Saturday, July 2, 2011

It Just so Happens, This is the Business We're In


I once got a lovely review where the reviewer said that my private eye Ivan Monk’s family connections tend to prod him into taking cases no one in his right mind would investigate. The PI of course has a long, twisted lineage in detective fiction. But given Monk first shows up in a novel, Violent Spring, set about a year and a half in the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots, and that uprising plays a role in the plot, his was a territory of volatility.

I knew too that he would certainly have matters in his past that haunted him, but not the usual tropes of booze, though he is a drinker, or drummed off the force after being unfairly targeted in a politically-charged situation – he’s not an ex-cop of former investigator for the D.A. like Marlowe. He’s young enough he wasn’t of age when Vietnam was drafting working class kids like him but he did a stint in the Merchant Marines. This allowed Monk to see other countries and interact with other peoples and cultures while making different freight runs. While not immediately making an impact on him, over time he would come to appreciate the time he was a merchant seaman.

His dad was a mechanic who won his shop in a card game. Monk is somewhat of a shadetree mechanic himself. He drives a cherry ’64 Ford Galaxy, and there’s something about how human behavior isn’t mechanical, how if you connect ‘Y’ to ‘X’, sometimes the machine doesn’t run right fascinates him. At first when he came back home after the merchants, young and tough and full of himself, he fell into bounty hunting work because it was a challenge. Given where he grew up in South Central L.A., and young black men not always having the best of relations with the law, he knew he wasn’t going to be a cop. But he got a charge out of chasing people down.

Curious by nature, he couldn’t help think about the circumstances that brought someone to be entangled in the criminal justice system. His experiences with some of these folks had shown them they weren’t all low lifes just looking to get over. There were hard pressed single moms who wrote a bad check to feed their kids then bolted on the bail, dudes not much different than him who somehow found themselves on the short end of an unflinching bureaucracy.

Wanting to know what had brought them to desperate measures ate at him. It’s in this mix is where I think family has played a role in his development. Monk’s dad died when he was a teen but his mom is alive and he has a sister, Odessa, and a teenaged, now early 20s, nephew he cares about in terms of his upbringing. Plus his old lady is a criminal courts judge, Jill Kodama. These folks not only get him involved in sometimes odd situations -- like his mom’s church group hiring him to prevent vandalism of a local cultural landmark -- but they are his sounding boards and offer, at times solicited, advise that he doesn’t always ignore.

From Violent Spring, “After a fashion, Monk settled into investigative work and concluded that was his evolutionary niche. His reason for getting up in the morning.”

That and the quote from the title of this post, Sam Spade to Brigid O'Shaughnessy in the Maltese Falcon, about sums it up.

Happy July 4th everybody.

1 comment:

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Happy July 4th!

Thanks for the thoughtful and intriguing post, Gary. Ivan sounds like exactly the kind of complex and fascinating hero I want to read more about.