From The New York Times:
The private eyes of classic American noir dwell in a moral shadow land somewhere between order and anarchy, principle and pragmatism. They’re too unruly to be cops and too decent to be crooks, leaving them no natural allies on either side but attracting enemies from both. Their loneliness resembles that of cowboys, those other mournful individualists who pay for their liberty with obscurity, and it makes them at least as intriguing as their cases, which usually start as tales of greed and lust but tend to evolve into dramas of corruption that implicate lofty, respected institutions and indict society itself.
What allows the detectives to penetrate these schemes is not their intelligence, chiefly, but their autonomy. Private eyes are skeptics and outsiders, their isolation the secret of their vision. Doc Sportello, the mellow gumshoe hero of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” — a psychedelic homage to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler set in the last days of hippie-era Los Angeles, after the Manson murders have spoiled the vibe — lives, like his old-school models, on the margins, unaffiliated and unencumbered. His funky little hometown, Gordita Beach, is perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, its back turned squarely on America, both geographically and culturally.