Sam Spade worked out of San Francisco. Marlowe was based in LA. Spenser operated in Boston. Mike Hammer and many other fictional private eyes went about their business in the nation’s largest metropolis, New York. It wasn’t until Albert Samson came along that Indianapolis had a gumshoe of its own. In fact, many credit Samson’s creator, long acclaimed novelist Michael Z. Lewin, as a pioneer in a movement that gave “regional private eyes” a national presence.
With no small amount of self-interest, I’m proposing that Indianpolitans who like detective novels explore the fictional sleuths who made their city home. In addition to the story telling in a place that might be especially familiar to the reader, there is a bit of the city’s history embedded in each book. While there are other writers who have set mysteries and thrillers in the Circle City, I believe there are only three of us who have created a series private eye protagonist in this setting.
Recent Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus award winner Lewin’s first Samson novel, Ask the Right Question, was published in 1971. I found my paperback copy of The Way We Die Now the other day as I went through a stack of books in a vain attempt to dematerialize. The book was first released in 1973. So, I’m able to visit my hometown in a way that my faulty memory won’t allow and see vividly, in some cases, the places Samson visits. One senses that Samson is the kind of P.I. who actually exists. The stories and the characters are believable. There are eight novels in this highly acclaimed series, the most recent Eye Opener, which has been made available in e-book format. Many of his earlier Samson novels are no doubt available at your local mystery bookstore and a few are, fortunately, becoming available in electronic formats. There is a great article on Samson on the Thrilling Detective web site, which also points out that Lewin has written other, standalone novels and has two other series. But the Samson novels are an especially great idea for a holiday gift for the reader in your family, especially if he or she has a special affection for the city. To find out more about the author and all of his work, click here and here.
“Michael Lewin has just about the best private detective who has been around in many a day…Lewin has brains and style.” — Los Angeles Times
Ronald Tierney’s Deets Shanahans series
My first P.I. novel, Stone Veil was published in 1990. The book introduced a blue-collar, semi-retired, former Army intelligence sergeant turned P.I. After settling down in Indianapolis, Deets Shanahan meets the love of his life in a massage parlor and the two of them appear, along with a regular cast of characters, in ten novels so far, with the most recent being Bullet Beach in 2011, when in a time-defying fashion he finally turned 70. He is not so much tough as he is stubborn. To get a look at the city in the ‘90s, take a look at the early Shanahans, which have been reissued as trade paperbacks and ebooks. Restaurants, neighborhoods, bars, some of which may be gone now, remain in spirit as ink on a page or light shining up from a screen. A few are out of print, but many are still available. You might find, for example, Nickel-Plated Soul and Asphalt Moon in the backroom of your favorite bookstore. All the early Shanahans are available as e-books and in trade paperback. And your local bookstore can order the latest, Bullet Beach.
"A series packed with new angles and delights." — Booklist
David Levien’s Frank Behr series
The new guy in the city arrived with a bang as well as lots of blood. Frank Behr is a super tough ex-cop, with a tragic past, who takes on the toughest of the tough on the darkest of the streets of Indianapolis. Levien, a screenwriter with plenty of credentials, has four books so far in the Behr series, City of the Sun, Where the Dead Lay, The Contract, and The 13 Million Dollar Pop. His books, which I think feature a kind of super-big, super-hero protagonist similar to the Jack Reacher model have received a number of award nominations and sell a lot of copies.
“Levien is the new must-read thriller writer. — Lee Child
Because we’re entering the last gasps of holiday shopping and there are many desperate folks seeking a quick solution. How about a sampling of novels featuring fictional Indianapolis private eyes? Pick one or two from each author.