ROBERT SKINNER – Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting. Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, 1999; trade paperback, 2000. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition.

   At the present time there are six books in Robert Skinner’s series of Wesley Farrell adventures, of which this is the third:

Skin Deep, Blood Red (Kensington, 1997) [Nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel.]


Cat-Eyed Trouble (Kensington, 1998)
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (Poisoned Pen, 1999)
Blood to Drink (Poisoned Pen, 2000)


Pale Shadow (Poisoned Pen, 2001)
The Righteous Cut (Poisoned Pen, 2002)

   Wesley Farrell is a mixed-blood Creole by birth, but at the time of this book, which is 1938, he’d been living in New Orleans as a white man for over 25 years. He’s a legend of a man — a night club owner whom everyone in the city seems to know and will defer to, rather than get on the wrong side of him. Nonetheless (and inevitably) it’s strictly his reputation that gets him into trouble this time.


   There are several threads of the widely rambling plot. The major one centers on the deaths or mysterious disappearances of prominent members of the aforementioned black community. Less important, or so it seems, is the request that Carol Donovan (*), the beautiful black owner of The Original Southport Club, makes of Farrell. She needs his help in fighting a tough thug named Archie Badeaux who has been making threats against her.

   A stash of stolen money that has gone missing is also involved, and when Ernie LeDoux gets out of prison and starts looking for it, a brand new series of events is pushed into motion. And there’s more. It takes well over 300 pages of fine action-oriented fiction to cover it all.

   Great characters and great atmosphere combine to make Gone A-Hunting very enjoyable reading. Back in 1938, and particularly in the South, there was an entire black community whose activities never made the white newspapers, and they certainly weren’t recorded in the white history books.

   A separate black squad of the detectives in the police department, black bankers and real estate agents — an entirely separate (but not equal) citizenry — which you notice most when you are reminded, as Skinner does, that trains, for example, had separate cars for blacks.


   Most of the threads of plot come together at the end, but not all. In all truthfulness they’re spread too thin to have the depth that would make this an absolute knockout of a novel. Sometimes the longer the book, the weaker the punch. The clues which the detection depends upon are suspect as well — what kind of witless killer would vomit at each of his scenes of the crime, and fail to clean up his mess afterward?

   But there are more adventures to come, and a couple of priors to catch up with also. I came in at the middle, and now with two different ways to go, I fully intend to.

— September 2003

(*) PostScript:   Here’s a quote that here, just now, at the last minute, I decided to leave you with. From page 21:

   A beautiful Negro woman of about thirty came through the doors of the Café Tristesse [Farrell’s place] like she owned the joint. She was about five-and-a-half feet tall, with skin so pale brown it was no darker than a suntan, shoulder-length black hair, and eyes like obsidian. The only makeup on her fine-featured face was lip rouge the color of ripe plums. Dressed in a pale yellow dress, yellow sling-back pumps, and a yellow hat that was like gold ornamentation on a queen, she was enough to make a Baptist minister drink swamp water, crawl inside a hollow log, and bay at the moon.

   Maybe Halle Berry could play the part? I was leaning toward a younger Richard Roundtree as Farrell, back when he played Shaft in the movies. When I mentioned this to another reader of the series (female), she immediately reminded me that Farrell is passing for white, and Roundtree is therefore too dark.

   She then suggested Giancarlo Esposito, who appears on some television show I don’t watch. I obviously have to think this over some more.