Created by Ralph Dennis
“…the most beloved obscure private eye writer who ever lived…”
–– Ed Gorman
At least not physically. He’s actually a little overweight and out of shape, smoking too many Pall Malls and definitely drinking a little too much.
Still, he’s tough enough to get the job done. He’s a former Atlanta cop, kicked out for dating the wrong woman (that’s his story, anyway). He’s living in a small house that needs paint, currently working as an unlicensed private eye, assisted by his trusty (and far more formidable) black sidekick, HUMP EVANS, who’s not such a hump, either — he’s a 6’6″, 270 pound former pro football player who’s “black as coal,” and not afraid to put a little hurt on someone, if that’s what’s required.
Together, they roam the streets of Atlanta, kicking ass and taking down names — when they aren’t having a drink. Or two. Or three.
This was a really decent series, well-written, with great use of setting, fast-moving private eye action served straight up, no chaser. They’re more or less forgotten now, sadly, possibly due to the fact that the twelve novels in the series (each a taut, tight little gem) were packaged as “men’s adventures. You know–The Executioner, The Destroyer, The Eviscerator, et al.–all those numbered paperback odes to sex, violence and front-of-the-brain thinking that were all the rage, churned out by a cadre of writers often hiding behind corporate pen names.
Fans of the genre, however, generally weren’t looking for what Dennis was dishing out, and mystery readers who might have appreciated them weren’t even aware of their existence. Those few who were aware—or were turned on to them years later—loved them for what they were: smart, compassionate private eye novels that could easily go fifteen rounds with any of their contemporaries.
But whatever the reason, the series faded away far too soon, no doubt too hip for the room. But they’re worth tracking down. One of the great lost private eye teams.
Dennis was a continuation of the Spillane school of hard-boiled writing (for example, the amount of drinking Jim and Hump do — apparently without any effect on their sobriety or their livers — is staggering), but he had more character development and tighter plotting than Spillane. The comparison and parallels to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, a contemporary, are interesting as well, although there’s little evidence either ripped off the other. Sure, Spenser had Hawk, but by the time Hawk showed up in the series, Dennis had already cranked out seven or so books featuring Jim and Hump.
Dennis also started another series, based on a man named Kane, who finds himself working as a private eye in Atlanta.
- In 2018, Lee Goldberg’s Brash Books announced plans to reprint the Hardman series in both print and digital, complete with introductions by Joe Lansdale who knows a few things about the shamus game.
EVEN GOODER NEWS!
- After successfully bringing the Hardman series back into print, Brash Books head honcho Lee Goldberg discovered rough drafts of The Polish Wife, what was essentially an unpublished thirteenth Hardman book. There’s an interesting afterword by Goldberg on how he found it and transformed it into All Kinds of Ugly, a far more Hardman-like title, released in January 2020. Ugly’s a beauty, though; a pure distillation of Grade A Hard-Boiled Pulp that dares to reaches for more, and a fitting conclusion to a series that coulda/shoulda been a contender.
- “Like Chandler and Hammett before him, Dennis was trying to do something different with what was thought of as throwaway literature.”
— Joe R. Lansdale
- “Ralph Dennis has mastered the genre and supplied top entertainment.”
— New York Times
- “Exceptional characterization, strong and vigorous prose.”
— Mystery Scene Magazine
- Hardman 1: Atlanta Deathwatch (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 2: The Charleston Knife’s Back In Town (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 3: The Golden Girl & All (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 4: Pimp for the Dead (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 5: Down Among the Jocks (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 6: Murder is Not an Odd Job (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 7: Working for the Man (1974)| Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 8: The Deadly Cotton Heart (1976) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 9: The One-Dollar Rip-Off (1977) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 10: Hump’s First Case (1977) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 11: The Last of the Armageddon Wars (1977) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 12: The Buy Back Blues (1977) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman 13: All Kinds of Ugly (2020) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hardman Volume 1: The First Six Novels (2020) | Kindle it!
- Hardman Volume 2: Seven Complete Novels (2020) | Kindle it!
- The Complete Hardman: All 13 Novels (2020) | Kindle it!
- The Literary Life of Ralph Dennis
Richard A. Moore fills us in.
- Whistlin’ Dixie
- Private Eyes by the Number
P.I.s in Men’s Adventure Books