The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
August 6, 2022
A gumshoe, a sleuthhound, a hawkshaw, a snoop are all nicknames for a private eye, an investigator usually hired by someone needing confidential information. What is a gumshoe? It originally was a name for a sneaky thief. It referred to the quiet rubber soled shoes a thief would wear so his steps were not heard as he snuck around in the dark. Later it became a name used for certain private investigators who moved as quietly as a thief while gathering information for clients.
Sherlock Holmes is the best known P.I. Sir Arthur Doyle created Sherlock, perhaps in his own image, as a man who excelled in observation and deduction, using forensic science with a huge mix of logical reasoning that appeared impossible or incomprehensible, as if magic. I lean toward logical deduction myself, and that Holmes used the skill extremely well. “A Study in Scarlet” began the Sherlock journey in 1887 and ended in 1927 with the last, “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” Dr. Watson was the partner and narrator in the serial stories published for 30 years. Sherlock became so popular and Sir Doyle so good at weaving a tale, people to this day believe the character real rather than fictional.
Robert Galbraith has recreated a new private investigator in a series of books starting with “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” A very war torn, one legged Strike Cormoran opens up an office for investigation and hires a pretty red haired girl, Robin, who desperately needs a job. She has no idea she will end up not only loving investigating but also be extremely drawn toward her boss. Of course a relationship triangle makes for a lot of drama as Robin marries another man, divorces and continues working with Strike. The cases they solve are gritty and sometimes visually violent. The 6th book of the series, “The Ink Black Heart,” comes out on Aug. 30. There is time to get through the first books beforehand if interested.
My favorite detective stories are molded around the mid 19th and early 20th century America, where the detective has a grungy office in some cheap building, calls women dames and their legs gams, and oftentimes wears a trench coat and a fedora hat. In the 1850s, Alan Pinkerton opened up his detective agency, hired the first woman detective, gave the nation a prototype of private investigators and the Pinkerton Detective Agency became the forerunner of the Secret Service. By the 20th century Poirot, Spillane, Spade, Marlowe and multiple others were written into fictional history.
I sort of miss the grungy cheap part of investigators, but I recently found a new series by Vince Milam with investigator Case Lee at the helm. I read the 10th in the series, “The Sawtooth Job” first and now will go back to read the rest. I found that Case, and his friends who assist him, are actually gentlemen trying to stay above board morally. It has a cadence in the writing that reminds me of the old time gumshoes who had dames with gams. The choppy like voice, brief and distinctive, leaves the reader skidding on that terse P.I. edge. As an example: “It was dark. Dark as a mutilated soul that doesn’t know it’s dead.” The words pull no punches!
In “Sawtooth” there are two elder married scientists that have disappeared. Case can’t tell who has privately hired him, but quickly realizes he is not alone on the chase to find them. All the alphabet spooks appear to be involved, from the CIA and FBI, to Britain’s MI6 and China’s MSS. It’s a big deal. Traveling, the chase leads the group through half the west and down to South America. Bodies pile up, but without horrifying description and usually covered with a white sheet when possible. There is no glorifying death, but rather it becomes a regretful action in reaching the target, at least by Case and his guys.
There is a lot of information on how this private investigator has to move through the bureaucracy of many agencies both national and abroad. Yes, it is not a pretty picture and too many of those involved turn a blind eye to actions absolved by, “the end justifies the means.” But not Case and his crew of aging hawkshaws. They have been hewn by time, experience and wisdom. They have a healthy desire for survival and an honorable intent to do good. They willingly fight for a moral cause and back down to no one tempting their integrity. Pure gold, cut out of a past that seemed quite uncouth, yet still holds up in our 21st century. Who knew such gumshoes could be so important in keeping the fabric of our dark corners in line? Fictional or real? I really hope for real. We can use some stealth heroes.
Good books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.