Thursday, March 30, 2006

Care for a little cheese?

Well, last Sunday was a pretty good day, overall.

Not only did I attend Lessercon (where I ran into Terrill Lee "Blonde Lightning" Lankford and DAPA-Em boss and uber-collector Art Scott) but I (just) made it to the Mystery Bookstore to catch Windy City mystery reviewer Dick "Call me Charlie" Adler and a bevy of crime-scribbling Angels expounding on the art of criticism. I'm not sure how Dick managed to surround himself with all those lovely and talented women (including Denise Hamilton, Jan Burke, Naomi Hirahara, Harley Jane Kozak, Rochelle Krich, Twist Phelan, and Patricia Smiley) but I didn't see him exactly complaining.

I spoke for a bit with Twist, the kamikaze mystery author, and she told me about some of her mishaps while conducting research for her now one, SPURRED AMBITION (check out the most recent MYSTERY SCENE). They involve rock climbing, "buildering," some suspicious cops and a lot of ropes and stuff... and that doesn't even include her latest escapade, she informed me, which evidently includes a dramatic rescue (televised) via helicopter.

No word yet on whether her insurance company is insisting her next novel focus on stamp-collecting...

I also finally met Diane Stewart, a close pal and fellow fan of crime writer John Shannon's Jack Liffey series, who gave me a tiny hint of what's to come in one of my favourite current private eye series. Colour me stoked...

And I managed to hook up (at Lessercon) with Jim Stephenson, one of the very first folks to ever contribute to the Thrilling Detective Web Site. Like me, Jim's a relatively recent Californian and our post-bookcrawl meal was a real treat as we (and Jim's buddyl Dave) compared notes on this strange land and the even stranger land of the WWW.

We also compared and showed off some of our new treasures: Jim and Dave had scored several vinyl LPs (Dave nabbed a great LP -- Johnny Cash's hard-to-find album of novelty songs, complete with cover art by MAD magazine legend Jack Davis).

My haul included a handful of reasonably priced crime digests (a Manhunt plus a couple of Manhunt wannabes, all with some pretty decent authors) and a few paperbacks from the late fifties/early sixties, which brings me to my first real find of Sunday, a nice copy of the 1960 PBO JOHNNY HAVOC by John Jakes, a well-regarded series I've been curious about for years.

JOHNNY HAVOC's main claim to fame is that he's short. In fact, at 5'1", he's got to be one of the shortest eyes around. But he sure doesn't let it get him down -- he's a tough, cocky, unlicensed P.I. ("I'm no eye. Merely an exponent of free enterprise.") who wears Brooks Brothers suits, a pork pie hat and one giant chip on his shoulder.

But his height isn't what makes him, as the cover blurb says, "the private eye -- with a difference."

No, it's the pint-size redhead's raging libido that lingers after reading one of his adventures. You see, Johnny's chief preoccupation in life seems to be satisfying his "one-eyed wonder worm" -- which, coincidentally, seems to do most of his thinking for him. No word yet on the height of that.

Anyway, as a result of his relentless and often reckless, Scotch-fueled pursuit of "dolls" (an amazing number of whom apparently find the little stud irresistable), Johnny is frequently in need of assistance, if not downright rescue. Fortunately, he can usually count on his good buddy Detective First Grade Fitzhugh Goodpasture.

As you may have guessed, these books are not to be taken too seriously. But they are worth checking out--they may be a little goofy, but Johnny's preoccupation with sex occasionally gets tiresome, but they're good quick reads, and plenty of fun, particularly if you've already gone through all the Shell Scotts.

Originally a series of PBOs put out by the relatively obscure Belmont press, Johnny finally got some hardcover respect in the early nineties when all four books in the series were reissued by The Armchair Detective Press, who at the time informed us that originally, author Jakes had envisioned Mickey Rooney as Johnny.

John Williams Jakes started out writing for the pulps in the early fifties, while still in college, but soon switched to writing longer works, eventually penning over a hundred sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western and sports novels, but is probably best known for penning the tremendously successful American Bicentennial (ie. The Bastard, The Patriot,etc.) series..He also wrote three novels featuring William Ard's private eye Lou Largo after Ard had passed away.


Johnny Havoc (1960)
Johnny Havoc Meets Zelda (1962; AKA "Havoc for Sale")
Johnny Havoc and the Doll Who Had "It" (1963; AKA "Holiday for Havoc")
Making It Big (1968; AKA "Johnny Havoc and the Siren in Red" and "Havoc for Sale")


Blogger Diane R. Stewart said...

Hey Kevin,

Color me stoked for getting to meet one of my favorite mystery reviewers!

4:16 PM, March 30, 2006  

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