Robert Randisi, founder of The Private Eye Writers of America, not to mention the creator of such popular gumshoes as Miles Jacoby, Henry Po and Nick Delvecchio, took it upon himself to survey the popularity of various P.I.’s in the spring of 1997, via the newsgroup rec.arts.mystery—about a year before I decided to officially launch this site. In fact, it was the lack of an official PWA site, and their lack of interest at the time in creating one (I had initially volunteered my services) that prompted me to create this site. Here are the final results, along with Mr. Randisi’s personal comments, from his post.
Your Favorite P.I.s
By Robert J. Randisi
This is going to be a long post, but this survey had a lot of interesting aspects to it, and I want to cover it all.
First some general stats:
63 of you voted for Favorite P.I., naming 83 different ones;
28 of you sent in a list of Favorite Novels, naming 87 different titles. (I will attempt an separate posting of every title, so that some of you might use it as a suggested reading list.)
Here is a list that reflects the amount of times an author had a book mentioned on someone’s list. The second number indicates how many different titles were named. In other words, Lawrence Block appeared on 16 lists with 4 different titles. (I’ve only supplied the names of authors who appeared on 3 or more lists.)
I was rather surprised that Block so easily outdistanced everyone else in total number of lists he appeared on. Grafton‘s number surprised me. She appeared on 6 lists with 6 different titles.
Okay, now here’s a list of individual books, and how many lists they appeared on.
These were the only books that appeared on more than 3 lists. Again, Block is way ahead. Would this lead you to believe that Scudder was the most popular P.I.? You’d be close.
Here, now, is the list of your Favorite P.I.’s, and the number of lists they appeared on. (I could not accumlate any sort of points for these listings because many of you named your favorite, “in no particular order.” Therefore, I could only count by the number of your lists they appeared on.)
Again, I only listed those P.I.’s who appeared on more than 3 lists. (Admittedly, if I had ruled on Myron Bolitar sooner, he might have appeared on more than 2 lists. )
What I find very interesting about these results is:
- McCone and Millhone finished so close, and managed to beat out Block, even though more of his novels were mentioned;
- That Spenser finished 4th, just barely beating out Elvis Cole and V.I. Warshawski;
- That Elvis Cole finished so well. Good for Bob Crais, but why weren’t more of his novels mentioned besides The Monkey’s Raincoat (1) and Voodoo River (1)
- That the characters of Thomas Lehane and Janet Evanovich finished so well, considering how new they are to the field.
What I find disappointing is:
- That while Carlotta Carlyle was on 7 lists, none of Linda Barne‘s novels were mentioned;
- That one of my personal favorites, Bill Pronzini and “Nameless” did not finish higher (but see my next list, of the things I’m pleased about);
- I thought one of my favorite series, Jerry Healy’s John Cuddy, would finish higher;
- That John Lutz, Les Roberts, Michael Collins and Loren D. Estleman were not mentioned more than they were.
What I’m pleased about
- That “Nameless” finished so close behind Spenser. I only wish he’d beaten him out;
- I’m very pleased that Spenser didn’t win. I think many people thought he would win easily, but maybe people — readers and critics — are finally starting to catch up to him;
- That Sharon McCone finished #1. I knew she’d be high up, but I really expected Kinsey Millhone to finish in the top spot. I’m glad they were so close, as I like both characters and both ladies very much;
- I’m pleased that Scudder finished so high, but surprised he didn’t win, considering how many of Block’s books were mentioned;
- I’m also pleased that characters like Jacob Asch and Albert Samson were not forgotten. It’s been a while since they appeared in print.
Here’s what surprised me:
- That Grafton had 6 titles named, but only once each, “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F” and “K”. I guess you just like all her novels almost equally;
- So many of you lamented the “passing” of Jerry Doolittle’s “Tom Bethany” series, and yet they appeared on only one list;
- Again, how well Thomas (Dennis?—ed.) Lehane and Janet Evanovich did. I’d be interested to see how they’d fair if we did this again in a year or two.
I didn’t vote. I’m going to put my lists down right here, but not count them in the final tally. In fact, as far as I can tell NO authors voted, that’s why I’ll keep my list separate. Here it is, for any of you who are interested:
My Favorite P.I. series (no particular order, as most of you did)
My Favorite P.I. Novels
- Undercurrents by Bill Pronzini
- Act of Fear by Michael Collins
- Castles Burning by Arthur Lyons
- Murder on the Wild Side by Jeff Jacks
- A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block
Now, before any of you point it out I will, there are no women on my list. That’s because I had the same problem you all did, I was limited to 5 choices.
Given 10 choices there would have been a Grafton, a McCone, and Sandra Scoppetone‘s first Lauren Laurano novel, which I loved and can’t remember the title of (Everything You Have is Mine), but the books I listed I read a long time ago and they have stuck with me, and the characters Iisted I have been reading for many years.
Which reminds me of another list. Here–and then I’ll let you all go–are the top male P.I.’s and the top female P.I.’s:
Here’s my final list. This one reflects the authors who appeared on your lists with 2 different series characters:
Okay, this time I’m really done. I want to thank everyone who voted. If anyone can think of a stat I didn’t print, let me know and I’ll do it.”
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Used with permission.
* Cordelia Grey was actually created by P.D. James.