Created by Ken Harris
Well, it had to happen… COVID has hit the Shamus Game. And it’s hit Baltimore P.I. STEVE ROCKFISH particularly hard–what with lockdowns, mask laws and unruly mouthbreathers, nobody’s hiring private eyes or anyone else, and nobody’s going out, which means spouses prone to straying are staying home, and behaving themselves.
It’s enough to make a poor, cash-strapped dick cry.
In the series debut (and one of the first pandemic novels in the P.I. genre I’ve come across), The Pine Barrens Stratagem (2022), Steve finds himself with his bread-and-butter suddenly gone, and the wolf (or maybe just the repo man) at the door. They’ve got their eyes on his car… and possibly the beat up trailer he lives in.
Yeah. You heard me. A trailer.
Is the penny dropping yet?
For those of you who aren’t new to the Shamus Game, and thought “Rockfish” sounded vaguely familiar, those alarms should be ringing loud and clear by now.
In fact, names are dropped all over the place, and the loving shout-outs are loud and clear to anyone who watched TV eyes back in the seventies and eighties— cynical smartasses with fast cars and faster wits, perpetual underdogs in sportscoats and jeans fighting the good fight.
But none of them is paid more homage than Jim Rockford. It’s not enough that Steve’s last name is Rockfish–he’s also perpetually out of cash, his cop buddy is named “Decker,” he lives in a trailer, or that he takes care of Mack, his aging father who’d just rather go fishing. Of course, there are a few more modern touches–his “muscle” car is a 2015 Challenger, and he calls it “Lana”, after a character on the Archer TV show (not the one from the 1970s that I expected, based on Ross Macdonald’s iconic gumshoe, but the infinitely more modern adult cartoon). In fact, there are so many shout-outs, it makes me wonder if Jawnie McGee, a fellow investigator he meets in the course of a case (and swaps sokme pretty zippy banter with), is an intentional high-five to John D. MacDonald, or mere coincidence.
But just as Rockfish is going down the drain, a Hollywood big shot true crime producer named Angel (another shout-out?) hires Steve to dig into a Pennsylvania child trafficking case that’s colder than cold–it happened back in the 1940s. Glad to take anything, Rockfish takes the case, and soon finds himself in New Jersey near the Pine Barrens, where he unearths more than he bargained for.
I dunno. For a P.I. fan, the shout-outs are fun, but they’re a little too on the nose. Then again, I do like Rockfish–he’s a compelling, affable character, self-deprecating, witty and human enough to follow, and despite a few screw-ups, he’s dogged and determined enough to show he’s got the right stuff. Meanwhile, on the writer side of things, Harris shows a flair for characterization, and juggles them and their points-of-view with enough verve and snap-crackle-pop to keep things moving forward–not always a given. Plus, Harris should get some credit for facing up to COVID, instead of glibly pretending it never happened.
It’ll be interesting to see who follows in his footsteps–and to see what happens to Rockfish in his next “Case File.”
STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR’S MOUTH
Last spring, I retired after 32 years with the FBI and began binging the world’s greatest detective show after learning it was on Peacock. Shout out to my kid who told me. One season in, and the memories of watching with my dad came back. Having dabbled in self-publishing over the past ten years, I made it my mission to write a story, my homage to the The Rockford Files, and find a real, traditional publisher. I named my private eye hero STEVE ROCKFISH, as a tribute to both my old man and Gandy, who always referred to Jim as “Rockfish.” I came up with this 90k word, fun fast-paced read.
Here’s my elevator pitch:
Steve Rockfish, a private detective struggling with the pandemic, just landed his biggest client. But as Steve digs deeper, he’s thrown into the den of a monolithic criminal alliance and his effort uncovers a myriad of illicit activity dating back to the 1940s and as recent as yesterday.
- The Pine Barrens Stratagem: From the Case Files of Steve Rockfish (2022) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. “Straight from the Author’s Mouth” by Ken Harris.