Sunday, August 25, 2013
The Gypsy Ring, by James L. Ross
As I recall, Donald E. Westlake said that the essence of the private eye story can be found in the etymology of the phrase hardboiled dick. "Hardboiled," meaning a tough person to deal with, comes from the American army during World War I. "Dick," meaning detective, comes from Quebecois rumrunners during Prohibition. So the private eye story begins where the newly cynical veterans of the Great War met organized crime spawned by Prohibition.
Meaning, among other things, that the P.I. story dates from an era long past. So is it too dated to be of interest anymore? Let's see what James. L. Ross manages to do with it.
The story has a very traditional beginning. A woman's ring has been stolen. She wants it back but more importantly, she wants to know if her boyfriend is the thief.
How many motifs of the P.I. story show up om those two sentences? The female client. A hidden agenda behind a seemingly simple assignment.
But this is clearly a very modern story. For one thing the client quite casually explains that the boyfriend is the guy she sees when her fiance is out of town. And she works for a Wall Street firm that specializes in computerized trades based on miniscule momentary gaps between values of stocks. Finally, the nameless P.I. hero is also dealing with "my wife's boyfriend."
Not something Sam Spade had to worry about.
Of course, the ring just turns out to be the tip of the iceberg. There are murders, and theft, and corruption; areas where Mr. Spade would feel quite at home.
The P.I. story seems to be adjusting just fine.