“Present-day gumshoes are often more interesting than the crimes they solve.” Christopher Fowler
Current crime fiction has a greater degree of psychological realism, taking in both the detective and the criminal and trying to suggest why they do what they do. Writers such as James Lee Burke takes a very even-handed view of crime, showing that both sides of the law are subject to their own justifications.
The social setting of the private eye or police officer has also become more important and often readers can join in the relationship the author portrays in the gentler pages of the stories. Donna Leon’s police investigator Achile Brunetti even has his own cookbook for sale. ” A Taste of Venice- at table with Brunetti”. It features some of the food enjoyed by Inspector Brunetti and his family, with recipes and excerpts from the novels.
In spite of the changes in how the private eye/police detective is portrayed the hero of the story still has tend to conform to the maxim laid down by Raymond Chandler:
“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything… He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world”
Although it must be pointed out that today’s hero of crime fiction is just as likely to be female. See writers such as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky.
Villains, though, still tend to be bad to the bone. The books by James Lee Burke often feature a villain with whom the reader can empathise but there is usually a further villain who takes on the role of the unstoppable sociopath who always gets their just deserts by the final page.
For the detective, the side-kick still exists; current day Watsons include: for Burke’s Dave Robicheaux it is Cleet Purcell, for Robert Parker’s PI Spencer it is Hawk. Both these guardian angels are the harder, darker side of the hero, taking measures that go against Chandler’s ideal of the prefect detective hero.