Created by Neil Albert
DAVE GARRETT at first seems like just another cookie cutter eye. A disbarred lawyer? Now working as a Philadelphia private eye, not exactly setting the world on fire?A Vietnam vet suffering from PSTD? Aren’t they all?
Okay. I think we’ve been here before. But that doesn’t take into account the writing here, in this critically acclaimed series. Neil Albert somehow manages, in book after book, to create characters we give a damn about. Scratch the surface and they come alive. And boy, does he have some stories to tell.
Garrett drives a Honda Civic with more than a few years and miles on it, but then, so does he. He owns a couple of guns, although he confesses he’s never really had to use either. His disbarment is, likewise, not the result of any sort of high drama but simply a rather sad set of circumstances and poor judgment–he got caught trying to take his wife’s final law exam (she suffered from anxiety attacks).
So he lost his job… and eventually (of course) his wife.
Despite all of this–or perhaps because of it–Dave’s become a man of principle, an obsessively honest, decent guy working as a detective, intent on doing the right thing. Oh, he’s still willing to bend a few small rules, if he has to. But he tries to keep his word, and he’s uncommonly loyal to his clients, with the result that his small, one-man agency has earned a good reputation in local law circles.
And the first novel, 1991’s The January Corpse, has got to be one of the most memorable private eye debuts of the nineties, with one hell of a corkscrew ending. The author ain’t foolin’ around–they’re all well worth reading, and each varies in format, from; classic whodunnit and nuanced character study to flat-out action to moody, almost noirish introspection. What unifies them all is the top notch characterization–and the titling theme: The January Corpse, The February Trouble, Burning March, etc. Get it? All the books take place in 1989 which was, as Albert explains, “recent enough to have basic cell phones but before the internet put all the information of the world at our fingertips.” Fans of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and Stephen Greenleaf’s John Marshall Tanner in particular will be impressed. An excellent series; intelligent, thoughtful, provocative, literate. And full of surprises, including one so pivotal I don’t want to spoil it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Originally from Oregon, Neil Albert is a Philadelphia lawyer (well, Lancaster, PA, to be exact), not disbarred (so far), and he wants us to know that while his legal background provides plenty of ideas for his stories, he writes straight-up private eye fiction, not legal thrillers. Neil spends his life in courtrooms–the last word he would ever use to describe them is “thrilling.”
After a 23-year hiatus, Albert resumed the Garrett series with the seventh book in the series, Cold July, in 2020, and re-released the entire run in paperback and ebook. At the same time he started a website, where he flogs his own books, and hosts a blog about the novels of Ross Macdonald.
- “This exceptional first mystery is driven by a baffling plot and comes to a surprise ending that passes the Holmesian test: after the impossible is eliminated, that which remains, however improbable, is the truth.
— Publishers Weekly onThe January Corpse
- “… a first rate first novel.”
— Boston Globe on The January Corpse
- “heartfelt and twisty”
— Kirkus Reviews on February Trouble
- “… smartly told”
— Kirkus Reviews on Burning March
- “… a page-turner throughout… effective settings and action and a neat resolution provide first-rate entertainment.
— Publishers Weekly on Cruel April
- “he May entry in this increasingly satisfying series will leave readers looking forward to June.”
— Publisher Weekly on Appointment in May
- “I own all six Dave Garrett books, have read each one many times over. There are some authors I reread frequently: Jane Austen, Ross MacDonald, Agatha Christie, Wordsworth, and Neil Albert. It doesn’t matter that I know how Albert’s books end. What matters is how they get there, and how he paints each scene, each conversation, with a reality that bites and soothes at the same time. Dave Garrett moves through his world with a bitterness overlaid with compassion that was striking the first time, and gets more so with each reread. The plots are reality-based yet erudite enough to thrill a poet. The only flaw in this series is that there are no July, August, September, October, November and December books.”
— Bonnie Montgomery (The Rap Sheet)
- In Tangled June (1997), the Philadelphia P.I. needs some background work done in LA and contacts Les Roberts’ writer and sometime-gumshoe Saxon for help.
- The January Corpse (1991) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- February Trouble (1992) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Burning March (1994) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Cruel April (1995) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Appointment in May (1996) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Tangled June (1997) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Cold July (2020) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- August Hearts (2021) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- September Wars (2023) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Book You Have to Read: The January Corpse by Neil Albert
This piece from May 2008, which appeared in The Rap Sheet, pays tribute to one of my favourite “forgotten” novels, in response to a challenge from Patti Abbott.
- Neil Albert: Crime Novels
The author’s official web site, plus an ongoing blog about the novels of Ross Macdonald, whom Albert considers “one of the great hardboiled mystery writers.” (He’s right).
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- July 6, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: One of the best 90s PIs nobody remembers. Smart, literate & compassionate, a modern-day Archer. The first, THE JANUARY CORPSE, has one of the all-time great twists in crime fiction. And now he’s back!
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.