Gil Disbro

Created by James E. Martin
(1936 –)

TAKE ONE (Stickney)

James E Martin‘s was a retired police detective, who had previously worked as a high school teacher in Ohio. His creation GIL DISBRO was a Cleveland-based PI, a young laid off cop who earned his way through P.I./bounty work. Disbro was also a part-time college student living with one of his Lit professors. This gave Disbro a chance to throw off those Spenser-like literary observations. I’m a sucker for hard-boiled with witty literary observations.

Plus, unlike Les Robert’s Milan Jacovich character, we’re not in heavy ethnic territory here.

There were only four Disbro books: The Mercy Trap (1989) and The Flip Side of Life (1990) are the first two and very strong. The third, And Then You Die (1992) was the weakest; the fourth and last, A Fine and Private Place (1994) was a welcome return to form.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything concrete about the author since. I tried to revive interest when free lancing at the local alt pub, but Martin seems forgotten around here.

TAKE TWO (Smith)

Cleveland‘s GIL DISBRO, who had a rep as a “good young private detective,” appeared in four well-received novels in the early nineties. He was brash and cocky and well on his way to gaining a reputation as a crank, a sort of younger version of Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker.

Like many P.I.s, Gil started as a cop, but in a neat variation, he wasn’t a cop for long before he was booted off the force, nor did he resign in protest. Nope, he was laid off, put on “indefinite furlough” from the Cleveland force a few years back, due to cutbacks, a definite sign of the times.

Gil was married once, to a WKKC-TV news producer, but that’s all over now.

Currently, he’s going to college part-time, and living with Helen, an “older” woman, his 37-year old associate literature professor. Helen has some rather liberal views, but now that she’s involved with that straight-shooting young whippersnapper Gil, she’s coming around to his way of thinking.


The writing’s certainly sharp enough, and the plots pleasantly complicated enough, but somehow, over the four books Gil himself just grated on me. He had no use for (and frequently let us know his feelings on): seatbelts, non-smokers, gun control, small (ie: un-American) cars, the media, feminists, etc., etc. A defiant smoker, Gil boasts of living on nothing but Camels and coffee. Which is fine–I don’t need to agree with a character’s politics or even to like them particularly to find them interesting, but Gil’s constant and almost cartoonish sneering sneering wore me down — and I’m not so sure it was simply his politics. I think it was him.

Maybe it was the mustache, which he seemed inordinately proud of, or the fact Gil seems a little young to be such an old crank, but whereas I can stomach Walker’s rants (or Dan Fortune‘s, for that matter), Gil just got on my nerves. It all seemed a little pre-fab to me; a little too self-conscious, a little too “Hey! Hey! Look at me! I’m sooo non-PC!”). Or maybe it’s just that the mantle of crabbiness just fits better on those who’ve been around a bit longer.

But don’t let my personal bugaboos, circa early 1990s, scare you off. This is a fine series regardless, well worth checking out.




  • May 14, 2023
    The Bottom Line: Great series from the 90s with a young Cleveland eye, laid off from the cops and living with his sexy, older lit professor. Marred only by his constant carping about everything… Maybe it was me.
Individual reports respectfully submitted by Frank Stickney and Kevin Burton Smith.

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