Created by Benjamin M. Schutz
One of the better post-Spenser P.I.’s out of the 1980s was LEO HAGGERTY, a Washington, D.C.-based private investigator with a mustache, a receding hairline à la Jack Nicholson, and enough little quirks to make him worth remembering. Like Spenser, he’s a bit of a renaissance man, obsessed with the moral dilemmas of his profession, a literate jock-type with a sometime sidekick who’s more ruthless and has less scruples than he has (Arnie Kendall, a Vietnam vet/martial arts expert/bounty hunter) and a smart, sexy girlfriend who helps our hero understand himself (Samantha Clayton, a successful novelist). Even better, though, is that Leo tends to be a little less smug and flippant, and a little bit harder and more cynical than his Beantown rival.
Unfortunately, while Spenser keeps rolling on, Leo seems to have disappeared.
Schutz has won a couple of Shamuses for Leo. A Tax in Blood won for Best Novel in 1987 and “Mary, Mary, Shut the Door” won in 1993 for Best Short Story. He’s also been nominated a few times. And, in my exceedingly humble opinion, A Fistful of Empty is possibly one of the best PI novels of all time,; the kinda book that crawls under your skin… and stays there.
So, the big question is, “What ever happened to this guy?”
The answer, it seems, is that Ben Schutz just stopped writing novels. He does occasionally pop up with a short story, though, including the excellent “Whatever It Takes,” which appeared in the October 2000 issue of EQMM, and introduced private eyes/process servers Sean and Matt Ellis.
And I came this close )( to meeting him at Bouchercon in 2001.
STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR’S MOUTH
Acting as guest author during Rara-Avis‘ “DC Month” back in 2001 or so, author Schutz was peppered with a multitude of questions about his Leo Haggerty series from the faithful. Here’s his response.
“The last two novels in the series, A Fistful of Empty and Mexico is Forever were written with one eye on the trajectory of my commercial viability. By the time I arrived at book no. 5, I had serious doubts about how long I would have the opportunity to be published. Sales had never been good and hadn’t grown at all. Early publisher enthusiasm (paperback sales, foreign rights) had dried up. I had always wanted to write a version of The Maltese Falcon, my favorite hard-boiled tale. I figured that it was as good a time as any.I wanted to return to the story of what you do when someone kills your partner and explore it from the perspective of a man more connected than Sam Spade. His pursuit puts people he cares about in harm’s way. Samantha decides that she won’t play the sap for him. Anyway it’s a tale of loss. After that was released, my publisher decided to pay me off to get out of our contract rather than publish the next book. I now had five different publishers for the six books. I couldn’t see the wall for all the writing. I wrote Mexico as a swan song.
Five years later, I was invited to write a short story for an anthology called Death Cruise edited by Larry Block in 1999. It had a long enough word count that I could contemplate wrapping up the loose ends of the Haggerty series, and explained where Leo had been for the previous five years and what he had been doing. It also allowed me to return to one of the Haggerty short stories I had written with a loose end (“Mary, Mary, Shut the Door”). It’s a story of redemption after loss and was the way I wanted to end the series.
Leo started out with the kind of infirmities you accumulate if you really do practice the violent arts. I had wanted him to be of the “regular guy” school of protagonists, not a superhero. And Arnie was always intended to be a counterweight to Leo. A man of great moral clarity . The courage of his
convictions made him capable of great violence. Leo struggles to achieve that kind of clarity throughout the series. Bergson wrote: “Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.” That was Leo’s quest at all times. Arnie and Leo pursued a dialogue about the morality of violence throughout the books. Imagine Lew Archer with Mike Hammer for a partner.
After writing the Haggerty books, I switched to writing short stories. I have no plans to return to Leo Haggerty. Short stories have provided me with a way to explore narrative options and genre types that I hadn’t tried before. Both of my sons worked as private eyes for a couple of years during college. I saw ways to explore old issues from a new perspective and entirely new issues as I watched two middle class suburban youths encounter the meaner streets. I started with a short story based on their experiences and hope to do a novel using Sean and Matt Ellis.
Being a psychologist and writing detective fiction are two sides of the same coin. Only the mysteries change. In the therapy hour, it’s “Why do I do these self-destructive things?” In the forensic arena it’s “Do we accept the pedophile’s claim that there are no other victims?” Being a therapist teaches a great respect for the power of language. The right words at the right time can heal people. It’s not a big jump to the power of the written word and it’s ability to enthrall.
As a forensic investigator you learn that the devil and everyone else is in the details. Building a case is often described as the process of piling up a big wall of small facts and then pushing them over on someone. That approach helps immeasurably with plotting. Being a therapist and a forensic investigator gives you first-hand experience with the lies and evasions people use to avoid confronting the truth about themselves. That’s enormously useful in understanding how to peel back the layers
of motivation as you develop character. Finally, being a therapist reminds you that living people always escape the trap of our theories, are always surprising us and that our fictional characters should do the same if they are truly alive.
Anyway, it’s very gratifying to find that people remember the books and think well of them.I hope that I have answered your questions.”
- Embrace the Wolf (1985) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- All the Old Bargains (1985) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- A Tax in Blood (1987) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Things We Do For Love (1989) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- A Fistful of Empty (1991) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Mexico Is Forever (1994) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- “Mary, Mary, Shut the Door” (1992, Deadly Allies)
- “What Goes Around” (1994, Deadly Allies II)
- “Lost and Found” (1999, Death Cruise; also 2002, A Century of Noir)
- Mary, Mary, Shut the Door (2005) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Includes all three Haggerty stories, a new Sean and Matt Ellis story, plus his Philip Marlowe pastiche, “The Black-Eyed Blonde”