Tag Archives: Split to Splinters

Defending the PI Genre

On Wednesday, I read an interesting post entitled “The Perils of the Private Eye” by K.D. Hays. Found on Southern Writers Magazine’s blog Suite T, the article works from the premise that it is “a bad idea to use a private detective in a modern mystery.” Hays makes some relevant points to argue her case, but many of them seem to only apply to her work, which I confess I haven’t read.


My opinion, the PI genre is one of the more enjoyable, dynamic, and elastic genres out there, and I wanted to defend it a bit. So I’ve copy/pasted passages from Hays’s article below and offered up rebuttals to her arguments.

1)      First of all, there is no such thing as a private detective. Detectives work for the police. “Private eyes” work for investigation firms, and most of their business consists of doing background checks. Clients often hire investigators to find out who’s stealing from them, but they don’t hire them to solve murders. So if the lead character is a private investigator, she’s not going to be solving murders, and most people pick up a mystery expecting to find at least one or two dead bodies lurking in the pages.

Perhaps I’m quibbling over a silly point, but not all private eyes work for investigation firms. (I’m reading American Detective by Loren Estleman, and Amos Walker does not work for an investigation firm.) In fact, I’d wager that an overwhelming majority of real PIs are solo freelancers because, technology being so readily available to all, they can be. Too, many real and fictional PIs start off as police officers and get burned out.  Why? Because of the corruption and bureaucracy in the legal system, for starters. There is a long and rich tradition in the PI genre of former cops who want to provide investigative services without having to put up with silly regulations and inter-departmental politics, so these PIs move from the collective (police force) to the individual (private investigations). Read literally any Chandler or MacDonald mystery: the theme of legal versus moral shows up again, and again, and again. The PI knows, on a personal level, what is right and wrong; he doesn’t need the police or a government agency to tell him.


To Hays’s point about PIs not solving murders. Of course, that’s true, but I hasten to add that many PI mysteries begin as a simple job–snooping on a wife, for instance–and then that job turns into a murder mystery; when it does, the private investigator is already involved in the case, and there’s your murder mystery.  That said, I reject the premise that a mystery must have a murder in order to be good or even marketable.  My second novel Split to Splinters, which is up for a Shamus Award, does not involve murder; corruption, greed, deceit, baseball, fame, money, sibling rivalry, sex, hubris, and theft, but not murder.

2)      The second problem with using a private investigator as my fictional crime solver is that a competent investigator already has a pretty good idea “whodunit” by the time he or she goes out to a site to investigate. There may be a couple of suspects, but nowhere near the number of red herrings that are required to sustain a good mystery plot.

Again, I reject the premise that there aren’t enough “red herrings” and “suspects” in a PI mystery. That, to me, goes toward the simplistic thinking that a PI mystery is all about plot (the WHAT happened). Characters that are carefully drawn will reveal themselves to have complex motives, and they will not be so easily identified by the reader as the person “whodunit.”

computer work

  3)      A third problem with using a private investigator as my fictional detective is that most investigation work these days is done on the computer.

Herein lies my biggest issue with Hays’s stance on the PI genre. She is, in my opinion, completely missing the ethos of the private eye. As I alluded to above, a private eye is an iconoclast, a male or female who operates under his or her own set of morals, and often those morals are more rigid and personal than the ethics and standards of the police force and other government agencies.  (Private eyes having troubled/complicated relationships with law enforcement is an enduring and, in my view, cherished troupe of the PI genre.) So while a real private investigator probably does spend a ton of time on the computer, a good fictional PI (like Eli Sharpe) knows that “Shoe leather solves cases, not bandwidth.” No piece of technology can replace looking into a suspect’s eyes and “reading him.”  No gadget imaginable is as effective as an experienced private eye sitting across from a suspect and asking him questions, gauging his body language, his speech, his demeanor.  That will never go out of style. Neither will the PI genre. But I could be wrong.


I don’t think the overarching point of Hays’s article was to trash the PI genre.  I believe she was attempting to expound on how she developed, through trial and error, the protagonist featured in her own cozy mystery, and if you read the entire piece, I think you’ll agree she is successful on that score. However, I just happen to disagree with many of her conclusions regarding my favorite literary genre. Either way, if you’re interested here is a link to her novel called Roped In.


Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with any/some/all of Hays’s assertions about private investigators? If so, which ones?
  2. Do you think a mystery must involve murder?
  3. How often do you read PI mysteries?

Max likes to hear from fans (and critics), so email him at maxeverhart30@gmail.com, like his Facebook page, or visit his website.



Thanks Private Eye Writers of America: SPLIT TO SPLINTERS is a 2016 Shamus Award Finalist!


Grateful is my word of the day because Split to Splinters (Eli Sharpe #2) is a finalist in the Best P.I. Paperback Original category for the 2016 Shamus Awards.

Bill Pronzini.  Ross MacDonald. Harlan Coben. Robert Crais. Dennis Lehane. Michael Connelly. Alison Gaylin. Paul D. Marks. M. Ruth Myers. These are just some of the many previous Shamus Award winners whose work I greatly admire, whose books have entertained, thrilled, challenged, and inspired me.  My love of reading is the main reason I started writing, and today, I’m feeling particularly grateful to all the aforementioned novelists for providing the blueprint on how to craft a first-rate mystery.  But, perhaps more importantly, I’m grateful to my publisher Camel Press. Thank you Catherine Treadgold for taking a chance on an unknown writer, and thank you Jennifer McCord for the editorial guidance.


I’m also grateful to The Private Eye Writers of America, not only for selecting my book as a finalist, but for staying committed to celebrating, recognizing, and elevating the sometimes maligned P.I. genre.  Without PEWA, an organization that I use as a source for book recommendations, I might never have discovered many of my favorite sleuths such as Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar, and Maggie Sullivan. For that, too, I thank you.

So congratulations to all the nominees this year, and I like forward to meeting everyone in New Orleans at Bouchercon.


Coffee, Tea, or Beer: A Writer’s Beverage of Choice

Years ago, whenever I wore sport jackets with elbow pads and neckties plucked from the bins of Goodwill, I did a lot of acting like a writer, but precious little writing. I holed up in my apartment(s) with Evan Williams and an IBM Thinkpad (remember those, anyone?) and Tom Waits records, and I pretended (and even claimed) to be “writing a novel.” But I was really just drinking, brooding, and reading the works of Dead White Men. Whenever I did write, however, I tended to drink beer, and I noticed my writing was very slow, the stories filled with long-winded, bloviating asides about whatever was bothering me at the time. My thinking was often fuzzy, no doubt from drink, and I was never fully clear-headed whenever I wrote or read my work. So, for me, alcohol isn’t a real option for writing. God bless you, if you can work on the devil’s drink.

Which brings me to my on-again, off-again relationship with Earl Grey tea. I have anxiety, have had since I was a sperm probably, so caffeine is tricky. Over the years, I discovered that Earl Grey, and its just-the-right-amount of caffeine and perfumed flavor, helps me write, stay focused and alert without getting too twitchy. In fact, I wrote Go Go Gato and Split to Splinters “on” Earl Grey. Too, I enjoy looking over and seeing the steam rising off my mug. . .

Then I discovered coffee. Just the right amount of this elixir of the Gods can do wonders for your output as a writer. If I drink a cup of coffee (on a full stomach), I can write for longer stretches at a time, and the work is usually very good. I wrote Ed, Not Eddie and Alphabet Land “on” coffee, and I can’t wait for people to read them. Just be careful about the dreaded coffee breath. No one wants to offend.

So I ask the question, writers: what’s you preferred beverage while working? Would love to hear what you have to say.




Free Content: Good Idea or Not?

I’m looking to make at least one short story featuring my private detective Eli Sharpe FREE on Kindle and other eBook platforms.  The story is entitled “Pink Elephant.” It’s about an ex-pitcher turned drug dealer who suckers Sharpe into “muling” a pink stuffed elephant filled with cocaine .  .  .it’s fun, it’s action-packed, and my hope is new readers will read the story, like Eli Sharpe, and then go buy Go Go Gato and/or Split to SplintersI’m hoping to see at least a little spike in sales (actually, any sales would be awesome!), but we’ll see. As soon as I get the eBook back from my publisher, I will make the story available for FREE.  In the meantime, if anyone out there has done this before, please drop me a comment and let me know how it went.




Eli Sharpe News

Ed, Not Eddie, the third installment in the Eli Sharpe series, will be released on April 1st. I’m very excited about the cover, which I’ll be posting here soon, but I’m even more excited about the story. Thumbnail sketch: Ed Leviner, a superstar female pitcher who is about to be drafted into the Major Leagues, is receiving death threats on the eve of the biggest game of her collegiate career. Enter Eli Sharpe . . .this one is set in a small town in South Carolina, and is peopled with oddball characters, snappy dialogue, and plot twists a-plenty.

In other news.  .  .both Go Go Gato (Eli Sharpe #1) and Split to Splinters (Eli Sharpe #2are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. I’ve also noticed that if you have purchased a paperback copy of either of those books, you can buy a Kindle version for only $1.99! Even if you’ve already read (and hopefully, loved) those books, you can buy them and gift them to someone else.  .  .and that would make me very happy, which should be everyone’s number one priority. Oh, and please remember that reviews on Amazon and Goodreads really do make a difference. Just a sentence or two about how much you enjoy Eli Sharpe and his hijinks would be much, much appreciated. 

Thanks a million.


SPLINT TO SPLINTERS (Eli Sharpe #2) is Available

SPLIT TO SPlNTERS (Eli Sharpe #2) is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, so go get it, if you’re so inclined. It’s a solid mystery with the charming and resourceful detective Eli Sharpe. As for the plot, think the father-daughter drama from King Lear and the action and witty dialogue from an episode of the Rockford Files. . .that’s my new novel. Anyway, I hope you like it, and if you do, review it on Amazon, Goodreads, or Barnes & Noble and/or mention it on social media.

That’s all.





SPLIT TO SPLINTERS (Eli Sharpe #2) Goodreads Giveaway

Enter to win a free paperback copy of SPLIT TO SPLINTERS (Eli Sharpe #2) on Goodreads. Or, if you’re so inclined, pre-order the book on Amazon. Check out the synopsis below to see if it’s your cup of tea.

Jim Honeycutt, a vigorous Hall of Famer who still hurls 90 MPH fast balls in his 50s, is missing his three-hundredth career win baseball, and an anonymous note points to his daughters. Cherchez la femme, or so they say. In this case, there isn’t just one female involved, but six, and they are all suspects. Four lovely daughters, their seductive mother, and their mother’s best friend.

Eli Sharpe, an ex pro-baseball player based in Asheville, North Carolina, who investigates cases related to his former profession, sets out to delve into the complicated family dynamics of the Honeycutt clan. Other than the daughters, there are the various men who trail after them as well as the washed-out writer who lives in the Hall of Famer’s basement, supposedly writing his biography.

The culprit has to be someone in Jim’s circle. So how difficult can it be to expose them? Even Eli, with his already close acquaintance with human treachery, isn’t prepared for what he will find.







SPLIT TO SPLINTERS, Eli Sharpe #2 and other news…

FYI: if you liked Go Go Gato and want to know what Eli Sharpe’s been doing lately, perhaps you’d be good enough to pre-order Split to Splinters, the next installment featuring my sharp-dressed, quick-witted detective. In this one, Sharpe is hired by Jim Honeycutt, a Hall of Fame pitcher turned real estate mogul, to track down a very valuable piece of baseball memorabilia. In order to solve the case, Sharpe must do battle with the daughters Honeycutt, four formidable women, all with their own agendas, as well as Tess Honeycutt, the smart and sexy wife, and a sixth woman, who, depending on who you ask, is either Honeycutt’s business partner or his mistress, or both. Oh, and then there’s the ancient alcoholic journalist living in Honeycutt’s basement, a man who is supposedly ghost-writing Honeycutt’s autobiography. Honestly, there are so many subplots in this one, so many ulterior motives and suspicions and God-only-knows what else that I can’t remember them all. I do remember that the book is fun and real page-turner. . . so much so that Steven Steinberg, coauthor (with Lyle Spatz) of the award-winning 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York, had this to say about it: 

“A fast-paced whodunit of family intrigue centering on a legendary baseball pitcher, whose priceless 300th-win baseball has been stolen. Max Everhart’s PI, Eli Sharpe, was himself a former ballplayer, but a mediocre one. Yet his grasp of human nature is of all-star quality. Sharpe is a clever and appealing character, and the story’s suspects are vivid and distinctive. Split to Splinters is a solid hit, and I look forward to his next case.”

I’m also closing in on an ending for Ed, Not Eddie, the third book in the Eli Sharpe series. This one’s about a female knuckleball pitcher who, on the eve of being drafted into the Major Leagues, begins receiving anonymous death threats. Action ensues, etc. It’s fun. I think people might like it.

And finally, ten years after I wrote it, my short story “Virginia is a Different Country” is going to be included in an anthology put out by The Story Plant. That’ll come out this summer. Here’s a link to their website.


If you’d like to preorder Split to Splinters, you can do so here: