A lot of myth and romance about private investigators has built up over the years, from Sherlock Holmes to the Ferrari driving Thomas Magnum. Your private investigator in the real world really only shares one thing with the myth—getting results.

Just think about the fictional investigator archetypes. We all know them. The hard drinking gumshoe with the dark, smoky office and a ready bottle of scotch in the drawer. He’s the man who will kick over every rock and brave any hazard to get the dirt on that witness who is lying about you in court and calling you a fraud.

The cynical ex-cop with the large caliber pistol in a shoulder holster, who left the force under a cloud but who still knows all of the right people in both the right and wrong places. He has all of the contacts, from City Hall on down to the gutter, to get at the truth of what your prospective business partner is really into besides the wholesaling of gourmet vegetables.

The charming young go-getter with all of the gadgetry. She owns a camera with a lens as long as your arm. She has a directional microphone that will record conversations without anyone knowing about it. Bugging someone’s phone? Hacking into their secrets via the Internet? Using a smart phone app to open up their car and search it? Nothing is beyond her. If your new employee is wanted for counterfeiting by the Secret Service under a different name, she will find out about it.

That is the fiction of private investigators.

Why the myths ring true is because while the tasks of actual investigators usually do not share the underworld danger, the calling in of favors, the tailing of people at high speed, or the breaking of the law to obtain information—all in the day’s work of the fictional detectives—the stakes for the real world people involved can be just as high as those found in the most exciting novel.

In the world of your investigator, that witness destroying your business reputation by accusing you of corporate fraud may be rehabilitating his own image at the expense of yours. You don’t know he has had his own legal trouble with the Attorney General’s office during a “foreclosure rescue” investigation, and was found a “not credible witness” by a judge when his former employer was sued a few years ago. Your investigator will know.

Chances are that your real world investigator was never kicked off the police force or packs a gun, but she will still know how to perform due diligence on your prospective business partner to give you the peace of mind to enter into a complex business relationship. Perhaps you didn’t know that your prospective partner has another “stand alone” business incorporated in the name of his spouse, a business which “never came up.” You also wouldn’t have known this business is being sued for non-payment of its bills by a half dozen suppliers. Your investigator will know.

Your real world investigator will not hack into someone’s computer for their secrets, or wiretap their cell phone, or have friends who can for the right price. He will nevertheless have access to an enormously varied amount of information, and if your prospective accounting hire has a criminal warrant for embezzlement in Alaska, you will be able to know before you hire them on into the family business.

The fictional detectives are legendary for how exciting their tales are.

Your real world investigator’s legend is built by preventing your life from becoming too exciting for all of the wrong reasons.

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