Created by Thomas H. Cook
These books, more a three-part novel than a series, are one of the true classics of the genre, one of the truly great P.I. trilogies that most of you probably never read.
No, really. With these three books, now almost forgotten, Cook tapped into something truly special, slipped the surly bonds of a generally earth-bound genre and truly touched the face of the gods of the genre, at least for a little while. That's how much I felt them.
The books trace the journey of grief-stricken, guilt-plagued FRANK CLEMONS from Atlanta homicide cop to New York City private eye. With his raw, aching prose, author Cook invokes a world of such heart-breaking sorrow and profound loneliness that Frank's desparate attempt not to succumb to it becomes positively heroic.
When we first meet Frank in 1988's Sacrificial Ground, he's an Atlanta cop working homicide, heading for trouble. He's a long, tall plank of a man, the son of a preacher man, with a bloodline running straight back to the hills. Haunted by the suicide of his teenage daughter, bitter and burned out, Frank has become a restless night crawler, hitting the bottle, in danger of letting his marriage, and his career, slip away. But what could have been a wallow in self-pity is anything but. Emotionally bruising, yes, but oddly, you end up cheering for Frank, even as you -- and probably him -- realize it may already be too late.
In Flesh and Blood, seeking some form of salvation, or maybe just escape, Frank follows a woman he thinks he loves to New York, but eventually that slips away too. Finally, he falls back on the one thing he can count on -- his skill as a detective. He sets up shop as as private eye, working out of a dank, damp basement office on 49th Street, looking for cases he can bury himself in.
But in the aptly titled Night Secrets, Frank's long, sleepless nights continue. His Southern accent marks him as an outsider immediately. He wanders the dark streets of New York, a bleek world of all-night grocery stores, after-hour bars, and the crude shelters of the homeless. The eternal loner, Frank nevertheless finds a friend, and sometime partner, in Farouk, a mysterious, cryptic man who earns his living "lending assistance in difficult matters", selling information and doing the "paperwork" that Frank would rather avoid. Frank prefers doing the legwork, hitting the streets, questioning countless people, trusting his instincts and the meticulously-kept notebooks in which he's constantly scribbling, in search of that sudden passionate surge of inspiration that will crack the case.
Frank is an oddly fascinating character and, thanks to Cook's moody, atmospheric and evocative prose, these three books are one of the most stirring, emotional private eye series ever written. Heavily recommended.
By the way, a subsequent novel, about David Corman, a New York photographer who makes like a private eye, is pretty good stuff, too.
By the way, I think Lance Henrickson, or whatever his name is, from TV's Millenium, would be fantastic as Frank. Coincidentally, his character on that show was also called Frank. Hmmm.....
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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