Created by Rob Kantner
BEN PERKINS is not your average private eye. Most P.I.s prowl the mean streets of some big city--Ben lives in the Detroit suburb of Belleville, where he's in charge of maintenance and security at the rather toney apartment complex of Norwegian Woods. He does his "private eying," as he calls it, as a supplement to his income, and to pay for some of the finer things in life. In Ben's case, that amounts to his souped-up, classic 1971 Mustang ragtop, his ultralight aircraft, Stroh's beer, cork-tipped cigars and good ol' boy rock'n'roll. It's not a bad life for a former union enforcer, and it sure beats bolting on fenders on the line at Ford, something his late father, a displaced Southerner, and his brother, Bill, settled for.
Ben's a big guy, and he isn't afraid to get down to it, if he has to, but what he really is is a schemer, a conniver, a guy that goes around poking into things, tidying them up a bit, in short, a "fixer."
Another thing that separates Ben from the rest of the herd is that, while most eyes are loners, with very few friends and even fewer family, Ben has tons of friends, acquaintances and assorted relatives weaving in and out of his escapades. In fact, not since Jim Rockford has a private eye had such a large supporting cast making regular appearances.
Among Ben's extended family, perhaps most notably, is long-suffering, on-again, off-again lady friend and criminal attorney Carole Summers and her young son, Will. Also along for most of the ride are Lieutenant Elvin Dance, sharp-dressed man and black Detroit Homicide dick, and Inspector Dick Dennehy, Office of Special Investigations, Michigan State Police. There's also Ben's afore-mentioned bro, Bill, and their sister Libby. And then there are assorted lady friends, poker buddies, the maintenance crew and various tenants at Norwegian Woods, and a collection of drinking buddies and barflies at his favourite watering hole, Under New Management.
One of the very best P.I. series of the eighties and nineties, criminally overlooked, doomed, like Gaylord Dold's Mitch Roberts, to premature obscurity for the crime of being originally published in paperback. And whereas most private eye series have appeared mostly in novels, with relatively few short story appearances, Kantner isn't shy about that form. In fact, he honed his craft, and Ben's character, in a string of excellent short stories, most of which originally appeared in AHMM, before finally making the jump to novels in 1986 with The Back Door Man. In fact, a case could be made that some of Kantner's best work is in the short story form, although the novels themselves are very, very good. Check out the over two dozen Ben Perkins stories and see for yourself.
Alas, the series seems to have disappeared. The conspiracy theory is that Kantner is another victim of the publishing industry's regular gutting of mid-line authors, which would have been a real crime. But the sad truth is that Rob Kantner wasn't a victim; he just quit writing novels. Last I heard, he's doing pretty well as some kind of business consultant, and has a website under the domain of www.9sg.com.
Maybe not a crime, but certainly not good news for P.I. fans. Kantner was at one point one of the most nominated writers in the PWA's history, at the time only surpassed by fellow Detroit writer Loren Estleman.
More encouraging, though, was the slow, gradual return of Ben in a short story, "Something Simple" in the June 1999 issue of AHMM which, if not exactly heralding the return of the series, at least threw P.I. fans a bone. And it got better -- a few more stories emerged over the years,and in 2005 Point Blank Press released Trouble Is What I Do, a collection of the Perkins short stories with a foreword by J. A. Konrath.
And then it got so good you could plotz! In 2007 a brand new Perkins novel, the long-awaited but ominously titled Final Fling, hit the streets followed in short order by a few more short stories which Kantner offered for free on his web site.
Unfortunately, the last of those appeared in 2009, and the site has since gone offline.
Loren Estleman's Detroit eye, Amos Walker, makes a cameo appearance.
A wide-ranging romp covering the realities of the writing life and the return of Ben.
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