AL DARLAN is the legendary short story writer Edward D. Hoch's contribution to private eyedom. Al's a California eye with a good rep, who has been in the biz a long time, appearing in fourteen or so stories since way back in 1957 (in such diverse publications as Crime & Justice, Off Beat Detective, Manhunt, Killers, Fast-Action Detective, Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, the literary quarterly Antaeus, the Saint Magazine and the New Black Mask, as well as a few anthologies).
Al has aged in more-or-less real time. In his 1986 short story, "The Other Eye," the middle-aged Al takes on a younger partner, Mike Trapper. By 1998's "An Eye for Scandal," Al is in his sixties, and not getting any younger.
And he's not setting the world on fire either. He's no slick superstar eye -- he's a working class eat-and-potatoes kinda gumshoe, reminiscent at times of Pronzini's early Nameless stories, approaching his decidedly low-key cases with a workingman's pragmatism and conscientiousness. He even lives in a mid-sized, unnamed city. But make no mistake: the Darlan stories may not be gourmet concoctions, but they sure hit the spot. Think of them as private eye comfort food.
According to Ed in a 2004 Mystery File interview, "My private eye character Al Darlan has appeared in sixteen stories since 1957. He started life as Al Diamond, but his last name was changed by an editor who feared confusion with Richard Diamond, a popular radio and TV private eye of the 1950s. The series helped win me The Eye, a life achievement award from Private Eye Writers of America, to go along with similar lifetime awards from MWA and Bouchercon. I almost killed off Darlan once in a Manhunt story, but he kept popping up. One story, "The Other Eye," was runner-up in a short story contest at the 1981 International Crime Writers Congress in Stockholm."
The scarily-prolific Hoch in his lifetime wrote over 700 short stories, and was the only writer in the mystery genre since the death of the pulps that I know of who was able to support himself as a full-time freelance writer of mystery short stories. Wanna catch the latest story by Hoch? Just pick up this month's Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen -- he left such a backlog they'll be running his stories for years. Among his many creations were upper New York State cop Captain Leopold, master thief Nick Velvet, crime-solving gypsy Michael Vlado and 2000-year old Simon Ark. He also written a standalone P.I. novel, featuring private eye turned mystery writer Barney Hamet. In 2000, he received The Eye, the Private Eye Writers of America's award for lifetime achievement.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Special thanks to Martin Ross for helping me fill in the blanks.
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