Susanna Lee’s Detectives in the Shadows examines the topic, trajectory, and transcendence of the “private eye” in crime fiction from its origins through to the present day. While it is a scholarly work from an academic press, the writing here is clear and concise, as equally enjoyable for the casual fan as it is for the veteran aficionados and experts steeped in the storied history of the genre.
Sub-titled “A Hard-Boiled History,” Susanna Lee’s retrospective roughly covers a century (1920-2020.) She touches on all the major legendary figures, both the detectives and their creators. Her chapter titles refer to stereotypes associated with these characters: A Moral Compass, A Lone Wolf, etc. which is a clever way to present her ideas – even when those ideas sometimes intentionally circumnavigate the true meanings of those labels.
While much of the content focuses on the literary origins of the PI, Susanna Lee is well-versed in the cinematic portrayals as well. As she brings her history into the modern era, she smartly begins to use television depictions of these heroic – and anti-heroic – icons, so topics like HBO’s True Detective and the Netflix’s Jessica Jones adaptation are covered. This also allows for the book to discuss how the private detective has changed over the years, adapting to the needs and desires of the public.
One wishes that author would have explored more of the diversity of the private detective field, especially in the current climate, but perhaps that is better left to a follow-up volume. Regardless, Susanna Lee highlights the importance of this iconic justice warrior to the American landscape and gives readers perfect touchstones with which to solidify their knowledge of PI history and is a fine jumping off point for those wanting to explore further. While this author has a clear love for the tropes associated with this corner of the crime fiction genre, she is also acutely aware of the inherent risks of making this a complete love-letter. Susanna Lee shows how the evolution of this brand of stock character has transformed them into more authentic and vulnerable – more real – representations, something that modern readers/viewers demand even in their escapist pursuits.
BUY LINKS: Detectives in the Shadows by Susanna Lee
TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2020 (6PM): For those interesting in hearing more about this book, there will be a informative discussion with the author and some of the most well-versed experts on the evolution of the modern detective. The panel discussion will be lead by Kevin Burton Smith and features Susanna Lee, Ace Atkins, Max Allen Collins, and Alex Segura. You can find out more about that on The Thrilling Detective blog. You can also find this event directly by following this Zoom Link at the scheduled time.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am an employee of the publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press, although I work in a completely different department. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the book.