Created by Jeff Jacks
An unlicensed New York private eye working the Greenwich Village area, SHEP STONE, only made two appearances, both in Fawcett Gold Medal paperback originals in the early seventies.
According to Robert Randisi, these two hard-to-find novels are full of “great P.I. stuff with a wonderful New York atmosphere.” In fact, in the May/June 1989 edition of Mystery Scene he named Murder on the Wild Side #1 on his own personal top ten list of P.I. novels.
And I have to agree—it’s just a pitch perfect P.I. novel.
A disgraced former cop, Stone was booted from the NYPD for ripping off money from a drug bust, but is hoping to squeeze out a P.I. ticket from the department by calling in a few favours from the few friends in blue he has left. In the mean time, he’s working unlicensed, and under the radar (he hopes).
Not that it seems to have done him much good–he’s living in a shitty room in a shitty boarding house, drinking way too much, and pretty much taking any job that comes his way, mostly cheating spouses and running down runaways.
It’s the usual big, bad New York City vibe of the era, but Jacks keeps it fresh by populating the early seventies Big Apple with a variety of oddballs, misfits and other vermin that includes, as Vintage Hardboiled Reads lovingly details, “a Bible preaching street ragamuffin, punchy ex-boxer, astrological charlatans, illegal abortionists, junkies and pushers, number runners, beautiful lesbos and sick S&M fags, filth-clad hippies, pimped out streetwalkers, a motorcycle gang, Black radicals, and a few more derelicts and chiselers.”
Mind you, Stone is any better–or worse–than his fellow citizens. He’s no shining knight; he’s broke and broken, a hustler, circling the drain, trying to scrape by any way he can, seeking comfort wherever he can.
But Jacks brings it all to wonderful life; a beautiful romp through Hell following a tour guide who doesn’t even realize he’s already damned. There was a sequel, 1973’s Find the Don’s Daughter, which is passable enough, but Murder on the Wild Side is the one you want.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
So the big question then is, “Who the hell is Jeff Jacks?”
Rumours abound as to the identity of the mysterious author, including Randisi’s speculation in Pronzini and Muller’s 1001 Midnights (1986) that Jacks was actually Lawrence Block –certainly Stone shares a certain down-and-out alcoholic/NYC vibe with Block’s Matt Scudder.
But Block has denied it.
Which in turn lead to a few folks suggesting Jacks was actually Randisi himself.
But Randisi has denied it.
So far, nobody’s stepped up to claim credit, although in late 2015, a woman (who preferred to remain anonymous) contacted me, claiming she knew Jeff back in the day. According to her, Jeff Jacks lived in West Greenwich village NYC in the 70′-80’s.
“I knew him and his then wife Phyllis. He worked as a bartender, his wife a waitress. He may still live in NYC. His wife moved to San Jose Ca. in the 80’s She would be in her 80’s. I have an autographed PB of his books. I don’t know why he did not continue to write.”
And in the comments section of the same Vintage Hardboiled Reads post, “Anonymous” wrote in 2012, “I knew Jeff in NYC–he died quite a few years ago. Really good guy, and a really good writer.”
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BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Another puzzler is Black Eye, the lame and rather clumsy 1974 cinematic adaptation which for some reason recast Stone as a blaxploitation action hero (played by former jock Fred Williamson).
But Shaft this ain’t.
The film also scrapped the sharply-etched New York setting of the novels for… Venice, California.
Say “Huh?” It didn’t work for Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die, and it didn’t work here.
Still, if you’re into cheesy action flicks, it’s not bad, no better or worse than most of the rest of Williamson’s ouevre. And there’s the added bonus of Bret Morrison, old time radio’s The Shadow, playing a porno movie-maker.
Because… why not?
- Murder on the Wild Side (1971) | Buy this book
- Find the Don’s Daughter (1973) | Buy this book
- BLACK EYE | Buy this video | Buy the DVD | Watch it now!
(1974, Warner Bros.)
Tagline: Whenever the cane turns up, someone turns up dead. Black Eye knows why.
Based on the novel “Walk on the Wild side” by Jeff Jacks
Screenplay by Mark Haggard and Jim Martin
Directed by Jack Arnold
Cinematography by Ralph Woolsey
Original music by Mort Garson
Produced by Pat Rooney
Associate producer: Larry Noble
Assistant producer: Anne Reeves
Executive producer: Jack Reeves
Starring Fred Williamson as STONE
Also starring Rosemary Forsyth, Teresa Graves, Floy Dean, Richard Anderson, Cyril Delevanti, Richard X. Slattery, Larry D. Mann, Brett Morrison, Frank Stell, Teddy Wilson , Jim Malinda Nancy Fisher
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And thanks, Hollie, for the lead.