Jonathan Latimer is sadly forgotten today. There was a time when his screwball private eye series featuring the rarely sober Bill Crane were bestsellers and even made the transition to the silver screen in the late 1930s, courtesy of Universal Pictures, in a fun trio of B-movies. Latimer was a respected Hollywood screenwriter of the 1940s who crossed over to television from the 1950s through the early 1970s, writing for such series as Perry Mason and Columbo. He also achieved instant notoriety as the author of the hardboiled detective novel, Solomon’s Vineyard, which was banned almost upon publication in 1941 and remained unavailable in its original form in the U.S. for decades.
The general consensus is with Solomon’s Vineyard, Latimer turned up the heat on hardboiled detective fiction and blurred the line between pulp and pornography. Most critics will claim that even today, readers would be hard-pressed to find a tougher or more shocking private eye novel. While public domain copies riddled with typos are easy to come by, I finally tracked down an affordable copy of an earlier edition and read the book for myself. I was shocked as well, not by the content, but to learn the book is clearly intended as yet another of Latimer’s laugh-out-loud farces, despite its reputation.