This week: Writing a Private Investigator MysteryEdited by: Lonewolf
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A PI story is a mystery which is solved by a Private Investigator who doesn't work for a government agency. This includes Paid Investigators, and Insurance Investigators, who acts like a PI but isn't licensed or always paid. Traditionally, PI's are individuals who represent justice when the system fails. For whatever reason, the police and the legal system are unable to find or punish the guilty, so a PI is hired to set things right. The Private investigator is usually a fantasy character in the way that western gunslingers are fantasy characters. Most PI stories do not reflect the realities of being an actual Private Investigator. Instead, PI's fill the need for a hero.
The PI is usually someone with a very strong moral center who pursues justice for the sake of justice itself as much as for the money. PI's have historically been men since many states require a police or military background as part of the licensing requirements which limited opportunities for women. Now, of course, there are numerous notable female private investigators. As popular female PI's written by female writers expanded the readership for PI stories This trend has subsided somewhat. Perhaps all the niches have been filled or the fad simply passed. Write the story you want to write rather than the category you think the publisher is trying to acquire.
PI's are almost always loners although family often estranged does sometimes intrude to complicate matters. Most PI's work out of a one-person office including the secretary, but some are part of a larger agency, or may supervise junior investigators. As outsiders, PI's are often sarcastic or sassy, free to poke fun at bureaucracies, social classes, and hypocrites of all kinds. Many times they serve as an impartial judge, jury, and at times executioner.
Private investigators in fiction often blur legal lines, especially when it comes to violence. The behavior of many fictional PI's would quickly land their real-life counterparts in prison, but fulfills the expectations of many readers. They often have a sidekick who can serve one of several purposes. The sidekick can act as a sounding board, comic relief, or agent. As an agent, the sidekick can do all the boring research jobs, so that the PI doesn't have to bring the reader along, or the sidekick can perform openly illegal activities without tarnishing the PI's image.
Most PIs work in a city since cities generate both enough crime and possible clients to keep a PI afloat financially. Within a city, however, PIs may find themselves walking down dark alleys or through highrise corporate headquarters. Depending on the job, a PI should be able to blend in anywhere the investigation leads Typically, the PI is thwarted by people unwilling to share information or lying to protect themselves. No one is obligated to talk to a private investigator who lacks the authority of a police officer
Writing a story about a PI can be both rewarding an arduous. The research a writer puts into the on-goings of a real Private Investigator will be both rewarding and supply your story with the vital realism your reader needs.
Excerpt of: Private Eye
The skid row street was dimly lit and silent except for the occasional haunting bellow of a foghorn coming from the direction of the East River and the tough South Brooklyn docks. That sound was enough to scare the bejeebers out of anyone. The cobbles were slick with the rain that had fallen earlier that evening and the image of the street lamp on the corner reflected on their surface like a yellow paint spill. Everything had a freshly scrubbed look, even the garbage looked clean. The atmosphere was pregnant with anticipation. In the alley, beside the Harbor Lights Cafe, a black cat scrambled clumsily on the slippery lids of garbage cans, and then fell off. He shook himself, looked around, then, tail between his legs, he slunk away disappearing in the mist which hung heavy in the night air. Rats scurried in every direction.
A solitary man stood leaning against a lamppost. He wore a light colored trench coat with the belt pulled tight, and the collar turned up against the chilling breeze. His hat was slouched low on his forehead, a cigarette dangled carelessly from his mouth. He had no intention of being a child's role model. His shirt was white and with it he wore a dark tie, dark trousers and dark socks. Before he had left his house, his mother had reminded him to put on clean underwear, just in case. When your job is fighting crime you have a God-given duty to look presentable. He leaned against a lamppost holding a newspaper as if reading; his veiled eyes darting about, watching, always watching. Ears were attuned for any unusual sound.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Artist's Impressions
The old painter sat before his unfinished canvas that rested on the easel. He sighed as he let his time worn eyes roam over the roughly sketched outlines. Four young people stood smiling in a semi-circle in the foreground. Behind them their shadows stretched towards a distant vanishing point, but instead of each ending in a fully defined shape the four silhouettes melted into two pairs and, at the horizon, two figures wreathed in blackness had risen from the shadows that made them, were leaning across the divide that separated them, hands clasped together shaking, as though concluding a deal.
The old artist’s hands neither trembled nor faltered as he picked up his brush and made long, sweeping strokes of black across the canvas before changing to much shorter, more controlled strokes to emphasise the characters in the painting.
For many hours he toiled, painting by the flickering light of an almost exhausted paraffin lamp. Never once did his resolve falter or did he put down his paintbrush until, at last, he dipped the tip into the well of black paint and painstakingly added the final accents to the two figures shaking hands in the background.
Sitting back the tapered end of the brush resting ponderously against his lip he gave a ragged sigh that echoed around his darkened studio.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Breaking The Bang
Macy sat in the coffee shop sipping her coffee and reading the newspaper. She always gave herself time to finish both before heading off to her Joe Shmoe work. She worked part time there and part time for S.H. Specially Hired. Sometimes she would read about one of the Specially Hired missions in the newspapers, but it was rare. S.H. was used when regular under cover officers were under staffed, compromised and other reasons. They were also hired to do the leg work on run off, of their own, and sometimes they came across a mission on their own time.
While Macy relaxed with her coffee she started on the cross word from her finished paper. She usually sat in the back around the corner out of view where it was quiet. She looked up from the cross word at the sound of a voice she knew well, that ordered coffee. She couldn’t see the person, but she knew it had to be Raul, the head man at S.H. The last time she’d seen him was several weeks ago, just after her last return from Peterborough. They’d wrapped up at S.H. that evening, and had their cover stories set from the bust of Gumbo. Gumbo no longer was the major gun supplier in Peterborough; he currently was awaiting trial there.
Macy watched, as Raul appeared, coffee in one hand, his briefcase in the other. Sliding the finished newspaper over to the empty table next to her she mused, “I didn’t know you drank a dark roast coffee with hits of espresso?” Raul set the cup down, and Macy asked, “Or is that for me?” Raul sat his briefcase on the floor and took a seat replying wearily, “Like you need the energy.” Macy shrugged, “Thought maybe I would need the extra boost to catch someone for you. Or perhaps Dennis is giving you a hard time, and you need me to straighten him out.” Raul opened the lid to his coffee replying, “Maybe I’ve been cleaning up for two weeks while gathering all the Intel for your assignment.” Macy watched him for a moment before asking, “Maybe that’s to give you the energy to deal with me.” Raul grinned, “You said it, I didn’t.”
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: Son of the Moon
The door opened to the Red Coyote bar, allowing entry to the cold autumn breeze. She stepped in, her smart blue business suit and tie drawing stares. She ignored them and continued inside, her open-toed high heels clicked and clacked on the wooden floor.
She sat at a table, far from where the other inhabitants were lurking. After a while, a woman in a tank-top walked over to her, smiling her canned smile, and asked the woman if she wanted something to drink. She smiled back her own canned smile and said she didn’t. The waitress' bothering her was understandable; that was her job. The man with over-oiled hair and stink of heavy aftershave that followed her visit was not.
“What’s your sign?” he asked with an irritating grin.
“Do not disturb,” replied the woman. As she looked up at him, she tossed her raven-black hair, exploded with curls down to her shoulders, almost as if flinging off of her an annoying flea. If only, she thought.
“Hey, come on, darlin’, don’t be like that…” began the man in the most irritating voice, as if to spite her further.
“Tell you what,” she said, suddenly lifting her watercress green eyes to meet his. She leaned in and smiled, whispering in a seductive voice. “Give me your hand, and I’ll show you my sign.” She put her purse on the table, drawing a red Sharpie from it. His eyes went from her purse, to her eyes, and back to the purse again.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: King of the City
Jake was not surprised when the blizzard caught the city off guard. Every weatherman on television and radio had been practically drooling about the possibility all week. “Highly unusual,” they had said. “Double deadly threat,” they warned. “Dangerous but not very likely,” they comforted. The most unlikely scenario had come true. All the unlikely little weather events they predicted would have to happen fell neatly into place until the worst snowstorm in the city’s recorded history hit them like a cold, ton of bricks and now everyone in town was acting surprised. Old Jake hadn’t been fooled, though. Jake did not need sophisticated radar or a bunch of multi-colored weather maps to tell him what was coming. A soviet built, North Korean thrown grenade put enough weather predicting shrapnel in Jake’s hip and knees that he knew at least two days before any “computer models” figured it out.”
Unlike his fellow citizens, Jake prepared for the event his body forecasted. It was sunny and 32 degrees at five o’clock in the afternoon, December 22nd. By midnight, the temperature had plummeted to zero, with a wind-chill factor of 20 below precipitated by 30 mph wind gusts. The sky opened up, and God was dropping snow at the rate of almost two inches per hour, the majority of which was not that white, fluffy, Christmas snow that everyone dreams about, either. There were thirty mile an hour ice bullets in that bitter wind and they stung.
Anyone who lives in a big city can tell you what a channel of skyscraper streets can do with snow. It funnels in down, like strip miners who use gravity to force water through smaller and narrower pipes until they can blast gold out of rock face, changing it’s velocity until it becomes downright dangerous.
~ ~ ~
Excerpt of: EYES OF DESTINY
Devlin tore down the street after his suspect. The man’s sneakers slapped the sidewalk, his arms and legs pistoned as he strained to outrun his pursuer He was dimly aware of lights flipping on inside houses. He raced past garbage cans that reeked like two-month-old leftovers. Streetlights buzzed overhead. His duty belt chafed at his hips, just another fun filled night in Echo Falls, British Columbia.
“You’re not getting away tonight, jerk. I’ve got a go to jail free card for you.”
The suspect cut across a yard and vanished.
“ Damn it.” Devlin paused in the shadow of a thick, cedar hedge. His eyes scanned his surroundings. His ears strained to catch one sound that would give away his quarry’s position. A deep, red glow stained the night behind him. Smoke and ash burned his lungs with every breath. He heard the enraged snarl of a dog off to his left, fifty yards ahead. Devlin broke into a run, vaulting a low chain link fence just as a dog’s broken yelp split the night. As a yard security light flipped on, Devlin spotted his target.
Without breaking stride, Devlin launched his 6.1 frame at the suspect. Their bodies collided. Devlin’s muscular body drove the smaller man to the ground. A fist caught his cheek, its ring bit deep into the flesh. The sharp, copper tang of fresh blood mingled with the acrid stench of fresh gasoline. Devlin drove his knee into the man’s stomach. A stench of rotten teeth assaulted his nose as the breath whooshed from the perp’s lungs. Devlin shifted his hold, applying pressure to the nerves in the man’s neck.
“On your stomach, now.” Devlin barked the order. “ Hands behind your back.
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