Nick and Holly West

Created by Joan H. Parker & Robert B. Parker

“We have money. We do this because we like to.”
Holly in “Galahad, Inc.”

Dashiell Hammett once said “Maybe there are better writers in the world but nobody ever invented a more insufferably smug pair of characters. They can’t take that away from me” The couple he was referring to were Nick and Nora Charles, the detective couple at the heart of his last novel, The Thin Man, and the stars (as played by William Powell and Myrna Loy) of six beloved films.

But Hammett never meet NICK and HOLLY WEST.

* * * * *

I thought I’d read almost everything Robert B. Parker had written, but I just discovered an amazing little Parker one-off short story with a married detective couple, tucked away in a 2006 collection of — get this — basketball-themed crime stories. The story’s just a charming scribble, really, only sixteen pages, but ohmygod did he ever channel Hammett’s Nick & Nora!

The story’s called “Galahad, Inc.” and I stumbled across it in a 2006 collection, Murder at the Foul Line, edited by Otto Penzler, who actually edited several sports-themed collections back then. I was in a used bookstore in Valencia, a few miles down the road, and the price was great (just a couple bucks, I swear, honey) for a hardcover in great shape, with stories by Lawrence Block, Jeffrey Deaver, George Pelecanos, S.J. Rozan and hold the friggin’ phone!!!

What’s this? Joan H. Parker and Robert B. Parker?

ROBERT B. PARKER?

I tell ya, it might have been one of my favourite finds ever.

The story itself is really just a trifle, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fact I’d never heard of it and that it set me back all of a few bucks made it even better. I’ll be the first to admit that Ace Atkins does an amazing, ass-kicking job on the Spensers, but this was pure, almost-uncut Parker (wife Joan gets a co-write, but I’m not sure what she did). It almost took my head off.

Nick and Holly are husband and wife private detectives who run a small agency in Boston called Galahad, Inc., with a great view of the harbor. She’s an heiress who’s never had to worry about money, and became a lawyer and eventually, a prosecutor. He’s a former cop, with twenty years on the force. Nick occasionally jokes that he married Holly for her money, but it’s pretty clear they’re nuts about each other. It also makes it pretty clear where the Parkers got their inspiration from.

Galahad, Inc. enjoys a good reputation, and a recent newspaper article has tagged them “The Couple of Last Resort.” Which is what brings Jamal Jones, a young black Taft University student with a promising basketball career ahead of him to their door. He’s been accused of groping a white girl at a sorority party, something he vehemently denies, but if found guilty, it could mean the end of his career and his education.

Nick and Holly are, of course, whiter than white (they’re, I’m guessing, a thinly disguised version of the Parkers themselves), and the case itself quickly sketches out the divisions of race and class through small details (clothes, hair) and dialogue, all drawn with bold, but sympathetic strokes. The Wests, of course, chitter chatter away, and Jones, already floundering, is not quite sure how to take them (“Nick rags everyone,” Holly assures him), but as the couple work the case, cracking wise, stopping occasionally to enjoy a cocktail or too and making a bit of woo in a way Hammett could have never gotten away with back in the day. There’s no heavy listing involved — the story (and the banter) just snaps, crackles and pops its way along. An easy slam dunk.

But all I could think was, man, I miss Parker.

SHORT STORIES

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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