Thrilling Detective, Jackson Donne & Me
By Dave White
Yeah, I was an English major, but no, I wasn’t searching out novels for my next class. I was looking for private eye fiction to read. I had read Philip Marlowe and I’d been dashing through the Spenser novels, and I wanted more. So, sitting in the lab, I used a search engine (back then it was probably Ask Jeeves) and typed in “private eye novels.” And what should come up, but something called The Thrilling Detective Website.
I clicked immediately.
What awaited me was a treasure trove. Kevin Burton Smith’s amazing list of private eyes and attached biographies led me to read so many authors I hadn’t heard of. This was how I found my favorite writers, such as Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais. Riding the bus from campus to campus, I gulped these novels down, and particularly remember finishing Lehane’s Darkness, Take My Hand in a parking lot just before a class where I skipped out on doing the assigned reading. Private eye novels became an obsession.
And then Kevin decided to publish short fiction. That was the goal for me: I would be published on his site. It was the big time.
The first story I sent was a story written at the end of my high school career about a PI who gets caught up in a UFO sighting. Kevin, being the smart man he is (HAH!— editor), soundly rejected it.
And so I tried again, creating a young private eye who settled down in my noisy college town. The first story was called “God Bless the Child.” This time Kevin and his esteemed first editor Victoria Esposito-Shea said “Yes!” So, in March of 2000, Jackson Donne was born.
Over the years Kevin and fiction editors Victoria and Gerald So amassed a treasure trove of writers. There I discovered Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler, Anthony Neil Smith, Ray Banks, Sarah Weinman, and Lippman. Each season of new short stories tapped right into my vein. I loved it.
And the success I had with “Child” convinced me to keep writing. The first writing award I ever won–a Derringers Award–came because I published a Donne story called “Closure” on the website. It was a reaction to 9/11, and I remember Kevin, Gerald and I really working on the edits to whittle it into perfect form. We clearly did.
I’ve learned so much from this site; I became a fan of so many writers and characters, and learned to be a better writer.
It is no exaggeration to say that without Kevin, Victoria, Gerald and this site, there’d be no Jackson Donne. And, even more, there might not even be Dave White, the author. I owe the site and its editors so, so much.
Happy twenty years, Thrilling Detective! I’m so excited, proud and honored to have played a small part in it. Every time I visit the site, I revert that 18-year-old kid in that Rutgers University computer lab.
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Dave White is the Shamus Award nominated author of the Jackson Donne series and the standalone novel, Witness to Death. He lives with his family in New Jersey. This piece originally posted in April 2018.