Karl Craven

Created by Jonathan Latimer
(1906-1983)

“From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she’d be good in bed.”
— one of the great opening lines in detective fiction.

A true hardboiled classic, Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon’s Vineyard, featuring hard-as-a-rock St. Louis private eye KARL CRAVEN (at least, that’s what he claimed his name was) was first published in Britain in 1941, but was banned from publication in the United States until over forty years later. A truncated version, The Fifth Grave, was published in 1950.

Full of sex, violence, perversion, dirty little secrets and all that other good stuff, Latimer seems to have somehow anticipated both Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. Not bad for a book that predates both by several years.

In the book, former football player turned private cop Karl is dispatched from the St. Louis office to the small town of Paulton somewhere in the Midwest to protect his wealthy client’s daughter from a flaky religious cult, and soon finds himself involved with grave robbers, mobsters, hookers, assorted murderers and a femme fatale named Princess. But the nastiest of them all may be Karl himself.

He may have been a jock once, but he now refers to himself as “fat.” Not that it stops him from getting physical with the numerous bad guys he encounters–or with the several women who apprently can’t help but succumb to his “charms.”

Which was why the book had problems getting published in its entirety in the States–by the standards of the forties, the book was just too damn racy.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the harsh, dark character and frank (although not explicit) sexuality of Solomon’s Vineyard, author Latimer was best known for his series of humorous, alcohol-driven screwball novels featuring New York gumshoe Bill Crane. He wrote several novels, but became a much-in-demand screenwriter, whose credits include The Big Clock, The Glass Key)and the Perry Mason TV show.

UNDER OATH

  • “For a book that was written back in the ’40s, (Solomon’s Vineyard) still kicks major ass. It’s as if Latimer took the noir genre and ratcheted it up to 11… like the Coen Brothers took a shot at rewriting Red Harvest. It’s the basic story of a detective hired to protect a girl from a bizarre religious cult. But if it was just that it would seem like a typical noir book. Throw in a dead partner, a mob boss, kinky sex, and grave robbing … and those are only a few highlights. Latimer characters seem like extreme versions of the noir archetypes. A detective that makes Mike Hammer look like a piker. A femme fatale that will make you pant. Then a shock of a surprise that will divide the readers. From the opening sentence I was hooked…. This book screams to be rediscovered and given better treatment–instead of the print-as-you go versions that it wallows in currently.”
    — Bruce Grossman, as part of The Rap Sheet ONE BOOK PROJECT
  • “Jonathan Latimer is the best kept secret in noir fiction. One of the great unrecognized masters.”
    — Max Allan Collins

NOVELS

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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