Investigating the Cat Called Shaft

Richard Roundtree as Shaft.2Hard as this might be to believe, 2016 will mark 45 years since the 1971 debut of Shaft, the Richard Roundtree crime-thriller film based on Ernest Tidyman’s novel of the same name. In anticipation of that anniversary, British banker-turned-writer Steve Aldous has composed The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films, and Television Series (McFarland). It represents a nostalgic feast for longtime John Shaft fans and an invitation to others curious to learn more (much more) about “the black private dick/That’s a sex machine to all the chicks.”

Because I enjoyed reading Aldous’ book so much, I have put together two different pieces about it, for separate publications. My latest Kirkus Reviews column provides a general overview of the work, with some background on Tidyman — a white journalist from Cleveland who, in the late 1960s, was encouraged to create Shaft — as well as details of the lengths to which Aldous went in researching this book. I also give a sense of his volume’s deep coverage of its subject:

THE WORLD OF SHAFT.2The World of Shaft delves into the plots and development of those seven novels, and their lasting impact on thriller fiction. (It’s not at all hard, for instance, to find Shaft’s DNA coursing through the veins of characters such as Jack Reacher.) It offers similarly meticulous examinations of the original Shaft films, as well as Samuel L. Jackson’s cringe-worthy 2000 “sequel,” Shaft. Beyond that, Aldous looks back at what New York City was like in the early 1970s (“a very different city from today with a high crime rate, corruption within the police force and a growing level of social disorder”), provides the most thorough biography possible of John Shaft (and lesser portraits of his supporting players), recounts the unraveling of plans to launch a Shaft newspaper comic strip and, of course, revisits the short-lived TV drama that first brought Shaft to his attention.

Meanwhile, if you click over to The Rap Sheet, you’ll find my 3,800-word interview with Aldous, an exchange that covers “subjects ranging from his boyhood introduction to John Shaft and the extensive research he did for this book, to author Ernest Tidyman’s disappointment in how Shaft was portrayed on-screen and his employment of ghostwriters, to the much-anticipated new novella, Shaft’s Revenge, by David F. Walker, that’s been slated for publication next February.”

If all that’s not enough Shaft for you for one day, well, I don’t know what more to offer.

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