What? You thought I made this all up, or downloaded it all from Wikipedia? Nope. Here are the books that inspired me to create this site, and the books I’ve used to cobble it together over the years, as well as the ones I’ve discovered along the way. If you like this site, you may find some of these as fascinating as I do. The ones on this page are general reference books, covering the whole spectrum of the mystery genre. Other pages list more specialized books.
| General Reference | History, Theory, Criticism & Other Agendas | The Pulps & Short Fiction |
| Television | Film | Radio | Comics | The Writing Life | Diversions | Real Life Eyes | True Crime |
| True Detectives | The Paper Chase |
(Non-fiction by Real Life Eyes)
Hey! Nobody said it would be easy. But if you’re going to write a P.I. novel, you could do worse than read these. Basing your P.I. on other folks’ fictionalized eyes is asking for trouble. Get it straight from the various horses’ mouths. In fact, some of these books are every bit as entertaining and moving as their fictional counterparts, and even the most gassy, self-promotional, horn-tooting, ego-feeding tomes here — and there are more than a few — have some really good stuff in ’em.
Listed, by author..
- Armes, J. J., and Frederick Nolan,
Jay J. Armes, Investigator: The World’s Most Successful Private Eye | Buy this book
New York: Macmillan,1976.
Autobiography of the amazing Texas P.I., Jay J. Armes, who’s still going strong, last I heard. Take with more than a few grains of salt.
- Blye, Irwin, and Ardy Friedberg,
Secrets of a Private Eye: How To Be Your Own Private Investigator | Buy this book
New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987.
How-to guide and advice, mixed in with anecdotes about New York eye, Blye, whose biography Blye, Private Eye (see below) was a seminal book in this genre.
- Brown, Steven Kerry,
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Alpha Books, 2002.
Third edition, 2013.
Written by Steve Brown, a private investigator, and endorsed by peers such as Edmund J. Panka, who wrote the forward, and John Grogan, self-proclaimed “P.I. to the stars,” who promises “I will be recommending this book to all my students… (it’s) a well-prepared text for all, from beginners through veteran PIs.”
- Burke, James, and Arnold Manweiler
Confessions of a Private Dick: If It Weren’t For the Sex…I’d Have To Get a Job
Toronto: NC Press, 1984.
Raunchy, irreverent, crude and rude. Winnipeg, Manitoba private eye Burke takes an anecdotal approach to his life. A refreshing change from the serious tone of some of the other books on this page. Extremely hard to find nowadays…
- Chapman, Duane,
You Can Run But You Can’t Hide | Buy this book | Kindle it!
New York: Hyperion, 2007.
TV’s bounty hunting “Dog” barks up a storm. Humility is not a problem. Still, if you can get past the constant horn-tooting, this real-life cartoon offers some fascinating — if self-serving — insights into the job. And there’s no denying that that “the most famous bounty hunter in the world”) has had one hell of a ride. Just ask him.
- Collins, Colleen,
How Do Private Eyes Do That? | Kindle it!
WIN, Inc., 2011
2nd edition, 2016
A great collection of articles and columns from a working P.I. Perfect for aspiring Hammetts and Chandlers who want to get it right.
- Collins, Colleen, & Shaun Kaufman,
How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths | Kindle it!
WIN, Inc., 2011
- Fallis, Greg, and Ruth Greenberg, ed.
Be Your Own Detective | Buy this book
New York: M. Evans and Company, 1989; revised second edition1998.
Interesting, practical, enlightening guidebook. It’s recently been updated and expanded. Co-author Fallis also writes private eye short fiction, occasionally featuring series sleuth Joop Wheeler.
- Gray, Amy,
Spygirl: True Adventures from My Life as a Private Eye | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Gray was a twenty-something grunt toiling away in the New York publishing world, when she chucked it all and went to work for a Manhattan detective agency for three years. She nails the dreariness of modern day private investigation, while offering a you-are-there take on being a young, hip New Yorker cut loose, resulting in an entertaining mix of Sex in the City chick lit sauciness, TMI confessions, riot grrl spunk and Raymond Chandler snark.
- Greene, Marilyn, and Gary Provost
Finder: The True Story of a Private Investigator | Buy this book | Kindle it!
New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.
Moving, fascinating autobiography of Greene, whom The Wall Street Journal called “the foremost finder of lost souls.” Actually reads better than many novels. Highly recommended.
- Kahn, Howie,
Becoming a Private Investigator | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.
Award-winning journalist Kahn shadows two experienced American P.I.s, Sheila Wysocki and Mark Gillespie, both of whom are working actual murder cases, throwing a ton of light on the profession.
- Maxwell, Colin and Allan Gould
Scarborough, Ontario:Prentice-Hall Canada,1989.
Autobiography of Colin Maxwell, “Canada’s most successful tracker of missing children.” Appendix includes some good tips on finding and preventing runaways.
- McDermid, Val
A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes | Buy this book
- Maroney, Tyler,
The Modern Detective: How Corporate Intelligence Is Reshaping the World | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Riverhead Books, 2020.
Real-life private eye Tyler Maroney, cofounder of the private investigations firm Quest Research & Investigations, and previously worked at Kroll Associates and the Mintz Group, reveals the tricks of the trade and dishes up the dirt on how corporate intelligence is reshaping both itself and the world, for better and worse.
- Pankhurst, William,
True Detectives: The Real World of Today’s P.I. | Buy this book
New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1989.
A look at several different real-life eyes, including three NYC detectives agencies and bounty hunters in Virginia.
- Pileggi, Nicholas,
Blye, Private Eye | Buy this book
New York: Playboy Press, 1976.
Seminal work in the real life eye genre, relating the life story of New York gumshoe Irwin Blye, written by Nicholas Pileggi, who went on to future fame and fortune as the author of Wise Guy, which became the basis for the film Good Fellas. Ten years later, Blye himself co-authored a follow-up and how-to guide entitled Secrets of a Private Eye (see above).
- Sedgewick, John,
Night Visions: Confessions of Gil Lewis, Private Eye
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
Well-written look at the exploits of Boston P.I. Gil Lewis.
- Thompson, Josiah,
Gumshoe: Reflections in a Private Eye | Buy this book
Boston, Massachusetts, Little Brown and Company, 1988.
Philosophy professor at Yale and Harvard and lifelong Hammett fan decides to chuck it all and becomes a San Francisco gumshoe. I kid you not.
- True Detectives
Real-Life Eyes Who’ve Written P.I. Novels
- True Detectives
Famous–or Infamous–Real-Life Eyes
- PI Storytelling Through The Ages
A list of books, blogs And podcasts (much of it suspiciously familiar) by real-life private eyes (January 2021, CrimeReads)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.