The Essex Man

Created by Gary Phillips

The publisher suggests that LUKE WARFIELD (aka "THE ESSEX MAN") is "as smooth as Shaft and as bold as Batman (without the crazy costume)"

Maybe the haberdashery is down to earth, but there's still plenty of craziness -- and a deep, throbbing vein of comic book BIFF! BANG! POW! -- running through 10 Seconds to Death (2013), not to mention the distinct echoes of the beloved "Men's Adventure" books of seventies (The Executioner, The Destroyer, et al) and the larger-than-life hero pulps of the thirties and forties, such as Doc Savage or Jim Anthony.

But honestly? The real inspiration seems to be the author's affection for the paperbacks he read as a teenager growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the '70s.

"...type of paperback novel you couldn't find at the B. Dalton or Martindale's. You found these books on the spinner rack in drugstores and bus station newsstands, and even in grocery stories. They had titles like Eldorado Red, Trick Baby, and Death for Hire. This was crime fiction with black protagonists and anti-heroes published by the L.A. based, white-owned Holloway House whose specialty, in their words, was being 'the world's largest publisher of black experience paperbacks.'

"I wanted to pay homage," Phillips goes on to say, to "the energy that came out of those (works), the desire to take it to the man... but also be more self-reflective in the material as well."

Handsome man about town and philanthropist Warfield is, of course, big-ass wealthy: the head of the Los Angeles-based Essex Foundation. He lives in the swanky three-storey mansion that serves as charity's headquarters. He has servants, a private pool, a hot girlfriend, and all the typical accountrements of male wish fulfillment. Plus a secret room that houses a mini-submarine (complete with secret access to the ocean), a wall-sized, electronic-voiced computer named Asimov, assorted other high-tech crime fighting gadgetry and -- in case anybody has somehow missed the connection -- a giant replica of a penny.

Warfield also has a shady past (of course) and many sins to atone for, so he spends a good chunk of his time using the Foundation's deep coffers, his formidable intelligence, clout and fancy toys to see that justice -- or at least his own particular version of it -- is done.

Yeah, it's a goofy concept, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it might easily have simply ended up being adolescent wankery. But Phillips is too smart, and too good a writer, for that. He brings plenty of political, social and cultural heft and hard-boiled swagger to the party; that same rare combo of pulp grit and street smarts that he's brought to his acclaimed Ivan Monk detective series and other works.

Dig it.

NOVELS

  • The Essex Man #1: 10 Seconds to Death (2013).. Kindle it!

SHORT STORIES

RELATED LINKS

The author tracers the roots of the Essex Man in this Criminal Elements post, and hints at where he may be going...

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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