One-Shot Harry

One-Shot Harry

by Gary Phillips
One-Shot Harry

One-Shot Harry

by Gary Phillips


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Our favorite part of reading a historical mystery is catching wind of cameo appearances of famous people. There’s a vicarious thrill of being there with the protagonist as we come across real life characters in Gary Phillips’ One-Shot Harry. Set in 1963 LA, the music is cool and racial tensions are hot. Immerse yourself in another time not too far from where we are now.

Race and civil rights in 1963 Los Angeles provide a powerful backdrop in Gary Phillips’s riveting mystery about an African American crime scene photographer seeking justice for a friend—perfect for fans of Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, and George Pelecanos.

LOS ANGELES, 1963: Korean War veteran Harry Ingram earns a living as a news photographer and occasional process server: chasing police radio calls and dodging baseball bats. With racial tensions running high on the eve of Martin Luther King’s Freedom Rally, Ingram risks becoming a victim at every crime scene he photographs.

When Ingram hears about a deadly automobile accident on his police scanner, he recognizes the vehicle described as belonging to his good friend and old army buddy, a white jazz trumpeter. The LAPD declares the car crash an accident, but when Ingram develops his photos, he sees signs of foul play. Ingram feels compelled to play detective, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Armed with his wits, his camera, and occasionally his Colt .45, “One-Shot” Harry plunges headfirst into the seamy underbelly of LA society, tangling with racists, leftists, gangsters, zealots, and lovers as he attempts to solve the mystery.

Master storyteller and crime fiction legend Gary Phillips has filled the pages of One-Shot Harry with fascinating historical cameos, wise-cracks, tenderness, and an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of a plot with consequences far beyond one dead body.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641292917
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/12/2022
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 51,311
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Gary Phillips has published novels, comics, novellas, short stories and edited or co-edited several anthologies, including the Anthony-winning The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir. Almost 30 years after its publication, his debut, Violent Spring, was named one of the essential crime novels of Los Angeles. He was also a writer and co-producer on Snowfall, a show streaming on Hulu about crack and the CIA in 1980s South Central where he grew up.

Read an Excerpt


“Fifteen.” Josh Nakano placed his domino tile on the table with the others.
     The raspy voice of comedian Redd Foxx, known for his blue material, issued from an LP spinning on the record player. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here we are again for the great racing of the T-bone stakes.” An audience tittered in the background of the live recording. The album was titled The New Race Track.
     “Don’t stop writing yet, scorekeeper.” Peter “Strummer” Edwards smiled, slapping down a tile. “Ten.” He was a tall, dark-skinned man with large hands, several of his knuckles misshaped like a seasoned boxer’s.
     James “Shoals” Pettigrew marked the points on a lined yellow notepad, then put down his own domino. The hardware store owner didn’t score.
     Using one hand, Harry Ingram picked up his facedown tiles, turning them toward his face, studying them. Between two fingers of his other hand, a cheap cigar smoldered.
     “If you blink three times, they still ain’t gonna change,” Pettigrew joked.
     “Got it, Captain Hook.” Ingram put down his choice, hoping this time to block Nakano from scoring again.
     “Thanks for nothing,” Nakano said, playing after Ingram. He was a medium-built man with thick black hair going gray at the sides. He wore glasses and a colorful Hawaiian shirt over casual slacks. He favored loud sport shirts when not relegated to suit and tie, as befitted a funeral director.
     “Always at your service, good sir.”
     When the LP ended, Ingram got up from the card table and went over to his record player, which was set below several built-in bookshelves. Among the books on the shelves were two police scanners and an AM/FM transistor radio. Ingram put the record back in its sleeve, the photographic image on the front a smiling young woman in modified jockey gear straddling a hobby horse.
     “Put on the radio, would you, Harry?” Edwards said, yawning and stretching. “Can’t have Redd making me too excited before I go to bed alone.”
     Pettigrew wiggled his fingers. “Alone, you say?”
     Everyone chuckled.
     Ingram slotted the Foxx album alphabetically among other comedic, jazz and blues albums he kept in wooden produce crates stacked in a corner. He turned the radio on, adjusting the antenna and turning the dial to bring the station in clearer.
     “. . . and the hunt goes on for the bank robber dubbed the Morning Bandit. But now, my dear listeners,” the DJ continued, “we here at KGFJ urge all right-thinking Angelenos to come out and hear what Martin Luther King has to say when he arrives in town less than three weeks from today. As many of us know, his message isn’t just for the South, but for what goes on here in the supposedly enlightened north.”
     “You covered the reverend when he was in town before, didn’t you?” Nakano said to Ingram as he sat down again. King had last been in Los Angeles two years earlier to speak at the Sports Arena. The facility had been filled to capacity with thousands standing outside to hear him over the loudspeakers.
     “Yeah, I’ve got a request in through the Sentinel to take shots when he speaks this time too. But they’d already got this reporter assigned who takes his own pics.” Ingram made part of his living as a photographer for the Black press.
     “What about the march later this year?” Edwards said. In the 1950s he’d been the one to look after the interests of gangster Jack Dragna on the Black side of Los Angeles. These days he had his own interests to see to—some aboveboard and others he didn’t file taxes about.
     “You going?” Ingram asked.
     “Thinking about it.” Edwards looked up from his dominoes at the other three staring at him. “What? All sorts of people are going, including Moses.” He meant Charlton Heston, who was heading the Hollywood contingent to the March on Washington taking place in August.
     “You know this is the second time this has been tried,” Nakano said.
     “Huh?” Edwards lit a cigarette and opened another can of Hamm’s he’d retrieved from Ingram’s refrigerator.
     “A. Philip Randolph threatened a march back in the forties unless Roosevelt desegregated the armed forces and paid the same wages to Blacks working in the war industries. FDR didn’t desegregate but did sign a bill about the fair pay. And Randolph called off the march, though some say he was bluffing all along.”
     “King ain’t bluffing,” Pettigrew said.
     “Damn, how come you always know more about negro history than me, Josh?” Edwards said.
     “Maybe he’s just a better soul brother than you,” Ingram laughed.
     “That’s probably true.” Edwards had more of his beer.
Nakano said, “The Japanese American Citizens League is sending a contingent. A cousin of mine is going to be in it.”
     “You thinking about going?” Ingram asked him.
     “Yep. For sure I’ll be at the rally in town.” Nakano looked up from his dominoes, a wry smile lighting his face. “Equal rights is equal rights, isn’t it?”
     “Across the board,” Pettigrew said.
     The friends played until a few minutes past ten in the evening. After they left, Ingram folded up the card table they’d been playing on, put the dominoes back in their box and cleaned up in the kitchen where they’d made sandwiches. There was a door separating the kitchen from a compact back porch area. In there was a utility sink for use with a rubboard to wash clothes. Ingram had turned this area into a darkroom with lengths of clothesline strung up to hang drying prints. Back in his apartment’s living room, he considered putting on one of the scanners but decided to pour himself something stiffer than beer and sit in his easy chair. The window overlooking the street below was cracked open and the sounds of a quieting city drifted in as he sat and drank. The radio was still on, but he’d turned the volume down.
     Ingram had taken one of his file folders from a rack of several and had it open on his lap, looking through his photos. He frowned as if this were the first time he was seeing his work from a critical standpoint. There was all manner of mayhem represented in the black-and-whites, from a man laid out on the sidewalk in a nice suit, two-tone shoes and a knife sticking out of his head to a woman in a beret, hands manacled behind her back as a cop led her away. There was a bloody hatchet in another cop’s hand and a bloodstain on the lower part of her skirt.
     “No wonder Look won’t hire me,” he muttered, enjoying more bourbon. He closed the file and put it aside. As he began to doze off, Ingram resolved to take more happy pictures, like people picnicking in the park and kids laughing as they flew kites.
     At some point he woke up and KGFJ, an around-the-clock station, was playing classical music. He got up and went to bed to the strains of Debussy’s Three Nocturnes.
     In the morning after a sound sleep and a trip to the john, Ingram put on his threadbare cotton bathrobe over his boxers and athletic tee. He turned on one of his scanners.
     “. . . suspect, male, white American, twenties, reddish-blond hair heading north on Bronson from Venice on foot . . .”
     With that as his background accompaniment, Ingram fixed a breakfast that included sausage links from the neighborhood grocery store downstairs, Whitehead’s Market. Afterward, taking his second cup of coffee into the bathroom, he showered and shaved. The scanner was still going. Monday morning crime, at least in terms of the Black east side, was limited to a purse snatching and a parked vehicle clipped in a hit-and-run. This wasn’t unusual. Ingram knew colored fellas were often jacked up by the cops on Saturday night and were awaiting a hearing or still arranging bail at the start of the new week.
     Things would be jumping by nine tonight, he reflected as he got his equipment together, including his Speed Graphic camera. There were two nicks from bullets grooved in its casing and Ingram rubbed one of them for luck, as he always did. He’d brought the camera home from the war. Fleeting was the notion of photographing normal people doing normal things. Where was the kick in that? Melancholy moments like the one he’d had last night he invariably washed away with booze.
     Tweed sport coat on and no tie, slipping a couple of his cigars into an inner pocket, he quit his apartment, going out the rear door through his darkroom and down the creaking wooden stairs. Behind the building his car was parked in one of the few designated spaces. There was another man downstairs in a plaid shirt-jacket and casual slacks.
     “What’s happening, Arthur?” Ingram clapped the other man on the shoulder as Arthur unlocked the back door to Whitehead’s. Ingram’s building was made of brick and wood trim, constructed in the late 1920s. The corner grocery store commanded most of the space on the ground floor. To the south of that was the front entrance into the apartments, stairs leading up to the second and third floors occupied by tenants.
     “Same old sixes and sevens, Harry.”
     Arthur Yarbrough got the door open but did not turn on the lights to cut the gloom. He was a light-skinned Black man about Ingram’s height, a little over six feet, though not as solidly built. There was a zigzag of scarred skin along one side of his face that gave him an intriguing as opposed to disfigured appearance. He wore heavy framed sunglasses and the stylish cane Ingram had bought him some years ago leaned near the door.
     The store had originally belonged to a Caucasian family named Whitehead. When it changed hands to Black ownership, the name was kept, one, because people were familiar with it in the neighborhood, and two, it was an in-joke.
     “Need me for anything?”
     “I got it covered, man.”
     “Yeah, you do.”
     Yarbrough had been blinded in the Korean War when on patrol he’d stepped on a land mine. It would be another hour or so until one of his sighted employees came to work. In the time between, he’d have gone through the store arranging the items on the shelves, swept the aisles and so forth. There was a blueprint of the store’s layout imprinted in his head, Ingram liked to imagine.
     Ingram left Yarbrough and unlocked the trunk of his several-years-old Plymouth Belvedere. In here was his traveling photo development setup. When he had to make a deadline and didn’t have time to return home to use his darkroom, he developed his pictures in his trunk. He checked to make sure he had enough of the requisite chemicals and that they were secure in their containers.
     Trunk closed, he got behind the wheel and backed out of his parking spot into the alley. He righted the car and drove slowly along the rutted, potholed asphalt. He took a left onto Forty-Third Street and headed west, made a right turn on Figueroa, passing several businesses with a tom bradley for city council sign in the corner of their windows. He kept on, reaching Imperial Highway, went west again to the municipality of Inglewood and the Hollywood Racetrack. The horse racing venue was miles south from Hollywood. Its name had originated with studio boss Jack L. Warner, who in the 1930s was one of its main backers. Investors included Bing Crosby, Ralph Bellamy and Walt Disney.
     The stars still came to the park, but Ingram wasn’t here to try for a candid of Doris Day feeding an apple to a thoroughbred. Reaching the track, he turned onto a side road and followed that around a bend to an area most of the patrons didn’t venture to, the stables. He parked on an open spot and walked across the hay-strewn ground, taking in the sights and ever-present smell of horse flesh. He passed a teenage stable hand raking up horse droppings and spotted his contact, Dolby Markham. He was washing down a horse in a stall. Ingram aimed the camera strapped around his neck and took a few snaps.

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