JOHN K. BUTLER “No Rest for Soldiers.” Novelette. Published in Black Mask, October 1936. Not known to have been collected or reprinted.

   It was one of John K. Butler’s Steve Midnight stories in Ron Goulart’s Hard Boiled Dicks (1965/67) that was one of the first pulp detective tales that I ever read. Midnight was a Los Angeles-based cab driver who kept running into dead bodies, and the name of the story was “The Saint in Silver.” I don’t know why, but while the rest of the stories in Goulart’s groundbreaking anthology have faded into memory, on an individual basis, the Steve Midnight story has stayed with me ever since.

   Even though Butler’s name has been long forgotten by everybody else, he wrote well over a hundred stories for the pulps before going on to the movies and TV, with (according to IMDb) 69 credits. What this tells me, more than anything else, is that he could produce vivid, well-constructed storylines meant to keep his audiences reading or watching, and “No Rest for Soldiers” is a prime example.

   I don’t know the full history behind it, but the basis for the story is that in 1936  or thereabouts, disabled US soldiers in World War I were given a bonus in cash to help them get along now that they’re back home. Ernie Chappell is once such, now living in a National Military Home. Across the street, though, is a strip of cheap cafés, shady beer joints and honkytonks, all there to take money from the pockets of the vets living in the home, legally or otherwise, with a wink and a nod on the part of the law.

   Ernie, it seems, has been accused of killing of the silent owners of one such establishment. What’s worse is that he woke up in the same room as the dead man, not knowing whether he did it or not. Luckily for him, he has a good friend from the war, now a used car salesman, who decides to investigate on Ernie’s behalf.

   It’s a good hard-driving tale that as the old cliché says, keeps the pages turning – and of course, there’s a woman involved – as well as a head of detectives who decides that going along with City Hall is something he’d rather not do any longer.

   If I were doing an anthology of old detective stories, I’d do my best to include this one.