Created by Rob Kantner
Imagine if Bob Seger and Raymond Chandler co-created a P.I.
BEN PERKINS is not your average private eye. Most P.I.s prowl the mean streets of some big city–Ben lives in the Detroit suburb of Belleville, where he’s in charge of maintenance and security at the rather toney apartment complex of Norwegian Woods. He does his “private eying,” as he calls it, as a supplement to his income, and to pay for some of the finer things in life. In Ben’s case, that amounts to his souped-up, classic 1971 Mustang ragtop, his ultralight aircraft, Stroh’s beer, cork-tipped cigars and good ol’ boy rock’n’roll. It’s not a bad life for a former union enforcer, and it sure beats bolting on fenders on the line at Ford, something his late father, a displaced Southerner, and his brother, Bill, settled for.
Ben’s a big guy, and he isn’t afraid to get down to it, if he has to, but what he really is is a schemer, a conniver — just a working class joe who just happens to be good at going around poking into things, maybe tidying them up a bit, in short, a “fixer.”
Another thing that separates Ben from the rest of the herd is that, while most eyes are loners, with very few friends and even fewer family, Ben has tons of friends, acquaintances and assorted relatives weaving in and out of his escapades. In fact, not since Jim Rockford has a private eye had such a large supporting cast making regular appearances.
Among Ben’s extended family, perhaps most notably, is long-suffering, on-again, off-again lady friend and criminal attorney Carole Summers and her young son, Will. Also along for most of the ride are Lieutenant Elvin Dance, sharp-dressed man and black Detroit Homicide dick, and Inspector Dick Dennehy, Office of Special Investigations, Michigan State Police. There’s also Ben’s afore-mentioned brother, Bill, and their sister Libby. And then there are assorted lady friends, poker buddies, the maintenance crew and various tenants at Norwegian Woods, and a collection of drinking buddies and barflies at his favourite watering hole, Under New Management.
One of the very best P.I. series of the eighties and nineties, criminally overlooked, and apparently doomed, like Gaylord Dold’s Mitch Roberts, to premature obscurity for the crime of being originally published in paperback. And whereas most private eye series have appeared mostly in novels, with relatively few short story appearances, Kantner isn’t shy about that form. In fact, he honed his craft, and shaped Ben’s character, in a string of excellent short stories, most of which originally appeared in AHMM, before finally making the jump to novels in 1986 with The Back Door Man. In fact, a case could be made that some of Kantner’s best work is in the short story form, although the novels themselves are very, very good. Check out the over two dozen Ben Perkins stories and see for yourself.
Unfortunately, the series seems to have disappeared. The conspiracy theory was that Kantner wass another victim of the publishing industry’s regular gutting of mid-line authors, which would have been a real crime. But the sad truth is that Rob Kantner wasn’t a victim; he just quit writing novels. Last I heard, he’s doing pretty well as some kind of fancy-schmancy business consultant, and has a website under the domain of http://www.9sg.com. So well, in fact, that the idea of getting his books back into print — or even just digital — hasn’t apparently crossed his mind.
Maybe not a crime, but certainly not good news for P.I. fans. Kantner was at one point one of the most nominated writers in the PWA’s history, at the time only surpassed by fellow Detroit writer Loren Estleman.
More encouraging, though, was the slow, gradual return of Ben in a short story, “Something Simple” in the June 1999 issue of AHMM which, if not exactly heralding the return of the series, at least threw P.I. fans a bone. And it got better — a few more stories emerged over the years,and in 2005 Point Blank Press released Trouble Is What I Do, a collection of the Perkins short stories with a foreword by J. A. Konrath.
And then it got so good you could plotz! In 2007 a brand new Perkins novel, the long-awaited but ominously titled Final Fling, hit the streets followed in short order by a few more short stories, which Kantner offered for free on his web site.
Unfortunately, the last of those appeared in 2009, and those short stories, as well as the web site, are long gone.
C’mon back, Rob.
- “‘C’ Is For Cookie” (September 1982, AHMM)
- “Cinnamon Twist” (December 1982, AHMM)
- “The Long Slow Dive” (February 1983, AHMM)
- “Libby’s Luck” (June 1983, AHMM)
- “Goin’ Vegas” (June 1984, AHMM)
- “The Woman Who Slipped Through the Cracks” (July 1984, AHMM)
- “Dynamite Park” (December 1984, MSMM)
Loren Estleman’s Detroit eye, Amos Walker, makes a cameo appearance.
- “The Rat Line” (1984, The Eyes Have It)
- “My Brother’s Wife” (February 1985, AHMM)
- “The Perfect Pitch” (July 1985, AHMM)
- “The Forever Trip” (September 1985, AHMM)
- “Threads” (May 1986, AHMM)
- “The Man Who Called From Tomorrow” (September 1986, AHMM)
- “The Eye Went By” (December 1986, AHMM)
- “Fly Away Home” (1986, Mean Streets)
- “My Brother’s Life” (March 1987, AHMM)
- “Duck Work” (February 1988, AHMM)
- “Left For Dead” (1988, An Eye For Justice)
- “Tall Boys” (March 1990, AHMM)
Ben’s first “case”, of sorts.
- “Unfinished Business” (1992, Deadly Allies)
- “Something Simple” (June 1999, AHMM)
- “Sleeping Dog Lies” (February 2000, AHMM)
- “My Best Fred MacMurray” (October 2000, AHMM)
- “Sex and Violins” (2005, Trouble Is What I Do)
- “The Other Woman” (June 2006, AHMM)
- “The Go-To Man” (October 2008, RobKantner.com)
- “Down Home Blues” (November 2008, RobKantner.com; also Best American Mystery Stories 2009)
- “Sticky Fingers” (December 2008, RobKantner.com)
- “Riddle Run” (July 2009, RobKantner.com)
- The Back Door Man (1986) | Buy this book
- The Harder They Hit (1987) | Buy this book
- Dirty Work (1988) | Buy this book
- Hell’s Only Half Full (1989) | Buy this book
- Made in Detroit (1990) | Buy this book
- The Thousand Yard Stare (1991) | Buy this book
- The Quick and the Dead (1992) | Buy this book
- The Red, White and Blues (1993) | Buy this book
- Concrete Hero (1994) | Buy this book
- Final Fling (2008) | Buy this book
- Trouble Is What I Do (2005).. Buy this book
- Rob Kantner: The Thrilling Detective Interview
A wide-ranging romp covering the realities of the writing life and the return of Ben.