The Origins of Mr. Finn
I’ve participated in several panels, book clubs, and other author events and one of the questions I field the most is “how did you come up with the idea of Mr. Finn?”
For the unfamiliar, Mr. Finn (Finn Harding) is the protagonist of my three-book crime series. He’s an underground private investigator who lost his PI license and is forced to work with those who operate in the shadows, pay in cash, and don’t care that he’s not licensed.
To understand Finn’s motivations you first have to know that just like doctors and lawyers, PIs are licensed by the state and there are certain ethics they must follow in order to stay in good standing with the licensing agency. The other thing you should know is that Hollywood (and my fiction) tends to show PIs landing themselves in sensational situations, but the truth is most PIs live a much less dramatic life.
It’s not sexy, but most PIs work for corporations, larger agencies, or law firms. They conduct background checks, interview witnesses on behalf of attorneys, file legal paperwork and testify in court. But they can’t do any of this without a license and should a PI lose his or her professional license, their ability to sustain a career disappears.
So, what does all this have to do with Finn Harding? It all goes back to a conversation I had with a PI who ran an agency in Florida and unbeknownst to him became the inspiration for Mr. Finn.
This PI, who is now retired, told me about a time when he was down on his luck financially and was facing the inevitability that he might have to shutter his agency. In typical Hollywood fashion, a client walked into his office and wanted to hire him to procure certain illegal information on another individual. [Keep in mind this is long before the Internet and the ability for anyone to learn everything about you in twenty minutes.]
He initially refused, understanding how risky the assignment was, but after reflecting on his current situation further and how desperate he and his family were, he called the client back and took the case. The PI worked for this client for two months and admitted that he made more during that time than he had during the previous year. The PI wrapped the case, got back on his feet financially, and never took an illegal job again.
I asked him what would have happened had he been caught and he explained he would have lost his license and would have become unemployable. It was a big gamble and had he not been in such financial dire straights, he would never have considered taking the gig. He said the rest of his career was uneventful, which for a PI is probably a good thing.
I always wondered what would have happened to him had he been caught, lost his license and his livelihood, and had to find something else to occupy his time. And that’s when Finn was born.
In The Shadow Broker, the first novel in the Mr. Finn series, readers learn that Finn lost his PI license by acquiring illegal medical records for a client. The client gets caught and goes down, taking Finn with him. The Ohio Department of Public Safety strips Finn’s PI license leaving him to fend for himself. So he turns to the only clients who he can find to stay employed–criminals.
Over three novels, the dynamic of clients with everything to gain and a PI with nothing to lose has made for great fiction. From an illegal information broker to an Indianapolis mob boss to a father seeking revenge for his son’s murder, Mr. Finn has worked for some interesting characters (some of those characters were based on actual individuals too).
And I owe part of this journey to a PI who once skirted the rules for the sake of his family and was lucky enough to emerge untarnished.
I can’t say the same for Mr. Finn.