"If Bart Spicer's been forgotten, it's a real shame. He was one of the best writers of private-eye fiction in the last century."
Philladelphia's CARNEY WILDE was one of the few PI's who ever seemed to make money and remain respectable. Over the course of the seven book series, which neatly spans the fifties, he rises up the corporate ladder and even gets married, despite his own proclamation earlier in the series that "nobody in my racket has any business with a wife."
Carney starts out, in 1949's The Dark Light, as a returning vet who opens a small agency after his discharge from the army, and by Exit, Running (1959), the agency has grown to the point where it employs hundreds, and Carney is retired, and married to Ellen Pomeroy, a photographer, whom he met in The Taming of Carney Wilde (1954).
It's an ambitious goal, detailing an private detective's entire career arc, and as far as I know, the first attempt to do so, yet Spicer pulls it off.
But the over all story arc isn't the only joy to be found in this series. While Spicer may be no Chandler, he's a better plotter, and his settings and story lines tend to be a little more varied and original than most of his contemporaries. As well, his blue collar sensibilites make it very clear that Wilde is no self-conscious shining white knight, constantly admiring his chivalry in the reflection of his inferiors, but simply a working man trying to do his job. Issues of being paid or not paid are frequently raised, and his moments of self-doubt are more along the lines of whether he'll be able to make the rent and not along philosophical lines.Which makes the rather surprising compassion displayed in these books, particularly regarding racial issues all the more impressive.
Blues for the Prince, for example, -- besides being possibly the best P.I. book about music I've ever read -- is an astoundingly brave book for its time. Wilde's attitude towards his client and his family, who are black, displays an almost unheard of empathy and cultural sensitivity rarely seen -- even fifty years later. A class act -- Wilde comes off like the George Pelecanos of his time, and all in all, a fine, unjustly overlooked series.
And Spicer, whose real name was Jay Barbette, wrote more than just top-notch private eye novels. He was also responsible for numerous other crime novels, including the Harry Butten series (under his own name) and the spy thriller The Burned Man, involving the theft of nuclear material, which takes place in Franco's Spain (where Spicer lived).
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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