By Charlie Kondek
I've for many years been a fan of the Shaft movies and the blaxploitation/exploitation genre in general, but I recently picked up and read a couple of the Shaft novels by Ernest Tidyman and was surprised to find how delightful they are. They are slick, violent, sexy and profane, and move with a grace not unlike the main character, who "uncoils like an animal coming out of a cave." I'm surprised at how deep Tidyman, a white writer from Cleveland, gets into this character, a black enforcer from Harlem. Shaft is strong, amoral, unpredictable and resourceful, though not without a vague code that includes pride and a respect of decency and humanity, and some of the situations he finds himself in are ludicrous (he kills with almost complete impunity). These novels probably won't ever be short-listed for a Great Works of the 20th Century anthology, not even on a list of the world's great crime novels, but they are, nonetheless, treasures, in my view. Consider:
Caroli's world was crowded with psychopaths. The possibility that Shaft was one of them penetrated his arrogance. His smile slid off the side of his face like a rejected panhandler shuffling across cold concrete.
So far I've read Shaft and Shaft Has a Ball and would like to read them all. More on this topic can be found here (where I copped the image).