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If you are looking through the book aisles you might ask yourself why you should invest time and money to read the next Slyvane Defience book? The shelves are full of great detective fiction. Quite frankly, if you consider the great stuff, very little of it has been written recently. Indulge me, read on and I will prove my point.

The pantheon of literatures’ great detectives is full of prickly personalities and characters with flaws. Yet these less than noble qualities are what have endeared readers to them forever. The location also plays a large part in defining the detective hero. These make up the essence that has transcended time where less distinctive literary characters have been forgotten. They are just not as interesting. Or as much fun. It doesn’t hurt to have a great story either.

Sherlock Holmes was an eccentric genius with a cocaine habit and a personality that could border on dislikeable.

Nero Wolfe, an over-weight, sedentary gastronome and misogynist with a passion for growing orchids had a personality his own lieutenant, man-about-town Archie Goodwin, could barely stand.

Philip Marlowe was cynical to the point of never being able to have a relationship. What he did have was a complete disrespect for authority.

At least Sam Spade, although a womanizing mercenary, worked with the authorities, as did most of Hammett’s heroes. Hammett having been the real deal knew better.

Mike Hammer was always too angry, violent and bent on revenge to be anything more than a one-note character.

Spenser had a code of ethics that could have been boring had he not been so damn funny and had excellent supporting characters. The Spenser series enlivened and modernized the entire detective fiction genre.

The list can go on, but I merely centered a few of the most influential male detectives over the past 130 years. And I could add Lew Archer to the list, but he carried on where Marlowe left off in time period, location, literary adroitness and attitude. These are the guys who put themselves forth as private detectives by trade; there are plenty more figures who function in a similar capacity but are not detectives, i.e. Travis McGee, Simon Templar, James Bond, Rabbi David Small, Batman, etc.

Good detective heroes are a dime a dozen and I’m not discounting any of them by omitting them here. But the truly great ones are immortal. By this I mean more than ‘still in print’. They have a distinct point of view and bring us into their world.

Literature compels the great detective hero to be portrayed on a multi-layered canvas and a critical element to this is where he lives. (If he were a TV detective it would be his car). You can’t imagine Holmes without London, Wolfe without New York, Spade without San Francisco, Marlowe without L.A. or Spenser without Boston, etc. Readers expect, enjoy and look forward to the city, and sometimes his home, to play an important part. In a good series the city plays a more than just a supporting role fleshing out the story and adding the necessary element of realism. Their surroundings endear us to them, making them more than just characters following plot lines. You could walk the same streets. I cite Holmes’ London and 221-B Baker Street or Wolfe’s New York City Brownstone and his orchid room. Holmes knew every corner of London and consequently so does the reader. Archie Goodwin did the same in New York. If you go to London or New York today, even though times have changed, you still feel their presence and some of the actual locations remain. You can easily imagine what it was like when the stories were written. The same is true for Marlowe’s Los Angeles. It’s hard to picture that Los Angeles was ever a small town, but Chandler’s descriptions of the locations evoke imagery that is still very real. Spenser’s Boston is the most current and obviously the least changed.

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