Shamus Books

Review: The Dark Fantastic by Stanley Ellin


Book Details

Title: The Dark Fantastic
Author: Stanley Ellin
Pages: 320
Published Date: 1983
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Series Details: 2nd book in the John Milano series

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Publisher's Synopsis

In a desolate part of Brooklyn, a retired history professor plots mass murder

The withered old man speaks into a tape recorder. This is not a confession, he explains, but a presentation. He is Charles Witter Kirwan, a former academic who has lived his whole life in the same house and watched his childhood neighborhood turn from white to black. Now, stricken with terminal cancer, Kirwan has decided to fight back against his neighbors. His may be the ravings of a lunatic racist, but the dynamite in his basement is real. He is going to blow up the apartment building next door—and take some sixty African Americans with it.
Private investigator John Milano is on the trail of a stolen painting when he catches wind of Kirwan’s mad plan. He has forty-eight hours to stop the bombing, and to keep those innocents from following this twisted, hateful man into death.

From the Dustjacket

Destined to become one of the most controversial novels of our time, The Dark Fantastic is an explosive exploration of racial themes and hatreds set within the framework of a terrifying mystery.

Charles Witter Kirwan is sick. He is dying and he knows it. His great pride is the old mansion, now crumbling, in which he lives. He would do anything – anything – to preserve it. He owns the apartment house next door; his great hatred is for the tenants who inhabit it.

The tenants are black and Kirwan hates the way they abuse and despoil the building, the filth they leave in the hallways, graffiti on the walls, the litter in the streets. He hates the way they fall behind in the rent and then move away in the middle of the night. He hates them.

A grand scheme is invented: rather than wait for his illness to consume him, he will blow himself up inside the apartment building, taking all the hated tenants with him in one big beautiful explosion.

John Milano, the private detective who made his debut in Star Light, Star Bright, falls in love with one of the tenants, a beautiful black militant, while investigating a complex case set in New York’s art world.

Kirwan and Milano, appearing in separate chapters, each is involved in his own life until, inevitably, their paths cross leading to a stunning, chilling climax.

Other Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

We're told that Random House, Ellin's publisher since 1958, declined to bring out this new novel because it's too ""controversial."" And, though the so-so quality here may have also been a factor, one certainly can imagine some readers taking offense at the virulent racism of Ellin's undeniably vivid narrator/villain: Charles Witter Kirwan, a terminally ill Brooklyn-brahmin landlord (his Dutch ancestors founded the neighborhood) who has decided to blow up his apartment house. . . and thus kill off some of the ""Bulangas"" (blacks) who've ruined his ancestral street. - Read full review

Chicago Tribune

...the novel`s villain, a retired history professor crazed by racism, who plans to atone for a lifetime of ''hypocritical'' liberalism by blowing up the Brooklyn apartment building he owns, taking his own life and the lives of his black tenants. His opposite numbers are a white private detective, who has two days to stop him, and the detective`s black girlfriend, who lives in the building. It is a terrific psychological suspense story, and well-written, as Ellin's books characteristically are. - Read full review

Other Shamus Best PI Novel nominees - 1984

True Detective
Max Allan Collins

*** winner ***

Dancing Bear
James Crumley

The Glass Highway
Loren D. Estleman