The year is 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. is about to hold his Freedom Rally at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles; William H. Parker is Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department; John F. Kennedy is President of the United States; Pat Brown is the Governor of California; Gas is $0.29 a gallon and ground beef is less than $0.50 a pound. It is in this world, which is as different as it is similar to ours, that Gary Phillips sets his new novel One-Shot Harry.
Harry Ingram is a freelance news photographer in Los Angeles. He also works side-jobs serving legal papers. Harry recently reconnected with an old friend, and fellow Korean War vet, Ben Kinslow. So he’s surprised when he hears the call on his police scanner describing Ben’s vehicle as being involved in a fatal accident. Harry knows, from their shared experiences in Korea, that Ben is an excellent driver and that there is no way he could have been responsible for the accident that took his life. He locates the scene and chances taking a few photographs before being told to leave by the LAPD officers on site. After looking at the photos, Harry is even more confused. Nothing about Ben’s death makes sense and leaves Harry with even more questions. Harry feels certain of only one thing: he is the one who is going to find the answers.
In One-Shot Harry, author Gary Phillips provides not only a top notch mystery/thriller, he also provides a window to the past that clearly illustrates, simultaneously, how much things have changed and how much they remain the same in the city of Los Angeles.
Phillips highlights numerous Los Angeles locations and businesses that have disappeared in the decades since the early 60s, when the novel is set. More importantly, and impressively, Phillips conjures an almost tangible sense of what living in Los Angeles would have been like. He illustrates the dichotomies of Hollywood: one part glitz and glamor with a seedy, gritty side clearly visible to anyone who can tear their eyes away from the spectacle. He also shines a light on William Parker’s LAPD, a cabal of thugs acting out a reign of terror on anyone in the city who isn’t white, all with the tacit endorsements of city officials and residents.
Writing over five decades, after the novel is set, Phillips is able to make sly commentary on some situations and developments through the speculations between his characters about their world and their future. Knowing how things will play out as history unfolds, Phillips is able to highlight concerns for people of color in Los Angeles that still exist in the present and have yet to be adequately addressed.
As stated earlier, the mystery presented is top notch and filled with compelling characters. Phillips does an excellent job of vacillating between quiet moments, allowing readers to get to know Harry and the other characters involved, and sequences of high tension, all set in the wonderfully drawn Los Angeles from half a century ago.
One-Shot Harry is a taut and thought provoking mystery filled with ambiance, thrills, and a new amateur detective readers are going to love.
The novel is a gem and so is the man who wrote it, Gary Phillips, as you will see, in this interview.