Home > World-Building > Day Two Hundred and Five: The Gumshoe

Day Two Hundred and Five: The Gumshoe

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!


I have to admit, I have a love of the gumshoe. The private dick. The detective for hire. With his trenchcoat and a cigarette and a continual problem with money, I like my detectives scruffy and hard-boiled, just like my eggs.

Wait. No. Never mind.

The point is, of the many iterations of “detective,” that is probably my favorite. The Hard-Boiled Detective (HBD) seems much more working-class and human than the hyper-intellectual detectives you find across the pond. He’s not afraid to beat people up and get his hands dirty. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I like the Dresden Files so much – Jim Butcher has taken that HBD trope and really made a wonderful character out of it.

When the HBD is done well, he’s a treasure. Unfortunately, he’s usually not done well, and I’m pretty sure I can include my own HBD, Taylor Petraglia, in that category. I’m not saying that he’s bad – I would never say such a thing. I’m just saying that he’s incomplete. He sounds like a character imitating an HBD, and still needs to find his own voice.

That said, here’s what we know about him from the two stories he’s been in so far:

43: Investigations

  • He’s a private eye, and has a badge of some kind.
  • He investigated the ex-wife of a SmackyBurger manager
  • He may have once been beaten senseless by a naked man, but doesn’t like to talk about it.

127: Last-Ditch

  • He worked with Peter Wach (from day 46, The Big Day)
  • He has a sparsely-furnished office, about twenty minutes from downtown by subway.
  • He doesn’t have a lot of money.
  • His usual business is tracking down “husbands and runaways.”
  • He has a connection to the hacker Speyeder.
  • He also has a connection to Drake McBane (last seen in day 68: Gasconade)

And that’s pretty much all we know about him. It’s hard to write a P.I., really, without all that has come before him just kind of… leaking in. So the questions one must ask when putting his character together have to start at the fundamental: Why did he choose to be a Private Investigator?

I like to think it was because he dropped out of law school. I can see him going to study law and becoming utterly disenchanted with it. Maybe it was his ideals getting in the way, or the really terrible employment prospects, but at some point he just said “screw this” and dropped out. The problem was that he still had his reason for going into law – he thought he could help people. He got in touch with a city P.I. who showed him the ropes and – after a lengthy attempt to persuade him to become anything else – hired him on as an assistant. Taylor worked for him for a while, and then hung out his own shingle. His specialty is finding people.

He’s technically proficient, with a very good mind for technology. He has a network of highly skilled contacts, such as Speyder, a hacker who is the best at what he/she does and consequently is wanted by nearly every major government, and Drake McBane, a man who considers a day wasted if he doesn’t almost get himself killed.

Taylor’s had a couple of high-profile cases, but for the most part he pounds the pavement and looks for husbands who have fled their families, lost kids, people who owe other people money, that kind of thing. He’s not a rich man, and knows he probably never will be, but he’s not too upset about that.

Story ideas:

  • One of the constants in detective stories is that there must be a moral test for the detective. He must be tempted to do the wrong thing, to look the other way or to exploit his customers in order to line his pockets. Inevitably, of course, the detective resists the temptation because he’s the hero and our heroes can’t do that. So the question is: what was Taylor Petraglia’s moral moment? This will probably end up requiring the creation of a lot of new characters.
  • What was his first solo case?
  • How did he get the P.I. he studied with to take him in?
  • A case that he screwed up.
  • A time someone died.

I have a feeling that these stories should shine a light on who Taylor really is, and once I know that I can start writing some serious stories for him.

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  1. December 30, 2011 at 9:45 PM

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