© 1970 Ernest Tidyman
US: Macmillan edition published 27th April 1970 [hardcover]; 188pp (cover illustration by Mozelle Thompson)
US: Bantam edition published July 1971, First Printing; 218pp
UK: Michael Joseph edition published 24th June 1971 (0-7181-0873-6) [hardcover]; 192pp (cover illustration by Salim Patell)
UK: Corgi edition published 20th October 1972 (0-552-09056-5); 218pp
UK: Bloomsbury Film Classics published 15th October 1997 (0-7475-3777-1); 214pp
UK:  Sight and Sound re-print and free give away published 2000 (0-7475-5398-X); 214pp
US: Dynamite Entertainment edition published on 20th July 2016 (978-1-5241-0016-2), 240pp (cover illustration by Robert Hack). Audiobook released on 2 December 2019 (narrated by Will Dixon)

Dedication: For Grace Johnson, Diane Schereschewsky, Nancy Ware.  Without whom SHAFT would have been impossible.  And Constance Bogen, Ronald Hobbs, Judith Oppenheimer Loth, Charles Mandelstam, Warren Picower, Jack Robbens, Sylva Romano, Leo Rosen, Helen Sears, Billie Jean Tidyman.  Without whom I would have been impossible.

John Shaft is a sexy, beautiful black man who doesn’t get scared… ever.  He’s tough enough to stand up to the most dangerous men in New York – heroin pushers, black militants, the Mafia.  Harlem’s black crime king, Knocks Persons, hires Shaft to find his beautiful daughter – who’s disappeared after an orgy of drink, sex and dope.  Shaft’s fee is twelve dollars an hour plus expenses.  Knocks would give his kingdom.  The Mafia want it for the heroin trade in Spanish Harlem… the bothers want it for racist revolution… the police and the Mayor want it kept cool.  Sooner or later they all get to Shaft. Meanwhile he has to get to the girl.

JOHN SHAFT, Private Investigator
KNOCKS PERSONS, Harlem crime lord
LT. VIC ANDEROZZI, NYPD 17th Precinct Detective
BEN BUFORD, black militant leader
HELEN GREEN, wife of Shaft’s accountant
ROLLIE NICKERSON, actor and part-time barman
WILLIE JOE SMITH, Knocks’ right-hand man
EDDIE, Mafia hood
ELLIE, Shaft’s girlfriend
VALERIE, girl Shaft picks up in the No Name Bar
BEATRICE THOMAS, Persons’ daughter
DOC POWELL, former boxing doctor
SHAPIRO, Assistant District Attorney
SYLVIE, Police Commissioner’s wife
MILDRED, Shaft’s answering service


  • Written between Spring and Summer 1969.
  • Final draft delivered 3 July 1969.
  • The novel is set in the Spring of 1969.
  • How much of John Shaft was Ernest Tidyman’s creation and how much resulted from the input of Alan Rinzler is subject to debate. Rinzler was Macmillan’s mystery editor in the late 1960s and met freelance writer Tidyman via black literary agent Ronald Hobbs. After discussing options for a book, Rinzler commissioned Tidyman with a modest advance of around $10,000 to write what became Shaft. He gave Tidyman the brief of creating the tough black detective from Harlem.
  • Tidyman wrote the manuscript for SHAFT whilst still working as a magazine journalist. He handed in audio recordings he had made on the journey to and from his office, which secretaries would transcribe for him.
  • SHAFT was picked up by MGM for film adaptation whilst still in galley form.
  • The book produced strong sales, primarily driven by the huge success of the movie, and by 5 November 1976 it had sold and estimated 350,000 copies.

Shaft felt warm, loose, in step as he turned east at Thirty-ninth Street for the truncated block between Seventh Avenue and Broadway. It had been a long walk from her place in the far West Twenties. Long and good. The city was still fresh that early.

(to Ben Buford) “There’ll be statues to you all over Mississippi one of these days, with big letters all over them saying ‘This here is the nigger who led the sheep to the slaughter.’” (Shaft, Chapter 6)

Tidyman weaves a very tight plot centred around his creation of John Shaft. The race issue is not the centre of the book, merely a backdrop giving it a unique (at the time) flavour. That Shaft wins out in the end comes as no surprise and the reader is carried along with him through to the exciting finale. Along the way the book is liberally dosed with barbed dialogue and wisecracks. As such it follows the tradition of the hard-boiled detective books of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, albeit spiced up with heavier doses of sex and violence.

“Tidyman not only keeps things moving at a bloody fast pace – but as he does so he doesn’t slight on characterizations. – even when these are occasionally given a strong tongue in cheek variety. Books such as SHAFT could easily become habit-forming for those who appreciate well-packaged suspense yarns.” – The Lewiston Evening Journal, 13 February, 1971

“Contemporary contours are hazy but the action’s solid for a very readable chaser.” – Kirkus

“…a stylish and near-cinematic exemplar of the two-fisted Spillane school of paperback detective romance.” – Gene Seymour, LA Times, 22 June 2000