Andy Straka: A Bird’s Eye View of the Private Eye Genre

Andy Straka is the author of the award-winning and beloved Frank Pavlicek series… about an ex-NYPD cop who becomes a PI and falconer in Virginia… which kicks off with our new Brash Books’ releases of  A Witness Above and A Killing Sky. Here he talks about how he created the series…

How did I fall into this gig anyway? All I ever wanted to do was write the world’s greatest private eye novels and have someone pay me gazillions of dollars to live happily ever after. But I had two problems.

Problem number one: How could I possibly contribute anything new to such a classic private eye genre replete with masterful voices?

Problem number two: Private eye novels most often feature colorful urban settings. While I’d worked in big cities as an adult, I wasn’t raised in a city. I grew up in a small town. Setting my private eye novels solely within the confines of an an urban landscape just didn’t feel right to me. I needed to create a detective who could be comfortable in the city but whose soul was tied to a more rural environment.

Enter Frank Pavlicek. Like a lot of fictional private eyes, he’s struggling with demons from his past and even more from his present. But, unlike a lot of other fictional PI’s, instead of turning to a bottle or some other form of solace, Frank find’s his solace through falconry, hunting in the woods with a hawk.

Frank’s an ex NYPD homicide detective compelled to leave the force and relocate to Virginia to work as a private investigator after he and his partner, in what they thought was self-defense, shoot and kill an apparently unarmed African-American teen. If that doesn’t supply enough guilt and angst for him, he has an estranged teenage daughter named Nicole and a rich ex-wife who is far along in the process of succumbing to her own demons. In Virginia, Frank is introduced to the ancient art and sport of falconry by his old NYPD partner Jake Toronto, who has traveled a similar path to Frank’s after leaving New York.

I knew little to nothing about falconry when I started to write the Pavlicek novels. My wife, a lifelong birdwatcher, encouraged me to join in with her, and one day as I sat looking out from our deck toward the ravine behind our house, I heard the cry of a large bird and looked up to see a red-shoulder hawk. The idea occurred to me then and there to pair my fictional private investigator with a bird of prey. I was so taken by the allure of working with such a bird, in fact, that I eventually decided to become a licensed falconer myself.

Maybe it’s the spirit of the hawk–a survivor on the hunt, desperate to find its quarry in order to live another day–that embodies the Pavlicek novels. As fans of the genre will know, pairing some sort of a falcon with a fictional private eye isn’t even really a new idea at all. Dashiell Hammett had his Maltese Falcon of course. And while I would never pretend to try to approach Hammett’s genius, maybe in the end Sam Spade’s mysterious black statue and Frank Pavlicek’s real falcons each come to symbolize the same thing.

So I accomplished part of my goal. I created a new and unique private eye character in Frank Pavlicek and its led to a series of books, all of which are being republished by Brash Books (a new one, A Talon Dancer, is coming soon!). I’m still trying to figure out the “world’s greatest” and “gazillions” part…