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Private Detective : Living in Myth

Private detectives have been the in our fictions for ages. They have been the pivotal characters of riveting thrillers, hypnotised billions over decades, been the rachis behind the name, fame, survival of many national and international authors. The whodunits have made their way to celluloids, giving the viewers a grip of fictional suspense. In addition to bewitching the readers and viewers to a world of fantasy, it has generated a livelihood, to a crowd and continue to do so, who would have been defunct otherwise. As we have moved into 21st century, time has come to re-assess their fictitious incredible role in criminal investigation.

In 1833, Eugène François Vidocq, a French soldier, criminal, and crewman, founded the first known private detective agency ‘Le Bureau des Renseignements Universels pour le commerce et l'Industrie’ (The Office of Universal Information for Commerce and Industry) and hired ex-convicts. Official law enforcement tried many times to shut this agency. In 1842, the police arrested him, on suspicion of unlawful imprisonment and extracting megabucks on false pretences, after he had solved a peculation issue. He was sentenced for 5 years with a Fr 3000 fine.

In spite of falsified credentials, Vidocq is considered as having led to the concept of record-keeping, criminology, ballistics and anthropometrics. The whole business of private investigation came into practice where police were unwilling to act, or the client desisted police involvement. They also assisted companies in labour disputes, often provided armed guards, the role that is carried out by security agency today. Charles Frederick Field of United Kingdom set up an enquiry office upon his retirement from the Metropolitan Police, in 1852. Field became a friend of Charles Dickens. One of his employees, Hungarian Ignatius Paul Pollaky set up a rival agency. Through them both, private detectives secured a place in the fictional sagas. In 1840, Edgar Alan Poe created a fictitious character C. Auguste Dupin. This character was the detective in three of Poe’s stories.

Once the artistic blend of selling fictitious detectives hit the market, several authors towed the line, to create immortal fictitious characters like Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot, Miss Marple. Under a colonial rule, the creative thoughts of our authors were confined to the ways of colonial masters. In keeping with their colonial slavery mind-set, they spun an array fictitious fables, centralising around the concept of singing their master’s voice. Bymokesh Bakshi, Kiriti Roy, Dipak Chatterjee, Feluda etc. were thus born to cater to the Bengali tastes, spelling the wonders that could be done by a private detective. These taradiddles became popular best-sellers, especially to the sections not well-conversant with English literature or who wanted a fresh taste in their local milieu.

When I was requested by my publisher to write my first murder-thriller CHAKRA, later translated in English as FULCRUM, a few queries buzzed in my mind.

  1. Whenever a death occurs, who investigates the case – the police or the private investigator (no matter how intelligent and modern he may be in fictitious sagas?
  2. After a murder, who would walk to a private detective, when police are there to carry out the primary investigation?
  3. Do private investigators (mind you they are normal citizens with same rights and restrictions as others) have same access to police records, forensic report etc.?
  4. Can they tap telephone conversations and access internet exchanges, i.e. social media and internet calls?
  5. Have they access bank accounts, insurance details or any other confidential details?

The answer was an obvious ‘NO’. If so, how could a private detective become the central theme of a novel, when his identity is ambiguous and apocryphal? If that is logical, in 21st century, no author could get away with some an absurd fiction. Fiction has to be realistic, believable, pertaining to the present. In conversation with a renowned figure, in an hour-long lecture to a ‘class-room student’ without any logic or know how, he further harped his credibility as a ‘Criminologist’. To my humble medical knowledge, one who is qualified in Forensic Psychiatry can call himself a Criminologist.

I thought, even if the investigation is done by known bodies at different corners of the country, there might be a mingle of persons trying to solve the murder-mystery. Each would have a positive input and finally one could imbibe those ideas and crack the final jackpot. They may not be a part of the investigative machinery. As much as the reader or the viewer is on the lookout for the murderer with the motive, he could be in lookout for the final emergent, out of lot. I also felt the customary murder weapons like a pistol, knife etc. could be sacrificed to modern scientific ways of murder based on my medical knowledge.

The end result was a maverick murder-mystery-thriller, which would keep the readers gripped until climax. Soon after CHAKRA or FULCRUM, I wrote another adrenaline charged international thriller PURSUIT and ETERNAL MAYHEM, an international thriller of scientific genome research, in light of my new concept.

For those orthodox, it might be difficult to shred their pre-formed concepts and come to terms with the harsh reality of the 21st century. But reality demands, realistic fiction, not abstruse fictitious tale-tales. We cannot be swayed by non-realistic approach to a scientific and logical investigative apparatus. With all due respects to past global best-sellers, wouldn’t it be wiser to evolve with the realistic upcoming era?