Thursday, July 15, 2010

Murder on the Wild Side by Jeff Jacks

Murder on the Wild Side by Jeff Jacks
Fawcett T2515
Copyright 1971

"They told me you were just a crooked cop who drinks too much."
"I'm an ex-cop who drinks."

This one is aptly titled because in it we meet the oddest and strangest assortment of characters that I have ever came across in a private detective novel. There is 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 that I haven't listed. All cross paths in a murder investigation conducted by a down-and-out NYC ex-cop playing P.I., called Shep Stone.

She took my raincoat. As she turned to hang it in the closet, I resisted the impulse to reach out and pat her on the ass. Like I used to.

Shep Stone was kicked out of the Police Department for taking drug bust money. Everyone was doing it, unfortunately he got caught and took the fall. He's trying to get his P.I. license by pulling in a few favors with his old cop buddies, but they mostly shun him. Stone is one step from skid row, a middle aged lush, and just keeps his head above water by hiring himself out to get the goods on cheating husbands or looking for missing persons. In the crap-hole boarding house where he has a room, he stumbles upon the murdered body of an old lady called "The Handkerchief Woman." Well, the cops get involved and they tell Stone if he helps them out (because he knows the pulse of the area) they will expedite getting the P.I. license approved. At the same time a Wisconsin man hires him to look for his runaway teenage daughter in NYC. And it's during these two investigations that we bump into all those quirky and unusual characters.

"Murder on the Wild Side" is the the best P.I. novel that I've read this year. The well-written (and unpredictable) plot takes the reader through the grimy and profligate streets of 1969 New York City. Everyone is out for themselves and willing to use anyone for their advantage. Shep Stone included. Stone comes off as an unemotional man who is trapped in this filthy concrete environment with no future hope of escape. The blend of the murder and the missing persons investigation is exceptional and as I flipped through the pages I eagerly waited to see who Stone was going to run into next. The novel is broken into compelling short chapters that have distinctive titles. And they really snap together to lock down this extraordinary detective novel. A wild ride on the wild side, and I loved every minute of it. I've had this paperback collecting dust for a quite a while, I waited way too long to read it. It is outstanding!

A young Chinese hooker gave me a smile. I decided she was what I needed. I paid for two hours of her time in a nearby hotel. Her cooper body was a lovely, professional instrument.

Besides the mystery surrounding the old woman's murder and location of the teenage runaway, there is one more mystery concerning this paperback. And that is - who the hell is Jeff Jacks? It's no doubt a pseudonym and I've had no luck researching the name. It would be interesting to find out!

In 1973, Shep Stone made a return appearance in "Find the Don's Daughter." (also authored by Jeff Jacks) I don't have that paperback, but I'll be on the hunt.

14 comments:

Cullen Gallagher said...

I've never heard of this, but it sounds awesome. I will certainly keep my eyes open for this one.

Bill Crider said...

This one's a Bob Randisi favorite. He's tried for years to find some info on Jeff Jacks. Don't know if he ever has.

Frank Loose said...

At Thrilling Detective web site: 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.

I'm going on the hunt for this book. This makes two new ones this week, including The Golden Frame that you reviewed the other day, and that i already ordered. You're on a roll, August!

Frank Loose said...

Just found this at one of the online booksellers who has a copy of the book for sale: "From the author of the Sam Durell Series." He doesn't expand on it.

We've all read a lot of Edward S. Aarons books, many under his pseudonym Edward Ronn. Is it possible he wrote this one?

August West said...

I read somewhere that Lawrence Block was asked this question and he denied being Jeff Jacks.

Frank: If it is Edward S. Aarons, you made a big discovery. I'd say it is possible, Fawcett did publish his novels during that time.

Andy said...

That is one of the twofisted pseudonyms I've ever heard...

Richard Heft said...

"From The Author Of The Sam Durell series" is part of the blurb at the top of the cover of the book. Either
A) Aarons blurbed his own book, or
B) The online bookseller misread the blurb as an author identification.
I'm voting for B, and I say Jeff Jacks is still unknown.

Frank Loose said...

Richard, I'd say you are correct and the bookseller misinterpreted the book blurb endorsement. Now that I've enlarged the cover scan, I see the blurb.

August West said...

I'm starting to think that it is best that we don't know. It makes these two Jeff Jacks novels that much more intriguing.

Frank Loose said...

Excellent point, August. I'm looking forward to reading the book. Thanks for the terrific post.

Marty McKee said...

Warner Brothers adapted this book as a movie called BLACK EYE starring Fred Williamson as Shep Stone. I believe the film was even shot as SHEP STONE. It's pretty good, but not on DVD for some odd reason.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am reluctant to include these on my blog without your permission but should you extend it, I would be delighted.

Marty McKee said...

BLACK EYE is coming to DVD soon as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Jacks isn't a pseudonym. I knew Jeff in NYC -- he died quite a few years ago. Really good guy, and a really good writer.