Carl Wilcox
Created by Harold Adams

Imagine if Hammett wrote Woody Guthrie's Bound For Glory...

It's the 1930's, it's the depression, and in the dusty rural streets of Corden, South Dakota (pop. 1300), CARL WILCOX usually finds something to do. Granted, he'd rather drink, or maybe flirt with a widow or two, but somehow, murder seems to rear up its ugly little head surprisingly often, making Corden perhaps the most dangerous city in the USA, a kind of Dust Bowl Cabot Cove.

Carl's gets around, anyway. He's been a soldier and he's been a vagrant and he's been in the clink a few times, as well. Now he's -- mostly -- a sort of ne'er-do-well jack-of-all-trades (by his own admission, he's a bum), an intinerant signpainter (which was how Woody Guthrie supported himself at times) who just can't seem to stay out of trouble or his nose out of other people's business, a smooth talker who connives his way into widow's beds and murder cases, making him a sort of happenstance private eye (especially when the money's right).

Carl makes his home -- off and on -- at the family-run Wilcox Hotel. After a couple of stints in the hoosegow (for a half-hearted, half-assed armed robbery) and a dozen or so stays in the local jail, Carl seems to be trying to clean up his act. But he's a cocky little bugger, and as the black sheep of his family, and a definite part of the "bad element" of Corden, when things go wrong, the law usually comes calling.

So, what's a fella to do? Like Carl says, "I don't guess it'll take Sherlock Holmes to solve a killing in Corden."

It's a novel concept -- the layabout as detective. Carl's M.O. seems to consist of mooching cigarettes, asking questions, sipping moonshine, flirting, tooling around South Dakota in his Model T, asking a few more questions, going fishing and then asking just a few more questions. Great use of setting, but it's Carl, with his rude wit and healthy appetite for some pretty down-to-earth pleasures, plus Adams' terse hard-britten prose and populist sympathies that makes these books a real treat, creating a sort of sepia-toned noir. Check 'em out.

Fans of Carl Wilcox should also be on the lookout for 1987's When Rich Men Die, featuring contemporary reporter/private eye Kyle Champion.





Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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