Jake Spanner
Created by L.A. Morse

"When you get old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I got dry."
-- Jake, on aging.

Cranky, pot-smoking 78-year old JAKE SPANNER is, as the title of his one recorded adventure puts it, an old dick, working some of the the same turf as Robert Benton's similarly-themed The Late Show, but also serves up a healthy dose of raunchy, earthy humour.

Jake is a hoot, long-retired, ornery and unapologetic. At 78, he's just hanging on, living out his days on park benches and his tiny two bedroom house, reading trashy detective paperbacks, smoking a little pot, and getting pissed off as hell at finding himself old and barely solvent. He's also preoccupied with his own death (in a great running gag, he keeps envisioning his obituary). Not that he's planning to go gentle into that good night, mind you -- this old bastard's not going to wait until any final moment to rage.

And then an old gangster he once brought down shows up, and makes Jake an offer he can't refuse. Suddenly, Jake's out on the streets again, working an honest-to-goodness case, and enjoying the hell out of it, even as he grouses and bitches about it. He even enlists the aid of several pals from the old days.

In a giddy, if premature, burst of triumph, Jake proudly thumps his chest, "I had done it. I had fucking well done it. I had showed them – whoever they were – that Jake Spanner could still cut the mustard. That he was good for something more than sitting in a park, absorbing sunlight. Dammit! He had planned an investigation, and run it, and pulled it off. The old dick was still around."

It's that outburst that reveals the true spirit of defiance in this book. It doesn't shy away from the reality of old age and death – it faces it head on. And spits in its face. Death may be coming for all of us, but as Jake says, "Not yet, goddammit. Not just yet."

The Old Dick is a surprisingly tough and non-sentimental look at crime and old age, and won an Edgar for Best Paperback Original for author Morse, a displaced Los Angeleno who lives in Toronto. He also wrote a couple of books featuring tough guy P.I. Sam Hunter ("They're trash, but I like 'em!"- Chris Mills).

There was a made-for-TV movie adaptation of The Old Dick, more politely titled Jake Spanner, Private Eye, featuring Robert Mitchum as Jake (sounds like good casting to me), and scripted and produced by Andrew Fenady, the guy who brought us The Man With Bogart's Face. Alas Ric Meyers, in a review in The Armchair Detective (Summer 1990) considered the result "feeble but well-meaning."

UNDER OATH

  • “It’s utterly timeless. Jake Spanner, a retired private detective in his late 70s, is a great character, cranky, sarcastic, introspective about getting old and past loves and friends ... and he grows his pot in his backyard... this spirit of rebellion that drives the novel, the fact that it never ignores the idea of death, but challenges it, mocks it, and reminds us never to give up, no matter how many hurtles you have to jump over... It’s a true forgotten classic, hell it won an Edgar for Best Paperback Original, and I wish it was back in print.”
    -- Cameron Hughes, as part of The Rap Sheet's One Book Project

NOVEL

TELEVISION

  • JAKE SPANNER, PRIVATE EYE
    (1989, USA Network)
    AKA Hoodwinked, The Old Dick
    Teleplay by Andrew J. Fenady
    Based on the novel, "The Old Dick" by L.A. Morse
    Directed by Lee H. Katzin
    Executive Producer: Andrew J. Fenady
    Starring
    Robert Mitchum as JAKE SPANNER
    Also starring
    Ernest Borgnine, Laurie Latham, Stella Stevens, John Mitchum, James Mitchum, Dick Van Patten, Sheree North, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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