December 31, 2008


Dick Stodghill in his comment on my article “The Five Analytic Powers in The Art of Detection” for Criminal Brief reminded me of the African American writer, Percy Spurlark Parker (1940-). I had read and enjoyed a Parker short story in Shades of Black (edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland) and another in Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes (edited by Paula L. Woods).

Parker is a member of The Mystery Writers of America and The Private Eye Writers of America (Shades of Black). His more than 50 short stories have appeared in The Executioner Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, the Strand Magazine, Espionage Magazine, and in the two canonical crime story magazines AHMM and EQMM.

Good Girls Don’t Get Murdered, published in 1974, is Parker’s only novel. Bull Benson, the amateur detective, is a professional gambler and owner of The Bull Pen, a hotel/lounge/ restaurant he won in a poker game. Street-wise and well known and respected in his Chicago neighborhood even by the “baddest” dudes, Bull is an addition to the tough guy tradition of Mike Hammer rather than Philip Marlowe.

Thinking about a possible a night of sexual pleasure as he escorts a young woman he met in his bar back to her hotel, Bull lets his guard down. He fails to act quickly enough when, out of the corner of his eye, he notices movement in the phone booth they pass. His instinct warns him in time for him to duck just as the occupant of the phone fires the gun. One bullet grazes his temple, but three bullets fatally find their way into the young lady’s body. He is driven to search the killer not to get revenge for his wound but, since he failed to protect the young woman, because his honor and pride are hurt.

When I finished the novel, I was tempted to describe it as bland because of the unremarkable prose and slow moving plot. However, I sat back and thought about it and realized, what I should have realized from the two short stories, Parker is a storyteller. Although the prose is unremarkable, it works. Bull Benson is a good, somewhat complex character I wish Parker had continued in a series.

The many suspects complicate and make the plot interesting despite the slow pace of the narrative, and the identity of the mastermind is a real surprise.

As in many hardboiled novels and movies, the bad guys are waiting for the good guy in his apartment and beat the crap out of him. However, we are not told how they got into the apartment of someone as well known and careful as Bull.