Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Whatever happened to Jonathan Valin?

One of the cool literary aspects I came across when I arrived in this burg many years ago was a mystery writer named Jonathan Valin, a local who set his stories in Cincy.  His recurring character, a private dick named Harry Stoner had a certain schlumpy appeal.  He was a tough guy who drank too much but he was on the right side of the moral morass. Like most of the heroes of the genre, he was conflicted and brooding, could take a punch and hand out a beating.  That and he drove a rusting Pinto (!) all the while remaining a decent fellow.  What's not to like?

Perhaps you big-city folk are used to reading suspenseful tales set in your town but I found a certain thrill in his descriptions of the Queen City and its people.  Valin saw Cincinnati for what it was--a midwestern town with a rich history that wants to be the team captain but is really the backbencher with the clipboard.  As Stoner says "I suppose you have to like Cincinnatians...They're small-minded and drab and about as hopelessly parochial as any large group of people can be but they elected Carl Klinger mayor after he was caught in a Newport (KY) brother and they tried to make Pete Rose into a city park".  The 'Nati in a nutshell.

Upon finding a copy of Missing in one of my favorite second-hand shops, I decided to re-read another Valin title, Final NoticeIt's a tale set in a local library branch where art books are found to have the faces and 'lady parts' of photos cut out alerting the library staff that perhaps a nutjob is on the loose.  Enter Harry Stoner who makes short work of the situation, not only figuring out who the perp is but linking him to a brutal murder from two years prior.  Valin works quickly and efficiently and Stoner is a likable shamus who gets in one dust-up after another while falling in love with a hot, young librarian.  The story is tense and violent though a little dated and formulaic as I expected it to be.  Still, good fun and a suitable vacation read.  

Over roughly fifteen years, Valin produced a dozen or so Harry Stoner mysteries but with only average sales and no "breakout" book, he decided to call it a day in the mid-nineties.  He now writes for a few audiophile magazines and websites, the Stoner novels out of print.  Given how the genre has changed and readers have become a bit more sophisticated, I'd love to see Valin pick up his pen and bring Harry in from the cold.  This town could use a hero.  

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