In the next months, I’ll be discussing the novels of Dr. Robert O. Greer. In an earlier time, Dr. Greer might have been considered a renaissance man. In addition to writing novels, he is a professor of dentistry, dermatology, medicine, and pathology at the University of Colorado and owns a large cattle ranch in Wyoming. I became acquainted with Dr. Greer, the writer, when I read his unpublished short story “Oprah’s Song,” featuring CJ Floyd, in the anthology BLACK NOIR: MYSTERY, CRIME, AND SUSPENSE FICTION BY AFRICAN-AMERICAN WRITERS. The short bio shows he has written several novels featuring CJ Floyd, “a tough, often curmudgeonly, cheroot-smoking African-American bail bondsman and occasional bounty hunter.”
I became acquainted with CJ (Calvin) Floyd In Greer’s first novel, The Devil’s Hatband. Floyd is the only black bail bondsman on Denver’s bails bondsmen row. A Vietnam vet, he is six weeks away from his 45th birthday, worries about being in a middle-aged crisis, and resents the way bailbond business seems rigged against black bondsmen. He has a quick temper that he struggles to control. His trademark dress is a “jet black riverboat gamblers vest" and a stetson straw hat. He owns a "pampered '57 Chevrolet Bel Air.”
Floyd gets his first case as a detective when two well dressed black men enter his office and offer to pay him $150 a day to find and bring back Brenda Mathison, daughter of federal judge Lewis Mathison, and retrieve some documents she stole from Carson Technologies, Inc., a corporation located in Boston. She is the leader of a radical environmentalist group called The Grand River Tribe. He has 30 days to complete the job if he wants to get paid.
The Brenda is not wanted by the police, there is no warrant out on her, and CJ is not a private investigator. He points out that bringing her back could be considered kidnapping. He wonders why they want to hire a bounty hunter when the case seems to require a private investigator or lawyer. He is suspicious but takes the job because he needs the money.
CJ finds the Brenda in a cabin in the mountains in Wyoming. He can’t bring her back because she is dead. The Sheriff of the county will not allow him to search the cabin, and CJ doesn’t reveal why he wants to search it. Back in Denver, when he reports her death to Judge Mathison, the judge immediately offers to pay him $10,000 to find her killer.
To earn the $10,000, CJ finds himself dealing with a manic, the second in command who became the leader, upon Brenda’s death, of the Grand River Tribe. Unlike Brenda who only wanted to turn the ranchers’s cows loose, Denver Deere, using information stolen from Carson Technologies, has developed a deadly virus he plans to use on the cows and possibly people. As if tracking and stopping Deere weren’t enough, CJ has to deal with a gangbanger named Razor D with him he had a run in when Razor threatened his ex-girlfriend Mavis.
Once a detective takes a case, he is expect to complete all phases of it. In the wrap up, Greer fails to explain why CJ didn’t find the documents and the reason for the time limit for finding the killer. The significance of the title escaped me. There is a hat band in the last chapter, but it doesn’t belong to any of the villains. It is a gift from one of CJ’s friends to Mavis. But the title has a nice ring to it, and invites you to read the novel.
Greer effectively uses the two conventions of detective fiction. He introduces a dead body in the first chapter, which will keep the reader reading to discover who did it. He delays until the penultimate chapter to reveal the identity of the super villain.
The promise Greer shows in this first novel encouraged me to read the others, and I expect to have fun doing so because I like the bounty hunting bails bondsman and sometime detective.