Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Three Very Different Books in 2014

In 2014, I released 3 very different books, one through a traditional publisher, one through a kickstarter effort, and one that was a compilation of previously published Julius Katz mysteries (with a new novella added for good measure).

The Interloper was my kickstarter project. Earlier I had written two ultra-hardboiled novellas, The Hunted and The Dame, that were a mix of government conspiracy and Richard Stark-like crime heists. and readers, especially Richard Stark fans, seemed to like them, so I decided to write a third one, The Interloper (with this one more the size of a Gold Medal-type novel) and then tie all them together as a single novel.

The Boy Who Killed Demons is my 4th novel published by Overlook Press, and this one is somewhere between horror and fantasy. Written as a journal by a 15 year-old kid who decides he needs to save the world from demons, this book is lighter and with more sarcastic humor than my other books. It's also written for both new adult readers (16 and up) and adults.

I previously had my Julius Katz stories divided up among different ebooks, but with two more stories published earlier in 2014 by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I decided to clean this up and put all 6 of them in one collection, while also writing a brand new Julius Katz novella for it. These are charming, lighthearted mysteries, although with a hardboiled edge, featuring my brilliant and very eccentric Boston detective, Julius Katz, and his erstwhile sidekick, Archie. So far these stories have won a Shamus, Derringer, and 2 Ellery Queen Readers Choice awards, and more stories will be coming soon in Ellery Queen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thanks Wolfe Pack!

I'd like to thank the Wolfe Pack for their endorsement of The Julius Katz Collection!

"A brilliant, eccentric detective who loves food with an assistant named Archie. Sound familiar? It should, and it's obviously intentional. There are other similarities to Rex Stout's Nero Wolf series in these stories, including a masterful writing style...."

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Killer Review From The Past

With PulpMaster releasing Killer in Germany, I thought I'd bring back Ed Siegel's review of Killer which ran in the Boston Globe:

Dave Zeltserman is at it again writing about ex-con antiheroes with the kind of panache that would make Jim Thompson, king of the psycho killer novels, proud. In fact, there's more than a passing resemblance to Thompson's classic, "The Killer Inside Me."

Even Thompson might be taken aback, though, by the matter-of-factness with which Zeltserman gets inside the head of Leonard March, just released from jail 14 years after cutting a deal to turn state's evidence on a Mafia boss who assigned him a couple dozen hits. It isn't until after the DA grants him immunity, though, that the full scope of the March madness comes out.

As the story picks up, in Waltham of all places, March is trying to go straight. He's working a menial janitorial job, trying unsuccessfully to forge a relationship with his children while grieving about his wife's death, and making a virtue of his working-class lifestyle. He's even more sympathetic than the protagonists of Zeltserman's previous ex-con books, "Small Crimes" and "Pariah." He can't even bring himself to kill the mouse that's scurrying around his apartment.

The problem is that nobody else intends to let him get away with mass murder. Not the hoods. Not the media. Not the public. And certainly not the beautiful woman who wants to write the 62-year-old's biography.

And what about you, dear reader? Are you going to let March get away with it or fall prey to Zeltserman's seductive story? It isn't so much that the Needham writer elicits sympathy, though he certainly does. March prevents the robbery of a liquor store and a possible homicide or two. He stands up to a macho abuser. We don't forgive him for past sins, but he seems to loathe himself more than we do. The affect is similar to Mickey Rourke's in "The Wrestler" a world-weariness that still holds the possibility of redemption.

This is only part of what's going on, though. The point isn't to elicit sympathy, but to get inside the mind of a murderer, to see the world as he sees it. A life of crime seemed to be the logical career move for a half-Jewish kid in a Catholic neighborhood who was better with his fists than his schoolwork. Add an unhealthy dose of amorality, a sprinkle of psychopathology, and voila.

Even that doesn't really address what makes "Killer" seem so, sorry, dead-on. More than in his previous books, Zeltserman makes a virtue out of the spareness of his writing. Other noir writers try to emulate the purpleness of Raymond Chandler's prose or the toughness of any number of crime writers. Zeltserman is content to let the narrative flow uninterrupted. As the story shifts from present to past, the precision of March's observations, even when he's fooling himself, drives the action on a steady path without a hint of cliche or sentimentality.

Zeltserman could be even more precise. When March reads a book or goes to a movie, why not tell us what they are? Maybe Zeltserman's saying that it doesn't matter; they're only ways for March to kill time. Still, I sometimes wish his characters would stop and smell the cordite.

That's a minor cavil, though. It might be considered something of a guilty pleasure to walk on the wild side with Zeltserman's killers. But there's no need to think of the pleasure as guilty anymore than the characters think of themselves as guilty. Their days at the office are bloodier than ours, but sometimes that's the only difference. That we neither celebrate nor condemn March is the unsolved mystery of the book and what gives "Killer" its special kick.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Killer in Germany

Thanks to PulpMaster, Leonard March and KILLER are now rampaging through Germany.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

10 Reasons to get The Julius Katz Collection

10 reasons why you should want to get this 7-story, 350 page collection of Julius Katz detective stories:

1) Shamus and Derringer award-winning 'Julius Katz'

2) Ellery Queen's Readers Choice Award-winner 'Archie's Been Framed'

3) Ellery Queen's Readers Choice Award-winner 'Archie Solves the Case'

4) Never before published novella 'Julius Katz and the Case of a Sliced Ham'

5) From Publisher's Weekly review of the best mystery stories of the year anthology, 'The Interrogator and Other Criminally Good Fiction": Unsurprisingly, there’s not a dud in the bunch; surprisingly, the best entry may be a comic riff on Rex Stout—Dave Zeltserman’s “Archie’s Been Framed.”

6) "I love these stories" Timothy Hallinan, the author of The Queen of Patpong

7)  "Julius Katz mysteries are some of the most fun you will ever have reading detective short fiction" David Cramner

8)  "It's a nifty change-of-pace for the usually hard-boiled Dave Zeltserman. Clever, sophisticated and witty." Paul Levine, author of Flesh & Bones

9)  "I'm a big fan, along with many other people, of Dave Zeltserman's character Julius Katz." Ed Gorman

10)  "I think that Zeltserman’s done something really clever here. He’s taken a well-trodden path and then gone on a major and rather original detour." Nigel Bird

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Julius Katz Collection Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Julius Katz Collection by Dave Zeltserman

The Julius Katz Collection

by Dave Zeltserman

Giveaway ends December 10, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Julius Katz and the Case of a Sliced Ham

In the new novella, Julius Katz and the Case of a Sliced Ham (included The Julius Katz Collection), the ham in question is an actor who was stabbed to death. Given that murder occurred during theater rehearsals, the culprit has to be either the director or one of the four other actors in the production. With no useful evidence, Julius is left having to try squeeze the truth from a group of professional liars in order to catch the murderer, making this his most challenging case yet!

Along with this novella, all six previously published Julius Katz stories have been included in the collection, giving readers a Shamus, Derringer, and two Ellery Queen Readers Choice award-winning stories, along with 350 fun and enjoyable pages of Julius and his very unusual sidekick, Archie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My keynote speech for the Bouchercon Nero Wolfe Banquet

Rex Stout has long been one of my favorite authors, and it was an honor to be able to give the keynote speech at the Bouchercon Nero Wolfe Banquet, and meet Mr. Stout's daughter, Rebecca Stout Bradbury. The dinner itself was a fun and lively affair. The toasts that were offered were imaginative and well-researched by true Wolfeans, and Weronance (emcee) Ira Matetsky kept things moving quickly with the wit of a Catskills comedian. 

Below is the keynote speech that I gave--and nobody pelted me with dinner rolls! (of course, they were all eaten by the time I gave my speech!!)

The Curious Case of Mr. Katz, Mr. Wolfe, and Two Archies

I’ve been invited to talk here tonight because of my Julius Katz mysteries which Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine have been publishing. Even if you didn’t know that Julius’s assistant in these stories is named Archie, it should be no surprise given the name of my detective that these mysteries are an unabashed pastiche of Nero Wolfe. My talk tonight will be comparing Julius Katz  with Wolfe and my Archie with Archie Goodwin. I don’t expect for us to glean any great insights from my talk, but I hope these comparisons help illuminate some of the qualities that we enjoy so much from Stout’s Nero Wolfe books.

I am by no means a Wolfean scholar, but I have spent 100s of highly enjoyable hours visiting Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I first discovered Nero Wolfe as a teenager when I bought a dog-eared copy of Fer-de-Lance from a used bookstore. What hooked  me was the ingenuity and cleverness of Stout’s writing, but what drove me to keep searching out more of the Nero Wolfe books was how much I enjoyed spending time with the characters, even Lieutenant Rowcliff. I’d like to offer the following quote from Donald Westlake, which sums up my own feelings:

“I go there to see my old friends and watch Archie be archly secretive about his sex life and hear Wolfe say, ‘Pfui.’”

By the time I entered college I had read maybe a quarter of the Wolfe books, and I soon discovered that my university’s library had a full collection. My grades suffered my first year as I couldn’t help myself from devouring all the rest of the books in the series. What made this especially a treat—and maybe some of you might’ve had a similar experience—was discovering notes left in the margins by other Wolfe fans.  Since college I’ve reread my favorite Wolfe books at different times, have read everything else I’ve been able to find from Stout, and loved the A&E series starring Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton. I mention this so people here understand that while I’m not a Nero Wolfe expert, I am a fan, and while there are few writers who can match Stout’s talent, and I’m certainly not claiming to be one of them,  it was nonetheless  important to me to take great care in trying to duplicate for my Julius Katz series the enjoyment that I experienced reading all those Nero Wolfe books.

Now to the subject at hand. Both Julius and Wolfe live in brownstones, Wolfe’s is located at West 35th Street in Manhattan, Julius’s in the Beacon Hill section of Boston.  Both detectives are brilliant, display some eccentricities, and have lazy tendencies where they prefer other pursuits than being actively engaged as a detective. Both have expensive lifestyles. Both have discerning palates where they not only enjoy, but demand fine food. Wolfe’s beverage of choice is beer, Julius’s wine. Both are gracious hosts. Both enjoy the comfort of their homes. Both have strict requirements in how they choose to live their lives, Wolfe more so than Julius. Both live refined lifestyles, again more so with Wolfe than with Julius. Wolfe’s hobby is orchids, Julius’s is collecting wines. Both have a nemesis on the police force named Cramer. In Nero Wolfe’s case, it’s Inspector Cramer, in Julius’s case, it’s Detective Mark Cramer. Both Cramers often suspect that the private detective in question is pulling a fast one on them, and withholding critical information. Both Cramers also begrudgingly respect the private detective in question. Both Wolfe and Julius at times hire freelance detectives. In Wolfe’s case, these detectives are Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather. In Julius’s case, they’re Saul Penzer, Tom Durkin, and Willie Cather. Both Wolfe and Julius have assistants named Archie.
Now for some differences. Wolfe is in his mid-fifties and weighs one-seventh of a ton. Unless he’s in training to kill Germans in World War II, his idea of exercise is throwing darts. Julius is 42, weighs less than one-eleventh of a ton, is handsome, very fit, holds a fifth  degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu, and spends two hours every morning engaged in rigorous exercise. While Wolfe might be occasionally charmed by a woman, he has no intention of becoming involved with one, or ever letting a woman live under his roof. Julius is a notorious womanizer—or was until he meets Lily Rosten in the first of the Julius Katz stories—and becomes smitten by her, and dates her throughout the rest of the stories, at least so far. Wolfe rarely leaves his home, and while Julius has cultivated a similar image, he often leaves his home to dine at fine restaurants and to gamble, but like Wolfe, prefers not to leave his home for anything work-related. Wolfe employs a chef, Fritz Brenner, Julius does his own cooking. Finally, Julius’s true passions are very different than Wolfe’s; namely: Lily Rosten, wine, and gambling—he’s an expert poker player, and will often use bluffs and his skill at reading a player’s tell in his detective work.

Now for the two Archie’s in question. Archie Goodwin, along with being Nero Wolfe’s assistant, also performs a number of other tasks, including doing Wolfe’s bookkeeping and banking, typing Wolfe’s correspondences, and keeping the germination and other records for Wolfe’s orchids. His primary job, though, is detective work, and he’s very good at it. Tough, tenacious, and a keen observer who has the ability to report conversations verbatim, Goodwin is more than capable, although he accepts that Wolfe is the genius, and that his job is to assist, and occasionally to pester when Wolfe needs prodding. Goodwin is also fiercely loyal to Wolfe. In many ways Julius’s Archie is very similar to Archie Goodwin. He’s fiercely loyal to Julius, and pesters Julius when he feels it’s necessary. Along with being Julius’s assistant, he performs a number of other tasks, including being Julius’s accountant, wine purchaser, secretary, and all around man Friday. Just as Goodwin will collect information for Wolfe, Julius’s Archie does the same, except instead of going out into the field to do this and flashing shoe leather, Julius’s Archie collects the information over the Internet, usually by hacking into computer sites. One way in which they’re very different, is that Julius’s Archie isn’t human. Instead this Archie is a two-inch rectangle piece of advanced technology complete with audio and visual circuitry and a self-adapting neuron network. All the great 20th century detective novels, including the complete Nero Wolfe works, were loaded into his knowledge base leaving this Archie with the heart and soul of a hardboiled private eye. Since Julius wears him as a tie clip, he has a very different self-image of himself than say Goodwin—picturing himself as only five foot tall, which is his distance from the ground when Julius is standing.

Other than having an image of himself as a human, Archie is very self-aware, and understands that Julius named him Archie as an inside-joke—that he is destined to also being the second banana, always to be one step behind his boss in solving a case, and this brings up yet another way in which Julius’s Archie is very different than Goodwin—he badly wants to beat Julius to the punch in solving a case, and believes if he observes Julius in action enough times, he can keep refining his adaptive reasoning module and knowledge base so that he can accomplish this.

One final way that Julius’s Archie is very different than Goodwin is that when Goodwin is pestering Wolfe, there’s not much Wolfe can do about it, except to threaten to fire him, which I can’t remember ever happening. Julius, though, always has the option of turning his Archie off.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remember the little demons contest?

I got this photo from the winner of the demon contest, Ron Clinton.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Julius Katz Collection

The Julius Katz Collection is now available as a 350-page paperback and kindle download. This collection has the first 6 Julius Katz mysteries that were originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and have so far won a Shamus, Derringer and 2 Ellery Queen Readers Choice awards, and an original 22,000 word novella, Julius Katz and the Case of a Sliced Ham.  If you haven't discovered these charming, fun, and audience-pleasing mysteries yet featuring Boston's most eccentric, brilliant, and laziest detective and his very unusual sidekick, Archie, now's your chance!

Monday, November 3, 2014

21 word story

A dark-haired beauty. She almost stole my heart. But I wrestled the knife away before she could finish the job.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Digital Demons Today!

Kindle, Nook, and all other digital versions of Demons are available today

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On sale before going away for good

Once the kindle version of THE JULIUS KATZ COLLECTION is available (paperback available now), I'll be retiring the current kindle collections containing Julius Katz stories (Julius Katz Mysteries, Archie Solves the Case, and One Angry Julius Katz & Other Stories). I was torn somewhat with One Angry Julius since there are other stories in the collection that I think are pretty good, and others must've thought so also since one of the stories, A Hostage Situation, was a Thriller Award nominee, and another, Emma Sue, was named a notable story by Best American Mystery Stories. For this reason I've put One Angry Julius on sale for $0.99, and will keep it at that price until the collection is available to replace it.

Monday, October 27, 2014


The sordid truth was bound to come out sooner or later, and over at Tony Black's Pulp Pusher I come clean about where THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS came from...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More Demons!

I've got the following reading/signing events scheduled:

New England Book Mobile, Newton MA (where the demon hunting takes place!) Oct. 22nd 7pm

Annie's Book Stop, Worcester MA, Oct. 25th 5pm

Harvard Coop, Cambridge MA, Oct. 30th 7pm

If you'd like a signed book, preorder from one of these bookstores, or pickup a copy from Mysterious Bookshop in NY.

So what have the early reviews been saying about Demons?

“The sympathy that Zeltserman invokes on behalf of Henry is heartbreaking, and readers will fully believe in both the madness and the greatness of his tragic young hero.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Humor outweighs the horror in this amusing look at a 15-year-old saving the world . . . Zeltserman manages the voice of a teenager deftly, and the adolescent angst rings true. The demons are almost background to a tale about growing up.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Henry’s fortitude and single-mindedness will stir the hearts of adult and YA action fantasy fans" Library Journal

 'Like Stephen King, Dave Zeltserman makes the incredible come alive." Bookreporter.com

 'There's plenty of suspense and lots of chapter cliffhangers that make the book hard to put down. Zeltserman comes up aces again, with just the book for your Halloween reading.' Bill Crider

'For a YA novel, there’s plenty of action, a splash of horror and lots of suspense. It’s also loaded with drama which stems from being a teenager and from the curse that has befallen Henry.' DeadBuriedAndBack

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Win a Demon!

To celebrate today's release of THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS, the good folks at Overlook Press commissioned Jacob Klingele to make this one-of-a-kind demon figure, and they've asked me to run a contest to give this very unique object away to a deserving fan. So here's how this will work: if you're a fan of the book, you should have no problem answering these five questions about demons. Email me your answers to dave.zeltserman@gmail.com by November 7th, and one lucky fan will win the above demon figure.

1) When demons aren't plotting to open up the gates of hell, what do they do during their downtime for entertainment?

2) As THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS documents, the demons hiding among us take jobs to keep us from being suspicious.  What's the most common profession that demons end up in?

3) For those few of us who are unlucky enough to be able to see and hear them for what they are, describe how they sound.

4) In our realm, what are the demons natural enemies?

5) How many cities must the demons simultaneously perform their awful rituals so that they can open up the gates of hell?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Demons at Comic Con

Here's a photo of me and Overlook Press' publicity person extraordinaire, Kait Heacock. I'd never been to Comic Con before, wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it was a fun experience.I don't know how many people were there on Friday--the number I heard was a 120,000 people had bought passes for Comic Con--and the Javitz Center was jammed making it tough to move around. Not as many people wearing costumes as I would've thought, the showroom was huge with some very cool booths, and I wish I had had time for some of the presentations. But all in all, a fun time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

More Demons!

The trade publications have dug Demons:

“The sympathy that Zeltserman invokes on behalf of Henry is heartbreaking, and readers will fully believe in both the madness and the greatness of his tragic young hero.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Humor outweighs the horror in this amusing look at a 15-year-old saving the world . . . Zeltserman manages the voice of a teenager deftly, and the adolescent angst rings true. The demons are almost background to a tale about growing up.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Henry’s fortitude and single-mindedness will stir the hearts of adult and YA action fantasy fans" Library Journal

I also talk about Demons over at Dread Central

And finally, leading up to the the Oct. 16th release of Demons, my publisher is giving away more copies!



Thursday, October 2, 2014

More Demons being given away!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Boy Who Killed Demons by Dave Zeltserman

The Boy Who Killed Demons

by Dave Zeltserman

Giveaway ends October 09, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Boy Who Killed Demons "heartbreaking" Publishers Weekly, starred review

My upcoming The Boy Who Killed Demons (Oct. 16th) received the following starred review from Publishers Weekly: 

 Henry Dudlow is a boy with a terrible affliction. Either the world is about to be invaded by demons, or Henry has completely lost his mind. His efforts to find answers unfold in his diary, which holds the confidences of a young man isolated from his family and peers by an ability he can neither control nor deny. Henry’s conviction that the rising demon threat is real leads him to ever more dangerous behaviors, even as he connects with people who are sympathetic to his plight. Henry is denied the proof he needs to feel completely confident in his actions, and yet must continue to take action due to the terrible consequences his inaction could bring, so he bravely become something bad, in order to prevent something far worse. The sympathy that Zeltserman (Monster) invokes on behalf of Henry is heartbreaking, and readers will fully believe in both the madness and the greatness of his tragic young hero.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Giveaway going on now for THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Boy Who Killed Demons by Dave Zeltserman

The Boy Who Killed Demons

by Dave Zeltserman

Giveaway ends September 16, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Friday, August 29, 2014

Grab MIND PRISON for free

My mind-bending mix of crime, noir, and sc-fi is free for the next few days. If you like Philip K. Dick, I'm betting you'll like this story.

 "MIND PRISON is a dandy tale of hubris and horror that both Philip K. Dick and O. Henry would heartily endorse." Lee Goldberg, author of THE HEIST and THE WALK

"MIND PRISON is a mix of science fiction and noir as diverting as it is surprising." Max Allan Collins, author of ROAD TO PERDITION

"A taut, dark, searing science fiction story filled with noir atmospherics--greed, sexual betrayal, murder--that evokes the best of Philip K. Dick's grim near future." Ed Gorman, author of CAGE OF NIGHT and FLASHPOINT

Sept. 2nd my publisher is going to be giving away on Goodreads free galleys for my upcoming horror novel, The Boy Who Killed Demons. Check back here or on Goodreads for more details then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In memory and appreciation to Jeremiah Healy

I first met Jerry Healy back in 2001 when I started going to Boston mystery writing events. At that time I'd had two stories published in small mystery magazines and had a couple of unpublished novels, and Jerry always treated me as if I belonged, which certainly wasn't true of many of the other established Boston mystery writers at that time. Whenever I saw Jerry at these events, we'd talk Red Sox, Patriots, about writing, etc., and he was more than just friendly--he was generous. He was also a bit of a character. He was someone who could be in a tux (and look damn good in it) while everyone else would be in jeans and tee shirts. He was also a dynamic (and fearless) public speaker, sharp-witted, and entertaining. And he helped out a lot of us newer writers.

In my early years as a struggling author, Jerry helped me a number of times. One of these times was when I started Hardluck Stories back in 2002. Jerry agreed to be one of my first guest editors, which gave the zine credibility, and allowed it to flourish. At the time I had one of my good friends (and best man at my wedding) Jeff Michaels, who was also a huge PI Cuddy fan, write the following essay for Hardluck. It's with great admiration that I'd like to republish Jeff's essays about one of Boston's best, and to a man who touched so many--both authors and readers. Jerry, you'll be missed.

A Look at Jeremiah F. Healy’s John Francis Cuddy Series
by Jeffrey Michaels, February 2003

If you’re an avid mystery reader, you’ve probably already read Jeremiah Healy’s work. If you’ve missed him for some reason, you have a great series awaiting you. Six of his novels and five of his short stories have been nominated for the Shamus Award (1), including a win in 1986 for his second novel, The Staked Goat. He has published 13 novels featuring Boston private detective John Francis Cuddy. He has also published a book of Cuddy short stories and a few novels without Cuddy.

Healy’s Background

Jeremiah Francis Healy III was born in Teaneck, New Jersey on May 15, 1948. He graduated from Rutgers University in l970, got his JD at Harvard Law School in l973, and passed the Massachusetts Bar in 1974. He was an associate with Withington, Cross, Park & Groden, a Boston law firm, from l974 to 1978, gaining a lot of courtroom experience. The Army ROTC helped pay for his education, and Healy served as a military police officer, leaving the Army in 1976 as a captain. He married Bonnie M. Tisler on Feb. 4, l978, the same year he began teaching at the New England School of Law in Boston. He wrote his first novel during the summer of 1981. The book, Blunt Darts, was rejected 28 times before it was published in 1984. The book is dedicated “To Bonnie, who is Beth.” He has since come a long way. His writing has been positively reviewed over the past 20 years, with his characters, plots and style singled out for their quality.

John Francis Cuddy

A recent article on mystery writers in Playboy ranks John Francis Cuddy #6 on a list of current fictional sleuths titled "Ten Dicks Worth Hiring." The Playboy article says this about Cuddy:

Boston P.I. with law training. Uses attorney's skills in eliciting information. Not as flashy as fellow Beantowner Spenser, nor does he eat as well. But he delivers results. Widowed for more than 15 years, he still visits his late wife's grave to discuss his cases. Even weirder, he follows her advice. (2)

This is Cuddy's entrance in Blunt Darts:

"Cuddy, John Francis."
"74 Charles Street."
"In Boston?"
"In Boston."
Social Security number?
"Date of birth?"
I told her.
She looked up at me, squeezed out a smile. "You look younger."
"It's a mark of my immaturity," I said. She made a sour face and returned to the form.
"Previous employer?"
"Empire Insurance Company." I wondered whether Empire had to fill out a form that referred to me as "Previous Employee."

The passage shows Cuddy graduated from the Philip Marlowe wise-cracking detective school, and we learn later that he was fired from his job as an insurance investigator because of his honesty. We also quickly discover Cuddy was an MP [military police officer] in Vietnam from 1967-68. Healy has said in interviews that Cuddy’s MP experiences are based on those of his father and uncle, rather than his own. Blunt Darts concerns the teenage son of a prominent judge who disappears, but it is unclear if he was kidnapped or ran away. The boy’s mother died four years earlier in an apparent suicide, but does that death relate to the boy’s disappearance? It is well-plotted, with a dash of Raymond Chandler and a shake of Ross MacDonald. The Boston setting was introduced by Robert B. Parker in 1973, and obviously influenced Healy. But while Parker’s Spenser was originally presented as a womanizer, Cuddy is the opposite. He is still devoted to his wife, Beth, who died young of cancer before the book opens. Cuddy’s first in a series-long string of visits to her grave site is a one-sided conversation, unlike later books in which the two talk over matters:

"Just carnations." I set them down and stepped back. "Mrs. Feeney said the roses  at the flower market were tired-looking." I felt too distant standing up, so I squatted down on my haunches.
            "Remember Valerie Jacobs, Chuck Craft's friend? Well, she's brought me a case, and it's a beaut! Rich family and all kinds of troubles. The grandmother you’d like. Good Yankee, you'd call her. The grandson I haven't met yet, and won't, if I don't roll pretty hard and fast on finding him. Still, he sounds like the type you'd have liked too. Serious, studies, and quiet. Just like me." We laughed.
            I stared at the carnations for a while. I began blinking rapidly. We talked inside for a bit.
            "So, I'm afraid I won't be back for a while. I'll see you when the case is over. Or sooner, if I hit a problem. Just like always."
            I straightened up and turned around to walk back down the path. A teenager holding a rake and wearing a maintenance shirt and dungaree cut-offs gave me a funny look. I didn't recognize him. Summer help, probably, and young. Too young to know anything. Especially about cemeteries.  

[Blunt Darts, chapter 4]

In a 1997 interview, Healy said the idea for the continuing dialog between Cuddy and his dead wife came to him while at a funeral: 

"At the funeral, I noticed an old man holding a hat and rotating it by the brim, rocking back and forth, clearly talking to a headstone...In a sense it was odd, but in a way it wasn't.  If you're used  to talking to someone every day then wouldn't you continue even after they had died?" (3)

The visit shows Cuddy to be a sensitive fellow, and later in the book we see how much he still loves Beth.  The young school teacher who got him into the case tries to seduce him, but he spurns her advances. He tells her it's not there for him, that he and his wife had something special. Valerie, the woman, tells him he should move on with his life and that it takes time to create a new relationship. He replies:. 

            "But that's just it, Val. After Beth died, and in between binges with the booze, I read all sorts or articles, whole books even, on the need to rebuild, to start over in your life, block by block. The problem is, it's wrong. Those writers were wrong, and you're wrong. There really are special people in the world, people who are special to other people from the word go, and that's the way it was with Beth and me. She was the only woman I'd ever loved. She was the only one who knew me, who knew what I was thinking and could anticipate what I'd be doing. It was magic between us from the first time I met her."

[chapter 21]

The Staked Goat (1986), the award-winning second novel, is much more violent than   Blunt Darts, and teaches us about Cuddy’s experiences in Vietnam. The plot involves one of his fellow MPs from his time “in country,” who is murdered in what is made to look like a sex crime. Cuddy vows to find the killer, and the trail leads back to his years in Vietnam. There is also a secondary plot involving arson and the murder of witnesses. Unlike Blunt Darts, in which he is surprised by the murderer and almost killed, in The Staked Goat Cuddy acts as executioner when he finally tracks down the killer. In the book he also meets, and is immediately attracted to Assistant DA Nancy Meager, who grew up as he did in South Boston. Sparks fly, though Cuddy still distances himself from her in memory of his wife. Nancy is disappointed when he acts as executioner, but near the end of the book Cuddy brings her to the cemetery to meet Beth:

            We walked the right path, then eased left. We stopped a few steps later at the familiar marble stone. Nancy slid her arm out from mine.
            “Beth,” I said, “this is Nancy.”
            Nancy didn’t say anything. She didn’t look at the stone or at me. She just stared down at the ground, where I used to look. Where Beth was.
            I said nothing. Nancy glanced up at the inscription, then down again.
            “Thirty was too young, Beth,” she said…

[The Staked Goat, chapter 26]

I recommend reading the books in order, because unlike some series, Healy’s connects the plots somewhat, and events carry over from book to book. Cuddy’s relationship with Nancy grows over the books, and unlike some detectives Cuddy gets a little older in each book. Cuddy and Nancy are nearly killed at the end of The Staked Goat, and the scene is recalled in the visit he makes to his dead wife toward the beginning of book three, So Like Sleep (1987). Unlike in Blunt Darts, Beth now keeps up her end of the “conversation,” and offers guidance on Cuddy’s advancing relationship with Nancy:

            "I don't know if I like the green paper as well."
            The roses were yellow, small but open flowers, sharp but widely spaced thorns. I bent over and laid them lengthwise to her.
            "Mrs. Feeney  says the company that manufactured the white tissue went bust, and the new outfit would charge her fifty percent more for the white."
            I smoothed the paper down. It crinkled. The old paper, the white, sort of whispered.
            Don't worry about it, said Beth. What do you think you're doing, working a toilet paper commercial?
            I laughed. I looked past her stone to the Daugherty plot. His monument was granite, not marble, and some of the blood from last March was still dried dark on it. I stopped smiling and repressed a shudder.
            Have you heard from Nancy?
            "No. I thought about calling her, but..."
            You're probably right not to push it.
            "I know."
            She needs time, John.
            "I know that too."
            There was nothing more to say on that subject. The sky was overcast, the air still. No sailboats in our part of the harbor. Two Boston Whalers raced on a near-collision course, both heading toward an anchored third, already bucking, its fishing rods bending.

[So Like Sleep, chapter 5]

It takes until the end of book 4, Swan Dive (1988), before Cuddy gives in to his feelings and sleeps with Nancy, after Beth says it’s okay. An excerpt from that book  shows that although Cuddy is a sensitive guy, he’s also the traditional tough guy P.I. who can take and give a beating. A lawyer who objects to Cuddy’s questioning asks her assistant/boyfriend to kick Cuddy out of the office. We learn the man, Paul Troller, was a finalist in the Golden Gloves before going to law school and is anxious to take Cuddy on:

The door to the adjoining office flew open and Troller burst into the room. He was wearing suit pants, a long-sleeved oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up, and a handsome regimental tie. He grinned at me and started bouncing on the balls of his feet and shaking out his shoulders.

Cuddy tells us he respects boxers for their strengths, but has also noticed their limitations over the years:  

            Boxers have a weakness, too, however. They tend to think they're invincible in close. Even when wearing a tie.
            I gambled Paulie's first punch would be a feint. He jabbed with his left at my eye, then pulled it short, instead driving a good right up and into my body. I caved, keeping my elbows and hands tight to protect my ribs and face. He followed with a left to the body, stepping forward to really bury it. I folded so that most of the force was spent in the air, leaving him near enough for me to grab his tie. I yanked the shorter end down with my right hand, my left forcing the knot high and hard into his throat. His face bulged, both his hands scrabbling to the front of his collar. I let go of the knot, clamping both my hands on the insides of his wrists and pulling his hands apart to benediction width. I had a feeling my grip would outlast his air.

[Swan Dive, chapter 20]

In book 5, Yesterday's News (1989), Cuddy is hired by a reporter to investigate happenings in Nasharbor, a city not unlike Fall River, Massachusetts. Nancy is mostly “off camera” in the narrative, and as a result the book is more hard-boiled than the previous two. Yesterday's News offers a good example of Healy’s strength in drawing characters. Here’s how he introduces a local pornographer:

            Bernard "Bunny" Gotbaum sat like a Buddha in a large judge’s chair behind a desk piled high with paperwork. Obese, his sausage-like fingers played with the collar of a long-point sports shirt that bulged at each vertical seam. Wearing a toupee the color of cream soda, overall he gave the impression of a man who hadn't burned twelve calories since kindergarten. The teeth, however, earned him the nickname. The upper two front ones bucked out far enough to open beer cans.

[Yesterdays’ News, chapter 10]

Yesterday's News is close to a Hammett story, since almost everyone is bad. The book ends with Cuddy watching a Red Sox game on the TV with a new male friend. He has solved the case, killed one person, but left another bad guy alone for lack of evidence.

In book six, Right to Die (1991), Cuddy is hired to protect a right to die activist who is receiving death threats. Much of the book deals with Cuddy's advancing age and his desire to run the Boston Marathon once before it’s too late. He trains for the race throughout the book, and even after he is shot working on the case he still enters the marathon. The marathon is described very realistically. Healy’s Who's Who biography says he is a jogger, and that experience is evident in the book:

Mile twenty one. Boston College and the top of Heartbreak. Exhilaration, then the incredible bunching pain in the backs of the legs from going downhill. My calves went mushy, and my feet kept tangling. My left side felt like somebody was plowing it with baling hooks.
No functioning water stations for two miles until just below Coolidge Corner, where a guy my age and his kids braved the rain outside a majestic synagogue...The marker said "25" at Kenmore Square. Every joint below my waist had tossed in the towel, the bones sawing and grading against each other. The crowd chanted a single phrase. One more mile, one more mile.

[Right to Die, chapter 31 ]

Skipping ahead to book nine, we see Cuddy’s continued aging. In Act of God (1994), Cuddy hurts himself helping his girlfriend bring a huge mahogany dresser up a flight of stairs and visits doctors, eventually suffering an MRI chamber:

We went into a large room. There was very little in the way of furnishings beyond a big metal cylinder like an iron lung from the fifties and a fancy gurney table in front of it.
"Please sit on the end of the table."
When I did, Maureen used a strip of cloth maybe six feet long to bind my shoulders back. I suddenly had a vision from Saigon during the Tet Offensive, suspected Vietcong, on their knees in the street, their arms bound behind them at the elbow, causing them to arch forward, like--
"Am I hurting you?" said Maureen.
You just grimaced, and I was afraid--"
“No, thanks. I'm okay."

The MRI chamber brings back memories:

Maureen moved me headfirst into the iron lung. The first impression was being inside a coffin...Then I noticed the semicircular top and the indirect lighting and the metal buttresses. Suddenly it felt like a day when I got back from the service and a friend took me through the Callahan Tunnel in his new convertible, my head lolling on the backrest, watching the roof of the tunnel as we went by underneath it. Now I had maybe eight inches of airspace between my face and the walls and roof of the machine Above me, a white disk and then two red dots  flashed, and I was aware of the whirring of a small fan somewhere. Then, over a muted public address system, I heard Maureen's voice in my ear.
"Are you all right in there, Mr. Cuddy?"
"Please stay completely still. The first imaging lasts for just three minutes."

[Act of God, Chapter 15]

Act of God also has a pretty good mystery, one of Healy’s most complex, with well-plotted twists and turns. As in The Staked Goat, Cuddy metes out justice his way. Cuddy solves the case and decides to execute the killer himself. He confronts the man with the facts and tells him he hasn't yet told the police. Cuddy then urges him to pick up a shovel so they can go dig up the body together. Cuddy wants the killer to swing it on him:

            I'd tipped him, but the way he kept his eyes on me while reaching out and grabbing the handle told me he'd been thinking of it before I said it. He brought the shovel into both of his hands, first like Little John with a quarterstaff, which would have been a lot more trouble. Then he switched to a baseball grip, a leftie, and swung at me forehand. I jumped back, the knee twinging as I torqued it. He swung backhand, striking me on the left bicep and knocking me downward as I drew the Smith & Wesson Chief's Special worn over my right hip…From the ground, I could see [the killer] raising the shovel above his head, like a man with a maul to split firewood. When the shovel came forward, I fired three times into his chest and rolled left, the shovel hammering my right shoulder as [killer's] face thumped into the lawn about where my head had been.

[Act of God, chapter 29]

I omitted the killer's name in case you haven't read the book yet, since the mystery is rather complex and deserves to be savored.

Skipping ahead again to the latest Cuddy book, Spiral (1999) the reader is shocked in the very first chapter. Cuddy's girlfriend flies off on a business trip, and her plane crashes, killing all aboard. The two had been talking about moving in together, and Cuddy would have flown with her except for a previous job commitment, which it turns out had been cancelled before he left to drive Nancy to the airport.  He gets drunk and mourns her in his own fashion. After a few days he talks the situation over for the first time with his dead wife, who is shocked and saddened to hear the news. She says:

This may not help, but there's a reason why you weren't on that plane.
"Sure there is. I didn't check my messages in time to--"
Not what I mean, John. There's some reason why you were spared.
I thought back to one of the first visits I'd made to the graveyard after Beth had died. "You know that."
I do.
"Mind letting me in on it?"
A short pause this time that passed for a small smile. If only I could.
Suddenly, I started to feel the cold. "Do me a favor?"
"Keep an eye out for Nancy. I think you'd like her"

[Spiral, chapter 1]

Nancy was disposed of because, as Healy has said in interviews, he had to either arrange a wedding or a funeral for her. Her death brings Cuddy back to the beginning of the cycle of mourning he was completing in Blunt Darts. The Cuddy series lies at the intersection of hardboiled and puzzle mystery fiction, with Nancy's presence a major factor in humanizing Cuddy and allowing him to be seen as a person and not just a detective. But after 13 novels there was probably little left for Healy to write about the two.

In Spiral, Cuddy is hired by his old commanding officer, just a week or so after Nancy’s death, to solve the murder of his 12 year old granddaughter. Spiral is set mostly around Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where Healy apparently now lives half the year as a snowbird. He dedicates the book to his "friends at the Tennis Club", a setting in the book. Florida flora and atmosphere give the book a different feel, and provide refreshing plot elements, since all the previous Cuddy novels were set in New England. Spiral continues the Vietnam themes found in the series, and the client calls Cuddy “Lieutenant” throughout the book.

When Cuddy reports on a barroom brawl he was involved in to his client, he reminisces about his time in Vietnam, and this internal dialogue causes him to zone out, which is noticed by the client:

            I thought back to Saigon, the dozens of times I watched my MPs -- our MPs -- crawl on their hands and knees into bars. Inside, combat troops from the bush on two-days passes did their best to drink a month's worth of booze and forget what they'd just been through and would be going through again. Forget by starting a free-for-all fistfight with whomever supposedly slighted them, any opponents having roughly the same attitudes.
            The MPs would crawl into the bars because the safest way to break up a brawl was to sneak up below the revelers' line of sight and whack them behind the knees with a nightstick, causing the muscles back there to spasm so badly that nobody could get to their feet for fifteen minutes, by which times the desire--the raw need--to swing on somebody would have--
            The concussion, or just me since Nancy? "Sorry sir."

[Spiral, chapter 15]

The zoning out is noticed by a few other people in the novel, but it doesn’t stop Cuddy from solving the case, which has more suspects than any previous book in the series. But here’s where I must confess I don't generally care about the "mystery" in a mystery novel. Healy's novels appeal to me because he combines hard-boiled with enjoyable writing, strong characters and lively dialog. His books are very well-written puzzles, however, and I haven't provided the details on any endings because readers who care about such things deserve to view Healy's plots for themselves. Hopefully there will be future Cuddy adventures to savor, with hard-boiled Cuddy for readers like me, and a finely plotted mystery for another part of the book buying public.

Healy has recently published under the name Terry Devane, but I lack space herein to discuss those or the non-Cuddy books published under his own name. The Cuddy series offers enough to write about, and I urge you to give them a read. Healy’s legal background gives them added depth, as Cuddy smoothly draws out facts in a lawyer-like fashion from witnesses and suspects who expect to tell him nothing. If you like the honest, brave, loyal knight-in-shining-armor version of the hard-boiled detective hero, Cuddy is worthy of your time. If you want your detective to have a significant other, Cuddy and Nancy are far more realistic than any other couple I've encountered in detective fiction.  And make sure you watch out for the series’ inside jokes, like Cuddy watching the filming of the Spenser TV show, reading a Robert Randisi novel, or driving by the site of Travis McGee’s houseboat.

Jeremiah Healy's John Francis Cuddy Series:
  • Blunt Darts (1984)
  • The Staked Goat (1986)
  • So Like Sleep (1987)
  • Swan Dive (1988)
  • Yesterday's News (1989)
  • Right to Die (1991)
  • Shallow Graves (1992)
  • Foursome (1993)
  • Act of God (1994)
  • Rescue (1995)
  • Invasion of Privacy (1996)
  • The Only Good Lawyer (1998)
  • The Concise Cuddy (1998) -- short stories
  • Spiral (1999)


(1)  The Shamus Award is given by the Private Eye Writers of America to honor excellent work in the Private Eye genre. The award was created by Robert J. Randisi in 1981. To see the list of winners and nominees go to:

(2)  Lochte, Dick. “The Return of the Private Eye.” Playboy, March 1, 2000: 96.

(3)  Snell, George. “Mystery writer in love with Boston'” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, October 15, 1997: B1.