Harry Fannin

Created by David Markson (1927-2010)

HARRY FANNIN is a walking scar. He has some shrapnel in his left shoulder, an old knife wound in his right shoulder, his nose has been broken twice (that he can remember), not to mention an assortment of .32 and .38 caliber bullet holes in other parts of his anatomy. He plies his rough and tumble trade in Beatnik-era Greenwich Village, New York, in two well-written and well-received novels, Epitaph for a Tramp (1959) and Epitaph for a Deadbeat (1961) that have stood up remarkably well. And the original covers ain't too shabby eitherIt's too bad he never continued the series.

But I guess he had other goals. As it is, the two Epitaph novels were just the opening salvo in what proved to be a long and highly regarded career as the author of several postmodern classics that fooled around with narrative, character development and plot, including Springer's Progress and Reader's Block. His final book, The Last Novel (2007) was tagged "a real tour de force" by The New York Times, while his most famous novel, Wittgenstein's Mistress, was hailed by David Foster Wallace as "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country."


  • "There's a good, hard-boiled feel to this series, some great use of New York City, and it's well-written to boot. 1959's Epitath for a Tramp kicks off the series in fine style with Harry's nymphomaniac wife showing up at the door sporting a knife wound in her chest."

-- Kevin Burton Smith

  • "I just finished the second Harry Fannin book by David Markson, Epitaph for a Dead Beat, and liked it just as much as the first. I can see why people were reminded of Ross Macdonald by these books (Markson even gives a shout out to RM by mentioning in passing that a bartender was reading a book called The Way Some People Die).

    Like Macdonald, the writing is very literate (both books have numerous literary allusions), with a sense of gloom hanging over it all. And childhood and family trauma figure heavily in the first. However, Markson leavens it all with Chandleresque wisecracks.

    The second book features a somewhat demented sense of humor. It is set amidst the Greenwich Village beat scene, circa 1960. Fannin is a clear outsider, but Markson knows his stuff. He throws out hilarious overheard dialog snippets, references to beat writers, even small excerpts of writings. Fannin internalizes all of it to such a degree that he begins to ramble in a like stream-of-consciousness flow for almost a third of the book, while sleep deprived and suffering from a concussion, which, being a hardboiled PI, he treats with booze. The whodunnit of the two books, and the way Fannin discovers it, are very similar, but Markson manages to put an interesting new spin on the same trick in the second."

-- Mark Sullivan



  • Epitaph for a Tramp/Epitaph for a Dead Beat: The Harry Fannin Detective Novels (2007)....Buy this book


Famous Writers Who Have Dipped Their Toes in the P.I. Pool

Report respectfully submitted by Dale Stoyer, with additional input from Kevin Burton Smith.

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