Allen P. Bristow

"The Pinkerton Eye"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 24, 2001)

The Pinkerton Eye by Allen P. Bristow

After working for the New York Police Department and then serving with the Army in Cuba, where he lost an eye, Kirk Van Pelt became the Constable of Covens Hollow with a little help from his uncle, Judge Van Pelt. It's an easy job, enabling him to live a comfortable, semi-retired lifestyle, allowing for such pastimes as harness racing, barbershop quartet singing and hunting in the Catskill Mountains.

Of course the town is not as pleased with Van Pelt's "unsavory" lifestyle. So his uncle knows that he's got to get Kirk out of town quickly after Kirk accidentally kills a local man while serving a court attachment on the man's plow horses.

Conveniently, the pompous banker, Lester Ackerman, needs someone to quietly go after an employee who absconded with some bank assets and his bond security. Not wanting word to leak out to the banking community, Ackerman goes to Judge Van Pelt to see if he can help without drawing attention to the situation. The Judge recommends that a Writ of Replevin be issued and that he should then let him appoint someone from his county to serve the writ. Cleverly, the Judge offers up the current Constable to go to Tonopah, Nevada to take care of this confidential matter. Ackerman voices his doubts that Kirk is either dependable or to be trusted, but Judge Van Pelt assures Ackerman that despite outward appearances, his nephew has these traits, after all, Teddy Roosevelt trusted him to do some sensitive investigations for him. Lacking options, Ackerman agrees to pay for Kirk Van Pelt to go after the bank thief and stolen bank funds.

On the advice of his uncle, Kirk leaves the next morning, taking the West bound train out of Albany. He makes one brief stop in Buffalo to get help from his cousin with a disguise and then heads out for his first trip to the Wild West where the bank accountant was last scene by a Pinkerton National Detective agent.

In The Pinkerton Eye, Bristow spins a story around Kirk Van Pelt and his misadventures while traveling to and arriving in this Nevada boomtown. In the process of going after the bank accountant, he ends up getting involved with a bordello piano player named Tandy. She's in a jam having been abandoned by her fiancé and left alone in this town without money. Then when Kirk finally gets his man, he needs to solve a murder case for the town's inexperienced sheriff. All in all, he manages to get the attention of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, specifically a Fred Langley, who is fascinated with his trail of accomplishments, but even more interested in the man because of his glass eye. Langley is a superintendent out of the Chicago office with sole responsibility for planning anti-strike operations, sees some kind of mystic connection between Kirk Van Pelt and the eye of the Pinkerton logo. Thus, after going back to Covens Hollow to conclude the Ackerman business, Kirk takes the job he's offered with Pinkerton and returns to the West for his first assignment, which is to solve a series of robberies of the Denver & Rio Grande trains in Colorado.

This is a successful cross genre novel, a mix between a mystery, historical fiction and a western. As a mystery, the novel is well paced, giving us a feel for the private investigator's job at the beginning of the twentienth century. Even though we as the reader might have our doubts about Kirk Van Pelt's competence in the beginning, we soon realize that this man is actually not only lucky, but clever. He's also a very earnest man, but not one to let someone like Ackerman walk over his reputation. In fact, he comes up with a unique, but laborious, way to spring a sweet revenge on Ackerman.

From the historical perspective, the story introduces us to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. After reading the novel, I did some research and learned that it was founded in 1850 by a Scot named Allan Pinkerton. Allan Pinkerton was the one who hunted down members of Jesse James' gang, the Reno brothers and other desperadoes. His agents took on the most difficult assignments; cases which ranged from financial and property thefts to government overthrows, to murder, at a time when the nation's towns and cities – even the largest ones – possessed unqualified law enforcement bureaus. Their distinctive logo, with its all seeing eye, inspired the phrase "private eye." Upon Pinkerton's death in 1884, he turned the Agency over to his sons Robert and William, who managed to break up the infamous Wild Bunch gang. The Pinkerton Agency continued to flourish breaking up crime syndicates well into the 20th Century and was used as the model for the FBI.

Although this novel doesn't feature any of the famous western rogues, it fulfills the fun of reading a western, bringing our imaginations back to the early 1900s to experience the "under policed country west of the Mississippi." Since Bristow has a special interest in law enforcement, he eases in such particulars in the conversations. For example, after Kirk inadvertently kills a wanted train robber, he and his new acquaintance, Jesse Carter discuss the subject of graft. Carter explains that without a tax base to support police budgets, the only way to keep good law officers around is if they can compensate their low salaries with a little payoff of one kind or another. "You have to understand that this country has tilted to the west and all the crooks and hard-cases are sliding out here. If we want the real bad ones controlled, then we have to look the other way when the law dips into our pockets." Kirk Van Pelt being the good kind of guy he is, accepts this, although he's not the type to partake, he doesn't mind letting others take advantage. I guess that's about sums up why I like this character, he doesn't take the moral high ground, but neither does he stoop.

I enjoyed The Pinkerton Eye and would find it worthwhile if Mr. Bristow writes a few more adventures for Kirk Van Pelt as a Pinkerton Agency Detective or maybe even about his adventures as a New York City policeman or his time investigating graft for Roosevelt.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Non-fiction:

  • Field Interrogation (1958)
  • Patrol Administration (1961)
  • Decision Making in Police Administration (1961)
  • Effective Police Manpower Utilization (1969)
  • An Introduction to Modern Police Firearms (1969)
  • Police Supervision Readings (1971)
  • Police Disaster Operations (1972)
  • The Search for an Effective Police Handgun (1973)
  • You and the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics (1975)
  • Rural Law Enforcement

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About the Author:

Allen P. Bristow writes from a varied background of experiences and interests. His law enforcement career began during the Korean War as a military policeman. His later service with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ended with early retirement to accept appointment as Professor of Police Administration at California State University, Los Angeles.

While an educator he authored over a dozen textbooks and developed a strong interest in law enforcement history as it advanced in the old west. Now retired, he writes frontier history articles that deal primarily with notable western manhunts. His work has been widely published in such magazines as Wild West, Old West, True West and the Journal of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History.

Turning to western fiction Bristow concentrated on short stories and won the Western Writer's of America SPUR AWARD for that category in 1999. These varied interests combined to create this fictional tale of a New England constable who becomes a Pinkerton operative in the mining boomtowns of the west.

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