No Trench Coat Required

By Zachary Block / March / April 2004
June 15th, 2007
Amy Gray has always loved to spy. as a child she devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and adored Harriet the Spy. Later, Gray gained a reputation among her friends as a great source of information and gossip. “Who’s dating who, who’s cheating on who, who’s hooking up with who,” she says with a laugh. “I am likely to know.” It seemed only natural, then, that when Gray finally decided she’d had enough of the piddling pay and abusive bosses of the publishing world—the final straw came when her boss ordered her to take dictation during a trip to the bathroom—Gray would put her talent as a busybody to better use. She became a private investigator.

Gray chronicles her trench-coat adventures in Spygirl (Villard), a lighthearted memoir that marks her return to publishing, this time as an author. The book really tells two stories: a narrative of her adventures in a New York City populated by grifters and sociopaths and a record of her search for love. The result is Bridget Jones’s Diary meets The Rockford Files. “It was kind of like keeping a journal,” Gray says of writing the book. “I couldn’t just reflect on my job. It was always intertwined with my life. There was this huge connection between me being this investigator and tracking down these awful people and me out there in the dating world trying to figure out who these people were that I was hanging out with.”

Awful people indeed. Gray helps bust a con man with a fondness for throwing himself wedding parties and then skipping town without paying the bills. She uncovers a wealthy CEO moonlighting as a male escort, and a hot-dog vendor who claims to be a Wall Street trader and nearly swindles $1 million from gullible investors. “There were so many pathologies out there,” Gray says. “The things motivating people aren’t necessarily things you can relate to at all. For a lot of these criminals it’s not about the money. It’s about power.”

In the end, her work bears little resemblance to film noir clichés. Gray’s small Manhattan agency specialized in white-collar crime and was staffed by a group of misfits. There are no car chases or shoot-outs in the book, although Gray does smoke plenty of cigarettes on the job. (She says she has since quit.) She spends most of her time gathering information over the phone and tracking down documents on the Internet or in courthouse records.

When Gray isn’t delving into financial scams and other malfeasance, she’s dishing the dirt on her up-and-down personal life. Over the course of the book, Gray dates and says goodbye to Ben, Elliott, Edward, and Dan. At one point, she turns her investigative skills on Peter, snooping through his computer files to discover (wrongly it turns out) that he is in love with one of her friends. When she confronts him, he blows up. The Nancy Drew act has gone too far. He accuses Gray of spending so much time around psychopaths that she expects everyone to cheat. “It’s made you crazy,” he says. Eventually Peter forgives her. The two are now engaged and living together in Manhattan while Gray works on her first novel. When she’s not spying on her neighbors, that is.

Zachary Block is the BAM’s staff writer.
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March / April 2004