‘One-Shot Harry’ by Gary Phillips – Photographs and Murder in Los Angeles in 1963


‘One-Shot Harry’ by Gary Phillips    (2022) – 274 pages


‘One-Shot Harry’ is a lively mystery about black free-lance photographer Harry Ingram investigating the death of his white friend in racist 1960s Los Angeles. It takes place in Los Angeles during the time of a visit to the city by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. Harry is called One-Shot because of his camera work. He is a veteran having served and fought in Korea.

When I came back from over there, I figured me and all them other negro troops bleeding for democracy and all that would be appreciated. How could Mr. Charley deny us our due on the home front?”

But then it was the same old, same old.”

What a surprise.”

Let’s get a drink.”

During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college back in 1968, I read the book ‘Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness’ by Robert Conot which was an exhaustive study of the Los Angeles Watts riots of 1965. It was an excellent balanced analysis of the causes of the riots and the situations that occurred during the riots with many first-hand accounts of witnesses and victims. In the book, Conot traces in detail how each of the 34 people who died in the riots was killed. It opened my eyes and gave me a much clearer picture of racial injustice in the United States than I had before. However for me, the very title ‘Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness’ shows just how all-pervasive the problem of racism is in the United States, even in the very specific meaning of words in our English language.

‘One-Shot Harry’ takes place two years before the Watts riots and just months before King’s major March on Washington in 1963.

I think the March on Washington is going to be a watershed event, don’t you?”

Maybe, but crackers digging in their heels to preserve the way of life they like has usually been the response to any forward motion us colored folks have tried.”

That’s kind of cynical, isn’t it?”

Or just a realistic observation.”

One of the pleasures of reading is an opportunity to root for the underdogs who are being oppressed by others. In the Los Angeles of the 1960s, people who are black are certainly one of the large contingent who make up the underdogs, along with Latinos.

‘One-Shot Harry’ uses 1960s Los Angeles more as a backdrop for it’s mystery story rather than for any more political or instructional purposes, which is fine.


Grade:   B





3 responses to this post.

  1. Just this week I read a story that really shocked me at Library of America’s Story of the Week. It’s a report about a town in the US that was occupied by the military because the people refused to allow the enrolment of a black student. It was in my lifetime.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: