WADE MILLER – The Big Guy. Gold Medal #279, paperback original, 1st printing, January 1953; second printing: Gold Medal s936, 1969.


    Wade Miller was the joint pseudonym of a couple of high school buddies who teamed up to write mysteries all their adult lives, with astonishingly successful results. Astonishingly, because their books were almost without exception flat, trite and predictable.

    And their work under the pen-name Whit Masterson is even worse; reading Badge of Evil is an onerous chore indeed for anyone charmed by the grace and energy of the film Orson Welles managed to make from it (Touch of Evil, Universal,1958.)

    I can speak from experience on the breadth and depth of Wade Miller’s ineptitude because I searched out those books avidly, back in college, after reading what turned out to their one decent effort, The Big Guy. What burst of inspiration was responsible for this I couldn’t say, but it’s fast, hard and even fun in a sick, predictable fashion. Like watching a really bad accident when you can’t look away.

    Big Guy follows the rise and rise of Joe Drum, a low-class, no-brains strong-arm man imported to L.A. for a little muscle, who sees a chance to move into the big time and takes it. And keeps on taking.


    Miller borrows a lot from films like Scarface, and Little Caesar, but the writing is fast, the violence edgy and often surprising, and the story gets really going, in its own disturbing way, about halfway through, when Drum meets a woman who cures his sexual hang-ups, introduces him to comfort, culture, class and drugs, and generally makes a better person out of him — with results you can see coming a long way off, but I kind of enjoyed watching it all happen.

    Miller introduces a couple of subtle touches you don’t see in a Wade Miller book, and shows sense enough not to call attention to them —nothing’s worse than pointing out how subtle you’re being.

    Back in College this really impressed me, as I say, and I followed it up, or tried to, with some other Millers, till I found I was squandering my precious youth on a writer (writers, rather) who had only one good book between them.

Editorial Comment: For much, much more on the authors who were Wade Miller, including loads of reviews and an interview with Robert Wade by Ed Lynskey, Bill Pronzini and myself, go here on the main Mystery*File website.