by Libby Hellmann
The following is part of a conversation for the PWA (Private Eye Writers of America) newsletter between author Kent Krueger and me. You can read the whole thing in a month or so in the next PWA newsletter, but I thought you might like a sneak preview.. as well as a chance to join the conversation.
William Kent Krueger, as many of you know, is a fabulous author and story-teller. He has 9 or 10 books out, all but one featuring Cork O’Connor, who is sometimes a PI and sometimes a police officer in the fictional Minnesota town of Aurora. Kent has won the Anthony Award (as well as a bunch of others, such as the Minnesota Book Award) probably more than anyone I know, and when you read his books, you’ll understand why. Visit him at his website.
Q: Why did you start writing PI crime fiction?
Kent: I started out by having Cork step back from law enforcement, then becoming involved in law enforcement again, and then stepping back once more, mostly to maintain credibility in the things that drive our plots. The “PI” was a convenient way to do that, rather than the “accidental” sleuth.
Libby: “Accidental”, not “amateur”?
Libby: My transition to PI was for much the same reason. My protagonist, Ellie Foreman was an amateur sleuth, and I kept wondering how many more times she could come up against dead bodies without stretching credibility. After the fourth book, when I was scraping the ceiling for a rationale, I realized something had to change. Happily, Georgia Davis had already been introduced, and I knew I wanted to explore her further. So she, rather conveniently, became a PI.
Q: How familiar were you with the “PI” tradition, and how did that influence your decision to make your protagonist a PI?
Kent: My first entrée into the genre was Philip Marlowe. My next reading jag was Robert Parker and Spenser, so I pretty much knew what the subgenre was about. But I didn’t want to do a traditional noir PI type of book, because that wasn’t the character of the series. When Cork became a PI, he was a different sort of PI.
Q: How was he different?
Kent: He has a family for one thing, so he’s not a loner. He also has a significant network of friends and people that he’s known his own life in this small town. That’s another thing that’s different: Cork operates in a small town. He’s a guy who has fairly middle-class values: he’s Catholic, he practices his religion, he’s a father, and who knows -- he might even be a member of the Lions Club one day.
Q: Sounds like you’re describing Kent Krueger.
Kent: I’m not a member of the Lions Club. What about Georgia?
Libby: She’s more the classic noir PI, but a female version. I read Chandler and Parker, but it was Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton, as well as the “second generation” of PI writers like SJ Rozan and Laura Lippman who influenced me. Georgia’s more of a loner. She’s got baggage, which I’m still discovering. And she’s not afraid to put herself out there, regardless of the danger. She’s still honing her skills, though, and that means she makes mistakes, some more serious than others.
Q: Why did you become a member of PWA?
Kent: The truth is I got tired of watching all these PWA members sneak off at Bouchercon for their secret dinner, and I wanted to know what that was all about.
Libby: I even learned the secret handshake.
Now, it's your turn...
Why do you like PI crime fiction?
Describe the perfect -- or your favorite -- PI.
What would you like to see in PI crime fiction that hasn’t yet been done?
Happy Holidays, everyone.