Created by L.A. Morse
— Jake, on aging.
Jake is a hoot; long-retired from the Shamus Game, ornery and unapologetic. At 78, he’s just hanging on, living out his days on park benches and a tiny two-bedroom house with a dying lawn, reading trashy detective paperbacks, smoking a little weed, and pissed off at finding himself old and barely solvent. He’s also preoccupied with his own death (in a great running gag, he keeps envisioning his obituary). Not that he’s planning to go gentle into that good night, mind you– this old bastard’s not going to wait until any final moment to rage.
And then Sal the Salami, an old gangster he once brought down, shows up and makes Jake an offer he can’t refuse. Suddenly, Jake’s out on the streets again, working an honest-to-goodness case, and enjoying the hell out of it, even as he grouses and bitches about it. He even enlists the aid of several pals from the old days.
In a giddy, if premature, burst of triumph, Jake proudly thumps his chest, “I had done it. I had fucking well done it. I had showed them– whoever they were–that Jake Spanner could still cut the mustard. That he was good for something more than sitting in a park, absorbing sunlight. Dammit! He had planned an investigation, and run it, and pulled it off. The old dick was still around.”
It’s that outburst that reveals the true spirit of defiance in this book. It doesn’t shy away from the reality of old age and death–it faces it head on, and spits in its face. Death may be coming for all of us, but as Jake says, “Not yet, goddammit. Not just yet.”
The Old Dick (1981) was a surprisingly tough, non-sentimental look at crime and old age, and won an Edgar for Best Paperback Original for author Morse, a displaced Los Angeleno who was living in Toronto. He also wrote a couple of books featuring tough guy P.I. Sam Hunter (“They’re trash, but I like ‘em!,”according to our friend Chris Mills).
There was even a made-for-TV movie adaptation of The Old Dick, retitled the more polite Jake Spanner, Private Eye, featuring Robert Mitchum as Jake (sounds like good casting to me), and scripted and produced by Andrew Fenady, the guy who brought us The Man With Bogart’s Face.
Ric Meyers, in a review in The Armchair Detective (Summer 1990) considered the result “feeble but well-meaning,” and most reviews pretty much I’ve found pretty much agree, although several thought Mitchum’s performance deserved a better film.
- “It’s utterly timeless. Jake Spanner, a retired private detective in his late 70s, is a great character, cranky, sarcastic, introspective about getting old and past loves and friends … and he grows his pot in his backyard… this spirit of rebellion that drives the novel, the fact that it never ignores the idea of death, but challenges it, mocks it, and reminds us never to give up, no matter how many hurtles you have to jump over… It’s a true forgotten classic… and I wish it was back in print.”
— Cameron Hughes, as part of The Rap Sheet’s One Book Project
- JAKE SPANNER, PRIVATE EYE
(1989, USA Network)
(aka “Hoodwinked”, “The Old Dick”)
Teleplay by Andrew J. Fenady
Based on the novel, “The Old Dick” by L.A. Morse
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Executive Producer: Andrew J. Fenady
Starring Robert Mitchum as JAKE SPANNER
Also starring Ernest Borgnine, Laurie Latham, Stella Stevens, John Mitchum, James Mitchum, Dick Van Patten, Sheree North, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Hand Me Down My Walking Cane…
Call it “Geezer Noir” if you must, but these old dicks ain’t goin’ gentle into that good night…
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- November 2, 2023
The Bottom Line: This cranky, pot-smoking 78-year-old LA dick refuses to go gently into that good night. And he ain’t waiting until the final moment to rage, either.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.