Bernardo Thomas

Created by Louis Williams

Supposedly one of the great one-shot private eyes, the only appearance of BERNARDO THOMAS was in Tropical Murder, a paperback original published by Tower Books in 1981, shortly before they went belly-up.

But hoo-boy, does it sound tempting. I’m not even sure anymore who first raved to me about this, although I suspect the first hint was from Robert A. Baker and Michael T. Nietzel’s Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights (1985), which had such a big influence on this site (and me, personally). It apparently impressed both of them, although they lamented that none of the authors they’d polled for their book had even heard of it.

And since 1998, when I started this site, there have been comments on Rara-Avis and personal messages, Bouchercon panels and whispers down the hall, as well as Geoff Bradley’s 2010 piece in Mystery*File. Geoff wasn’t as impressed as Baker and Nietzel, but even his meh reaction piqued my interest.

So let’s just say Tropical Murder’s been on my BOLO book list for a long time. Sure, I suppose I could just suck it up and buy an over-priced copy online (twenty-five bucks for beat up paperback???), but that’s no fun.

Baker and Nietzel ranked this obscure novel as “powerful” and “The Best Unread PI Novel of the Past Decade,” comparing the prose style to James Crumley, although they also admit that the plot was “secondary and a bit muddled.”

The title suggests a tropical setting, and sure enough, it’s set in hot and steamy Punto Fijo, Venezuela, the capital city of the municipality of Carirubana in northern Falcón State, although you’d never know it from the cover, which suggests a wallow in 1940s nostalgia. But no, it’s set in the eighties, although at times it plays out like a sweaty, hard-boiled take on Hamlet.

Except Hamlet was more cheerful.

Suffice it to say that Bernardo is no happy camper. Depressed and suicidal, the offspring of a prostitute and a sailor long gone, he was raised by relatives in the U.S., and schooled to be a lawyer, but he returns to Venezuela, drinking too much and playing with loaded guns, looking for answers to questions he may not really want answered.

“I thought how most of life was not being able to find the toothpaste or was dropping your best pen in the toilet. It wasn’t tragic. It wasn’t dignified enough to be called absurd. It was simply trivial—a pig shitting on your doorstep.”


Anyway, Mr. Sunshine’s hired by a woman whose American oil worker hubby, Nelson Seed, has disappeared, but it soon mushrooms into a stretched out wallow in pain and violence, as Bernardo realizes assorted local crime figures and even his own mother are somehow involved.

I dunno. Baker and Nietzel rave about it, but even they consider it a “long pull.”

I’m still looking for a copy.



  • One and Done
    Some great private eyes who’ve appeared in only one novel.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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