Jimmy (The Poet and the Private Eye)

Created by Rob Gittins

In Rob Gittins 2014 imaginative novel, The Poet and the Private Eye, it’s New York City, 1953, and JIMMY, a rough-around-the-edges private eye, is hired by Con, the attorney for a big, weekly national magazine (Time, anyone?) to do a “simple tail job,” which consists of digging up whatever he can get on some hot shot, bad boy poet visiting from the U.K., who’s in the act of suing the periodical for defamation and libel.

Turns out poet is, of course, Dylan Thomas. Who’s going to be stone cold dead in about three weeks.

Mind you, it soon becomes clear that Jimmy, despite being the suitably hard-boiled narrator of this tale, is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and has never heard of Thomas. But what the hell, right? A buck’s a buck.

All he has to do is prove that everything the magazine said about Thomas was true–which means tailing the drunken, unruly poet as he staggers from bar to bar, and woman to woman (In it’s review, Kirkus gleefully notes that “in less than 12 hours, Jimmy has seen the poet meet Shelley Winters and Marilyn Monroe for cocktails, grope Marlene Dietrich, drink his weight in spirits and piss into (Charlie Chaplin’s) plant pot.”

But that’s not enough for Con–he wants some real dirt.

Meanwhile, Jimmy’s personal life isn’t going much better, and he begins to see some disturbing parallels between his life and that of the poet, even if his attempts to understand the subject and his poetry meet only occasionally with success. And then Jimmy’s dispatched to Wales to dig up a little “home front” dirt, where he encounters Caitlin, Thomas’ wife.

A surprisingly sympathetic, surprisingly readable look at the poet, wrapped up in hard-boiled clothing, clever but not cloying (although the cover’s pretty cheesy). But just to bring it all home, the book was published in October 2014, the centennial of the poet’s birth.

The author, Rob Gottins, is a British TV and radio writer.


  • “Mainstream mystery fans will be scratching their heads, but the literary-crime crowd will be hooked and find themselves reaching for that tattered volume of Thomas collected poems.”
    — Booklist
  • “Gittins paints a moving portrait of a talented man feted by the same public complicit in his death. –Publishers Weekly
    — Publisher’s Weekly
  • Hired to dig dirt on Dylan Thomas during his last visit to New York, a private investigator instead finds the image of his own ruined life in the poet’s… Gittins mines Thomas’ real-life last days for these obvious lessons with sensitivity and devotion. But the whole cast, including Thomas, who barely gets a speaking role, is muffled by Jimmy’s sincere, obtuse reflections and digressions.”
    — Kirkus Reviews
  • “The tone here is conversational, making the narrator utterly believable, and there are occasional compelling side trips into things like union-busting and the history of crime fiction. Locale-strong historical fiction with a literary bent, to be read with an open mind. [October marks the centennial of Dylan Thomas’s birth.”
    — Library Journal


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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