Mysterious Orientations

Watching the Detectives…Drive


This idea for a blog post is such a natural for me, I cannot believe I haven’t thought of it before: an informal, and by no means complete, compilation of the cars driven by fictional detectives, past and present. I can’t exactly remember when I became a car buff and a mystery buff, but let’s just say that it dates back at least to the 1957 T-Bird and the Hardy Boys books (back when the T-Bird had a “porthole” top, the Hardy Boys books still had dust jackets, and the pair drove a “flivver” on double dates; yikes!). I try to keep these posts to around five hundred words, so there will likely be a number of revisits to the theme should it prove popular. So here, in no particular order, are the first few:

Elvis Cole (Robert Crais): we might as well start with a particular favorite (both detective and car), so how about Elvis Cole’s yellow 1966 Corvette convertible? The classic Sting Ray should be a shoe-in for the detective automotive hall of fame, a perfect complement for the outgoing wiseguy PI (although its “stealth car” credentials for tailing a bad guy would be somewhat limited).

Shell Scott (Richard Prather): for the better part of forty years, Shell Scott was a mainstay of detective fiction; some three dozen novels and short story compilations were published, during which time the character never aged (much like Sue Grafton’s iconic protagonist, Kinsey Millhone). Scott’s ride of choice, a white Cadillac ragtop with red leather upholstery. (A side note: convertibles were particularly popular in television and cinema adaptations of novels, as they made it very easy to see, and film, the characters during the driving sequences.)

Alex Delaware (Jonathan Kellerman): another Caddy aficionado, although the respected psychologist is not so much a softtop fan; he drives a 1979 Seville, a sedate four-door sedan, exceptionally well kept. When he and his friend, LA cop Milo Sturgis, go on detecting adventures, they often take Delaware’s car, as Milo much prefers it to his normal ride, an LAPD Crown Victoria.

Travis McGee (John D. MacDonald): McGee, who lives on a houseboat in a Florida marina (Bahia Mar, in Ft. Lauderdale), drives “Miss Alice”, an elderly electric blue Rolls Royce that has been converted into a pickup truck, quite possibly the worst stealth vehicle on the planet. When McGee has to do some undercover work, he rents an anonymous sedan.

Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell): Virginia medical examiner Scarpetta drives a hot rodded Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan, which she trades in regularly; fortunately, she has a fat bank account at her disposal, as the six-figure Benz would be out of the range of most government employees.

Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton): Millhone, a Northern California girl, drives an aging VW Beetle, dating from the Summer of Love; as noted in Millhone “drives a decrepit Volkswagen, she cuts her own hair with toenail scissors, she lives in a garage with a closet full of neuroses and one dress…” Sounds about right for the driver of an aged Bug.

So, there’s the first installment; if you have a favorite you would like to see added, please don’t hesitate to let me know!