RARA-AVIS: Hugh Holton

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 19 Sep 2002

Fellow cop and Rara-Avian Charlie Shafer mentioned Holton here a few years ago, but he's never been talked about in any depth at Rara-Avis.

Second-generation Chicago cop Holton was one of the first African-American police officers to write cop fiction (not quite THE first; that title goes to LAPD Detective Lieutenant Jesse Kimbrough whose semi-autobiographical novel about prohibition-era law enforcement in Southern California, DEFENDER OF THE ANGELS, was first published in 1969).

His novels about CPD Chief of Detectives Larry Cole are very unusual as police procedurals go. You get all the gritty, realistic details you expect from a sub-genre in which technical accuracy is the whole point, but you also get the kind of red-blooded melodrama you'd be more likely to expect in a Fu Manchu novel.

Imagine DRAGNET as a breathless Republic movie serial, and you've got a pretty good idea of the kind of what a Larry Cole novel is like. Along with all the detailed descriptions of police work, you'll find mad scientists, tricked out James Bond-style gadgets, non-stop cliff-hanging action from beginning to end, even the occasional suggestion of the supernatural. INIDANA JONES with a badge. Holton himself described them as "less police stories than adventure stories with police."

Those of you who are somewhat anal about reading series books in order might have a hard time with the Cole books, because they weren't published in chronological order according to the characters career
(somewhat like Horatio Hornblower whose a 40-is commodore in one book and a teen-aged midshipman in the next).

In chronological (but NOT publication order) the Cole novels are VIOLENT CRIMES, CRIMINAL ELEMENT, CHICAGO BLUES, WINDY CITY, PRESUMED DEAD, RED LIGHTNING, TIME OF THE ASSASSINS, THE LEFT HAND OF GOD, and THE DEVIL'S SHADOW. They're all enjoyable, but my personal favorite (at the moment) is WINDY CITY, in which Cole enlists the aid of members of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America to trap two serial killers who are apparently using a mystery novel as a blueprint.

Holton passed away in 2001, much too young. He was something of a mentor of mine (he mentored a lot of hopeful writers), and I miss him quite a bit.


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