Aaron Gunner

Created by Gar Anthony Haywood

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

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 dammit! Something had to be said.

And Gunner was the man to say it.

Suffice it to say he wasn’t Shaft. He was no badmuthafucker-kiss-my-black-ass superstud, but a surprisingly fallible but always relatable detective, just a working joe from South Central Los Angeles, with an office in the back of a barber shop. He couldn’t even decide if he really wanted to be a detective or go to work for his cousin Del Curry, an electrician.

Hell, even a white guy like me, 3000 miles away, in another country, could identify. And sympathize.

But it was Haywood’s insistence on not ignoring issues generally overlooked in the genre at the time, such as race relations, black militancy, crack (as opposed to cocaine) and urban gangs, that made this one of the finest and timeliest P.I. series of its time.

We were creeping up on a new decade, and Aaron was finding it increasingly difficult to view the world in simple black and white terms. But his anger was brought home not by finger-pointing militancy or talking head scenery chewing, but by Aaron’s man-on-the-street decency. At one pivotal point, he even defends a white cop from the wrath of a black mob. Certainly, for me, in post-Anthony Griffin Montreal, it was an eye-opener. P.I. novels can talk about this shit?

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


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! And finally, in 2019, an older, theoretically wiser Aaron returned with a new novel, Good Man Gone Bad.


  • “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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