Tom Bethany

Created by Jerome Doolittle

A Boston (well...Cambridge) PI, with a difference. Of course, in these post-Spenserian times, aren't they all?

Body Scissors (1990), the novel that introduced TOM BETHANY, a man with a colourful past was an auspicious debut. He'd been, among other things, a soldier in Vietnam, a world-class amateur wrestler (he would have gone to the Olympics save for the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games), and had flown for both the CIA's Air America operation and as a bush pilot in Alaska. Somewhere in there, he was once also a father and husband. But now he's makes a living as a sort of undercover, unlicensed private investigator, dealing in cash, living under an assumed name, working out of The Tasty, a Harvard Square greasy spoon. The guy's got more quirks than a dog has fleas. But this dog bites.

His politics tend to the left -- and he doesn't give a fuck who knows it. He also has a decidedly hands-on approach to justice. Think of him as a cross between Mike Hammer and Henry David Thoreau, with a little of John Irving's Garp tossed in; a man who's simplified his life to the point of obsession. Seems, years ago, he decided that the best way to keep unwanted people out of his life was to get himself off everybody's computer list. So far, he seems to have succeeded.

Two of the very few people that he does allow into his life is the love of his life, Hope Edwards, a bigshot ACLU lawyer from Washington, D.C., where she has a husband and kids, and Gladys Williams, a Cambridge crime lab technician, a good pal and police contact who can probably match Tom quirk for quirk.

Tom frequents various libraries and is quite good at research, thanks in no small part to his photographic memory. He has a weakness for ice cream, second-hand furniture and some pretty acidic observations on politics and other hypocrisies of modern life. He also has a surprisingly back-to-basics, eye-for-an-eye view of justice which is a bit disturbing at times, particularly considering his political leanings.

In the first book, it's rather satisfying, but in the second book, when the stakes are raised and become a bit more personal, he ends up acting like (and here I quote) "some macho teenage asshole in a goddamned street gang."

Author Jerome Doolittle has led a bit of a life, himself. He's been, at various times, a journalist, a diplomat and a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, which no doubt explains Tom's outspoken political views and frequent potshots at Reagan, Bush et al. Doolittle's (and Tom's) broadsides are quite pointed and a welcome change from the usual vague political grumblings that pass for political comment in this genre. All in all, a refreshing character who, providing he doesn't turn into some kind of liberal Mike Hammer out to blow away all the bad guys, should be a welcome addition to any fan's reading list. Alas, last I heard, Doolittle's publishers had dropped him, although he claims he "may yet revive."

To which I say, yes, please do. Please do.

NOVELS

RELATED LINKS

Opinions, essays, a newsletter and excerpts from Tom's creator, Jerome Doolittle, full of what he calls his "bad attitude." Also available is some stuff, to sample or purchase in pdf format, from K.C. Constantine, the creator of Mario Balzic. In fact, at one time there were few rumours that Doolittle and K.C. were the same feller, but Otto Penzler says "Definitely not. I've met them both. Doolittle lives in northwest CT and Carl Kozak (Constantine) in central PA. I love your site."

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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