John Francis Cuddy

Created by Jeremiah Healy

Private investigator JOHN FRANCIS CUDDY is based in Boston and, at least in the early novels, seemed to have been based quite clearly on that 1980’s Boston success story Spenser.

He grew up in the Irish-American neighborhood of South Boston, educated by the Jesuits at Holy Cross College, and served in Vietnam as an MP, only to return home to the States and lose his young wife, Beth, to cancer.

The secret ingredient, it seems, was making Cuddy a grieving widower. Because it helped Healy establish his own distinctive voice, creating one of the more memorable and surprisingly touching series and the eighties and nineties.

I mean, how many private eyes seek out advice and carry on graveside conversations with their dead wives, discussing his discussing his cases and his life? What could have been a tasteless or cheap, saccharine gimmick was anything but. Instead, it was a moving and deftly handled moment that made Cuddy, still grieving over Beth’s death, seem all too human.

Not that the entire series is a mope-fest (it never was!), but eventually, Cuddy does get back on his feet, and even starts what looks like a promising relationship with Assistant D.A. Nancy Meagher, who’s funny and clever and just what Cuddy needs. Even Beth approves.

But then, that was this series’ secret weapon–it fairly dripped with empathy and compassion. Cuddy was the Everyman private eye, a rougher-hewn Lew Archer, a sensitive man who always struggled to do the right thing (just by coincidence the last Cuddy short story ever published was titled “A Matter of Honor”), even as he wrestled with his own propensity for violence and personal fears (he’s still one of the few P.I.s I know who went through an acknowledged mid-life crisis). But he got things done, and never–ever–seemed like a superhero. I guess Spenser and Hawk or maybe Patrick and Angie had that covered.

Not that the books lacked action–they weren’t, but the books’ strength, besides the sheer relatability of Cuddy, was that they were clever and well written, and weren’t afraid to humanize moral, ethical and even personal dilemmas, stretching them far beyond mere talking points, a trait  Healy shared with his fellow Beantown scribes Parker and Lehane.


Jeremiah Healy was born on May 15, 1948, in Teaneck, N.J., and was a graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School. A former sheriff’s officer and military police captain, he practiced law in Boston before teaching for eighteen years at New England Law–Boston, where he was still working when he started writing fiction, starting with Blunt Darts, the first John Francis Cuddy novel, in 1984. He served as president of the Private Eye Writers of America, and was a regular (and loud) attendee at Bouchercon and other crime conventions.

The Cuddy books and stories were routinely nominated for numerous mystery awards and especially the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award. Blunt Darts, Swan Dive, Shallow Graves, Foursome and Invasion of Privacy were all been nominated for Shamuses and the second book in the series, The Staked Goat, actually won for Best Novel. The short stories were also regularly graced with nominations, and even occasional wins–in fact, of his eighteen novels and three collections of short stories, fifteen either won or were nominated for the Shamus Award.

At the time of his death, he had temporarily put the Cuddy series (except for a handful of short stories) aside to work on a new series of legal thrillers about a young lawyer, Mairead O’Clare, under the pseudonym Terry Devane.

According to his New York Times obit and fellow mystery writer Sandy Balzo, Healy’s fiancée at the time, he was planning to revive Cuddy in a new book. Research material for it occupies seven feet of shelf space in his office, she said.


  • “One of today’s best American mystery series.”
    — The Chicago Sun-Times
  • “Models of the form . . . miracles of resourcefulness, economy, righteousness, and compassion.”
    Kirkus Reviews on The Concise Cuddy (December 15, 1998)
  • “Brilliant . . . I’ve always wished . . . Healy well, but not this well.
    — Robert B. Parker on Right to Die



  • “Till Tuesday” (April 1988, AHMM)
  • “One Eye Open” (July 1989, EQMM)
  • “Bertie’s Mom” (September 1989, EQMM)
  • “The Three Musketeers” (April 1990, EQMM)
  • “Battered Spouse” (Fall 1990, The Armchair Detective)
  • “A Soul to Tell” (December 1990, AHMM)
  • “Someone to Turn Out the Lights” (1990, Justice for Hire)
  • “Crossed Wires” (March 1992, EQMM)
  • “Rest Stop” (May 1992, AHMM)
  • “Summary Judgment” (1992, Deadly Allies)
  • “Georgie Boy” (July 1992, EQMM)
  • “The Bagged Man” (February 1993, EQMM)
  • “Spin-a-rama” (November 1993, AHMM)
  • “Yellow Snow” (1994, Deadly Allies II)
  • “Double Con” (March 1994, EQMM)
  • “St. Nick” (April 1995, AHMM)
  • “Deputy Down” (May 1996, EQMM)
  • “Soldier to the Queen” (August 1996, EQMM)
  • “Turning the Witness” (1996, Guilty As Charged)
  • “In This House of Stone” (September/October 1997, EQMM)
  • “Lessons” (1998, Private Eyes)
  • “Voir Dire” (1998, Legal Briefs)
  • “The Holiday Fairy” (1998, Mysterious Bookshop giveaway; also January 2002, AHMM)
  • “Body of Work” (January 1999, EQMM)
  • “Chou’s Gambit” (November 1999, EQMM)
  • “Hodegetria” (1999, Death Cruise)
  • “The Full Marty” (1999, Mystery in the Sunshine State)
  • “A Book of Kells” (Summer 2000, MHCMM)
  • “What’s In a Name?” (2000, The Shamus Game)
  • “Blood Brothers” (March 2002, AHMM)
  • “And If He Sees His Shadow” (March/April 2004, EQMM)
  • “Two Birds with One Stone” (January/February 2005, AHMM)
  • “The Aura of an Alpha Wolf” (September/October 2005, EQMM)
  • “A Matter of Honor” (March/April 2006, EQMM)



  • August 21, 2021
    THE BOTTOM LINE: A great, tough but tender series. A Boston PI who fell neatly between Spenser and Kenzie, and still had time to talk to his dead wife. Unfortunately, the series also fell between the cracks. Miss you, Jerry.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. The illustration of Cuddy was from The Concise Cuddy (1998, Crippen & Landru), painted by  Carol Heyer.

Leave a Reply