A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Jim Dallas Dossier

For readers who are new to Ken McKea and the Jim Dallas mysteries, this spoiler-free primer is based on the first three entries in the series.

The real Ken McKea: Ken McKea is the pen name of Brad Strickland, a well-known and respected pro who’s pretty much done it all in the course of his 70-odd novels: from Sci-Fi to Horror to Young Adult to NonFiction…Now, finally, he’s writing the sort of fiction he love best to read.
Series inspiration: Originally, Brad had intended a series partnership with his friend Tom Fuller. Both writers loved John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series: the complex hero, the beautifully drawn Florida settings, the impeccable balance between character development, mystery, action and theme. They envisioned an honest homage that would also remain an original spin. With the passing of Tom Fuller, Brad rewrote their first effort to bring it into line with his own growing vision.
The title game: Titling series entries is one of the great challenges. Lawrence Sanders took the Commandments and Deadly Sins. John D. Macdonald, of course, took colors. Sue Grafton grabbed the alphabet. Janet Evanovich snagged all the numbers. What was Ken McKea to do?  His solution reveals a truly clever mind at play: The first book is called Atlanta Bones; the second, Cuban Dagger; the third Eden Feint...Ken tips his hat to Grafton—but in doubling up on the letters, he signals his plan for a thirteen-part series…and promises far greater speed.
The series engine:  Jim Dallas, an Atlanta cop, nearly died roughly six years before Atlanta Bones in a house fire that claimed his wife’s life.  Cop corruption was involved—and two cops arrested, then jailed after making a sweet deal with the prosecutors.
Now retired—and working as a sometime problem-solver—Jim has burn scar tissue over thirty percent of his body and he counts the days till the cops are released—and he can have his revenge.
Cool partners: As the great McGee had his Meyer, Jim Dallas has a memorable friend in Sam Lyons. Here are the basics about them:
            Age: 35
            Height: 6’2”
            Weight: About 200 lbs.
            Hair color: Brown, bleaches to sandy-brown
            Eyes: Light brown
            Defining qualities: Badly scarred by fire on torso. Missing fingernails on right hand. He looks better than he thinks he does and, despite his scars, he is attractive to women.
            Former profession: cop
            Residence: On Cady’s Island, south of Jacksonville, in a 5-room brick cottage that had once been a lighthouse-keeper’s home. He gets to the mainland by ferry or skiff.
            Finances: Approximate annual income from pension/insurance, forty thousand range.  Plus what he might average on his cases, when he takes payment.
            Clothes: Prefers knit shirts and khakis. Well-worn dark brown Merrell sandals. Can dress up when required:  sharp gray suit, conservative tie.
            Wheels: Drives a 1986 Chevy pickup truck, beat-up and jury-rigged in places. As long as it runs, Jim’s satisfied. But the truck’s not much longer for this world, at least in the life of the series.

            Age: 48 or thereabouts.
            Height: 6’4”
            Weight: About 240 lbs.
            Hair color: black.
            Eyes: Very dark—approaching black.
            Race: A dazzling combination of Seminole/Welsh/Irish/German/Italian.
            Defining qualities: A voracious reader. Eloquent speaker and fantastic listener, able to get anyone to confide in him and cozy up. A pacifist who discovers, in Cuban Dagger, that he too has a line that must not be crossed.
            Former profession: Insurance investigator
            Residence: Beach cottage that once belonged to an 1890s railroad magnate. It’s cluttered, because he’s interested in everything and tries everything once or more, from archery to painting to photography.
            Finances: Golden parachute when he retired very young (at about 46). He is comfortably well-off.
            Clothes: Stunning assortment of loud Hawaiian shirts. Has kept one dress shirt, tie and suit from his insurance days—for weddings and funerals, he says.
            Wheels: Sam drives a deep blue Lincoln town car, the 1997 Signature edition. There’s a story behind it—he actually bought it about five years ago from the proverbial little old lady who’d put less than a thousand miles on the odometer—but that’s for a later book. Sam lavishes care on the Lincoln, and he’s much more conscientious about both cosmetic and mechanical upkeep than Jim is with his truck.

Stand-alones with continuity: Any of the first three books can be read as a stand-alone novel. McKea is a meticulous writer who knows how to take care of his readers: wherever you start in the series, you’ll be given just enough to know the gist of what’s preceded. Wherever you start, you will never feel lost.

The progression so far: Atlanta Bones begins roughly six years after the brutal murder of Jim’s wife, Susan.  He still suffers traumatic flashbacks and still suffers from shame over his scars. But not a day passes that isn’t checked off methodically on his calendar: reminding him of when the crooked cops who killed her will be released. Both copped out, and he also keeps track on their parole hearings…he has plans. But with each book Jim Dallas grows stronger and more admirable. In Eden Feint he has a moving breakthrough—when a young woman he happens to like doesn’t notice his burned hand.

 And coming soon… What can readers expect in the next 2-3 books?

Glades Heist: Jim travels to South Florida to tell a woman, politely, that he can’t help her locate her missing husband. Then before he can even begin, he’s attacked by parties unknown, badly smashed around, and before he knows it he’s on the trail of both the woman’s husband and the woman herself, who has vanished. A theft more than a decade old, never solved, enters the picture…and it’s a matter of money as well as of survival.

Islamorada Jam: Dallas has been warned not to get in any trouble down in the Keys, but inevitably, well, things happen. When a drug bust goes spectacularly wrong for the police, Dallas and Lyons are asked by their cop friend Joe Palacios to do some unofficial investigating. They’re hanging way out there—and the drug runners are unforgiving.

Kingston Loot: Pirate treasure or a big-time scam? That’s the nugget around which this adventure will form.


  1. Thanks for this breakdown of the Jim Dallas series. I have read three adventures in the series and enjoying the fourth, which is really the first book in the series, Atlanta Bones. I am looking forward to Islamorada Jam and Kingston Loot. This is one well written, interesting, and exciting series. Ron Head

  2. I'm glad it helped, Ron. The Dallas series is, for my money, one of the hottest new mystery series going. And I'm going through Dallas withdrawal as I wait for Islamorada Jam.


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