Created by Earl Emerson
Another 1980's Seattle P.I. who may have once inhaled is Earl Emerson's THOMAS BLACK. While not quite the flake that Richard Hoyt's John Denson is, he certainly has his moments. Especially when he teams up with his best buddy, Kathy Birchfield who, through the course of the series, evolves from kooky law student renting a room from Thomas to full-fledged kooky lawyer with her own law practice and apartment. She plays Pancho to Thomas' Cisco and eventually June to his Ward. She gets a big hoot out of dressing up in bizarre costumes, and revels in Thomas' various embarrassments and gaffes.
Not that it's all laughsthat would be too easy.
Thomas is more complex than that. He was a ten-year veteran of the Seattle police force until, in the line of duty, he shot and killed a fifteen year old car thief intent on mashing Thomas against a wall with hot car. Thomas lost his nerve, and quit the department. Once a crack shot, he doesn't even carry anymore. He lives off his police pension and the occasional P.I. job. He rents the basement of his two-room house in the University district out to students. He has a rarely-used office downtown that he shares with a religious nut and a bright red Ford pickup from the late sixties. He makes do. He likes to bicycle, he doesn't drink, he favors jeans and track shoes and his once-platonic relationship with Kathy seems to have recently lead to marriage, after one of the more roundabout courtships in detective fiction.
This is a quirky, witty, literate series, worth checking out. There's a wicked slice of black humour, balanced against the slapstick antics of Thomas and Kathy, to keep things bouncing. The characters are well-drawn, and flaky enough to be interesting. And there's some great local colour to boot. Poverty Bay, one of the first P.I. novels of the Reagan era to focus on the problems of the homeless, won a Shamus award for Best Private Eye Novel way back in 1985, but almost thirty years later, Thomas is still going down those mean streets.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks, Mike.
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