Created by Edward Mathis
“Mathis was the real thing–a fine writer with a slant and style all his own. He brought us a dusty tapped-out Texas I’d never encountered before. If he reminded me of anybody it was the proletariat novelists of the Forties and Fifties such as Harvey Swados and Clancy Sigal.”
— Ed Gorman
Texas private eye DAN ROMAN was a little bit country, and a little bit Lew Archer, although he tended to lean toward the shitkicker side, referred to at one point as “mean enough to bite and tough enough to hold on.” Still, he could also display plenty of compassion when the occasion warranted it, in a series of truly fine detective novels–one of the best of its era–by Edward Mathis.
Middle-aged and pretty much set in his ways, Dan favored cowboy boots, pickup trucks and deer hunting (although he ruefully admits he no longer enjoyed it quite as much as he used to). Besides his hunting rifles he owns a Smith and Wesson .38 airweight and a small .22 automatic. He also likes to read, smoke, and enjoy an occasional Jack Daniels or Scotch. He also drinks a lot of beer, particularly Miller, although he claims he doesn’t really like it all that much since, as he declares in Dark Streaks and Empty Places, “it all tastes like bear piss anyway.”
Hmmm… maybe he should switch brands…
There’s a dark quality to the series, nard-boiled but also bittersweet, helped along considerably by the ongoing tragedy that seems to follow Dan along. An only child, he was born to strict religious parents who weren’t particularly loving. So perhaps it’s no surprise that he spent a lot of his childhood hanging out with the cowboys on the family ranch. Still, he spent the summer he turned fourteen (the “best summer of his life”) helping his father build a hunting cabin. It was then he discovered that his father was a secret drinker–a secret that was revealed to one and all a few years later, during Dan’s last year of high school, when his mother passed away and his father hit the bottle hard.
Dan joined the army, flew choppers in Vietnam and was a P.O.W. when he learned his father had died, frozen to death after passing out, dead drunk, not thirty feet from the door of the cabin Dan had helped build only a few years earlier. Upon his eventual release and return stateside, Dan joined the Midway City Police Department and married Barbara. They had one son, Thomas Cody, and for several years, things were good, Dan slowly rising through the ranks, eventually reaching Lieutenant in the Homicide Department.
But tragedy wasn’t through with Dan yet.
After thirteen years of marriage, Barbara died from cancer, and less than a year later, Thomas was killed in a car crash, stoned out of his mind on angel dust. Dan spent the next nine months tracking down the dealer who sold Tommy the drugs, and provoked him into “resisting arrest,” all the excuse Dan needed to beat the hell out of him. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dan was subsequently asked to leave the force (those were different times, I guess).
When we first meet Dan, in From a High Place (1985), he’s in his late thiries or early forties, working as a private investigator out of his home in Midway City. Somewhere between that debut and his subsequent adventure, 1986’s Dark Streaks and Empty Places, Dan remarries. His second wife, Susie, is a newscaster for the Texas News Service, and although she’s sixteen years his junior, they seem to be doing okay. Better than okay, in fact — thanks to selling off most of his father’s land to a mining company, Dan never has to work again. But of course Dan, eternal optimist that he is, feels that “Just living life was getting more worrisome every day.” And given his past life, who can really blame him?
Dan’s in our Hall of Fame for a reason. This was simply a great series, well-written and filled with compelling characters, particularly Dan himself, whose brooding, philosophical introspection nicely balanced some sharply rendered action. In many ways, they’re quite similar to the 1980 P.I. classic Texas Wind by James Reasoner, featuring similar tough-but-tender P.I. Cody. The difference, of course, being that Dan appeared in several novels, whereas, Cody only appeared in one novel and a few short stories.
Unfortunately, just as the Roman books were beginning to gather a loyal and well-deserved following their author, Edward Mathis, passed away. Which is a shame — he coulda been a contender. Fortunately, the remainder of the series was published posthumously, but it’s still heartbreaking to think of what might have been.
The Roman books are smart, tough and wonderfully written. Too bad they’re all now long out of print; unjustly forgotten. Hell, they’re not even available digitally… a crime apparently even Dan can’t solve.
- “… life was nothing more than a complicasted mosaic of personal triumphs and tragedies, of chance encounters and random couplings and… we no more controlled our fate than the rabbit ruled the hound. The road was already there, the course charted; about the best we could do was give it a nudge once in a while, try our best to keep from crossing the center line.”
— Dark Streaks and Empty Places
- “I didn’t have computer banks, or electronic surveillance equipment, or police departments I can query across this great nation. I’ve got a little money and a devious mind and a certain knoiwledge of human nature. Mostly, that’s all it takes.”
— Dan explains what he does in Natural Prey
- “…don’t take people where they don’t want to go, and don’t fool around with murder.”
— part of Dan’s business credo (Dark Streaks)
- “… finding them is all I do. I never take them anywhere they aren’t willing to go. And sometimes, in my omniscient wisdom, I judge that they’ve found something better, I don’t find them at all.”
— From a High Place
- From a High Place (1985) | Buy this book
- Dark Streaks and Empty Places (1986) | Buy this book
- Natural Prey (1987) | Buy this book
- Another Path, Another Dragon (1988) | Buy this book
- The Burned Woman (1989) | Buy this book
- Out of the Shadows (1990) | Buy this book
- September Song (1991) | Buy this book
- The Fifth Level (1992) | Buy this book
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- June 19, 2021
Part-shitkicker, part-Lew Archer, this Texas P.I. series from the 80s and 90s was hard-boiled, bittersweet and unjustly forgotten.