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Posted: April 17, 2022

Give Harold Adams a try

Book Review

By Derryll White

Adams, Harold (1989).  The Man Who Missed the Party.

“I consider Harold Adams to be one of the major voices of his generation of crime fiction writers. His unique voice, his strong sense of story and structure, and his rich, wry depictions of the Depression-era Midwest have stayed with me long after the works of flashier writers have faded. There’s music in his books, a melancholy prairie song that you carry with you for life … I consider him to be a master.” – Ed Gorman

This is the eighth novel in the Harold Adams series featuring reformed drunk and roamer Carl Wilcox.

Wilcox is not your typical private eye.  He is a small town, Corden, South Dakota, guy who really likes women and is successful with them.  He is a misfit , jailed and looked down upon.  He has also earned some respect by solving previous murder and illegal activity cases in the vicinity.

Adams brings out the dark thoughts everyone has of the past.  “The Man Who Missed the Party” is just that, a story about a high school boy whose friends were intimate with a girl he had loved since Bible School.

The author gives a good sense of what life in rural South Dakota was like during the 1930s.  Nothing is grand.  Everyone is struggling to get by, and base human desires are still part and parcel of everyone’s life.  Adams is very good at presenting carnal knowledge without being obscene or perverted.  This is simply a dark story about what happens in life, and the consequences long after the fact.

Adams is drawn toward the dark side and his writing fits very well into the noir genre.  If you come across one of his novels while browsing in a used book shop, give him a try. You will be pleased that you did.


Excerpts from the novel:

MEN – “When I was little I figured it was my fault when Ma walked off.  My grandma, Pa’s mom, said the wind did it.  ‘Prairie wind,’ she told me, ‘addles women’s minds.’  I asked her how come it didn’t addle men’s and she said because they were born addled and never knew the difference.”

He was quiet awhile, staring down at what had been a football field, but his mind wouldn’t stay on it.

“I don’t guess Pa was very smart.  He didn’t talk to me or anybody else I know of.  I wonder how guys like him get around to marrying.  I guess women sort of herd them into it while they’re busy thinking about planting corn or something.  I could never imagine him with a hard-on.”

WOMEN – She gave me a look of contempt.  “I didn’t say he was impotent.”

When we were away from streetlights I asked if she went with other men.

“Not while we were married, no.”  She looked at me with her chin high.  “I was a proper wife as long as it lasted and when I had to go home and care for my ailing parents I was through with him.”

“Even the kid?”

“I couldn’t handle her and my parents too.  At least that’s what Titus said and the judge, who was his friend, agreed and they took her away from me.  I tried to hire a lawyer but there wasn’t one in the county who’d help me and I had no money so I lost her.  A woman has no real rights you know.”

I knew.  Women, mavericks and misfits buckled under or ran away.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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