Friday, March 24, 2023

Four Helpings of Havoc

The most interesting tidbit I came across in coverage of author John Jakes’ death, on March 11 at age 90, was the fact that he’d composed crime and mystery novels, along with his best-selling “generational family sagas of the American Revolution and the Civil War.”

A number of those works, including Gonzaga’s Woman (1953) and The Devil Has Four Faces (1958), were standalones; and some appeared under pseudonyms, such Jay Scotland (The Seventh Man, 1958) and Rachel Ann Payne (Ghostwind, 1966). But four comprised a series starring Johnny Havoc, a pint-sized gumshoe Jakes apparently modeled on actor Mickey Rooney. In The Thrilling Detective Web Site, Kevin Burton Smith offers this description of the character:
Johnny Havoc‘s main claim to fame is that he’s short. In fact, at 5’1″, he’s got to be one of the shortest eyes around. But he sure doesn’t let it get him down—he’s a tough, cocky, unlicensed P.I. (“I’m no eye. Merely an exponent of free enterprise.”) who wears Brooks Brothers suits, a pork pie hat and one giant chip on his shoulder.

But that isn’t what makes him “the private eye—with a difference.”

Nor is it the constant craving for the big score or his extremely flexible set of ethics.

No, it’s the pint-size redhead’s raging libido that truly lingers after reading one of his adventures. Johnny’s chief preoccupation in life seems to be satisfying his “one-eyed wonder worm” which, coincidentally, seems to do most of his thinking for him.

No word yet on the height of
New York editor and bookseller Otto Penzler, who reissued Jakes’ Havoc novels in the 1990s (under his Armchair Detective Press imprint), recalls them as “light, humorous paperback originals—not to be taken seriously but great fun.” I’ve never read a one of them, but as curiosities, they may be hard for me to pass up.

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