Darby Holland

Created by Jeff Johnson

Here I go again, slipping a non-P.I. into the deck…

The kick-off to a trilogy, Lucky Supreme (2017), impressed me mightily with its fresh take on the hard-boiled genre, goosing it along in a way that even fedora fetishists won’t mind.

It introduced tattoo artist and slightly dodgy small business owner DARBY HOLLAND, a affable scoundrel with a messy past and a present that’s not so squeaky clean either.

He runs “Lucky Supreme,” a run-down tattoo parlor down in Portland, Oregon’s Old Town neighbourhood, and is surrounded on a daily basis by street people of all stripes: whores, bikers, panhandlers, junkies, working stiffs, strippers, tourists, gang members, cops, punk rockers, outlaws and his own misfit employees, not all of whom are trustworthy.

Like Jason Bling, a former member of the staff who disappeared a couple of years back, along with about $180,000 worth of design examples from the walls of the shop. Seems the “flash” is now very collectable, and fetching inexplicably high prices from collectors.

So when Bling is spotted in Santa Cruz, a small beach town in central California, Darby figures it’s time to go on a little road trip; maybe do a little sleuthing.

“I’m gonna go get my shit,” is how he puts it.

Could Elmore Leonard have phrased it any better?

Being a hands-on kinda guy, Darby, who has little use for the police, figures he’ll just hunt down Bling, rough him up a little and get back the flash — or the cash. But things quickly go sideways, and soon Darby and his “troops” find themsleves squaring off against Bling’s new employer, a ruthless Korean-American businessman.

The author gets props for not getting all soapy and fuzzy with his setting, and Darby makes for an intriguing first person narrator/storyteller, his black humor tinged with a rough, almost Chandleresque poetry that initially seems forced but eventually really gets under your skin.

And that’s before things get really gonzo. Darby’s one true love — lusty, lanky Suzanne who towers over Darby by, like, a foot — doesn’t even show up until the sequel, A Long Crazy Burn (2017).

HMMM…

  • I wonder if  Johnson knows about Needle Mike, William E. Barrett’s crime-solving tattoo artist from the pulps?

UNDER OATH

  • “Jeff Johnson is the real deal. His work is fast and funny, down and dirty–one moment as smooth as 18-year-old bourbon and the next as rough as a country road. A great talent, a pleasure to read.”
    –Brad Smith
  • “What wonderful Northwest noir. Lucky Supreme cruises through Portland’s underworld with a raunchy grace and an unfailing sense of black humor. I loved it.”
    — T. Jefferson Parker
  • Lucky Supreme is a novel so good you’ll want to ink it into your skin.”
    — Craig Johnson

NOVEL

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Portions of this review were published in Mystery Scene. Used with permission.

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