Harry Stoner

Created by Jonathan Valin (1947 --)

In his mid-forties, too educted for his own good and no stranger to brooding and self-doubt, Cincinnati's HARRY STONER is a more intense, more muscular, bigger-shouldered version of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, rougher around the edges, more prone to violence. And he's very much a product of his times -- the 1980's and 90's. His world is an even more confusing and overwhelming place than Macdonald's world-weary gumshoe probably ever dreamed of, where evil is more than ever a palpable thing. But unlike Archer, Stoner isn't above temptations of the flesh, although his choice of bedmates is at times less than ideal.

Harry runs a one-man agency out of the Riorley Building and his trusty steed is a rusting Pinto that, like Harry, has seen better days. I mean, how eighties can you get?

But it is the sense of horror that marks the Stoner books as something more than just reheated, pumped up Macdonald. The books are powerful stuff, indeed, full of nasty, shocking images that can stay with you a long time. Evil is a recurring character in this series, and the consequences of violence aren't blithely passed over. In the later books, Stoner begins to question his attrraction to, and repulsion of violence. He's also trying to come to grips with his lost idealism, and like his contemporary, Stephen Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner, he's starting to wonder whatever happened to the sixties. All in all, an excellent series, worth checking out, particularly 1986's Life's Work, a foray into the world of professional football that reads like a bruising collision between Macdonald's The Blue Hammer and North Dallas Forty.

But all the Stoner novels are well worth your time. They truly are one of the great lost P.I. series, an impressive, criticically well-received, award-winning body of work that for whatever reason never got the audience they deserved. An attempt was even made to bring Harry to the small screen by Jay Bernstein, the man responsible for Mike Hammer's TV renaissance in the 1980's. Although actor Gil Gerard supposedly did quite well in the role of Harry, and the made-for-TV flick was based on Valin's own Final Notice, the result was disappointingly so-so. Particularly galling to Cincinatti locals was that most of the film was shot in Toronto.

Valin was born in 1947 in Cincinnati, and received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and did Ph.D work at Washington University. His wife, Katherine, is a well-respected artist and critic.


  • "Jonathan Valin’s The Lime Pit... is powerful and brilliantly filled with difficult-to-forget characters, including the protagonist, private eye Harry Stoner. There is a client so haunting that I have channeled her near-clone in one of my novels. Valin wrote fewer that a half dozen Stoner novels set in and around Cincinnati. All are gems. They never caught on, never got an audience, while far lesser talents became best sellers. It would be great if some enterprising publisher picked up the Stoner novels. I would read them all again and recommend them to all lovers of hard-boiled mysteries.

-- Stuart M. Kaminsky, as part of The Rap Sheet's One Book Project

  • "Stoner calls Cincinnati home, which probably explains the death wish that got him into the gumshoe racket. Three books by writer Jonathan Valin--The Lime Pit, Final Notice and Dead Letter -- feature Stoner, a soft touch and a bad judge of character, risking life and limb to smash a kiddie prostitution ring, hunt down a library vandal-psycho killer, and figure out who bumped off a college prof trading in government secrets."

-- Steven X. Rea, The Catalogue of Cool



  • "Loser Takes All" (Fall 1991, Vol. 4, No. 4, The Armchair Detective)


  • FINAL NOTICE ...Buy this video
    (1989, USA Network)
    Made for television movie
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Valin
    Teleplay by John Gay
    Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
    Produced by Jay Bernstein
    Starring Gil Gerard as HARRY STONER
    Also starring Steve Landsberg, Melody Anderson, Jackie Burroughs, Kevin Hicks, Louise Fletcher, David Ogden Stiers

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Respectfully sub. Thanks to Gerald So for the heads up.

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