Aaron Gunner

Created by Gar Anthony Haywood

Back in the late eighties, AARON GUNNER was my go-to black Los Angeles private eye. Hell, he was pretty much the only one.

His 1988 debut, Fear of the Dark (a double-barreled title if there ever was one), was some kind of classic; a finger-pointing, heart-felt blast across the bows of a genre that had been spinning its whitewalls ever since Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft. Not that righteous anger or racism were no longer fertile ground, but something had to be said.

And Gunner was the man to say it.

Suffice it to say Shaft he ain’t.

A South Los Angeles black private eye,  Gunner may not have been an angel, but he was a long way from from Ernest Tidyman’s angry, kiss-my-black-ass gumshoe of the 1970s. Not that the righteous anger is non-existent or that racism has suddenly vanished (Hint: it hasn’t), but it’s the 90’s and Aaron’s finding it increasingly difficult to view the world in simple black and white terms. At one pivotal point, he defends a white cop from the wrath of a black mob.

And he’s no badmuthafucker-macho–superstud, either. Gunner is a surprisingly fallible, at times even inept, detective, just a working joe from South Central, with an office in the back of a barber shop. He can’t even decide if he wants to be a detective or go to work for his cousin Del Curry, an electrician. And Haywood’s insistence on covering issues ignored by most other detective writers at the time, such as race relations, black militancy, crack (as opposed to cocaine) and urban gangs, make this one of the finest P.I. series of the nineties — well worth checking out.

A realistic, well-written contemporary black eye was a long time in coming, but Aaron certainly was worth the wait. Unfortunately, another fine black eye, Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins, who worked the same LA turf, came along shortly after and stole much of Aaron’s thunder. But while Easy works the mean streets of the past, Gunner was very much a man of the present.

Author Gar Anthony Haywood, who says his inspiration for Gunner was the old Peter Gunn TV show.  Gunner’s debut, Fear of the Dark, won the 1988 SMP/PWA Best First P.I. Novel Contest, and has been nominated for several mystery awards. He also won a Shamus Awards for Best Short Story in 1998 and 2011 for the Gunner stories “And Pray Nobody Sees You” and “The Lamb Was Sure to Go”.

But after six great novels and a couple of short stories, Haywood let the series end around the close of the millenium. Still, hope springs eternal — a short story popped up in 2010!


  • “Aaron Gunner is back! And Los Angeles needs him now, more than ever. Good Man Gone Bad peels away the lies we tell each other to avoid our painful inner truths―the most powerful kind of detective story.”
    ― Naomi Hirahara on Good Man Gone Bad



  • “And Pray Nobody Sees You” (Spring 1997, MHCMM; also Spooks, Spies & Private Eyes)
  • “It’s Always the Quiet Ones” (Summer 2000, MHCMM)
  • “The Lamb Was Sure to Go” (November 2010, AHMM)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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