Jackson, Jon A. 1938–
Jackson, Jon A. 1938–
(Jon Anthony Jackson)
PERSONAL: Born November 5, 1938, in Royal Oak, MI; son of Jabe Cook (a machine repairer) and Grace (Goodwin) Jackson; married Ruth Baum, September 30, 1968 (marriage ended, 1977); married Cinda L. Purdy (a communication consultant), September 3, 1977; children: (first marriage) Sarah Rachel, (second marriage) Devin Purdy. Education: Attended Wayne State University, 1961–65; University of Montana, B.A., 1970; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1973. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing and white-water canoeing.
CAREER: Carpenter, 1965–76; writer, 1976–. Military service: U.S. Armed Services, c. 1958–60.
"FANG MULHEISEN" CRIME NOVELS
The Diehard, Random House (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Blind Pig, Random House (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Grootka, Foul Play (Woodstock, VT), 1990.
Hit on the House, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Deadman, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Dead Folks, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Man with an Axe, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.
La Donna Detroit, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Badger Games, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2002.
No Man's Dog: A Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mystery, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Go by Go (historical novel), Dennis McMillan Publications (Tucson, AZ), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals, including Sports Illustrated and Saturday Review. Editor of Iowa Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Jon A. Jackson's novels about Detroit police detective Fang Mulheisen have proven themselves to be "perhaps the toughest, most darkly comic, consistently superior American procedural [mysteries] on the market," in the estimation of Booklist reviewer Bill Ott. The first books in the series—The Diehard, The Blind Pig, Grootka, and The Hit on the House—feature the gritty urban background of Detroit. Reviewing Grootka, Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review commented on Mulheisen's "deep but unsentimental affection for his city" and called the book "dark and moody and full of its own melancholy street music." The title character is a retired policeman who works with Mulheisen to hunt down a psychopathic computer genius. As the pair moves from one crime scene to the next, "Grootka always seems to get there first, full of fight," noted Stasio. "But Fang is the one with the sensitivity to process what they come across."
Mulheisen's most frequent adversaries are members of the Detroit mafia—especially a suave, stylish killer named Joe Service, who appears in several volumes of the series. In Hit on the House, Mulheisen is caught in a moral quandary when he finds himself falling in love with the wife of a minor mob figure. Jackson's skillful rendering of his characters led Stasio to name him a "dark, droll chronicler of the Detroit underworld." She further remarked that the author's "expressive characters revel in the arcane language and lore of their dirty trade." Stasio added: "The guns, the gore, the nitty and the gritty—Mr. Jackson always gets it right."
With Deadman, much of the action in Jackson's series shifted to Montana. In this book, Joe Service is on the run after making off with a Mafia don's daughter and several million dollars. Shot down by a hired killer, Joe hangs between life and death in a hospital bed, unaware that he is the object of an intense search ending in a showdown in a blizzard. New York Times Book Review contributor Stasio noted: "Mr. Jackson trots out a delicious medley of villains." Wes Lukowsky also praised the book, declaring in Booklist: "The dense, multilayered plot will keep readers guessing, and the well-rounded characterizations serve to create sympathy for some of the seemingly least sympathetic characters imaginable." Lukowsky went on to note that Mulheisen "is an unmitigated delight on every level."
In ensuing novels, Jackson shifts between Montana and Detroit as he continues the saga of Fang Mulheisen, Joe Service, and the mob. Pam Lambert commented in a People review of Dead Folks: "If Elmore Leonard wrote a screen-play for David Lynch, the result might be a lot like this hard-boiled, darkly humorous tale of wise guys and grifters that sprawls from the Motor City to Montana and back again." Wes Lukowsky also compared Jackson to Elmore Leonard in his Booklist critique of Dead Folks, which he found to be "a quirky, comic delight." Lukowsky concluded that the novel was "wonderful reading from a genre master."
Jackson once told CA: "I always thought I wanted to be a writer (or, more accurately, a storyteller), but it wasn't until I left Detroit in 1965, to return to my boy-hood home near Traverse City, Michigan, that I began seriously to work at it. I started out in poetry, which I never mastered, but which gave me the confidence and courage to continue in fiction. I owe a lot to teachers at Montana and the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
"I always felt that my proper medium was the novel, but I couldn't figure out how to write a novel. Then I read a Paris Review interview with Georges Simenon. He claims that he taught himself how to write by writing 'penny dreadfuls' (not his phrase, actually, but it's apt). He also said that he'd taken some short stories to Colette, then the editor of a prestigious Parisian journal. She liked the stories, but refused to print them, advising the young Simenon to 'ruthlessly expunge all trace of literariness' from his writing. He did so, with wonderful results. I've tried to follow his example.
"The mystery field is a fine place to start writing, and to continue to write. The writer is enjoined simply to tell a story and is discouraged from attempting 'great lit.' I think that's just what a starting writer should do, generally. In time, like Simenon, one might find his or her powers developing so that more serious work may be attempted. I'm chiefly a storyteller, not a litterateur. For a long time I cluttered my writing with literary references and devices, hoping that would give it weight. It certainly did. Now I'm content to tell the story. All the writers I admire today are storytellers, from Cheever to Simenon. Bill Fox tried to get this through my thick head, at Iowa, and I guess it finally penetrated."
Jackson turned from his usual comical mysteries to write a historical novel with 1998's Go by Go. The story focuses on the murder of Frank Little, a union campaigner who dies in Butte, Montana, in 1917. Pink-erton detective Goodwin Ryder is a company man but finds himself befriending Little and falling in love with his wife. Three decades later, Ryder is a pulp writer recalling Little's murder and his role in it. Writing in Booklist, Wes Lukowsky noted that the author "has taken a little-known historical incident and woven it into a fascinating tapestry."
The author's next book, Man with an Axe, once again features Mulheisen, who this time is on a case that will reveal what happened to the legendary union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In the novel, Jackson is able to resurrect Mulheisen's former partner Grootka to help in the investigation through Grootka's love of jazz. Writing in Booklist, Bill Ott noted: "Jackson bites off a lot here … but for the most part, he pulls it off superbly." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "Jackson remains a master of irreverent, hard-boiled comedy."
La Donna Detroit features many of Mulheisen's foes from past novels in the form of Helen Sedlacek and Joe Service, who become involved with a mobster named Humphrey DiEbola, who is attempting to secure a "safe" retirement from the mob. When DiEbola is reported murdered, Mulheisen investigates to see if it is true. Once again writing in Booklist, Ott commented that the book "provides a showcase for Jackson's wide-ranging talent." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "winds up this vastly enjoyable caper with his usual high style."
Badger Games does not feature Mulheisen but rather Service and Selacek as they become involved in a deadly intrigue involving U.S. and Yugoslavian intelligence agents. The killers and lovers are working as operatives in a secret organization that assassinates international criminals, when they are ordered to hunt down another missing operative. When the Badger comes on the scene looking for the agent near Service's Montana retreat, the three cross paths. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "audacious." Michael Helfand, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, commented that "it's a pleasure to see Jackson resolve it all while sustaining the ambiguity of goals and motives of most of the players."
No Man's Dog: A Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mystery features the now-retired Mulheisen taking care of his mother, who was injured in a terrorist bombing. Of course, Mulheisen is not content to just care for his mother. He is soon on the case of tracking down the terrorists, aided by an unlikely ally in the form of Joe Service. Booklist contributor Ott called the book "thoroughly entertaining." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "The highlight … is a razor-sharp series of conversations … that recast domestic and international terrorism as a ludicrously inflated game of Who's on First."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, October, 2000, Bill Ott, review of The Blind Pig, p. 78.
Booklist, February 1, 1994, Wes Lukowsky, review of Deadman, p. 996; July, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of Dead Folks, p. 1808; February 15, 1998, Bill Ott, review of Man with an Axe, p. 989; November 1, 1998, Wes Lukowsky, review of Go by Go, p. 475; May 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of La Donna Detroit, p. 1619; May 1, 2004, Bill Ott, review of No Man's Dog: A Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mystery, p. 1510.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Badger Games, p. 618; June 1, 2004, review of No Man's Dog, p. 520.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of La Donna Detroit, p. 210.
New York Times Book Review, March 13, 1977, Newgate Callendar, review of The Diehard, p. 35; November 25, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Grootka, p. 22; February 7, 1993; Marilyn Stasio, review of Hit on the House, p. 19; February 20, 1994, Marilyn Stasio, review of Deadman, p. 18; March 22, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, review of Man with an Axe, p. 28; June 25, 2000, Marilyn Stasio, review of La Donna Detroit, p. 24; August 12, 2001, Scott Veale, review of La Donna Detroit, p. 28.
People, September 2, 1996, Pam Lambert, review of Dead Folks, p. 32.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 29, 2002, Michael Helfand, review of Badger Games.
Publishers Weekly, June 3, 1996, review of Dead Folks, p. 65; February 2, 1998, review of Man with an Axe, p. 84; August 17, 1998, review of Go by Go, p. 52; May 8, 2000, review of La Donna Detroit, p. 208; May 13, 2002, review of Badger Games, p. 50; May 24, 2004, review of No Man's Dog, p. 48.
Crime Time, http://www.crimetime.co.uk/ (September 6, 2003), Tan Gee, review of La Donna Detroit.
Jon A. Jackson Home Page, http://www.jonajackson.com (December 30, 2005).
Watermark Book & Café, http://www.watermarkbooks.com/ (September 6, 2003), review of Badger Games.