person case. It seems that Cyphre is looking for a former musician nicknamed Johnny Favorite, who disappeared after returning from World War II. He was suffering from what we would now call PTSD, and was in a mental institution, but he’s gone. According to Cyphre, he’d provided support to Favorite to get his career going, in exchange for ‘collateral’ that he says he wants. Angel takes the case and starts trying to find the missing man. It’s not an ordinary missing person case, though, and it’s not long before Angel is drawn into a web of horror, murder, and more. Throughout the novel, Cyphre remains rather elusive and mysterious, and it’s interesting to see the effect he has on his audience.

Teresa Solana’s Josep ‘Pip’ Martínez (he prefers to be called Borja), is another sort of showman. Together with his twin brother, Eduard, he owns a Barcelona-based PI agency. Borja knows that if the agency is to attract well-paying clients who will refer other well-paying clients, it has to look like an exclusive, very successful place. Showman that he is, Borja has all sorts of tricks to make the agency look the way he wants. For instance, there’s a door that doesn’t actually lead anywhere; it’s designed to make the office look much bigger than it is. The brothers can’t afford a secretary/receptionist, but Borja uses props like a bottle of nail lacquer, an empty coffee mug, and so on to make it look as though there is a secretary, but she’s doing errands/at lunch/indisposed for the day/etc.  These little tricks are quite successful at convincing people that the agency is much more profitable than it is.

Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing introduces readers to Dr. Suresh Jha. His mission is to show the superiority of science and reason over what he sees as superstition and false spiritualism. In fact, he’s founded the Delhi Institute For Research and Education (D.I.R.E.) for just that purpose. One morning, he’s participating in a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. Suddenly, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that she killed him as punishment for his infidelity and for leading others astray. Jha is a former client of Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri, so when Puri finds out what happens, he starts to ask questions. It’s not that Puri doesn’t have religious beliefs; he does. But he doesn’t really believe that Kali killed Jha. As he searches for the answers he wants, Puri and his team meet up with more than one master showman…

And then there’s Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making, which takes place mostly in Victorian-Era Vancouver. At the time, it’s a frontier Empire outpost with very little in the way of police service. Chad Hobbes, who’s recently completed his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford, wants to see some of the world before he settles down with the requisite law firm, wife, and home. Armed with a litter of introduction, he is given a job as a police constable, which mostly means settling drunken quarrels and occasionally clearing out houses where prostitutes work. Then, a group of Tsmishian Indians reports that they’ve found the mutilated body of Richard McCrory. At first, it looks very much like the Tsimshian leader is responsible for the murder. But Hobbes’ instructions are to go through the motions of asking questions, so that the police are seen to be doing their jobs. As he looks into the matter, though, Hobbes begins to have doubts about what really happened. It sees that McCrory was an alienist, a psychiatrist before the development of modern psychiatric and psychological science. He was also a mesmerist and a phrenologist. He gave lectures and also saw private patients, most of whom had what we would now call depression. His ‘treatment sessions’ involved what we’d now call sexual abuse of his patients. McCrory has a certain charisma, and he was a showman. As Hobbes keeps searching for answers, though, he finds more and more possible suspects. In the end, he finds out who really killed McCrory and why.

Some people are gifted at dazzling others and getting them to part with their money. Whatever their other qualities, these people have the charisma and the ‘razzle dazzle’ to make it work. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s Razzle Dazzle.

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Filed under Caroline Graham, Seán Haldane, Tarquin Hall, Teresa Solana, William Hjortsberg

Exposing Every Weakness*

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot solves the stabbing murder of a retired business tycoon. At one point, he has this to say:
 

‘‘Let us take a man – a very ordinary man. A man with no idea of murder in his heart. There is in him somewhere a strain of weakness – deep down.’’
 

We all have flaws, of course, and in some cases, those flaws – those strains of weakness – can be used to manipulate us. For instance, someone who’s secretly a little greedy can be tempted quite a lot by money.

In crime fiction, this can make for an interesting layer of psychological tension, as well as a character motivation. There are lots of examples in the genre; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is hired by Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs to create a Murder Hunt event for an upcoming fête. On the surface, it seems quite innocent – all in fun. But Mrs. Oliver suspects that more is going on, and she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s playing the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Inspector Bland to find out who the killer is. One of the ‘people of interest’ in the story is a scientist, Alec Legge, who’s rented a nearby cottage. As Poirot finds out more about the case, he discovers that Legge was drawn in, if you will, by some dangerous people. He had, as Poirot puts it, sympathy for a certain political party, and the more powerful members of that party wanted to exploit both that sympathy and Legge’s science skills. When Legge tried to extricate himself, he found it much harder and more dangerous than he imagined. It’s an interesting look at the way people’s biases and weaknesses can be used against them.

William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel introduces readers to low-rent New York PI Harry Angel. The novel takes place in the 1950’s, not very long after the end of World War II. One day, Angel gets a call from the prestigious and upmarket law firm of McIntosh, Winesap and Spy. Ordinarily, such a firm wouldn’t hire a PI like Angel. But one of their clients, a man named Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man, Jonathan Liebling, who’s gone missing. According to Cyphre, Liebling, who went by the name of Johnny Favorite, was a talented jazz musician whom Cyphre helped at the start of his career. In exchange, Favorite promised Cyphre ‘a certain collateral.’ Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He came back from the war suffering from physical wounds as well as what we now call PTSD. Eventually, he was placed in a special hospital. Now, he’s disappeared from the hospital, and Cyphre wants to find him. The fee is tempting, and Angel takes the case. He soon finds that this is no ordinary missing person case. Instead, Angel’s been drawn into a web of horror, and his weaknesses are being exploited.

We also see that in John Grisham’s The Firm. In that novel, Harvard Law School graduate Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McDeere gets an offer from the Memphis law firm of Brendini, Lambert, & Locke. It’s by no means the only offer he’s gotten. McDeere is smart, has a good background, and is hungry for success, as many young lawyers are. And that’s exactly the sort of lawyer Brendini, Lambert, & Locke want. They make McDeere an irresistible offer, and he signs on. At first, all seems to be going well. McDeere’s new colleagues help him pass the Tennessee Bar Exam, and he’s welcomed in other ways, too. But it’s not long before he begins to have some questions. Several attorneys connected with the firm have died, and McDeere wonders about the circumstances. By the time he starts to get some answers, though, he’s in deep, as the saying goes. His own ambition has drawn him in and been exploited. If he’s going to stay alive, he’s going to have to find a way to extricate himself.

In Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, we meet Winter, a small-time Glasgow drug dealer who wants to make a name for himself in the criminal underworld. He’s caught the attention of Peter Jamieson and his right-hand man, John Young. Jamieson is a ‘rising star’ in the underworld himself, and he has no interest in sharing the spotlight with an upstart who’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. So, he and Young hire Callum MacLean to ‘take care of’ Winter. MacLean has a good reputation and knows how to do the job. He soon sets his plan in motion. And, even though things don’t go exactly the way he intended, we see how weaknesses such as greed and desire can make a person very vulnerable.

Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy is in part the story of Olavo Bettencourt. He’s a wealthy and successful São Paolo advertising executive who has a life that most people would envy. He has a beautiful home in a closely-guarded part of the city. He has a gorgeous ‘trophy wife,’ and a healthy son, Olavinho. As Brazil’s political system gets a bit more open, several political candidates are advertising more, and they’re depending on people like Bettencourt. And that’s to say nothing of the large companies with which Bettencourt does business. He very much enjoys the money, perks, and power of his situation, but he’s really not as much in control as he thinks. In fact, some even more powerful and dangerous people have used Bettencourt’s weaknesses against him, and he’s now caught in a web. Then, a group of gangsters decides to abduct Olavinho – not an outrageous idea, considering the family’s wealth. They put together their plan and set it in motion. But they kidnap the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, the gangsters find that they have taken the mute son of the Bettencourts’ housekeeper. Now, the gang has to decide what to do about the boy they’ve abducted, and what to do about Olavinho. For his part, Bettencourt has to decide just what to tell the media and police. After all, too many questions about him could land him in jail…

We all have our weaknesses. They’re part of what makes us human. And it can make for an interesting layer of character development and suspense when those weaknesses are exploited.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Pink Floyd’s The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, John Grisham, Malcolm Mackay, William Hjortsberg

One Little Choice*

In many stories, there’s a point of decision. And that decision has consequences that drive the rest of the plot. It may not seem like a momentous decision at the time the character takes it, but it often turns out to make all the difference in the story.

Certainly, we see those sorts of moments in crime fiction. For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t envision a life for herself as, say, a typist. And she’s not really interested in settling down and marrying. She’s a bit at loose ends when she happens to witness a tube accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under an oncoming train. Anne happens to pick up a piece of paper that the dead man had in his pocket, and soon works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she goes to a travel agency and books passage on the ship. That decision turns out to have important consequences for her, as she ends up caught in a web of intrigue, smuggled gems, and murder.

William Hjortsberg’s historical (1959) novel Falling Angel is the story of a low-rent New York private investigator named Harry Angel. One day, he gets a call from the upmarket law offices of McIntosh, Winesap, and Spy. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man named Jonathan Liebling. Better known as Johnny Favorite, Liebling was a gifted jazz musician. Cyphre says that he helped Johnny Favorite at the start of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He returned from the war physically and emotionally badly damaged, and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Then, he disappeared from the hospital. Now, Cyphre wants to find him. Angel’s decision to take the case and look for Johnny Favorite turns out to have major consequences, and drives the rest of the plot. He ends up caught in a case of horror, multiple murder, and worse.

In Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has died in a car crash. Delorme will miss his wife, but their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time. What’s worse, in his mind, is that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who also died in the crash. Against his better judgement, Delorme sneaks a look at the information the police have on Arnoult. That’s how he learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Delorme’s decision to peek at that information, and then act on it, turns out to be a fateful one. He becomes obsessed with Martine, and it’s not long before things spiral completely out of control for both of them.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red is the first to feature Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s at a crossroads in her career, and wants to cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. It’s not going to be easy, as there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists coming up the ranks. Then, she learns about a possible story that could exactly what she needs. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh might be innocent. If that’s true, it’s a major story. Several people caution Thorne against pursuing the story. But she decides to go after it. Doing so has real personal and professional consequences for her, and for other people in her life.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In it, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has ‘gone straight,’ and now owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes keys. Then, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him quite a lot of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses outright. He doesn’t want to have any more to do with police or prison. Not long afterwards, he gets a visit from his former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband died in what looked like a carjacking gone wrong. It’s since been proved to be a murder, and she’s suspected of hiring the killer. She has a good motive, too, as she stands to inherit a fortune. Now, she needs a good lawyer to help her clear her name, and she asks Singh for help. He’s still more than half in love with her, although she broke his heart. So, he agrees to get the money she needs. That decision draws Singh into the underworld again, and ends up putting him under suspicion of murder.

A decision may seem like a trivial one on the surface. But sometimes, even those smaller decisions can lead to very big consequences. And those consequences can be dangerous…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Malloy’s Hero.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier, Surender Mohan Pathak, William Hjortsberg

Any Two-Bit Job That Pays*

Not every PI or attorney is well-known and sought-after by the rich and famous. In fact, some lawyers and PIs are very much ‘low rent.’ There are a variety of reasons for this, of course. Sometimes it’s because of the sorts of cases they take. Sometimes it’s because they simply don’t have recognition. There are other reasons, too.

These sorts of attorneys and PIs can make for interesting characters in crime fiction. For one thing, they may have interesting backstories. For another, the sorts of cases and people they deal with are often (not always) gritty, if I can put it that way. And that can add a layer of interest to a story, to say nothing of plot points.

For instance, in William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel, which takes place in 1959, we are introduced to low-rent PI Harry Angel. He’s not used to dealing with ‘upper crust’ clients, but one day, he gets a call from an upmarket law firm. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a missing man. His quarry is talented jazz artist Jonathan Liebling, also known as Johnny Favorite. According to Cyphre, he helped Liebling out at the beginning of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral.’  World War II intervened, and Liebling came back from combat physically and emotionally damaged. He was placed in a psychiatric hospital, but now, he’s disappeared. Angel agrees to take the case, and starts to ask questions. But he soon finds that this is no normal missing person case. Instead, he’s drawn into a web of murder, horror, and evil.

Fans of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder will know that he used to be a New York City police detective. A tragic accidental shooting changed everything, and as the series begins, he’s a down-at-the-heels occasional PI. He doesn’t even have his license at first, and he barely maintains a home. He doesn’t have his own office, either; instead, he holds court in local bars. As the series goes on, Scudder does a little better, gets his official PI license, and so on. But he still deals with plenty of gritty characters and places.

So does Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. When he loses his wartime (World War II) job at an aircraft manufacturing plant, he has to find some way to make a living. So, he accepts a commission to find a missing woman in Devil in a Blue Dress. From then, he begins to get a reputation for being able to find missing people and solve other problems. Like Scudder, he doesn’t have a regular office or a fine home. And a lot of the people he helps are ‘regular people,’ rather than wealthy, well-connected people. As the series goes on, he gets an official PI license, and has some success. But he generally doesn’t mix with those who go to ‘A-list’ parties.

There’s also C.B. McKenzie’s Rodeo Grace Garnet, whom we meet in Bad Country. He’s a former rodeo star who now works as an occasional bounty hunter and low-rent private investigator. He doesn’t have an office, or post advertisements. Instead, he gets clients by word of mouth. That’s how he hears that Katherine Rocha wants him to look into the death of her teenage grandson, Samuel. The official explanation for the boy’s death is that he fell from a bridge (or possibly, committed suicide). But there’s also evidence that he might have been shot, and knocked from the bridge. If so, his grandmother wants to know who shot the boy and why. Garnet takes the case, and soon finds that some wealthy and well-connected people do not want the death investigated.

Fans of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski will know that she, too, starts out as what you might call a ‘low-rent’ PI. Certainly, she doesn’t live a wealthy life, and her clients are not always well-connected.

There’s also mystery novelist and fellow blogger E. Michael Helms’ Dinger. He’s a low-rent PI in post-World War II Las Vegas. He’s a tough, hardboiled sort of a guy, who’s not afraid to mix it up with all sorts of low-life types. Helms has published his Dinger stories in serial form. You can read Part One of one of them, Rose, right here. Once you do, you’ll want to read the other parts, too! I hope – I really do – that we’ll see more of Dinger. A-hem, Mr. Helms…

Martin Edwards’ Harry Devlin is a Liverpool-based attorney. But he’s not the sort you see in high-profile, lucrative cases. He’s a low-rent attorney who makes his living defending drunks, prostitutes and thieves, among others. He’s got a small place, and works in a cheap firm. So, he sees the gritty side of the city. In All The Lonely People, where we first meet him, Devlin is shocked when his ex-wife, Liz, comes for a visit. She says she’s left her current lover, Mick Coghlin, because he’s abusive, and she’s afraid of him. She asks to stay with Devlin a few days, and he agrees. Then, she disappears, and her body is found in an alley. Devlin feels guilty because he didn’t take Liz’ concerns seriously at first, and decides to find out who murdered her. At first, he assumes that Coghlin is the killer. But the more Devlin learns, the more possibilities there are. His search for the truth takes him into several of Liverpool’s seedy places.

And then there’s Attica Locke’s Jay Porter. When we are introduced to him, in Black Water Rising, he’s a low-rent Houston-area lawyer. It’s 1981, and Porter is trying to build his law business. But so far, he’s not been very successful. Then, in one plot thread, he gets drawn into the case of a fatal shooting. The trail leads to some very high, very well-protected places, and it’s a big risk for Porter. He’s black in what is still very much a white person’s world. And he’s up against some considerable opposition.

Low-rent, two-bit, down-at-the-heel, whatever you call it, such fictional attorneys and PIs add an interesting layer to crime fiction. They often deal with the sorts of cases others might not be willing to handle. And they themselves can be interesting characters.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Clouds’ Pocket.

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Filed under Attica Locke, C.B. McKenzie, E. Michael Helms, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley, William Hjortsberg