Showing posts with label Carroll John Daly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carroll John Daly. Show all posts

Thursday, September 22, 2022

"The Importance of Being Ernie"

Carroll John Daly (1889-1958) is rightfully credited with inventing hardboiled crime fiction in the pulp magazines with his characters Three-Gun Terry and Race Williams. He also wrote his share of straightforward mystery stories, including “The Importance of Being Ernie” from the June 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective Magazine.

Our narrator George Norton befriends the local repairman, a reclusive old man named Ernie. George quickly learns that Ernie has a special gift that transcends his ability to fix broken lamps. When George summarizes any mystery novel while talking to Ernie, the old man can identify the murderer every time.

George is so impressed with Ernie’s armchair detective skills that he tells the local police and a local private investigator that they should utilize Ernie’s services to solve vexing crimes. However, neither of the professional investigators approached have any interest in indulging Ernie and bringing him on-board as a consultant.

A local murder springs Ernie into action and the cops get to see his Sherlockian skills of deduction up-close. Does he really have a gift or is there something else going on here?

This is a delightful little story with a couple great twists at the end and is definitely worth your time. It’s been scanned and made available on the internet for modern audiences — just Google the title and author. Alternatively, an outfit called Radio Archives has reprinted the entire magazine from that month and made it available for sale HERE.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Race Williams #02 - Three Thousand to the Good

“Three Thousand to the Good” by Carroll John Daly is a 20-page short story that originally appeared in the July 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask magazine. It’s the second appearance of Private Detective Race Williams, the first hardboiled detective series character ever.

Our narrator Race Williams is ostensibly a private investigator, but he’s the first to admit that he’s really a “gentleman adventurer” who lends his services targeting criminals on behalf of paying clients. In this case, he is hired by a fellow named Abe who needs Race to be the bagman for a blackmail payment Abe owes some crooks in exchange for incriminating evidence in the possession of the blackmailers. Abe is no choirboy himself, and the activity that opened him up to blackmail in the first place underscores Race’s own operation in a morally grey area.

The blackmail payment is $10,000, and Race strikes a deal with Abe. If Race can come back with the incriminating evidence from the blackmailers and Abe’s $10,000, Race gets to keep $2,500. If Race fails, he gets nothing. Abe jumps at this opportunity for Race’s value-added services.

The story quickly shifts to Race’s attempt to double cross the blackmailers, and fans of tough-guy action find plenty to enjoy. Staging a double cross is one thing, but getting away with it is quite a different challenge. Race eventually gets to the bottom of the situation with a somewhat odd conclusion to the story.

In the world of good-and-bad Race Williams stories, this one was solidly satisfying and will please fans of Race and his imitator, Micky Spillane’s Mike Hammer. The story has been compiled elsewhere, but the cheapest option is a two-dollar ebook from Black Mask that also includes a bonus stand-alone story from Daly called “Paying an Old Debt.”

While we’re here, I’ll say that “Paying an Old Debt” was from an April 1923 issue of Black Mask - one month before Daly launched the Race Williams series. The narrator is a jailbird who cons his way into a butler job for the purpose of ripping off his host’s diamonds. It’s a great little story with an O. Henry styled ending. I thought it was a stronger story than the Race Williams one.

The Black Mask ebook containing the two stories is only two bucks and completely worth it. The stories have aged extremely well and stand as a monument to the very beginning of hardboiled crime fiction. 

Get the ebook HERE.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Vee Brown - The Complete Cases #01

Vee Brown starred in 18 violent mini-novels between 1932 and 1936 in the pages of Dime Detective Magazine. The stories were authored by Carroll John Daly, the inventor of hardboiled crime fiction and his popular Race Williams character. Steeger Books has released two volumes of Vee Brown novellas comprising the entire series run. I sampled two of the stories from the first compilation to get a taste for the character. 

Vee is a violent gun-toting police detective who is also a mild-mannered and educated Tin-Pan Alley songwriter of sentimental tunes — a secret side-hustle that brings the supercop tremendous wealth. Think Cole Porter or George Gershwin with a taste for justice and criminal blood. The Vee Brown stories are narrated by a newspaper reporter named Dean Condon who shadows Vee on the job and writes about his adventures for the paper.  

“The Crime Machine”

I started at the beginning with the first Vee Brown adventure - a short story called “The Crime Machine” from 1932. 

As the novella opens, reporter Dean Condon is preparing to meet Vee and ride-along with him for a newspaper article. Condon is nervous because Vee has earned a reputation as the most relentless hunter and killer of criminals on the police force. When Vee and Condon meet face-to-face, they make the connection that the two knew one another back in college as passing acquaintances. 

Because “The Crime Machine” is the series intro, it exists to establish the Holmes-Watson relationship between the crime-fighter and his sidekick documentarian - a dynamic that persists throughout the entire series. As such, the plot is rather thin - like a TV series pilot episode. 

On their first outing together, they are hunting Killer Regan, who shot up a theater during a robbery murdering a female cashier. Vee’s orders from the District Attorney’s office is to produce Regan dead or alive. On the prowl, Vee is stealthy as The Shadow — seeming to disappear while infiltrating the criminal’s lair with a perpetually-amazed Condon in-tow. 

There’s plenty of tough talk and violent pulpy action to enjoy - as well as the big reveal where Condon learns that the deadly hero is also “The Master of Melody” who publishes popular sheet music under his given name of Vivian. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the short-story was a total blast and left the reader hungry for more. 

“The Price of Silence”

The ninth Vee Brown adventure is “The Price of Silence", the final story in Volume One of the Steeger Books collection. It’s a 50-page novella from 1933 published when Daly had hit his stride with the series. 

The story opens with the crime scene investigation of a wealthy woman stabbed in the chest in her own home while her husband slept upstairs. Because it’s 1933, a police inspector comments that such things are to be expected in the city’s Italian neighborhood, but not in the victim’s upscale community. 

Fortunately, the killer left behind a calling card identifying himself as “The Black Death” which seems like a decent lead for Vee to launch his investigation. He quickly deduces that the victim was likely a blackmail victim who failed to pay off her tormenter resulting in death. 

Vee quickly identifies a suspect for the murder - a society dandy behind a gang of racketeers handling the dirty work of shaking down the blackmail victims. Vee’s plan is to squeeze the henchmen with death threats until they identify their boss. 

As the narrator, Condon finds himself at the center of the action when he is held captive by the thugs awaiting Vee’s return. When they reunite, Vee and Condon follow leads through a rather convoluted mystery plot leading to the exciting confrontation you always knew was coming. 

I enjoyed these two Vee Brown stories enough to continue with the series in the future. Steeger Books have released a second volume compiling the final nine novellas. I’m looking forward to checking them out. Recommended. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Race Williams #09 - I'll Tell the World

Carroll John Daly’s Race Willams character was the prototype used by Mickey Spillane for his hardboiled detective, Mike Hammer. For that matter, there’s more than a dash of Race Williams in Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan. Race’s ninth adventure was “I’ll Tell The World,” a novella that originally appeared in the August 1925 issue of Black Mask and remains available today as a reprint.

As the story opens, Race is broke again and hoping for a new client in search of a “confidential agent” for hire. While browsing through the newspaper classified ads, Race sees a coded message that reads:

“Tom: As promised, 69th C.P.W. Two’s day. Eleven years old. Frantic. Dorothy.”

Race smells an opportunity to make some money and his decoding of the message sends him to a Manhattan street corner where someone else’s clandestine meeting is taking place Tuesday at 11pm. Hiding in the shadows, he witnesses a lone woman being abducted by two men who toss her into their car. Ever the stealthy sleuth, Race follows quietly behind.

The confrontation between the kidnappers and Race only serves to deepen the mystery and underscores the depravity uncovered by sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong. For her part, Dorothy the kidnap victim is filled with secrets and appropriately skeptical of trusting Race, the stranger who saves her.

The main mystery of “I’ll Tell The World” is: What chaos has Race stumbled upon here? Why the classified ad? Who are the powerful people behind Dorothy’s kidnapping? And what is their agenda? Without a paying client, Race pursues this because he is curious. Just like the reader. Eventually, his curiosity is rewarded with a paying client who engages him to investigate the matter.

And that’s where the story loses its way. Daly falls for the trap of many early 20th Century mystery writers and creates a confusing and labyrinthian plot that is hard to follow and a pain to read. Race’s swagger remains but the plot lost me at the novella’s halfway point. I’m not giving up on Race Williams, but this installment was a bumpy ride best forgotten. 

Buy a copy of this HERE

Friday, April 9, 2021

Race Williams #04 - Them That Lives by Their Guns

Race Williams was the first hardboiled detective to star in a successful series of stories in the pulp magazines. Thanks to some smart reprint houses and a popular paperback podcast, there has been a renewed interest in the work of series creator Carroll John Daly who died broke and unappreciated in 1958. Today we visit Race’s fourth adventure, Them That Lives by Their Guns, originally published in the August 1924 issue of Black Mask.

This time around, Race’s client is a wealthy man named P. Harrington Cardigan, and he’s hiring Race to find his missing daughter. The girl’s name is Gladys, and she moved away to California to find her fortune as a Hollywood starlet. When she failed to break into the business, dad sent her money for a ticket home to New York, but Gladys never showed. Instead, she called her father saying that she met a director who was taking her to Mexico for some filming projects.

It gets worse. Gladys met a man in Mexico and married him. The guy is a real louse: a gambler, an abuser, a killer, and a blackmailer. The husband - his name is Louis Rafaele- regularly sends Mr. Cardigan letters threatening to kill Gladys unless dad sends money to him in Mexico. Thus far, Cardigan has paid the brute. But that’s the thing about blackmailers - they never stop unless you hire a hero like Race Williams to make him stop and bring the girl home to daddy.

Race sets off via passenger train bound for the small Mexican town where Rafaele is known to be the town’s boss and the fastest gun. In the meantime there’s also a lot of skullduggery and tough-guy violence involving Race aboard the train chugging across America. Daly’s version of a 1924 Mexican border town is a lot like the settlements we see in western fiction - lawless, dangerous, and unpredictable. As the fastest gun in town, Race excels in this environment as he searches for the missing girl building toward a climactic bloodbath.

Once again, Race Williams is awesome. Them That Lives by Their Guns is an exciting and violent novella that stands the test of time. There were some convoluted plot aspects involving a Mexican bank that weren’t entirely clear, but the core of the story was Race rescuing the girl and vanquishing the villain. What’s not to enjoy about that?

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, February 5, 2021

Race Williams #01 - Knights of the Open Palm

Carroll John Daly (1889-1958) invented the hardboiled detective genre in Black Mask Magazine with his May 1923 story “Three Gun Terry.” He followed it up the next month with “Knights of the Open Palm,” launching the Race Williams series of stories and novels that continued for over 20 years. The character later inspired the creation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and thousands of other imitators.

As the debut story opens, narrator Race Williams explains that he’s a private investigator who splits the difference between cops and crooks. A client named Thompson comes to Race’s office seeking to engage him to rescue his kidnapped 17 year-old son from the Ku Klux Klan. The kid may have information about a recent Klan murder which prompted the alleged abduction. The KKK must have been rather powerful in 1923 because Thompson is surprised that Race accepts the assignment to defy the Klan and rescue the boy.

After an informant in a tavern teaches Race the secret handshake as well as Klan buzzwords, Race decides that the best way to find the missing kid is to infiltrate the fraternal order in full regalia. So, it’s off to the small farming town of Clinton, a rural hamlet firmly in the grip of the shadowy, hooded menace. It doesn’t take long at all for things to come to a series of confrontations between Race and the local KKK muscle.

For a story written nearly 100 years-ago, Daly’s writing is still pretty fresh. Race’s hardboiled and colloquial patois must have been groundbreaking at the time and recalls the bragging tough-guy patter later imitated by Mike Hammer, Shell Scott and many others. Race is a fantastic character - funny, fearless and confident. There were scenes where I found myself nodding along and muttering, “Hell, yeah!” along the way.

After reading “Knights of the Open Palm,” it’s easy to see why Race Williams captured the public’s imagination a century ago. The character - at least in this story - lives at the intersection of The Continental Op and Mack Bolan. And that’s a very good place to be.

Buy a copy HERE