Title: Inventing the Pinkertons;
or, Spies, Sleuths, Mercenaries, and Thugs
Author: S. Paul O’Hara
Rating: 4 out of 5
I enjoy hard-boiled detective fiction from the 20’s-50’s. This genre often features Pinkerton or Pinkerton-like operatives (e.g. Dashiell Hammett’s unnamed Continental Op), so this book caught me eye in my library’s new book display. It turns out that there is very little in the book about dogged detectives (hard-boiled, wisecracking, or otherwise). Rather, the author focuses on the public perception of the Pinkerton agency throughout its history.
O’Hara portrays the Pinkertons’ attempt to control their own mythos, battling against a reputation shaped by dime novels and the press. Their characterization as corporate mercenaries and thugs dominates most of the book with emphasis on their role in “capitalists vs. labor” disputes. The author seems to be trying to stay neutral, seldom offering a direct opinion on whose version of events is accurate. However, his treatment of accounts of individual investigative cases and methods as little more than Pinkerton propaganda gives the book a somewhat anti-Pinkerton slant.
Overall, I was a little disappointed that the author passed so lightly over the “sleuths” aspect of his title, but I enjoyed learning about this organization from a source other than Black Mask and Dime Detective.