Crime-fiction author Gary Phillips is renowned for his hard-boiled mysteries, and his latest work, One-Shot Harry, is already being called one of his best. Not only is it packed with suspense and thrills, but this story, while set in Los Angeles in 1963, is strikingly relevant in 2022. “L.A. in ’63 was at a turning point,” Philips said. “It was a city coming out of the Red Scare as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum.” Historical fiction often explores the past to comment on the present, and One-Shot Harry’s commentary on race relations at the height of the Civil Rights movement is no exception. If you’re a mystery fan who enjoys their fiction equal parts riveting and relevant, check out One-Shot Harry when it hits shelves on April 12, 2022.
The book follows Harry Ingram, an African-American veteran of the Korean War who works as a news photographer. It’s not an easy job, and Harry spends most of his days racing to crime scenes he hears about on police radio calls. With a major rally led by Martin Luther King Jr. coming up soon, racial tensions are higher than ever; every job puts Harry at risk. To complicate matters further, Harry winds up at the scene of a fatal car crash—and the victim turns out to be one of his good friends, a fellow veteran and white jazz trumpeter.
Although the LAPD declares it to be an accident, Harry thinks his photos reveal evidence of foul play. He takes matters into his own hands and begins an investigation with just his camera to help. To find the truth, he’ll descend into the underground of L.A., where crime lords, racists, and radical leftists are all vying for power. But in his quest for justice, Harry may find he’s stumbled onto much more than he could have ever imagined.
Aside from Harry himself, who is clearly an intriguing hero in his own right, the other star of One-Shot Harry is its setting. In 1963, America was at a crossroads, especially when it came to the issue of race—and so much of what was going on in L.A. at the time exemplifies that. An L.A. native himself, Phillips said, “while not the deep south, the city behind the glitz of Hollywood was one of restrictive housing covenants and job inequality. It was also a city where gangsters like Mickey Cohen and Jack Dragna held sway and quasi-religious organizations like the Nation of Islam had influence in certain quarters as well. These then are the volatile ingredients for the story.”
In his long career, he’s returned to the streets of L.A. many times—such as in his 1994 classic Violent Spring. “Like a jackleg archeologist, I have to keep excavating beneath all that concrete as the demographics shift, gentrification re-shapes the landscape, and the populations of enclaves from Little Saigon to Arlington Heights turn over,” Phillips said.
He is also senior story editor on Snowfall, the FX series about the role the CIA played in the crack epidemic of Phillips’ native South Central. “In the Snowfall writers’ room, we spend a lot of time figuring out the psychological motivations for our characters,” Phillips said. “The advantage of a visual medium is such could be conveyed in a look or a slap—sorry, couldn’t help myself. The aforementioned factors apply to prose writing, and you have the added luxury of being able to dive into the inner terrain of your characters.”
We could think of no better author to tell a story like this one. We hope that all of this has you as excited as we are for One-Shot Harry, a hard-boiled historical mystery that’s more achingly relevant today than ever.