The Big Reads

The Longest Private Eye Books

Back in the good old days (whenever the hell that was) private eye yarns rarely took over 200 pages to tell. They were tight and right, punchy and potent, lean and mean and they got the job done. Think of all those beloved paperbacks that could once legitimately be named “pocketbooks.”

Now? You’d need to be wearing bib overalls to jam some of today’s fare into a pocket. The era of page bloat has definitely arrived, with few P.I. novels,managing to get it done in less that 300 pages, and they often soar past 400 or so. Sure, occasionally one of the long players is worth it, but seriously, how many digressions, detailed backstories and multi-paragraph descriptions of a paper cup do we need?

When I heard James Ellroy, no stranger himself to doorstops was releasing a new book called The Cold Six Thousand back in 2001, I asked if that was the title or the page count.

But that one wasn’t a P.I. novel.

These are… and they’re all over 500 pages, which I think is a pretty good mark to use. Can you think of any other P.I. books that check in at over a cool half-grand page count? Anthologies, omnibus editions and large-print (or Robert B. Parker) books don’t count….

  • The Detective by Roderick Thorp (598 pages)
    This lengthy 1966 best-seller featured P.I. Joe Leland delving deep into the psychological complexities of a myriad of characters, including himself. Perhaps tellingly, the sequel, which was much shorter (and a better book, IMHO), was titled Nothing Lasts Forever.
  • Stolen Away by Max Allan Collins (528 pages)
    Because of the hybrid nature of the Nate Heller books—meticulously researched historical novels spliced with private eye action–these are routinely among the longest of private eye reads. In fact, Max has made the claim that Stolen Away (1991) is the longest first-person private eye novel ever written. He may be right.
  • The Ink-Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (1024 pages!)
    According to Barry Forshaw in CrimeTime,  upon the release of 2023’s The Running Grave (a mere 960 pages), the whole series has by “now acquired a Proustian length. Can the crime genre justify this prodigious word count, or is concision an immutable requirement?” Indeed.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And for the record, I’m using the page count of the first edition as listed on Amazon. Your mileage may vary.

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