THE MOST PRIVATE OF EYES
Modern fans of hardboiled private-eye novels often discovered the genre via Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Women hardboiled fans also read Crais and Parker, but they often come to the genre through Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski—who have also entertained many male readers. Casual readers usually stop with these names from the bestseller lists. However, others find themselves on the dangerous path to hardboiled addiction.
Thinking they can quit at any time, they begin chipping the original masters of the genre—the godhead of Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald. Quickly, still denying their addiction, they look for further highs, uncovering John D. Macdonald or Mickey Spillane before scoring more modern masters—Lawrence Block, Estelman, Max Allan Collins, Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, Walter Mosely, Dennis Lehane, Andrew Vachss...
Falling further into the depths of their addiction deepen, hardboiled junkies score their highs from the private eye characters created by the likes of Wayne D. Dundee, Joe Gores, the ever dangerous Andrew Vachss, Jeremiah Healy, Arthur Lyons, Michael Collins (aka: Dennis Lynds), Stephen Greenleaf, Joseph Hansen, Jonathan Valin, and an almost never ending list of other two-fisted sleuths.
Falling further into the depths of their addiction deepen, desperate hardboiled addicts go old school for their kicks with the likes of Mike Shayne, Cool and Lam, Shell Scott, Johnny Liddell, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Dan Turner, and others from the golden age of private eyes. But eventually, even these hardboiled speedballs aren’t enough to satisfy a mainliner.
There remains only one place for these sad souls to go, a place known to only the most devoted of hardboiled fanatics. It is an opium den where the air is acrid with the residue of smoking guns, healing bruises, laddered stockings, and the underlying strains of a dying torch song. Here there be treasure—the treasures of The Eye, a hidden cabal of the hardboiled inner circle who tightly guard long forgotten, gritty paperback original private eyes series, which are passed from hand to hand with whispered reverence.
In the spirit of the Masked Magician—only without the mask—who delights in revealing the mechanisms behind magic’s smoke and mirrors, I am going to devote the next few columns to unveiling the hidden treasures of private eye fiction…
First up is a personal favorite—Rafferty, a tough ex-cop turned Texas private eye created by W. Glenn Duncan. Starting with Rafferty’s Rules (#39: Smiting the wicked sounds biblical, but mostly it's good clean fun) in 1987, this PBO (paperback original) series ran for six titles.
At first blush, the framework for Rafferty appears to be yet another Spenser clone (Cowboy, Rafferty’s semi-sociopathic partner channeling Hawk; Hilda, Rafferty’s significant other who is a less irritating version of Susan Silverman; an equal number of wisecracks, fists, and bullets), but it’s quickly apparent in the first few pages of the series, Rafferty and company are in a class of their own.
Rafferty doesn’t play well with others. He is stubbornly contrary, refusing to be told what to do or how to do anything. Being able to back his mouth up with smarts—or brute force when intelligence fails—is half the fun of the series. Rafferty is a refreshing throwback to the golden age of good, clean, hard-hitting, men’s action and adventure. Rafferty’s seemingly endless collections of rules provide a warped sense of ethics to his actions and we are happy to be along for the ride.
Brash Books would drool to be able to reprint this series, but Duncan has somehow disappeared into the Australian Outback...Until search parties can locate him, interested parties will have to peruse used bookstores or the Internet.
THE RAFFERTY SERIES
Rafferty's Rules (1987)
Last Seen Alive (1987)
Poor Dead Cricket (1988)
Wrong Place, Wrong Time (1989)
Cannon's Mouth (1990)
Fatal Sisters (1990)
FOR MORE ABOUT RAFFERTY CLICK HERE
Another hidden PBO series horded by hardboiled aficionados is Ralph Dennis’, Hardman. Published in the ‘70s, the series remains one of the most overlooked and underestimated entries in the genre.
Jim Hardman, is a middle-aged, overweight, out of shape, ex-Atlanta cop turned unlicensed private eye. Despite his physical attributes, Hardman remains one tough bastard. When coupled with his partner, former Cleveland Browns pro-football player Hump Evans (yes, Hardman and Hump – get over it), the duo form a formidable team—Spenser and Hawk before there was a Spenser and Hawk. Despite the groundbreaking done by the television series I Spy, having an Afro-American sidekick who worked as an equal partner was fairly progressive for the time period.
Hardman’s beat is Atlanta, a great city for kick ass action, which Dennis brings to harsh life using spare prose with a sprinkling of real nightclubs, restaurants, bars, hotels, and street corner descriptions throughout the series. Atlanta was the author’s adopted home, and his affection for the city is obvious.
The books hold up surprisingly well. Dennis’ tells a good, violent, series of tales making Hardman, Hump, and Atlanta well worth making the effort to track down. The publisher, Popular Library, did the whole series a disservice—destining it for obscurity—by packaging it as a low-rent Executioner rip-off. The covers, however, are have become retro collectibles.
Hardman is another series ripe for reprinting, but the rights have proved difficult and expensive to disentangle. As an alternative, you can still find some of the series entries for affordable prices through the usual sources, but trying to put together the whole series from scratch will be a challenge.
THE HARDMAN SERIES
Atlanta Deathwatch (1974)
The Charleston Knife's Back In Town (1974)
The Golden Girl &Amp; All (1974)
Pimp For The Dead (1974)
Down Among The Jocks (1974)
Murder's Not An Odd Job (1974)
Working For The Man (1974)
The Deadly Cotton Heart (1976)
The One-Dollar Rip-Off (1977)
Hump's First Case (1977)
The Last Of The Armageddon Wars (1977)
The Buy Back Blues (1977)
FOR MORE ON HARDMAN CLICK HERE
Next week I’ll be featuring three more obscure hardboiled gems…