Trouble is their business: the ‘private eye’ and the writers who created them

December 21, 2017 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: Private eye, writers, writing.

The opening scene of Raymond Chandler’s story Trouble is My Business tells you a lot in a very few words about Chandler’s “private eye,” Phillip Marlowe.

Marlow is talking to a woman who runs a detective agency, a big one with several agents. But none of her people is suitable for the job she has. She wants to hire Marlow for this one case. During their edgy conversation, she says something about a previous case of Marlowe’s, and he takes umbrage.

I started to get up out of my chair, then remembered that business had been bad for a month and that I needed the money.

I sat down again.

“You might get into trouble, of course,” Anna said. “I never heard of Marty bumping anybody off at high noon in the public square, but he don’t pay with cigar coupons.”

“Trouble is my business,” I said. “Twenty-five a day and guarantee of two-fifty, if I pull the job.”

“I gotta make a little something for myself,” Anna whined.

“O.K. There’s plenty of coolie labor around town. Nice to have seen you looking so well. So long, Anna.”

I stood up this time. My life isn’t worth much, but it’s worth that much. . . . (quoted material)


The Private Eye (watercolor by Jim Stovall)

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James Cain are credited with creating one of modern fiction’s most enduring character, the private detective, a.k.a. the “private eye.”

Just who is the private detective of this “hard-boiled” fiction genre?

— He’s male and middle-aged and has a history.

— He’s alone. Whatever wife or family he’s had are long gone, a distant memory, maybe part of the history.

— He drinks, but not to excess.

— He’s cynical, and one thing he’s good at is spotting people’s real motives. In his experience, people are rarely truthful about what they want or how they feel.

— He likes women, particularly good-looking dames, but he keeps his distance, if not physically then emotionally.

— You can count on him to do what he says he’s going to do — usually.

— He lives by a code. His ethics may not conform exactly with yours or mine, but they’re there, and they govern his behavior.

In the years since Phillip Marlowe (Chandler) and Sam Spade (Hammett) came onto the scene, there have been many versions of this character. Sometimes they’re not male. Sometimes they’re not private detectives. Sometimes they are happily or unhappily married. The iterations go on and on.

But one thing stays the same:

Trouble is their business.

Next: It began with Dashiell Hammett.

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2 comments on “Trouble is their business: the ‘private eye’ and the writers who created them

  1. Jim, thanks for all the writing you do and are doing. You authors are a ‘Special breed’.
    There is not a particular book that I can say I enjoyed more than others. Some I didn’t like at all, mostly
    because I purchased or received the wrong genre.
    Right now I have too many books to read, but am hoping to get the ones I have finished, Before I get any more.

    Thanks again

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