A CAT NAMED DEAD: A review of the last shaft

by Ernest Tidyman

reviewed by Raymond Embrack

In the words of Gangster Willy, “Cat say he gonna be here, he should be here.”

Sometime after the movies and the paperbacks, The Last Shaft was just barely in print. (Just in case you come across this extremely rare read, past this point spoilers follow.)

Ernest Tidyman wrote seven John Shaft private eye novels. The Shaft novels are paperback rack thin, fitting easily into a marine’s pocket. The read is quick and intense, the plots thin enough to leave lots of room for drinking, smoking, and screwing with room left. But when Tidyman went out of print in 1983, the books went with him. This is the one where he kills off John Shaft. Tidyman knocks it out like a fart after lunch with the agent. (Full disclosure: I don’t relate to successful authors killing off their guy. Even worse than continuing to crank out your guy is the vanity of killing off your guy.) 

Barely completing the complete Shaft bookshelf, The Last Shaft is the weakest read in the series with the laziest, most disposable premise. A mob accountant kept a box containing the secret records of transactions that could bring down everyone from the New York mob to City Hall. Just as Shaft is contemplating how much he hates New York City, he winds up with the box. Everyone is after the box. When they blow up the car of Shaft’s cop buddy Captain Victor Anderozzi, it’s payback time. Then the NYC mob goes after Shaft. Shaft goes on the lam. Shaft happens to check into a hotel where the manager happens to recognize him and happens to take his side. The manager happens to be a geek who happens to be a wannabe one-man A-Team who happens who have all the munitions and anything else Shaft could possibly need to take out the Mob. He becomes the sidekick.

SEX MACHINE COUNT: 1. The badass black sex machine still finds time to bed the mob accountant’s sexy widow only because it’s her husband’s missing $$$ that gets her wet. With her help, Shaft turns the tables on the mob, locating their bases of operations and quickly reducing them to rubble, leaving NYC littered with dead or maimed Italian-Americans.

Shaft comes out on top, wipes out the NYC mob and brings in the box to the D.A. Then in the last paragraph the creative nihilism of random violence strikes. Shaft gets mugged. Before the mugger shoots him dead, an extremely pissed Shaft’s last words are: “What is this bullshit?”

John Shaft left behind a theme song and the 1970s.

Copyright © Raymond Embrack, 2008
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Read Raymond Embrack's original Shaft article

Read an extract from Raymond Embrack's Copa


RAYMOND EMBRACK. Paperback writer, USA

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