JIM WRIGHT – The Last Man Standing. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, 1991.   Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club; 3-in-1 edition.

   This is the second of two crime thrillers written by Jim Wright, both published in hardcover by Carroll & Graf. His first one, The Last Frame (1990), also came out in paperback, but I can’t find any record that this one ever did.


   Which is a shame, because it’s more than a decent entry in the “serial killer” sub-category of thriller fiction, and a strong case could be made for it to be cross-classified in the “hard-drinking newspaper reporter” branch of detective fiction as well — and what’s more, with real detection. If the book had come out in paperback, maybe its author would have more than the tiny dual listing in Hubin and be all-but-unknown anywhere else.

   The reporter is Stuart Reed, who literally stumbles across the mutilated body of Diana Diaz while jogging. While he’s only the New Jersey paper’s environmental columnist, Reed becomes obsessed with the story, even in the face of what seems to be official indifference, then losing his job (and not so incidentally) his wife when he pushes too far, allowing the case to subsume his life completely.

   While getting the basic elements of the workaday world exactly right, Wright might not be the most polished writer in the world, sometimes describing the most mundane everyday activities in too much detail: on pages 38-39, Reed comes home to his Manhattan apartment and we’re told that he uses two keys in the front entrance, one for his mailbox (empty) and then three on his front door. Parking lots are described in close-up: “a square lot, with a row of diagonal parking spaces on both sides…”

   But caring about detail comes in handy later on, when the thriller aspect takes an abrupt about-face and morphs itself into the fair-play tale of detection alluded to earlier. All of the details jar into place, and suddenly this double-faceted crime thriller becomes a small never-discovered treasure in the rough.

— December 2002 (slightly revised)

[UPDATE]  11-20-08.   Revised: 11-25-08.    Although The Last Man Standing never came out in paperback, copies of the hardcover are not hard to find online. (What is strange is that while I have a copy myself, there’s only one DBC edition listed on ABE. Why should the book club edition be scarcer than the First Edition? I have no idea.)


   In my original comment I talked about the fact that I wasn’t able to come up with a cover image for the book. That’s been rectified, as you will have seen. At the time, all I had to show you was a copy scan of Jim Wright’s first book which you see here to the left.

   As I said earlier, all he wrote were the two mysteries; in the late 1970s he also wrote two non-fiction books about sports stars Bobby Clarke and Mike Schmidt.

   His full name is James Bowers Wright, and Contemporary Authors says that he started working for several New Jersey newspapers in 1972. Working his way up the ladder, he eventually became the metropolitan assignment editor for the Bergen Record, and that’s the connection that helped me track him down. He answered a few questions that I asked, and he was also kind enough to send me the cover image you see at the top of the page.

   Here’s his reply to the email I sent him:


   Thanks for the review and for tracking me down… I no longer write crime novels — and no longer write for The Record. Ironically, I ended up as an environmental writer there and started blogging about nature, and moved on to a job out of newspapers.

   Glad you (mostly) liked The Last Man Standing. It got a tremendous review in one of the trade publications but was reviewed indifferently elsewhere and in no big publications, so that was it.

   My first book The Last Frame, was based on Weegee, the Crime Photographer, before he came so popular, and dedicated to him…

   I think the writing in that one is a tad better. It was optioned as a movie but never made…

   Thanks again.


  PS. Don’t miss my nature blog:  celeryfarm.net.

[UPDATE #2] 11-23-08.  For a complete list of all 27 weeks’ worth of “forgotten books,” see Patti Abbott’s latest post on her website, where all this started. It’s a spectacular array of good reading, that’s for sure.