THOMAS H. STONE – Black Death. New English Library, UK, paperback original; 1st printing, July 1973.

   Here’s a PI missed by most lists of PI’s, whether online or not, no matter how thorough they may be: mulatto detective Chester Fortune. For completists, here’s a list of his first four adventures: Dead Set (1972), One Horse Race (1972), Stopover for Murder (1973), and Black Death (1973).

   Thomas H. Stone is a pseudonym of Terry Harknett, who wrote a slew of other British mysteries and spy adventures under both his own name and several others. He later became rich or famous by writing hard-edged and violent western series, including the Edge and Adam Steele books, both as George G. Gilman, and the Apache series, as William M. James.

   Following in a long (and mostly unrich) tradition, while the Chester Fortune books were published and appeared only in Britain, the character works out of Los Angeles (the alternative world LA that has kerbs, tyres and is populated in part by coloured folk). In this particular adventure, however, Fortune has temporarily stopped over in New Orleans, home of hot jazz and black beautiful women.

   One of whom takes him along on a midnight picnic alongside a lake, but just as things begin to heat up, all Helsinki breaks loose. Fortune is beaten up, robbed, his gun is missing, and so is April. When her body is found, the local cops (“racialists” all) need look no further than Mr. Fortune.

   Fortune also has the (mis)fortune of meeting a local gang of butch dykes (the latter term also the source of a lot of bad jokes) and under circumstances that Chester least expects, his father, whom he’s never seen.

   It is difficult to know what to make of all of this. It is not a world recognizable as ever having existed in any dimension within several stops from ours, but as Fortune points out about the town of Masterson – a white town scrubbed shiny clean, and from which hapless blacks who wander in are quickly escorted to the city limits by the police force in nothing flat — ” get below the neat veneer and you see a lot of slime underneath” — there is an imagery here that stands clear and tall.

   Stone is not a word stylist, and there is the unmistakable smell of unmanageable coincidence hanging high over the tale he tells (and it is even worse if I understand the rather enigmatic ending completely). But, as crude as he is, the story is forceful and compelling, and as appealing as an alternate world story that’s just slightly jumped the tracks. (The mystery involved is strictly a bonus.)

— The first few paragraphs of this review have been revised from its first appearance in Deadly Pleasures, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter 1993,