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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » No Badge, No Gun: A Carl Wilcox Mystery (Carl Wilcox Mysteries) » User review

Prairie noir sweeps Depression-era Dakotas

  • Jan 5, 1999
For some of us too young to know better, the world of the Depression can seem as foreign a place as Moscow or Outer Mongolia. It was, after all, a half-century ago, before computers, television, the Interstate Highway system and couple of major wars.

Which is why following Carl Wilcox, part-time bum, former convict and itinerant sign painter as he travels from town to town in the Dakotas so fascinating. In addition to painting signs and doing what he can to bring body and soul a little closer together, he sometimes investigate cases in small towns like Hope, Jonesville and Greenhill.

For the most part, these are pretty quiet stories about small towns where there's not much to do, and where murders are few and far between. Adams's books describe a Depression-era Dakotas of quiet small towns where private reputations and public behavior mattered. His Wilcox is a quiet man, willing to work when he needs money and loaf when he doesn't. His constant pursuit of any semi-willing women would be off-putting were it not realistically depicted (i.e., he doesn't succeed very often).

One added bonus can be found in the design of the books, whose covers sport art by Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton. Not your usual mystery book design.

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Bill Peschel ()
Ranked #476
Bill Peschel was born in 1960 in Ohio, and grew up there and in North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in journalism. At The Avalon Hill Game Company … more
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About this book


Harold Adams's series of mysteries about small-town South Dakota during the Great Depression are like the work of another great artist of that period--the photographer Walker Evans, who captured in black and white every grain and pore of the façades and faces he saw. Carl Wilcox--the rebellious son of a hotel owner who makes his living as a sign painter and occasional detective--is Adams's camera, recording in sharp, spare, and often pungent language the misdeeds of his fellows.

This time, Wilcox is finishing up a painting job in the town of Jonesville when the local pastor offers him $100 to find the man who raped and strangled his young niece. A frustrated bible teacher and a slick traveling salesman are the likely suspects, but the police have no evidence against either. In his comfortably offhand way, Wilcox sits and talks with all sorts of people, soaking up impressions and possible leads with apparently aimless ease. He also finds time to pursue another of his interests--romancing attractive and available women, in this case the town librarian, another character so quickly brought to life by Adams that you'll swear you've seen her picture in an old album. Other fine Wilcox outings include The Ditched Blonde, The Man Who Was Taller Than God, and A Way with Widows. --Dick Adler

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ISBN-10: 0802733212
ISBN-13: 978-0802733214
Author: Harold Adams
Publisher: Walker & Company

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