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Gary Phillips' community activism in Los Angeles over a quarter century—on issues ranging from affordable housing to gang intervention to neighborhood empowerment—served him well when he began writing crime novels.

Phillips was born in Los Angeles in 1955, the son of a mechanic and a librarian. Early on, he discovered the writers Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Ross Macdonald, Richard Wright, Rod Serling, comic book artist Jack Kirby, Zora Neale Hurston, Donald Goines, Joyce Carol Oates, and pulp writers Kenneth Robeson (creator of Doc Savage) Walter Gibson (creator of the Shadow). He attended San Francisco State University from 1972 to 1973 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1978. He has worked as a union organizer, political campaign coordinator, radio talk show host and teacher. He has written op-ed pieces for the L.A. Times Magazine, San Francisco Examiner, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Miami Herald and other newspapers. He has served as co-director of the MultiCultural Collaborative.
While he had long dabbled in writing and comic book drawing, it was only when let go from a job with the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees that he took a class in how to structure a mystery novel with writer Robert Crais (Elvis Cole series). Students were required to write fifty pages of a proposed mystery, which Phillips did. The course ended, but Phillips wasn't satisfied. He completed the manuscript. It found no takers among publishers. Then rioting in Los Angeles followed the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. Phillips wrote a new book, Violent Spring, and set the action against the true-life backdrop of the riots. Thus was launched his Ivan Monk private detective series. Reviewers often slotted this and subsequent Monk books as more "whydunits" than "whodunits," because they involved social, racial and class issues.
The first two Monk titles were published through a co-operative, West Coast Crime, in which Phillips was a financial  and sweat-equity participant. Berkley Prime Crime picked up the series and printed the first as well as later books.
The author further stretched mystery novel traditions with another series character, a black woman, Martha Chainey in High Hand, a retired showgirl now running money for a Las Vegas mobster. She has to recover the $7 million which has been stolen from her. "An air of heightened tension marks this novel from the outset," said reviewer Rex E. Klett.
Not all of Phillips' books are series. The Perpetrators is about Marley, a self-appointed expeditor who agrees to escort a key witness to a major drug trial in Los Angeles (reviewer Ted Fitzgerald called it a "larger-than-life hoot"). Bangers is a violent depiction of an elite Los Angeles anti-gang police team which runs afoul of a woman assistant district attorney when a gang leader is killed while in custody. (reviewer Klett found it strong on "down-in-the-dirt descriptions, complicated plotting, and frequent bursts of graphic violence.")

Gary is also an editor of PM's Switchblade imprint.

Purchasing Links  

Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion
ISBN: 978-1-60486-096-2
Published August 2011
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5.5
Page count: 256 Pages
Subjects: Anthology


Burn, Baby, Burn.

An incendiary mixture of genres and voices, this collection of short stories compiles a unique set of work that revolves around riots, revolts, and revolution. From the turbulent days of unionism in the streets of New York City during the Great Depression to a group of old women who meet at their local café to plan a radical act that will change the world forever, these original and once out-of-print stories capture the various ways people rise up to challenge the status quo and change up the relationships of power. Ideal for any fan of noir, science fiction, and revolution and mayhem, this collection includes works from Sara Paretsky, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Summer Brenner.

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The Underbelly
By Gary Phillips
Publisher: PM Press (Outspoken Author Series)
Published: June 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-206-5
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 128
Dimensions: 7.5 by 5
Subjects: Fiction


The explosion of wealth and development in downtown L.A. is a thing of wonder. But regardless of how big and shiny our buildings get, we should not forget the ones this wealth and development has overlooked and pushed out. This is the context for Phillips’ novella The Underbelly, as a semi-homeless Vietnam vet named Magrady searches for a wheelchair-bound friend gone missing from Skid Row—a friend who might be working a dangerous scheme against major players. Magrady’s journey is a solo sortie where the flashback-prone protagonist must deal with the impact of gentrification; take-no-prisoners community organizers; an unflinching cop from his past in Vietnam; an elderly sexpot out for his bones; a lusted-after magical skull; chronic-lovin’ knuckleheads; and the perils of chili cheese fries at midnight. Combining action, humor and a street level gritty POV, The Underbelly is illustrated with photos and drawings.

Plus: a rollicking interview wherein Phillips riffs on Ghetto Lit, politics, noir and the proletariat, the good negroes and bad knee-grows of pop culture, Redd Foxx and Lord Buckley, and wrestles with the future of books in the age of want.


"Gary Phillips is my kind of crime writer."
Sara Paretsky, author of Writing in an Age of Silence

"...honesty, distinctive characters, absurdity and good writing - are here in Phillips's work."
—Washington Post

"Firmly rooted in the hard-boiled tradition."
—Publishers Weekly

"The Underbelly is a swift, hard punch to the gut. An attention getter and definitely meaningful. Phillips is a writer who can keep you nailed to the page."
Edgar winner John Lutz

"...a first-rate example of contemporary noir fiction."
—Sunday Telegraph, London

"Gary Phillips writes tough and gritty parables about life and death on the mean streets..."
-Michael Connelly, bestselling author of the Harry Bosch mysteries

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jookThe Jook
by Gary Phillips
ISBN: 978-1-60486-040-5
Published March 2009
Format: Paperback
Size: 5 by 8
Page count: 256 Pages
Subjects: Fiction, Thriller




Zelmont Raines has slid a long way since his ability to jook, to out maneuver his opponents on the field made him a Super Bowl winning wide receiver, earning him lucrative endorsement deals and more than his share of female attention.  But Zee hasn’t always been good at saying no, so a series of missteps involving drugs, a paternity suit or two, legal entanglements, shaky investments and reoccurring injuries have virtually sidelined his career.  That is until Los Angeles gets a new pro franchise, the Barons, and Zelmont has one last chance at the big time he dearly misses.  Just as it seems he might be getting back in the flow, he’s enraptured by Wilma Wells, the leggy and brainy lawyer for the team—who has a ruthless game plan all her own. And it’s Zelmont who might get jooked.


A hard-edged, wonderfully creative work with the kind of literary bite that lingers.”
—Robert Greer, author of The Mongoose Deception

“Enough gritty gossip, blistering action and trash talk to make real life L.A. seem comparatively wholesome.”
—Kirkus Reviews 

“Gary Phillips writes tough and gritty parables about life and death on the mean streets – a place where sometimes just surviving is a noble enough cause. His is a voice that should be heard and celebrated.  It rings true once again in The Jook, a story where all of Phillips’ talents are on display.”
— Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch books

“It hooked me like a laboratory monkey. Buy it. Read it. Pass it on. It rocks.”
—Eddie Little, author of Another Day in Paradise


For a calendar of speaking events, please click here

What Others Are Saying...



Radical Noir: 26 Activist Crime Novels: Revolutionaries, Agitators, and Organizers in Crime Fiction
Crime Reads
May 1st, 2018

Gary Phillips has worked as a community organizer in LA, and much of his work reflects his commitment to fighting injustice. In The Underbelly, published as part of PM Press’s Outspoken Voices imprint (which also features such radical literary luminaries as Ursula K. Leguin), a Vietnam vet goes looking for a missing buddy previously living on Skid Row,  and finds a whole lot of trouble instead (and plenty of occasions to rhapsodize about Californian iniquities). The slimness of the edition belies the effort PM Press has made to contextualize radical narratives, with an interview and other supplementary materials included in the volume.

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The Underbelly is a Great Mystery Read for Black History Month
Mystery People Blog
February 11th, 2016

"Last but not least, the detective novel has frequently gone hand in hand with the socially aware critique. For those who like to mix their genre fiction with their politics, try Stand Your Ground, Victoria Christopher Murray’s soulful and devastating tale of a woman who loses her son to a vigilante, or The Underbelly, by Gary Phillips, which follows a homeless vet as he struggles to piece together his friend’s disappearance. Philips worked as a community activist for many years, and his politics come through in all of his writing, including his excellent story collection, MonkologyHand in hand with political fiction comes satire, so one more to recommend: try Dwayne Alexander Smith’s excellent thriller Forty Acres for satire so sharp, you might end up with papercuts..."

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
By Yutaka Dirks
Briarpatch Magazine
May 31, 2012

The stories in Send My Love may riff on radical and revolutionary themes, but they are more entertaining than instructive; they don’t coalesce into a coherent politics. Entries like “A Good Start” by Barry Graham, which centres on the murder of a sexist office manager, seem to conflate revenge with revolutionary action, and suggest that catharsis, rather than justice, is what we should aim for. “I Love Paree” by Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet plays with similar themes; during an anti-corporatist uprising in a near-future Paris, a young systems analyst and his cousin fall victim to revolutionary fervor gone off the rails. But unlike Graham, the authors seem to argue for moral and political consistency, even when caught in the whirlwind of radical upheaval.

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
by Betty Webb
Mystery Scene
Spring Issue #124

Neither hope nor sweetness is to be found in Send My Love and A Molotov Cocktail! (PM Press, $19.95) a top flight crime and sci-fi anthology edited by Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons, featuring stories by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Sara Paretsky among others. A collection hardly designed to warm the cockles of your heart, these gritty stories are unsettling and beautifully bleak.

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
by Glenn Dallas
City Book Review
April 4, 2012

The stories of Send My Love span the spectrum from noir to historical fiction, and there are some real gems between its covers. Major names from not only the crime beat, but also the sci-fi and fantasy genres, make worthwhile contributions to the set, including names like Cory Doctorow, Sara Paretsky, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

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The Underbelly as a top Novella Pick for 2011
by Jedidiah Ayres
Ransom Notes: The B&N Mystery Blog
December 2011

Magrady is a dispossessed Viet Nam vet down and out in Los Angeles without a place in the world, but don’t think for a second that he’s done fighting. When one of his friends becomes just another missing person no one will miss, Magrady slips into combat mode for the concrete jungle. Phillips’ style is an incendiary mix of blaxsploitation rhythms and militant actions, it’s a hardboiled, hard-core street epic in a single, sweet, chewable capsule.

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
by Harriet Klausner
The Mystery Gazette
December 12, 2011

This eighteen story anthology pulls no punches or switchblades as the compilation focuses on rebellion by rebels with and without a cause. Fifteen of the entries are new while one of the reprints is actually a first time translation into English (“Bizco’s Memories” by Paco Ignacio Talbo II starring soccer played under the underground convict rules of a prison). The other previously published contributions, “Gold Diggers of 1977” by Michael Moorcock is one of the Cornelius tales looking at the Sex Pistols mythos (may not survive the test of time), and “I Love Paree” by Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet in which Old Paree is in trouble due to the foreign invasion. In “Nickels and Dimes” by John A Imani, riots come to UCLA in 1972 but not daring to disturb the Wooden NCAA run. Kim Stanley Robinson looks at a slave revolt on the moon in “The Lunatics.” In “Murder … Then and Now” by Penny Micklebury, he claims to be X at the Black Student Union. This is a gripping timely collection in which people past and present across the spectrum rebel against those they believe are their oppressors.

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The Revolution Will Be Fictionalized: A Review
by Stefan Raets
November 14, 2011

Most SFF fans will probably pick up Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! because of one or more of these three stories by famous SF authors, but if you don’t mind wandering outside of the boundaries of the genre, there are many other goodies to be found here...
Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! is an excellent, eclectic anthology of stories, a perfect book to read now the cold autumn weather is starting to chill the OWS protesters. The struggle continues . . . so get your grind on!

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
Publishers Weekly
November 28, 2011

The 18 mostly original stories in this thought-provoking crime anthology offer gritty testament to the violence, cunning, and resilience of people pushed to the brink. Phillips and Gibbons showcase some major talent, notably Sara Paretsky (“Poster Child”), but less well-known authors also make solid contributions. In John A Imani’s moving “Nickels and Dimes,” a black observer of a confrontation between police and protestors in 1972 Los Angeles becomes a reluctant participant and de facto leader. Gibbons’s “The El Rey Bar” brilliantly conveys the chaos, the hopelessness, and the despair engendered during an L.A. riot. SF ace Kim Stanley Robinson’s exotic “The Lunatics” explores the issue of forced labor amid an attempted slave revolt on the moon. On the down side, Michael Moorcock’s lengthy “Gold Diggers of 1977,” first published in 1980, will be incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the story of the Sex Pistols.

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Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: A Review
by John Koeing
November 23, 2011

Great book title, one that will help this book be placed cover facing out on bookstore shelves for a week or so. Hopefully exposure will pump up sales and garner some publicity, as this collection of short stories has extreme personality and a bunch of worthwhile writing. If there’s a theme holding these authors together, it’s riots, love, crime, revolution and chaos.

Some pretty heavy hitters are included in this collection: Michael Moorcock, Sara Paretsky, Cory Doctorow, and many others. Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail reminds me of an era gone by, writers from a different time, and attitudes not often seen today. This isn’t pulp fiction; these are splendid wordsmiths.

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Gary Phillips Interviews Gary Phillips on Sea Minor
By Gary Phillips
Sea Minor

Q: Apparently there was a recent Harris online poll conducted among 2,775 adults in the U.S. How this sampling of adults was achieved, is not clear, but some of the results regarding who treads crime, mystery and thrillers is interesting.

A: I saw that. The big kids on the block, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Patterson and Grisham are favs but still, it’s kind of heartening, isn’t it? 48% of fiction readers say they read mysteries, thrillers and crime novels. This stat goes up to 61% among those 65 and older. 26% read sci-fi and those respondents in the age range of 18-33, 18% read graphic novels. Women not men are, it seems, more likely to read in the mystery field than men, I guess whether the protagonist is a man or woman.

This poll gave me to an idea I’d love to try; lunch trucks.

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An Interview with Gary Phillips on
By Keith Rawson

Gary Phillips is like your favorite uncle. He’s the guy with the quick joke, the great story about your mom crushing over some boy in high school, the guy pulling quarters from behind the ears of star struck toddlers wandering around family gatherings. The difference between your favorite uncle and Phillips, though, is all your uncle’s good at is barbequing, drinking beer, and being witty while he’s drunk. Where as Phillips writes some of the most earnest and engaging crime noir currently being written (and he’s probably pretty witty when he’s drunk, too).

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The Underbelly Book Review
By: Vanessa Bush
November 15, 2010

Mulgrew Magrady, a nearly homeless Vietnam vet, steps in to issue a warning when a drug dealer harasses his wheelchair-bound friend. Later, when the friend disappears and the dealer turns up dead, Magrady is deemed the prime suspect, hand-picked by Captain Stover of the LAPD. Magrady and Stover go way back to unresolved issues when they both served in Vietnam. With little else to do in a quickly gentrifying skidrow neighborhood, and to keep himself out of prison, Magrady investigates the murder. Plagued by flashbacks of Vietnam and memories of a failed marriage, distracted by the attentions of a frisky elderly lover and a community organizer determined to get him involved somehow, Magrady gets to the motive behind the murder. It involves wealthy developers, desperate characters, and a recently unearthed American Indian skull that is believed to have magical powers. Magrady's adventures, with a distinctive noir feeling and appreciation for comic books, started as an online, serialized mystery. Drawings and an interview with Phillips enhance the package, offering a compelling perspective on race and class issues in South Central L.A.

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Book review: Phillips’ ‘The Jook’ a down-and-dirty crime fiction marvel
By Benjamin Whitmer
InDenver Times

Gary Phillips is known by crime fiction aficionados as a master the form, and reading The Jook it’s easy to see why. The dialogue crackles, the tone’s pitch-perfect, and the prose rolls along with the kind of effortless cool that only comes with monstrous effort, not to mention an equal portion of talent. Phillips also has a delightful sense of play, an all-too-rare commodity in the genre. 

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It's Gary Phillips' World
July 31, 2009 by Brian
BSC Review

2009 is the year of Gary Phillips. A spate of releases confirms what some already know, that its Gary’s world and the rest of us just live in it. The different releases offer a range of voices in a range of styles in a range of mediums.

Yes, as Nerd pointed out already, one of the main hooks (and the thing you notice immediately) is the voice. Too often fiction told in a first person POV lacks a distinct voice but Zelmont Raines has a rhythm and style that is all his own. And quite frankly it is a rhythm that we don’t often hear in crime fiction; the rhythm of black men. I would partly attribute this to Gary Phillips’ unabashed acknowledgement of the so-called street lit books as an influence, maybe not the current 50-Cent crop of books but certainly the classics (Iceberg Slim, Robert Deane Pharr) and to the influence of Chester Himes...

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The Jook
June 14, 2009 by NerdOfNoir
BSC Review

There’s only one word for Gary Phillips’ The Jook and that word is fucking cool (you had to believe the Nerd would spice up said word with some Grade-A poop-mouth, am I right?). This fucking beast is just oozing with cool. I haven’t read any other shit from Gary Phillips yet, but if his other books are half as cool as The Jook, you can bet the fucking farm the Nerd’s gonna be on top of that shit toot-sweet . . .

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The Jook
Ayo Anotade
Shots Magazine

Welcome to the destructive world and lifestyle of Zelmont Raines, a one time Super Bowl wining all Pro Receiver. Raines once had a string of wealthy endorsement deals but these were terminated as a result of a statutory rape charge. However, his life has also become a complete mess as a result of his over indulgence with crack cocaine, expensive brandy and a fondness for entertaining sports groupies. While trying to maintain his lifestyle he also has to contend with three failed stints in a drug rehab unit, a paternity suit, a recurring injury and some misguided investments. Raines soon begins to accept as true the fact that the good times (for him) have come and gone...

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Author Portfolio


Phillips, Gary. Bangers. Dafina, 2007.

Phillips, Gary. The Perpetrators. Uglytown Productions, 2002.

Ivan Monk Series

Phillips, Gary. Violent Spring. Berkeley Prime Crime, 1996.

Phillips, Gary. Perdition U.S.A. Berkley, 1997.

Phillips, Gary. Bad Night Is Falling. Berkley, 1998.

Phillips, Gary. Only the Wicked. Write Way Publishing, 2000.

Phillips, Gary.Monkology. Dennis McMillan Publications, 2004.

Martha Chainey Series

Phillips, Gary. High Hand. Kensington, 2000.

Phillips, Gary. Shooter's Point. Kensington, 2001.

Short Story Collections

Phillips, Gary, ed. Orange County Noir. New York: Akashic, 2010.

Phillips, Gary, ed. Politics Noir. New York: Verso, 2008.

Phillips, Gary with Jervey Tervalon, eds. The Cocaine Chronicles. New York: Akashic, 2005.

Phillips, Gary with Chris Chambers, eds. The Darker Mask. Tor, 2008. 

Graphic Novels

Phillips, Gary. Angeltown. DC/Vertigo Comics, 2005.

Phillips, Gary. High Rollers. BOOM! Studios, 2009.
Phillips, Gary. Midnight Mover. Oni Comics, 2004.

Phillips, Gary. Shot Callerz. Oni Comics.

Phillips, Gary. The Envoy. Moonstone Comics, 2008.

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