James “Whit” Whitney

Created by David Dodge
(1910-74)

“Was your husband in the army, Mrs. Whitney?”
“No.”
“Navy?”
“No. Why?”
“I never saw a public accountant before with bullet scars in his abdomen.”
“He isn’t an ordinary public accountant.”
— from It Ain’t Hay

In July 1941, David Dodge‘s first novel, Death and Taxes (1941),  introduced readers to one of the Shamus Game’s more peculiar protagonists: hard-boiled San Francisco tax accountant JAMES “WHIT” WHITNEY.

When Whit’s partner is murdered, he becomes a reluctant detective in order to help the local police solve the murder (and recover a hefty tax refund for a beautiful blonde client). Reviews of the novel compared it to Dashiell Hammett‘s The Thin Man, praising it for its fast-paced tone and witty dialogue–chiefly between Whit and his girlfriend, Kitty MacLeod. The characters also consume large quantities of alcohol, drawing comparisons to the screwball-comedy mysteries of Jonathan Latimer.

The series continued with Shear the Black Sheep (1943) and Bullets for the Bridegroom (1944), in which Whit and Kitty are married. In the final Whitney mystery, It Ain’t Hay (1946), Whit takes on a ring of marijuana smugglers led by a gangster named Barney Steele. This novel is darker and grittier than its predecessors, with Whit’s primary motivation being revenge for a beating he took after refusing to do Steele’s taxes. The book marked a distinctive shift in Dodge’s writing, to a harder, tougher style of writing, most noticeably in a series of novels featuring Al Colby, a private investigator and tough-guy adventurer working in Latin America.

Before becoming a novelist, Dodge himself worked as a Certified Public Accountant and, since you write about what you know, his first fictional hero was a tax man. A notable aspect of the Whitney novels is the volume of information about taxes and finances that Dodge effortlessly weaves into his plots, without making readers jump out of a window.

NOVELS

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • The Official David Dodge Web Site
    Randal Brandt, in collaboration with the author’s daughter, is the creator/manager of one of the finest single-author sites I’ve ever seen. Check this one out–you won’t regret it.
Respectfully submitted by Randal Brandt (June 1999), with additional mucking around by Kevin Burton Smith.

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