WILLIAM L. STUART – The Dead Lie Still. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1945.

   This is the period between May and September 1945. The war’s still going on with Japan. But Germany has surrendered.

   Sam Talbot served his time in the war. In naval intelligence. Now a civilian, Talbot’s a successful commercial artist. And part-time sketch artist for the cops.

   It’s raining. He’s hanging out in a New York city bar. Drinking alone. A scotch and soda.

   A drunken, raven haired poetess in a crimson dress plunks herself across from him. “I am Ariadne … abandoned by her lover. So the gods promised she should marry a god. They picked Bacchus.”

   A handsome, nattily attired man, fedora obscuring his eyes, appears to be staring at him from the bar.

   Are you looking at me?

   Are you Sam Talbot?

   I am.

   I’m from the FBI. I’d like you to meet with me about something.

   How about tomorrow morning?

Writes Talbot’s number in his notebook next to a man named Dema.

   Fine I’ll see you then.

   I thought Dema was dead.

   Let’s hope so.

   A beautiful, ash-blonde comes in from the rain. Stares at the man in the hat. Then walks out.

   The G-man follows.

   More drunken patter with the poetess.

   An explosion outside. A burning gas truck.

   A driver is trapped.

   Talbot takes some sodden newspaper. He tries to wrest the handle open. It scorches his hand. The door is locked. He gets a quick look at the driver. The truck explodes. Talbot’s thrown clear, but hurt.

   He wakes with a doctor. And the poetess.

   And now the mob is after him.

   And the G-man’s gone missing.

   The G-man had been working alone. He didn’t know how high the infiltration infested. He didn’t know who he could trust.

   He’d suspected a Japanese cell working with a local mafioso: Dema. They’ve been targeting war-time American military scientists for assassination. With success.

   Dema had been mostly blown away. But he still has most of his face, and most of his larynx, and all of his whispered orders from the wooden box where his remains remain command a cadre of killers. And a committed wife. Beautiful. With ash-blond hair.

   So there’s the setup. And Talbot may have seen something he shouldn’t have when he saw the driver in the burning truck.

   A small time crook was ID’d as the deceased. But it may have been somebody else.

   The cops have no interest. And the feds say it’s not surprising the G-man can’t be found. He goes away for weeks.

   So Talbot’s on his own. And it’s up to him to track down Dema and the G-man. Before our time runs out.


   It’s a well-told, fast paced, terse and tough novel where international espionage turns private citizen into private detective to save himself and his country in times of war. The tight compelling vernacular is further proof that great mid-century American hardboiled lit wasn’t just the happenstance of a great writer or two coming along with an original aesthetic. The streamlined zeitgeist of the American hardboiled era comprises an art movement of literature, film and technological form that constitutes a high point of American culture.

   Another review of the novel here.