View Full Version : How much do detectives earn?
11-21-2002, 04:55 AM
Ah-ha! you are thinking - the witless ShadowWarrior has posted a general question in the wrong forum... but no! This question is actually about fictional Detectives - Holmes, Poirot and their ilk.
How did they earn their money? Most of them refused to touch the sort of cases that PI's might be expected to deal with - Missing People, Divorces, lost dogs etc and would only deal with things of national importance. In many cases, the police come to ask their help ( one of the most unlikely scenarios, IMO). Sometimes, they take on a case free of charge, to satisfy their own curiousity...so....
1) Do they get paid by the police when working at their request?
2) How much (in modern equivalent) would they have got for a typical case solved?
3) How many cases would come their way in a month?
4) What did they do in between exciting cases?
5) How did they earn enough to support their opium habit/travel around the world?
As a side note, has anyone ever considered that Miss Marple(*) was a psychopathic maniac, who went around killing random people and constructing evidence against innocent strangers to divert suspicion.
(*) - substitute Jessica Fletcher here if you prefer
11-21-2002, 08:03 AM
You're asking about Amateur Detectives, I assume.
Holmes's self-conferred title was "Consulting Detective." While he took some cases just to keep his brain active, he expected to be paid for many of them. Occasionally the renumeration was so expansive that he could forego the next several fees.
The Miss Marples of the fiction world are "amateurs" in the literal sense. They involve themselves in sleuthing for the fun of it. Their income is private, or derives from other occupations...Ellery Queen is a well-paid writer. Mr. and Mrs. North are a book publisher and a housewife, respectively. Nancy Drew is a teenage girl living with her dad.
Fictional private investigators are of course paid for their work, ranging in scale from the "twenty bucks a day and expenses" of the hard-boiled gumshoe to the princely fees earned by a Nero Wolfe.
11-21-2002, 08:14 AM
Well, no - I'm actually talking about what I would term 'Professional Detectives' - that is, those whose sole income derives from detecting. Miss Marple et al obviously have some other means of income as they rarely request/accept any payment.
What I'm really getting at is how such people (Poirot & Holmes are the two most obvious examples I can think of) support themselves between cases - Is their fee so outrageously high that they can afford to turn down any case that doesn't appeal to them for months at time? Apparently it is, and they all seem to live more-than comfortable lives at the same time.
In today's money, how much would you have to charge for a single case so it is enough to keep you in your accustomed splendour until the next interesting case comes along - given that ingenious/famous crimes don't really happen on weekly basis.
11-21-2002, 08:37 AM
Originally posted by ShadowWarrior
Is their fee so outrageously high that they can afford to turn down any case that doesn't appeal to them for months at time?
Well, they're like any other free-lancer!
I don't think of Holmes as living all THAT well, anyhow. When we first meet him he needs a roommate to afford the flat at 221B Baker Street. He keeps his tobacco in a slipper and shoots holes in the walls and the sitting room reeks of chemicals.
Poirot is a retired Belgian policeman, so I assume he has some sort of pension, and for a while he ran a private investigation agency in London. Christie doesn't give too many detials about his income.
Stout, however, being American, does. Nearly every novel will specify just how much Wolfe is soaking his wealthy clients for. In THE DOORBELL RANG, he received an advance of $100,000. And those were 1964 dollars.
11-21-2002, 09:18 AM
Never read any Nero Wolfe .... this thought just struck me as I was re-reading my Poirot collection, adn it occurred to me that he was living in the lap of luxury... I hadn't considered the possibility of his pension helping him through the non-interesting-crime periods.
11-21-2002, 10:54 AM
Nero Wolfe needs to charge big bucks for his cases - he very much enjoys the good life (if you haven't read any of Rex Stout's stuff ShadowWarrior, you should, they're very entertaining).
To answer your questions, with regards to Wolfe:
1) Nero Wolfe is very rarely asked to help the police. More often, they're threatening to arrest him (or his assistant, Archie Goodwin) for withholding evidence.
2) I don't have any exact figures, but as Ukulele Ike mentioned, Wolfe received a $100,000 advance for one case. He's regarded as the best detective around, so he gets many high-profile clients.
3) I'm not really sure, but Wolfe generally only works when his savings are running low. He'd much rather avoid work entirely, and often Archie Goodwin has to goad him into taking a case.
4) Mostly raise orchids, eat gourmet food, read and drink beer. As I mentioned, Wolfe would much rather not work.
5) See the answer to 2.
For John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee (another favorite of mine):
1) McGee only takes cases the police won't or can't touch. For him, the basic idea is that "someone took something from you, and you can't get it back through the police. Promise me half of what I recover, after expenses, and I'll try to get it back."
2) Again, I'm not sure. I remember several cases where he's retrieved valuable gemstones, and wads of cash.
3) Like Wolfe, McGee only works when his cash is running out. He claims that instead of taking his retirement when he's too old to enjoy it, he takes bits at a time, and works when the money runs low.
4) McGee lives on a houseboat in Florida, and mostly seems to drink gin, work on his boat, and pursue beach bunnies in his time off.
5) From one of his stories (I can't remember which one, sorry), McGee says that if he needs money, he can usually find work by reading the paper if needed. He reads between the lines, recognizes when someone has been fleeced in a legal or unprovable way, and contacts the fleeced about getting their money back.
11-21-2002, 12:53 PM
There's always the possibility that Holmes had some private income that kept him going between cases. He is a member of the upper middle class, so some kind of allowance or inheritance is a good bet.
Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey is the younger brother of a Duke, who is fabulously well off, and detective work is one of his hobbies (along with collecting rare first editions). Most of the cases he takes are favors for his police detective brother-in-law, or because he happens to be around when someone is murdered, and takes an interest in the case.
11-21-2002, 01:27 PM
In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade and Miles Archer agree to find "Ruth Wonderly's" sister "Corrine" for $200. When the tructh comes out (at least partially), Spade strong arms another $500 from Bridgette O'Shaughnessy. Of course, he then has the chance to get in on the falcon itself, and ... well, rent the movie.
Originally posted by plnnr
In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade and Miles Archer agree to find "Ruth Wonderly's" sister "Corrine" for $200.
Which was more than they would normally charge for such a thing. He said it was more than they would normally charge, so they knew something was up, but it was enough money that they didn't care.
Spade's apartment is nothing fancy either, so I got the impression -- especially from the book -- that he wasn't rolling in money.
11-21-2002, 02:18 PM
Originally posted by Ukulele Ike
Fictional private investigators are of course paid for their work, ranging in scale from the "twenty bucks a day and expenses" of the hard-boiled gumshoe to the princely fees earned by a Nero Wolfe.The low end of your scale is too high.
Encyclopedia Brown (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0375881379/ref=br_b_ts_4/002-8163241-5398461?v=glance&s=books&n=3360) charged $0.25 per case. At least he did when I was a kid, his rates may have gone up.
11-21-2002, 02:24 PM
In terms of Toby Peters, Detective to the Stars from Stuart M Kaminsky's novels
1) Toby does not. In fact his brother Phil is a LAPD police sergeant who typically beats Toby about the head for somehow managing to get arrested quite often and stumble into their way (Peters has a way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time).
2) Toby's cases range from about a week to a month at the most.
3) Toby hits about 1 high profile a month (the books link somewhat after each story) but he does do a few small cases in between
4) In Toby's case, watch movies, go to wrestling matches, eat hot dogs and tacos and a LOT of cereal. He also enjoys harboring affection for his ex wife and trying to avoid his dentist/neighbor Sheldon Mink
5) Toby does not do a lot. He lives in a boarding house, eats cereal and tacos, buys a suit once a while and keeps a car barely working. His office is what he calls a closet consisting of 2 desk chairs, filing cabinet, a desk, a cat named Dash, and for some reason a Salvidor Dali original featuring him and his brother that he has no place for. He does not charge his high price clients much either. Usually 25 buck a day plus expenses. Yes this is WWII dollars but considering his clientle includes people like The Marx Brothers, WC Fields, Judy Garland, and Howard Hughes, he is a downright bargain to them.
I humbly request you guys to read the books. They are very entertaining and Toby has a dry sense of humor in dealing with everyone. Its one of my favorite series.
11-21-2002, 02:29 PM
Batman works for free. Oh, and his expenses are outrageous.
11-21-2002, 02:41 PM
Originally posted by Threadkiller
Encyclopedia Brown charged $0.25 per case.
Yeah, but Encyclopedia was hardly a "hard-boiled gumshoe." He had to employ Sally Kimball to deal out the beatins'.
Just Some Guy
11-21-2002, 03:52 PM
I'm actually reading the Holmes stories right now and it's made clear that while the cases discussed at length in the story are often done at no charge to satisfy Holmes's curiosity, he also apparently gets some very large fees from the more mundane ones that are not described. So he's rarely "between cases" (one story mentions that he has quite a few ongoing but they're not interesting enough for Watson to describe them) and even when he is he isn't just blowing all his cash on opium.
A quick example: in the first story "A Scandal in Bohemia" he mentions to the king that he needs some money for expenses and the king hands him a thousand pounds and offers more. I'm not sure what that is in 1890 pounds, but since a few stories later it's mention that someone is living comfortably off of the interest from three thousand pounds it's clearly an awful lot.
11-21-2002, 09:24 PM
Philip Marlowe, the gumshoe creation of Raymond Chandler, had different fees depending on the year the book was written. In 1939, in The Big Sleep, he charged $25 a day, plus expenses. During and after WWII, he jacked it up to $50 (still plus expenses). IIRC, he usually took $100 or so as a retainer.
He was certainly not living the high life. He had, depending on the book, either a two-room apartment with a kitchen and an all-purpose room that held his Morris bed, or a furnished house that he rented (apparently cheaply) from a couple who lived in Southern California only briefly, and expected him to vacate the premises upon no notice. He rented a simple, run-down office and hired no secretary.
For fun, he played chess against himself, out of a book. He also drank a lot. The liquor was probably his greatest expense. Whether he comped it to the clients or not probably depended on the client.
The books hint at him taking smaller cases in between the action-packed ones that get him in trouble with the police (and in print). Finding missing people, stuff like that. But he refused to do divorce work as a matter of principle.
Did I cover correctly?
11-21-2002, 10:11 PM
Originally posted by Just Some Guy
A quick example: in the first story "A Scandal in Bohemia" he mentions to the king that he needs some money for expenses and the king hands him a thousand pounds and offers more. I'm not sure what that is in 1890 pounds, but since a few stories later it's mention that someone is living comfortably off of the interest from three thousand pounds it's clearly an awful lot. I think Holmes was doing all right for himself as well. In "The Adventure of the Priory School" he collected a six thousand pound fee, but described himself as a poor man. I guess he might just go out and blow it all on cocaine, but he must be sitting on enough to keep him from being on the street, at any rate.
11-22-2002, 08:04 AM
Cocaine was cheap and legal in those days. He probably spent more on tobacco.
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