Monday, September 9, 2019
The Dead Man in the Pearl Gray Hat,by Bruce W. Most
Lillian de la Torre was the pioneer, as far as I know. In the 1940s she started writing stories about "Samuel Johnson, detector." This was the earliest example I am aware of of mystery writers using real people as their protagonists. Nowadays you can find everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Barack Obama starring in crime novels.
In this case the main character is Weegee the Famous, who was indeed a famous photographer, specializing in street scenes of New York City.
Unlike de la Torre's Johnson, Weegee is not shown as a detective here. His connection to crime is photographing it, and in the era of Murder, Inc., there is plenty of death to document. In fact, that is the problem he faces in the story. Jaded reader are getting tired of his photos of countless thugs and gangsters shot to death. Editors have stopped buying? What to do?
Weegee finds a solution. It is perfectly legal, and as near as I can surmise, it doesn't even violate journalistic canons (unlike his habit of rearranging props at the murder scene to make a more interesting shot). But boy, it does seem unethical in the extreme.
I have no idea whether Most is describing something that actually happened to Weegee or making it up. But it's an interesting story that makes you think.