Indie crime press Brash Books recently released All Kinds of Ugly by Ralph Dennis, the 13th installment in his Jim Hardman series. Dennis died in 1988, and the story behind the discovery of the manuscript by Brash copublisher Lee Goldberg could have been lifted from the pages of a detective novel.
Goldberg, a crime writer himself, said his obsession with the Hardman series was one factor that prompted him to partner with another crime writer, Joel Goldman, in 2014 to launch Brash, which publishes new crime fiction as well as reissues of out-of-print crime, suspense, and thriller novels.
After Brash acquired the copyright to Dennis’s work two years ago, the family’s attorney sent Goldberg a box of manuscripts. “I hoped there would be a long-lost Hardman in the box, but there wasn’t,” he said.
Over the past two years Brash reissued all of Dennis’s previously published work—the 12 Hardman books as well as three standalone novels. In addition, Brash released two previously unpublished standalones that were found in the box of manuscripts.
Having heard a rumor that a suitcase full of manuscripts had gone missing after Dennis’s death, Goldberg spent a year tracking down his surviving friends. One of them, a Chapel Hill, N.C., bar owner, remembered a box in his attic that Dennis had left with him almost 40 years ago, and he sent it to Goldberg. Dennis, who earned a BA and MA from the University of North Carolina, lived in Chapel Hill for more than a decade before moving to Atlanta in the early 1970s.
Wanting to know more about Dennis’s life and times, Goldberg visited Chapel Hill last summer. “I thought I’d go through his papers archived at the UNC library, meet some of his old drinking buddies, see some of the places mentioned in his books,” Goldberg said. On the flight to North Carolina from Los Angeles, Goldberg began reading a manuscript titled The Polish Wife, which had been in the box Dennis’s friend sent him. Goldberg said he noted “some striking similarities” to a Hardman novel in terms of voice and the characters’ backstories and personal traits—including a character with the same name and backstory as a character in Buy Back Blues, the 12th Hardman novel.
While reading Dennis’s papers in the university archives, Goldberg’s suspicions were confirmed: he discovered three letters from Dennis to a UNC professor, written in 1976 and 1977, in which he expressed his desire to write “a quick Hardman” to make “some extra money” while doing research in London on a historical novel, MacTaggart’s War.
“I became certain that The Polish Wife was once a Hardman,” Goldberg said. “Either his publisher [Popular Library] didn’t want a 13th Hardman, or Ralph changed his mind. Whatever the reason, he must have revised the Hardman into a standalone by simply changing the names and a few minor story points.”
Unfortunately for Dennis, The Polish Wife was never sold. MacTaggart’s War, released in 1979, was the last of Dennis’s books to be published during his lifetime.
Since Brash owns the copyright to Dennis’s entire body of work, Goldberg felt justified in turning The Polish Wife into All Kinds of Ugly. “The revision wasn’t as simple as merely doing a search and replace for names,” he said. He had to “undo” some of the plot and characterizations that did not align with the Hardman series.
In addition to cutting 12,000 words, Goldberg rearranged some scenes and chapters. “I had to do some original writing, but I’d say 90%–95% of All Kinds of Ugly is written in Ralph’s own words,” he said. “It’s definitely a Hardman.”
All Kinds of Ugly has received glowing reviews, including one from PW. “Ralph could not get [All Kinds of Ugly] published in his lifetime,” Goldberg noted. “I’m publishing it, and it’s getting great reviews. I wish he was alive to see this.”