Russel D. McLean talks about what drew him to the private investigator genre, and lists 10 of his favourite novels in the genre:
One of the reasons I chose to write a series of novels about a PI was that when I came to crime fiction, Private Investigators were among the first archetypes of the genre I was exposed to. I devoured books by Lawrence Block before discovering the likes of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. To this day, if a book features a PI, I can't resist taking a look. So here are ten PI books that have either influenced my own writing or that I've just flat out loved. They're numbered from one to ten, but frankly, I can't pick just one favourite - they're all absolutely brilliant books.
1) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - the original and best, really, when it comes to the modern crime novel. Chandler took what Hammett had been doing and refined it, giving us fiction with heart and soul. The plot falls apart if you look at it too closely, but you don't read Chandler for the plot: you read him for the dialogue, the atmosphere and the character.
2) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett - Sam Spade is a brilliant creation. He's not exactly sympathetic but he's endlessly intriguing. The air of realism that resounds through this classic novel comes from Hammett's own experiences as a Pinkerton agent. The prose crackles, the plot sings, and it has the single best way of avoiding a swear word I've ever read in a novel.
3) Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block - Block's about to get a big screen boost from the adaptation of another Matthew Scudder novel, A Walk Among The Tombstones, but for me, this is the definitive Scudder novel (which was also turned into a movie that most people try to forget about) where the PI finally comes to terms with his alcoholism. It's dark, dangerous and absolutely brilliant. The ending is a killer.
4) The Guards by Ken Bruen - The first Jack Taylor novel is an absolute stunner. Bruen's poetic, staccato prose and willingness to break every rule he can think of means that you'll never read another novel quite like it. On top of that, Jack is a complex, terrifying and brilliant creation. Once you read this one, you'll immediately order every other Bruen you can find.
5) Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman - The Moe Prager series ended last year with The Hollow Girl, but to truly appreciate the series you need to go back to its beginning with this haunting first investigation for ex-cop turned wine merchant and PI Moe Prager. Coleman's evocative rendition of Brooklyn is a highlight, but his insight into the psychology of his protagonist is breathtaking.
6) Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosely - The perfect crime novel is never simply about "whodunnit" or "whydunnit" or any of the usual questions that one might think to apply to the genre. Rather it uses the crime as the hook to explore other themes and places and ideas. And Mosely uses that aspect of the crime novel beautifully in the first of his Easy Rawlins novels, which explores the social and ethical extremes of its 1950s setting with a rare passion and lyrical sensitivity. A true modern classic.
7) The Killing Kind by John Connolly - Many detectives are haunted, but Charlie Parker quite literally carries his ghosts with him. This unique series from John Connolly was quite coy in earlier installments about the nature of the evils Parker encountered, but here, in this third novel, the mysterious Mr Pud is about the most weirdly evil being you will ever encounter and no doubt his little pets will give you nightmares for a long time to come.
8) The Goodbye Look by Ross MacDonald - You could pick any book by Ross MacDonald and know you have a classic on your hands, but I chose this one because it was the first book of his I remember reading (I have multiple editions). Lost family heirlooms, a wealthy family with dark secrets, and Lew Archer trying to discover the truth behind the lies everyone keeps telling him. MacDonald built on the foundations laid by Hammett and Chandler, bringing the eye into the modern age.
9) Dead Man's Walk by Richard S. Prather - Prather's Shell Scott series has now been largely - and foolishly - forgotten by many, but they remain some of the most plainly fun slices of pulp ever written. White haired and bushy-eyebrowed, Scott is cool, dangerous and irresistible to women. In this instalment, Scott gets wound up with a voodoo cult on an exotic island, and the lavish overindulgence of this entertaining 1960s 'tec novel makes Bond's excursion into voodoo, Live and Let Die, look positively restrained in comparison.
10) A Firing Offence by George Pelecanos - Pelecanos' first novel still stands up as a brilliant PI novel, wherein Nick Stefanos takes on his first case at the behest of an old man, and winds up in the darker side of DC. A stone cold modern classic.
Russel's latest J. McNee PI novel, Cry Uncle, is published November 2014 in the UK.