Jonathan Valin Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Like his predecessors Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Jonathan Valin has created a hard-living, wisecracking, but essentially admirable private investigator. Valin’s Harry Stoner solves mysteries that the police are unable or reluctant to handle, often because the wrongdoers—though not always wealthy or influential themselves—have links to the rich and powerful. In the tradition of Hammett and Chandler, Valin writes in a straightforward, colloquial style. Like the earlier writers of the hard-boiled school, he is compassionate toward characters who despite their human frailties, occasionally rise to heights of courage and concern. Valin differs from the earlier writers of this school in his greater emphasis on sexual perversion, drug addiction, and graphic, sadistic violence. Clearly, he sees these elements as characteristic of the decadent, corrupt American society of the 1980’s and 1990’s, in which Harry Stoner must wage his lonely wars. Popularly and critically acclaimed for his fiction—winning a Shamus Award for Extenuating Circumstances (1989), garnering a Shamus nomination for Second Chance (1991), and named top vote-getter in an informal 2006 Rap Sheet poll asking which series readers would most like to see continued—Jonathan Valin has since 1995 eschewed fiction for nonfiction. Currently a contributing editor to The Absolute Sound, an audiophile periodical, Valin is considered an authority on contemporary upper-range stereo equipment and on classical musical recordings.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Callendar, Newgate. “Crime.” Review of Dead Letter, by Jonathan Valin. The New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1982, p. 29. This reviewer criticizes Dead Letter, calling protagonist Harry Stoner “predictable” and “boring,” an investigator who wears his introspection on his sleeve while dealing with a college professor and his alienated daughter. The reviewer labels the novel “laborious and contrived,” while deploring the author’s careless use of language.

Callendar, Newgate. “Crime.” Review of Natural Causes, by Jonathan Valin. The New York Times Book Review, September 4, 1983, p. 20. A mixed review of Natural Causes in which the novel—concerning the detective’s investigation into the death of an employee at a large corporation—while praised for its many passages of realistic and biting dialogue, is criticized for its lack of flow and labored effort.

DeAndrea, William L. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television. New York: Prentice Hall, 1994. Provides brief entries on Jonathan Valin and his best-known creation, private detective Harry Stoner.

Moore, Lewis D. Cracking the Hard-boiled Detective: A Critical History from the 1920s to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. This examination of the development of the hard-boiled detective provides background for understanding Valin’s Harry Stoner.

Pronzini, Bill, and Marcia Muller, eds. 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. New York: Arbor House, 1986. Contains a favorable review of Natural Causes, a novel that demonstrates why Valin is considered one of the best of the contemporary private eye writers.

Publishers Weekly. Review of Missing, by Jonathan Valin. 241, no. 49 (December 5, 1994): 69. The reviewer praises the work for its unexpected solution and particularly evocative portrait of the victim and the circumstances of his life but takes Valin to task for his writing, which is sometimes plodding.

Publishers Weekly. Review of The Music Lover, by Jonathan Valin. 240, no. 6 (February 8, 1993): 79. A favorable review that centers on the author’s interests in rare recordings and high-end stereo systems; the fast-paced plot contains a wealth of audio lore for aficionados and offers a powerful conclusion.