Down these mean (New Jersey suburban) streets

Although the detective story is supposed to be in decline these days — overtaken by thrillers and suspense novels — I’ve read two good examples of the P.I. genre in just the past couple of weeks.
The dean of all P.I. authors, Raymond Chandler, once defined his genre in the sentence, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
Chandler was writing about Los Angeles detective Philip Marlowe in the 1940s, but Chandler’s template has lived on in the work of modern masters such as Michael Connelly and Robert Crais.
I wrote about P.I. genre newcomer Sean Chercover’s terrific “Trigger City” in this blog last week, but I also want to call your attention to a fine New Jersey writer, Dave White, who made his debut last year with “When One Man Dies” (Three Rivers Press), and whose second novel, “The Evil That Men Do,” was published in June.
Both White novels are about a suburban New Jersey P.I. named Jackson Donne, who is seriously considering a career change at the start of “When One Man Dies.”
The 27-year-old Jackson is tired of the work — and the way it stalls and interferes with his private life. He has just been accepted by Rutgers University when a drinking buddy is killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The “accident” takes place right outside Jackson’s favorite bar — the Olde Towne Tavern — and the owner, Artie, is immediately convinced his customer was intentionally hit by the car.
Artie high pressures Jackson into solving this “crime” and we are off on a case as dark and as dirty as anything in a Chandler era urban noir.
We quickly learn that Jackson is a former cop who left the local force under a cloud and that his old partner — a corrupt Narcotics Department officer named Bill Martin — would love to find a way to eliminate Donne.
While Donne tracks down leads on the hit-and-run, he is hired by a woman who wants proof that her husband is a cheater. This leads to a stakeout where Jackson follows the husband as he disposes of a dead body (not that of the wife).
White grabs the reader in the first few chapters with these two parallel cases and then ratchets up the tension as it becomes clear the cases are related and that Jackson’s old cop partner enemy might be in the middle of the whole nasty business.
White mixes the wonderfully offbeat local color of the Jersey suburbs — where most of Jackson’s movements seem to necessitate MapQuesting his way out of the suburban sprawl around the ever-clogged Rt. 287 — with the rich personal drama of a young detective trying to escape the dangerous messes he keeps finding himself in.
I picked up White’s first novel after hearing him speak with great humor and passion about the P.I. genre at the Bouchercon crime fiction gathering in Baltimore earlier this month. I’m looking forward to reading “The Evil That Men Do.”
I agree with best-selling crime writer Laura Lippman’s assertion that “White manages the neat trick of respecting the genre’s traditions while daring to nudge it toward something new and unexpected.”