My writers’ group was critiquing my private eye short story and several people criticized it because the PI was not hardboiled. I’ll put it to this group.
Does every private eye need to be hardboiled?
No. Every PI needs to be a captivating character. Just like anything else.
Certainly not. There is a perception that the P.I. must follow the pattern set a long time ago. Even female operatives tend to be kick-ass broads. I'm pretty tired of the same old thing.
Consider Mma Ramotswe, the overweight (traditionally built) Botswanan P.I. She is certainly not hardboiled. And the series sells extremely well. But you may need something else, like humor and an unusual setting, to please your readers.
A note on writers' groups: You take suggestions that help and ignore the rest.
Ah, Benny! Loved his work ...
And Jacob Asch in Arthur Lyons' series was not exactly hard-boiled.
Having said all that, the series I write uses a British hard-boiled 'tec, because there aren't any others around, so far as I can tell.
I agree with the others, especially Ben. The most important factor about any character is that she/he be interesting and the word captivating is right on point. I do think there is a certain expectation, set up Chandler and Hammett that P.I.s behave in a particular way and the story unfolds in a certain way, but the whole point of today's mysteries is to present something new. For goodness sake, Kim Harrison's P.I. is vampire or maybe a werewolf, I forget, and spends time clubbing.
Ben nailed it. The PI must be what any other protagonist must be, regardless of genre: worth reading about.
I think some of the most engaging PI's in crime fiction aren't quite tough enough for the job. Benny Cooperman is a good example.
I submit to a critique group every week. Few members write/read mystery (and wtf is with all the teen vampire stories!?) so I take their suggestions with a grain of salt. However, sometimes I get comments like, "This character could be more ____." Though I may not want my character to be like that, my group is usually on to some flaw with my portrayal of the character that I'm too close to see. Once I distance myself (usually with a fair amount of time), I come back and can usually see some way to improve the character. Just my experience, though...
No definitely not.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like PI is a genre unto itself, with several motifs beneath it. Maybe that's where the confusion is coming from in your group. I'm doing a PI series now that's on the satire side of things, and I've not heard any complaints about the mood. (Shameless plug: http://amzn.to/AiwRP8)
I like satire. In my case, the effort fell totally flat with my agent. She offered a novel to romance publishers. I'm still trying to understand that.
This brings up another good question. Are agents worth it. Since I've never used an agent, I can't answer but I.J. and others might.