Gumshoe

Gumshoe
Harry Barton Vintage Pulp Art Illustration
" … when Amazon options it for the limited series."

As an enthusiastic consumer of Detective Fiction, I fear for the future of this genre. I've not yet encountered a character in any Gumshoe novel who wears a face mask other than to bump off a liquor store, and those masks don't seem right for blunting any plague. None of the heroes seem the sort to slip unnoticed into a cocktail bar while wearing a mask, and cocktail bars have been closed for months, anyway. Where do nefarious schemes get hatched in pandemic times? I'm trying to imagine C. J. Box's Joe Pickett or James Lee Burke's Clete Purcell operating in a post-pandemic world or Longmire issuing citations for violating mask mandates. Masks might inhibit identification of the Gumshoe's prey, though I notice that John Sandford's latest thriller came out under the timely title of Masked Prey, though there were no masks prominently displayed in any part of that story.

Few advertisements, even now, six months into this pandemic, feature mask-wearing characters.
Their products and services seem well behind the times, intended for people nobody can relate to now. Dancing store clerks always were difficult to swallow, but unmasked dancing store clerks cross the line into the absolutely unbelievable. In advertisements, people still huddle, conferring, and confide, leaning into each other. If anyone wonders why we're struggling to get the virus to subside, look no further than to our role models, those especially chosen as attractive examples of who we should want to emulate. That lady selling insurance looks awfully at risk without a mask. So does that stupid Emu.

We need better role models, ones who demonstrate how we might thrive through this time, not irrelevant throwbacks to yesterday. If Johnny Dollar (The Man With The Action-packed Expense Account) was still an insurance investigator today, he'd still chase every "babe," though there'd have to be a seductive unmasking scene somewhere in-between the commission of the crime and the eventual arrest. Introductions could get complicated. Investigations, almost impossible to undertake with everyone paranoid and sequestered at home. There'd be fewer opportunities for any half-decent sleuth to slip into any temporarily unoccupied apartment to creep the joint if the inhabitants never went out and ordered every meal brought in from the Chinese joint around the corner. Crime itself seems likely to fall out of fashion with jewelry stores closed for the duration as nonessential businesses and banks gone all online and everything. No drowning sorrows in the back of any run down bar, either. What's a self respecting Gumshoe to do?

Maybe we need a new generation of detectives, characters like Jasmine Foxworth, Contact Tracer, an otherwise out of work single mom who tracks down serial super spreaders while staying a hot half step ahead of bill collectors and proctoring three kids who are trying to remotely attend grammar school from home. Or an otherwise innocuous postal clerk who undermines a nefarious plot by a criminal conspiracy to steal an election. Short on traditional action, I suppose, but still featuring genuine if unsuspected American heroes. Maybe a series of novels featuring an online-connected cabal of kids who serially outsmart unbadged out-sourced Homeland Insecurity and ICE agents, leaving them looking like fools. Or an unremarkable infectious disease expert who foils a plot to Make America Stupid Again and becomes the folk hero for our times, little gun play and seriously short on the femme fatales, but long on moral imperative.

Tastes change. Mickey Spillane seems simply sexist now. Our modern Gumshoes seem somehow more circumspect, educated, and woke. Sure, each seems somewhat of a throwback to simpler times when a .45 and a convertible ride might contribute to solving a crime, but many now exhibit stabile personal relationships and even healthy family lives. Joe Pickett might end up getting himself shot by the end of every one of his adventures, but he awakens in the ICU with a long-devoted wife and three daughters chewing him a new one for his risky behavior. Few Gumshoes even smoke anymore. Several swallow nothing more toxic than Spirulina smoothies, something no self-respecting Sam Spade would ever consent to doing.

Our role models subtly and deeply influence us. They serve as guides into our better selves. They invite us to reach out and swat down the evils surrounding us and to not live as if this life were simply a spectator sport. We need not get licensed for concealed carry to carry on this tradition, or even engage in another oh-so-predictable high speed chase, since we're using public transit. I suspect that each of us invoke our inner Bosch from time to time, noticing crime and not just letting it slide. I'm likely to stoop down to pick up a piece of litter and deposit it into a proper receptacle, doing my bit to contribute to public health. I'm uncertain how I might work that little compulsion into a series of high drama crime novels, but my lead character will definitely be wearing a face mask and mostly staying at home. I'll have to let you know when this series comes out. I'm thinking Tom Selleck as the lead when Amazon options it for the limited series.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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