Thursday, May 16, 2019


• PART 1 •

Somewhere, jockeying for position in my top five favorite tough guy private eyes, you will find the six book Rafferty series by Shamus Award winning author W. Glenn Duncan. Like author John Whitlatch, who I previously posted about, W. Glenn Duncan has been an enigma to his fans for many years. A former journalist and pilot, Duncan lived in Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Texas, and California, before disappearing into the proverbial wilds of Australia with his wife and three children.

Since the 1990 publication of the last Rafferty book, Fatal Sisters, a hardcore cult of mystery fans has grown around the paperback original Rafferty series. Whenever knowledgeable hardboiled gurus talk about favorite, overlooked, or forgotten private eye series, Rafferty is always mentioned at the highest levels.

The Rafferty series has been compared to both Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels,  which began a few years prior to the first Rafferty book, but had not yet become the bestselling phenomenon it is today. Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole premiered the same year as Rafferty’s Rules and also found itself being compared to the Spenser formula. Other series, including Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books, followed a similar pattern.

The Rafferty series, however, broke away from the pack to establish its own original niche in the pantheon of great private eyes. The series became known not only for the spot on philosophy of the frequent quoting of Rafferty’s rules, but also for the great interplay between the tougher than tough Rafferty and his even tougher sidekick, Cowboy. Tougher than both of them, though, is Cowboy’s wife—the delightfully height challenged, Mimi. Each of the Rafferty books had an added depth of social conscious, dealing with problems that are still pertinent today. 

Attempts have been made to trace Duncan for interviews or simply to find out more information about the author and his series—all eventually running into a dead end down under. Casual and in-depth Internet searches fail to provide any extensive or definitive information. Most recently, Lee Goldberg’s Brash Books tried to locate Duncan to obtain the reprint rights to the Rafferty series. Those efforts also ran aground on the coast of Austrailia and the search eventually abandoned.

When I wrote my original blog post on the enigmatic John Whitlatch in 2009, it prompted an unexpected response from an individual who had worked with Whitlatch in the insurance industry. When I reached out to the respondent, he provided me with a wealth of information on Whitlatch, which was previously unknown to genre mavens. I wrote and posted an article to document the details, causing a minor Internet run on used copies of Whitlatch’s novels—likely inflating prices by a few bucks for those late to the party. 

Recently, I experienced a similar out of the blue response to a blog post I’d written regarding my admiration for the Rafferty series. Bill Duncan, son of W. Glenn Duncan contacted me to ask if he could quote my blog post as he was preparing to relaunch his father’s Rafferty novels in e-book format. The relaunch of the Rafferty series was great news, but I was also excited when Bill told me he was also taking over the reins of the Rafferty series, writing a new adventure—False Gods—which is great news for new readers and long term fans.

Bill graciously agreed to pass some specific questions on to his father related to the Rafferty series, and to also answer some questions himself about the upcoming Rafferty reissues and the soon to be released new Rafferty novel...

What can you tell us about your background, your reading interests, and how you began writing?

I was an avid reader growing up and read anything I could get my hands on. Studied journalism briefly in college before serving in the US Navy. After getting out, I went back to journalism and worked as a radio reporter in Dallas in the first half of the sixties. The whole job was being out and about, talking to and observing people. Dallas was a busy town. There was always something going on. And I had a car and could go anywhere I wanted to get a story. I was like a kid with a doughnut.

In 1964, I was inside the Neiman-Marcus building as it burned in the famous five-alarm fire, and I was the only reporter there. Everyone else was too chickenshit to come inside. Stanley Marcus, the store’s namesake was there too, and every five minutes he’d jump on the mic to say, “We’ll be open tomorrow morning at 8am for business.”

I learned from that situation that the best thing to do was to get to someone who’s close to the story, and let them tell you the story. There’s an enormous vat of interesting stories in everyday interactions if you’re aware. If your ears are good enough, your pen can be good enough too.

What type of books do you enjoy reading and was there any book in particular that inspired you to begin writing?

No one book in particular inspired me, but I’ve always liked mysteries, adventure and aviation-related stories. Writers I’ve enjoyed reading are Wilbur Smith, John D. Macdonald, Stephen King and Robert B Parker.

Did you do any other writing before the Rafferty series or did you jump right into writing Rafferty’s Rules?

Rafferty was the third full-length novel I’d written. The previous two weren’t published. I did have a handful of short stories published...

It Could Happen to Anybody
Mike Shayne 
Mystery Magazine 
Sept 1983
Wally the Dumb
Alfred Hitchcock’s 
Mystery Magazine
April 1984
The Gray Mercedes
Mike Shayne 
Mystery Magazine 
July 1984
Alone at Sea
Alfred Hitchcock’s
Mystery Magazine 
Sept 1984

Did you use an agent to sell the Rafferty series or did you go directly over the transom to the publisher?

Used an agent. Weirdly, though, it was an agent I hadn’t queried. I received a note from an intern, or assistant, who’d pulled Rafferty out of the slush pile at the agency where she worked and read it in her own time. She got in touch and told me the manuscript wouldn’t go anywhere at her agency, but she enjoyed it. However, she also thought it was the type of thing another agent she knew was looking for, and suggested I contact him.

Did you plan for Rafferty to become a series character or did you write Rafferty’s Rules as a standalone and the publisher asked for more?

Rafferty was written originally as a standalone, but it was a helluva lot of fun seeing where the characters took me in the subsequent books.

The Rafferty books were some of the last titles to be published under Fawcett’s iconic Gold Medal imprint. Were you aware of the storied Gold Medal history when you were being published by them?

Not really.

Did Gold Medal contract for the full series or go from book to book?

They took Rafferty’s Rules first, then did a two-book deal for Last Seen Alive and Poor Dead Cricket, then a three-book deal for Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Cannon’s Mouth, and Fatal Sisters.

Did the Gold Medal choose not to continue the series after Fatal Sisters (Rafferty #6) or did you choose not to continue because of other demands on your time?

When I finished writing Fatal Sisters, I had written six books in four years and I was ready for a break. Fawcett had also refused any new Rafferty stories due to declining sales, so I decided to take some well-earned down time.

My youngest daughter had moved out of the house, Val and I were enjoying being kid-free again, and my passion for sailing had grown to the point where I was refitting sailing boats and we were taking months-long cruises up and down the East Coast of Australia. By the time I was ready to get stuck back into Rafferty, the movie had been released. I was so disappointed with what they’d done, I decided to stop there and then. I always believed when it stops being fun, it’s time to stop. And it was.

Were you surprised to win the Shamus Award for Rafferty’s Rules?

Yes, very. And flattered. 

Did you socialize with other writers’ groups such as Mystery Writers of America or Private Eye Writers of America?

No. This was the mid to late eighties, and Australia might has well have been on another planet, as far as communication was concerned. All correspondence between the agent and me was still by typewritten letter!

How did Rafferty’s Rules come to be sold as the basis for the Lorenzo Lamas action film, Snake Eater III—His Law?

The film production company expressed interest in securing a film option to Rafferty’s Rules in the late eighties. ’88, ’89, somewhere around there. I don’t remember if they approached my agent or if it was the other way around. It took forever to reach an agreement on the contract. With 20/20 hindsight, maybe I should have known it would turn out the way it did.

The production company originally said that they wouldn’t use Rafferty’s Rules as the basis for a Snake Eater film, but in ’91 they exercised their option and, unfortunately, we all know what happened afterward.

Did you have any other involvement in making the movie?

Hell, no. Does it look like it? I sincerely hope not. Truth be told, although I’ve always been a proponent of the “Take the money and run” approach for Hollywood enquiries, the complete disaster the movie became is a solid argument for getting involved. 

A lack of information from my agent on exactly how the story would be used also factored into my hands-off approach. If I’d known how much they were going to screw it up, I would have fought for Rafferty.

What prompted you to move to Australia and was the move before, after, or in the middle of writing the Rafferty books?

We moved to Australia in 1975 after watching the debacle that the US government had become with Nixon and the Watergate affair. We wanted to give the kids a better place to grow up and Australia reminded us a lot of the way the US used to be.

Were you ever aware genre fans and publishers were trying to track you down?

Honestly had no idea until Bill told me what he’d found in speaking to you and a few of the other contacts he’d made. We’d been living aboard a boat for 15 years too, mostly away from any sort of public life and far, far away from the internet. The whole idea of social media (what the hell is that, anyway?) and having an online “presence” bores me to tears.

Have you continued to write while down under?

After Rafferty finished, I wrote a few articles for boating magazines.

Have you read any of the Australian crime writers?

I enjoy both Peter Corris and Jon Cleary.

How do you feel about Rafferty making a comeback under the guidance of your son, Bill?

I think it’s great that Bill is repubbing my books, and it’s hard to believe there are still people out there who want to read those old things, but the most exciting part is to know that Bill is writing his own instalment. Really looking forward to the release of False Gods.

Why does Rafferty remains a cult favorite among hardboiled fans?

Wow, I really don’t know. All I can say is that I had a helluva lot of fun writing each story and I guess that probably comes through in the reading. It surprises me that they seem to have stood the test of time, but I believe it’s all down to the relatability of the characters, which was the easy part. Once I got started, the characters and the situations they found themselves in would tell me what they wanted to do next. I just let them be themselves and didn’t force them anywhere.

Cowboy and Mimi were my favorites. Nobody had ever written a couple like that before and I thought it would be fun to see what happened with them. It was. And though mysteries and crime are easy to make plot-driven, I always wanted the characters to be the central focus. There’s no point in telling the reader what happens next when I can show them by making the characters do things that move the action along.

You’ve got to keep the reader interested, and I hope the stories did that. In Last Seen Alive, where Boat blows up (Ed: Spoiler alert) there was no reason to have Jim Belker and his daughter in the scene. But by including the realistic scenario of a father and daughter on a quiet fishing trip nearby, I could increase the drama and tension and get the reader more invested in what’s happening.
Thanks to W. Glenn Duncan for the great conversation. In Part 2 of Rafferty Down Under, it’s time to bring Bill Duncan under the interrogation lamps and tell us about the bright future planned for 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)
False Gods (2018)
In 1989, looking to capitalize on his martial arts skills, pretty boy Lorenzo Lamas tried to make the jump from a secondary character on the television prime time soap opera Falcon Crest, to big screen action movie star. Unfortunately, his choice for his first action role was the disasterous low budget B-movie, Snake Eater. The plot played out like an entry in a by-the-numbers men’s adventure paperback series. As Jack Soldier Kelly, Lorenzo Lamas is the leader of the Snake Eaters, an elite division of the Marines especially trained for search and destroy missions. When Soldier finds out a band of backwoods bad-guys have killed his parents and abducted his sister, he returns home to extract kick-ass revenge.

Somehow, Snake Eater spawned two sequels. Snake Eater II—The Drug Buster did a hit and run on the big screen in 1989, almost immediately after the release of the original. In 1992, Snake Eater III—His Law completed the trilogy. There is one remarkable thing about Snake Eater III. While the first two Snake Eater entries were original screenplays, Snake Eater III was based on W. Glen Duncan’s novel Rafferty’s Rules—the first in his Rafferty series.

From a glance at its synopsis, Snake Eater III—His Law would appear to follow at least the basic set-up of Rafferty’s Rules...Vietnam vet Jack Soldier Kelly is hired to find a biker gang called Hell's Fury and extract revenge on the outlaw bikers for the kidnapping, drugging, and rape of a young college co-ed. Even Rafferty’s partner in crime, the slightly psychotic Cowboy (portrayed by stunt coordinator Minor Mustain), gets name checked as an ex-biker turned private eye who teams up with Soldier.

Soldier even gets Rafferty’s love interest, Hildy Gardener (Canadian actress Tracey Cook). However, beyond a couple of well-choreographed martial arts scenes, the movie did the source material no favors.

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