KURT STEEL – Judas, Incorporated. Hank Hyer #6. Little Brown, hardcover, 1936. Dell 244, paperback, mapback edition, 1948.

   Homer Valliant invented a kind of electrical doodad that made him a small fortune by manufacturing it himself via Valliant Electrical Works. He made a factory town out of his hometown in upstate New York.

   When the Depression hit, he refused to cut wages and only laid off the most able bodied and youthful of his employees. He always hated unions — but he was a kindhearted boss. This kind of generosity didn’t sit well with the board of directors — so Valliant ended up losing control of his own company, getting bought out by a conglomerate (Ledco) and demoted to plant manager.

   Ledco was cutthroat towards labor. Wages were sliced, aging long time employees were canned, and working conditions were oppressive. To keep your job you had to work more hours for less pay and act happy about it.

   In reaction to worsening working conditions, the employees at Valliant Electrical decided to unionize. Homer Valliant, who’d always been a staunch opponent of unions, began to soften his stance when his pleas to new ownership went unheard.

   Homer Valliant’s beautiful daughter Madeline is married to the CEO of Ledco, Curtis Tower, and they began getting into vicious arguments about the state of labor strife at Valliant Electrical.

   Then Homer Valliant is shot dead in his office at the factory. The police arrested the two leaders of the union effort, and charged them with the murder.

   Homer Valliant’s daughter Madeline does not believe for a second that these two employees of her father who had worked hand in hand with him for years would murder him. It doesn’t make any sense. But local law enforcement is captured by Ledco interests, so there’s no way to get the police to investigate any other leads.

   This leads Madeline Valliant to the offices of our hero, private detective Henry Hyer of Manhattan. For $10,000 contingent on finding the real killers, Hank Hyer agrees to take the case.

   When Hyer gets to town, he immediately runs into two competing big private detective firms from NYC. One of the firms was hired to keep labor in check. The other was hired by the CEO, Curtis Tower, to keep tabs on the other firm.

   But this contract as the union-busting detective firm is worth an awful lot of dough. So it’s in the interest of each of the detective agencies to make the other look bad. While labor strife would cause one firm to lose their contract, it would cause the other to gain it. A zero sum game. So when Hyer shows up, the other two agencies figure he’s just another dog after the same bone: the big money of union busting.

   It’s all a bit complicated. But in the end of this 287 pager (in the Dell mapback edition), every page is needed as Hank Hyer navigates his way through the rough and rocky waterways of union leaders, labor spies, Pinkertons, and corrupt cops.

   Hyer does an excellent job of pitting all the forces against each other, getting the State Police and out of town media on his side, and doing fairly scientific detective work tracking down the bullet’s source, evaluating the typography of incriminating papers, bribing the right bribees, and punching out the rest with his pugilist fists.

   There’s even a funny bit where Hyer makes fun of the mediocre pulpster Kurt Steel who always exaggerates Hyer’s heroism in his novels. You can’t believe everything you read, he assures a hero-worshipper.

   All turns out well in the end. He gets the bad guys, Madeline Tower and the CEO part ways, and the beautiful, rich divorcee has the hots for Hyer. He’ll let her chase him back to NYC. He’s got no time for Hickville, with or without a beautiful rich divorcee.

   It’s a very enjoyable detective novel. Original, well done, with a likeable detective, some good witty patter, and a captivating story. It ended credibly, the many strings all tied up in a tidy bow. If you’re looking for another good 30’s detective novel after having read all the Hammetts and the Whitfields, you should check it out. Note that Chandler’s Big Sleep was also published in 1939  —  but while that is Marlowe’s first adventure, this appears to be Hyer’s sixth. More on Hank Hyer here at the Thrilling Detective website.

      The Hank Hyer series —

Murder of a Dead Man (n.) Bobbs 1935
Murder for What? (n.) Bobbs 1936
Murder Goes to College (n.) Bobbs 1936
Murder in G-Sharp (n.) Bobbs 1937
Crooked Shadow (n.) Little 1939
Judas, Incorporated (n.) Little 1939
Dead of Night (n.) Little 1940
Madman’s Buff (n.) Little 1941
Ambush House (n.) Harcourt 1943