Book Review: Atlanta Deathwatch by Ralph Dennis | More2Read

Atlanta Deathwatch by Ralph Dennis

The first novel in the unforgettable, long lost series by Ralph Dennis is finally back in print… after being coveted for years by collectors of the very best in hardboiled fiction.

Jim Hardman was a mediocre Atlanta cop until he was wrongly accused of corruption and thrown off the force. Now he works as an unlicensed PI, trouble-shooter and bodyguard…often partnered with his drinking buddy Hump Evans, a black, ex-NFL player who supports his playboy lifestyle by working as hired muscle.

Hardman is hired by The Man, a black mobster, to investigate the murder of his white girlfriend, a college student. It’s a case that plunges Hardman and Evans into the center of a violent street war that stretches from Atlanta’s seedy back alleys to the marbled corridors of power.

This new edition includes an introduction by Joe R. Lansdale, the New York Times bestselling author of the Hap & Leonard series of crime novels.

Praise for Atlanta Deathwatch:

“His prose was muscular, swift and highly readable. Like Chandler and Hammett before him, Dennis was trying to do something different with what was thought of as throwaway literature.”
-Joe R. Lansdale, from his introduction

“Expert writing, plus good plotting and an unusual degree of sensitivity. Ralph Dennis has mastered the genre and supplied top entertainment.”
-The New York Times

“The Hardman books are by far the best of the men’s action-adventure series.”
-Mother Jones Magazine

“Ralph Dennis is an underappreciated master. His Hardman series is one of the finest in the P.I. genre.”
-Robert Randisi, founder of the Private Eye Writers of America

“Among the best series books around. The dialogue is marvelously realistic.”
-Philadelphia Daily News


Jim Hardman is not a licensed P.I, just like a bare knuckle fighter knows how to rumble but not licensed by boxing boards, he’s a p.i illegal, sort of fixer.
Before he was fired by the Force, before being a cop, he was drafted to Fort Jackson, hand to hand combat training, and after that off to Japan to a Military Police company.
He was to be paid fifty dollars a day by a client for just few days tailing of a woman, a college student, her comings and goings, then she bites the dust.
With the bigger heat, bigger job, he teams up with Hump Evans, a well known ex-NFL player.
They rumble with undesirables and motley crew of men in search for hitters in the murders that follow.

I would agree with the words of novelist Joe Lansdale, from his great introduction in the repackaged tale, “His prose was muscular, swift, and highly readable. There was an echo behind it.”
It’s lucid and thrilling, with some social commentary in ways and there is evil that men do, all presented in a better book cover.

“Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley,”
that is what Raymond Chandler wrote on Hammett’s writings, in the essay The Simple Art of Murder.
And also he said “Hammett wrote at first (and almost to the end) for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street. Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”
So did this author Ralph Dennis and Joe Lansdale in their crime writing.
If you liked Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard creation then this will be right up your alley, prepared to be transported to times men carried .32’s, the Saturday Night Specials.



“Looking at a crime was sometimes like walking around a piece of sculpture at a gallery. From every angle, it was a different piece of sculpture. So it was with a crime. You had to be standing in the right way, with your head in the right place, and then you understood the crime.”

“Hump didn’t like the redneck shit, but he’d spent a lot of time around other parts of the country where the black-hate pushed at him in subtle ways. I believed, without ever talking to him about it, that he preferred it in the open, where he could deal with it in the physically violent way that got respect if not understanding.”

“Hump gestured with his beer glass. “Every small town stud who always wanted to be a private eye is going to show up in Atlanta, packing the Saturday Night Special he borrowed from his cousin. Buddy. God, it’ll almost be a convention of guys who read Travis McGee novels.”

Ralph Dennis isn’t a household name… but he should be. He is widely considered among crime writers as a master of the genre, denied the recognition he deserved because his twelve Hardmanbooks, which are beloved and highly sought-after collectables now, were poorly packaged in the 1970s by Popular Library as a cheap men’s action-adventure paperbacks with numbered titles.

Even so, some top critics saw past the cheesy covers and noticed that he was producing work as good as John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald.

The New York Times praised the Hardman novels for “expert writing, plotting, and an unusual degree of sensitivity. Dennis has mastered the genre and supplied top entertainment.” The Philadelphia Daily News proclaimed Hardman“the best series around, but they’ve got such terrible covers…”

Unfortunately, Popular Library didn’t take the hint and continued to present the series like hack work, dooming the novels to a short shelf-life and obscurity…except among generations of crime writers, like novelist Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap & Leonard series) and screenwriter Shane Black (the Lethal Weapon movies), who’ve kept Dennis’ legacy alive through word-of-mouth and by acknowledging his influence on their stellar work.

Ralph Dennis wrote three other novels that were published outside of the Hardman series —Atlanta, Deadman’s Game and MacTaggart’s War— but he wasn’t able to reach the wide audience, or gain the critical acclaim, that he deserved during his lifetime.

He was born in 1931 in Sumter, South Carolina, and received a masters degree from University of North Carolina, where he later taught film and television writing after serving a stint in the Navy. At the time of his death in 1988, he was working at a bookstore in Atlanta and had a file cabinet full of unpublished novels.

Brash Books will be releasing the entire Hardman series, his three other published novels, and his long-lost manuscripts.

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 01 December 2018