I think every writer who's ever tried to write a detective novel has a favorite they've modeled their protagonist on, and I have several who went into the making of Henry Swann who, technically speaking, is not a detective but a skiptracer who reluctantly becomes a detective in the pursuit of, what else, money. I had a down and out Sam Spade type detective in mind when I invented Swann. But I wanted to write something more than the typical detective novel. P. D. James is right when she said, "what the detective story is about is not murder, but the restoration of order." Detective novels are very theological in nature--follow the clues, make all the right connections and, in the end, the solution will come. Of course, that's predicated on a world that's logical and ordered. But what if the world isn't like that? What if you make all the right connections and it doesn't lead to solving the crime? My idea was to write a novel in which this chaotic, messy world is never quite restored to order. In writing Swann's Last Song, I'd write the "anti-detective" novel, in which the protagonist finds all the clues, makes all the right connection, but doesn't solve the crime because it turns out to be totally random.
Of course, publishers didn't quite take to my idea--"you can't have an ending where the detective doesn't solve the crime," they said. "You'll disappoint your readers." And so the book languished in a drawer for 25 years, before I resurrected it, changed the ending, and had Swann solve the crime, restoring order to the world, at least for the moment. I don't know if that had anything to do with the book being nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, but since I lost, I'd like to think that I would have won if I'd kept the original ending.
In the end, I had the last word, because in the paperback edition, published by Greenpoint Press, I added the original "lost" last chapter, and so the reader can make his or her own choice as to which he or she prefers: a logical world or one in which so many things don't make sense.
I'm working on a sequel now but I think this time I'll have Swann "solve" the crime. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be restoring order to the world.