Harry Dickinson

Created by David Black

There have been plenty of attempts over the years to recast Don Quixote as a private eye. Possibly because the private eye is such an easy target, a big ass cliche just waiting to be lampooned (or harpooned), there has been no shortage of gentle parodies of the genre featuring mentally scrambled yeggs who have somehow come to believe they are actually hard-boiled private dicks, and set about proving it by kicking down doors and taking down names, roscoes spatting ka-chow all over the place.

Generally to the dismay of almost everyone around them.

Edgar finalist Black has now given us another such lovable loser. But while most of these beautiful dreamers have been played for laughs, Black has aimed for something a little more serious, giving us a snip of Cervantes for an epigraph, and an overly long afterword, just in case we thought he was just, you know, goofing around or something.

Independently wealthy thanks to a convenient inheritance, former used car salesman HARRY DICKINSON has decided to set himself up as a private eye in the slowly dying Massachusetts town of Springdale. Okay, he has practically no clients, but he’s aided and abetted (and humoured) by his devoted gal Friday (whose real name is Linda), his loving but worried sister Carol and a long-suffering cop friend. The big joke, though, is that for all his cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs delusions, Harry is actually a pretty savvy detective, an affable and genuinely sweet guy with a knack for making people feel better about themselves.

Then harsh reality comes a-knocking. Harry’s sourpuss brother-in-law Phil (Carol’s hubby) decides this foolishness has GOT TO STOP. It has GONE ON LONG ENOUGH, and Harry needs to be COMMITTED.

Or put on some sort of meds.

Or something.

FOR HIS OWN GOOD, of course.

The fact that Phil and Carol have been living rent-free in the family home that Harry has suddenly inherited has nothing to do with it, of course.

Or that one of Phil’s first moves is eager to get some power-of-attorney papers signed.

Alas, what should be a quick, entertaining read too often turns po-faced–the good stuff padded out by long-winded digressions, nostalgia-pandering rants, name-dropping and enough product placement to make Ian Fleming blush, plus some questionable design and typographical choices that do little but call attention to themselves. And frankly, talk of asylums, mental stability hearings, drugs and lobotomies aren’t quite the giggle pie I was expecting.

Like, echoes of It’s a Wonderful Life and Harvey weren’t enough? The author had to drag in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, too?

I would have been happy just tailing the daft bugger around Springdale, watching him and Friday (she’s just wild about Harry, of course) stumble in and out of assorted comic misadventures, reading between the lines.

Sometimes the windmills win, I guess.


The author is an award-winning journalist, novelist, television writer (Law and Order), and producer who’s been nominated for a couple of Edgars (for Law and Order episodes he wrote).




Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Jeff for the nudge.

Leave a Reply