Mitch Roberts

Created by Gaylord Dold

Brooding, philosophic MITCH ROBERTS is the hero of one of the best -- and most criminally overlooked -- private eye series of the 1980's. The first six books in the series were all paperback originals that seemed to vanish without a trace. Hopes (on my part, at least) that once the series was (finally) picked up for hardcover publication it would (finally) receive the attention it deserved turned out to be wishful thinking.

Mitch works the Wichita, Kansas area in the late fifties. He's a solitary kinda guy, a lonely man with simple tastes: baseball, chess, fishing, reading. He has an office next to the local barber shop and lives across from the local ballpark. He enjoys a good game of poker with the boys or a doubleheader on a warm summer evening now and then.

Simple pleasures, then, but not a simple guy. In Mitch's case, still waters run deep. Alone at home, he reads heavy-handed philosophical texts by Heidegger et al, and is haunted by his World War II experiences and the violence that still surrounds him. A finely detailed rendering of a time and a place; an era that we usually take for granted as being quieter and calmer, somehow more innocent than the present. But these books are about a man living a life of (mostly) quiet desperation, trying to come to grips with the underlying chaos and corruption and sorrow that turns our glib nostalgia into a cheap lie; trying to rise above it all, but failing more often than not.

These are wonderfully written books, with the author rendering potent scenes of such fragile pastoral beauty and tranquility that you wish you could be sitting in the bleachers with Mitch, watching the local team, smelling the freshly mown grass, sipping a cold beer out of a paper cup. But those scenes of beauty and peace are just a part of it -- there are also scenes of pure, brutal evil so vivid you can begin to doubt any other world ever existed.

Perhaps author Gaylord Dold was growing doubtful and frustrated himself, because by the time of the last paperback original, 1990's Disheveled City, he had more-or-less brought the series to a close.

Mitch had more-or-less found his peace, or at least a reasonable facsimile, packing it all in for a small place in Colorado, where he raises a few horses, works irrigation and "tries to keep busy," occasionally taking a P.I. job in town to make ends meet. So, suddenly, three years later, St. Martin's Press gives Dold a hardcover contract, and it was back into the breech.

Only problem was that Mitch had been put out to pasture. So, what to do? Well, in the first hardcover, A Penny for the Old Guy (1991), Mitch travels to England to visit the widow of an old Army busddy, and ends up investigating the murder of her son (and Mitch's godchild). And he travels even further in latter books, to Jamaica in Rude Boys (1992) and to Africa in The World Beat (1993). The bleak, claustrophobic smalltown cynicism of the earlier books has been replaced by a more bouncy, globetrotting sense of world-weariness. Somehow, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Lately, Dold, a practising criminal lawyer in Kansas, has also written several non-private eye books, including Bay of Sorrows (1995), Schedule II (1996) The Devil to Pay (1998) and The Last Man in Berlin (2004). He's also written several travel guides.

But man, those Mitch Robert books were something special.

STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR'S MOUTH

  • "(The name of) my own series character grew out of my admiration for the acting and persona of Robert Mitchum, whose unique brand of honesty, cynicism, humor and toughness appealed to several generations of movie-goers, me included. I was looking around for a character-name that would fit into a retro-noir setting that was generally seedy, rough-edged and glaringly oblique. It wasn't, in retrospect, hard to see that Mitch Roberts was just as good a name as Robert Mitchum, a name that would hold up if I was lucky enough to get the series published."

-- the author explains where he got Mitch Roberts' name

UNDER OATH

  • "Mitch Roberts is one of the more likeable heroes who have taken up the gun and the plastic badge in recent years."

-- Loren Estleman

  • "Mitch Roberts is a complex and believable character, one readers will want to know better and so will follow from book to book."

-- Bill Pronzini

  • "Gaylord Dold is one of those restless writers who help keep the genre from going stale."

-- Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

NOVELS

COLLECTION

  • The Wichita Mysteries: Three Complete Novels (1997).. Buy this book

RELATED LINKS

The author's official site.

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And thanks to Phil Gaskill for helping me put my T's in the right place.


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