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The Great Detectives: Private Eyes and Police Detectives

Characters who want justice served

the great detectives cops

When people think of a mystery novel, what most often comes to mind is a tough-talking private eye or police detective. Characters in these roles are naturally ready to investigate cases, maintain peace, and crack down on criminals. Today, we would like to focus on these quintessential heroes of the mystery genre: private investigators, cops and detectives.

Although their responsibilities are similar, no two sleuths follow the same procedures. Some travel, while others dig into every corner of their hometowns. They might specialize in drugs, gangs, or hate crimes. But all of these characters want justice served—even when his or her definition of justice doesn’t exactly follow the letter of the law.

Jerome Charyn’s Isaac Sidel is New York City’s favorite noir antihero. Known for his affinity to fight crime at the street level and never surrender his Glock, Sidel was the police commissioner, beginning in Blue Eyes, mayor of New York City, and most recently, takes a shot at the White House in Under the Eye of God. From the Bronx, Sidel straddles the line between good and bad–his success is measured by the people he kills, but he only kills bad people. He is tough, fiercely independent, and wild.

hard apple isaac sidel

Private investigators answer only to their clients, and then only up to a point. Jeremiah Healy’s John Cuddy PI is a classic example. Based in Boston, he is tough, street-smart, and honorable, and his cases take him all over the city. Cuddy first appeared in Blunt Darts, where he begins his practice after bottoming out when his wife dies. Can he rebuild his own life while unraveling his clients’ mysteries?

William Campbell Gault is one of the last PI writers to have written for the classic pulp magazines. His compassionate private eye is Brock “The Rock” Callahan, a Southern California football player turned detective. His toughness only goes so far, however; Brock was one of the first PIs to have a steady girlfriend. Try Come Die With Me, one of the first novels, which deals with a murdered jockey and his suspiciously rich girlfriend.

Thomas H. Cook’s troubled private eye, Frank Clemons, has seen it all. With his own young daughter already dead and buried, Clemons is jaded but still a great investigator. Introduced in the mystery Sacrificial Ground, Clemons will do anything it takes to avenge the dead, even when he spirals into obsession. Dark, intense, and fiercely honorable, Clemons eventually teams up with a wisecracking sidekick who helps lighten the mood.

Gary Philips dove into the dark side of sunny Los Angeles with private investigator Ivan Monk, starting with Violent Spring, set in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots. Monk’s cases are complicated by racism, political corruption, and greed—but in a sweet touch, he also owns a local doughnut shop. For another California PI, meet Gar Anthony Haywood’s Aaron Gunner (introduced in Fear of the Dark). He also grapples with savage prejudice in L.A.’s criminal underworld.

abe lincoln and allan pinkerton

In Florida, there’s plenty of work for private detectives. Criminals hide out in swamps, boats conceal drugs from South America, and people go a little crazy in the heat. After John Lutz’s cop Fred Carver gets a bullet through his knee, he’s forced into early retirement. But not knowing how to quit, he opens his own PI business. (His series begins with Tropical Heat.) James W. Hall’s orphaned sleuth, Thorn, lives in the Keys and is still haunted by his violent past. When his adoptive mother is murdered and the cops don’t act quickly, he must use his darker instincts to track down the killers (Under Cover of Daylight). Meanwhile, Jonathan King’s ex-cop Max Freeman moved to the Florida Everglades to escape. After mistakenly killing a twelve-year-old in a shootout, he just wants to be alone with his bitter regret. In the first novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight, murdered children are found in the surrounding swamps, and all eyes turn to Freeman. With his past catching up to his present, he realizes he must stop the serial killer himself.

With full-time experts like these—even the detectives with fascinating flaws—criminals have met their match. Celebrate these determined souls and download a new detective novel today. Can you crack the case first? Good luck!

Image 1: From the upcoming animated series Hard Apple, based on Jerome Charyn’s Isaac Sidel series. 

Image 2: Allan Pinkerton, President Abraham Lincoln, and Major General John A. McClernand in 1862. Pinkerton was the head of Union Intelligence Services, and started the first American private detective industry, called Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

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