Tom Bethany

Created by Jerome Doolittle

“That particular spring day, fooling around in the library, I was interested in why good intentions so often end up making things worse than they were before. consequently I was taking notes on a great reform called the Federal Electyion Act of 1971, which gave us political action committees. Before the act, it had been easy but illegal to buy members of Congress. After the great reform, it became legal and even easier.”
— the opening lines ofHead Lock

A Boston (well…Cambridge) private eye with a difference.

Mind you, in these post-Spenserian, aren’t they all?

Body Scissors (1990), the novel that introduced TOM BETHANY, a man with a colourful past, was an auspicious debut. He’d been, among other things, a soldier in Vietnam, a world-class amateur wrestler (he would have gone to the Olympics save for the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games), and had flown for both the CIA’s Air America operation and as a bush pilot in Alaska. Somewhere in there, he was once also a father and husband.

But now he’s makes a living as a sort of undercover, unlicensed private investigator, dealing in cash, living under an assumed name, working out of The Tasty, a Harvard Square greasy spoon. The guy’s got more quirks than a dog has fleas. But this dog bites.

His politics tend to the left — and he doesn’t give a fuck who knows it. He also has a decidedly hands-on approach to justice. Think of him as a cross between Mike Hammer and Henry David Thoreau, with a little of John Irving‘s Garp tossed in; a man who’s simplified his life to the point of obsession. Years ago, it seems, he decided that the best way to keep unwanted people out of his life was to get himself off everybody’s computer list. So far, he seems to have succeeded.

Two of the very few people that he does allow into his life are the love of his life, Hope Edwards, a big shot ACLU lawyer from Washington, D.C., where she has a husband and kids, and Gladys Williams, a Cambridge crime lab technician, a good pal and police contact who can probably match Tom quirk for quirk.

Bookish, philosophical, Tom frequents various libraries and is quite good at research, thanks in no small part to his photographic memory. He has a weakness for ice cream, second-hand furniture and some pretty acidic observations on politics (he’s not shy about naming names) and other hypocrisies of modern life. He also has a surprisingly back-to-basics, eye-for-an-eye view of justice which is a bit disturbing — or perhaps hypocritical — at times, particularly considering his political leanings. But hey, if you can’t beat them…

In the first book, it’s rather satisfying, but in the second book, when the stakes are raised and become a bit more personal, he ends up acting like (and here I quote) “some macho teenage asshole in a goddamned street gang.”


Author Jerome Doolittle has led a bit of a life, himself. He’s been, at various times, a journalist, a diplomat and a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, which no doubt explains Tom’s outspoken political views and frequent potshots at Reagan, Bush and the rest. Doolittle’s (and Tom’s) broadsides are quite pointed and a welcome change from the usual vague political grumblings that pass for political comment in this genre. Alas, last I heard, Doolittle’s publishers had dropped him, although he still maintains he “may yet revive” Tom. To which I say, yes, please do. Please do. I’d love see Tom get General Bone Spurs in a headlock.



  • Bad Attitudes
    Opinions, essays, a newsletter and excerpts from Tom’s creator, Jerome Doolittle, full of what he calls his “bad attitude.” Also available is some stuff, to sample or purchase, in pdf format, from K.C. Constantine, the creator of Mario Balzic. In fact, at one time there were few rumours that Doolittle and K.C. were the same feller, but Otto Penzler says “Definitely not. I’ve met them both. Doolittle lives in northwest CT and Carl Kozak (Constantine) in central PA. I love your site.”
  • Wrestling Dicks
    It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up…
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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