Ernest DeWalt

Created by Randall Silvis

“Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny.”
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway


The sun also rises on the P.I. novel, it seems.

In An Occasional Hell, a very Hemingwayesque, very literate, very well-received (and Hammett Award-nominated) 1993 novel by Randall Silvis, ERNEST DeWALT is a tough, hard-drinking, hard-living, big city private dick… until three .38 slugs take him out of the game, destroying his kidneys, his liver and, well, his dick. During his long, slow recovery, he “pulled a Wambaugh”, as he puts it, writing a novel about his former profession.

Written more as an act of catharthis than as literature, the book became wildly successful, much to Ernest’s embarrassment. But it brought him to the attention of academia. So now he’s a professor in a university out in the sticks, where he tries to deal with being a “wholly useless and expendable scholar” and a “hollowed out human being,” not to mention his attempts to rise above his own self-pity.

Intense and powerful stuff, and Silvis doesn’t hold back on any of it; a darkly magnificent read that I heartily recommend.

Just in case you’re feeling too upbeat about life…

Too bad the film adaptation sucks.

In 1996, actor Tom Berenger co-produced and starred in a filmed version of the novel, with a screenplay co-written by the author, Randall Silvis. A few very fine performances, particularly by Berenger, but most of the potentially strong, emotional scenes are marred by an ill-conceived (no, make that bone-headed) attempt to give life to Ernest’s interior monologues and bouts with temptation by having a women appear whom only Ernest can see and talk to. If you are one of the three people on the planet who might be able to get past this piece of contrived hokum, it might be a quietly powerful film that will stay with you. If you can’t get over it — and I certainly couldn’t — it just looks stupid.

What were they smoking?

The author is an American novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and teacher. He was born in Pennsylvania, he was educated at Clarion University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and In 2008, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from Indiana University of Pennsylvania for his distinguished literary accomplishments. Both An Occasional Hell and Two Days Gone were finalists for the Hammett Prize for literary excellence in crime writing from the International Association of Crime writers, and two of his short stories were nominated for a Pushcart Award. He also writes the Ryan DeMarco mysteries, about a former State cop turned private eye.


  • “Riveting… compelling…Silvis engages the reader from first word to last.”
    –Los Angeles Reader
  • “An extraordinarily literate mystery.”
    –The Washington Times
  • “An unusually morbid detective protagonist, a verbosely stylized opening and occasional passages of vibrant prose produce mixed results in this first mystery from Silvis… After a convoluted and mannered beginning, Silvis settles into the action, lacing his narrative with astute observations and hard truths. Though flawed, this work succeeds in leaving dark images to linger in the reader’s mind.”
    — Publishers Weekly
  • “An interesting puzzle packaged in superior prose, An Occasional Hell is an absorbing and reflective read.
    — The Mystery Review


  • “… he had lived a long time without the madness of sex — not without sex itself but the wonderful terrible insane burn of desire…”



    1996, Greenlight Productions
    Screenplay: Randall Silvis, based on his novel
    Director: Salome Breginer
    Executive Producers: Tom Berenger, William J. MacDonald
    Starring Tom Berenger as ERNEST DeWALT
    and Valeri Golina as Elizabeth
    Also starring Kari Wuhrer, Robert Davi, Richard Edson, Stephen Lang, Ellen Green, Geoffrey Lewis


  • One and Done
    Some Great Private Eyes Who’ve Appeared in Only One Novel
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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