Sample G19 from R. F. Shaw, "The 'Private Eye'" Mainstream, 14: 11 (November, 1961), 44-48 A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,003 words 29 (1.4%) quotesG19

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R. F. Shaw, "The 'Private Eye'" Mainstream, 14: 11 (November, 1961), 44-48

Typographical Errors: vioiln [0740] Whimsey [for Wimsey] [1060] descendents

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Today the private detective will also investigate insurance claims or handle divorce cases , but his primary function remains what it has always been , to assist those who have money in their unending struggle with those who have not . It is from this unpromising background that the fictional private detective was recruited .

The mythological private eye differs from his counterpart in real life in two essential ways . On the one hand , he does not work for a large agency , but is almost always self-employed . As a free-lance investigator , the fictional detective is responsible to no one but himself and his client . For this reason , he appears as an independent and self-reliant figure , whose rugged individualism need not be pressed into the mold of a 9 to 5 routine . On the other hand , the fictional detective does not break strikes or handle divorce cases ; ; no client would ever think of asking him to do such things . Whatever his original assignment , the fictional private eye ends up by investigating and solving a crime , usually a murder . Operating as a one man police force in fact if not in name , he is at once more independent and more dedicated than the police themselves . He catches criminals not merely because he is paid to do so ( frequently he does not receive a fee at all ) , but because he enjoys his work , because he firmly believes that murder must be punished . Thus the fictional detective is much more than a simple businessman . He is , first and foremost , a defender of public morals , a servant of society .

It is this curious blend of rugged individualism and public service which accounts for the great appeal of the mythological detective . By virtue of his self-reliance , his individualism and his freedom from external restraint , the private eye is a perfect embodiment of the middle class conception of liberty , which amounts to doing what you please and let the devil take the hindmost . At the same time , because the personal code of the detective coincides with the legal dictates of his society , because he likes to catch criminals , he is in middle class eyes a virtuous man . In this way , the private detective gets the best of two possible worlds . He is an individualist but not an anarchist ; ; he is a public servant but not a cop . In short , the fictional private eye is a specialized version of Adam Smith's ideal entrepreneur , the man whose private ambitions must always and everywhere promote the public welfare . In the mystery story , as in The Wealth of Nations , individualism and the social good are two sides of the same benevolent coin .

There is only one catch to this idyllic arrangement : Adam Smith was wrong . Not only did the ideal entrepreneur not produce the greatest good for the greatest number , he ended by destroying himself , by giving birth to monopoly capitalism . The rise of the giant corporations in Western Europe and the United States dates from the period 1880-1900 . Now , although the roots of the mystery story in serious literature go back as far as Balzac , Dickens , and Poe , it was not until the closing decades of the 19th century that the private detective became an established figure in popular fiction . Sherlock Holmes , the ancestor of all private eyes , was born during the 1890s . Thus the transformation of Adam Smith's ideal entrepreneur into a mythological detective coincides closely with the decline of the real entrepreneur in economic life . Driven from the marketplace by the course of history , our hero disguises himself as a private detective . The birth of the myth compensates for the death of the ideal .

Even on the fictional level , however , the contradictions which give rise to the mystery story are not fully resolved . The individualism and public service of the private detective both stem from his dedication to a personal code of conduct : he enforces the law without being told to do so . The private eye is therefore a moral man ; ; but his morality rests upon that of his society . The basic premise of all mystery stories is that the distinction between good and bad coincides with the distinction between legal and illegal . Unfortunately , this assumption does not always hold good . As capitalism in the 20th century has become increasingly dependent upon force and violence for its survival , the private detective is placed in a serious dilemma . If he is good , he may not be legal ; ; if he is legal , he may not be good . It is the gradual unfolding and deepening of this contradiction which creates the inner dialectic of the evolution of the mystery story .

With the advent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes , the development of the modern private detective begins . Sherlock Holmes is not merely an individualist ; ; he is very close to being a mental case . A brief list of the great detective's little idiosyncrasies would provide Dr. Freud with ample food for thought . Holmes is addicted to the use of cocaine and other refreshing stimulants ; ; he is prone to semi-catatonic trances induced by the playing of the vioiln ; ; he is a recluse , an incredible egotist , a confirmed misogynist . Holmes rebels against the social conventions of his day not on moral but rather on aesthetic grounds . His eccentricity begins as a defense against boredom . It was in order to avoid the stuffy routine of middle class life that Holmes became a detective in the first place . As he informs Watson , `` My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence . These little problems help me to do so '' . Holmes is a public servant , to be sure ; ; but the society which he serves bores him to tears .

The curious relationship between Holmes and Scotland Yard provides an important clue to the deeper significance of his eccentric behavior . Although he is perfectly willing to cooperate with Scotland Yard , Holmes has nothing but contempt for the intelligence and mentality of the police . They for their part are convinced that Holmes is too `` unorthodox '' and `` theoretical '' to make a good detective . Why do the police find Holmes `` unorthodox '' ? ? On the face of it , it is because he employs deductive techniques alien to official police routine . Another , more interesting explanation , is hinted at by Watson when he observes on several occasions that Holmes would have made a magnificent criminal . The great detective modestly agrees . Watson's insight is verified by the mysterious link between Holmes and his arch-opponent , Dr. Moriarty . The two men resemble each other closely in their cunning , their egotism , their relentlessness . The first series of Sherlock Holmes adventures ends with Holmes and Moriarty grappling together on the edge of a cliff . They are presumed to have plunged to a common grave in this fatal embrace . Linked to Holmes even in death , Moriarty represents the alter-ego of the great detective , the image of what our hero might have become were he not a public servant . Just as Holmes the eccentric stands behind Holmes the detective , so Holmes the potential criminal lurks behind both .

In the modern English `` whodunnit '' , this insinuation of latent criminality in the detective himself has almost entirely disappeared . Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Whimsey ( the respective creations of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers ) have retained Holmes' egotism but not his zest for life and eccentric habits . Poirot and his counterparts are perfectly respectable people ; ; it is true that they are also extremely dull . Their dedication to the status quo has been affirmed at the expense of the fascinating but dangerous individualism of a Sherlock Holmes . The latter's real descendents were unable to take root in England ; ; they fled from the Victorian parlor and made their way across the stormy Atlantic . In the American `` hardboiled '' detective story of the '20s and '30s , the spirit of the mad genius from Baker Street lives on .

Like Holmes , the American private eye rejects the social conventions of his time . But unlike Holmes , he feels his society to be not merely dull but also corrupt . Surrounded by crime and violence everywhere , the `` hardboiled '' private eye can retain his purity only through a life of self-imposed isolation . His alienation is far more acute than Holmes' ; ; he is not an eccentric but rather an outcast . With Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe , alienation is represented on a purely physical plane . Wolfe refuses to ever leave his own house , and spends most of his time drinking beer and playing with orchids . More profound and more disturbing , however , is the moral isolation of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe . In a society where everything is for sale , Marlowe is the only man who cannot be bought . His tough honesty condemns him to a solitary and difficult existence . Beaten , bruised and exhausted , he pursues the elusive killer through the demi-monde of high society and low morals , always alone , always despised . In the end , he gets his man , but no one seems to care ; ; virtue is its own and only reward . A similar tone of underlying futility and despair pervades the spy thrillers of Eric Ambler and dominates the most famous of all American mystery stories , Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon . Sam Spade joins forces with a band of adventurers in search of a priceless jeweled statue of a falcon ; ; but when the bird is found at last , it turns out to be a fake . Now the detective must save his own skin by informing on the girl he loves , who is also the real murderer . For Sam Spade , neither crime nor virtue pays ; ; moreover , it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two .

Because the private eye intends to save society in spite of himself , he invariably finds himself in trouble with the police . The latter are either too stupid to catch the killer or too corrupt to care . In either case , they do not appreciate the private detective's zeal . Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger , Nero Wolfe and Inspector Cramer spend more time fighting each other than they do in looking for the criminal . Frequently enough , the police are themselves in league with the killer ; ; Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest provides a classic example of this theme . But even when the police are honest , they do not trust the private eye . He is , like Phillip Marlowe , too alienated to be reliable . Finally , in The Maltese Falcon among others , the clash between detective and police is carried to its logical conclusion : Sam Spade becomes the chief murder suspect . In order to exonerate himself , he is compelled to find the real criminal , who happens to be his girl friend . What was only a vague suspicion in the case of Sherlock Holmes now appears as a direct accusation : the private eye is in danger of turning into his opposite .

It is the growing contradiction between individualism and public service in the mystery story which creates this fatal dilemma . By upholding his own personal code of behavior , the private detective has placed himself in opposition to a society whose fabric is permeated with crime and corruption . That society responds by condemning the private eye as a threat to the status quo , a potential criminal . If the detective insists upon retaining his personal standards , he must now do so in conscious defiance of his society . He must , in short , cease to be a detective and become a rebel . On the other hand , if he wishes to continue in his chosen profession , he must abandon his own code and sacrifice his precious individualism . Dashiell Hammett resolved this contradiction by ceasing to write mystery stories and turning to other pursuits . His successors have adopted the opposite alternative . In order to save the mystery story , they have converted the private detective into an organization man .

The first of two possible variations on this theme is symbolized by Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer . At first glance , this hero seems to be more rather than less of an individualist than any of his predecessors . For Hammer , nothing is forbidden . He kills when he pleases , takes his women where he finds them and always acts as judge , jury and executioner rolled into one .