With permission I borrowed an excerpt from an article about Kenn’s writing career made even more interesting because it came to light through the cult that has been building over Kenn’s brother’s paperback mysteries written under the name of John Trinian… they suddenly discovered that Kenn Davis was his brother. Kenn’s brother changed his name to Zekial Marko not long after he was done with the Trinian books.
” At the end of my previous post on Zekial Marko, better known to paperback collectors and mystery fans as John Trinian, I hinted at a small piece of information that turned up in his online obituary.
Namely, that Marko had a brother named Kenn Davis. The double N immediately caught my eye. Could this be the same Kenn Davis, the mystery writer? Turns out that he is, and I hadn’t known it before. It was also news to Al Hubin, author of Crime Fiction IV, but after doing some investigating on my own, if it was a secret, it hasn’t been very well kept. People on various blogs and Yahoo groups have pointed it out on several occasions in the past.
So it’s not exactly breaking news, but it’s still reason enough to talk about Kenn Davis’s books:
Cover for "The Dark Side" 1st Carver Bascombe Novel
DAVIS, KENN. 1932- . Series character: CB = PI Carver Bascombe. All books are paperback originals.
The Dark Side [with John Stanley]. Avon 30957, pb, December 1976. [CB]
The Forza Trap. Avon 44552, pb, June 1979 [CB]
Bogart ’48 [with John Stanley]. Dell 10853, pb, February 1980
Dead to Rights. Avon 78295, pb, August 1981
Words Can Kill. Gold Medal 12667, pb, May 1984 [CB]
Melting Point. Gold Medal 12901, pb, May 1986. [CB]
Nijinsky Is Dead. Gold Medal 13096, pb, 1987 [CB]
As October Dies. Gold Medal 13097, pb, 1987 [CB]
Acts of Homicide. Gold Medal 13351, pb, 1989 [CB]
Blood of Poets. Gold Medal 13352, pb, 1990 [CB]
In spite of the number of books, I have a feeling that both Kenn Davis and Carver Bascombe are fairly well forgotten today. Even though I believe I have all but one or two of the books, they’re boxed away where I can’t get at them. (You’ve heard that before.) So far I’ve been able to come up with only a few cover images, which you will see both above and below.
But did you know, as I certainly didn’t — and I’ll get back to Carver Bascombe shortly — that Kenn Davis is also a well-known California-based artist, and has been for over 50 years? Taken from a website illustrating some of his work, one of which is shown here:
“KENN DAVIS has devoted his 53 year painting career to the interpretation of life in his own time. Associated with the North Beach Scene in the 1950s, he has continued to work with his chosen SURREALISTIC concepts, frequently in a satirical vein. In exhibitions throughout his home state of California, as well as in New York, Chicago, Boston, Houston and in Museums shows in San Francisco and Dallas, Davis has demonstrated his fascination with imagination. His work is often disconcerting and deliberately so. ‘There is enough art that lulls us into feeling right with the world, but to be stimulated by the artist brings us to another level of appreciation.’”
Kenn Davis and John Stanley also co-wrote the screenplay for the comedy-horror film Nightmare in Blood, the storyline described on IMDB as: “Attendees at a horror-film convention in San Francisco keep disappearing. It turns out that the guest of honor is a real vampire…” Kenn Davis was the producer, and John Stanley directed. More on the making of the movie here, written by John Stanley himself. (No, that is not him in the coffin below.)
NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD DVD COVER
As for Carver Bascombe, from the second of the two websites linked to in the above paragraph, Stanley says:
“One other thing we shared in common was an interest in science-fiction and horror. We also liked mysteries and in early 1970 had begun working on a private-eye screenplay, The Dark Side of the Hunt.
“It was Kenn’s idea to write a story about a black San Francisco detective named Carver Bascombe. (This was before anyone had ever heard of John Shaft or Richard Roundtree.) We had even found a San Francisco-based stage actor, John Cochran, to play the Bascombe role.
“And then came a big mistake: American-International offered to buy the script from us, but because we had promised John Cochran that the three of us would make the film come hell or high water, we turned it down. (Primarily because they wanted the script without us attached as would-be film wreckers.) We should have taken the offer but we were young and idealistic–and very idiotic.
“(Dark Side of the Hunt didn’t completely die. A few years later it would be novelized by Kenn as The Dark Side –- my name was on it but I really didn’t write it –- and published by Avon. Kenn would go on to write an entire series about Carver and his San Francisco adventures.)
As it happened, The Dark Side was nominated for an Edgar in 1976 as Best Paperback Original. (Note that by the time the book was published, the movie Shaft had already appeared, in 1971, based on Ernest Tidyman’s 1970 novel) From the cover of The Dark Side:
“Faster than Sherlock Holmes, Higher than Superfly, Handsomer than Inspector Poirot — It’s CARVER BASCOMBE, in his first adventure.”
Kevin Burton Smith in the online January Magazine has this to say about the series:
“For those who want a P.I. with good taste, you can hardly do better than Carver Bascombe, originally created by Kenn Davis and John Stanley in The Dark Side (1975), but continued for the next seven books by Davis alone, the series concluding with 1990’s Blood of Poets.
“Bascombe’s a young Vietnam vet with a military police background, who’s now an ambitious, art-loving private eye and part-time student working his way through law school in San Francisco. Bascombe’s passion comes in handy, because his cases invariably involve the arts somehow, be it opera, drama, literature, art photography, ballet, painting or poetry.
“The first few novels in this series were uneven, but by the fourth one, the Shamus-nominated Melting Point (1986), Davis had really hit his stride, with Bascombe sweating out a long, hot summer waiting to hear if he’s passed the bar, while at the same time he hunts down a missing sculptor.”
Of special note, the link above leads to a long article by Kevin about black PI’s, a complete overview from a historical perspective. It’s well worth your reading.
[UPDATE] 01-18-10. I have bad news to report. Kenn Davis died six days ago at the age of 78. For a wonderful tribute to him as an author, check out Jeff’s piece about him on The Rap Sheet. I am pleased to say that Mr. Davis saw this post I did on him (see Comment #7). I am not pleased to say that in spite of all good intentions, an interview I kept meaning to do with him never happened. I wish it had”
I reprinted this for all of you because not many of you probably know about the inception of Kenn’s books and how they developed along side his job at the San Francisco Chronicle and his painting. When I met Kenn, he was President of the Bay Area Branch of Mystery Writers of America” and was also working on a short film to try to get into the running for the Academy Awards. I don’t know when he slept, but he ate very, very well. He wined and dined me like I had never experienced…. It was something I’ll always remember. I had two teenage boys and was being treated like a queen. Really something for a divorcee with low self-esteem…. in fact, it turned to be a cure.
Kenn was a hectic romantic… imagine working me into his schedule…. He was 2 years out of a 20 year marriage and we didn’t talk about that very much, because I didn’t want to talk about my divorce. Kenn had an aging father (step father whose name he had taken as a child) who he kept close tabs on as an extra responsibility. He seemed to thrive on all of it, but when he added me, (who lived in Berkeley,) I could tell that he was beginning to lose his rhythm. More later.