Not Quite Magnum, P.I.

Hello, all! Ben Keller here with my latest entry in our Murder-Books blog. Up to now, you’ve been able to read from the other writers in this group, each of whom have a set of experiences in the real world that informs their writing. They have each had their works published (or soon to be released). That makes me a little different, I suppose, because super literary agent Paula Munier and I are still finding the perfect home for my first manuscript.

With that in mind, I thought I would not write about where my ideas come from as my predecessors have, but instead share with you about my background which has no doubt influenced my writing. Considering my proposed series is about a Gulf Coast Private Investigator, it should come as no surprise that I spent almost twenty years as a PI, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico. I sold my firm in 2000, and have been serving as an in-house security and investigations consultant for larger corporations ever since.

Private investigators are often the subject of books, movies, TV shows, etc. And as with most professions in pop culture, they are displayed with varying degrees of accuracy. I remember being a big fan of Magnum P.I., but even as a child I wondered how you could follow your target undetected in a shiny red Ferrari. On an island, no less. One’s credulity is strained…

So what does a PI actually do? The truth is that investigations in the private sector can involve a tremendous variety of work. The most common task is surveillance, usually as part of an effort to uncover fraud of some sort. If an insurance company suspects that someone is faking or exaggerating an injury in order to fraudulently secure financial benefits, they may hire an investigator to observe and record the claimant’s activity. Of course, there is the surveillance to determine the fidelity of a spouse, although the rise of “no fault” divorces reduced the necessity of that type of work.  

Private investigators do a lot of work for attorneys preparing for litigation. They will locate and interview witnesses, take pictures of accident scenes, serve subpoenas, research court records, and more. PIs may do background checks before offers of employment or engaging in a business partnership, or they may search for a long lost debtor. They might be hired to find an adopted person’s biological parents. Once, I was hired to be nothing more than an impartial third party. A national beverage company was having a contest in which a person who found the right bottle cap would win a new car. My job was to make sure the winning bottle cap got put into the bottling facility in a completely random manner. The sheer variety one faces as a PI is a big part of the appeal.  

There are downsides. There is a tremendous amount of tedium on surveillance, especially when it’s 100 degrees outside and you can’t have your vehicle’s engine running. Long surveillances teach you the dubious joys of a discarded bottle of tea as one’s only available toilet facility. Sometime’s the work is less than glamorous, and you’re often dealing with people in the lowest moments of their lives. While finding a missing child for a desperate family can be rewarding, not every case ends successfully, which can be haunting.

And there is a whole other spectrum of investigations in the corporate world. Almost every industry has in-house investigators, from big box retailers looking out for shoplifting, to large chain drugstores battling theft and abuse of prescription drugs. Banks have investigators who look into robberies, and conduct internal fraud investigations of embezzlement and theft. Some of the more esoteric industries from which I have met fellow investigators include railroads, diamond merchants, toilet manufacturers, movie studios, and fast food chains. The Hamburglar, it would seem, remains at large.

In my current role, I lead a team of investigators and security consultants around the world. We focus on keeping people safe from harm. We consult with business leaders as they design buildings and programs to ensure they have the right kind of security technology, and to help them avoid security risks. We respond and manage incidents from bomb threats and active shooters to chemical spills and natural disasters. We assess and respond to potential issues of workplace violence, trying to prevent such concerns before they escalate into violence. We spend a lot of time with government agencies, offices of emergency preparedness, the FBI, and US Embassy security and intelligence personnel in the various countries in which we operate. 

As I said before, there is tremendous variety in this world. In my quarter-century of work in this field, I’ve gathered a trove of observations, experiences, and perspectives that I hope create a compelling world of stories for readers. The main thing each of the Murder Books writers has to offer is a sense of authenticity, and I’m excited for the chance to share authentic stories with you, dear reader, in the future.

7 thoughts on “Not Quite Magnum, P.I.

  1. Great post, Ben. I too loved Magnum P.I. and would’ve become a P.I. myself if I could’ve found a rich guy to let me live in his Hawaiian estate and drive his Ferrari. I also fantasized about being a P.I. like Joe Mannix, a TV show that started in the late 60s. I remember he changed “$100 a day plus expenses,” and as a kid who was lucky to make a dollar an hour doing odd jobs, that was an enormous amount of money to me.
    I’m looking forward to seeing your book in print. I’m sure your P.I. character will put Magnum and Mannix to shame.
    Brian Thiem

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  2. I haven’t thought about Mannix in ages,but I remember really enjoying the show. Magnum, of course, was iconic. I think your personal experiences in the PI profession are the exact sort of thing that gives the genre its eternal appeal.

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