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Discover Harold Adams, the mystery writer who stirred the dust

Updated on July 4, 2016
Harold Adams, book Jacket photo
Harold Adams, book Jacket photo

He was a bum

Carl Wilcox would be the first to tell you he was a bum. An ex-con who was homeless, a drifter, a drinker and eventually called the murder man, might earn the bum label. Harold Adams created Carl Wilcox and placed him in the 1930s, as the depression was gripping the country, smothering rural America. Banks were foreclosing on mortgages, forcing home and farm sales. Many of these banks were having their doors closed because of ill-liquidity, leaving savers strapped. Jobs were drying up with the economy. Lives were drying up in the dust bowl.

Harold Adams places the town of Cordon in South Dakota, paints it the dreary beige of the dust, fills it with people who endure as much as they live, and then lets Carl Wilcox drift in after being released from prison. Carl gets a room in his parent's boarding house and does odd jobs to help out. He's casual, but cares about people. He's aimless but not irresponsible. He's a wise guy, tough guy, but not a bully. He stumbles as casually into a murder, as to a widow's arms. His knack for resolving the murder in the first few books eventually earns him some respect in surrounding towns as a man who can figure out murders - a murder man. As the series progresses he becomes just a little more rooted, develops a profession, of sorts, as a sign painter, but continues to wear the aura of the lay about, the underachiever, the bum.

Harold Adams is one of those writers who are able to create a sense of time and place with a few words. He doesn't use endless details to paint the picture. His spare books let the story and characters blow the dust over you, make you weary with the day's effort, and somehow lets the hopefulness of the human spirit leak through.

Harold Adams was born in Clark, South Dakota, ended up in Minnetonka, Minnesota. In his pre-writing career he was the Operations Manager at the Minneapolis Better Business Bureau then spent over 20 years as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Charities Review Council.

AWARDS His fellow authors also admire his work:

  • 1993 SHAMUS Award as BEST P.I. HARDCOVER for, The Man Who Was Taller Than God.
  • 1986 nominated for SHAMUS as BEST P.I. HARDCOVER for, The Naked Liar.
  • 1999 nominated for SHAMUS as BEST P.I. NOVEL for, No Badge, No Gun.

I like his books because they create a sense of time and place. They stories are good, but the writing is better. You don't so much escape, as drift into South Dakota in the 1930s. I wouldn't want to live there, but such a terrific visit!


This is a great series, and one where the protagonist, Carl Wilcox, develops over time. So if you are a series reader, find and start with the first book, Murder.

If you want to jump in and sample, then try The Man Who Was Taller Than God. A great read.

Harold Adam's Bibliography

Books by Harold Adams are out of print (and collectible), as hard covers. Most have been reprinted as trade paperbacks. Check your library. Check the links provided. Great bargains exist!

Carl Wilcox' Novels

  1. Murder, 1981
  2. Paint the Town Red, 1982
  3. The Missing Moon, 1983
  4. The Naked Liar, 1985
  5. The Fourth Widow, 1986
  6. The Barbed Wire Noose, 1987
  7. The Man Who Met the Train, 1988
  8. The Man Who Missed the Party, 1989
  9. The Man Who Was Taller Than God (Shamus Award), 1992
  10. A Perfectly Proper Murder, 1993
  11. A Way with Widows, 1994
  12. The Ditched Blonde, 1995
  13. Hatchet Job, 1996
  14. The Ice Pick Artist, 1997
  15. No Badge, No Gun, 1998
  16. Lead, So I Can Follow, 1999

Other Novels

  • When Rich Men Die, 1987
  • The Fourth of July Wake, 2003

Discovering Mystery Writers

There are many more terrific mystery writers whose names may not be on the NY Time's list, but deserve to be on a mystery reader's list. Discover Mystery Authors is a HubPage with a sneak peek at many more author's that you should check out!

Harold Adams signing books at Once Upon A Crime mystery store in Minneapolis
Harold Adams signing books at Once Upon A Crime mystery store in Minneapolis

Have you discovered Harold Adams?

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    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 4 years ago from Cave Creek

      This is corrected. Thanks Jay.

    • profile image

      jayphill 4 years ago

      Mike: The Thief Who Stole Heaven (a retelling of the Prometheus legend) is by a different Harold Adams. Cheers,


    • profile image

      Mike 7 years ago


      I am thrilled to hear about an unpublished Harold Adams manuscript! I hope you can get it published... I'll be first in line to buy it! I've been a fan for 15 years and own all his books (Signed 1st editions) except one... The Thief Who Stole Heaven. That book proves to be more elusive than the bad guys in Corden.

      Good luck with the manuscript!


    • profile image

      Derek 7 years ago


      Get in touch with Charles Ardai or Harlan Ellison and explain what you have. Either of them might be able to help you find a publisher -- it sounds like you have quite a treasure. I'm located in the St. Paul area, where I'm a high school teacher, I'd love to read the manuscript!


      Derek Anderson

    • profile image

      Barbara Mayor 7 years ago

      My name may be familiar to you since you've read his books. Harold is now 87 and was a great friend to my husband and me all these years. I am now not only his best friend but sort of a csretaker. Lately I found a manuscript never published because it wasn't a mystery. Same family and place. Wondering what to do with it.

    • profile image

      jon morad 8 years ago

      i too found paint the town red used for 40 bucks. i've read it three times. i now have them all.

    • profile image

      tmerrickkeller 8 years ago

      I started with The Naked Liar about a year ago, and now I've read 12 of the 16 books, with the other 4 on the way from various vendors. Even before I read the intro to Taller Than God, I guessed the town was Clark, SD - just by its proximity to Watertown (Aquatown) and other clues. I'm a South Dakotan, and have been recommending these books to anyone. Absolutely love the writing. Can't remember which book, Barb Wire Noose maybe, but I wrote down one quote on a scrap of paper and keep it at my desk. He was talking about his Mother who runs the Hotel, and how she was always putting Carl down for his constant pessimism, troubles, and fights. She said "I try to think of what good can come from anything that happens. If I get sick, I'll read. If I go blind, I'll listen to the radio. When everything else is gone, I'll make do with God alone." [to which Carl replies, to himself, in Adams' words] "I thought, God help God if it comes to that."

      Brilliant stuff. So human and alive. Also love that the picture of him signing books at Once Upon a Crime seems to show a bag of snickerdoodles in front of him!

    • chillingbreeze profile image

      chillingbreeze 8 years ago from India

      Thanks for sharing the info with us :) Interesting to know the mystry writer

    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 8 years ago from Cave Creek

      buzzbang, thanks for the feedback. Harold Adams is about 86 now, not writing, but still alive, to my knowledge.

    • profile image

      buzzbang 8 years ago

      The mystery with the submerged town is DROWNED HOPES, a Dortmunder novel by Donald E. Westlake. Re Harold Adams, is he still alive?

    • profile image

      Jon Morad Alaska 9 years ago

      I immediately got hooked on Carl WIlcox. After reading all the novels but one, many times, I still was searching for Paint the Town Red. I finally found it, used, for $40.00. Thanks goodness I now have all the books.

    • profile image

      srgreene 9 years ago

      Regarding the mystery novel that featured a town submerged under a reservoir: Jane Langton wrote a mystery titles Emily Dickenson is Dead that featured a town submerged in the Quabbin Reservoir. That's the only one I can think of right now.

    • profile image

      Dr. bill 10 years ago

      I trying to recall a mystery novel that featured a town submerged under a reservoir. Does anyone know the name and author?

      Thanks so much for your time.

    • Davinne profile image

      Davinne 11 years ago

      I'm a writer I'm presently am working on a novel can you give me tips and tricks on how to get an agent, or a publisher my email address is

      Thanks So Much I look forward to hearing from you

    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 11 years ago from Cave Creek

      Hmmm, a mystery bookstore I haven't visited - can that be? Happy hunting! Jack

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 11 years ago from San Francisco

      There is a great bookstore on 24th in Noe Valley called the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. They have new and used mysteries. I'll have to check and see if they have his first book. Thanks, Jack. Glad to see that you're back in action on Hubpages! Robin