Created by Ken Kuhlken
It’s 1943 in San Diego, and the world is at war. An invasion of Nazis headquartered in Mexico is whispered about. A private eye in civilian life, 37-year old TOM HICKEY is doing his bit for the war effort by serving as an MP on border duty. An idealist, Tom has paid a high price for being, as his ex-wife puts it, “so damned noble.” Once a successful bandleader, he chucked that gig, rather than pander to the crowd. Next came a stint as an LA cop, but that sputtered and died as well, when Tom refused a bribe. Next was an attempt to run a used sailboat dealership with a former cop buddy, the recently-retired Leo Weiss. That, too, flopped, and then they opened up Hickey & Weiss Investigations. That didn’t exactly set the world on fire, either, so Tom partnered up with Paul Castillo in a steak joint, which actually started to turn a profit. And then this darn war comes along…
Tom discovered that Paul was using some pretty shady business practices to ensure a good supply of meat, despite war rationing, and pulled the plug. For Tom’s wife, this was the last straw. Fifteen years of marriage to this loser is enough, she figures, and she splits, taking their daughter with her. Alone, bitter, tired of being seen as a chump, Tom agrees to help a young soldier rescue his sister from a Tijuana brothel. But his mission of mercy soon turns into what Tom sees as his last big chance, when he discovers a roomful of Nazi gold, in 1991’s The Loud Adios.
A definite rarity, a hard-boiled caper story, the book won the SMP/PWA Contest for Best First P.I. Novel, and a whole slew of endorsements from other crimewriters, including Michael Collins, whose own The Irishman’s Horse (1991) bears more than a passing resemblance to this book. Two other books, The Venus Deal, which is a sort of prequel, and The Angel Gang, which finds Tom retired, round out the trilogy. All three are heartily recommended.
And then, in 2006, a fourth novel appeared out of the blue. It’s set in the early seventies of northern California’s counterculture, and features Tom’s son, Clifford, a sometime folksinger, and his half-brother, Alvaro, a recently returned Vietnam vet, caught up in a murder investigation which soon involves a massive man hunt among the giant redwoods, rival biker gangs, crooked cops, some loose cannon federal agents and the local pot-growing hippies, plus his own father coming out of retirement to save his ass.
Since then, Tom, Clifford and various other members of the wayward but always fascinating Hickey clan have returned in a few more novels, now collectively known as the California Century series. Or occasionally the Hickey Family Crime Novels. It gets complicated.
- The Loud Adios (1991) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- The Venus Deal (1993) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- The Angel Gang (1994) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- The Do-Re-Mi (2006) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Vagabond Virgins (2008) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles (2010) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- The Good Know Nothing (2014) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- The Very Least (2018) | Buy the book | Kindle it!
- “The Enemy,” (2011, Shaken: Stories for Japan)
A rare Hickey short story, from a 2011 mainstream anthology that raised funds for Japanese earthquake relief.
- Hickey + McGee (2018) | Kindle it!
A collection of three novels (Midheaven, The Very Least and The Answer to Everything) that together make up an epic love story. Midheaven was Kuhlken’s first novel, originally published in 1980 by Viking Press.
- Hole in the Wall
Ken Kuhlken’s website.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Martin Ross for the lead.