But down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid.." When Raymond Chandler wrote these words in his classic The Simple Art of Murder, he drew a blueprint for the male private eyes who descend from Philip Marlowe to populate the world of crime fiction.
But what if the private eye is a woman? And what if she is not a character in a novel but a real, working investigator testing not only the meanness but the absurdity of life on seamy streets? Who will tell her story?
Enter Manchester's Val McDermid, herself a skilled writer of the P.I. novel but for years a professional journalist. In an effort to plumb the real world of working women - and throw new light on her own craft - she has interviewed women private eyes from both sides of the Atlantic and assembled their stories with an eye for the absurd and a keen grasp of the gritty nuts and bolts of the profession.
As fascinating as fiction, A Suitable Job for a Woman is, in the words of Edgar-winning author Nevada Barr, "a concise and eye-opening trek through the competence, humor, and humanity of women.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful: Flawed But Fascinating Account of the Female PIs' World, March 9, 2002 Reviewer: Tsuyoshi from Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-hu Japan "A Suitable Job for a Woman" contains 16 chapters written in the author's pen (which incorporates various female detective's interviews) and 16 short episodes recorded directly from their voice. The book also contains 14 pages of an interview with the author Val McDermid, which reveals concisely her writing career till now. A short list of Val MacDermid's works is also included. If "A Suitable Job for a Woman" can be proud of anything, it is absolutely the fascinating depiction of the real female detevtives' world. It is utterly intriguing to listen to their episodes that range from a repo-man mission in Watts, LA to take back a truck, to finding out an old boyfriend for an aged, perhaps dying lady, which sounds like, the detective herself says, "a real Mills and Boon story." It is also surprising to know that many of them are not only married but also got children and even grandchildren, and their ways of landing on the present jobs are as various as you can imagine. After reading these professionals' interviews, P. D. James' Cordelia Gray story does not look entirely fictional. However, this book has two shortcomings. One is that as the author didn't have any interviews with male counterparts, it is hardly possible for us to figure out to what degree these portrayed activities of them represent characteristics of "female" detectives. Some jobs they do must be done by male detectives as well. (And it is very regrettable that the writer didn't go further to interview these female detectives' husbands and children, whose viewpoints would have enlarged the scope of the book.) The other problem is that though the author succeeds in describing female detectives' diversity and professionalism, their stories go almost unchecked. It is obvious and understandable that they would not talk about their failed jobs, but the interviewer seems content just to listen to the episodes they are willing to talk about. If I might add another drawback of the book, the voice of Val McDermid sounds sometimes hostile to male detectives (with whom she didn't interview, as I said) to champion female counterpart. It is totally unnecessary, even damaging, considering the already impressive accounts the female detectives submit here. For all the author's previous career as a journalist, it is a book written by a fiction writer. If you're looking for P.D. James's scrupulous pen that could have revealed minutely every detalis of this unexplored world, you might be disappointed. Readable, well-written, but as a personal journal. This world deserves much more thorough research.