A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


KENN DAVIS – Words Can Kill. Carver Bascombe #5. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback original, 1984.

   Black San Francisco private eye Carver Bascombe just can’t seem to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. On the one hand, he’s merely doing detective work for the money, to get through law school and “be able to help others.” On the other hand, he enjoys “the hunt.” It’s “something he can sink his teeth into,” a deeply ingrained part of him since he was a kid in the ghetto of Detroit.

   So Carver carries on as a private eye, worrying about his overdue tuition and term papers — even worrying about completing his income-tax forms, for heaven’s sake. And because he’s a part-timer, a man sitting on the fence, he’s not all that effective at his work.

   In this case, Carver receives a visit from old Vietnam buddy Jackson Fayette. Fayette is now the author of the “definitive;’ Vietnam novel, a celebrity very much. in the public eye. Fayette’s mentor, Ed Colfax, was shot to death in nearby Sausalito the previous night; he wants Carver to find out why; Carver plunges into the world of Marin County writers and rare-book collecting (the latter described with dubious accuracy; one would never, for instance, display copies of rare books in a store window, where their dust jackets would fade).

   On the dead man’s houseboat, he discovers a manuscript that indicates Colfax may have coauthored Fayette’s book but received no credit for his part. Carver meets other writers, friends of Colfax’s. He goes to a party, gets drunk, blurts out too much information about what he is investigating, and then almost loses his life in a fire on Colfax’s houseboat. And he continues on his way, always worrying: When will he complete his overdue term paper? Does he even want to? What about his taxes? What’s going on anyway?

   Well, what’s going on becomes pretty obvious to the reader, long before it becomes obvious to Carver. Still and all, there’s something appealing about Carver Bascombe; something that makes this reviewer want to read more of these novels and perhaps find out the answer to that all important question: What will Carver decide to be when he grows up?

   Among Davis’s other Carver Bascombe novels are The Dark Side (1976, in collaboration with John Stanley) and The Forza Trap (1979).

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.