Duncan Ames

Created by Kirby Farrell

Although he considers himself a NY P. I., DUNCAN AMES ends up in Boston in his two outings. It gives him a good excuse, I guess, for him to visit his teenage daughter from a previous marriage, Rachel, who lives there. His current amour is Vera, a transplanted Brit who also works as his partner. Together they handle “mostly business fraud.”

When we first meet him, Duncan is in Boston because his ex is in the hospital, the victim of a near fatal car crash. While cooling his heels in the waiting room, he’s approached by Dorothy O’Hare, a bookkeeper, who wants to hire him. Duncan agrees to hear her out later that night, but before he can speak with her again, she’s murdered.

Duncan pushes on, and soon discovers that someone has been sending threatening letters to her boss, Dr. Mehdi Farhat, an Iranian-born chiropractor, who may have been involved in a real estate deal with Dorothy. Soon enough the Big Apple gumshoe finds himself dealing with not just a possible real estate scam, but also a disgruntled patient, Dorothy’s hot-to-trot daughter and some gun-toting far-right loonies, in the provocatively titled The American Satan (1990), a rare look, at the time, of anti-Muslim paranoia in the United States.

Who knew then it would become a growth industry?

In his second excursion, Snuff (1991), Duncan finds himself back in Boston, this time to simply visit Rachel, when he gets roped in to investigating threats being made against Dawn Ashland, an actress and sometime-call girl, but things get go south when Dawn’s boyfriend is murdered.

Poor Duncan’s a little schizoid. He fancies himself a wit, and spends his spare time working on the ultralight (and environmentally-friendly) aircraft that he keeps stored in a friend’s loft. He gets along pretty well with most folks, including his ex-wife, and he’s working on his relationship with Rachel, who’s heavily into teen angst these days. But, despite his attempts to be a warm, caring, modern age kinda guy who’s “always there” for you, he gets a little shaky on the ethics front occasionally. He cheats on Vera, encourages a woman to sleep with a suspect to get the goods on him, and he never says “no” to a little B&E, wiretapping or tampering with evidence.

I had hoped that Vera would straighten him out, because Duncan definitely needed a guiding hand, and this series looked like it could have gone places. Duncan, for all his foibles and flaws (Keep it zipped, dude!), was an interesting character. But the two novels never even made it into paperback. And only one of them even made it into e-book. Both sure signs of death, for any writer looking to achieve some sort of popular success.


Kirby Farrell  is a University of Massachusetts professor in Boston who combines anthropological, psychological, and historical perspectives to focus on texts as behavior, and lectures  on such topics as radical existential criticism, modernity, the psychology of violence, and social justice. Besides the two Duncan Ames novels, he’s the author of such non-fiction works as Post-Traumatic Culture: Injury and Interpretation in the 90s, Beserk Style in American Culture and Play-Death and Heroism in Shakespeare. He also serves as editor of English Literary Renaissance and Kritikon Litterarum. On the other hand, he moonlights as a jazz pianist, so he may be human after all.



Respectfully submitted by Dale Stoyer and Kevin Burton Smith.

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