BASIL HEATTER – A Night Out. Popular Library #771, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1956. A shorter version appeared in Manhunt, September 1954, as “The Empty Fort.”

   For an author with a double dozen books to his credit, over a period of over three decades, there is not much known about Basil Heatter (1918-2009), except for one fact that is invariably mentioned whenever his name comes up.

   Here, for example, is the biographical blurb about him that’s on the first page of the book in hand:

    “Born on Long Island in 1918, Basil Heatter attended schools in Connecticut, then went abroad when he was 16 for a two year travel stint in Europe.

    “Returning to America, he went to work for a New York advertising agency. During the war he served as skipper of a P.T. boat in the southwest Pacific.

    “He is the son of Gabriel Heatter, the radio commentator, and at present he, Basil, is a news commentator for the Mutual Broadcasting System.”

   That was in 1956. From CRIME FICTION IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1749-2000, by Allen J. Hubin (2015), we learn just a little more:

    “Born on Long Island, the son of radio commentator Gabriel Heatter; was advertising copywriter in 1970s living on a boat off Florida, and racing and chartering; died in Miami, FL.”

   Heatter has thirteen books included in CFIV, one marginally, but at the moment A Night Out is not one of them, and it should be. The crime involved is not a major one, I grant you, not at the beginning, at least — that of smuggling some booze out of Cuba to shrimp boat skipper Johnny Flake’s home port of Key West — but small capers like this often run into trouble, matters escalate, and some people end up wounded or dead, and that’s exactly what happens here.

   While this is criminous enough to suit most readers of this blog, I’d have to admit that most of the book consists of character studies of the players in it. All of them have a past, and events in the past have a way of making people who they are today. It takes awhile for their paths to converge, however, ending in a midnight shootout in an abandoned fort off the islands of Dry Torgugas, but the getting there is well worth it.

   There are two women involved, Molly being the one that Flake let get away, and the other Jessica, is the promiscuous live-in lady friend of yachtsman Allan Chambers, who can’t live without her, but neither can he live with her. Another player is an old rummy named Cruze, who was at one time a terrific ship’s engineer, but it’s only because Flake needs someone in a hurry does he hire on the old man who’s now seriously afflicted with the shakes and an unquenchable thirst.

   More than a crime novel, what this book is is pure noir. Most — not all — of the participants in the drama that takes place in this book are doomed, in one way or another. Most have no future, save what chance and pure luck give them. There’s little they can do to help themselves.

   Although far from being in their league, Heatter channels F. Scott Fitzgerald and maybe Ernest Hemingway in this novel, more so than he does either of the two old standbys of Hammett and Chandler. While all but forgotten today, Heatter is more than adequate as a writer — he certainly knew his way around boats and the Gulf of Mexico — and he brings his characters enough to life that I know I’ll remember them all for a while to come.

   John Payne could play Johnny, and Walter Brennan would be perfect as Cruze. Gail Russell could easily be Molly, but to tell you the truth, no matter what movie taking place in the 50s that I happen to be casting, there’d always be a part for Gail Russell.

by Keith Chapman

   Part One of this two-part article can be found here.

   The Detective Weekly cover (1937) is from the FictionMags Index. This is the issue that ran The Gold Kimono, which was written by Cheyney under his Stephen Law byline. Note that it has the title as “Gold” not “Golden”, as recorded in the FictionMags listings, and which I now believe might be a mistake.

   The art is unmistakably by Eric Parker who was still working for the Amalgamated Press (by then Fleetway Publications) when I got my first-ever job on leaving school (as an editorial assistant on the staff of the Sexton Blake Library). Later (1964), I commissioned Eric to do interior illustrations for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine when I founded and edited this digest for Micron Publications.

   And here below is the Detective Weekly cover for The Riddle of the Strange Last Words, another Stephen Law novella, which I believe was a version of the newspaper story Death Chair. Roy Glashan informs me that Detective Weekly used the wrong artwork for this issue. The illustration in fact depicts a scene from another newspaper serial, the Vengeance of Hop Fi, which DW was to use as The Mark of Hop Fi.

   I have found a Collectors’ Digest article by Brian Doyle at Google that throws a little more light on the early Cheyney career. I noted in particular this piece:

    “In 1926 he founded and directed the Editorial and Literary Services Agency. He and his staff researched, wrote and sold stories and features to newspapers and magazines throughout Britain and overseas. His agency was extremely successful and sold nearly 800 press features in its first year alone. Cheyney specialised in writing about real-life crime and criminals…”

   I surmise that the four full-length Cheyney works just discovered in the digitized Australian and New Zealand newspapers were bought from this agency … also that the loss of Cheyney’s “massive set of files on criminal activity in London …destroyed during the Blitz in 1941” (Wikipedia) possibly included the newspaper serials.

   Although I’d read before of Cheyney’s part in writing “Tinker’s Notebook” (a Sexton Blake feature in the story paper Union Jack), I didn’t know that he’d attempted a Blake yarn of his own and had it rejected. I did know that his friend Gerald Verner (aka Blake author Donald Stuart) had a hand in adapting Cheyney novels for the stage.

Note:   This article has been slightly revised and expanded since it was first posted.

by Keith Chapman

   My email traffic has been buzzing with Peter Cheyney messages, both “to” and “from.”

   UK bibliographer Steve Holland of the Bear Alley blog, which has in the past run several lengthy posts about this hugely successful author of thrillers in the 1940s and ’50s, recently wrote to say: “Amazing to see all these forgotten works by such a major author turning up.”

   Now available at Roy Glashan’s (a Project Gutenberg offshoot) is The Deadly Fresco, which made its first appearance as a newspaper serial in Australia in 1932.

   In Roy’s pipeline are several more such full-length works, written as much as eight years prior to publication of the “first” Cheyney novels recorded at Wikipedia, the Thrilling Detective website, the Official Peter Cheyney website, etc.

   Just a few days ago I told Roy about The Sign on the Roof, serialized in the Auckland Star from September 14 to October 5 in 1935, and about Death Chair serialized in the New Zealand Herald from May 21 to July 16 in 1932. (Very incidentally the NZ Herald was the first paper I worked on after arriving here in 1967, and I was an Auckland Star sub-editor at the time of its closure in 1991.)

   Roy replied, “I wasn’t aware of the existence of this novel [The Sign on the Roof]. ”

   Steve Holland found an advertisement in a British newspaper announcing serialization of Death Chair in the Sheffield Mail in 1931. It said, “Mr Peter Cheyney is already well known to Sheffield Mail serial readers who remember his splendid stories The Vengeance of Hop Fi and The Gold Kimono.”

   Both these serials were also syndicated and ran in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, such as the Auckland Star and the New Zealand Herald. Digital image files can be seen at PapersPast, a website of the National Library of New Zealand.

   Roy tells me he has ebook versions of the pair in the pipeline for his RG Library at The Vengeance of Hop Fi‘s first appearance that he knew of was the serialization in the Auckland Star beginning on July 7, 1928.

   The FictionMags Index has novella, presumably abridged, versions of the Hop Fi and Komino stories listed under the pen-name “Stephen Law” and published in 1937 in single issues of the Amalgamated Press’s Detective Weekly. FictionMags also lists a newspaper serialization of The Sign on the Roof in The Hawick News (Scotland) in 1935.

   Whetting my reading appetite for these well and truly forgotten books, not known to have been in print since the 1920s and ’30s, is this quote from the NZ Herald:

    “The Death Chair is an astounding story told by a great writer in his most brilliant form. It is drama, pathos, humour, a story that captivates the minds of all who read.”

Note:   Part Two of this two-part article appears here.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr

FRANCIS BONNAMY – The King Is Dead on Queen Street. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, hardcover, 1945. Penguin #629, paperback, 1947.

   The combination of the Great Intellect and his Loyal Chronicler has been a mainstay of detective fiction since Watson first began keeping records. Academics with plenty of time on their hands to devote to travel and detection have also always been popular. Mix these elements with a colorful wartime setting in Alexandria, Virginia, and eclectic characters who are both native to the area and transient, and you have a perfect recipe for murder.

   Peter Shane, former professor and head of the Department of Criminology at the University of Chicago, and his assistant, Bonnamy, are now living in a third-floor apartment in Alexandria while on military assignment. Both are present at a neighborhood party when much-disliked Joe Long, a well-known photographer known as “The King,” is found dead — presumably from a fall down the steps of his home.

   When it is discovered that someone had tied a string across Long’s steps, Shane and Bonnamy must attempt to clear their friends and landlady from suspicion, and their investigation focuses on the interrelationships between the party guests, each of whom had an intense reason for wishing to see Long dead. Even the family dogs and the layout of the house do not escape the pair’s scrutiny as they study the past histories of this set of oddly associated people.

   Francis Bonnamy is a pseudonym for Audrey Boyers Waltz; she wrote seven Shane/Bonnamy novels, taking full advantage of local color and geography of Chicago, Maine, Arizona, and other interesting locales. All loose ends are convincingly tied up at the ends of these humorous books, and the treatment of Shane’s detective skills is particularly good.

   Other noteworthy titles are Death on a Dude Ranch (1937), which has a Wyoming setting, Dead Reckoning (1943), which deals with murder in Washington, D.C., and buried pirate treasure on Cape Fear; and Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man (1947), which, like The King Is Dead on Queen Street, is set in Alexandria and involves interplay among a group of diverse people in the art world.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bibliographic Note:   Other books in this series are: Death by Appointment (1931), A Rope of Sand (1944), Blood and Thirsty (1949) and The Man in the Mist (1951).

Author of the Joe Gall Books:

   James Young Phillips, a/k/a James Atlee Phillips, a/k/a Philip Atlee, was my father. The man lived large and was somewhat of an enigma to us all. He was married three times and his last marriage was to my mother, Martha Phillips. Singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips is my half-brother from a previous marriage.

   I am the Copyright Holder of Record for all of his written works, excepting the screenplays which are the properties of the studios for whom he wrote them. We are working to get the books into digital format, including an unpublished autobiography, and at least one short story compilation. Jim wrote several unproduced screenplays as well, but the publication rights to those items is a bit more tricky. We will see what happens.

   To answer a few questions: My father resisted having his photograph taken under any circumstances. He reluctantly relented for obligatory family functions and even then often did so with a pair of his trademark dark sunglasses on. He was the subject of several newspaper articles over the years and always used the same picture — black turtleneck and dark glasses.

   Said photograph was taken for an article published in a Hong Kong newspaper in the late ’60s/early ’70s. There will be plenty of photos in the autobiography, including that one. The work is slow as I am at it by myself and struggled with serious health issues for over a decade. Thankfully, those problems are now fully resolved and I am capable of doing work again.

   The man pictured on the cover of the Joe Gall novels is an Irish bartender whose name may be lost to history. He was discovered by either Jim’s agent or a representative of Fawcett/Gold Medal and seemed to fit the description of Joe Gall. He was paid a flat fee for a photograph session and was thereafter pictured on the covers.

   We have had numerous inquiries over the years re: Joe Gall film projects. We had Clint Eastwood calling in the ’70s/80s and most recently David Mamet. We’ve also had some discussion about audio books and graphic novel versions, but the process is what it is in each case. There has never been any hesitance or reluctance (or greed) on my part, I can assure you. I, too, am a fan of the works and would love to get them out there for people to enjoy in whatever format I can.

   Jim went through life traveling light — he regularly discarded of documentation and paperwork for all aspects of his life. He did so to such a degree that the sum total of his possessions at the end of his life were a few pieces of clothing, a typewriter and a box of blank paper, and a few scribbles on notepads. Clarity on copyright, history, origins, all of that stuff, has been elusive to say the least.

   My intention is to get the works, including SOME of the unpublished material, onto Amazon this year. Digitizing via OCR, proofing, artwork – for a 22 book series, plus 5 other novels, and the short stories – is a MASSIVE amount of work for even a group of dedicated people. But we are determined! The autobiography will take a bit longer, what with the photos and so forth. The book itself is quite the read from a very opinionated character who didn’t have a PC bone in his body and we are all the better for it!

   I have cruised by Mystery*File over the years, but had nothing to add as I was too ill for even the obligations of a muted correspondence.

   I want to thank every single person who has said such positive things about my father and his works (and my brother as well). You are all truly appreciated and recognized. I hope that we can do your interests justice and produce material that meets your standards and that everyone can enjoy. Many thanks to all of you amazing people!

       The Joe Gall series —

The Green Wound. Gold Medal k1321, July 1963 [New Orleans, LA]
   — Reprinted as The Green Wound Contract, Gold Medal, 1967.
The Silken Baroness. Gold Medal k1489, 1964 [Canary Islands]
   — Reprinted as The Silken Baroness Contract, Gold Medal, 1966
The Death Bird Contract. Gold Medal d1632, 1966 [Mexico]
The Paper Pistol Contract. Gold Medal d1634, 1966 [Tahiti]
The Irish Beauty Contract. Gold Medal d1694, 1966 [Bolivia]
The Star Ruby Contract. Gold Medal d1770, 1967 [Burma]
The Rockabye Contract. Gold Medal d1901, 1968 [Caribbean]
The Skeleton Coast Contract. Gold Medal D1977, 1968 [Africa]
The Ill Wind Contract. Gold Medal R2087, 1969 [Indonesia]
The Trembling Earth Contract. Gold Medal, 1969 [U.S. South]
The Fer-de-Lance Contract. Gold Medal, Jan 1971 [Caribbean]
The Canadian Bomber Contract. Gold Medal T2450, August 1971 [Montreal, Canada]
The White Wolverine Contract. Gold Medal T2508, Dec 1971 [Vancouver, Canada]
The Kiwi Contract. Gold Medal T2530, Feb 1972 [New Zealand]
The Judah Lion Contract. Gold Medal T2608, Sept 1972 [Ethiopia]
The Spice Route Contract. Gold Medal T2697, April 1973 [Middle East]
The Shankill Road Contract. Gold Medal T2819, Sept 1973 [Ireland]
The Underground Cities Contract. Gold Medal M2925, Feb 1974 [Turkey]
The Kowloon Contract. Gold Medal M3028, August 1974 [Hong Kong]
The Black Venus Contract. Gold Medal M3187, Feb 1975 [South America]
The Makassar Strait Contract. Gold Medal P3477, March 1976 [Indonesia]
The Last Domino Contract. Gold Medal 1-3587, 1976 [Korea]

William F. Deeck

DOUGLAS McLEISH – The Valentine Victim. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1969. Popular Library, paperback reprint, no date stated [1970?].

   While Lori Weston is at the office of the Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Farnham on Valentine’s Day reporting a possible molester as well as an aborted break-in of her home, her stepdaughter Aileen, readying herself for the Valentine’s dance, is shot six times by an exceptionally brutal murderer.

   Was the murderer the threatening figure her stepdaughters had seen, or did one daughter kill the other? Or was it possibly one of the step-daughters’ fiancés or a former boyfriend with monetary gain in mind? What is one to make of the astounding coincidence of the time of the murder, with Lori Weston provided a wonderful alibi by the police?

   While the Canadian setting isn’t particularly recognizable — the murder could have taken place anywhere in North America — that would be the only criticism I have of this novel. The investigation by Inspector John Rodericks, a fully realized character, is an excellent one. As both police procedural and fair-play novel, this one excels.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 1991, “Holiday Murders.”

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Dougal McLeish, the pen name of Donald James Goodspeed (1919-1990), wrote one other mystery, that being The Traitor Game (Houghton, 1968) in which the Canadian prime minister is assassinated. Inspector Rodericks apparently does not appear. Goodspeed, a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, and Senior Historian in the Canadian Defence Force’s Historical section, also wrote several books on Canadian history.

William F. Deeck

DAVID WILLIAM MEREDITH – The Christmas Card Murders. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1951. No paperback edition.

   Four men living close together in Stelton, New Jersey, receive Christmas cards with Happy New Year struck out and an added message reading, “You will die before the old year ends.” A practical joke by a child in the neighborhood, Douglas Martin concludes. And then one of the four men is stabbed to death on Christmas Eve.

   Murder and attempted murder follow as Martin, a reporter who is recovering from polio, investigates in an effort to keep himself and others alive.

   Quite a Christmasy novel, with not only murder after a carol singing but chapter titles taken from Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Martin is a well-drawn character, as are his family and neighbors, with all their strengths and weaknesses. My only complaint would be that the author unnecessarily repeats the major clue, and that repetition immediately put me on to the murderer. Highly recommended.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 1991, “Holiday Murders.”

Bio-Bibliographical Notes:  David William Meredith was the pen name of Earl Schenck Miers (1910-1972). This as his only mystery novel, under either name. According to Wikipedia, Miers was “an American historian. He wrote over 100 published books, mostly about the history of the American Civil War. Some of them were intended for children, including three historic novels in the We Were There series.”


B. J. OLIPHANT – Death and the Delinquent. Shirley McClintock #4. Fawcett, paperback original, 1993.

   I like Sheri Tepper whatever name she writes under. At least I think I do; I haven’t read any of her A. J. Orde books, though I’ve got one waiting. I do like the Shirley McClintock series a lot and think they’re good enough for hard covers.

   Shirley and her foreman/companion vacationing in the mountains of New Mexico after the traumatic events in the last book with her daughter Allison and Allison’s schoolmate April. April isn’t working out too well. She’s nosy, neurotic, and thoroughly obnoxious, and Shirley has decided to send her home when a sharpshooter wounds Shirley’s mule and kills April. Accident? Hard to see how it could be.

   Some strange items are found in April’s belongings, and then a newborn is stolen from a hospital nursery. Of course it all fits together but Shirley-on-crutches is damned if she sees how.

   Tepper/Oliphant/Orde’s strength has always been her characters, whether they’re cat-like aliens or independent Colorado ranch ladies. Shirley McClintock is one of the stronger and more realistic, and an altogether appealing heroine. I haven’t found anything to dislike in this series. The writing is good, the characterization excellent, and the plots haven’t strained my credulity. All of the regulars have become real people, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #7, May 1993.

       The Shirley McClintock series —

Dead in the Scrub. Gold Medal, 1990.

The Unexpected Corpse. Gold Medal, 1990.
Deservedly Dead. Gold Medal, 1992.
Death and the Delinquent. Gold Medal, 1993.
Death Served Up Cold. Gold Medal, 1994.
A Ceremonial Death. Gold Medal, 1996.
Here’s to the Newly Dead. Gold Medal.

   Sheri S. Tepper also wrote six mysteries as A. J. Orde, the leading character in these being Jason Lynx, an antiques dealer based in Denver CO. Under her own name, however, she was far better known as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, as you can see from her bibliography here. She died last month, on October 22, 2016, at the age of 87.

William F. Deeck

W. ADOLPHE ROBERTS – The Haunting Hand. Macaulay, hardcover, 1926.

   Somewhat to her surprise, Margaret Anstruther has gotten a role in A Toreador’s Love, a silent picture produced by Superfilm Company. Her luck may be the result of the director’s lust for her physically, although he seems even more concerned about where she lives. And where she lives is interesting, since one night when she drops a match on the floor, a hand, with arm attached, comes out from under her bed and extinguishes the match.

   Later investigation proves that there could have been no one under the bed, but there is physical evidence that someone or something put out the flame. A policeman also sees the hand, but he’s Irish and you know about them.

   Our heroine investigates — she’s a science major, in addition to being a budding actress — and solves the problem with the help of another movie, The Masque of Life, directed by the same man who is in charge of A Toreador’s Love. Movies usually put Anstruther to sleep, but this one contains the clue that explains not all but a lot.

   W. Adolphe Roberts may have been the first black mystery writer. That I would contend, would be the only reason for reading this novel. The explanation for the hand doesn’t satisfy, and the writing is, to be kindly, second rate.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1991/2, “Murder on Screen.”

Bio-Bibliographical Notes:   For more on the author, who had quite an interesting life, check out this website, where he is said to have been a Jamaican journalist, novelist and travel writer. As the editor of Ainslee’s magazine, he published many of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s early poetry and not only that, fell in love with her. He wrote two other detective novels under his own name, plus two as Stephen Endicott, one listed as marginally criminous in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV.

by Francis M. Nevins

   As I was beginning to think about how to open this month’s column, I opened the morning paper and found the answer handed to me. Ed Gorman had died. The date was Friday, October 14, a few weeks short of his 75th birthday. The cause was cancer, with which he’d first been diagnosed 14 years ago.

   He was something of a recluse among writers, leaving his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa almost never, once reportedly turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, but managed to stay in touch with countless colleagues thanks to email and the telephone.

   Ed Gorman was one of the most prolific and compelling crime fiction writers of our generation, the author of dozens of novels and short stories under his own name and several others, plus Westerns and horror novels, plus anthologies, plus material for the Web on other writers, the list goes on and on. He was also one of the founders of Mystery Scene magazine, in whose latest issue there’s a moving tribute to him by editor Kate Stine. In so many ways, including his enthusiasm for everything he was involved in and the generosity with which he advised, mentored and supported writers younger than himself, he was the Anthony Boucher of our generation.

   Of course he never wrote science fiction as Boucher did, but then Boucher never wrote Westerns. I wish I were one of the tiny handful of writers who knew him well.


   Ever heard of The Digest Enthusiast? I hadn’t either, until one of its contributors, a man named Steve Carper, recently sent me a copy of the third issue (January 2016). It’s digest sized — what else would you expect? — and deals with all sorts of digest sized publications like magazines and paperback books and you-name-it.

   The subject of Carper’s contribution is the collections of short fiction by Dashiell Hammett that were assembled and edited by Ellery Queen — that is, by the Fred Dannay half of the Queen duo — mainly in the 1940s, and were published as digest-sized paperback originals under the Mercury, Bestseller and Jonathan Press imprints of Lawrence E. Spivak, the original publisher of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

   As veteran readers of this column are aware, now and then I’ve compared a few of Hammett’s stories as they originally appeared in Black Mask and other pulps with the versions published twenty or more years later in EQMM and those digest-sized collections. Fred told me many times that every story ever written was too long. True to that belief, he had a habit of changing — usually in the form of cutting — the stories he reprinted. Even Hammett’s.

   Now I learn from Carper’s article that a man named Terry Zobeck has been systematically comparing the Hammett stories as reprinted in EQMM with the versions published in Black Mask and elsewhere decades earlier. The article offers a few examples from Zobeck’s research. One sentence in the Continental Op tale “Who Killed Bob Teal?” (True Detective Stories, November 1924) reads: “Finally she shrugged, her face cleared, and she looked up at us.” Reprinting the story in EQMM (July 1947) and in the collection Dead Yellow Women (1947), Fred put a period after “cleared” and dropped the last six words.

   Another sentence as originally published reads: “Dean and I rode down in the elevator in silence, and walked out into Gough Street.” Under Fred’s editorial blue pencil the sentence ends with “elevator”. Anyone who wants to explore this subject in exhaustive detail needs to read the long series of Zobeck’s posts on Don Herron’s “Up and Down These Mean Streets” blog .


   “Who Killed Bob Teal?” is one of the lesser exploits of Hammett’s nameless Continental Op, but it’s of considerable historical interest, for reasons I can’t explain without [Warning] giving away the plot. Teal, a youthful detective for the Continental agency, had appeared in a few earlier tales in the series and in “Slippery Fingers” (Black Mask, 15 October 1923) was described by the Op as “a youngster who will be a world-beater some day.”

   According to the Op in the present story, he “had come to the agency fresh from college two years before; and if ever a man had the makings of a crack detective in him, this slender, broad-shouldered lad had….[W]ith his quick eye, cool nerve, balanced head, and whole-hearted interest in the work, [he] was already well along the way to expertness.” As the head of the San Francisco branch of the agency describes Teal’s murder to the Op:

   “He was shot with a .32, twice, through the heart. He was shot behind a row of signboards on the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Hyde and Eddy Streets, at about ten last night….I would say that there was no struggle, and that he was shot where he was found….He was lying behind the signboards, about thirty feet from the sidewalk, and his hands were empty. The gun was held close enough to him to singe the breast of his coat….”

   The case he’d been working on for the past few days had been brought to the agency by a farm-development engineer named Ogburn, who suspected that his business partner, Herbert Whitacre, had been embezzling money from the firm and was about to disappear. “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the agency head tells the Op. It doesn’t take our sleuth long to conclude that the murderer of Bob Teal was Ogburn.

   “Bob wasn’t a boob! He might possibly have let a man he was trailing lure him behind a row of billboards on a dark night, but he would have gone prepared for trouble. He wouldn’t have died with empty hands, from a gun that was close enough to scorch his coat. The murderer had to be somebody Bob trusted, so it couldn’t be Whitacre…. There was only one man who could have persuaded him to drop Whitacre for a while, and that one man was the one he was working for — Ogburn.”

   Why this story is of historical importance should be clear to anyone who remembers how Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon immediately knew who had killed his partner Archer.

   “Miles hadn’t many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years’ experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance….But he’d’ve gone up there with you, angel….You were his client, so he would have had no reason for not dropping the shadow on your say-so….He’d’ve looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear—and then you could’ve stood as close to him as you liked and put a hole through him….”

   There’s just one thing arguably wrong with the way Hammett handled the situation in the Bob Teal story. The plot requires that Teal must know and trust the client Ogburn, but little if anything in the story tells us that they even knew each other!

   “I sent Teal out to shadow Whitacre,” the Old Man tells the Op. We can’t infer from that that the two men had met. But, reviewing the two reports Teal had filed before his death, the Op tells us that “Ogburn had given Bob a description of Mrs. Whitacre….”

   This means that the two had met and had at least one conversation. It would have been easy for Hammett to be more specific about this matter, for example by having the Old Man tell the Op that he had introduced Teal to Ogburn and that the two had had lunch or a drink together, but for some reason he chose not to. The result, whether Hammett intended it or not, may well be one of the most subtly clued fair-play stories in the annals of short detective fiction.


   The fact that no one ranks “Who Killed Bob Teal?” among Hammett’s better tales probably explains why it wasn’t included in the Library of America volume of Hammett’s Crime Stories and Other Writings (2001). If we confine ourselves to material that has appeared in print, then we can read this and the other stories omitted from that volume only as Fred Dannay edited them for EQMM seventy or more years ago.

   Fortunately we live in the age of the Web, and thanks to Terry Zobeck’s Herculean labors we can read or at least reconstruct the original versions of most if not all of Hammett’s lesser stories. Thank you Mr. Zobeck!

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